Religion news 11 March 2024

Image credit: Mayor of London

Ramadan starts this week when the new moon is sighted

Ramadan is due to start today or tomorrow around the world, depending on the sighting of the new moon. Countries look to scholars around the world for their date, with astronomers sighting the moon at different times depending on weather conditions. For example, some countries follow Saudi Arabia, others Morocco. In the UK the Islamic Crescents Observation for the UK charity runs a website to encourage local moon sightings and more than 100 people take part and record their results. Poor visibility with cloud and rain meant it was not visible yesterday in the UK.  Ramadan is a month long festival of prayer, fasting and giving, with fasts ending in meals and celebrations, usually involving family and community. Our factsheet is here. This is the second year of Ramadan lights shining over Regent Street in London.

Archbishop pays tribute to British Muslims enriching society

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has paid tribute to the contribution of Muslims in Britain who “enrich society in countless ways” for the common good. In a filmed interview for Twitter / X , he wishes all Muslims well as they observe the festival of Ramadan. And he urges people to work together for peace and justice, saying that in times of stress and tension, Ramadan and Lent can be moments of renewing relationship, deepening faith and walking together for the common good.

Don’t equate extremists with vast majority of British Muslims who deplore violence

Survivors and relatives of people who have died in Islamist terror attacks have signed an open letter expressing concern at anti-Muslim hate. They say to defeat the threat of Islamist inspired extremism, the single most important thing to do is to “isolate the extremists and the terrorists from the vast majority of British Muslims who deplore such violence”. Equating being Muslim with being an extremist, feeds far-right extremism, they say, which divides communities and risks feeding a cycle of extremism. The 57 signatories include Magen Inon, whose parents were killed by Hamas; the wife of Lee Rigby, killed outside Woolwich barracks; survivors and relatives of victims of the Manchester arena attack victim; and Claudia Vince, who survived the 2019 London Bridge attack. Channel 4 report here

Government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group has not met for four years

The Guardian reports that the government’s anti-Muslim hatred working group has not met for four years, even as hate crime has soared after the 7 October Hamas attack on Israel, with Islamophobic incidents up by 335 per cent.  Its last meeting was just before the Covid pandemic in January 2020. The report says the group was set up by David Cameron in 2012 and supported by Theresa May, but Akeela Ahmed, the chair of independent members on the working group told the Guardian that “at this time of heightened fear, anxiety and tensions, government should be doing its utmost to fulfil its statutory obligations and responsibilities towards all communities. Yet when it comes to British Muslims, this simply isn’t happening”.

Fiyaz Mughal “withdraws” as Government’s anti-Muslim hatred adviser 

Fiyaz Mughal, the founder of Tell Mama and Faith Matters, widely reported to have been chosen for the job of the government’s anti-Muslim hatred adviser, has withdrawn from the role even before it has been officially announced. The Mail says he went because of a torrent of social media abuse from the far right and people who objected to him working with the government. Byline Times says the reversal was due to its report on his role in dealing with a story that Conservatives had ties with racist far-right extremists, and it says Number Ten blocked the appointment. The adviser’s role has been empty for two years since Imam Qari Asim was sacked after comments on the controversial film “Our Lady of Heaven”. The gap has assumed heightened significance after the sharp rise in anti-Muslim incidents and stories on Islamophobia in the headlines.

New extremism definition may affect Muslim Council of Britain

The Home Secretary is due to announce this week, a new definition of extremism. The Observer has reported that it will ban individuals and groups who “undermine the UK’s system of liberal democracy” and enable the spread of extremism from public life, excluding them from meetings, advisory boards and funding. It follows the Prime Minister’s speech the day after the Rochdale by-election, when he said the streets have been “hijacked by small groups” and protests had descended into “intimidation, threats, and planned actions of violence”. The Guardian reports that the initial documents identified eight groups that could fall within the definition, including the Muslim Council of Britain, which said this would be “offensive, ludicrous and dangerous”.

Jewish leaders contest claim of no-go areas for Jews during UK pro Palestine marches

British Jewish leaders have taken exception to the view that there are no-go areas for Jews during pro-Palestinian marches, an idea put forward by Robin Simcox, the Home Office’s independent adviser on extremism. But The Times has found objections to this framing among faith leaders. Rabbi Herschel Gluck told The Times it was “total and utter fiction”. Daniel Sugarman, director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said he wasn’t comfortable with the description, though many British Jews felt extremely disturbed by the demonstrations. Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, formerly senior rabbi with the Reform Judaism movement, said the marches are intimidating for many Jews, but most people “really care about justice for Palestinians as opposed to dislike or hatred of Jews.” She called on the government to enforce the law to stop “extreme statements and incitement to racial hatred”.

Pope says Ukraine should have courage of white flag to negotiate peace

Pope Francis has provoked a strong reaction for suggesting in a TV interview that Ukraine should have “the courage of the white flag” to negotiate peace. In the interview with the  Swiss broadcaster RSI, recorded in February, he said: “The strongest one is the one who looks at the situation, thinks about the people and has the courage of the white flag, and negotiates. When you see that you are defeated, that things are not going well, you have to have the courage to negotiate”. Ukraine’s foreign minister furiously responded that it will “never raise any other flags” than the country’s blue and yellow colours. A Vatican spokesman, Matteo Bruni, later tried to clarify the comment and said the Pope picked up the image of the white flag from the reporter’s question “to indicate a cessation of hostilities, a truce reached with the courage of negotiation” adding that the Pope made clear “negotiations are never a surrender.”

Increasing calls to a helpline to leave controlling religious groups

Humanists UK say there has been a massive increase in the numbers of people who contact their “Faith to Faithless” service, wanting to leave a religious group. Terry O’Sullivan, Apostate Services Development Officer, told the BBC’s Sunday programme that social media had made a big difference, making more information available and leading to the creation of hundreds of groups for people who have left their religious organisation. This includes ex Muslims, ex evangelical Christians, a whole range of different Christian groups, ex Jehovah’s Witnesses and ex Mormons.  She has noticed that people are contacting them, including via their new helpline, before even leaving the group. She said that “Faith to Faithless”, despite its name, does not encourage people to lose their faith and many people, for example Christians, remain Christians but just leave the controlling group.  

CofE in for another criticism in the Telegraph

Another critique of the Church of England appeared in The Telegraph this weekend, accusing it of espousing a new holy trinity of “diversity, equity and inclusion”.  It criticises the intention of raising £1billion to spend on reparations for slavery, saying this illustrates “historical illiteracy, bureaucratic carelessness with other people’s money, national self-loathing, importation of American culture wars, lack of interest in outcomes”. The article is by Daniel Hannan, former member of the European Parliament and writer for Conservative Home.


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