Religion news 16 December 2021

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#TeamBelieve. Image credit: @clairejones via @clarehayns

BBC appoints Aleem Maqbool as religion editor

Aleem Maqbool has been appointed the BBC’s new religion editor. Maqbool, now the BBC’s North America correspondent, has worked at the corporation for nearly 20 years, and his previous roles include Pakistan correspondent and Gaza/West Bank correspondent. He said: “I am delighted to take up a role that focusses on telling stories associated with faith and ethics and reflecting on the complex way in which they continue to shape our society. After many years in foreign news, I also look forward to working with a wonderful team in London.”

Church leaders in Jerusalem fear attempts to drive them out of Israel

Leaders of churches in Jerusalem have issued a statement on persistent abuse of Christians in the Holy Land which they say is an attempt to drive them out. Their response is “unprecedented” according to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. They report that Christians are the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups, including physical and verbal assaults against clergy; intimidation against local Christians; and vandalisation of churches and holy sites. The statement expresses grave concern that the national commitment to preserve the Christian community is betrayed by the failure of local politicians. The church leaders believe the attacks are a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land and they are calling for talks to end the threat of violence and intimidation.

Under-25s run antisemitic nationalist groups across Europe

A report from the Community Security Trust has revealed that young people aged under 25 are running antisemitic groups in Europe. The report “We are Generation Terror!”; Youth-on-youth radicalisation in extreme right youth groups examines 10 nationalist groups across western Europe. It says concern has concentrated on the grooming of young people into extremism by older individuals, but this research found that people under 25 are increasingly “the groomers, propagandists, recruiters, plotters and convicted perpetrators”. The majority use Instagram as a recruitment tool, alongside Twitter, TikTok and Telegram. The report was produced in collaboration with researchers at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence at King’s College London. 

Vatican says human supervision needed for robot killer weapons

The Vatican is urging the international community to take urgent action to create a regulatory framework governing the use of “robot killers” — automatic weapons that use artificial intelligence to attack targets with no human assistance. It has expressed disappointment over the lack of progress to date, despite huge sums of money being spent on technology by the United States and Russia. Only “adequate human supervision” can preserve ethical principles and ensure compliance with international humanitarian law in the management of these weapons systems, it says.

CofE steps up help for refugees resettling in this country

The Church of England has appointed two people to work on a project providing support to vulnerable refugees resettling in this country. Domenica Pecoraro, whose family lived in an empty hospital in Italy for 18 years after an earthquake, and Canon Gareth Jones, vicar of St Mary’s Ilford, will work with the CofE and local authorities to provide practical help such as preparing a home, school admissions, learning English, registering with a GP, negotiating benefit applications and enabling the adults back into work. This “community sponsorship” scheme has already worked with refugees from Syria and is now under way for people from Afghanistan.

US approves measure to monitor and report global Islamophobia

In America, the House of Representatives has voted 219-212 in favour of a bill to combat Islamophobia throughout the world by establishing an office within the State Department to monitor and report Islamophobia worldwide. The measure was introduced by Representative Ilhan Omar, who won support after being name-called by a Republican representative, Lauren Boebert, as a member of the “Jihad Squad”. Omar tweeted that the bill’s passage was a “huge milestone for Muslims around the world and a powerful signal that Islamophobia cannot be tolerated anywhere”.

Highest bravery award for two heroes of the Christchurch mosque massacre

Two New Zealanders have been awarded the country’s highest bravery award for confronting the white supremacist gunman who shot dead 51 Muslims in Christchurch mosques in 2019. Naeem Rashid, who died in the attack, and survivor Abdul Aziz were awarded the New Zealand Cross, the non-combat equivalent of the Victoria Cross, for great bravery in a situation of extreme danger. Naeem Rashid was in the Al Noor mosque and charged at the gunman, Brenton Tarrant, partially knocking him down, allowing several people to escape. Later when Tarrant moved to the Linwood prayer centre, Abdul Aziz hurled a credit card payment machine at him and brandished an empty rifle, which caused him to flee. Tarrant was sentenced to spend the rest of his life in jail.

Inquiry launched into charity running a mosque in Small Heath, Birmingham

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into Dar ul Uloom Islamia Rizwia (Bralawai), which runs the Central Jamia Mosque Ghamkol Sharif in Small Heath, Birmingham, over concerns about its administration and management. The Charity Commission says the inquiry will examine policies and procedures relating to safeguarding, the conduct of some trustees and staff members on social media, conflicts of interest, governance, financial controls and the proper application of charitable funds.

Love your neighbour and get the booster vaccine

Church leaders are out in force on Twitter urging people to get their booster vaccination. The Archbishop of Canterbury told John Pienaar on Times Radio that it was the moral thing to do because it was about loving your neighbour. Similar messages came from the Diocese of Oxford; the Bishop of Reading; Bishop of Truro; Bishop of Southwark; and the Bishop of Taunton.

#TeamBelieve M&S jumper goes viral

Marks and Spencer’s £19.99 jumper with the word “believe” woven on the front, has been snapped up by women clergy up and down the land. Now a compilation picture showing at least 400 clergy showcasing #TeamBelieve is doing the rounds on social media. Compiled by film maker and actress @clairejones, the pic has been shared by the College Chaplain of Christ Church, Oxford, the Rev Clare Hayns, who said: “Wonderful to see so many women of faith wearing the #TeamBelieve jumper.”

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