Saudi Arabia: Hajj will see at most ‘thousands’ due to virus

DUBAI – A Saudi official said Tuesday that the hajj pilgrimage, which usually draws up to 2.5 million Muslims from all over the world, will only see at the most a few thousand pilgrims next month due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

The kingdom’s Hajj Minister Muhammad Benten said a “small and very limited” number of people — even as low as just 1,000 from inside the kingdom — will be allowed to perform the pilgrimage to ensure social distancing and crowd control amid the global virus outbreak.

“The number, God willing, may be in the thousands. We are in the process of reviewing so it could be 1,000 or less, or a little more,” Benten said in a virtual press conference.

While the decision to drastically curb this year’s hajj was largely expected, it remains unprecedented in Saudi Arabia’s nearly 90-year history and effectively bars all Muslims from outside the kingdom from travelling there to performing the pilgrimage.

The Saudi government waited until just five weeks before the hajj to announce its decision. The timing indicates the sensitivity around major decisions concerning the hajj that affect Muslims around the world.

“This is a very sensitive operation and we are working with experts at the Health Ministry,” Benten said, stressing the importance of protecting the lives and health of pilgrims.


Watch: Non-Muslims protect Muslims as they offer prayers amid protests in US

Amid growing unrest across the US over the death of George Floyd, a video has emerged on social media where non-Muslims are seen protecting Muslims from the police as they offered namaaz prayers amid protests.

Shared on Twitter by user StanceGrounded, the video – which emerged from one of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ protests in Brooklyn – shows a large group of people surrounding a group of Muslims to protect them from the New York Police Department (NYPD) as they offer namaaz prayers.

Watch the video hereStanceGrounded@_SJPeace_

My entire heart ❤

Non-Muslims surround Muslims so they can pray safely from the harm of the NYPD during a Black Lives Matter protest in Brooklyn, New York.


We’re in this together 😭

Embedded video

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The video instantly garnered lots of attention and love on the internet. Take a look at some of the reactions here:OurDebs@OurDebsDiaryReplying to @_SJPeace_

Beauty amid chaos. “My entire heart.”
❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️98Twitter Ads info and privacySee OurDebs’s other TweetsIrishmike62@irishmike520Replying to @AgnesAlston54 @_SJPeace_

It’s coming. I am hoping we look back at these 4 Trump years as racisms last stand. We got to keep working though, we have a lot that has to be down.250Twitter Ads info and privacy16 people are talking about this


After George Floyd’s death, a groundswell of religious activism

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – George Floyd’s death has triggered a groundswell of outrage and activism by religious leaders and faith-based groups across the United States, reminiscent of what occurred during the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Conservative and mainstream religious leaders are joining with Black churches, progressive Catholics and Protestants, Jewish synagogues and other faith groups in calling for police reforms and efforts to dismantle racism.

Floyd, a 46-year-old African-American man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes on May 25. The officer has been fired and charged with second-degree murder, but protesters and activists around the world are pushing for deeper change.


CAIR Joins Leadership Conference, 400+ Groups in Letter to Congress Urging Congressional Action on Police Violence

WASHINGTON, D.C., 6/2/2020) – The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has joined the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights along with 400 other civil rights organizations in a letter calling on congressional leadership to swiftly rectify the legacy of white supremacy and anti-black racism that has led to police violence against Black people across our country.


The letter states in part: “Now is the time for Congress to pass meaningful police reform legislation. While we appreciate hearings and resolutions, we need comprehensive measures to happen. We need Congress to truly step up to the plate and protect Black communities from the systemic perils of over policing, police brutality, misconduct, and harassment, and end the impunity in which officers operate in taking the lives of Black people. It is your moral and ethical duty to ensure Black people and communities are free from the harm and threats from law enforcement and to curtail state sanctioned police violence and militarized police responses.


Column: Nothing divides America more than tossing politics into a heated religious debate

Since the founding of America, religion has been at the center of many of the most contentious conflicts our nation has encountered. We should have known it would be only a matter of time before the church was inserted into the coronavirus pandemic.

Throughout history, religion has brought us together when our survival as a nation was under siege. But just as often, it has ripped us apart when politicians sought to use it to justify selfish deeds.

The unholy alliance between religion and politics is an effective tool in creating discord, dissension and division. That’s why politicians find it so appealing.

The debate over whether churches should be included as essential businesses that are allowed to reopen during the pandemic began before Donald Trump officially entered the fray on Friday. But like everything he touches, the focus is now all about him.



(Note: While this pertains only to religious sites in Wisconsin, it may provide a template for how others may choose to re-open)

After the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down the “Safer at Home” policy on May 14, and ordered that the state must “reopen” amid the COVID-19 pandemic without a comprehensive safety plan, every industry and community has struggled under the chaos since to discern how that ruling would be applied – especially within the faith community.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee released a roadmap of policies from its diverse collection of members on May 19, addressing how different faith organizations would hold in-person worship services and protect the community from the coronavirus.

“As faith communities either prepare to cautiously open up faith sanctuaries for in-person gatherings or remain closed, we wanted to present examples of what some interfaith partners are doing to strategically and safely resume in-person gathering,” said Pardeep S. Kaleka, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “The plans by our interfaith partners continue to invite input from the CDC, WHO, Medical Providers, Governmental Agencies, Interfaith religious organizations, community coalitions, and the congregations themselves – the greatest importance for our leadership remains to preserve life and human dignity.”

Milwaukee Jewish Federation

The MJF, working in collaboration with its local, state, and national partners will be convening a working group that will coordinate the safe “reopening of facilities, including synagogues, community centers, schools, senior centers, camps, and workplaces.” The resumptions of operations plan. Miryam Rosenzweig, President and CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation stated that “determining how to resume or more fully open our operations can be overwhelming. The Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s internal task force, in planning our own reopening and strategizing how to assist the broader community, has had one guiding principle: the sanctity of life, Pikuach Nefesh. The safety of every human being is paramount and drives every decision.”

American Baptist Churches of Wisconsin

Regional Executive Minister, Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri explained that each church is autonomous in their decision to reopen and conduct services. Some of the considerations of church activities regarding close proximity will need to be altered such as, ordinations, the laying on of hands, communion, post-service meals, baptisms, and choirs. Within the communion ritual there is a flexibility to the items shared for this purpose. Crackers, juice, water, or items of everyday sustenance can be used. There will also be and adjustment to the “sign of peace” within the services once churches open up again. Rev. Dr. Marie Onwubuariri recommended that churches practice extreme caution, follow CDC guidelines and pay attention to local orders.

Catholic Church

The Archdiocese highest priority is to keep the faithful community safe during these times and while information is changing rapidly, the leadership provided directives to begin by May 31, 2020. Some key points are that communion will not be distributed by the cup, it will only be received in the hand. Also, communion will only be distributed by the priests, or vested permanent or transitional deacons. Holy water fonts should be emptied, and there will be no physical contact during the sign of peace. Social distancing of those not living in the same house will also be followed. Catholic Comeback Plan.

United Church of Christ

The UCC expressed its gratitude to its congregation for honoring the “Safer at home” order as it helped to “reduce illness, suffering, and loss of life” over the past two months. Now that the order has been lifted by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, it has put a lot of pressure on individual pastors and leadership to open. However, despite the political challenges, UCC leadership will trust guidelines to maintain communal health. UCC will be working with Rev. Kerri Parker, Wisconsin Council of Churches, as they continue to monitor and assess health guidelines set out by public health officials to create a plan consistent with the Badger Bounce Back Plan. Rev. Jane Anderson states that “our main priority is the health of our communities, so we will trust science and data.” The plan developed by the Wisconsin Council of Churches was informed by the Badger Bounce Back plan to open up churches in a phased approach. This plan allows for a gradual, measured, and cautious approach which takes into account public health guidelines and data driven decision making. Wisconsin Council of Churches (WCC) plan.

Hindu Temple of Wisconsin

Prayer services at the Hindu Temple of Wisconsin are primarily autonomous. Devotees can visit to pray during regular hours of operation or at times when longer events are scheduled. Shoes are removed before entering the sanctum sanctorum. Priests are available continuously through the day for prayer services. Devotees bring flowers for the priests to lay on statues for them. The priest pours fragrant blessed water into their hands, used as a vessel to drink from, and nuts are shared after being blessed. For the reopening of the temple, Sarvesh Geddam explained the temple hours would be restricted. The blessed water and nuts would be prepackaged, and Devotees would be asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing.

Islamic Society of Milwaukee and Brookfield

The Islamic Society will implement a phased approach to returning to in-person attendance at the Masjid in mid-June, 2020 if conditions permit. This plan is in accordance to the guidelines recommended by the CDC. Imam Noman Hussain stated that “it is of the utmost importance that the community’s safety be the highest priority. This includes the Muslim community and the broader community.” The ISM will be implementing the use of facemasks, social distancing, disinfecting, and sanitizing to mitigate the threat of spread. During the 1st Phase, there will be no Friday prayer, however there will be daily prayers in respect to allotted capacity, with adults over 65 strongly discouraged because of risk to elderly. Capacity requirements will be in place for the entire premises and social distancing will be the priority.


Coronavirus has transformed how Muslims mark Ramadan: ‘A complete reevaluation’

042818_RamadanApp_03Faith communities around the world are leveraging tools like Zoom, Facebook Live and WhatsApp to tune in to services.

Though it’s typically a community affair, my family and I quietly welcomed Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, alone in our living room as the sun set on April 23. Instead of hearing an imam make the call to prayer, ushering in 30 days of heightened spiritual reflection, we listened as the call came in through a prayer app on our phones.

So began our journey of avoiding all food and drink, including water, during the daytime, and focusing on boosting our relationship with God through prayer and reflection.

Ramadan is different this year.

Shelter-in-place means worshipping at the mosque is out. So is inviting friends over for “iftar,” the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast. A holiday meant to bring the community together is being observed apart.

But not alone. Throughout Ramadan, Muslim religious leaders have used Instagram Live and Facebook to deliver lectures and conduct Q&As. Community centers, as well as friends, host virtual iftars on Zoom, where people share their experiences and offer religious reflections as they break the fast. Fundraisers for mosques and charities, which usually take place during the nightly communal prayers, have gone completely digital.

As the COVID-19 pandemic upends life, technology has kept communities of faith connected. Christians celebrated Easter by attending virtual services on Zoom and Facebook Live. Jews around the world attended virtual seders for Passover. Muslims have adopted the same technologies to celebrate Ramadan, which ends May 23.


An overlooked answer to COVID-19

A global day of prayer on May 14 reflected an upsurge of prayer as a healing response to the coronavirus.

1102258_1_prayer_standardOf all the responses to the coronavirus, one of the most overlooked by journalists and national leaders has been prayer. Yet take note: On May 14, tens of thousands of Christians, Muslims, and Jews around the world held a day of prayer for healing. It was sponsored by a newly formed interfaith group called the Higher Committee of Human Fraternity.

“Let us face this challenge with patience and composure,” said Indonesian President Joko Widodo at a mass prayer service in his Asian nation on Thursday. “Panic is half of the disease, equanimity is half of a cure, and patience determines recovery.”

Or note a day of prayer held in Israel April 22. Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and Druze religious leaders gathered online to lead people in their respective prayers. Or note a day of interfaith prayer in the Philippines April 8 to address the virus crisis.

In the United States, the National Day of Prayer, held every year on the first Thursday in May, focused this year on helping Americans cope with COVID-19. At the local level, interfaith groups have also held days of prayer – on Facebook, Zoom, or similar online platforms.

During the COVID-19 emergency, “Americans have become significantly more likely to say that religion is increasing its influence on American life,” according to the results of a mid-April Gallup Poll. A March survey by Pew Research Center found 24% of Americans say their faith has become stronger while 55% said they had prayed for an end to the spread of the coronavirus.


Ethiopia: Interreligious body aims to douse communal flareups

Experts remind Ethiopians centuries old amity and Christians king’s gesture to host companions of Prophet Muhammad


Even as the religious co-existence has been facing threats in Ethiopia, a non-government body representing all faiths is working overtime to promote pluralism and tolerance.

Over past many years attacks on houses of worship have taken an increasingly ethnic-nationalist form in the landlocked country situated in the Horn of Africa.

The religious violence has raised fears of politically-instigated extremism pitting the largely Christian population and Muslim populations against each other.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Mesud Adem, the communication director of the Interreligious Council of Ethiopia (ICE), said the religious equity was facing a serious challenge in the country.

Established in 2004, the ICE is working to promote interfaith relations.

According to the ICE, the simmering violent ethnic nationalism and political forces who want to assume power had been manipulating fringe elements of the followers of both religions.

‘’It is the politicized and organized ethnic nationalism that had been pitting against each other,’’ Adem said.

According to the last national census Christians formed 62.8% while Muslims 33.9% of the total 110 million population.

Ethiopian Muslims who are predominantly Sunni with a strong Sufi tradition live in every corner of the country.

They constitute majority in Afar, Somali, and Harar regions, and in three zonal administrations of Oromia regional state. Christians of all denominations enjoy a majority in the rest of Ethiopia.

‘’In regions where, Orthodox Christians are the majority, Muslims often find it difficult to build mosques and find burial plots, among others,’’ Adem claimed.

In the same manner, where Muslims are the majority, Orthodox Christians face troubles, he added.

“Southern Ethiopia is predominantly protestant and both Orthodox Christians and Muslims complain of a lack of equitable service,’’ Adem said.

He said that the ICE had been trying to solve these problems caused by local officials who often fail to implement the constitutionally granted secularism and justice.

Situation now better for Muslims 

Mohammed Ali, an Islamic scholar and a lecturer at Addis Ababa University said the Ethiopian Muslims had been subjected to religious oppression by successive regimes, but now the situation has turned better.

‘’We strongly believe that the times of marginalization, subjugation, and stereotyping are behind us. Even though a lot has to be done, we are now exercising freedom worship and preaching of our religion,” he said.

Ethiopian Christians and Muslims had built and preserved a culture of tolerance and peaceful co-existence of about 1,400 years. Many factors had led to peaceful coexistence between the two faiths.

‘’Islam arrived and expanded in Ethiopia peacefully. This is a precious tradition and identity of Ethiopian Muslims, “said Adem.

According to Ali the mutual respect and peaceful relations between the two faiths could have not been possible without the accommodative behavior of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and its followers.

Moreover, cultural interactions, mutual support, and intermarriage between the followers of the two religions had also laid the foundation of cordial relations.

Ethiopia’s current Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is born from a Muslim father and Christian mother.

Ethiopian Muslims who significantly contributed to peaceful interfaith relations are determined to preserve it, Ali added.

To preserve the peaceful co-existence IEC had enacted shared values of trust and transparency between Muslims and Christians.

We all agreed to refrain from promoting radicalism that we defined as a violent attempt to forcibly impose a religion on others, Adem said.

‘’The education that had reached 23 million people in 2010 had helped followers of both religions to further understand each other, and maintain peaceful relations,’’ he said.