Religion news 17 April 2024

Llanberis pass, Snowdonia / Eyri. Image credit: Terry Kearney CCLicense 2.0

Prayer ban victory highlights confusion over religious equality in schools

The decision by the High Court to back the policy of the Michaela School in north London, banning prayer rituals, has highlighted confusion over what constitutes religious equality in schools, writes Catherine Pepinster. A Muslim pupil and her parents took legal action to challenge the school’s policy saying it was effectively a ban on prayer and was discriminatory, affecting the girl’s right to religious freedom. Other schools create spaces for prayer to ensure inclusivity, but Michaela School has taken an opposite view, due to concerns about a segregation between religious groups. Mr Justice Linden backed the school’s headteacher, Katharine Birbalsingh, and said there was a rational connection between the school’s policy and the aim of promoting its ethos of inclusivity and social cohesion. Read our report here

Bishop appeals for victims of modern slavery to be exempt from Rwanda bill measures

The “ping pong” passage of the Rwanda Bill, which will allow migrants in the UK illegally to be sent to Rwanda and have their asylum claims processed there, has entered its last days. It is swinging between the Commons and the Lords as peers continue to resist its measures.  Yesterday, once more, the Lords tabled amendments similar to those already thrown out by the Commons several times. The amendments are to  require that Rwanda cannot be treated as a safe country unless there is independent verification; to restore the jurisdiction of domestic courts on the safety of Rwanda; to demand that those who have worked with the UK military or government overseas, such as Afghan interpreters, be exempt; and to have due regard for international and key domestic laws, including human rights and modern slavery legislation. Church of England bishops have consistently opposed the bill and yesterday the Bishop of Bristol, Vivienne Faull, raised concerns about the bill’s impact on victims of modern slavery, appealing for a general exemption for people who are suspected or confirmed victims. The bill goes back to the Commons this morning and is expected to go to the Lords this afternoon, with a government expectation that it will clear parliament by the end of this week.

British Jewish organisation Yachad appeals for foreign secretary’s help to resolve Middle East crisis

Hannah Weisfeld, the executive director of Yachad, a British Jewish organisation campaigning for a political resolution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict, has urged supporters to write to the Foreign Secretary urging the “desperate need for diplomacy” to de-escalate the crisis in the Middle East. The pro forma public letter to Lord Cameron says those who sign care deeply about Israel’s survival as a Jewish and democratic state, and care for the hostages and their families, while also referencing “devastating images of death and destruction” in Gaza. It believes it important to make known the “plurality of voices within minority communities” and says it supports a ceasefire, the return of the hostages and aid to Gaza. It says Hamas cannot be eliminated purely by military force and the international community “must work relentlessly to prevent this nightmare from repeating itself”. It offers practical suggestions for next steps in diplomacy, saying that only through a political resolution will Israel thrive and prosper – alongside a viable and independent Palestinian state. “Yachad believes that the occupation, which denies millions of Palestinians their basic civil and political rights, must end if a resolution to the conflict is to be achieved”.

Israeli and Palestinian women in grief forge peace through dialogue

The Women’s Interfaith Network has been speaking to two mothers, one Israeli and the other Palestinian, who have both lost sons in the war since 7 October and who have shared their grief with each other.  Robi Damelin, Israeli, and Laila Alsheikh, a Palestinian living in the West Bank, are part of the Parents Circle Family Forum, bringing together families who have lost loved ones to the ongoing conflict.  The WIF podcast brought them together for its podcast and Laila tells the story of how she met an Israeli woman soon after her son died. She said: “The Israeli woman … she came to me, and … said, ‘I didn’t hurt you, but the people who hurt you are from my own people. I’m a mother too, I can understand your pain. I could understand even the words that you couldn’t say’, and she came and hugged me and both of us started to cry. She didn’t know that day, but by her simple words, she returned me back to life.” The podcast is part of a series on how faith survives conflict and its message pursues the aim of the charity, that reconciliation is a prerequisite for sustainable peace.

Quakers call for specific actions to promote peace and end violence in the Middle East

Eight global Quaker organisations including Quakers in Britain and the American Friends Service Committee, are calling for peace in Palestine and Israel. In a joint statement, they demand a  permanent ceasefire, the release of hostages and prisoners, and unrestricted humanitarian access in Gaza. They believe a just and lasting peace in Palestine and Israel is possible “when past and ongoing injustices are acknowledged and addressed, ensuring freedom, dignity, equal rights, and justice for all people living in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory”.  A detailed list of demands is issued in a forceful statement, aiming at the Israeli government, Hamas and other armed Palestinian groups, and western leaders. The statement says Quakers will encourage decision makers, organise protests, support an end to occupation, divest from corporations profiting from military action and support people in Israel and Palestine working for peace. Statement is here

Muslim International Film Festival in London celebrates diverse voices

The Guardian reports that the Muslim International Film Festival is to be held at The Odeon West End, in London, from 30 May to 2 June.  The programme includes “Dammi”, starring Riz Ahmed in a story about a man confronting his French and Algerian heritage on a trip to Paris; “In Camera”, a British feature film starring  Nabhaan Rizwan about an actor struggling to make a career in the film industry; “Hounds”, a crime story set in Casblanca; the Jordanian film “Inshallah a Boy”; and “Goodbye Julia”, set during the pre-separation period in Sudan. The festival organisers say their mission is to celebrate and amplify diverse voices exploring Muslim experiences.

British Muslims join a discussion to explain their contribution to society

Four British Muslims – a civil engineer, charity founder, community activist and radio producer – have been assembled as a panel to simply introduce themselves to a wider public, explaining their faith and motivation for making a contribution to society. The online event is organised by the  Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life, an organisation set up last year to  improve the understanding of the role that faith plays in society. It has commissioned a survey on social contribution of Muslims in society and written reports on the impact of faith on job satisfaction and mental health. Its founders are not listed, but at its launch Dr Rakib Ehsan, a British-Bangladeshi academic, explained that the role and impact of faith in public life deserves greater attention and as senior research associate, he would investigate how faith and spirituality relates to feelings of belonging and rootedness. The Muslims on the panel are: Taheer Jiwanji, Chartered Civil Engineer; Salma Khanam, founder of Aishah Help;  Abdurahman Sayed CEO of Al-Manaar, the Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre; and  Safeer Zartasht, head producer, Voice of Islam, an Ahmadiyya Muslim radio station.

Stabbing of bishop during service in Sydney was terrorist attack

Australian police say they are treating the stabbing of a bishop during a live church service as terrorism. Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, from the Assyrian Orthodox church and outspoken on social media,  was attacked with a knife by a 16-year-old, who ran up to him during the service and stabbed him in full view of the cameras relaying the service online. The bishop suffered non-life threatening injuries. Police say there appears to be a religious motive for the attack but the teenager, though known to police, was not on a terror watch list.

CAFOD draws attention to emerging starvation in Sudan

CAFOD is raising concerns about the humanitarian crisis in Sudan, following an international conference in Paris. It says the numbers of people affected by Sudan’s conflict over the last year surpass those of any other current global crisis withover 8.5 million displaced, and approximately 25 million in urgent need of humanitarian assistance. It says reports of starvation are already emerging and predicts that by June, up to 7 million people could face famine-like conditions. It says the promises of aid made at the conference are inadequate and estimates  US $2.7 billion is urgently needed to address the scale of the crisis.  CAFOD has been working in Sudan since the 1970s and has a crisis appeal.

New safeguarding executive for the Church of England

The Church of England has announced the name of the new independent co-chair of a group overseeing the church’s response to two critical safeguarding reports which recommend fundamental change. She is Lesley-Anne Ryder, an executive coach, former CEO and consultant on business transformation. The CofE says she also has experience in shaping health and social care policy at a senior level in the NHS.

Outdoor activities chaplain for Snowdonia / Eyri, based in Llanberis

The Church in Wales has appointed a chaplain to serve people engaged with outdoor activities in Snowdonia / Eyri. Former top hockey player, enthusiastic canoeist and sports teacher Jill Ireland will be based in Llanberis, the village where tourist mountain walks start and a centre for mountain and water sports at the foot of Snowdon / Yr Wyddfa. She has previously worked for Christians in Sport and Sports Friends, where she was deputy global leader and served for 10 years with its organisation in Thailand. She joins Canon Naomi Starkey the new Ministry Area Leader of Bro Eryri, the Church in Wales area in the Snowdonia national park, which had been without full-time spiritual leadership for six years. Archdeacon David Parry said: “Jill’s appointment is a sign of the Church’s commitment to everyone who finds joy and meaning in this precious landscape”.


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