Religion news 13 August 2021

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Image credit: Peretz Partensky CCLicense

Kandahar and Herat fall to the Taliban

Herat, the third-largest city in Afghanistan with an 800-year-old mosque said to be the country’s finest Islamic building, has fallen to the Taliban. The BBC reports that the city had been under siege for weeks, and is significant as it lies on ancient trade routes and is seen as the gateway to Iran. The Great Mosque of Herat, also known as the Friday Mosque, is renowned for its beauty with bright colours, mosaics, and barrel-vaulted halls around a central courtyard nearly 100 metres long. During the Taliban’s rule between 1996 and 2001, entry to the mosque was banned for all non-Muslims. Last night there were reports that Afghanistan’s second-largest city, Kandahar, had also fallen as the Taliban continued its rapid advance. The UK has sent in 600 troops to help to evacuate British nationals as the security situation deteriorates. 

Decline in number of students taking GCSE in religious studies

The Religious Education Council and the National Association of Teachers of RE (NATRE) have renewed their call on the government to fund a national plan for RE after GCSE results showed an overall fall of 2.1 per cent in the number of students taking the subject. In England, GCSE entries for the full religious studies course fell by 2.4 per cent to 221,419 compared with 226,767 in 2020. In Wales however, entries rose by 3.6 per cent from 9,997 in 2020 to 10,358 in 2021. GCSE entries in other humanities increased this year, with geography entries up 4.1 per cent to 274,715 and history up 0.8 percent to 286,706. Entries for a full course GCSE in religious studies in England peaked in 2016. This year’s figures show the decline is levelling out. Nevertheless, Professor Trevor Cooling, chairman of the Religious Education Council of England and Wales, said they sounded an alarm bell with one in three secondary schools struggling to provide religious studies at Key Stage 4. “The government should fund a national plan for RE to ensure the subject is properly resourced and taught by professionally trained teachers and enact a statement of entitlement to a high-quality education in religion and worldviews for all pupils,” he said. Katie Freeman, who chairs NATRE, said: “Good religious education plays a vital role in equipping young people with the knowledge they need to interact with others who may have different perspectives, both in the workplace and in everyday life. It ensures young people receive a balanced education, helps create a more cohesive society, and supports a vibrant economy by preparing employees and future business leaders for the globalised workplace.”

UN report on climate change is a ‘shofar blast’ warning to take action

Leading rabbis from all branches of Judaism in the UK have formed the “EcoSynagogue” project to raise awareness of climate change and encourage action. They say this is a moral and spiritual imperative as the Jewish faith teaches that people are trustees of God’s creation. The rabbis have responded to the report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said the world was now at “code red”, because human activity was changing the climate in unprecedented and sometimes irreversible ways. The rabbis say this is a shofar (horn) blast that changes must be made to get to net zero emissions as soon as possible.

Sikh project to support grooming victims in Slough

A project to support Sikh victims of grooming has been launched in Slough. Rekindle aims to bring the Sikh community together to provide support services for those impacted by child exploitation, grooming and domestic abuse. The project was launched at the town’s Guru Maneyo Gurdwara and is a collaboration between the community, gurdwaras and schools, offering a programme to strengthen parents’ relationships with their children. 

Blasphemy charges dropped against boy, 8, in Pakistan

Police in Pakistan have dropped blasphemy charges against an eight-year-old Hindu boy who was accused of intentionally urinating in a madrassa, The Guardian reports. His release on bail prompted Muslims to attack a Hindu temple in retaliation. The temple has been repaired by the government and handed back to the Hindu community. The boy and his family are still in hiding and under protective police custody for fear of reprisals.

The day the Pope met ‘Jesus’

On Wednesday, Pope Francis met Jonathan Roumie, the American actor who plays the part of Jesus in the television sensation The Chosen, which tells the story of the gospels. The first series aired in 2019 and has since gathered an audience of 300 million viewers worldwide. Dallas Jenkins, its creator, director and co-writer, financed the series through crowdfunding. Roumie is a Catholic from Los Angeles and he asked the Pope to pray for him as he continues in the part.

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