Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christianity. Show all posts

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Scores of Muslims Turn to Christ After ISIS Ravages Syrian Town - REUTERS CHARISMA NEWS

(Pixabay/mucahityildiz)

Scores of Muslims Turn to Christ After ISIS Ravages Syrian Town

REUTERS  CHARISMA NEWS
A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.
The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town's first evangelical church opened last year.
Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group's control over populated territory last month.
Though Islamic State's ultra-radical interpretation of Sunni Islam has been repudiated by the Islamic mainstream, the legacy of its violence has affected perceptions of faith.
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Many in the mostly Kurdish areas of northern Syria, whose urban centers are often secular, say agnosticism has strengthened and in the case of Kobani, Christianity.
Christianity is one of the region's minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.
Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.
The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.
"After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam," said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani's evangelical church. "People were scared and felt lost."
Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church.
He said around 20 families, or around 80 to 100 people, in Kobani now worship there. They have not changed their names.
"We meet on Tuesdays and hold a service on Fridays. It is open to anyone who wants to join," he said.
The church's current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.
"This was painted by IS as a religious conflict, using religious slogans. Because of this a lot of Kurds lost trust in religion generally, not just Islam," he said.
Many became atheist or agnostic. "But many others became Christian. Scores here and more in Afrin."
Missionaries and Critics
One man, who lost an arm in an explosion in Kobani and fled to Turkey for medical treatment, said he met Kurdish and Turkish converts there and eventually decided to join them.
"They seemed happy and all talked about love. That's when I decided to follow Jesus's teachings," Maxim Ahmed, 22, said, adding that several friends and family were now interested in coming to the new church.
Some in Kobani reject the growing Christian presence. They say Western Christian aid groups and missionaries have exploited the chaos and trauma of war to convert people and that local newcomers to the religion see an opportunity for personal gain.
"Many people think that they are somehow benefitting from this, maybe for material gain or because of the perception that Christians who seek asylum abroad get preferential treatment," said Salih Naasan, a real estate worker and former Arabic teacher.
Thousands of Christians have fled the region over decades of sectarian strife. From Syria they have often headed for Lebanon and European countries.
U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017 banned entry for all Syrian refugees indefinitely and imposed a 90-day ban on travel from several other predominantly Muslim countries.
"It might be a reaction to Daesh (Islamic State) but I don't see the positives. It just adds another religious and sectarian dimension which in a community like this will lead to tension," said Naasan, a practicing Muslim.
Naasan like the vast majority of Muslims rejects Islamic State's narrow and brutal interpretation of Islam. The group enslaved and killed thousands of people from all faiths, reserving particular brutality for minorities such as the Yazidis of northern Iraq.
Most Christians preferred not to give their names or be interviewed, saying they fear reaction from conservative sectors of society.
The population of Kobani and its surroundings has neared its original 200,000 after people returned, although only 40,000 live in the town itself, much of which lies in ruins. 
© 2019 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Pope Francis, Leading Imam Sign Covenant Pushing Us Toward One-World Religion - MICHAEL SNYDER CHARISMA NEWS

Pope Francis and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb signing a document on fighting extremism, during an inter-religious meeting.
Pope Francis and Grand Imam of al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb signing a document on fighting extremism, during an inter-religious meeting. (REUTERS/Tony Gentile)

Pope Francis, Leading Imam Sign Covenant Pushing Us Toward One-World Religion

MICHAEL SNYDER  CHARISMA NEWS
A historic interfaith covenant was signed in the Middle East on Monday (Feb. 4, 2019), and the mainstream media in the United States has been almost entirely silent about it. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb is considered to be the most important imam in Sunni Islam, and he arrived at the signing ceremony in Abu Dhabi with Pope Francis "hand in hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood." But this wasn't just a ceremony for Catholics and Muslims. According to a British news source, the signing of this covenant was done "in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths":
The pope and the grand imam of al-Azhar have signed a historic declaration of fraternity, calling for peace between nations, religions and races, in front of a global audience of religious leaders from Christianity, Islam, Judaism and other faiths.
Pope Francis, the leader of the world's Catholics, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the head of Sunni Islam's most prestigious seat of learning, arrived at the ceremony in Abu Dhabi hand-in-hand in a symbol of interfaith brotherhood.
In other words, there was a concerted effort to make sure that all of the religions of the world were represented at this gathering.
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According to the official Vatican website, a tremendous amount of preparation went into the drafting of this document, and it encourages believers from all religions "to shake hands, embrace one another, kiss one another and even pray" with one another:
The document, signed by Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayeb, was prepared "with much reflection and prayer", the Pope said. The one great danger at this moment, he continued, is "destruction, war, hatred between us."
"If we believers are not able to shake hands, embrace one another, kiss one another, and even pray, our faith will be defeated," he said. The Pope explained that the document "is born of faith in God who is the Father of all and the Father of peace; it condemns all destruction, all terrorism, from the first terrorism in history, that of Cain."
There is a lot of language about peace in this document, but it goes way beyond just advocating for peace.
Over and over again, the word "God" is used to simultaneously identify Allah and the God of Christianity. Here is just one example...
We, who believe in God and in the final meeting with Him and His judgment, on the basis of our religious and moral responsibility, and through this Document, call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.
On top of that, the document also boldly declares that "the diversity of religions" that we see in the world was "willed by God":
Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;
In essence, this is saying that it is the will of God that there are hundreds of different religions in the world and that they are all acceptable in His sight.
We know that the elite want a one-world religion, but to see the most important clerics from both Catholicism and Islam make such a dramatic public push for it is absolutely stunning.
You can find the full text of the covenant that they signed on the official Vatican website. I have also reproduced the entire document below:
Introduction
Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings (equal on account of his mercy), believers are called to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.
This transcendental value served as the starting point for several meetings characterized by a friendly and fraternal atmosphere where we shared the joys, sorrows and problems of our contemporary world. We did this by considering scientific and technical progress, therapeutic achievements, the digital era, the mass media and communications. We reflected also on the level of poverty, conflict and suffering of so many brothers and sisters in different parts of the world as a consequence of the arms race, social injustice, corruption, inequality, moral decline, terrorism, discrimination, extremism and many other causes.
From our fraternal and open discussions, and from the meeting that expressed profound hope in a bright future for all human beings, the idea of this document on Human Fraternity was conceived. It is a text that has been given honest and serious thought so as to be a joint declaration of good and heartfelt aspirations. It is a document that invites all persons who have faith in God and faith in human fraternity to unite and work together so that it may serve as a guide for future generations to advance a culture of mutual respect in the awareness of the great divine grace that makes all human beings brothers and sisters.
Document
In the name of God who has created all human beings equal in rights, duties and dignity, and who has called them to live together as brothers and sisters, to fill the earth and make known the values of goodness, love and peace;
In the name of innocent human life that God has forbidden to kill, affirming that whoever kills a person is like one who kills the whole of humanity, and that whoever saves a person is like one who saves the whole of humanity;
In the name of the poor, the destitute, the marginalized and those most in need whom God has commanded us to help as a duty required of all persons, especially the wealthy and of means;
In the name of orphans, widows, refugees and those exiled from their homes and their countries; in the name of all victims of wars, persecution and injustice; in the name of the weak, those who live in fear, prisoners of war and those tortured in any part of the world, without distinction;
In the name of peoples who have lost their security, peace and the possibility of living together, becoming victims of destruction, calamity and war;
In the name of human fraternity that embraces all human beings, unites them and renders them equal;
In the name of this fraternity torn apart by policies of extremism and division, by systems of unrestrained profit or by hateful ideological tendencies that manipulate the actions and the future of men and women;
In the name of freedom, that God has given to all human beings creating them free and distinguishing them by this gift;
In the name of justice and mercy, the foundations of prosperity and the cornerstone of faith;
In the name of all persons of good will present in every part of the world;
In the name of God and of everything stated thus far, Al-Azhar al-Sharif and the Muslims of the East and West, together with the Catholic Church and the Catholics of the East and West, declare the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path, mutual cooperation as the code of conduct, reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.
We, who believe in God and in the final meeting with Him and His judgment, on the basis of our religious and moral responsibility, and through this document, call upon ourselves, upon the leaders of the world as well as the architects of international policy and world economy, to work strenuously to spread the culture of tolerance and of living together in peace; to intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline that the world is presently experiencing.
We call upon intellectuals, philosophers, religious figures, artists, media professionals and men and women of culture in every part of the world, to rediscover the values of peace, justice, goodness, beauty, human fraternity and coexistence in order to confirm the importance of these values as anchors of salvation for all, and to promote them everywhere.
This declaration, setting out from a profound consideration of our contemporary reality, valuing its successes and in solidarity with its suffering, disasters and calamities, believes firmly that among the most important causes of the crises of the modern world are a desensitized human conscience, a distancing from religious values and a prevailing individualism accompanied by materialistic philosophies that deify the human person and introduce worldly and material values in place of supreme and transcendental principles.
While recognizing the positive steps taken by our modern civilization in the fields of science, technology, medicine, industry and welfare, especially in developed countries, we wish to emphasize that, associated with such historic advancements, great and valued as they are, there exists both a moral deterioration that influences international action and a weakening of spiritual values and responsibility. All this contributes to a general feeling of frustration, isolation and desperation leading many to fall either into a vortex of atheistic, agnostic or religious extremism, or into blind and fanatic extremism, which ultimately encourage forms of dependency and individual or collective self-destruction.
History shows that religious extremism, national extremism and also intolerance have produced in the world, be it in the East or West, what might be referred to as signs of a "third world war being fought piecemeal". In several parts of the world and in many tragic circumstances these signs have begun to be painfully apparent, as in those situations where the precise number of victims, widows and orphans is unknown. We see, in addition, other regions preparing to become theaters of new conflicts, with outbreaks of tension and a build-up of arms and ammunition, and all this in a global context overshadowed by uncertainty, disillusionment, fear of the future, and controlled by narrow-minded economic interests.
We likewise affirm that major political crises, situations of injustice and lack of equitable distribution of natural resources—which only a rich minority benefit from, to the detriment of the majority of the peoples of the earth—have generated, and continue to generate, vast numbers of poor, infirm and deceased persons. This leads to catastrophic crises that various countries have fallen victim to despite their natural resources and the resourcefulness of young people which characterize these nations. In the face of such crises that result in the deaths of millions of children—wasted away from poverty and hunger—there is an unacceptable silence on the international level.
It is clear in this context how the family as the fundamental nucleus of society and humanity is essential in bringing children into the world, raising them, educating them, and providing them with solid moral formation and domestic security. To attack the institution of the family, to regard it with contempt or to doubt its important role, is one of the most threatening evils of our era.
We affirm also the importance of awakening religious awareness and the need to revive this awareness in the hearts of new generations through sound education and an adherence to moral values and upright religious teachings. In this way we can confront tendencies that are individualistic, selfish, conflicting and also address radicalism and blind extremism in all its forms and expressions.
The first and most important aim of religions is to believe in God, to honor Him and to invite all men and women to believe that this universe depends on a God who governs it. He is the Creator who has formed us with His divine wisdom and has granted us the gift of life to protect it. It is a gift that no one has the right to take away, threaten or manipulate to suit oneself. Indeed, everyone must safeguard this gift of life from its beginning up to its natural end. We therefore condemn all those practices that are a threat to life such as genocide, acts of terrorism, forced displacement, human trafficking, abortion and euthanasia. We likewise condemn the policies that promote these practices.
Moreover, we resolutely declare that religions must never incite war, hateful attitudes, hostility and extremism, nor must they incite violence or the shedding of blood. These tragic realities are the consequence of a deviation from religious teachings. They result from a political manipulation of religions and from interpretations made by religious groups who, in the course of history, have taken advantage of the power of religious sentiment in the hearts of men and women in order to make them act in a way that has nothing to do with the truth of religion. This is done for the purpose of achieving objectives that are political, economic, worldly and short-sighted. We thus call upon all concerned to stop using religions to incite hatred, violence, extremism and blind fanaticism, and to refrain from using the name of God to justify acts of murder, exile, terrorism and oppression. We ask this on the basis of our common belief in God, who did not create men and women to be killed or to fight one another, nor to be tortured or humiliated in their lives and circumstances. God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorize people.
This document, in accordance with previous international documents that have emphasized the importance of the role of religions in the construction of world peace, upholds the following:
– The firm conviction that authentic teachings of religions invite us to remain rooted in the values of peace; to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternityand harmonious coexistence; to re-establish wisdom, justice and love; and to reawaken religious awareness among young people so that future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law;
– Freedom is a right of every person; each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, color, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings. This divine wisdom is the source from which the right to freedom of belief and the freedom to be different derives. Therefore, the fact that people are forced to adhere to a certain religion or culture must be rejected, as too the imposition of a cultural way of life that others do not accept;
– Justice based on mercy is the path to follow in order to achieve a dignified life to which every human being has a right;
– Dialogue, understanding and the widespread promotion of a culture of tolerance, acceptance of others and of living together peacefully would contribute significantly to reducing many economic, social, political and environmental problems that weigh so heavily on a large part of humanity;
– Dialogue among believers means coming together in the vast space of spiritual, human and shared social values and, from here, transmitting the highest moral virtues that religions aim for. It also means avoiding unproductive discussions;
– The protection of places of worship—synagogues, churches and mosques—is a duty guaranteed by religions, human values, laws and international agreements. Every attempt to attack places of worship or threaten them by violent assaults, bombings or destruction, is a deviation from the teachings of religions as well as a clear violation of international law;
– Terrorism is deplorable and threatens the security of people, be they in the East or the West, the North or the South, and disseminates panic, terror and pessimism, but this is not due to religion, even when terrorists instrumentalize it. It is due, rather, to an accumulation of incorrect interpretations of religious texts and to policies linked to hunger, poverty, injustice, oppression and pride. This is why it is so necessary to stop supporting terrorist movements fueled by financing, the provision of weapons and strategy and by attempts to justify these movements even using the media. All these must be regarded as international crimes that threaten security and world peace. Such terrorism must be condemned in all its forms and expressions;
– The concept of "citizenship" is based on the equality of rights and duties, under which all enjoy justice. It is therefore crucial to establish in our societies the concept of "full citizenship" and reject the discriminatory use of the term "minorities," which engenders feelings of isolation and inferiority. Its misuse paves the way for hostility and discord; it undoes any successes and takes away the religious and civil rights of some citizens who are thus discriminated against;
– Good relations between East and West are indisputably necessary for both. They must not be neglected, so that each can be enriched by the other's culture through fruitful exchange and dialogue. The West can discover in the East remedies for those spiritual and religious maladies that are caused by a prevailing materialism. And the East can find in the West many elements that can help free it from weakness, division, conflict and scientific, technical and cultural decline. It is important to pay attention to religious, cultural and historical differences that are a vital component in shaping the character, culture and civilization of the East. It is likewise important to reinforce the bond of fundamental human rights in order to help ensure a dignified life for all the men and women of East and West, avoiding the politics of double standards;
– It is an essential requirement to recognize the right of women to education and employment, and to recognize their freedom to exercise their own political rights. Moreover, efforts must be made to free women from historical and social conditioning that runs contrary to the principles of their faith and dignity. It is also necessary to protect women from sexual exploitation and from being treated as merchandise or objects of pleasure or financial gain. Accordingly, an end must be brought to all those inhuman and vulgar practices that denigrate the dignity of women. Efforts must be made to modify those laws that prevent women from fully enjoying their rights;
– The protection of the fundamental rights of children to grow up in a family environment, to receive nutrition, education and support, are duties of the family and society. Such duties must be guaranteed and protected so that they are not overlooked or denied to any child in any part of the world. All those practices that violate the dignity and rights of children must be denounced. It is equally important to be vigilant against the dangers that they are exposed to, particularly in the digital world, and to consider as a crime the trafficking of their innocence and all violations of their youth;
– The protection of the rights of the elderly, the weak, the disabled and the oppressed is a religious and social obligation that must be guaranteed and defended through strict legislation and the implementation of the relevant international agreements.
To this end, by mutual cooperation, the Catholic Church and Al-Azhar announce and pledge to convey this document to authorities, influential leaders, persons of religion all over the world, appropriate regional and international organizations, organizations within civil society, religious institutions and leading thinkers. They further pledge to make known the principles contained in this declaration at all regional and international levels, while requesting that these principles be translated into policies, decisions, legislative texts, courses of study and materials to be circulated.
Al-Azhar and the Catholic Church ask that this document become the object of research and reflection in all schools, universities and institutes of formation, thus helping to educate new generations to bring goodness and peace to others, and to be defenders everywhere of the rights of the oppressed and of the least of our brothers and sisters.
In conclusion, our aspiration is that:
—this declaration may constitute an invitation to reconciliation and fraternity among all believers, indeed among believers and non-believers, and among all people of good will.
—this declaration may be an appeal to every upright conscience that rejects deplorable violence and blind extremism, an appeal to those who cherish the values of tolerance and fraternity that are promoted and encouraged by religions.
—this declaration may be a witness to the greatness of faith in God that unites divided hearts and elevates the human soul.
—this declaration may be a sign of the closeness between East and West, between North and South, and between all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.
This is what we hope and seek to achieve with the aim of finding a universal peace that all can enjoy in this life.
Abu Dhabi, Feb. 4, 2019
Michael Snyder's book entitled "Living A Life That Really Matters" is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.
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Saturday, March 10, 2018

Is Saudi Arabia Softening Its Approach to Christianity? - WILLIAM JAMES/REUTERS

Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby accompanies The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman.
Britain's Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby accompanies The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman. (REUTERS/Yui Mok/Pool)

Is Saudi Arabia Softening Its Approach to Christianity?

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Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met the head of the Anglican church in London on Thursday and promised to promote interfaith dialog as part of his domestic reforms, the British faith leader's office said.
Prince Mohammed is making an official visit to London to promote Saudi Arabia as a tolerant, modernizing economy and build a wider trade and investment relationship with Britain, a long-term defense ally.
On the second full day of his first foreign tour since becoming heir apparent to the Saudi throne last year, Prince Mohammed also had meetings with finance minister Philip Hammond, bankers and lawmakers, and was due to dine with Prime Minister Theresa May at her country residence later.
State oil giant Saudi Aramco, whose lucrative stock market listing Britain is vying with the United States to attract, signed a preliminary deal to pursue international gas opportunities with Royal Dutch Shell.
Prince Mohammed began the day with a symbolic visit to Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion of millions of Christians globally, at Lambeth Palace in central London.
"The Crown Prince made a strong commitment to promote the flourishing of those of different faith traditions, and to interfaith dialog within the Kingdom and beyond," a statement from Lambeth Palace said.
"The Archbishop shared his concern about limits placed on Christian worship in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and highlighted the importance for leaders of all faiths to support freedom of religion or belief, drawing on the experience of the UK."
Saudi Arabia does not tolerate non-Muslims practicing their faith publicly, forcing Christians to risk arrest by praying in private homes.
YEMEN CONFLICT
Prince Mohammed and Welby viewed early texts from the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, including fragments of a Koran manuscript found in a Birmingham University library in 2015 that is thought to be among the world's oldest.
Earlier this week, Prince Mohammed met Coptic Pope Tawadros II at Cairo's largest Coptic cathedral, part of his drive to rid the Gulf Arab kingdom of its reputation as a global exporter of an ultra-conservative brand of Islam.
Welby also "voiced his distress" at the humanitarian situation in Yemen, the statement said. A Saudi-led coalition is fighting a war in Yemen in which 10,000 people have died and 8.3 million people have been left dependent on food aid.
May, whose government has drawn widespread criticism for approving 4.6 billion pounds ($6.35 billion) worth of arms sales to Saudi Arabia, was likely to repeat her own concerns over the humanitarian situation in Yemen during a private dinner.
That criticism over the Yemen war and noisy demonstrations have contrasted with the warm welcome from the British government given the crown prince.
On Wednesday, Prince Mohammed met Queen Elizabeth for lunch and later met May to agree to target a 65 billion pound ($90 billion) increase in trade and investment ties.
A government spokeswoman said Prince Mohammed met with Hammond on Thursday, and two sources said there was also a meeting with Standard Chartered group chief executive Bill Winters and HSBC CEO John Flint. No further details of either meeting were available. 
© 2018 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.
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