Christian faith and the ‘theology of place’

For several weeks in spring 2022, and then again in the summer, the world witnessed a recurrence of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians over the Temple Mount/Aqsa Mosque area in Jerusalem.

It is not only religious Jews and religious Muslims who feel passionately about control of that specific spot. Even less religiously observant members of the two communities and beyond across both the Jewish and Muslim realms tend almost instinctively to become emotional on this issue with many tying it to political agendas and national priorities.

By contrast, Christians who understand their theological tenets well and are clear about the primacies of salvation taught by their faith cannot allow themselves to be swept up in any such frenzy, for religious reasons.

Nationalist Christian Palestinians specifically who take their faith seriously ought to guard against the temptation of embracing an unqualified theology of place. 

Of course, there were times when sincere professing Christians took up arms and launched military Crusades to “recover the Holy Land from the infidels.” Since the entanglement in the early fourth century of the battered but triumphant Church with a converted imperial order under the emperor Constantine, the advice in the Gospels to leave to each of God and Caesar what was respectively theirs appeared to have been relegated to the backburner while giving way to the rise of theocratic Christendom.  Many centuries later following much bloodshed, confusion, and ruin Christians of all stripes reawakened to the default position laid out by Jesus regarding the separation of the sacred from the profane. 

It is very natural for Christians to venerate space they view as sacred. The term “Holy Land” does carry profound meaning for the believing Christian. Indeed, of the three Abrahamic religious creeds it should be the believers in Jesus before the other two who view with unique awe the places where, according to their faith, God Himself was incarnated as a human person, lived, taught, performed miracles, forgave sins, suffered, died, and rose again on the third day. The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the River Jordan, Lake Tiberias in the Galilee, the Mount of Olives and the Temple in Jerusalem, the Via Dolorosa, Gethsemane, Golgotha, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Old City, and other places visited by Jesus as the Gospels relate — all these plus countless venues around the world where miracles were allegedly performed by saints through the power of the Holy Spirit have a very special significance for the believing Christian. 


Church groups help flood-hit Muslims in Pakistan

Parishes in Pakistan’s Islamabad-Rawalpindi metropolitan area are providing aid to Muslims following unprecedented floods that have ravaged the country.

Father Nasir William, parish priest of St. Peter Canisius Church, handed over clothes and ration bags to 50 people on Sept 17 in Nowshera on the banks of the River Kabul, which surged last month.

Missionary Sisters of St. Thomas the Apostle helped the priest in reaching out to burqa-clad Pashtun women.

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Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Rawalpindi has already handed over relief packages to 350 Muslims.

“It is a gift from the Christian community to our Muslim neighbors in times of need. I felt helpless as more were coming for help. Christian families, who reached out to us, have already received help from other organizations as per the beneficiary list shared by Protestant groups,” he told UCA News. 

“Most local Christians are poor but not affected. We welcome foreign and local help. Humanity comes first.”

“We reach out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion”

Homes, roads, railways, crops, livestock and livelihoods have been washed away in the floods, caused by record rainfall during the monsoon season and melting glaciers in the mountains, which have so far killed 1,545 and affected more than 33 million people.

Caritas Pakistan Hyderabad (CPH) is sending 11 million rupees (US$46,420) to 550 flood-affected people, most of them Muslims and a few Hindus, in southern Sindh province through Easypaisa, a mobile money service. Each of the 250 households in the Halepota area of Badin district has already received 20,000 rupees. 

The Church charity has registered 300 additional survivors for the cash aid in the coming weeks.

“These most vulnerable households were selected for assistance during the rapid need assessment in the affected Union Council. At district level response, we reach out to the poor, vulnerable and excluded, regardless of race or religion, as per our values based on the Catholic faith,” said Manshad Asghar, executive secretary of CPH, who distributed food packages and hygiene kits among 150 Christians in Matli parish on Sept 19.

“The mobile payment for cash grant aims at timely intervention as procurement of food and shelter will take a few more weeks.”

Nehal, a Catholic laborer from Bethlehem Colony in Mirpurkhas, 73 kilometers east of Hyderabad, was among 20 Christians who received food support from CPH on Sept 10. His mud house is leaking following two months of heavy rain. The father of four walks five kilometers to the vegetable market each day in search of work.

“The government has not given us a single morsel. Caritas food will last two weeks. We need more help”

“Daily wages have dropped as the whole city is dealing with damage and surrounding villages have had crops swamped. Laborers swarm to anyone who arrives to hire for manual work. Sometimes we have to wait all day for nothing,” said Nehal who is worried about his seven-year-old son suffering from malaria.


Prophetic Respect for Christians and Jews Inspired by the Prophet’s Manners

The teachings of the Prophet instilled in Muslims the notion that they should treat Christians and Jews well, respect them and to maintain good relations with them. The protests by Muslims against depictions of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), as misguided as they were, have given rise to perhaps an equal amount of righteous Western outpouring, concern, and even rage regarding Islam and the values of Muslims.

The tradition of depicting Prophet Muhammad in a bad light, however, is not a new one. It is well-known that the some people have had a long and entrenched tradition of promoting false and distasteful images of the Prophet of Islam, even by the most scholarly of their authorities.

What is not well-known to them is the Islamic respect regarding other religions and how Islam seeks to establish good relations with other traditions through a profound respect and understanding of the knowledge and major authorities of other people.

The following, two examples that reflect the Prophet’s rational and tolerant approach to other religions and their founders will be discussed.

Moses, Peace Be upon Him

Muslims believe that Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) occupies a unique status amongst the Prophets (peace be upon all of them), for he was the only Prophet who, miraculously and directly, spoke with God Almighty. In addition, Moses is the single most-mentioned Prophet by name in the Quran (136 times).

One incident illustrates the respect and honor that Prophet Muhammad had for Moses. It is related that a Muslim and a Jew quarreled. When the Jew praised Moses over Muhammad (peace be upon them both), the Muslim insulted the Jew. The Jew complained to the Prophet (peace be upon him) who replied:

“Do not confer on me superiority over Moses, for people will be struck unconscious of the day Resurrection and I will be the first to regain consciousness. And behold! There I will see Moses holding one of the pillars of Allah’s Throne. I will wonder whether he has become conscious before me or he has been exempted because of the unconsciousness he experienced on Mount Sinai.” (Al-Bukhari, 2411)


Religious leaders unite for peace at open dialogue event in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is home to 18 religious’ denominations, making it one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world.

In September, it opened its doors for a global interfaith dialogue. Its capital Astana hosted the 7th edition of the Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions. Delegates from more than 50 countries came together, urging peace and consolidation around the world.

“The efforts of world leaders, the efforts of international organizations are not enough to overcome the challenges that humanity is facing. And the voice of spiritual leaders who have great authority among the world’s population, calls for the joint overcoming of all the challenges. This is very important,” says Askar Shakirov, the deputy chairman of the senate of Kazakhstan.

“We have a common goal but we are no longer looking at our differences but we are recognising our common concern, for those who struggle or suffer.”

Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism as well as other world religions were represented at the Congress. This year Pope Francis as well as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb were among the renowned guests.

“The main result is that we are sitting together, we are speaking together and we are understanding that to find solutions for the problems in the world is not by fighting, is not during by war, but sitting together and speaking,” David Baruch Lau, the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel said to Euronews.

One of the goals of the congress is to reintroduce the language of reconciliation and peace to a world shattered by conflict and tragedy. It also strives to put religion in the spotlight as a tool to help defuse confrontations.

The final declaration of the Congress calls upon world leaders to abandon all aggressive and destructive rhetoric, which leads to destabilisation in the world. It demands a cease from conflict and bloodshed in all corners. It says that extremism, radicalism, terrorism and all other forms of violence have nothing to do with authentic religion and must be rejected.

Participants of the Congress planted trees in the new Peace and Harmony park in the capital of Kazakhstan. This ceremony is a symbol of hope for the interfaith dialogue to grow and bring about change, to unite different communities across the globe and to inspire people to join their efforts in the name of peace.


This Muslim NBA vet is marching for persecuted Christians

By Joe Bukuras
Boston, Mass., Sep 3, 2022 / 08:00 am

NBA veteran Enes Kanter Freedom has been using his platform as a professional basketball player to take direct aim at the Chinese Communist Party for its egregious human rights abuses.
“People need to understand this … the Chinese Communist Party does not represent the Olympic values of excellence, of respect, of friendship. The whole world knows that they’re a brutal dictatorship and they engage in censorship, they tread on freedoms, they do not respect human rights, and they hide the truth,” Freedom told Fox News’ Laura Ingraham in February.

But with no team signing a contract with the 6-foot-10, 250-pound center since February, he, and others, say that he’s paying the price for his activism — activism that includes explicitly calling out the NBA, his former team the Boston Celtics, and other players in the league for hypocrisy, citing their relationship with, and failure to condemn, China.

The 30-year-old seems more determined than ever to work in defense of human rights.


Why can’t non-Muslims visit Mecca and Medina?


Why does Islam ban non-Muslims from the holy cities of Mecca and Medina?


Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum is among the last people Saudi Arabians might want to listen to. Yet he penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed last month urging Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to end Islam’s longstanding ban against non-Muslims entering the faith’s two holiest locations, Mecca, where the Prophet Muhammad issued the Quran and founded the religion 14 centuries ago, and Medina, where he led the first Muslim regime.

This prohibition hit the news when Gil Tamary, an American Jew and TV journalist in Israel, illicitly slipped into Mecca to record material and broadcast a much-hyped 10-minute travelogue. Muslims have enforced the ban so carefully, Pipes reports, that only 18 non-Muslims are known to have ever entered Mecca, including Tamary and two others in recent decades.

The violation of sacred space provoked an international furor among not only Muslims but Israelis and westerners who feared a rise in hostility. The regime has filed criminal charges against Tamary and his Saudi driver. Tamary apologized and said his intent was to “showcase the importance of Mecca and the beauty of the religion” and thereby foster religious tolerance. Guess again.

But cheerleader Pipes thinks Tamary “boldly challenged an archaic status quo that the world unthinkingly accepts. Bravo to him for breaking a taboo. . . . He deserves respect, not condemnation.” Pipes even wants unspecified international organizations to lobby for open access with the Saudis.

Pipes did not mention another exclusionary policy noted in the U.S. State Department’s 2022 religious freedom report. Saudi Arabia strictly forbids all non-Muslim houses of worship nationwide, though private or secret Christian gatherings are known to occur.


There are barely any Muslims on popular TV series, a new study says

Archie Panjabi at the Emmy Awards in 2010. Panjabi, a non-Muslim actress, played a Muslim character in the 2018 British limited series Next of Kin, a show discussed in a new study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Muslims make up 25% of the global population and Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world — but Muslims only comprise 1% of characters shown on popular televisions series in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and New Zealand.

Those are just two of the findings in a new report issued Wednesday by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. Researchers investigated 200 top-rated television shows from 2018 and 2019 that aired in these four countries, and surveyed 8,885 characters with speaking roles.

Apart from the numbers deficit, the majority of the Muslim characters were depicted as adult Middle Eastern or North African [MENA] men, despite the fact that Muslims are the most racially and ethnically diverse religious group in the world. These characters were also linked to violent acts and behavior. Over 30% of the 98 Muslim characters were perpetrators of violence, while nearly 40% were targets of such attacks. Less than one-third were portrayed as native English speakers, underscoring depictions of Muslims as “foreigners.”


King Charles III: Five things the new British monarch said about Islam and Muslims

The king, who once studied Arabic to better understand the Quran, has long spoken about Islamic history and theology

In 1996, the grand mufti of Cyprus, shockingly, accused Charles III – the new British king – of secretly being a Muslim. 

“Did you know that Prince Charles has converted to Islam. Yes, yes. He is a Muslim. I can’t say more. But it happened in Turkey. Oh, yes, he converted all right,” the late Nazim Al-Haqqani said

“When you get home check on how often he travels to Turkey. You’ll find that your future king is a Muslim.” 

Buckingham Palace simply replied: “Nonsense.” 

Charles, who became the new monarch last week following the death of his mother Queen Elizabeth II, aged 96, is not a secret Muslim – but his admiration and knowledge of the Islamic faith is well documented.

The 73-year-old, who is now the head of the Church of England, has made several speeches whilst king-in-waiting on theological and historical subjects related to Muslims and Islam. 

He even once revealed that he had been learning Arabic in order to understand the Quran better – a fact praised by Cambridge Central Mosque’s imam last week during a sermon. 

Middle East Eye takes a look at some of Charles III’s most significant references to Islam over the decades. 

The environment and natural world

Charles has long advocated on environmental issues and climate change, occasionally invoking Islamic theology on the subject.

In a 1996 speech entitled “A Sense of the Sacred: Building Bridges Between Islam and the West”, he suggested that an appreciation of Islamic views on natural order would “help us in the West to rethink, and for the better, our practical stewardship of man and his environment”. 

Charles elaborated on those views in a 2010 speech at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, which he has been a patron of since 1993. 

Charles III: How the new king became the most pro-Islam monarch in British history

Read More »

“From what I know of [Islam’s] core teachings and commentaries, the important principle we must keep in mind is that there are limits to the abundance of nature,” he said.

“These are not arbitrary limits, they are the limits imposed by God and, as such, if my understanding of the Quran is correct, Muslims are commanded not to transgress them.”

He later describes Islam as possessing “one of the greatest treasuries of accumulated wisdom and spiritual knowledge available to humanity” – a tradition he said was obscured by a drive towards “western materialism”. 

“The inconvenient truth is that we share this planet with the rest of creation for a very good reason – and that is, we cannot exist on our own without the intricately balanced web of life around us. 

“Islam has always taught this and to ignore that lesson is to default on our contract with Creation.”


British Muslims reflect on late Queen Elizabeth II, UK’s monarchy

For some, the royal family is an outdated relic of vanity and a reminder of Britain’s horrific colonial past.

By Umar Lateef Misgar

Published On 12 Sep 202212 Sep 2022

The death of the country’s longest-reigning sovereign has elicited widespread interest but mixed reactions from the population [File: Joe Klamar/AFP]

The most intimate encounter that Junayd ul Islam had with the British royal family was when the late Queen Elizabeth II visited the hospital where he had just been born.

“I am often reminded of this by my mother,” Junayd, who is now an undergraduate student in Natural Sciences at University College London, told Al Jazeera.


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“Nothing could have prepared my somewhat-confused mother for this visit by the queen to commemorate the monarch’s golden jubilee,” he said.

The royal family has been a regular fixture of British society, and the country’s 2.5 million Muslims are not immune to their influence.

“No matter who you are or what you do, you will find the British monarchy entering your consciousness,” Junayd added while contemplating the recent passing of Queen Elizabeth II.

The death of the country’s longest-reigning sovereign has elicited widespread interest but mixed reactions from the population.

Elizabeth inherited the crown in 1952 after the death of her father, King George VI, and oversaw the accelerated unravelling of the British empire overseas.

During her term as nominal head of state, 15 prime ministers took charge of the United Kingdom, and she is often described in the popular media as “the rock around which modern Britain was built”.

Colonial legacy

While some see the royal family as a vital anchor around which the country coalesces through prosperous as well as tough times, others find it to be an outdated relic of vanity and a reminder of Britain’s horrific colonial past.

“The colonial legacy that the (late queen) represented has had an enduring impact while she directly benefitted from that same legacy,” Aqsa Ahmed, who studies history at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies and works in the education sector, told Al Jazeera.


Dear America, what’s with all the religious labels?

Behaviour isn’t defined simply by the religion to which the person or institution adheres

by James Zogby

Back in the 1960s, Americans were deeply divided on matters of war and race – and Christians in America were on both sides of the divide.

While Martin Luther King Jr and religious leaders associated with his Southern Christian Leadership Conference led protests and committed acts of civil disobedience demanding civil rights, they were countered by white Christian preachers in the south who warned of the dangers of violating God’s will by ignoring the punishment God had meted out to the “sons of Ham”. And while New York’s Catholic cardinal Francis Spellman travelled to Vietnam to bless US troops as they battled “godless communism”, a Jesuit priest named Daniel Berrigan led fellow clergymen and women in protests against the war, often resulting in their arrest and imprisonment (in one case, for burning the Selective Service files of young men who were to be drafted to serve in the military).

During this entire period, Christianity wasn’t described as a warlike or racist faith. Nor were King and Berrigan referred to as “Christian protesters”. There weren’t any drawn-out theological debates in an effort to determine which interpretation of Christianity was correct. Rather these individuals were defined by what they did. There were either “segregationists” or “civil rights leaders”, not “Christian segregationists” or “Christian civil rights leaders”. They were “supporters of the war” or “peace activists, not “Christian supporters of the war” or “Christian peace activists”.

For government or the rest of us to insist on defining actions by faith is at best careless

What may have been understood, at least implicitly, was that just because a person or institution uses religious language to validate certain behaviours, that does not make their behaviour “religious”. Nor does this behaviour define, by itself, the religion to which the person or institution adheres. This is something that many of us in the West still understand, at least when it comes to Christianity. Despite former president George W Bush indicating that America was carrying out God’s will in the Iraq war, we knew not to refer to that conflict as a “Christian” war. This understanding, however, has not carried over to our discussion of Islam.

For reasons beyond the scope of this piece, when dealing with Islam, political leaders, media commentators and ordinary folk here in the West appear intent on using religious language to describe every aspect of life and all forms of behaviour, both good and bad, as “Muslim”. In doing so, we create confusion for ourselves and others, leading at times, to incoherence and some very strange policies.

For example, faced with the threat of individuals and groups using the religious language of Islam to validate their acts of terror, we refer to them as “Muslim terrorists”. But then because we recognise that they represent only a tiny fraction of Muslims, we maintain that they “don’t speak for Islam”. This then leads us down the tortuous path of attempting to define what is “good” Islam versus “bad” Islam – creating a kind of “state-sanctioned” interpretation of a faith – something we understood not to do when it involves Christianity.