Christianity in the United Arab Emirates

Via Earned Media:

On Fridays, the Holy Trinity church compound in Dubai is abuzz with worshipers from early morning till after nightfall. Some 10 - 11 thousand members of more than 120 different Christian groups and congregations come here on the Emirates' weekly day of rest.

Services in more than a dozen tongues - including English and Arabic, but most of them South Asian such as Urdu, Tagalog, Tamil or Malayam - fill not only the main church from 6 am to 11 pm but the 25 other halls built around a central courtyard adorned with a Canterbury cross.

A vibrant church life may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the Gulf region, which is primarily Muslim. But in a way, the 3-4 million Christians in the region, almost all of whom came in search of work from around the globe, present a microcosm of Christianity and the challenges of church unity.

At the Holy Trinity compound the Christian testimony is one of diversity in worship, from the solemnity of song to happy clapping. As one services ends, worshippers quickly rearrange what was a sober Protestant worship facility into an Orthodox sanctuary with icons and incense. Glory to God is proclaimed throughout the day in a variety of liturgies.

In Dubai, as throughout the United Arab Emirates, Christians are free to practice their faith, but only within the limits of their church compounds or in the privacy of their homes. The foundation stone of Holy Trinity Church was laid in 1969 by Sheikh Rashid bin Said Al Maktoum, then ruler of Dubai, who had graciously granted the land to the Christians living in his sheikdom.

A chaplain was appointed to care for the spiritual welfare of the expatriate Christians living in Dubai, Sharjah and the northern Trucial States, as the state entity which preceded the UAE was called. The following year, Holy Trinity was dedicated as an inter-denominational church building.

The Chaplaincy of Dubai and Sharjah has strong ties to the Anglican tradition. But it also lives up to its inter-denominational vocation and "the Anglican emphasis on hospitality", as the current chaplain Rev. John Weir underlines, by accommodating more than a hundred congregations of other traditions in the Holy Trinity compound - be they Evangelical, Pentecostal or Orthodox.

Speaking from experience, this a very accurate description. The cacophony in the courtyard of worshippers coming and going through the Sabbath - from morning into night - is a wondrous sight to behold.

Read the whole thing.

In India Hindus and Christians clash

A wave of violence between Hindus and Christians has struck the state of Orissa in eastern India. The AP provides some background:

Christians clashed with Hindu mobs who attacked churches, and eight people died in the violence in an eastern region known for deadly religious fighting.

Police imposed a curfew in the Kandhamal district of Orissa state after overnight attacks by hardline Hindus to avenge the killing of one of their leaders, whose death they blamed on Christian militants.
The violence comes after Hindu hard-liners set ablaze a Christian orphanage early Monday, killing a 21-year-old woman who was teaching children to use computers and seriously injuring a priest. The Vatican condemned the attack as "a sin against God and humanity."

The latest violence was set off when unidentified assailants killed a Hindu religious leader, Swami Laxmmananada Saraswati, and four others. Police blamed Maoist rebels, but Subhash Chauhan, a World Hindu Organization leader, accused "Christian militants" in the death.

Relations among India's religious minorities — such as Christians, who account for 2.5 percent of the country's 1.1 billion people, and Muslims, who make up 14 percent — are usually peaceful.

However, Orissa has a long history of Hindu-Christian clashes, usually sparked by Hindu suspicions over missionary work.

Episcopal Life Online has more from Ecumenical News International.

The Rev. Dr. Charles Robertson, Canon to the Presiding Bishop, has issued the following statement:

There have been recent, alarming reports of violence against minority Christian groups living in Orissa, India. The news of churches being destroyed, orphanages set on fire, and Christians forced to flee for their lives are cause for great concern. We urge all Episcopalians to keep the Church of North India and particularly the Rt. Rev. Bijay Kumar Nayak, Bishop of Phulbani, in our prayers. In the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians, We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."
Here's a Church Times report concerning the violence last Christmas.

Buddha and God

Ed Halliwell notes that Buddha declined to express an opinion about the existence of God, and argues that there is much wisdom in avoiding a debate about whether God exists:

When I first started reading about the Buddha's life, I was disappointed to learn that the existence of God was one of the subjects on which he declined to make a definitive comment. At the time, this seemed to me either rather unfair or something of a cop-out – surely this was exactly the kind of topic that an awakened being should pronounce upon, for the benefit of all. However, after the last couple of years of amusing but unproductive pantomime debate ("oh yes he does, oh no he doesn't"), I am beginning to get a sense of how not answering may well have been an enlightened response.

. . .

The tussle over God is marginally more entertaining than getting shot, but the protracted diversion created by its war of words could nevertheless be more of a hindrance than a help. Not only has the stream of agitated comment brought us no closer to finding an answer, it hasn't even enabled us to formulate agreed terms for the question. Part of what makes the argument so comical is how the concept of "God" onto which atheists project is rarely the same as the one defended by believers. Part of what makes it tragic is how, at the extremes, each party insists that their denial of what they think the opposition believes is enough to make them correct, to the point of misrepresenting the traditions they seek to uphold.

As we appear to be getting nowhere on this, I'd like to offer a fresh perspective for the new year – that of a non-theistic approach. Following the Buddha's example, the non-theistic position refutes the extremes of both a nihilistic view (atheism) and an eternalist one (theism). In doing so, it cuts through intellectual speculation concerning the origin of the universe, in order to free up the space in which we can systematically investigate, engage with and appreciate the world as it is in this moment, right now.

Non-theism may sound somewhat like agnosticism, and indeed contemporary Buddhist teachers such as Stephen Batchelor have adopted the agnostic label as a way of distancing themselves from those metaphysical elements of Buddhist tradition, such as rebirth and karma, that are not empirically demonstrable. However, whereas agnosticism tends to emphasise not-knowing, which results from and remains confined by the limitations of intellectual and philosophical inquiry, a non-theistic approach implies letting go of all concepts in order to go deeper into experience, creating the possibility that this might produce a more profound kind of understanding.

Read it all here.

South African religious leaders say let Dali Lama in

Writing as chairman of the Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Primate of the Anglican Church of South Africa has asked President Kgalema Motlanthe to reconsider the decision to deny a visa to the Dali Lama:

The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum wishes to express its serious concern over South Africa’s decision to deny a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion of the proposed conference to celebrate world peace and the 2010 Football World Soccer Cup in South Africa. We raise our voice alongside the many others of our civil society expressing anger and disappointment, including Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s clearly stated unhappiness with the action and its underlying causes. ....

We note that speculation surrounding the motivation for this decision has provided a stark reminder of the need to separate the functions of the ruling political party from those of Government and Head of State.

More fundamental is the question of the relationship between domestic and international human rights norms and values, and policy-making.

Click Read more to see the full letter.

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God isn't going anywhere

The New Humanist on God is Back: How the Revival of Religion is Changing the World, by Economist journalists John Micklethwait (pictured right) and Adrian Wooldridge:

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PB, other Christians leaders praise Obama's Cairo speech

From Episcopal Life Online:

A diverse group of U.S. Christian leaders has written to President Barack Obama following his historic June 4 speech in Cairo saying they stand ready to support "robust U.S. peacemaking efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace."

Signed by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and more than 50 Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical and African American church leaders, the open ecumenical letter to Obama noted that "after decades of tragic conflict, many Israelis and Palestinians despair of the possibility of peace, yet with your determined leadership we believe the promise of two viable, secure and independent states can be realized."

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Church of Pakistan speaks about recent violence against Christians

The Church of Pakistan adopted a strong statement decrying the violence against Christians earlier this year in Gojra. It lays the blame specifically at the feet of those who are using religion for political ends and calls for six concrete steps to be taken in response.

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The New Statesman on
The Muslim Jesus

Mehdi Hasan, The New Statesman’s Senior Editor for politics, reviews The Muslim Jesus, by Cambridge professor Tarif Khalidi:

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Christmas in Iraq

Here in the U.S., we are accustomed to all manner of Christmas displays, from gentle creche exhibits to gaudy Christmas lights set to blink in tune to epic progressive rock songs. But Christians in Iraq celebrated Christmas quietly, according to a report on NPR's All Things Considered Friday, A Mostly Silent Night. Because Christmas coincided with the Ashoura, an important Shiite mourning ritual, Christians were keeping things quiet.

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Air Force Academy will honor Earth-centered religions

The U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs reports that it has set aside space for the followers of "Earth-centered" religions such as Wicca and Druidism to have worship.

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The roots of religious violence in Nigeria

Elizabeth Dickinson of The Economist writing for Religion Dispatches:

Toward the end of my stay in Nigeria as a correspondent for The Economist in 2007 and 2008, I asked my driver, an older Muslim man named Bello who was perhaps my most trusted friend there, who he blamed for Nigeria’s corruption woes. “Our religious leaders,” he told me. “If they told our politicians to stop, they would.”

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Separate truths: religions are not all one nor the same

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, says in the Boston Globe that it is misleading — and dangerous — to think that religions are different paths to the same wisdom.

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Belgium considers banning the veil

Reuters reports:

The Belgian lower house of parliament on Thursday approved a bill to ban wearing the full Islamic face veil in public, a move that could make Belgium the first European country to make the practice a criminal offence.

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Religious Freedom Day

The President of the United States has proclaimed January 16, Religious Freedom Day:

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Why Egypt's revolution differs from Iran's

At Religion Dispatches, Haroon Moghul offers four reasons why Egypt's revolution is not "Islamic." Here is #1:

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Archbishop of Canterbury laments Pakistan's blasphemy law

From the Anglican Communion News Service:

Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams writing in The Times newspaper:

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Archbishop of Canterbury, among others, speaks concerning condemned Christian pastor in Iran

Archbishop Williams expressed "deep concern" over Iran's movement towards executing a Christian pastor who has refused to renounce his faith.

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Radical sect escalates religious violence in Nigeria

The New York Times covered the appalling violence that an extremist Muslim sect perpetrated on Christians on Christmas.

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Coptic Christian groups urge young people to be political

The Huffington Post picks up Monique El-Faizy's Religion News Service article on Coptic Christians in Egypt who have been entering the political scene since a church outside Cairo was burned three years ago:

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American Muslim leaders condemn Boko Haram

U.S. House Representatives Keith Ellison and André Carson led American Muslim leaders in a call to Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau that condemned the recent kidnappings of Nigerian schoolgirls.

From Yasmine Hafiz's Huffington Post article:

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Pope Francis and Benjamin Netanyahu on Jesus' language

Huffington Post begins: "Well, this is awkward."

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On this historic day, Happy EidFrancisKippur!

From the Huffington Post:

It’s a match made in heaven!

The world’s three Abrahamic faiths are bridging their great divide in a pretty wonderful way this Saturday.

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