Pope Francis meets Iraq’s Shia leader al-Sistani (from al Jazeera)

The pontiff met Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in holy city of Najaf to urge Muslims to embrace Iraq’s beleaguered Christians.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)

Pope Francis has met with Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of the most senior leaders in Shia Islam, in Iraq’s holy city of Najaf to deliver a message of peaceful coexistence, urging Muslims to embrace Iraq’s long-beleaguered Christian minority.

The historic meeting on Saturday in al-Sistani’s humble home was months in the making, with every detail painstakingly discussed and negotiated between the ayatollah’s office and the Vatican.KEEP READINGPope Francis embarks on historic visit to IraqPope Francis calls for end to violence in first Iraq addressPope to visit ancient city of Ur, ‘the cradle of civilization’

After the meeting, al-Sistani office released a statement that said religious authorities have a role in protecting Iraq’s Christians and that the Shia leader “affirmed his concern that Christian citizens should live like all Iraqis in peace and security, and with their full constitutional rights”.

The Vatican said Francis thanked al-Sistani and the Shia people for having “raised his voice in defence of the weakest and most persecuted” during some of the most violent times in Iraq’s recent history.

He said al-Sistani’s message of peace affirmed “the sacredness of human life and the importance of the unity of the Iraqi people”.

The 84-year-old pontiff’s convoy, led by a bullet-proof vehicle, had pulled up for the meeting along Najaf’s narrow and column-lined Rasool Street, which culminates at the golden-domed Imam Ali Shrine, one of the most revered sites in the world for Shia Muslims. He then walked the few metres to al-Sistani’s modest home, which the Shia leader has rented for decades.


The pope in Iraq: Meeting with Ayatollah Sistani and Mass at biblical site Ur (American Coverage)

By Chico Harlan and Louisa LoveluckMarch 6, 2021 at 6:47 a.m. ESTAdd to list

Pope Francis is in the middle of his four-day trip through Iraq, the first-ever papal visit to that country. Here’s what we’re watching:

●He met Saturday morning with Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, a preeminent figure in Shiite Islam, who rarely sees world leaders.

●The Vatican said the meeting “underlined the importance of collaboration” between the faiths.

●Francis also held an interfaith event in the ancient city of Ur, said to be the birthplace of Abraham, a patriarch for Muslims, Christians and Jews. There were no Jewish representatives.

●“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” the pope said at the interreligious event.

●In the mostly Shiite city Nasiriya, the scene of recent anti-government protests, some people hoped Francis would raise their grievances over corruption and lack of services with Iraqi leaders.

The Vatican had initially signaled a Jewish representative would be involved, but a church organizer said it was hard to find an invitee, because there are so few Jews left in the country, and they do not have an official community.

Francis mentioned “Jews, Christians and Muslims” in his address, saying that the faiths “look up at the same sky.”

“We believers cannot be silent when terrorism abuses religion,” he said. “Dark clouds of terrorism, war and violence have gathered over this country. All its ethnic and religious communities have suffered.”

He spoke on the outskirts of a desert archaeological site, now lined with Vatican and Iraqi flags. On the horizon, military members paced the top of a 4,000-year-old mud-brick Mesopotamian ziggurat, the lone remnant of ancient civilization.

Pope Francis, right, meets with Iraq’s leading Shiite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf, Iraq, Saturday, March 6, 2021. The closed-door meeting was expected to touch on issues plaguing Iraq’s Christian minority. Al-Sistani is a deeply revered figure in Shiite-majority Iraq and and his opinions on religious matters are sought by Shiites worldwide. (AP Photo/Vatican Media)


‘I Come As A Pilgrim’: Pope Francis Begins Historic Visit To Iraq

An Iraqi policeman walks by a mural depicting Pope Francis on the outer walls of Our Lady of Salvation (Sayidat al-Najat) Church, in Baghdad on February 22, 2021. – Pope Francis’ historic visit from March 5-8 will include trips to Baghdad, the city of Mosul in the north and a meeting with the country’s top Shiite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP) (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

BAGHDAD — On a recent Sunday in Baghdad, a congregation of Chaldean Catholics gather — masked and distanced — to attend Mass at the Church of the Holy Family. Some are from the capital, others fled the north of the country when ISIS seized swaths of territory nearly seven years ago.

“They announced it in the churches — leave, quickly, ISIS is coming,” says Nadera Butrus Tobya, 62, at church with her little grandson. She had been at a gathering before her daughter’s wedding near the Iraqi city of Mosul. The family piled into cars and fled the extremists and she has been in Baghdad ever since.

“Christians are persecuted,” she says. But her face brightens when she speaks of Pope Francis, who plans to visit Iraq next month.

“When we heard that we would see the pope,” she says, “it was as if the world was reborn. Praise God.” Even if she only sees him on television, she will be happy. “He is a brave man to come under such circumstances.”


Blatant Racism Against Muslims is Still With Us

By Nadine Naber | March 3, 2021

Sarah Ijaz joins the “Boston Protest Against Muslim Ban and Anti-Immigration Orders” to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order travel ban in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S. January 29, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder – RTSXY60

Shortly after his inauguration, President Joe Biden reversed former President’s Donald Trump’s Muslim Travel Ban, stating those actions are a stain on our national conscience.” This stance aligns with that of the tens of thousands of protesters who, at the time the first Muslim Travel Ban was enacted in January 2017, took to the streets and to airports across the country with slogans such as, “We are all Immigrants,” “Standing with Muslims against Islamophobia,” and “Stop Hatred against Muslims.” To be sure, the Muslim Travel Ban is a racist policy. It seeks to keep out or deport people perceived to be Muslim based upon the racist assumption that “they” are violent potential terrorist enemies of the U.S. nation. The ban was an executive order that prevented individuals from primarily Muslim countries, and later, from many African countries, from entering the United States.

Yet ending the Muslim Ban only scratches the surface of a much larger problem. If progressives really want to end anti-Muslim racism, we are going to need a more radical approach, that requires, as Angela Davis reminds us, “grasping things at the root.” The root cause of the Muslim Ban is anti-Muslim racism, which has many roots. Europeans perceived Islam and Muslims as a barbaric threat ever since its arrival in the 7th century. White Christian supremacist thought perceived “Islam” as a threat when Black people found within it liberatory possibilities in the context of the transatlantic slave trade and far beyond.  Contemporary anti-Muslim racism grew especially out of the post-Cold War period when the U.S. began launching its imperialist wars in the Arab region and growing its unconditional support for Israeli settler-colonialism. Out of this context, anti-Muslim racism, based on the idea that all Palestinians and Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are potential terrorists, was institutionalized through domestic and global policies and the U.S. corporate media’s rhetoric. 

After the U.S. first confirmed its alliance with Israel in 1967,  U.S. government and media rhetoric portrayed Palestinians Arabs and Muslims as terrorist enemies.  At this time, the FBI began harassing and stifling the voices of Arab students and activists based upon this racist logic. In the 1980s, seven Palestinians and one Kenyan were placed into deportation proceedings for enacting free speech rights. Their case, referred to as the L.A. 8, revealed a secret plan to intern Arab Americans. The period of the first Iraq war brought President Bill  Clinton’s Omnibus Counterterrorism Bill, introduced by then-Sen. Joe Biden, granting the U.S. government the power to deport individuals based upon secret evidence. A form of racial profiling, the U.S. used this bill to target primarily Arab Muslim men. The post-9-11 era consolidated the racial profiling of people perceived to be Muslim in the U.S. through airport profilingsurveillance of Muslim communities, detention, deportations, special registration of immigrants, and much more. All along, the racist idea of the “Muslim terrorist enemy” has justified the war on terror abroad and legitimized the racial profiling of Muslims in the U.S. as an extension of this war. 


Pope moves ahead with plans to meet Shiite leader in Iraq

ROME (AP) — Pope Francis will meet with Iraq’s top Shiite Muslim cleric, Ali al-Sistani, during a trip next month that will also include a pilgrimage to ancient Christian communities that were emptied and devastated in battles with the Islamic State group.

The Vatican on Monday released the itinerary of Francis’ March 5-8 visit to Iraq, his first foreign trip since being grounded for 16 months due to the coronavirus pandemic. The 84-year-old pontiff, who has been vaccinated against COVID-19, apparently intends to go ahead with the trip despite the pandemic and lingering security concerns.ADVERTISEMENT

Francis’ main reason for making the first-ever papal trip to Iraq is to encourage the country’s Christians, who faced decades of discrimination by Iraq’s Muslims before being persecuted by the Islamic State group starting in 2014. Francis had intended to visit Iraq that year, as did St. John Paul II in 2000, but both had to call off their trips due to security concerns.

On his first day in Baghdad, Francis will meet with Catholic priests and nuns in the Our Lady of Salvation Church, the site of a 2010 massacre that killed 58 people and was claimed by the al-Qaida in Iraq group, which later splintered into IS.


Middle East: Are people losing their religion?

Recent surveys indicate strongly that across the Middle East and Iran, almost half the population is loosening their ties to Islam. Governments have reacted differently to calls for reforms of institutional religion.

Few topics are as delicate as religion — especially in the Middle East.

Officially, Arab states have major Muslim populations, varying from around 60% in Lebanon to almost 100% in Jordan or Saudi Arabia. Since the countries’ religious establishments also serve as governmental bodies, governments play a significant role in religious life, as they often control prayers, media or school curriculums.

However, several recently conducted and very comprehensive surveys in the Middle East and Iran, have come to similar conclusions: They all show an increase in secularization and growing calls for reforms in religious political institutions. 

Lebanon losing the religion

The conclusion after 25,000 interviews in Lebanon, by one of the largest pollsters in the region, the Arab Barometer, a research network at Princeton University and the University of Michigan, is “Personal piety has declined some 43% over the past decade, indicating less than a quarter of the population now define themselves as religious.” 

One Lebanese woman told DW of her experience growing up in a conservative household. “I come from a very religious family, my parents forced me to wear the veil when I was only 12 years old,” said the 27-year-old, who does not want her name published out of fear of reprisal. “They constantly threatened me that if I remove my veil, I will burn in hell.”

Only years later, at university, she met a group of friends who were atheists. “I gradually became convinced of their beliefs, so one day before going to uni, I decided to remove my veil and leave the house,” she said.


The Muslim Ban Is Finally Gone—3 Travelers Share What That Means for Them

The ban split up families, made many travelers feel uncomfortable, and took away numerous opportunities.


On Inauguration Day, President Joe Biden signed the Proclamation on Ending Discriminatory Bans on Entry to the United States, overturning former President Donald Trump’s 2017 “Muslim ban.” The executive order, which prompted protests across the U.S., had banned foreign nationals from Muslim-majority countries including Sudan, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Iran, and Somalia. (Chad, North Korea, and Venezuela were later added.) It sent a stark message of discrimination to not only Muslim Americans, but Muslims around the world, many of whom found themselves separated from family members and loved ones.

We spoke to three Muslim travelers about how the four-year ban impacted them—and their expectations for traveling in a post-COVID world.

Fahima Abdi is a Somali stay-at-home mother based in London. She has often faced anxiety about traveling to the U.S.

“My family and I were refugees that escaped from war, so we created a life that we thought would be better and have traveled the globe. However, with my husband being American and my daughter having dual citizenship, the Muslim ban was a constant stress. I was always separated for extra screenings—even while traveling with my toddler. It’s hard enough traveling with a baby, but then you find TSA has no sort of empathy for a crying baby, sifting through my personal belongings and making me repack them, without help, simply because of my name or the fact that I wear hijab. 


The many ways Muslim prisoners are denied religious rights in prison

Rick, an African American and Muslim prisoner, was in a correctional facility in a Midwestern state when he tried to obtain a Quran for worship. His request to the officer in charge was denied. But when he was told the price for it, he was shocked — it was far more than he could afford, and, significantly, was two to three times more expensive than a Bible.

“I just couldn’t afford to buy the Quran, or anything else, for that matter,” he says, as he was denied a Quran multiple times.

Rick, whose last name is being withheld to protect his privacy, resorted to secretly borrowing a copy of the Quran from another inmate. When guards were passing by, he had to quickly make sure they did not see it.

“The discrimination is so real. All that matters is your background and the color of your skin,” he says.

The United States currently incarcerates more than 2 million people, who are predominantly Black and Latinx, with almost half a million of these people being held on pretrial bond known as bail. Unfortunately, Muslim prisoners, in particular, are largely left out of the conversation. Muslims are overrepresented in state prisons, making up 9 percent. The significant presence of Muslims in prison stands in stark contrast to Muslims’ share of the US population as a whole, which is just 1 percent.

Muslim prisoners face many of the same issues as other incarcerated people, including hindrances to basic necessities and hygiene such as toothpaste, deodorant, or female sanitary products. But they also face unique discriminatory practices, such as lack of fair access to religious material in prisons. This is despite federal laws that require equal access to religious materials. Unfortunately, discrimination in prisons has been a longstanding issue, with multiple lawsuits attempting to resolve this; nevertheless, Muslims continue to face difficulty.


In Britain, Jews are leading fight against oppression of China’s Uighur Muslims

(JTA) As the leader of British Jewry’s main human rights group, Mia Hasenson-Gross regularly hears personal stories of loss, grief and helplessness.

But few encounters have affected Hasenson-Gross as profoundly as the one she had in 2019 with Rahima Mahmut, a U.K.-based activist for the rights of Uighurs, a Muslim minority that is the target of what the U.S. State Department and many advocates say is an attempted genocide by the Chinese government.

Mahmut shared that she has not spoken in over four years with the family she left behind in 1997 following an earlier government crackdown on Uighurs called the Ghulja massacre in which dozens were killed. Mahmut does not know whether her siblings are dead or alive, she told Hasenson-Gross.


Muslims and Christians come together to repair Denton (Texas) mosque

A GoFundMe started by a Denton church has raised close to $50,000 for the Denton Islamic Society damaged in the winter storm.

DENTON, Texas — Muslims and Christians are coming together in a big way, to help fund repairs at the Denton Islamic Society. The mosque suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damages by the winter storm.

“It makes you feel good about the community you live in,” said Faraz Qureshi, president of the board of the Denton Islamic Society.

The First United Methodist Church of Denton started a GoFundMe, which raised close to $50,000 in six days. 

“People really from all over the world are sending in donations,” Qureshi said. “Honestly it restores faith.”

The donations will pay for repairs to the building, but also so much more, as the outpouring of support comes from Christians and Muslims, but friends and neighbors.