Religion news 8 March

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Queen praises selfless duty

Hours before Meghan and Harry’s explosive interview with Oprah Winfrey is screened, the Queen praised the “selfless dedication to duty” seen across the Commonwealth, particularly on the front line during the pandemic. She was speaking at the annual Commonwealth service, this year adapted as a series of films from across the world, anchored at Westminster Abbey. The Queen also stressed the importance of staying in touch with family and friends during “testing times” and said there had been a “deeper appreciation” of the need to connect to others during the Covid-19 crisis.

Pope Francis in Iraq

Pope Francis stood among the ruins of Mosul, one of the cities in northern Iraq where Christians fled after Isis attacks, to declare: “Fraternity is stronger than fratricide. Hope is more powerful than death. Peace is more powerful than war.” It was the final day of a whirlwind tour of Iraq, which took him from Baghdad to Najaf in the south, where he met the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, spiritual leader of Shia Muslims, ending with a tour of the north and a mass in a football stadium, where thousands congregated despite Covid-19 restrictions. Once there were 1.5 million Christians in Iraq, but this has dwindled to 250,000 since the war in 2003. The Pope’s purpose was to support the Christian community, urge peace and reconciliation and give energy to interfaith relations which are seen as crucially important in uniting and healing the nation. Catholic news agency reports here. RMC report from web briefing on the Pope’s visit here.

Switzerland votes to ban the burka and niqab in public

Switzerland has narrowly voted in favour of banning the burka or niqab, face coverings worn by Muslim women, in public. It is estimated that 5 per cent of the country’s 8.6 million population are Muslim — mainly from Turkey, Bosnia and Kosovo — and only a total of 30 people wear the niqab. The referendum was proposed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party and was passed by 51.2 per cent to 48.8 per cent.

Islamophobia has reached epic proportions

The United Nations has been told that anti-terrorism policies adopted by countries after terrorist attacks, introduced in the name of opposing radical Islam, have led to the further stigmatisation of Muslims. Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, told the Human Rights Council on Friday that more needed to be done to tackle Islamophobia, which he said had reached “epidemic proportions” across the world. Dr Shaheed, who is also a senior law lecturer at Essex University, said that Islamophobia builds imaginary constructs around Muslims that are used to justify state-sponsored discrimination, hostility and violence against Muslims, with stark consequences for the enjoyment of human rights including freedom of religion or belief. Read our report on Islamophobia in Britain here.

Church of England “road map” out of lockdown

The Church of England has produced a “road map”, charting in clear simple language the permitted steps forward as the country moves out of lockdown. Detailed advice about worship and church activities will be released as the government issues more information.

Justin Welby condemns anti-gay language of the Archbishop of Nigeria

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby has issued a strong rebuke to the Archbishop of Nigeria, Henry Ndukuba, who said “the deadly ‘virus’ of homosexuality has infiltrated ACNA [the Anglican Church in North America]. This is likened to a yeast that should be urgently and radically expunged and excised lest it affects the whole dough.” Archbishop Welby said “I completely disagree with and condemn this language. It is unacceptable. It dehumanises those human beings of whom the statement speaks.”

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