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INTERNATIONAL DIGEST: Iraq’s Christians protest abolishment of election law

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Hundreds of Christians staged street protests around Iraq’s northern city of Mosul Sept. 28, protesting the abolition of a quota system that guaranteed they would be represented in Iraq’s parliament. Critics of the new law said it was designed to force the country’s few remaining Christians and religious minorities to leave Iraq and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki appealed for the decision to be reversed.

“I think some political groups are pushing the remaining Christians to leave Iraq,” Afram Razzaq-Allah told the Associated Press after he attended services at a Catholic church in Baghdad. “They want us to feel that we are no longer Iraqis.”

Many Iraqi Christians have fled the country because Muslim militants have relentlessly threatened and attacked them. Authorities have not moved decisively to protect them. The prime minister argued that lawmakers should not contribute to the marginalization of the country’s religious minorities.

“The minorities should be fairly represented in the provincial councils and their rights should be guaranteed,” Maliki wrote in a letter to parliament, according to the AP. Lawmakers, however, said they did not have the census data needed to determine what the quotas should be.

BRITAIN RECOGNIZES ISLAMIC COURTS — A network of Islamic courts in Great Britain is now deciding some legal cases submitted to them under a 1996 law that allows arbitration tribunals to hand down rulings that are binding in law.

The Muslim Arbitration Tribunal courts have been recognized by the British government to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence, according to the Sunday Times newspaper. They operate in a manner similar to Jewish courts that have resolved civil disputes for more than 100 years.

Critics have expressed concern that the establishment of Islamic courts could lead to a parallel legal system. Earlier this year, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams suggested the establishment of Islamic sharia law in Britain seemed “unavoidable.” In July, the head of Britain’s judiciary, Lord Phillips, said sharia also could be used to settle marital and financial disputes, the Sunday Times reported.

Advocates of women’s rights are concerned that Islamic law favors men. Islamic law provides for sons to receive twice as much inheritance as daughters, whereas British law requires equal amounts. In domestic violence cases, husbands may be ordered to take anger management classes and receive mentoring, with no further punishment.

BOLIVIAN TROOPS KILL EVANGELIST DURING PROTEST — A Christian evangelist was killed by soldiers trying to put down anti-government protests in Cobija, Bolivia, Sept. 12. Family members said Luis Rivero had come to the area in an attempt to pacify the crowds of protestors.

An ongoing conflict between Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, and the opposition party had degenerated into violence, looting and killings and brought the country to the brink of civil war, according to news reports. In Cobija, government soldiers had retaken the airport from protestors. Troops fired into the air to disperse the crowd, but some soldiers shot into the crowd, killing several people.

Local television coverage of the atrocity prompted Christians to hold peace rallies in Santa Cruz, an opposition stronghold. “May God intervene to heal us of our hatred and bitterness, to heal us of our racism and divisionism, to heal us of our idolatry and paganism,” pastor Julio Cesar Suarez said at the rally, according to Christian World News.

Rivero’s brother told a press conference that a coroner’s report on his brother raised serious questions about the conduct of authorities in the incident. “He was shot at 6:30 p.m., and the coroner said 8 hours later he was shot with the second bullet…. [He] lived 4 more hours after that,” the brother said, according to news reports. “What happened to the body of my brother during this time? Why was there a 16-hour delay before the military returned his body?”

The provincial governor, Leopoldo Fernandez, was arrested for overseeing the shootings and is being investigated, news reports said.

‘JEWEL OF MEDINA’ PUBLISHER FIREBOMBED — Three men have been arrested in a Sept. 27 firebombing directed at the London publisher of “The Jewel of Medina,” a historical romance about A’isha, the 9-year-old who became the first wife of Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

In August, American publisher Random House canceled plans to publish the book, saying they feared the novel might offend Muslims. Beaufort Books, which published the controversial O.J. Simpson book “If I Did It,” picked up the rights and released it Oct. 6.

Denise Spellberg, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, described the book as “an ugly, stupid piece of work” and “soft-core pornography,” according to news reports. The Ramadhan Foundation, a Muslim organization in England, condemned the attack on Gibson Square but said the novel “is an attempt to belittle one of the greatest women in Islam,” the Bloomberg news service reported.

Author Sherry Jones said her book is “epic love story and a story about women’s empowerment.”

PA. EPISCOPALIANS AFFILIATE WITH ARGENTINE CHURCH — Episcopalians in Pittsburgh voted Oct. 4 to leave their diocese in Pennsylvania and affiliate with a conservative diocese in Argentina. Two other Episcopal groups in the United States — in Fort Worth, Texas, and Quincy, Ill. — are scheduled to vote on similar proposals in November.

The Pittsburgh decisions mirrors the 2007 vote of Episcopalians in Fresno, Calif., to secede from the Episcopal Church over theological liberalism and disregard for the authority of Scripture in the national body. The action in Pittsburgh was motivated by the Sept. 18 vote of Episcopal bishops to remove Pittsburgh’s bishop, Robert Duncan, for “abandonment of the communion,” according to a press release from the Institute on Religion and Democracy, an alliance of Christians in the United States that seeks to bring Christian social witness into alignment with Christianity’s historic biblical teachings.

A spokesman for the conservative Convocation of Anglicans in North America praised the Pittsburgh decision. “We support the leaders and members of the diocese of Pittsburgh in their journey to abide by the clear teaching of Scripture and to remain steadfast in their faith,” said Martyn Minns in a press release. “It is sad that the diocese was forced to come to this vote, but they could not in good conscience follow the direction embraced by the current leadership of the Episcopal Church.” The CANA group was organized in 2005 as a missionary initiative of the Anglican Church of Nigeria, providing a means for Episcopalians alienated by theological compromise in the American church to remain with the global Anglican community without compromising their convictions about the authority of Scripture.

‘MUSLIM’ ALBANIANS RETURNING TO CHRISTIANITY — More than 400 years ago, ethnic Albanians were forcibly converted to Islam when the Ottoman Empire conquered the Balkans. Many have lived as secret Christians for centuries but now their descendants are coming out of hiding and Catholicism is experiencing a revival in a newly independent Kosovo.

“We have been living a dual life. In our homes we were Catholics but in public we were good Muslims,” Ismet Sopi of Klina, Kosovo, told a reporter for the Reuters news service. “We don’t call this converting. It is the continuity of the family’s belief.” Sopi was among hundreds of ethnic Albanians gathering on Sundays at a partially completed church.

This year was the first time no one in his extended family had fasted during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Sopi said.

When the Ottoman Turks conquered the Balkans in the 15th century, heavy taxes were imposed on Christians and many people publicly converted to Islam, Jahja Drancolli, a professor at Pristina Public University told Reuters. Around 90 percent of Kosovo’s Albanian population is Muslim, but 50 or 60 percent of the population is emotionally connected to Roman Catholicism, according to Muhamet Mala, who also teaches at Pristina Public University.

Christian customs like coloring Easter eggs and celebrating Christmas continued to be practiced among Kosovo’s Albanians for centuries. When the Ottoman Empire began to crumble in the 19th century, some secret Catholics began to emerge from hiding but now the process has gained speed.

“We don’t make appeals to anyone to convert. People call us,” Don Shan Zefi, a leader in Kosovo Roman Catholic diocese told Reuters. “We are not talking about individuals any more. There are inhabitants from dozens of villages who have contacted us.”
Mark Kelly is an assistant editor with Baptist Press.

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