Religion news 4 May 2021

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British man among 45 crushed at a religious festival in Israel

A British man training to be a rabbi was among 45 people who died in a stampede at a Jewish festival in Israel last week. Moshe Bergman, 24, from Salford, had lived in Jerusalem for two years and married 18 months ago. His family travelled to Jerusalem where he was buried on Sunday. Israel observed a day of mourning on Sunday and a digital moment of reflection was held in Britain. The Israeli government is opening an investigation into the tragedy, when men and boys were crushed as thousands left the celebrations through a narrow tunnel. The state auditor had previously expressed concern about health and safety issues.

Eighty per cent of churches involved in feeding the nation

A report from the Church Urban Fund says 80 per cent of all churches in England have been involved in running food banks and feeding people during the pandemic. The number of churches engaged in welfare provision increased, with 37 per cent saying they were providing more support, including pastoral help, shopping and collecting prescriptions. Church leaders told the survey that social problems such as isolation, loneliness and mental health difficulties, food poverty, unemployment and debt have become much more widespread because of Covid-19 and church buildings have been used for community activities. In a foreword, the Bishop of Newcastle, Christine Hardman, said: “The unequal impact of the pandemic has made us more acutely aware of poverty in our midst, even in wealthier parts of the country.”

St Paul’s Cathedral memorial to those who died from Covid-19

St Paul’s Cathedral has launched a £2.3m fundraising campaign to build a memorial inside the north door entrance, to remember the 127,000 people who have died from Covid-19 in the UK. The tall wooden portico structure will contain an online book of remembrance. It was designed by Oliver Caroe, the cathedral’s surveyor of the fabric, whose mother died of the virus. David Ison, the Dean of St Paul’s, said he hoped the memorial would enable reflection. “The physical memorial at St Paul’s will anchor the online book in a place where significant events and people have been commemorated for many centuries,” he said.

Free Presbyterians likely to assert control of the Democratic Unionist Party

The election for the new leader of the Democratic Unionist Party will reveal the extent of the influence of the fundamentalist evangelical Free Presbyterians, a church founded by Dr Ian Paisley. Last month, the party’s leader, Arlene Foster, resigned after a letter from DUP politicians expressed no confidence in her leadership. It is widely believed that her decision to abstain on a vote to ban gay conversion therapy, infuriated hardliners. The first declared candidate for the position is Edwin Poots, Free Presbyterian, socially conservative and an Orangeman. The second is Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader at Westminster. There is speculation that Mrs Foster is considering resigning from the party after she steps down.

Some British mosques ‘not allowing women to pray’ during Ramadan

A survey by the BBC suggests that more than a fifth of Britain’s largest mosques are not allowing women in to pray during Ramadan, citing Covid restrictions. More than a quarter do not have a space for women, the survey found. Anita Nayyar, who campaigns for more inclusive mosques, says women often get “second-class”, smaller areas in basements, behind locked doors and up flights of stairs and the pandemic has exacerbated the problems. Julie Siddiqi published an Instagram video about her mosque in Slough not being open for women this month and she received hundreds of messages of support citing similar experiences.

Iran accused of banning Bahá’ís their right to a proper burial

Iranian authorities have banned Bahá’ís in Tehran from burying the dead in spaces previously allocated to them at the Khavaran cemetery, the Bahá’ís UK assembly reports. It says this is a continued campaign of persecution in Iran and follows a pattern of the destruction and desecration of Bahá’í cemeteries, since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Diane Ala’i, Representative of the Bahá’í International Community at the United Nations, said: “A dignified burial according to one’s own religious laws is among the most basic human rights. The Iranian authorities must respect this.”

Sri Lanka proposes public burqa ban

Al Jazeera reports that Sri Lanka’s cabinet has approved a ban on wearing full-face veils, including burkas, in public, on national security grounds. The proposal has to be approved by parliament where the government holds a majority, to become law. It quotes the public security minister, Sarath Weerasekera, saying burkas are a sign of religious extremism and a ban would improve national security. Ahmed Shaheed, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, said a ban would be incompatible with international law and the right to free religious expression. Sri Lanka is a majority Buddhist country, with 10 per cent of the population Muslim, .

British Islam — and how it differs from Islam in Macron’s France

The new generation of British-born Muslims needs leadership so that they feel no conflict of loyalty between nation and faith, according to Professor Jocelyne Cesari, of the department of theology and religion at Birmingham University. She says a younger generation of Muslims are increasingly more religious than their parents. “These young people are very British and very attached to their faith. Teaching them is not only the role of the family. There is a gap between some forms of leadership that are replicating the discourse or patterns of some Muslim countries and working within the British culture.” The call came during What is British Islam — and What is French Islam?, a panel discussion at the Religion Media Exploring Belief Festival. See the debate on our YouTube channel here

Facebook promotes group prayer requests

Facebook has a new ‘prayer post’ feature that allows members of Facebook groups to ask for and respond to prayer requests. Nona Jones, head of Global Faith Partnerships at Facebook, told the Religion News Service that the idea grew out of the way people connected over Facebook during the pandemic. During Easter and Passover 2020, Facebook recorded the most group video calls ever on Messenger, and the most Facebook Live broadcasts from “spiritual” Facebook pages.

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