IRAN: Four Christians sentenced to 80 lashes for drinking communion wine

31 10 2013
Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images

Photo by Wathiq Khuzaie/Getty Images

By Alex Ward/Daily Mail

Four Christians in Iran will get 80 lashes each for drinking wine during a communion service and possessing a satellite antenna.

The charges come as a United Nations report criticised the Islamic republic for persecuting non-Muslims.

Behzad Taalipasand, Mehdi Reza Omidi (Youhan), Mehdi Dadkhah (Danial) and Amir Hatemi (Youhanna) were arrested during in a house church in December. Taalipasand and Omidi were detained during the Iranian government’s crackdown on house churches according to the Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

The men were sentenced on October 6 and given their verdict on October 20 with ten days to appeal the sentence after breaking the theocracy’s laws.

Mervyn Thomas, Chief Executive of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), said: ‘The sentences handed down to these members of the Church of Iran effectively criminalise the Christian sacrament of sharing in the Lord’s Supper and constitute an unacceptable infringement on the right to practice faith freely and peaceably.

“We urge the Iranian authorities to ensure that the nation’s legal practices and procedures do not contradict its international obligation under the International Convent on Civil and Political Rights to guarantee the full enjoyment of freedom of religion or belief by all of its religious communities.”

The death penalty is among the punishments for those who convert from Islam to Christianity.

Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, said that it is common practice for Christians to be punished for violating theocratic laws, despite promises from president Hasan Rouhani’s to scale back the harsh treatment.

In the UN report he wrote: ‘At least 20 Christians were in custody in July 2013. In addition, violations of the rights of Christians, particularly those belonging to evangelical Protestant groups, many of whom are converts, who proselytize to and serve Iranian Christians of Muslim background, continue to be reported.’In response to the report, the Iranian government criticised Dr Shaheed’s findings.According to the country’s state-controlled Press TV, an official from the UN mission said Dr Shaheed ‘has not paid sufficient notice to Iran’s legal system and Islamic culture and considers whatever he sees in the West as an international standard for the entire world’.

The Iranian government has cracked down on religious freedom in a bid to stop the increase of Christianity, seeing it as a threat to the country’s majority ultra-orthodox Shiite Islamic religion.

An estimated 370,000 Christians live in Iran according to the latest report from the US State Department.

The UN reported continued: ‘[Iran’s] authorities continue to compel licensed Protestant churches to restrict Persian-speaking and Muslim-born Iranians from participating in services, and raids and forced closures of house churches are ongoing.

‘More than 300 Christians have been arrested since 2010, and dozens of church leaders and active community members have reportedly been convicted of national security crimes in connection with church activities, such as organizing prayer groups, proselytizing and attending Christian seminars abroad.’

An Iranian female Christian kisses a cross held in a ceremony at the Qara Kelisa in Chaldran, 510 miles northwest of the capital Tehran.

An Iranian female Christian kisses a cross held in a ceremony at the Qara Kelisa in Chaldran, 510 miles northwest of the capital Tehran.

VIDEO: Muslims and Jews vow to stand up for each other, build global movement of reconciliation

24 10 2013
By Rabbi Marc Schneier & Russell Simmons

hope_sign-fp-02af074c6d50b1caef2fb6e2d985bae1There is a widely accepted belief that Muslims and Jews are enemies and will always remain so. However, nothing could be further from the truth.

For the past six years The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding has not only challenged this narrative, but has facilitated a global dialogue between Muslims and Jews that is taking place on all six populated continents.

This Muslim-Jewish dialogue is our annual Weekend of Twinning which encourages joint Muslim and Jewish programming on the grassroots level in every community across the world where Muslims and Jews reside.

Our efforts reveal the actual harmony that exists between these two faiths and peoples and here is a video that we produced with Unity Productions Foundation, which documents this global Muslim Jewish coalition that is vowing to stand up for one another by combating Islamophobia, Anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred.

Next month, in cities around the world, these peacemakers will come together and break bread and discuss ways of improving the world as part of the Weekend of Twinning, which officially takes place November 15-17th.

To participate in the Weekend of Twining, please contact us
To view the longer version of this film:

Follow Russell Simmons on Twitter:


Catholic-Jewish forum in Madrid focuses on religious freedom and combating racism

18 10 2013


The International Liason Committee, the official joint forum of the Vatican and the International Jewish Committee on Interreligious Consultations (IJCIC), met for the 22nd time since it was set up 40 years ago to discuss ways of combating racism and anti-Semitism, and championing religious freedom. Over 60 participants, including delegates and observers from both sides, spent four days in intense discussions exploring issues such as the dismaying rise in religious intolerance, the threat of extremism and violence, and the need to educate towards peaceful co-existence amongst all peoples.

Co-chaired by Kurt Cardinal Koch, the president of the Commission of the Holy See for Religious Relations with the Jews, and IJCIC Chair Betty Ehrenberg – who also serves as executive director of the WJC North America – the group exchanged views and looked for ways to jointly work together to face the current challenges to religion and to faith groups. Citing the dedication of Pope Francis to work to increase mutual respect and tolerance, Koch quoted the pontiff’s declarations that a Christian cannot be an anti-Semite.

Ehrenberg emphasized the need for religious leaders to work together to defense religious freedoms and practices, in view of recent attempts to curtail religious slaughter and male circumcision.

Special emphasis was put on the need for education of both religious groups as to the history and knowledge about Christianity and Judaism in order to dispel myths and stereotypes, with particular attention to the spread of the declaration Nostra Aetate to many areas of the world where the Vatican document that advanced dialogue and peaceful relations between Catholics and Jews is still not sufficiently well known.

The groups expressed much satisfaction with the meeting and looks forward with anticipation to continuing to work closely together on these important issues of common concern.

Source: World Jewish Congress

POLAND: Animal rights versus religious rights

16 10 2013

Animal Rights Group Disrupts Muslim Eid al-Adha Ceremony In Poland

Mufti of Poland Tomasz Miskiewicz (R) speaks to animal rights activists and to reporters gathering outside the mosque in Bohoniki village, eastern Poland, on October 15, 2013. Photo by Getty Images.

Mufti of Poland Tomasz Miskiewicz (R) speaks to animal rights activists and to reporters gathering outside the mosque in Bohoniki village, eastern Poland, on October 15, 2013. Photo by Getty Images.

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Animal rights activists in Poland have disturbed the start of an Islamic holiday which involves the recently banned slaughter of conscious animals.

A group of angry animal rights activists on Tuesday tried to prevent Muslim community in Bohoniki, in eastern Poland, from proceeding with the Eid al-Adha holiday, or Feast of Sacrifice, that includes cutting the throats of conscious animals.

Poland’s top Muslim leader, Mufti Tomasz Miskiewicz, said the ceremony would proceed according to tradition.

Effective this year, Polish law requires all animals to be stunned before they are culled and the procedure is performed at a slaughter house. The law has hit the religious practices of Poland’s Jewish and Muslim minorities, though their rights are guaranteed by the constitution.

Antje Jackelen is Sweden’s first female Archbishop

16 10 2013


Antje Jackelen, Bishop of Lund, won 55.9% of the vote from the ecclesiastical college of the Church of Sweden, which has 324 members. She will be the first female bishop of the Lutheran church that calls about 2/3 of Sweden’s population members.

She told Swedish news agency TT, “I’m a little dazed and grateful for the support I got.”

Ordained in 1980, Jackelen noted that it wasn’t that shocking for the Church of Sweden to elect a woman to lead, as “We have had female priests for over 50 years.” She’s married to a priest, has two children and is known in Sweden for her statements questioning the Virgin birth and endorsing the theory of evolution.

“I’ve been out on the international scene a lot and I can see that there is a curiosity about female church leaders. I have confidence and that is also an asset,” she told the BBC. The new Swedish Bishop will have good company in the United States as in August the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) elected Rev. Elizabeth Eaton as the first female Presiding Bishop.

Bishop Antje Jackelen will replace the current archbishop Anders Wejryd, who said “it was about time” a woman took the post.  “We already have female leading bishops in Norway, USA and Germany,” said Archbishop Wejryd, who will step down next summer.

Ani Choying Drolma, ‘Rock Star Nun,’ Spreads Buddha’s Message Through Music

11 10 2013
Buddhist Nun and Nepalese musician Ani Choying Drolma performs during the 40th Anniversary of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad on April 25, 2012. Photo by Getty Images.

Buddhist Nun and Nepalese musician Ani Choying Drolma performs during the 40th Anniversary of the Self Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) in Ahmedabad on April 25, 2012. Photo by Getty Images.

By Vishal Arora and Anuradha Sharma / Religion News Service

NEW DELHI (RNS) — American guitarist Steve Tibbetts launched her career after the two recorded an album in 1997.

This year she was invited by Academy Award-winning Indian composer A.R. Rahman to sing “Zariya,” one of his compositions.

And at a recent San Francisco concert, American singer Bonnie Raitt told her she was one of her greatest fans.

For Ani Choying Drolma, nicknamed the “rock star nun,” singing and performing with top musicians is a way to take the essence of Buddha’s teachings to the world and help people in need.

“The Buddha said you have to be skillful according to the time, place and people,” said the practical 43-year-old nun.

In the past 16 years, Drolma has recorded 10 albums of sacred chants and devotional songs.

“Not only is she an amazing artist, but also an incredible human being,” said Farah Siraj, a Jordanian singer who collaborated with Drolma on “Zariya.”

Drolma sings and records from her base at the Nagi Gompa nunnery near Nepal’s capital city of Kathmandu.

“Music has always been an integral part of Buddhist religious practice, especially as meditation,” she said. “My music is only different in style and framework.”

Drolma said she is not motivated by awards or concerts. She wants to “make everyone get the meaning of Buddha’s teachings and spread the word of wisdom.”

Through her Nun’s Welfare Foundation, she works to raise money for the education of child nuns. Two years ago, another initiative, the Arogya Foundation, set up Nepal’s first laboratory for renal diagnostic tests.

ani04Drolma joined the nunnery at age 13 to escape the beatings of an alcoholic father. Under the tutelage of her teacher and meditation master, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, she was initiated into the spiritual world of Buddhism. Her singing talent was honed through learning and practice.

“I admire Ani Choying’s singing, and can feel her music in my heart,” said Lhamo Dukpa, one of Bhutan’s most popular singers, who is releasing her fifth album this year.

Drolma speaks fluent English, listens to Western music (she especially likes Norah Jones and the late Whitney Houston) and drives a car.

She shrugs off criticism that she is not conforming to tradition.

“Criticism is very natural,” she said. “The world always finds a way to praise you and a way to blame you. This is how it is, how it has been and how it always will be.”


ISRAEL: Tel Aviv mayoral candidate, launches campaign to mute Muslim call to prayer in Jaffa

11 10 2013
Jaffa, one of the oldest ports in the world, today Arabic neighborhood of Tel-Aviv. Mentioned in Olt Testament four times, Jaffa was the port prophet Jonah embarked from before he was swallowed by a whale.

Jaffa, one of the oldest ports in the world, today Arabic neighborhood of Tel-Aviv. Mentioned in Old Testament four times, Jaffa was the port prophet Jonah embarked from before he was swallowed by a whale.

by Simone Wilson / Jewish Journal

What would life be like in Jaffa without the Muslim call to prayer blaring over crackly loudspeakers five times a day, lulling the hipsters and bohemians to sleep each night with its sweet Otherness and making the Muslim third of Jaffa’s population feel a little more at home in a hard Jewish nation?

likud_mosqueTel Aviv Deputy Mayor Arnon Giladi, the right-wing city councilman who will represent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party in the Tel Aviv mayoral election this month, wants to find out.

Jaffa is a former Arab port town that was swallowed by the city of Tel Aviv in 1948 but never quite integrated. Today, the neighborhood retains its Islamic arches and headscarves, despite a new Jewish majority. But Deputy Mayor Giladi apparently doesn’t find the same charm in this slice of Palestine as the alt-Tel Aviv artists who have all but overtaken the hood: According to a Hebrew article on Ynet and a translation over at the Daily Beast, Giladi and his flack set about wallpapering Jaffa’s surfaces in troll-y campaign posters on Monday night. The posters promise to “silence the Muezzin,” or the men who recite the call to prayer in Jaffa, and “return Jaffa to Israel.” These slogans are plastered over a background photo of the Nouzha Mosque on Jerusalem Boulevard, the most popular modern mosque in Jaffa.

And in case Giladi’s big F-U to Jaffa’s historic Muslim community wasn’t loud enough, the Likud party posted an explanation to its official blog the next morning (again, translation by the Daily Beast):

On Tuesday night the Likud-Beiteinu party’s branch in Tel Aviv-Jaffa distributed flyers and posters calling for the silencing of the muezzin, the Muslim call for prayer. Distributed throughout all the neighborhoods of Jaffa, the slogans on the flyers and posters call for the law regarding noise pollution to be enforced on mosques, and for a halt to the spread of the Islamist party.

Radical leftist activists and Islamist organizations have in recent years gained control of the public discourse in Jaffa. The Likud-Beiteinu have decided once again to bring this matter to the public’s attention, because this past Yom Kippur and throughout the entire month of the holy days, Jewish residents of Jaffa lodged numerous complaints about the holiness of those days being methodically disturbed in order to create a hostile atmosphere. Radical leftists and Islamist organizations have turned Jaffa into their playground, with the obvious intention of cutting it off from Tel Aviv and the rest of Israel.

Arnon Giladi, deputy mayor of Tel Aviv and chairperson of the Likud-Beiteinu’s Tel Aviv branch: “In recent years Jaffa has been occupied by radical leftists and Islamists who are trying, via religious education and [political] activism, to separate Jaffa from Israel and cut it off from Tel Aviv. We will act to correct this situation and develop a plan to ensure that Jaffa maintains its Jewish character. It is unacceptable that an autonomous Palestinian national entity exists just a few kilometers from downtown Tel Aviv, detached from the State of Israel’s values.”

So this is clearly about more than “noise pollution.” If Likud politicians were so into keeping the quiet, they would have stuck a cork in the pounding party-Jew trance of that psychedelic Na Nach van years ago. More likely, Likud members, notorious among Israel’s Left for helping incite a race riot against African asylum seekers in South Tel Aviv last year, just can’t stand to see their great modern Jewtopia overrun by non-Jews. (Even though the Israeli government’s haphazard attempt to join Tel Aviv with Jaffa, an apple with an orange, allowed the awkward middle ground to become the segregated ghetto it is today.)

Riad Mahamit, a Muslim resident I found standing outside the Nouzha Mosque, said his is the same golden voice that recites the call to prayer through the mosque’s loudspeaker each day. Despite Giladi’s threats, said Mahamit, “I’m not stopping, ever.”

Mahamit and a handful of other Jaffa residents told me that Jews and Arabs are relatively at peace in Jaffa (save for the occasional march or price tag), and that a separatist ban like the one Giladi is proposing would only serve to pit them against each other. “All the people here don’t have a problem,” he said. Motty Ohayon, a Jewish resident of Jaffa who lives right around the corner from the Nouzha Mosque, agreed: He said that although the blare of the muezzin often wakes him up in the wee hours, that’s just part of life in Jaffa.

“I don’t care,” said Ohayon. “Only Arnon Giladi cares.”

Yoel Golvert, a young native of Haifa studying at Tel Aviv Academic College in Jaffa, said: “I could live without it, but it’s such an old custom. And I’m a visitor here.” He explained that the Israeli government pays him a monthly stipend to attend the college, located across from the Nouzha Mosque. “Jaffa’s getting bigger — for the Jewish scene at least,” he said.

“It’s like to say to the Jewish people that they can’t make noise with the horn — the shoffar — during Yom Kippur,” said Adi, a cab driver and self-proclaimed atheist Jew who did not wish to give his last name because “we live in a very delicate situation.”

Rami Sawaed, the Muslim clerk at a liquor store near the mosque, was especially suspicious of Giladi’s intentions: “This is a political exercise for him to take Jewish [votes],” said the clerk. “This is not Tel Aviv — this is Jaffa.” When asked what he thought would be the consequences of silencing the muezzin, Sawaed said only: “Intifada.”

I didn’t spot any of Giladi’s posters over a full afternoon in Jaffa today, but they could very well have been torn down by a fierce opposition campaign that has reportedly taken shape since Likud’s midnight leaflet party. In response to Giladi’s campaign tactic, Wahl Mahmoud, chairman of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, issued a stern call for religious freedom to Channel 7:

“Over the past several years we have had excellent relations between Arabs and Jews. We coexist in a manner that cannot be seen anywhere else in Israel. We respect synagogues and Jewish holidays. But if they try to start problems over the call to prayer, they are in for a real fight. It is not noise, but a part of the ‘soundtrack’ of Jaffa, which includes the call to prayer and church bells. I live near the border of Bat Yam, near a Breslov synagogue, where they go out into the street to recruit people for prayers. I am happy to see someone reminding people of their religious obligations.”

Even the Church of Scientology has found a home in Jaffa, in the iconic shell of what used to be the Alhambra Cinema. After spending two hours on personality test and analysis at the Scientology building on my way home, the familiar call of the muezzin as I rejoined my fellow Earthlings was enough to give me the warm fuzzies all through Little Sudan.


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