Friday, 15 October 2010

Friday prayers...the Middle East Synod

One of the main themes emerging from the current Middle East Synod (photo above AP) is absence of religious freedom in Islamic countries, and the increasing difficulty of preventing an exodus of Christians from these lands.

Christians made up around 20 percent of the region's population a century ago, but now account for about five percent.  And the figure is still falling.


Catholic World News reports:

"Bishop Camillo Ballin, the apostolic vicar of Kuwait, reported: “In Muslim tradition, the Gulf is the land sacred to the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed, and no other religion should exist there.” Bishop Paul Hinder, the apostolic vicar for Arabia, confirmed the problem, speaking about the lands of the Arabian peninsula: “There is no freedom of religion (no Muslim can convert but Christians are welcome into Islam), and only limited freedom of worship in designated places, granted by benevolent rulers (except in Saudi Arabia).”

Archbishop Berhaneyesus Demerew of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, cited a particularly vivid example of this lack of religious tolerance: “It would seem that Christians who die in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to be buried there; their bodies are flown to Ethiopia for burial. Could the Saudi authorities be requested to allocate a cemetery for Christians in Saudi Arabia?”

Rise of "political Islam"
Reuters reported that "the rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced down together, a senior Roman Catholic official told" the synod.

The report cites comments by the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, who also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region:

"Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world," said Naguib. "This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together."

Though freedom of worship is guaranteed by the constitution in most Middle Eastern countries, certain laws and practices limited its application in some countries, he said.

Noting that Christians usually felt the negative aspects of the social and political situations in the Middle East, he called for them to be treated in a just and equal manner rather than being "merely tolerated."

"Difficulties in the relations between Christians and Muslims generally arise when Muslims do not distinguish between religion and politics," Naguib said.

"On this basis, Christians sense an uneasiness at being considered non-citizens, despite the fact that they have called these countries 'home' long before Islam."

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