Catching Our Eye

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  • 'Saints of Bangui’ honoured

    Published: July 29, 2015

    The 2015 Sergio Vieira de Mello Prize has been awarded to the three top religious leaders of the Central African Republic. 

    Sergio Vieira de Mello was the UN’s Special Representative in Iraq, killed when the UN headquarters in Baghdad was bombed in August 2003. Every two years the award goes to an individual, group or organization that has done something unique to reconcile people and parties in conflict.

    The President of CAR’s Evangelical Alliance, Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyamé-Gbangou, the Catholic Archbishop of Bangui, Mgr. Dieudonné Nzapalainga, and the President of the Islamic Council in CAR, Imam Oumar Kobine Layama, have spoken out against religious extremism and promoted peaceful coexistence between Christians and Muslims.

    TIME Magazine named them among the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2014, and the French Magazine Le Monde called them “the three saints of Bangui.”

    In the midst of two years of violence in CAR, often portrayed as a religious conflict, the three clerics formed a joint platform to promote peaceful coexistence. Their message: “Violence in CAR is not primarily caused by religious conflict; instead, the root of the conflict lies in the struggle for political power.”

    Nzapalainga sheltered the imam and his family for several months in his own home. 

    The award ceremony will take place on 19 August 2015 during the events marking World Humanitarian Day in Geneva, Switzerland.

  • Recommended reading, Pt. II

    Published: July 28, 2015

    The UK-based Guardian has published four brief sketches of Christians living under pressure in Egypt, Pakistan, China and Israel, respectively. Their individual stories should not seem surprising to any regular reader of World Watch Monitor, but taken together they add to the narrative of rising levels of antagonism toward Christians because of their faith. Striking, too, is the fundamental optimism of each of the men -- each of the four subjects is male. "You get used to it," Xu Yonghai is quoted as saying. "It won't stop me practising Christianity."

  • Recommended reading

    Published: July 28, 2015

    Eliza Griswold has penned a compelling dispatch to the New York Times Magazine that reads, in one sitting, like World Watch Monitor's past year of coverage of Iraq's Christians. The 26 July article provides a concise summary of the complex and often contradictory political currents that complicate attempts to preserve a Christian presence in the Middle East.

    Griswold also relates further detail about the story of Christine Abada, the now-4-year-old girl snatched from the arms of her mother, Ayda, nearly a year ago by militants of the so-called Islamic State as they took over the town of Qaraqosh. According to snips of information emerging from underground sources, the author says Christine is being raised by a Muslim family.

  • Nun says no to exam dress code

    Published: July 27, 2015

    A strict dress code for India's national medical-school entrance exam proved too strict for some religious hopefuls, including a nun who elected to skip the test rather than remove her veil and cross.

    In an attempt to minimize opportunities for cheating on the test, India's Central Board of Secondary Education had imposed rules forbidding clothing such as full sleeves, watches, dark glasses, scarves, hair bands and even shoes at the 30 test sites nationwide. The Daily Pioneer reported that candidates were shedding jewellery at test sites, and that one woman with cloth-covered buttons was turned away. She returned with an acceptable blouse.

    The Supreme Court turned away a petition by an Islamic organization seeking permission for Muslim women to wear hijabs to the exam. And at a test center in Kanjiramkulam, a nun identified as Sister Seba was ordered to remove her veil and cross. She refused after her request to take the exam in a separate room was denied.

    “Therefore I am giving up my dream of pursuing the medical profession,” the Pioneer quoted Sister Seba as saying. “Indeed, I am very sad as I had prepared well for the examination and was confident of cracking it.”

  • Malaysia returns 'Allah' CDs to owner

    Published: July 24, 2015

    The Malaysian Government conceded 23 July that Jill Ireland can have her audio compact discs containing the word "Allah." Authorities had seized the religious material seven years ago at a Kuala Lumpur airport when Ireland flew in from Indonesia, where she had acquired the CDs.

    The Appeal Court on 23 June had ordered the Government to return the CDs within a month. Authorities were given a month to file leave for appeal today in the Federal Court, Malaysia's highest legal body. But a senior counsel for the government, Shamsul Bolhassan, confirmed 23 July that it would not dispute the appelate court’s verdict.

    Ireland, a Christian from Sarawak state, also has asked the courts to rule that the Federal Constitution guarantees her right to use the word "Allah" in reference to God. Shamsul said that case now would be heard before another High Court judge. Ireland’s petition comes amid highly controversial decisions by the Government and Islamic organisations, which insist "Allah" is reserved to Malay-Muslims, the dominant religious and racial group in the multiracial nation, once celebrated for its inter-ethnic harmony.

    -- Matt K. George

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