Islamic scholars speak out against expulsion of Iraqi Christians

christians-islam-iraq-mosul.siDozens of Iraqi Christian families have fled their hometown of Mosul after Islamist hardliners gave them a choice of converting, praying, or dying. This treatment has been denounced by influential Islamic scholars.

Fleeing Christians described being stopped by gunmen on the outskirts of the city and robbed of their possessions, suggesting the militants were implementing an order for Christians to leave behind everything they had. That was the final straw for many, including Zaid Qreqosh Ishaq, who was forced to flee with his family.

We had to go through an area where they had set up a checkpoint,” he said. Islamic State group militants “asked us to get out of the car. We got out. They took…our things, our bags, our money, everything we had on us,” he told AP.

With nothing more than the clothes on their backs, Ishaq’s family fled to St. Joseph Church in the northern Kurdish city of Irbil. But they may be forced to move to camps that have been set up for the flood of Christians trying to escape the violence.

The Christian community has been living in the Mosul area for nearly 2,000 years. Now the city is under the control of Sunni militants from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS/ISIL), who formed the Islamic State (IS) in the regions of the country they captured. The militants imposed a deadline last Saturday for Christians to convert to Islam, pay a tax, or face death.

Such treatment of the Christians has led to criticism from moderate Sunni Islamists, including the International Union of Muslim Scholars.

The International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) condemns the forced expulsion of the Christian brothers of Iraq from their homes, cities and provinces,” the group said in a statement posted on the website of its leader, the influential cleric Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi, on Tuesday.

These are acts that violate Islamic laws, Islamic conscience and leave but a negative image of Islam and Muslims,” the group added.


Conversion of Iraq: As Isis drives Christians out of their homes, the group’s genocidal intentions take on horrible clarity

5226106966_02eafca47e_b-1024x641While Israel ramped up its offensive in Gaza on Sunday, with appalling loss of life and injuries, 1,200km to the north-west in Iraq a different, but hardly lesser, tragedy was under way as the Christian community of Mosul poured out of the city where they have lived for 1,600 years in search of refuge.

The organisation we are invited to call the Islamic Caliphate (Isis) possesses the virtue of clarity, if nothing else. Hitler’s genocidal plans for the Jews became public knowledge only years after he came to power. The Soviet gulags were for a long time shrouded in secrecy. But Isis has never made any bones about either means or ends.

The ends: to establish a worldwide Islamic state based on the most reductive and intolerant version of Sunni Islam. The means: the elimination of everyone who believes something different and refuses to convert.

Since their capture of Mosul on 10 June, these fanatics have wasted no time slaughtering large numbers of brother Muslims who follow the Shia tradition. They boast of having “executed” 1,700 Shia soldiers n the town of Tikrit.

But there was no reason to suppose they would look more benignly on other types of “infidels”, and now they have turned their attention to the remnants of the other communities that until recently made Iraq a rich patchwork of ancient beliefs.

So it was that on Friday the Christians of Mosul, a community of thousands settled in the city since the early days of Christianity, were given 24 hours to either convert or face the sword. A third alternative was to pay jizya, an Islamic tax historically levied on religious minorities.


Mideast conflict affects all Muslims and Jews: Marmur

At times such as these it’s impossible for Muslims and Jews living outside the Middle East not to be affected by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their relationship to each other. Those living far from the scene often hold even more extreme views than those in the region. Others believe that they can make peace there by acting here.

Shai Har-El, businessman, scholar and rabbi is among the latter. His book, Where Islam and Judaism Join Together, argues contrary to received wisdom that religion doesn’t fuel the conflict but is potentially “a catalyst for action in the battle for peace in the Middle East.” With this in mind he founded the Middle East Peace Network in 1990 and has since also helped to establish the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Chicago.

In a recent interview Dr. Har-El, who was born in Israel and holds degrees from the universities of Tel Aviv and Chicago, outlined his plan that notwithstanding its political agenda would harness the religious forces that make for unity and tolerance in the service of a lasting peace between Palestinians and Israelis. But despite his seemingly good intentions, his efforts don’t appear to have had much of an impact.

His utopian desire to temper politics with religion isn’t unique. For example, theLevantine Cultural Center in Los Angeles, which was launched more than a decade after the Middle East Peace Network, seems to have a similar agenda. In addition to its religious base it promotes intercultural activities and political discussions that include criticism of Israel and Zionism. As a result, Jewish mainstream organizations have kept their distance and it’s not clear to what extent Islamic groups have embraced it. Again, the effort may be praiseworthy but the results seem meagre.

The proposed House of Prayer and Learning in Berlin aims to be very different. Instead of seeking to solve the conflict in the Middle East, its stated purpose is to establish good relations between Jews and Muslims locally. While respecting religious differences, it stresses the fundamental similarities between the monotheistic faiths. The dialogue it promotes seeks to mirror the multiculturalism of the German capital.


Muslims, Jews and Christians Participate in Day of Fast for Peace Between Israel and Gaza Strip


Smoke rises following what witnesses said was an Israeli air strike on a house in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip July 14, 2014. Israel said it shot down a drone from Gaza a week into its offensive on Monday, the first reported deployment of an unmanned aircraft by Palestinian militants whose rocket attacks have been regularly intercepted.Al-Mezan, a Gaza-based Palestinian human rights group, said 869 Palestinian homes have been destroyed or damaged in Israeli attacks over the past week. More than 166 Palestinians, most of them civilians, have been killed, Gaza health officials said, in seven days of fighting that has shown no sign of ending. Israel says its offensive is intended to halt rocket fire at its cities from the Gaza Strip.

Muslims, Jews and Christians across the globe designated Tuesday as an international day of fasting to encourage peace between Israel and the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, as the two areas continue to exchange rocket fire in the wake of the death of three kidnapped Israeli teens.

Tuesday falls as a fasting day for both Muslims and Jews, as it is the 17th of the month of Tammuz on the Hebrew calendar, as well as the month of Ramadan, where Muslims fast during daylight hours each day.

The Twitter campaign and subsequent day of fasting began in Israel and gained momentum in the United Kingdom and the United States. Yachad, a pro-Israel, pro-peace group based in the U.K., was one of the main promoters of the international fast day.

The Twitter campaign and subsequent day of fasting began in Israel and gained momentum in the United Kingdom and the United States. Yachad, a pro-Israel, pro-peace group based in the U.K., was one of the main promoters of the international fast day.

Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad, told The Telegraph that her group promoted the fast day with the hope of encouraging peace between Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. “Through the fast, British Jews want to loudly and clearly call for de-escalation, return of calm, return to the negotiating table and the creation of two states for two peoples, the only way that can guarantee stability and security in the long run.”


Palestinian Christian: Western Christians Don’t Understand Gaza/Israeli Conflict

gaza“The Christians in the west, most of them, they don’t know the realities here. They don’t know who is occupying who, who is oppressing who, who is confiscating whose land, who is building walls to try and separate people from one another,” Alex Awad, who also pastors East Jerusalem Church, told The Christian Post.

“In the United States and much of Europe people — they just don’t understand the realities on the ground,” he added.

According to Awad, the reality is that the root causes of the Gaza conflict date back further than the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers. Instead, he blames Israel for not following through with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s plan under which the country was required to free Palestinian prisoners, whom he suggested were unfairly imprisoned after protesting the West Bank settlements. Awad believes that its failure to follow through with this condition enraged an already angered (and economically deprived) Palestinian population. He also called the current fighting a “cover-up” for the settlements and a diversion to focus attention to Gaza, even as the real crisis took place in the West Bank.
“The news media doesn’t tell [a] comprehensive story where the average person will understand the causes and effects,” said Awad. “This thing did not happen in a vacuum. What’s happening today in Gaza — the Israelis attack on Hamas’ rockets in Israel — it did not happen in a vacuum. The way that the Israelis dealt with the prisoners on one side, and also the collapse of the peace process on the other side, created that anger that brought us to the position.”

Christian, Muslim Groups Urge Lebanon Neutrality

325866_img650x420_img650x420_cropBEIRUT: Moderate and independent Lebanese Christian and Muslim figures Tuesday called for a Lebanon free from Hezbollah or the radical Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS).

A statement issued Tuesday by the moderate groups the Lady of the Mountains and the Shiite Consultative Gathering as well as other independent Lebanese figures slammed ISIS and Wilayat al-Faqih, an indirect reference to Hezbollah, as “spiritual sisters.”

Under the Wilayat al-Faqih doctrine, which was introduced in Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the supreme ayatollah, or highest religious authority, has final say in political matters as well.

The statement said the victories scored by ISIS and Hezbollah “are only an overwhelming evidence of the failure of the two schemes together, and that they are the product of an endless war.”




If Christian Corporations Have Religious Rights, What About Muslim Prisoners?

gitmo_ap_img_2If corporations have religious rights that warrant protection under the law, why don’t men imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay?

A federal judge has given the US government until Tuesday evening to answer that question, which was posed by lawyers representing two Guantánamo detainees, Emad Hassan and Ahmed Rabbani, who have been held without charge or trial. Authorities at the prison have barred the two men from communal prayers during the holy month of Ramadan because they are on hunger strike. Two courts ruled previously that Hassan and Rabbani are not people, at least “within the scope” of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prevents the government from substantially burdening a person’s freedom to exercise religion.

In last week’s Hobby Lobby v. Burwell decision, the conservative majority of the Supreme Court ruled that the chain of craft stores, along with other closely held corporations, are within the scope of the RFRA. Three days later, lawyers representing the detainees filed new lawsuitscalling on a DC circuit court to restore the detainees’ right to communal prayers in light of the High Court’s interpretation.

“The Guantánamo Bay detainees, as flesh-and-blood human beings, are surely ‘individuals,’ and thus they are no less ‘person[s]’ than are for-profit corporations in Hobby Lobby,” reads the motion. “The fact that the detainees are at Guantánamo Bay changes nothing, for Hobby Lobbymakes clear that a ‘person’ whose religious free exercise is burdened under color of law need not be a US citizen or resident in order to enjoy the RFRA’s protections.”


A spark of good news from the Mideast

muslims4peaceNYEditor’s note: Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist for the Miami Herald and World Politics Review. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is the author of “The End of Revolution: A Changing World in the Age of Live Television.” Follow her on Twitter@FridaGhitis. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) — It’s time for some good news from the Middle East. The region is a tangle of sectarian bloodshed, territorial clashes and ideological disputes. But there is one bright light, an important, positive development that we should pause to appreciate.

recent poll of 14 Muslim-majority countries by the Pew Research Center has come up with startling, highly encouraging results: Muslims are becoming increasingly opposed to extremism.

Muslims are turning against organizations that support violence and terrorism. Public approval for suicide bombings is way down, and so is support for the likes of al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas and Boko Haram.

It’s a dramatic change from the days just after 9/11 when any Westerner traveling through the Muslim Middle East and Asia could see troubling signs. I remember the Osama bin Laden T-shirts flying off the shelves in the bazaars, the burning Twin Towers shirts hawked by street vendors, the jaw-dropping conversations, even with some educated people who found justification for every manner of terrorist activity.


After Abraham, Before Peace – Navigating the Divides

real-engagementI must confess: I grew up having very uncharitable and negative views of Jews and Judaism.

I have experienced firsthand how the destructive energy of the brutal, continuing Israeli occupation of Palestinians can pollute a soul, fuel anger and rationalize a collective hate against Jews and Zionists.

I have experienced what hate and anger did to me and also to many otherwise sterling members of Muslim and Jewish communities – how it hijacks their imagination, morals, and spirit, and often makes them reveal the worst aspects of themselves.

I grew up in Turkey and Palestinian plight for self-determination has been very central to my existence. I saw most of the external world through the prisms of Palestinian suffering. All I learned about Judaism, Jews and Israel was through the lenses of this bloody conflict, and I inevitably developed very negative views of Jews and Judaism to an extreme degree. I blamed Jews for almost all and any problem that Muslims faced not only globally but especially in the Middle East. For a number of years, I believed something was irredeemably evil and wrong with Judaism as a religion and Jews as people. How could they have allowed the occupation of Palestine to endure?

school girls

In all honesty, I wish I could say that my experience was unique. I hope sentiments have improved since then, but I am doubtful.  This mindset ends up doing no good to any one. Right now, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is beyond toxic and self-destructive. Israel has launched an extensive military offensive on densely populated Gaza. Hamas has launched 40 long-range rockets. Unfortunately, it has become a zero-sum, all-or-nothing game for many.