Christian journal claims government has forced the Church to worship ‘the false god of saving lives’

Meanwhile, Christian fundamentalists:

Although a great many governors have made allowances for religious ceremonies to be performed in their coronavirus lockdown orders, many churches, too, have acknowledged in these extraordinary circumstances that their congregants should not be expected to attend public gatherings just for the sake of religious ceremony. Even Pope Francis has suggested Catholics who are at risk should ask God for forgiveness directly rather than go to Confession — a remarkable departure from centuries of Catholic Church doctrine.

But not all those of faith feel this way. In an angry article published in the right-wing Christian Journal First Things, editor R. R. Reno took a different position, suggesting that Christianity does not, in fact, command the faithful to take steps to save lives from COVID-19.

“At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, ‘I want to be able to say to the people of New York — I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy,’” wrote Reno. “This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of ‘saving lives.’”

“A number of my friends disagree with me,” wrote Reno. “They support the current measures, insisting that Christians must defend life. But the pro-life cause concerns the battle against killing, not an ill-conceived crusade against human finitude and the dolorous reality of death.”

Indeed, Reno even suggested that fearing the pandemic is a victory for Satan.

“There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost,” wrote Reno. “Satan rules a kingdom in which the ultimate power of death is announced morning, noon, and night. But Satan cannot rule directly. God alone has the power of life and death, and thus Satan can only rule indirectly. He must rely on our fear of death.”

“Fear of death and causing death is pervasive — stoked by a materialistic view of survival at any price and unchecked by Christian leaders who in all likelihood secretly accept the materialist assumptions of our age,” concluded Reno. “As long as we allow fear to reign, it will cause nearly all believers to fail to do as Christ commands in Matthew 25. It already is.”

Source: Christian journal claims government has forced the Church to worship ‘the false god of saving lives’

Indonesia: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to be Seen Differently

Of note. More on the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, albeit peaceful:

Only the rider’s eyes were visible from behind her black face veil. With a bow in her left hand and an arrow in her right, she cantered her horse toward a target, aimed quickly and let fly. The arrow struck home with a resounding pop.

The rider, Idhanur, who like many Indonesians uses one name, is a 31-year-old teacher at an Islamic school in East Java who says that firing arrows from horseback while wearing her conservative veil, or niqab, improves her chances of going to heaven.

Ms. Idhanur is part of a growing, peaceful movement of Muslim women who believe they can receive rewards from God through Islamic activities like wearing a niqab and practicing sports that the Prophet Muhammad is thought to have enjoyed.

Many also say it offers protection from prying eyes and harassment by men in a country where unwanted sexual advances are common.

Ms. Idhanur, who teaches at Al Fatah Islamic Boarding School of Temboro, part of the revivalist Tablighi Jamaat movement, has an answer for Indonesians who fear that conservative Islamic dress is a troubling step toward extremism and the marginalization of women.

“Even though we are wearing a niqab like this, it doesn’t mean that we become weak Muslim women,” Ms. Idhanur said after dismounting. “We can become strong Muslim women by participating in archery and horseback riding.”

Indonesia, a democracy that has the world’s largest Muslim population, is officially secular and has long been known for tolerance. But in the 22 years since the dictator Suharto was ousted, the country has turned increasingly toward a more conservative Islam.

Conservative clerics, such as Indonesia’s vice president, Ma’ruf Amin, have gained a more prominent role in public life. And local governments have enacted more than 600 measures imposing elements of Shariah, or Islamic law, including requiring women to wear hijabs — a catchall for head scarves — to hide their hair.

A small minority of Muslims have embraced extremist views and some have carried out deadly bombings, including the 2018 Surabaya church attack that killed a dozen bystanders. One suicide bomber was a woman, prompting many Indonesians to be wary of women who wear niqabs, a more conservative face veil where the only opening is a slit for the eyes.

Concern that the niqab is associated with terrorism prompted Indonesia’s religious affairs minister, Fachrul Razi, a former army general, to call for a ban on employees’ and visitors’ wearing niqabs in government buildings.

He fears that some government workers are being attracted to extremist thought and sees the niqab as a sign of radicalization. His regulation has yet to be adopted. A 2018 ban on niqabs at a university in Central Java lasted only a week before opposition compelled the university to rescind it.

But Sidney Jones, a leading expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia, said it was important to distinguish between radical Islamists who pose a threat and followers of conservative Islamic groups who promote a traditional Islamic lifestyle, such as the proselytizing Tablighi Jamaat sect.

Source: The ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to Be Seen DifferentlyThe ‘Niqab Squad’ Wants Women to Be Seen DifferentlyA movement of Indonesian women promotes the niqab veil as a way to get closer to heaven and avoid sexual harassment. Others fear it reflects growing extremism.A movement of Indonesian women promotes the niqab veil as a way to get closer to heaven and avoid sexual harassment. Others fear it reflects growing extremism.

International Women’s Day: With Shoes And Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally

Sigh….

Demonstrators belonging to Islamist groups attacked an International Women’s Day rally in the Pakistani capital Islamabad on Sunday, hurling rocks, chunks of mud and even their shoes. The demonstrators, who were at a rival rally held by hardline Islamist organizations, were particularly enraged by one slogan the women’s day rally adopted: “mera jism, mera marzi” – “my body, my choice.”

Riot police set up large cloth barricades to dive the rival rallies, which flanked either side of a main road. But the police were also there to protect the women’s day protesters, after the hardline men and women threatened violence.

As the protest was winding down, dozens of men tried to push through the barricade, including a man who held a little girl aloft on his shoulders. According to a video uploaded to Twitter by a BBC reporter, police used batons to push them back. Still, for the next few minutes, they hurled projectiles that scattered the women’s day protesters, as journalists huddled behind concrete road dividers.

The hardline groups, their surrogates and conservative talking heads, took to the airwaves preceding the rally to condemn Pakistani feminists, accusing them of encouraging anti-Islamic vulgarity by raising a slogan that hinted that a woman had the right to do as she pleased.

The tensions even boiled over on a live talk show, where a screen writer swore at a prominent Pakistani liberal after she interrupted him by chanting the slogan. “Nobody would even spit on your body,” he shouted in a clip widely shared on social media.

Conservative lawyers petitioned the courts in Pakistan’s three cities to try ban the women’s marches. One prominent Islamist opposition leader, known as Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman, threatened protesters on Feb. 29, warning them not to chant “my body, my choice.” “God willing, we will also come out into the streets, and we will destroy you,” he warned. And a senior teacher at Jamiat Hafsa, a hardline women’s seminary in the Pakistani capital, told NPR her students would halt the march by organizing a rival “modesty march.”

“This is a march to stop that march,” said the woman, who uses the name Bint Azwa (the women at the seminary often use first names or fake names to avoid being identified by security institutions that monitor their activities). “We are not going to let those women march the streets of our country, our neighborhood, with those vulgar chants.”

The violence underscored how hardline Islamist groups played upon conservative outrage over the slogan “my body, my choice,” to assert their presence in the Pakistani capital – and demonstrate their muscle.

The opposition leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman has struggled to find a toehold in Pakistan’s freewheeling politics since his party was forced into opposition. The hardline Jamiat Hafsa was violently shut down in 2007, after a standoff that killed more than 100 people. The women returned to the seminary only this February, and have dared security forces to remove them again.

On Sunday, dozens of the seminary women turned up at the counter-rally, clad in long black robes, headscarves and face veils, segregated from dozens of men who stood in a nearby park. They stood in military-style rows, their fearsome appearance only jarred by blue, green and pink bows pinned to their shoulders, to identify which bus they should return on, explained one 25-year-old, who only gave her first name, Rubina.

“We don’t want women to make choices for their bodies. The choice rests with God,” she said. Nodding toward the women’s day march, she described the women there as “naked.” “These people don’t even wear dupatas,” she exclaimed, referring to the shawl that Pakistani women traditionally drape across their chests to signify modesty.

On the other side, at the women’s march, hundreds of men, women and transgender Pakistanis clustered. Some waved the red flag of a leftist party. Others held up signs, including “my body, my choice,” but they denounced so-called “honor” killings, where men murder their female relatives for bringing alleged shame onto the family. Some demanded to know the fate of female political activists who mysteriously disappeared.

“Pakistan is getting more and more divided over time,” said Ambreen Gilani, a 41-year-old development consultant, gesturing to the Islamists across the road. The opposition to the women’s march helped motivate another protester to turn up, Sukaina Kazmi, a chemical engineer. She gestured to her Muslim headscarf, “Our religion does not teach us any of the things they are standing up against, our religion actually does fight for women’s rights,” she said.

As the protesters regrouped and walked away from the dozens of men trying to assault them, one organizer, Anam Rathor, said the violence underscored why they were demonstrating. “This proves our point, and this movement is growing. And now we will have more people. The reason why they are throwing stones is because they are afraid of us and that makes us happy.”

Source: International Women’s Day: With Shoes And Stones, Islamists Disrupt Pakistan Rally

End of Quebec course on religion and ethics seen as win for nationalists

Good overview of the various perspectives. But always felt that course was useful effort to increase understanding:

Since 2008, elementary and high school students in Quebec have taken a mandatory course aimed at cultivating respect and tolerance for people of different cultures and faiths.

But after years of relentless criticism from Quebec nationalists and committed secularists who say the ethics and religious culture course is peddling a multiculturalist view to impressionable young Quebecers, the provincial government is abolishing the course.

In a statement announcing the move, Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge said it was a response to “abundant criticism from experts and education stakeholders.” An aide to Roberge said too much time was being taken up by a section of the course devoted to religions.

It is striking that a course aimed, in the words of the Education Department’s teaching guides, at fostering “the recognition of others and the pursuit of the common good” has proven so divisive.

But critics have long described the course as a type of mental virus, contaminating a generation of young people by making them amenable to Canadian multiculturalism and other pluralist ideas. Education Minister Jean-Francois Roberge says a new class will be taught instead by fall 2022.

Nadia El-Mabrouk, professor at Universite de Montreal’s computer science department, has been one of the most outspoken critics of the course, which she says defines citizens by their religion.

She suggested in a recent interview the course is partly responsible for the fact that, according to polls, young Quebecers are less likely to support Bill 21, the legislation adopted last June that bans some public sector workers, including teachers and police officers, from wearing religious symbols on the job.

And she’s not alone in that belief.

Jean-Francois Lisee, who lost the 2018 election as leader of the Parti Quebecois, wrote in January that it’s “difficult not to see a cause-and-effect connection” in the fact that young Quebecers who have taken the course “are the least favourable to prohibiting religious signs.”

For Sabrina Jafralie, who teaches the program at a Montreal high school, the decision to abolish the course is another sign of the growing influence of Quebec nationalists on the Coalition Avenir Quebec government.

The curriculum, she said, explains to students that Quebec is filled with people who have different driving forces. It doesn’t teach young people to be religious, she said, it simply explains why other people may be.

“But what the government is trying to do,” Jafralie said, “is in fact replace the ability to investigate and explore religiosity, with their own new religion — which is secularism.”

The course was introduced in 2008 under the Liberal government of the day to replace long-standing classes on Catholic and Protestant moral and religious instruction. Jafralie, who was one of the first teachers trained to teach the new course, says the content comes from a secular perspective.

The course exposes students to religions from around the world, and according to the teaching guides, “attention is also given to the influence of Judaism and Native spirituality on this heritage, as well as other religions that today contribute to Quebec culture.”

But for El-Mabrouk, that is precisely the problem.

The course teaches young people to “recognize, observe, to accept and to tolerate the way people practise (religion),” she said.

The issue, she continued, is that the material puts religious practices on an even footing, whether or not they run contrary to such Quebec values as the equality of men and women.

“The course is based on a vision of living together that is tied to Canadian multiculturalism … but we have changed orientation,” El-Mabrouk said, pointing to the adoption of Bill 21 as evidence.

Francis Bouchard, spokesman for the education minister, said the government recognizes that students should have an appreciation of the major religions to better understand the driving forces of the world.

But in the current program, he explained in an email, religion “took up too much space.” He said the goal of the new course isn’t to remove the religious component completely but to “rebalance” the content with “other concepts to prepare young people for Quebec society.”

Those could include themes about environmentalism, digital literacy and democratic participation, he said.

Roberge launched three days of consultations in February to collect ideas from education stakeholders for the new course’s content. The consultations sparked a scandal after one of the experts invited, McGill University law professor Daniel Weinstock, was blocked from speaking following the publication of an inaccurate newspaper column.

Richard Martineau wrote in the Journal de Montreal that the ethics and religious culture course “shoves the multiculturalist credo down the throats of children.” He then falsely stated that Weinstock — whom he called a “dyed-in-the-wool multiculturalist” — had previously advocated the symbolic circumcision of young girls.

Weinstock’s invitation was swiftly withdrawn by the minister, which led to an uproar among academics and an eventual apology from Roberge after Weinstock threatened legal action.

El-Mabrouk maintains the course should be done away with entirely. Teaching about religion in school is fine — but not in a class that is tied to ethics, she said. Religious material belongs in classes about politics, science or geography, she said, and it should be limited to older students who have the “intellectual tools” to digest the content.

“What is the best way for children to learn to live in a society, to live with one another?” she asked. “It’s having more time for sports, cultural activities, to talk together. It’s in real life situations that children learn to be together.”

But Jafralie says the content of the course reflects the realities of Quebec society, and changing it is a denial of the facts on the ground.

“There seems to be this desire to eradicate this (reality) or shape young people’s values to be more ‘Quebecois’ — and what ‘Quebecois’ is, is defined by (the government).”

Source: End of Quebec course on religion and ethics seen as win for nationalists

‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

Always interesting to follow Indonesian debates:

Maimon Herawati is an accomplished woman who believes in equal opportunity for women. She finished her Master’s degree at Abertay University in the United Kingdom in 2003, securing tenure as a lecturer of mass communication science in West Java’s Padjadjaran University and then juggling her family life with her social and political activities.

She has participated in various activities in her community, including a “Free Palestine” movement.

Maimon is one of many empowered women who has been politically active but has worked against the feminist movement in Indonesia, including by protesting against a bill that is intended to eradicate sexual violence. Such women have been in a cultural clash against Indonesian feminists on several other issues, like the Pornography Law and, most recently, the family resilience bill.

The two warring groups both have highly educated women as members who express their opinions with confidence, are politically active and have made achievements in their lives. However, at some point, these empowered women who fight for women’s empowerment have parted ways.

Antifeminist groups claim the sexual violence bill is “pro-adultery” since it only criminalizes nonconsensual sex. They said the bill should instead prohibit all extramarital sex, consensual or not.

Objections by the antifeminist group have halted deliberations over the bill, triggering protests from women’s rights activists. The bill’s supporters said they believe that since it defines more types of sexual violence than the prevailing Criminal Code, it would end impunity for sexual violence perpetrators and provide more help to survivors.

Neng Dara Afifah, the author of Muslimah Feminis: Penjelajahan Multi Identitas(Muslim Feminists: Multi-Identity Exploration), said the antifeminist movement had become counterproductive to gender mainstreaming efforts.

“What they are doing is a form of betrayal of feminism, which has allowed them to access the public sphere and eventually express their ideas,” said the Syarif Hidayatullah Islamic State University lecturer.

Maimon disagreed. She said she could be active politically because Islam allowed women to be so. Islam, she said, introduced gender equality some 14 centuries ago, long before feminism did.

Islam, which emerged from Arabian society during the so-called Age of Ignorance, had elevated women’s dignity from being considered merely as property to having the right to inherit and secure their own property, Maimon said. She said she refused to be associated with feminism because “the idea came from the Western world, which is antithetical to Islamic values”.

Maimon said that one of the basic principles of feminism that collides with Islamic principles is the notion of “my body is mine”, meaning women possess full authority over their own bodies, no one else has the right to control them and they can wear whatever they want over their bodies in public. However, in Islam it does not work that way, Maimon explained.

“My body is not mine. It’s a mandate from God, so I cannot just do what I please on my body,” she said.

Another prominent figure among conservative Muslims is Euis Sunarti, a professor of family studies at the Bogor Agricultural Institute. Euis said feminism was problematic for Indonesia because its “liberal” values conflicted with the values of Islam, which were adopted by a majority of Indonesian citizens.

Feminism, she claimed, does not recognize the “division of roles” between men and women, husbands and wives. If a husband works and earns a certain amount of money, the wife should also do the same to achieve the goal of equality, Euis said.

“In fact, it does not have to be that way. If a married couple is committed to building a family and have children, then who should focus more on raising the kids?” Euis asked. She suggested mothers as the ones giving birth should take more responsibility in child-rearing but added that that did not mean mothers could not “actualize” themselves by participating in public affairs.

Women’s rights activist Nursyahbani Katjasungkana clarified that feminism did not put money or power above all, but instead “fights for equal rights between men and women, inside and outside their homes”.

Instead of applying gender stereotypes to domestic roles, Nursyahbani said, feminism actually promoted “cooperation within households” by which both parties were encouraged to play active roles in taking care of domestic affairs, “unlike the rigid role of husbands and wives as stipulated in the 1974 Marriage Law”.

Article 31 of the law regulates that “husbands are the heads of the households and wives are homemakers”. Article 34 further states that husbands are obliged to fulfill the family’s needs, while the responsibility of wives is to properly manage domestic affairs.

“We want to eliminate the rigid legal norms because they’re inconsistent with the social reality, where many women actually act as breadwinners in their respective families,” said the founder of the Indonesian Women’s Coalition and the Legal Aid Foundation of Indonesian Women Association for Justice.

Source: ‘Feminism is not for Indonesia’: Conservative Muslims’ recipe for women’s empowerment – The Jakarta Post

Khan: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end

Another interesting piece by Khan to change narratives:

On Feb. 24, Katherine Johnson – the esteemed mathematician who was part of an exclusive group of scientists at NASA’s Flight Research Division, where she used her mind, a slide rule and pencil to calculate flight paths for the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969 – passed away at the age of 101. And if you know her story – as well as that of her NASA cohort of brilliant African-American female mathematicians – it may be because of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

That film was a revelation to much of the American public. It shattered many stereotypes and showcased the intellectual talents and resilience of women who wouldn’t let institutionalized racism and segregation get in the way of achieving excellence.

Those themes are universal, though. Groundbreaking accomplishments by women have always occurred. We just need to dig deep enough in history to find these gems. And Muslim women are just starting to get their similar due.

Thanks to the painstaking research of Islamic scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the dean of Cambridge Islamic College, the stories of accomplished Muslim female scholars, jurists and judges have been unearthed. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Nadwi’s research of biographical dictionaries, classical texts, madrasa chronicles and letters has led to a listing of about 10,000 Muslim women who have contributed toward various fields of Islamic knowledge over a period of 10 centuries.

Not only is the sheer number impressive, but so is the manner in which these women operated: Many were encouraged by their fathers at an early age to acquire knowledge, and many travelled to seek deeper understanding of Islamic sciences. They sat in study circles – with men – at the renowned centres of learning, debating and questioning alongside their male counterparts. And they taught their own study circles to men and women alike. Some were so revered that students came from near and far to absorb their wisdom. They approved certifications of learning and provided fatwas (non-binding religious opinions); as judges, they delivered important rulings.

A few notable examples include Aisha, the youngest wife of Prophet Mohammed, who was known for her expertise in the Koran, Arabic literature, history, general medicine and juridical matters in Islam. She was a primary source of authentic hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, which form part of the foundation of Sunni Islam. Umm al-Darda was a 7th-century scholar who taught students in the mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem, including the caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. She was considered among the best traditionalists of her time. “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around debating with other scholars.” And one of the greatest was the 8th-century scholar Fatima al-Batayahiyyah, who taught in Damascus. During the Hajj, leading male scholars flocked to her lectures. She later moved to Medina, where she taught students in the revered mosque of the Prophet. When she tired, she rested her head on the grave of Mohammed. Fatimah bint Mohammed al Samarqandi, a 12th-century jurist, advised her more famous husband, ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Kasani, on how to issue his fatwas; she was also a mentor to Salahuddin.

These are but a few of the thousand luminaries found by Mr. Nadwi, a classically trained Islamic scholar. Initially, he thought he would find 20 or 30 women; his compilation now fills 40 volumes. While a 400-page preface (Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam) has been published, the remainder sits on a hard drive, waiting for a publisher. Given the far-reaching importance of Mr. Nadwi’s work, surely a Muslim country or UNESCO can help disseminate it.

This research provides a stark contrast to contemporary practice in parts of the Muslim world. Some mosques, including ones here in Canada, forbid women. Rarely do Muslim women give lectures to their own communities. And the idea of women being intellectually on par with (or superior to) men is laughable in many quarters. Muslim women have a long way to go to reclaim their rightful place. Even his groundbreaking research will not change much, laments Mr. Nadwi, until Muslim men have respect for women – respect that starts in the home. He’s seen too much family violence in Britain, India and Pakistan. He’s highly critical of those who discourage or deny women from pursuing education, comparing it to the pre-Islamic practice of burying baby girls alive.

Muslims have just begun to discover our own “hidden figures” and there are many more yet to find. If we fail to deal with the present-day sexism that has eroded the egalitarian nature of our own historical communities, this excavation becomes all the more difficult.

Source: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end: Sheema Khan

Glavin: Religious freedom is under assault. Will Canada be its champion?

Hard to say whether the Office of Religious Freedom had any substantive impact beyond raising the profile of religious freedom issues compared to having religious freedom as part of overall human rights, where it now resides.

The Evaluation of the Office of Religious Freedom conducted by Global Affairs Canada in 2016 was mixed in its review of the Office’s work and impact, providing a rationale for the Liberal government’s closing the office.

The planned evaluation of Partnerships and Development Innovation: Human Rights, Governance, Democracy and Inclusion to be approved February 2021 will give a sense of whether the human rights program effectively included religious freedom in its programming/activities or not:

Monday was a fairly uneventful day for Peter Bhatti, the 60-year-old president of International Christian Voice, a non-denominational organization based in Brampton, Ont. But it was a sad day, as March 2 has been, every year, for nine years. It was on March 2, 2011 that Peter’s younger brother Shahbaz was assassinated in Islamabad.

As Pakistan’s minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti had drawn the ire of Islamist extremists for his outspoken advocacy on behalf of Pakistan’s persecuted Christians, Hindus and Sikhs, and the Hazara and Ahmadi Muslim minorities. Bhatti died from 22 gunshot wounds in an attack claimed by the Tareek-e-Taliban only six weeks after he’d visited Ottawa, where his activism served as an inspiration for the establishment of the Office of Religious Freedom.

The high-level diplomatic project was shuttered by former Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion in March 2016. It was a move that Peter Bhatti says was shortsighted and ill-advised, especially now that religious liberty is under such brutal assault around the world.

You know, we are so lucky here in Canada. We have all kinds of freedom here,” Peter told me on Monday. “But if Canada is going to be a champion of human rights, we should be paying more attention to places where people have no religious liberty at all.”

China is engaged in a brutal campaign involving intensive surveillance and internment without trial in an all-out effort to eradicate the Muslim identity of the Uighur people of Xinjiang. Myanmar continues to evade responsibility for its enforced expulsion of nearly a million Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state, bordering Bangladesh.

In Pakistan, the blasphemy law that Shahbaz Bhatti fought against not only remains on the books despite international condemnation. It is increasingly deployed to intimidate and persecute religious minorities and liberal intellectuals. Hundreds of people have been prosecuted under the law in recent years.

Shahbaz Bhatti had been particularly outspoken in the notorious case of Asia Bibi, the Christian farmworker who was convicted on a wholly contrived blasphemy charge and languished on death row for eight years before a high court overturned her conviction in November 2018. Several weeks before Bhatti’s murder, on Jan. 4, 2011, Punjab governor Salman Taseer was also assassinated for protesting the obvious miscarriage of justice in Asia Bibi’s case. Taseer was murdered by his own bodyguard.

The judicial reversal of Bibi’s conviction prompted riots across Pakistan. Bibi was placed in protective custody, and it wasn’t until last May that she arrived in Canada—two of her daughters had already relocated here. For the past 10 months, Bibi and her family have been living in Canada on temporary visas, at an undisclosed location and under assumed names for security reasons.

Last week, French President Emanuel Macron invited Bibi to apply for permanent asylum in France, where Bibi is currently promoting her memoir, co-authored by the French journalist Anne-Isabelle Tollet. Last Tuesday, she was presented a certificate of honorary citizenship from the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo. “France is a symbol for me,” Bibi told reporters, adding that Canada’s harsh winters were also a factor in her consideration of France as her permanent home. Besides: [France] was the first country in the world to really support me, and the country from which my name became known.”

While Shahbaz Bhatti’s name has been nearly forgotten in official Canadian circles, his memory lives on among Pakistani minorities and progressive Muslims. Last Sunday, memorial masses in his name were held in Catholic churches across Pakistan. Several commemorations were underway in his honour this week, in the Bhatti family’s home village of Kushpur, and also in the capital, Islamabad. A celebration of Bhatti’s life was planned at the site of Bhatti’s murder in Islamabad, bringing together Muslim and Christian leaders, politicians, diplomats and representatives of the All-Pakistan Minorities Alliance, led by another of the five Bhatti brothers, Paul.

Peter Bhatti’s International Christian Voice (ICV) organization and its supporters will be gathering for a commemorative fundraising dinner in Woodbridge, Ont. on Friday. “But we are no longer mourning,” Peter said. “We are trying to carry on the work of my brother, to continue his legacy.”

A priority for ICV is the resettlement in Canada of Pakistani Christians who have fled to Thailand and are now at risk of arrest and deportation. While it’s easy for Pakistanis to travel to Thailand, the government in Bangkok doesn’t recognize them as genuine refugees. So they end up stuck in limbo in Thailand, and often end up imprisoned in what the ICV calls “intolerable and inhumane conditions” in Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre. Working with several churches, the ICV has managed to resettle several dozen Pakistani exiles from Thailand under the federal private-sponsorship program.

The ICV wants Global Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to urge Thailand to stop arresting and incarcerating refugees for repatriation back to Pakistan. Ottawa should also pressure the Thai government to provide Pakistani refugees with temporary asylum, at least, the ICV says. The organization has also asked Ottawa to formally recognize Pakistani Christians as bona fide refugee claimants fleeing persecution, and also to expedite claims filed by families.

Meanwhile, back in Pakistan, the country’s three million Christians—whose heritage goes back to a late 16th century Jesuit mission during the reign of the Mughal emperor Akbar the Great—are increasingly singled out for spurious blasphemy prosecutions. Over the past 10 years, Christians have been subjected to several suicide bombings, pogroms, anti-Christian riots and the official demolition of Christian neighbourhoods. But it is the blasphemy law that allows extremists to engage the full force of the state most effectively against Christians and other minorities.

There are at least 25 Christians in prison on blasphemy convictions in Pakistan at the moment. Six are on death row. One of them, Shagufta Kausar, has been awaiting an appeal hearing, along with her husband Shafqat Emmanuel, ever since they were both sentenced to death in 2014.

Kausar was Asia Bibi’s cellmate.

Source: Religious freedom is under assault. Will Canada be its champion?

Abbotsford mosque gets online hate for exhibit on Jesus

Sigh….

One Abbotsford mosque is being harassed online for an upcoming exhibit on the Islamic understanding of Jesus Christ – at an event meant to strengthen the community in the name of diversity.

The Abbotsford Islamic Centre is hosting its fourth annual Open Mosque Day on Feb. 22. But something new was added this year, a commemorative showcase of the life and teachings of Jesus from an Islamic perspective, where he is considered an important prophet.

The amount of hateful backlash surprised many of the organizers, who have put on similar exhibitions in other churches before, according to Adnan Akiel, founder and president of Bridging Gaps Foundation.

“It’s been more than in the previous years, and it’s unusual in terms of the comments that we’ve received,” Akiel said. “There were some threatening ones.

“Most were just derogatory.”

A large portion of the online attacks appear to come from Christians taking offence to the belief in Jesus as a prophet in another religion, others are just xenophobic, some are a mix of both.

“Even though the Islamic belief in Jesus is not the same as that in Christianity, there are many similarities that provide a platform of unity,” Akiel said. “The Mosque only intends to share information and clear misconceptions while completely respecting the diversity of different belief systems within the community.

“We just wanted to… bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

He says Muslims treat all their prophets equally, there is no ranking by order of importance.

“As Muslims, we don’t differentiate between different prophets. You don’t say Mohammad is better, or Jesus is better or Moses is better. We treat them all with equally with respect… we have no intention to disrespect people of any other belief.”

The organizers have been also been criticized for having a section where guests can try on a hijab. Akiel said the section shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

“Whoever is interested can try on the hijab, take pictures, have a good time. And there’s a bit of backlash on that as well, but that’s not unusual.

“Most of the backlash we’ve received has been on [the Jesus] aspect of Open Mosque Day.”

Akiel does say the mosque has also received a lot of support alongside the negative reactions.

“I really want to make that point, that we genuinely appreciate and love the positive support.”

Source: Abbotsford mosque gets online hate for exhibit on Jesus

Rethinking politics: A better path to faithful citizenship [on Catholics and politics]

On Catholics, politics and partisanship:

For the last 44 years, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has published Faithful Citizenship, a “teaching document on the political responsibility of Catholics.” There is much in Faithful Citizenship to recommend it. Yet, it has begun to seem to me like it is time for something new. I say this only partly because the bishops proved unable to offer a new version of the document for this election that would revise the document, last re-written in 2007 before Pope Francis had begun his ministry. I say it also because there are persuasive signs that the whole approach of Faithful Citizenship has failed.

The Pew Research Center released figures last year that paint a devastating picture of how Catholics approach politics. On issue after issue, whether we discuss extending the border wall or whether climate change is caused by human activity, there was no measurable difference between Republicans and Catholics who identify as Republicans, between Democrats and Catholics who identify as Democrats. The discouraging picture is clear: 44 years of “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship” has left Catholics looking just like non-Catholics in American political life. Being Catholic makes no discernible difference. In politics, we are not Catholics. We are partisans, just like everybody else.

Considering how much effort the bishops have devoted to Faithful Citizenship, the scale of this calamity should stop us dead in our tracks. Especially as we look around at our world and the role Catholics have played in fueling our polarized political climate, now seems like a good time to re-think how we engage with politics as faithful citizens from the ground up. In fact, I think we are obligated to do that. For that reason, I am asking readers to join me on a journey for the next six months. In these next six columns, I will take some space to reflect on a better way to be faithful citizens. My hope is that I can raise some good questions and provoke some thought.

I’d like to begin by asking an elemental question: What is politics?

The question seems simple. Politics is familiar. We use the word all the time. The Corpus of Contemporary American English places politics at 954th out of more than 170,000 words in frequent usage (top 1 percent). There is little that could be more familiar to us. And yet, we use the word politicsincorrectly almost every time.

The study of politics began in the ancient Greek polis. The best way I can translate the original sense of what politics meant (politeia) is to say that it refers to “what the people share in common.” This is the sense that is closest to how Catholic social teaching understands politics, as well. Too often when we say politics, we mean partisanship, taking sides in a divisive conflict. But narrow self-interest is the opposite of what politics really means. When we misuse the word, we are cheating ourselves. We are depriving ourselves of the best hope we have against narrow self-interest: a sense that politics calls us out of ourselves, toward something greater.

When President Kennedy established the Peace Corps in 1961, he called on young people “to sacrifice their energies and time and toil to the cause of world peace and human progress.” He was calling them away from individual self-interest toward a greater common good. We do not need to sacrifice our consciences or our convictions. But we must sacrifice our certainty that other people are proceeding from bad motives. Politics in this better sense is about learning together how to disagree together, while still working together toward justice, peace, and the common good. Somehow, we Americans became captives to a different idea. And, because we are indistinguishable from other Americans, Catholics became captive to that idea too.

If our politics ever is going to be something better than a football game, it falls on Catholics to bear witness to a real alternative, a different way to think about politics that focuses on the common good instead of endless conflict. And the best way to approach this is by living our Catholic faith in politics less like a checklist of issue positions and more like an ongoing invitation to dialogue and engagement. We must recognize that we share the community with everyone, and everyone belongs to the community. We can—and, must—dialogue with those who disagree with us. After all, we cannot expect them to listen to us if we will not hear out their deepest concerns, too.

If Catholics want to shape a public conversation more concerned with protecting the most vulnerable, then we must change ourselves and how we engage the conversation. We must experience a conversion. We must offer something different, instead of reflecting back the partisanship our politics already offers. We must do better.

Source: Rethinking politics: A better path to faithful citizenship

Islamic finance making strides in Canada

Relatively less coverage in Canadian media although there are a number of players.

One of the more recent stories I have seen in “mainstream” media is www.cbc.ca › news › canada › toronto › 2-men-acquitted-of-all-fraud…2 men acquitted of all fraud, theft charges in Shariah … – CBC.ca:

Although currently not quite in the very centre of attention of the global Islamic finance industry, the Canadian Islamic finance scene in the recent past has experienced growing interest from domestic and international investors, as it developed a rising number of Shariah-compliant investment and financing offerings. The reason is that more Muslims are seeking halal banking and finance products and – in general – an open-minded and progressive society is looking for alternative and socially conscious ways of investing.

Canada is home to an estimated 1.5mn people following the Islamic faith, or around 4% of the population, which makes Muslims the second largest religion in the country, while it is also the fastest-growing. Most of them are immigrants, but there is also a growing percentage of Muslims born in Canada and a smaller, but increasing number converting from other religions to Islam. Most of them live in the Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal area and are generally middle-class and well educated with considerable grades of financial literacy. Overall, it is estimated that the number of Canadian Muslims will double in the coming decade. Besides, the Muslim community in Canada is quite young, so there is definitely a large potential for mortgage, car, house and personal insurance, credit cards and consumer loans. Multiple-language offerings, personalised services and modern technology-based banking and investment products further create demand in Islamic banking.

These facts, paired with Canada’s global competitiveness and ease of doing business, its AAA credit rating, its well-supervised financial market with strong risk management mechanisms, a sound banking system and a financial regulatory regime which has shown to be compatible with many Islamic finance instruments make a solid background for a thriving Islamic banking and finance landscape.

This situation, together with open-minded non-Muslims on the outlook for ethical and sustainable investment, has raised particular demand for halal mortgages and sukuk and Islamic mutual funds, Islamic insurance, or takaful, as well as commodity- and infrastructure-backed investment. Notably, Canada’s wealth in natural resources, which ranges from mining to hydrocarbons, combined with its ambitious infrastructure development agenda provide countless investment opportunities for investors looking for Shariah compliance in accordance with the asset-backed product requirements of Islamic finance.

There are already a number of Islamic finance players, with the most established being United Muslim Financial, Habib Canadian Bank, Al-Ittihad Investment, Al Yusr, Manzil Bank, Ijara Community Development Corp, Islamic Co-Operative Housing Corp, Ansar Co-operative Housing Corp, Qurtuba Housing Co-op, An-Nur Housing Cooperative, Amana Auto Finance Canada, Assiniboine Credit Union, newer players such as Iana Financial, Wealthsimple Halal, ShariaPortfolio Canada, Global Iman Fund, as well as a number of other medium-sized and smaller player and mortgage cooperatives. Besides, there are a growing number conventional banks and financial institutions opening Islamic windows or planning to do so, among them Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

According to the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, a public-private entity seeking to turn Toronto into a global financial center, the Canadian banking sector currently has around $18bn worth of Shariah-compliant mortgages, while international sukuk could generate $130bn in domestic infrastructure investment managed using a combination of both Islamic and environmentally and socially responsible investing methodologies.

Another area where Canada is likely to expand its Islamic finance sector is takaful. Large insurance companies such as Manulife Financial and Sun Life Financial are currently gaining experience from their takaful-based insurance subsidiaries they have opened in Malaysia and Indonesia and are also developing ethical mutual insurance products bearing in mind that mutual insurances policies are very similar to takaful as they provide a fair and transparent relationship between policyholders and insurer.

In a nutshell, three are plenty of opportunities for Islamic banking in Canada with a Muslim population that will increase substantially in the future and with a growing interest of foreign investors noticing that Canada is developing into an Western hub for Islamic investment and finance, following the footsteps of the UK.

Source: Islamic finance making strides in Canada