29 September 2014
In this image from July, demonstrators from various religions gather during a protest in Irbil, Iraq, against militants of the Islamic State. Last week, Muslim leaders issued two important documents condemning the use of violence and the actions of ISIS. (photo: CNS/Azad Lashkari, Reuters)
In the past week two important documents have been published from Muslim organizations which respond to the often-heard question: “Why don’t Muslims speak out against what is happening to Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria?”
The first document, “In the Face of Conflict,” is a statement of principles published on 26 September by King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in New York. Without mentioning any specific conflict or specific religion or faith traditions, the document condemns violence, terrorism and hate speech. It also condemns what it calls the “instrumentalization of religion to make war.”
A more interesting and more important document appeared 25 September 2014. It is an open letter to “Dr. Irahim Awwad Al-Badri, alias ‘Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi’” (who is the head of ISIS and self-declared Caliph) and “to the fighters and followers of the self-declared ‘Islamic State’” and it is signed by 126 Sunni leaders from around the world.
The lengthy letter is in the form of a traditional Islamic fetwa or legal decision. Far from being a statement of general principles, the letter deals with concrete events and persons. In the best of Muslim legal tradition, the letter uses principles from the Quaran and from the Sunna—the sayings and acts of the Prophet Muhammad—along with ideas from the great Muslim thinkers and commentators of the past, and from historical events.
At the beginning of this complicated and tightly reasoned letter there is an Executive Summary which contains 24 principles. Although each one is extremely important, some of the most notable and pertinent ones are:
- It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings (#5),
- It is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers (#7).
- It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture (#11).
- The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus (#12).
- It is forbidden is Islam to force people to convert (#13).
- It is forbidden in Islam to torture people (#17).
- It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims (#22).
Each of the points is derived from careful deduction according to the principles of Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh). While this may make the document difficult for the non-Muslim or the non-scholar to read, it is precisely what makes the document so magisterial and very important. It is a clear statement in the most Islamic terms possible that the Islamic State (variously IS, ISIS, ISIL) is neither a valid reinstatement of the Caliphate nor Islamic in any sense of the word.
29 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Muslim
Pope Francis greets emeritus Pope Benedict XVI during an encounter for the elderly in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 28 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
On Sunday, Pope Francis celebrated a special Mass for the elderly in St. Peter’s Square — one that brought together again the pontiff and his predecessor. During the Mass, Pope Francis spoke of the plight facing many older men and women:
The wisdom and love of older people are instrumental for building the future, and they can even cheer up grumpy teenagers, the pope said.
“It’s very good for you to go visit an older person. Look at our kids. Sometimes we see them being listless and sad; (if) they go visit an older person, they become happy,” he said.
“Older people, grandparents have an ability to understand very difficult situations, a great talent. And when they pray about these situations, their prayers are strong and powerful.”
But there are many who instead prey on their fragilities, and the pope warned against the “inhuman” violence being waged against the elderly and children in areas of conflict.
Harm can also be waged quietly, he said, through many forms of neglect and abandonment, which “are a real and true hidden euthanasia.”
People need to fight against “this poisonous throwaway culture,” which targets children, young people and the elderly, on “the pretext of keeping the economic system ‘balanced,’ where the focus is not on the human being but on the god of money.”
While residential care facilities are important for those who don’t have a family who can care for them, it’s important these institutes be “truly like homes, not prisons,” the pope said, and that their placement there is in the best interest of the older person, “not someone else.”
The summer edition of ONE looked closely at this issue, with a poignant glimpse into the lives of the “new orphans” of Armenia and Georgia:
For Georgia, a society with a long, cherished tradition of multigenerational households that take care of their own from cradle to grave, the idea of a senior citizen with no money and no family used to be unthinkable. As part of the Soviet Union, Georgians were insulated by a state-run system of health care: doctors were plentiful and medicine was cheap. The question of who would take care of grandma or grandpa in their old age was never an issue.
Today, however, with widespread poverty pushing families apart — many emigrate to Russia, or abroad — it is becoming more common.
Tsiala Gogodze, 74, used to arrange tours and official visits for dignitaries when Georgia was part of the Soviet Union. With a smattering of English to flavor her fluent Russian and Georgian, Ms. Gogodze laments the loneliness that gnawed at the seniors before they found the center and each other.
“You know what is horrible? No one needs people like us, not our relations, not anyone,” she says. “That is horrible.”
Family is a crucial part of Georgian culture, and the expectation that one’s family will always be there runs deep in the national psyche. Without family to look after them, or visit with them, many of the seniors who now visit the center had no one to talk with them or even care about them.
29 September 2014
Tags: Armenia Georgia Pope
In this image from last month, boys look at the site of a car bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq.
A vicar at Iraq’s only Anglican church claims ISIS militants are closing in on Baghdad,
despite airstrikes. (photo: CNS/Wissm al-Okili, Reuters)
Report: ISIS closing in on Baghdad (International Business Times) The Islamic State group is allegedly closing in on Baghdad, according to a report from a vicar at Iraq's only Anglican church that claims the jihadists formerly known as ISIS are roughly one mile away from the Iraqi capital. Airstrikes against ISIS targets were supposed to stop the group from taking Baghdad...
Nuncio: Russian expansion endangers Catholics in Ukraine (CNA) The apostolic nuncio to Ukraine has urged efforts to support Catholics in the nation, warning that Russia’s expansion into the country has caused major instability and threatens a return to political persecution. “The danger of repression of the Greek-Catholic Church exists in whatever part of Ukraine Russia might establish its predominance or continue through acts of terrorism to push forward with its aggression,” Archbishop Thomas Gullickson said on 23 September...
Cardinal Koch expresses hope for closer Catholic-Orthodox relations (Vatican Radio) The head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity says he regrets that Catholics and Orthodox leaders are unable to give a stronger sign of unity for Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East. Cardinal Kurt Koch has just returned from a meeting in Amman where he served as co-president of the Joint International Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. A communique released on Wednesday reflects the difficulties the two sides encountered in the search for agreement on the theme ‘Synodality and Primacy’ which has been at the heart of the discussions since a 2007 plenary meeting in Ravenna, Italy...
India high court rules it is legitimate to not declare a religion (Fides) The Bombay High Court has ruled that the State cannot “compel any citizen to disclose his religion while submitting forms or declarations.” The decision reaffirms the secular character of Indian democracy and puts an end to a dispute that is recorded in other Asian countries...
Patriarch Kiril: modern art can harm humanity (The Moscow Times) Patriarch Kirill should take care not to wander too far from Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, lest he risks stumbling upon the city’s museum of modern art — a cultural genre he recently described as “filth.” Speaking at an Orthodox festival on Wednesday, the head of the Russian Church told journalists that some forms of contemporary culture “show some horrors, some nonsense, idiocy,” state-run news agency RIA Novosti reported...
26 September 2014
Tags: India Iraq Ukraine Russia Orthodox
With their country undergoing continuing air strikes targeting ISIS, some Syrians are fleeing to neighboring countries. Here, a number of refugees wait at the Turkish border near Sanliurfa,
on 24 September. (photo: CNS/Sedat Suna, EPA)
26 September 2014
In this 30 June photo, a child walks through a dust storm at the Khazair camp near the city of Mosul. Many Iraqis have been temporarily housed at various camps for the internally displaced as they hope to enter the safety of the nearby Kurdish region. (photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Chaldean Catholics in Iraq want refugee status (89.3 KPCC) There are more than half a million Christians in Iraq today, and two-thirds of them are Chaldean. The group is under attack by the militant Islamic State, bombing Chaldean churches, attacking monasteries, and chasing Chaldeans from their ancestral land. Southern California is home to an estimated 50,000 Chaldeans, mostly in San Diego County. Community leaders and a Chaldean bishop have been lobbying Congress, the State Department, even the United Nations to open the door to more Chaldean refugees…
Chaldean patriarch: Let us go back to full unity (AINA) Chaldean Patriarch Louis Raphael I sent a letter of congratulations to the patriarch of Church of the East, Mar Dinkha IV, on the occasion of his 78th birthday on 15 September. In the congratulatory message, Patriarch Louis Raphael included an official invitation to start a path of dialogue together to restore full ecclesial communion between the Chaldean community — together with the bishop of Rome — and the community of the Church of the East…
Syrian army captures town near Damascus (Al Jazeera) Syrian government forces have overrun rebels in a town northeast of Damascus, strengthening President Bashar al Assad’s grip on territory around the capital. President Assad’s forces have been gradually extending control over a corridor of territory from Damascus to the Mediterranean coast this year, seizing towns and villages along the main north-south highway and in the mountainous Qalamoun area along the Lebanese border…
Israel criticized over blocking UNHRC mission (Al Jazeera) On 20 September, Makarim Wibisono was expected to begin his first mission as the newly appointed United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. However, Wibisono has yet to begin this mission, since Israel has not yet granted him access to the occupied Palestinian territory…
25 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Palestine Israel Ecumenism
An Iraqi family that fled ISIS gathers at a table in one of the refugee centers in Jordan. To read a full report on the flood of refugees pouring into Jordan, visit this link. (photo: CNEWA)
25 September 2014
As the conflict continues, 150,000 Syrians seek relief and shelter as they flee into Turkey. (video: Al Jazeera)
The Syrian front: Waiting to die in Aleppo (Der Spiegel) Eastern Aleppo has been virtually abandoned, as have most residential districts located away from the front. Those left in the city prefer to crowd into housing right up against the battle lines, which have remained virtually static in the last two years. Paradoxically, people feel safest living within range of enemy tank and sniper fire…
Armenian archbishop of Aleppo: Syrian people do not view air raids as liberation (Fides) The air raids against jihadi bases in Syria, carried out by the United States with the support of some Arab countries, do not elicit positive expectations among the population of Aleppo in Syria, who fear “this type of external involvement could worsen the situation,” said Armenian Catholic Archbishop Boutros Marayati of Aleppo…
Catholic-Orthodox commission prays for persecuted brethren (Vatican Radio) The Joint International Commission for the Theological Dialogue between the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church has released a Communiqué following the commission’s 13th plenary session, which was held in Amman, Jordan, from 15-23 Spetember 2014. In the statement, the commission expresses deep concern for and solidarity with the Christians and members of other religious traditions of the entire Middle East region who are at present suffering brutally violent persecution, and promise continued prayers for all the persecuted…
King of Jordan: Christians are a ‘constitutive’ part of the Middle East (Fides) “Let me say it once again: Arab Christians are an integral part of my region’s past, present and future,” said King Abdullah II in his speech at the 69th United Nations General Assembly…
Ukrainian president: Most fighting is over (RT) The most dangerous part of the war is on the wane, said Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko, rolling out his reform program. While setting corruption as his main target, he said the number of regular troops needs to be boosted. Poroshenko’s roadmap includes 60 reforms that should be fully implemented by 2020…
24 September 2014
Tags: Syria Ukraine Middle East Christians Christian Unity Aleppo
A cross atop a temporary building in downtown Erbil, Iraq, marks the office of Syriac Catholic Archbishop Boutros Moshe of Mosul — one of more than 130,000 Christians displaced by ISIS who are now seeking refuge in Erbil. To learn more, read the latest report on the refugee situation.
24 September 2014
A man holds Argentina’s flag as Pope Francis arrives to lead his general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican on 24 September. (photo: CNS/Paul Haring)
New air strikes hit Iraq, Syria (USA Today) U.S. and coalition aircraft hit five targets in Iraq and Syria early Wednesday as part of the continued round of airstrikes on targets connected to the militant Islamic State terrorist organization, the U.S. Central Command reported. Meanwhile, White House National Security Adviser Susan Rice told NBC News Wednesday the White House had seen social media reports that the allied airstrikes had killed the leader of Khorasan Group terrorist organization, Muhsin al-Fadhli, although U.S. officials had not confirmed those reports...
Syrian archbishop expresses concern over U.S. air strikes (Fides) The air raids against jihadi bases in Syria, carried out by the United States with the support of some Arab countries, do not elicit positive expectations among the population of Aleppo in Syria, This was reported to Fides Agency by the Armenian Catholic Archbishop of Aleppo, Boutros Marayati, who added he is afraid “that this type of external involvement could worsen the situation...”
Pope: Albania proves that diverse religions can live in peace (CNS) People of different religious beliefs can and must live together in peace, Pope Francis said. The Muslim majority and Christian minorities in Albania cooperate beautifully for the common good and prove to the world that it can be done, he said. I could see, with great satisfaction, that the peaceful and fruitful coexistence between people and communities belonging to different religions is not only beneficial, but is concretely possible and practical. They put it into practice” in Albania, he said during his general audience on 24 September...
Gaza talks to resume in late October (Reuters) Israel and the Palestinians agreed on Tuesday to resume talks late next month on cementing a Gaza ceasefire, allowing time for Palestinian factions to resolve internal differences which could threaten the Egyptian-mediated negotiations...
Pope Francis to visit Armenia in March (Public Radio of Armenia) Pope Francis will visit Armenia in March 2015, Chancellor of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, His Grace Bishop Arshak Khachatrian told reporters today. He said it’s going to be both a state and religious visit. A prayer in memory of the Armenian genocide victims will be held within the framework of the visit...
NATO: Russia has withdrawn many troops from Ukraine (Wall Street Journal) A top European Union official blasted Russia for reviving threats of retaliation against Ukraine over a trade deal with the bloc, stoking political tensions even as signs mount of a military de-escalation in the conflict zone. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization said that Russia had withdrawn a sizable number of troops from eastern Ukraine—though some remained. Meanwhile Russia-backed rebels in the region said they had begun pulling back their heavy artillery, after Ukrainian troops did the same...
Patriarch: Lebanon’s Muslims and Christians share same fate (Fides) “For the good of the nation, as spiritual leaders, our duty is to protect the moral and spiritual values and the fundamental and national constitutional principles.” This is what the Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Bechara Boutros Rai said after his meeting on Tuesday 23 September with the new Grand Mufti of Lebanon, Abdel Latif Derian. In statements reported by the local press, the Primate of the Maronite Church said “At a social level, muslims and Christians in Lebanon are a family with a common destiny and a common culture...”
24 September 2014
Tags: Syria Iraq Gaza Strip/West Bank Armenia Muslim
Seniors gather for lunch in Caritas Armenia’s day care center. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the Summer edition of ONE, writer Gayane Abrahamyan describes the challenges facing senior citizens in the poorest region of Armenia. Below, she offers her personal impressions of her visit to the area.
Every time I visit Gyumri, my emotions won’t let me be for days.
In the second biggest city of Armenia, I’m struck by the courage and endurance of the people. This time my visit left me with an even heavier heart as I went there to write a story about the issues of the elderly living alone.
All of them divide their lives into two chapters: before the earthquake, and after. All of them have earthquake memories; there is none among them who did not lose a child, wife, parent, friend. There is no one living a decent life: 25 years after the natural calamity turned the once beautiful and thriving city into ruins, thousands still somehow survive in rusty tin-houses, so utterly worn-out, having no bathroom and toilet facilities.
Approaching each of these houses, commonly referred to as domiks, one can’t help thinking “I wouldn’t last a half hour here.”
In these wagons — that’s what the domiks basically are — people live, have children, grow old, yet their turn on the housing list never comes. Death comes faster.
Every time I witness this, I feel the same astonishment and admiration.
My destination this day is the poorest district in Gyumri, the poorest city in Armenia; and its poorest part would be the Savoyan district. It used to be a resort and recreation area during the Soviet times, surrounded by blooming gardens and a most beautiful fountain. Savoyan is currently a domik district, more like a scrap metal dump with its rusty and tumbledown houses, dirt, litter piles everywhere and heart-breaking human glances of despair and misery.
The only thing that comes as an affirmation is the sound of children. Geghetsik Yenokian, 72, is raising her late son’s three children alone, somehow surviving on her $100 a month pension. My questions pierce her mind like nails; answers released and rushing from different corners of her memories get stuck in her throat and won’t pass through, as she fights back the unwanted tears.
The state budget has no money for these seniors; the country has not yet overcome theeconomic crisis, they say. Meanwhile, the prime minister decided to allot $310,000 from that same depleted budget to purchase two composting toilets in 2013. That money would buy at least 15 apartments in Gyumri.
There is no money in the budget, but the cabinet members needed new cars for work. In 2013 the government was considering allotting $1 million from the budget reserve fund to buy new cars.
Rita Babaian, 44, mother of three, living in Gyumri’s other Avtokayan (bus station) domik district, recalls how President Serzh Sargsyan made a pre-election visit to Gyumri in 2013. She tried to approach him and ask a housing-related question, but the bodyguards would not let her. They told her to shout the questions from where she stood.
“They said ‘shout, and if you are lucky, he will approach’,” she says and mocks: “I was not lucky.”
“They are simply afraid to look into our eyes, afraid to see that we have run out of patience.”