Middle East

“You filled cemeteries with our children”

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With the current focus on Ramadan and prayer for the Muslim world, we thought it would be good to highlight a recent music video that has come from the Middle East. In western media – and particularly in the minds of many Christians – Muslims are seen and portrayed as being violent, angry terrorists. But the plain reality is the vast (vast, vast!) majority of Muslims are nothing like that. In fact, they despise the way the minority of Muslims practice their faith.

This video in Arabic calls for the worship of Allah “with love, not terror” has gone viral on YouTube, with over two million views in just a few days. It was released at the start of Ramadan and slams terrorists for “filling cemeteries with children.”

Staring Hussain Al Jassmi, an Arabic-language singer from the United Arab Emirates, was released by Kuwaiti mobile telecommunications company Zain on Friday. Amazingly, the video bluntly speaks against terrorism and terrorists, denouncing the way they understand and portray Allah, and contrasting Allah – the giver of life – with terrorists who deal in death. 

The video starts with impassioned lines from a child who addresses terrorists: “I will tell God everything. That you’ve filled the cemeteries with our children and emptied our school desks…”

So in this season of Ramadan, let’s make sure we know something about the vast majority of the people who are seeking God this month. Let’s pray that many will truly find the peace they seek in the God revealed in Isa al Masih (Jesus the Messiah).

Is Islam Inherently Violent?

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Since it’s Ramadan, it’s worth taking the time to think about our perceptions of Islam. When talking about other religions, it’s important that we Christians get into the habit of ‘truth-telling.’ Is it fair that we compare the best of Christianity with the worst of other religions? The following are some reflections by Grey Boyd about Islam. Re-blogged from here.

An increasing number of people, especially in conservative Christian circles, are claiming that Islam is an inherently violent religion. They point to all the violence in the history of Islam and all of the violence being carried out by Muslims today as proof of this. I believe this claim is as misguided as it is dangerous.

Two considerations demonstrate the erroneous and prejudicial nature of this claim. First, the percentage of Muslims engaging in violence today is a minute fraction of the total Muslim population, which is now around 1.6 billion (23% of the world’s population). If you add together even the highest estimates of participants in all the Islamic extremist groups (e.g., ISIS, Al Queda, the Taliban, Boko Haram), the total is a fraction of 1% of this population. Claiming Islam is inherently violent on the basis of the behavior of a tiny minority of professing Muslims is like claiming Christianity is inherently racist because groups like the Aryan Nation and Ku Klux Klan profess to be Christian.

Second, if the violence of professing Muslims proves Islam is inherently violent, then consistency demands that we conclude that the Christian religion also is inherently violent, for up until three and half centuries ago, professing Christians routinely engaged in violence that was every bit as barbaric as what Islam extremists are doing today. Beyond the horrific Crusades and Inquisition, there was a century and a half (1524-1648) of almost uninterrupted Christian-on-Christian violence that wiped out a significant percentage of the population of large sections of Europe.

It wasn’t radical extremist groups that claimed to be Christian that carried out this violence. All the violence of this period and throughout Church history was sanctioned by all the major ecclesial denominations and carried out by mainstream professing Christians. To their credit, the only Christians that abstained from this bloodletting were Anabaptists, and they were almost completely exterminated by the other groups. So if, in spite of all this violence, Christians today do not want to accept that the Christian religion is inherently violent, then Christians must stop claiming that the violence of professing Muslims implies that Islam is inherently violent.

Now, some will object that religiously motivated violence on the part of Christians is a thing of the past, proving that the Christian religion is not inherently violent.   Thankfully, it is for the most part true that we no longer see Christian organizations carrying out violence. But this is not because Christians suddenly matured three hundred years ago and realized their violence was inconsistent with their religious convictions. Christians only stopped killing their religious and political adversaries because secular authorities decided this relentless warfare was politically and economically disadvantageous, so they agreed to make religious violence illegal (the “Peace of Westphalia,” 1648).

It was at this time that the West thankfully began to finally embrace the idea of a neutral secular state that had been proposed by Thomas Hobbs (1588-1679) and others. While some have tried to argue that the concept of a neutral state protecting the freedom and rights of people of different faiths was birthed out of Christianity, it was actually birthed out of a secular reaction to a century and a half of “Christian” states that were violently trampling on this freedom and these rights. (A good book on this is The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West, by Mark Lilla).

So you see, the reason why a minority of Muslims continue to engage in religiously motivated violence while Christians do not is not because Islam is inherently violent while Christianity is not. It’s rather because Islamic countries have not, on the whole, embraced the concept of a secular neutral state, outlawing religious violence. In fact, while the secular concept of tolerance has now become deeply ingrained in westerners, I am convinced that, if there were no laws preventing religiously motivated violence, masses of western Christians would still be carrying it out, and I, for one, would likely have years ago gone the way of Michael Servetus!

To close, while I’ve argued that Islam is no more inherently violent than the Christian religion, one could easily turn the tables and argue that both religions, and even all religions, are to some degree inclined toward violence. For as long as people place their ultimate allegiance to a belief above loving other people at all costs, they will feel justified, whenever they deem it necessary, to kill people in the name of their belief.

The only ultimate allegiance that cannot ever lead to violence is the allegiance to the one who commanded his disciples to sacrificially love and do good to all people, including life-threatening enemies (Mt 5:38-47; Lk 6:27-36). Those who share this ultimate allegiance do not adhere to a religion; they rather manifest the Father’s kingdom. And they are grateful for secular authorities that protect them from those who embrace religion, whether it be the religion of Islam or of Christianity.

 

Thanks ReKnew for letting us share this. Re-blogged from here.

Observing Ramadan as a Christian

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We are now in the middle of the month of Ramadan, an important month of fasting and religious observance for Muslims. A billion Muslims across the world are presently fasting and seeking God. This is therefore a time for us to pray that God will, indeed, reveal himself to them.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, meaning it’s precise dates change each year. During the month, Muslims all over the world abstain from food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours. It is seen as a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-sacrifice, meaning Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. (Click here to read a brief explanation of the month from a Muslim perspective.)

At Christianity Today, Jerry Rankin, who used to serve in a large Muslim nation, has offered some thoughts about how Christians should respond to Ramadan. Here are some highlights, though it is worth reading the original article here.

During Ramadan, we found our Muslim friends were more open to talking about spiritual things. We would ask them about their practice, why they were fasting, and what they hoped to gain by it. It was surprising to them when we shared our own practice of fasting from time to time to seek God. We do not fast to get something from God but out of a desire for God himself that exceeds our desire for food. Wonderfully, God does meet our needs and answer our prayers, but we should not fast presuming by our piety we are obligating God to do something for us.

 

While most Muslims observe the fast because they are commanded to and believe there is merit to be gained, many do it as a perfunctory obligation. Some want to avoid the condemnation from more pious family members. However, for the devout, the Muslim month of fasting is actually for the same purpose that we as Christians may occasionally fast: the desire to know God in a deeper more intimate relationship.

 

Fasting during Ramadan is intended to be a time to seek God, and many sincerely do. While recognizing the futility of seeking to please God by one’s own piety and works, we avoided expressing disrespect in conversation with Muslim friends. We shared our common desire to know God. It was an opportunity to bear witness to the futility of our own efforts and how we discovered the unmerited grace of God through Jesus Christ.

 

What if Christians fervently prayed during the month of Ramadan that God would reveal himself to Muslims in this time of seeking? What if we covered millions of fasting Muslims with 30 days of intense intercession that something would happen in their spiritual search? Believing in the power of prayer, could we not expect God to respond to our heartfelt burden for the lost millions of the world?

 

It is tragic that we should be so wrapped up in our self-interests and worldview that we would be indifferent to more than a billion followers of Islam in the world that are dying without Christ, but this month are seeking what only he can provide. We are repulsed by a religion that seems to justify terrorism and suicide bombers committed to the destruction of life, but don’t we realize that Jesus is the answer? Rather than hardening our hearts and dismissing their lostness to the judgment of God as something they deserve, we should plead for their hearts to be open to God revealing himself.

 

Join me this month in praying for Muslims in our own communities as well as those around the world. Pray that they would truly seek God and be open to revelation that would lead them to the truth. In seeking Allah, an impersonal deity that is aloof and cannot be known, may they find a loving, compassionate God who revealed himself through Jesus Christ and died for their sins.

 

If you are interested in joining Christians across the world who are praying for Muslims during Ramadan, visit 30daysprayer.com. There you will find a prayer guide for each day of Ramadan, giving you ideas of what you can be praying for.

In You Alone I’m Free

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In a recent newsletter from Rosie’s Diocese in Egypt, Bishop Mouneer shared a poem:

I was moved by the words below, written by Rev. John Young, a Scottish pastor. He wrote them in a song inspired by the last words of one of the Egyptian Christians beheaded by ISIS in Libya last month. Before one of the young men was killed, he said, ya Rabbi Yesua, “oh, my Lord Jesus.”

They can break my body They can break my pride They can cut my head off And post it up online But when the morning breaks It’s Jesus I will see O my Lord Jesus In you alone I’m free

They’re asking me to say My faith is just a lie They tell me ‘turn away And I won’t have to die’ But how can I abandon The one who wouldn’t abandon me O my Lord Jesus In you alone I’m free

It is difficult to imagine such brutal persecution facing Christians in the twenty-first century. However, it is not surprising. Before going to the cross, Christ warned his disciples in John 16: “they will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me.” This is exactly what happened in Libya.

 

Please pray for the situation throughout the Middle East, particularly in the region of Egypt/Libya.

The faces of Syria

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Here’s a video from our friends at World Vision that captures the Syrian conflict through the eyes of children. Many of the refugees who escaped Syria never anticipated being away from home so long. Many left in summer and only brought what was necessary for the warmer months – now that it’s winter they find themselves unprepared and freezing. It’s up to the international community to step in and help.

 

If you’re interested in helping you can contact office@nzcms.org.nz or visit World Vision’s website.

Tragedy in Heliopolis

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Pictured: Members and friends of the St. Michael’s Church congregation gather to pray. Article re-posted from The Diocese of Egypt with North Africa and the Horn of Africa.

One child is dead and eight women are hospitalized following the Monday explosion of three gas bottles, sparking a fire in the Kilo 4.5 neighborhood of Nasr City in Cairo. The group of ladies were preparing a meal for a meeting at the St. Gabriel Center, a Sudanese social center and ministry of St. Michael’s Anglican Churchin Heliopolis.

Youssef Attiya, a nine-month-old infant, succumbed to smoke inhalation and died this morning. His mother Mona Ismail remains in critical condition in the Galaa Hospital of Nasr City.

Ikhlas Ali is also in critical condition, suffering burns over 90 percent of her body. She is two months pregnant and the wife of Rev. Hassan Jemes, associate pastor of St. Michael’s in charge of the Sudanese congregation. Hospital staff at the Nile Emergency Center in Nasr City said she has little chance to survive, according to Rev. Jos Strengholt, dean of East Cairo Anglican churches and priest-in-charge at St. Michael’s.

Another child, nine-year-old Sonita Musa, suffered a bad head wound but was discharged this morning. Her mother Aziza Ibrahim remains hospitalized but is in stable condition. According to Shawgi Kori, director of St. Gabriel’s Center, Ibrahim helped around eight other women and children escape the fire, pushing several through a window, before being injured herself.

The meal was to be in commemoration of a child relative of one of the church members who recently died in Sudan. The explosion blasted pots of boiling oil to the ceiling, which then sprayed onto several women. The church community is now organizing rounds of visitation to care for the injured and the needs of their families.

The St. Gabriel’s Center serves the large Sudanese refugee population of Nasr City without discrimination. It runs a clinic, a vocational training program, English lessons, and provides a social outlet especially for women and youth in the neighborhood. One of the injured women is a Muslim.

“These are women associated with our church,” said Rev. Strengholt, stating only two have medical insurance. “We are committed to helping them whatever we need to do.”

 

Since this was written four women have died, including Ikhlas, the wife of Rev Hassan. Rev Hassan Jemes is the priest of the Sudanese congregation and  just became the Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Kadugli and the Nuba Mountains. Our Mission Partner Rosie worked with Hassan in the prison previously – her heart breaks for him.

A New Spirit and a New Hope

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The following is an update from Bishop Mouneer of the Diocese of Egypt where our Mission Partner Rosie is based.

Dear friends,

Last week we heard about terrorist attacks which targeted the army and the police in Egypt. These attacks occur from time to time since the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

Also last week, millions of Egyptians queued in the banks to deposit whatever they had in order to participate with the Egyptian government in fulfilling a new project in Egypt to establish a new canal parallel to Suez Canal. This was the response of the Egyptian people to the call made by President Al-Sisi to participate in this ‘project of the country’.

The new canal project will cost around 60 billion Egyptian pounds, but it will improve the economy and create many job opportunities. People bought shares in this project according to their ability from as low as 10 Egyptian pounds to several thousand pounds. The surprise was that the people paid more than the 60 billion pounds needed for the project.

This was an amazing response from the Egyptian people who did not allow fear from terrorism to hinder their hope in the future of Egypt. I see the millions who crowded at the banks as another referendum in support of the current government. It is a new spirit and a new hope.

I hope the similar new spirit may spread in the church of the Middle East. We need such a new hope while we are facing many challenges such as the immigration of youth and violence against Christians.

We can have such new hope when we hold on to God’s promise ‘Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will even make a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert’. (Isaiah 43 : 19)

Let us lay aside every fear, wrong and weight which can hinder us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.

May the Lord Bless you!

Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis

 

Dreams in the Middle East

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Here’s a story from a partner in the M.E.

Last week we were visiting Aisha when her 8 year old son started to tell us about the dreams he had been having. The first was a dark dream of a man telling him to do something wrong. The second was a “good man dressed in white” telling him not to do it, and the third was another dark dream where the man said not to believe the man in the good dream. But he said he didn’t believe the man in the dark dream and wanted to follow what the “good man” said.

“You know God loves you very much,” we said.

“No, God doesn’t love me,” he answered.

We told him the story of the prodigal son, and shared how God is like the father in the story who runs to us when we go to him, no matter what we have done in our lives. We prayed with him – that he wouldn’t get any more dark dreams or dreams of  war, and he hasn’t since then.

Egypt Appeal Update

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Last year a special appeal was issued by Bishop Mouneer from Egypt. Here is a small update about the appeal and what it has accomplished.

Background to the Situation

The last few years have been traumatic for Egyptians. We have witnessed bloodshed on our streets, vandalism and the deliberate destruction of churches and government buildings in lawless acts of revenge. In 2013, one of our Anglican churches was attacked, and other ministries received threats. We praise God that our churches and congregations are safe, but we grieve for the loss of life and for the churches which were burnt in August 2013. Unemployment is at a record high, there is a lack of security on the streets, the economy is in decline, and poverty is crushing for many people in Egypt. Refugees too are suffering, those from Syria and from other African countries, such as Sudan.

Testimonies

The funds that were donated in response to the appeal have been used to help many families and individuals in difficult situations. Below are testimonies of three people who were helped by this support.

Rehab: I am 37 years ago. I got married many years ago, but my husband became psychologically unstable and started to beat me up. I took my two daughters and moved to my mother’s house. I started to clean houses to make a living and to put my children through school. My daughters have now graduated from university and one daughter recently got married. According to the culture in Egypt, the bride’s family must provide the furniture for the house. I did not have enough money to do this, and I shared my problem with the staff at the Boulaq Community Development Centre. The centre helped me a lot and financially supported me to buy furniture for my daughter. This was a big blessing for me and for my daughter.

Nahed: I moved from Upper Egypt to Ras El Soda, a very poor area near Alexandria. I heard about the Ras el Soda Community Centre and started to attend some lectures about raising children and health education. I also sent my children to the nursery at the centre. I had no toilet in my house, which was so difficult for my children. I desperately needed a toilet and so I went to the centre with my problem. They agreed to pay for the labour and I paid for the materials. This was a great help for my family.

Om Farouk is a 75 year old woman. She broke her leg badly, and the church helped her to pay for the surgery. The church visited her regularly to give her Holy Communion in her home and provide her with food supplies.

 

For more details click here.

Through my enemy’s eyes – an interview with Salim Munayer

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From CMS UK.

About to give up on reconciliation in Israel-Palestine? Don’t. Watch this interview with Salim Munayer of Musalaha.

Are you thirsty for a different kind of voice in the maelstrom of voices over Israel-Palestine? How can we look with clear eyes at the conflict? Is there a hopeful path to follow? Has anyone got anything to say that is not ultimately one-sided? Salim Munayer does.

Dr Salim Munayer is director of Musalaha reconciliation ministry in Israel-Palestine and a trustee of the Church Mission Society. He co-authoredThrough My Enemy’s Eyes, with Lisa Loden.

Here, he discusses the ABC of reconciliation, what might be a Christlike response to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and challenges the Church in the West about its apathy and seeming lack of desire to speak up for Christians in the Middle East.

Salim also sheds light on the competing historical narratives and theological frameworks, and the implication of the church in the conflict.