Libya

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Wake up, reporters: Some Muslims are calling for a boycott of their faith’s holiest festival

Each adult believer in Islam is required to make the Hajj (pilgrimage) to the Prophet Muhammad’s holy city of Mecca at least once in a lifetime, unless unable physically or financially.

Some believers repeat this unique experience. The media usually relegate the annual ritual to news features, but this year’s event August 9- 14 is laden with spot news significance.

That’s because ongoing tensions in the Muslim world have produced a campaign to boycott the current Hajj — a nearly unimaginable break with tradition that has received scant coverage in the West. Western reporters should pursue reactions to this in their regions with Muslim sources and agencies that cater to pilgrims. How many believers have postponed Hajj visits till future years after things calm down?

The boycotters are protesting the devoutly Sunni host nation of Saudi Arabia and its ruler since 2017, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (“MBS”). The particular grievances are the Saudis’ prosecution of Yemen’s vicious civil war, ongoing hostilities with Iran and toward Islam’s minority Shia branch, and human rights violations, including the murder of a regime critic, The Washington Post ‘s Jamal Khashoggi.

An anti-Saudi analysis at foreignpolicy.com by Ahmed Twaij of Iraq’s Sanad for Peacebuilding notes that in April Grand Mufti Sadiq al-Ghariani, Libya’s chief Sunni authority, declared that making a repeat Hajj visit or the Umrah (voluntary pilgrimage to Mecca at other times of the year) is “an act of sin rather than a good deed.”

In June, a senior official with Tunisia’s Union of Imams joined boycott calls, saying Saudi income from Hajj visits “is used to kill and displace people,” as in Yemen, instead of helping the world’s impoverished Muslims. Twaij reports that “Sunni clerics around the world have also called for a boycott,” whereas past enmity toward the Saudi regime has come largely from Shia Muslims.

Most remarkable of all was a fatwa last August from Qatar’s Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who is very influential among Mideast Sunnis through his Al Jazeera TV appearances and Internet postings. His words could be interpreted as undercutting even the obligatory once-in-a-lifetime Hajj: “Seeing Muslims feeding the hungry, treating the sick and sheltering the homeless are better viewed by Allah than spending money on the Hajj and Umrah every year.”

Some of this campaign could be payback for the recent years when Saudi Arabia barred believers from Qatar and Iran from joining the pilgrimage, or helped repress a Shia uprising in Bahrain.

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New era of Coptic martyrs: RNS dives into big questions about a deadly serious subject

New era of Coptic martyrs: RNS dives into big questions about a deadly serious subject

Lots of news stories -- big ones and everyday ones -- are haunted by religious themes (and even factual material) that mainstream reporters skate right past. Here at GetReligion, we call these religion-shaped holes in stories "ghosts."

There are also news stories that, to be blunt, are haunted by questions and issues that can only be described in terms of theology, often requiring a willingness to dig into centuries of history and debates of a complex or even mysterious nature.

I sincerely appreciate attempts to write these theologically driven stories, because I know that they are (a) hard to get right, (b) hard to get approved by editors and (c) hard to write in words that work in a daily newspaper (think accuracy plus readability).

So I really want to cheer for a Religion News Service feature that came out with this headline: "Unrelenting killing of Coptic Christians intensifies debate over martyrdom."

This is a story about a very complex issue: Is there a point at which praising Christian believers who are killed by the Islamic State turns into a bad thing, when crying "martyrdom" begins to blur the lines between terrorism and the kinds of heroic witness honored by the church through the ages?

Before I mention my one question about this fine story, let's look at some crucial summary material near the top:

The 2,000-year-old Coptic Church of Egypt has a long tradition of hallowing those who died affirming their faith in the face of violence. But the group that calls itself the Islamic State has launched waves of attacks on the Coptic community in recent years -- claiming at least 70 lives and wounding scores of others -- an unrelenting assault that has opened a debate in the community about martyrdom.
The issue has been most recently punctuated by the deadly knifing of a Coptic priest in a poor Cairo neighborhood Thursday (Oct. 12). A suspect was arrested but his motive is still unknown.
Recently, another Coptic priest -- the well-known Rev. Boules George from the well-heeled Cairo suburb of Heliopolis -- took to the television airwaves to “thank” the Islamic State terrorists who launched the Palm Sunday church bombings that claimed 45 lives, saying they provided “a rocket” that delivered victims straight to heaven.

Here is the crucial question: Is being blown up by a bomb, or killed in random violence, truly an act of "witness" to the Christian faith delivered to the apostles?

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AP covers basics on ISIS killing Ethiopian Christians -- but that Baltimore Sun headline?

AP covers basics on ISIS killing Ethiopian Christians -- but that Baltimore Sun headline?

When major international stories break -- such as the 29-minute video claiming to show the Islamic State executions of Ethiopian Christian laborers -- it's normal for elite organizations to be able to respond relatively quickly with quality work. That is, if the editors have the desire to do so.

Journalists deserve praise when they get the job done. That was the purpose of my quick post noting the early New York Times story by veteran David Kirkpatrick, in particular for his clear presentation of the ISIS language that made it impossible to duck the religious content of this latest blood-soaked media op.

In the end, that led me to a strong analysis quote from John L. Allen, Jr., of Crux about the "silver lining," if there is one, in the rise of ISIS. I repeat the key language here because I think it was brave of him to be blunt about the blind spot that has affected the actions of many American elites -- think journalists and diplomats, primarily -- when it comes to denying the importance of stories about the persecution of Christian minorities around the world.

The point is not that Christians deserve special privileges, or that they’re the only ones at risk. It’s rather that for a long time, the threats they face couldn’t penetrate Western consciousness, where the typical American or European is more accustomed to thinking of Christians as the authors of religious persecution rather than its victims.

Now, most Americans in ordinary zip codes read newspapers and websites that depend on wire-service copy for this kind of report, information that may run a news cycle or even two behind the top global newsrooms (or international papers, in general). Thus, it is crucial to take a look at what moves on the Associated Press.

In this case, AP got the job done. But wait to see the headline that The Baltimore Sun editors went with on a story well inside the newspaper.

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ISIS silver lining: Can our elites (journalists included) still deny persecution of Christians?

ISIS silver lining: Can our elites (journalists included) still deny persecution of Christians?

If you follow issues of human rights and religious freedom abroad, you will surely recall the recent incident in which the Islamic State released that video showing the execution of 20 Egyptian Coptic believers and one Ghanian man whose identity is harder to pin down. All have been declared martyrs for the faith.

Readers may also recall that there was a bit of controversy when the public statement about this tragedy released by the White House, speaking for President Barack Obama, merely condemned the "despicable and cowardly murder of twenty-one Egyptian citizens in Libya by ISIL-affiliated terrorists. We offer our condolences to the families of the victims and our support to the Egyptian government and people as they grieve for their fellow citizens."

Citizens? The Islamic State executions had been very specific in saying that their victims were chosen because of their connection to "crusaders," the "hostile Egyptian church" and the "Nation of the Cross."

Citizens?

Now there is this new vision of martyrdom, as noted in quite a few mainstream reports today. This material comes from the veteran correspondent David Kirkpatrick of The New York Times foreign staff, who is known for "getting religion" in the world around him:

The Islamic State released a video on Sunday that appears to show fighters from affiliates in southern and eastern Libya executing dozens of Ethiopian Christians, some by beheading and others by shooting.

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CNN gets it right (as opposed to Reuters) about Muslim assault on Christians on the high seas

CNN gets it right (as opposed to Reuters) about Muslim assault on Christians on the high seas

There are times when you read an article that is so jaw-dropping shocking that you do a double take.

Then you read it again. And again.

Then you start seeing the same story in other mainstream news outlets and sometimes the facts are there and sometimes they are not. Let's look at several, starting with the CNN report that really grabbed my attention.

I am talking about the CNN piece on the defenseless Christian refugees who drowned Tuesday or Wednesday when Muslims threw them overboard into the Mediterranean Sea.

Rome (CNN) Muslims who were among migrants trying to get from Libya to Italy in a boat this week threw 12 fellow passengers overboard -- killing them -- because the 12 were Christians, Italian police said Thursday.
Italian authorities have arrested 15 people on suspicion of murdering the Christians at sea, police in Palermo, Sicily, said.
The original group of 105 people left Libya on Tuesday in a rubber boat. Sometime during the trip north across the Mediterranean Sea, the alleged assailants -- Muslims from the Ivory Coast, Mali and Senegal -- threw the 12 overboard, police said.

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The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

The 21 beheadings in Libya: Why edit 'Orthodox' from name of the Coptic Orthodox Church?

What can be said about the images that are coming out of Libya, in that hellish Islamic State video showing the beheading of 21 Coptic Christians -- explicitly for their faith and their connection to "crusaders"? This is a story with so much religious imagery and language in it that there is no way for journalists to avoid the ghosts.

Religion News Service, and some other news outlets, are using a very important quote from Pope Francis:

“The blood of our Christian brothers is a witness that cries out,” Francis said in off-the-cuff remarks during an audience with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland. The pope, switching to his native Spanish, noted that those killed only said “Jesus help me.”
“Be they Catholic, Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, it doesn’t matter: They’re Christian! The blood is the same: It is the blood which confesses Christ,” Francis said. He said their deaths bore witness to “an ecumenism of blood” that should unite Christians, a phrase he has used repeatedly as the Islamic State continues its bloody march.

The radicals hailed Jesus as a prophet respected in their Muslim faith, then beheaded followers of Jesus.

Now, who -- precisely -- were the victims?

Let me stress that it's true that, in Egypt (and in Libya), Christians of all kinds are often simply known as "Copts," because of a similar ancient heritage. So there are, for example, small numbers of Protestant Copts and Catholic Copts. However, the vast majority of Coptic Christians are Orthodox Christians.

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Benghazi terrorist hiding in plain sight

I know readers prefer us to harsh on stories rather than praise them, but I don’t care. I have to just highlight a great story from David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times. Now, most of what makes the story interesting is outside this blog’s bailiwick. The piece is headlined “Suspect in Libya Attack, in Plain Sight, Scoffs at U.S.” At a time when the White House is being criticized for its handling of events in Libya, the story is probably going to be a bit politically challenging.

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