Religion news 20 July 2021

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Image credit: Board of Deputies

Labour set to expel hundreds who deny extent of antisemitism in party

Labour is expected to expel hundreds of members who deny claims of antisemitism in the party later today. The party’s National Executive Committee is due to vote on plans to proscribe four groups which are alleged to have denied the extent of Labour’s antisemitism problem and promoted communism.  If passed, more than 1,000 Labour members could find themselves barred. The Jewish Chronicle says the Jewish Labour Movement has welcomed the move as a clear signal the Party is committed to tackling antisemitism in its ranks. 

Meanwhile, Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, has told Israel Radio that she expects those responsible for “vile anti-Semitic attacks” in London during the recent conflict in Israel and Gaza to be brought to justice. She said her officers were working really hard to get ahead of the problem.  Read Lee Harpin’s report in Jewish News.

Working 9 to 5(am)? Call for National Crackdown on Unpaid Overtime Post–Covid

The Government is being urged to create more British public holidays and introduce measures to combat increasing unpaid overtime. A new report, “Just Work”, out today (Tuesday) from the theological think-tank Theos, says unpaid overtime has increased in recent years – and been exacerbated by more people working from home due to Covid-19.  It says the UK has lost its religious tradition of resting on Sundays but an alternative must be found for the sake of family life, mental health and the environment.  The report also calls for the introduction of retraining resources, as robots and technology replace humans in the workplace.  Read the full report.

Saudi Arabia uses smart bracelets to counter Covid-19 during the Hajj

Social distancing and masks are prevalent at Islam’s holiest site in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, as the coronavirus takes its toll on the annual Hajj pilgrimage for the second year running. Associated Press reports that robots have been deployed to spray disinfectant around the cube-shaped Kaaba’s busiest walkways. The Kingdom is also testing a smart bracelet in collaboration with the government’s artificial intelligence authority. The touchscreen bracelet looks like an Apple Watch and includes information on the Hajj, a pilgrim’s oxygen levels and vaccine data. It also has an emergency feature to call for help. As they did last year, pilgrims have to carry their own prayer rugs and follow a strict schedule via a mobile app that informs them when they can be in certain areas to avoid crowding.

In Senegal, AP says cases have risen to “unprecedented” highs and the Government is limiting public gatherings and travel, urging the public to continue wearing masks and frequently sanitise their hands. Health officials are worried because more than 80% of the country is Muslim and they will want to celebrate the Eid al-Adha festival today with their families. AP also reports that health experts in Bangladesh have slammed the Government’s eight-day pause in the country’s strict lockdown to allow for the Islamic Festival. They warn it could exacerbate an ongoing surge fuelled by the highly contagious delta variant, first detected in neighbouring India. An estimated 10 million of Dhaka’s 20 million residents are expected to travel to their villages, which experts are warning could be “catastrophic”. 

Roman Catholic Bishops issue Covid-19 advice for England and Wales

In line with other denominations in England, Catholic Bishops are advising caution and continuing precautions against Covid-19, despite the government’s lifting of all legal restrictions . Advice issued yesterday says churches could provide secure areas for parishioners anxious about the virus, where social distancing and face coverings are required. Congregations should wear masks while singing, until the number of people contracting the virus decreases. It says churches are obliged to minimise risk and observe health and safety rules

Catholics flock to Latin Mass Society as parishes drop Old Rite Masses

The Latin Mass Society of England and Wales has seen a dramatic surge in new members this weekend following Pope Francis’ decision to tighten rules about when the Old Rite Latin Mass can be celebrated. The Tablet says more than 80 members have signed or re-joined the society – the same number of new members it usually expects to welcome in a six month period. Many of the communities that celebrate Old Rite Mass in the UK have confirmed that they will continue to do so having received permission from their diocesan bishop.

Pope expresses gratitude to Gemelli Hospital medical staff

Pope Francis has expressed his gratitude to the board of directors and the medical staff who took care of him during his recent hospitalisation at the Agostino Gemelli hospital in Rome.  Vatican News reports he sent a letter to them in which he described their work as delicate, demanding and “a work of mercy”.

Supporters of embattled Christ Church Dean launch campaign to save his career

Supporters of the embattled Oxford Dean, Martyn Percy, have launched a new campaign to save his career, after a world-renowned mediator walked out on dispute talks.  The Dean, who presides over Christ Church College and cathedral, has been embroiled in a four-year-long row with fellow Oxford dons over his tenure. He was suspended in 2018 over his alleged misconduct in a pay dispute and was fully exonerated in 2019 by an internal tribunal conducted by a retired judge. However, the feud continued. Bill Marsh, an award-winning mediator who was appointed by the Charity Commission to find a solution, has admitted defeat and ended the process after almost a year.  The Telegraph reports that a coalition of the Dean’s friends and supporters are on Monday launching a website in a bid to salvage his career and reputation.  It collates all documents and press cuttings covering the row over the past few years so that “people can see for themselves what’s been going on”. It is being launched alongside a campaigning twitter account, @turbpriestoxon.

Australia and global community have a moral obligation to help Hazaras fleeing Afghanistan

Australia has a moral obligation to help those seeking refuge from the Taliban as allied forces leave Afghanistan. That’s the view of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network which warns that meaningful support must be provided to protect high-risk groups such as the Hazaras who are in danger of mass atrocities at the hands of the Taliban. Hazaras are predominantly Shia Muslims, hold liberal values and promote education. Their educational and cultural success since 2001 pose a living contradiction to Taliban dogma.  Writing in The Guardian, the APRRN says Australia should leverage influence over its allies in the EU and use trade and aid relationships to help the Hazaras.  

Dane who drew controversial Muhammad caricature dies at 86  

Danish cartoonist, Kurt Westergaard, whose image of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb as a turban was at the centre of widespread anti-Danish anger in the Muslim world in the mid-2000s, has died. He was 86. Associated Press said he died in his sleep after a long illness.  Mr Westergaard became known worldwide in 2005 for his controversial depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in Jyllands-Posten, which published 12 editorial cartoons of the principal figure of Islam. The images, particularly Westergaard’s, sparked a huge wave of anger in the Muslim world and escalated into violent anti-Denmark protests by Muslims worldwide in 2006. Westergaard subsequently received several death threats and was forced to have police protection. He said he’d like to be remembered as the one who struck a blow for the freedom of expression, but there was no doubt some would remember him as “a Satan who insulted the religion of over one billion people”.

Ding-Dong! Apologetic Chester Cathedral in U-turn over ‘Freedom Day’ bell-ringing plans

Chester Cathedral was forced to cancel and apologise over plans to ring the cathedral bells yesterday (Monday) afternoon to mark so-called ‘Freedom Day’.  A Twitter post on Sunday announcing the bell-ringing  was met with more than 2,300 furious replies, with some asking if the account had been hacked. The Chester Standard says the Cathedral confirmed its U-turn later that night, thanking everyone for their feedback and apologising “sincerely for the insensitivity of this plan and for any upset caused”.  A number of people responded thanking the cathedral for its U-turn and apology.

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