Religion news 12 March 2024

Al Asqa mosque. Image credit: pexels CC0

Al-Asqa mosque the centre of tension as Ramadan starts in Jerusalem

 As millions of Muslims begin the holy month of Ramadan, The Times reports that Jerusalem’s alleyways, “usually brimming with Ramadan lanterns, fairy lights and brightly outlined crescent moons, were dark and there were not many people shopping for festivities and holiday sweets”. Press reports say Israel issued restrictions on men under 40, preventing them from praying at the Al Asqa mosque on the first night of Ramadan. The Israeli authorities said there were no new restrictions during Ramadan on entrance to the contested Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam and the most sacred place for Jews who know it as Temple Mount. Arab News reports that Jordan’s Foreign Minister warned that restrictions imposed on Muslim worshippers’ access to the compound was pushing the situation to an “explosion”.

Security minister says no religion has the right to be exempt from criticism

The security minister Tom Tugendhat has said that no religion has a right to be exempt from criticism, ahead of a crackdown on extremism which is expected to be announced later this week. Mr Tugendhat gave an interview to GB news saying that  no faith had a right not to be challenged, amid concerns in a report by the government’s counter-extremism tsar Robin Simcox, that some extremists have used intimidation and threats of violence against those perceived to have insulted Islam. The government is due to publish a new definition of extremism to tackle increasing hate crime following the Hamas attack on 7 October. It is expected to ban the funding of groups, or engagement with those associated with Islamists or far right organisations.  Earlier, the minister made it clear that he agrees with three former home secretaries, Dame Priti Patel, Sir Sajid Javid and Amber Rudd, who signed a statement saying that tackling extremism should not be used for “short-term tactical advantage” in the run-up to the general election.

£117 million to protect Muslims and £70 million to protect Jews against hate crimes

The government has announced a grant of £117 million to help protect mosques, Muslim schools and community centres from hate attacks, and a £70 million package for Jewish buildings and groups. The Home Secretary, James Cleverly, said the money will go on security measures such as CCTV cameras, alarms and fencing. ITV reports that the government has made it clear it expects the police to fully investigate all hate crimes and work with the Crown Prosecution Service to bring perpetrators to justice. Mr Cleverly is quoted saying that anti-Muslim hatred “has absolutely no place in our society. We will not let events in the Middle East be used as an excuse to justify abuse against British Muslims”.

The RMC is holding a media briefing tomorrow, Weds 13th March at 1200, on religious hatred, discussing the rising incidents of hate crime and the government’s response. More details from [email protected]

India enacts citizenship laws criticised as anti-Muslim

The BBC reports that the Indian government has announced plans to enact  a controversial law which critics say is anti-Muslim. The Citizenship Amendment Act will allow non-Muslim religious minorities from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan to seek citizenship. The authorities say it will help those facing persecution. The law was passed in 2019, sparking mass protests in which scores of people died and many more were arrested. Critics say the law violates the secular principles in the constitution which prohibits discrimination on religious grounds. The new law does not cover those fleeing persecution in non-Muslim majority countries, including Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka or Rohingya Muslim refugees from neighbouring Myanmar.

30th anniversary of CofE women’s ordination encouraging diversity

Women from across the Church of England, including the Bishops of London and Gloucester, are calling for a church that reflects the diversity of God as they celebrate 30 years since women were first ordained. In a series of Instagram videos to mark the occasion the women talk openly about their wish to see increasing diversity in church leadership. The Bishop of London, Sarah Mullaly, said her recent meeting with 170 women priests in London was an encouraging moment.  The writer and theologian Chine McDonald said she “loved the fact that black women today represented the face of the Church of England globally. The Times’ religious affairsvcorrespondent Kaya Burgess features five women who were first ordained at Bristol Cathedral in 1994, and they describe what it was like to be at the centre of such a turning point in church history.

Campaign to expose child sex abuse by Catholic nuns in America

The Associated Press reports on the sexual abuse of children by Catholic nuns, which victims say has been overshadowed by the well-publicised cases of male abusers. A former nun, Mary Dispenza, set up a support group five years ago with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. She has since discovered a growing awareness of abusive nuns at former Catholic orphanages and Native American boarding schools. Another survivor Gabrielle Longhi, who says she was abused as a student in Maryland, believes an impending change in constitutional law, removing the statute of limitations for child sex abuse victims, “will make all the difference in the world” for survivors. She told AP: “Before you had no case and now you do”.

Insiders’ view of how to get stories about religion into the press

Journalists who report on religion gave an insiders view of how stories about religion make it into the press, during a Church Times webinar last night “Keeping Faith in Journalism”. Kaya Burgess, science reporter and religious affairs correspondent at The Times, said for a story to get past the news editors, it didn’t have to be bad news, or a scandal, or controversial, it just had to have something that’s “slightly counter-intuitive”. The key question would be whether a reader going to work on the tube in the morning, flicking through the news, would stop on the story.  For John Bingham, formerly with The Telegraph and poached by the Church of England as head of news, stories where there is controversy or novelty get through the news desk, but there’s a whole other area he describes as “the interesting person says interesting thing” type story, where bishops can often succeed in getting a headline. He observed that “journalists are so much easier to deal with, than almost anyone else on a complicated issue because they get that there is complexity”. Madeleine Davies, senior writer at The Church Times, said they were able to go into stories in depth and their audience expected more scrutiny from them: “It’s healthy to have a critical friend of the Church of England”.  Asked to comment on the cuts to local journalism, she quoted concerns that the decimation of local press would have a huge effect on the holding to account of local institutions and was a worrying prospect. Host Roger Bolton asked the panellists to comment on the reporting of stories including reparation for slavery and the impact of the Israel/Gaza war, and sought opinions on being neutral, coming under pressure not to tell a story and finding stories that were not negative. The Church Times advertised throughout the webinar that it is offering free access to its website this month. The full discussion will be on the Church Times YouTube channel here

Sex strike in New York in protest at Jewish divorce law case

The lead story in the Jewish Chronicle splashes with the headline “Orthodox Women in New York launch ‘Sex strike’ to Protest Against Religious Divorce”. It’s part of a campaign to support a member of their community to help her obtain a religious divorce from her husband whom it’s reported has refused to sign the halachic (Jewish law) divorce papers that would get a divorce and allow her to remarry. The protestors claim that 29-year-old Malky Berkowitz is a “chained woman”. The article states that having separated from her husband in 2020 she’s been to five rabbinical courts to no avail. As the campaign enters its seventh week one protestor told the paper, “We’re ready for another seven weeks of battle. We’re not giving up.”


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