Recently a lengthy scholarly article by Dr. Sherif Addel Azeem dealing with the conception of woman in the three Abrahamic religions, has appeared under the title of Women in Islam vs. Women in the Judeo-Christian Tradition: The Myth and the Reality. I have relied on such an article in double checking the historical data of the Islamic tradition on its conception and treatment of women. While agreeing with some of its premises and conclusions, I disagree with others as will become apparent further down in this essay. The juxtaposition of those variant views stimulated by Dr. Azeem’s article has yielded some surprising insights which I’d like to share with the reader.
As is commonly known, the Judaeo-Christian conception of the creation of Adam (which in Hebrew means first man) and Eve (which in Hebrew means first woman) is narrated in detail in Genesis 2:4-3:24. God prohibited both of them from eating the fruits of the forbidden tree. The serpent then seduced Eve to eat from it and Eve, in turn, seduced Adam to eat with her. When God rebuked Adam for what he did, Adam tries to place all the blame on Eve. “The woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree and I ate it.” Consequently, God said to Eve: “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband and he will rule over you.” To Adam He said: “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree … Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life…”
In this narrative, or myth if you will, both Adam and Eve get punished and held responsible for disobedience. God is not punishing one for the faults of another, which would be unfair; neither does he accept Adam’s rationalization that the woman is exclusively responsible for the deed of disobedience. He holds them both responsible and punishes both. This needs to be kept well in mind: God judges, assigns the blame justly and equally; both Adam and Eve are punished.
On the other hand, the Islamic conception of the first sin, while appearing similar to the Judeo-Christian view at first sight (complete with the act of creation, the idyllic garden where everything is good but where Satan lurks in the form of a serpent, the positing of limits to freedom, the act of disobedience, and a meting out of punishment), it is nevertheless different in its conception of woman and what it implies. Here Eve does not come across as a seducer and temptress. The narrative is found in several places in the Qur’an, for example: “O Adam dwell with your wife in the Garden and enjoy as you wish but approach not this tree or you run into harm and transgression. Then Satan whispered to them in order to reveal to them their shame that was hidden from them and he said: ‘Your Lord only forbade you this tree lest you become angels or such beings as live forever.’ And he swore to them both that he was their sincere adviser. So by deceit he brought them to their fall: when they tasted the tree their shame became manifest to them and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies. And their Lord called unto them: ‘Did I not forbid you that tree and tell you that Satan was your avowed enemy?’ They said: ‘Our Lord we have wronged our own souls and if You forgive us not and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be lost.” (7:19:23).
A careful comparison of the two accounts of the primordial story of the Garden reveals some essential differences. The Qur’an seems to assign equal blame on both Adam and Eve. Nowhere in the Qur’an, try as one may, one will discover the slightest hint that Eve tempted Adam to eat from the tree or even that she had eaten before him. Here Eve is no temptress, no seducer, and no deceiver. Moreover, Eve is not punished with the pains of childbearing. God, according to the Qur’an, punishes no one for another’s faults. Both Adam and Eve committed a sin and then asked God for forgiveness and He forgave them both.
Needless to say, the image of Eve as temptress in the Bible, absent in the Qur’an has impacted in a negative way the image of women throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. All women were believed to have inherited from their mother, the Biblical Eve, both her guilt and her guile, as part of original sin. Consequently, it is almost logical to think of all of them as untrustworthy and somehow, morally inferior. In the New Testament we read these words by none other than the evangelizer and prime theologian of Christianity, St. Paul: “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (I Timothy 2:11-14). Also this: “As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” (I Corinthians 14:34-35). It couldn’t be more clear.
And yet a caveat is in order here. As the founder of Christianity, nowhere in the gospels do we discern Jesus teaching and approving any kind of subordination of one of his followers to another. Instead, he expressly forbade it in any Christian relationship. All three Synoptic gospels record Jesus teaching his disciples that any subordination of one to another, both abusive and customary, is a pagan practice—not something to take place among his followers. Having issued his strong prohibition against subordination of others, he prescribed the Christian alternative to subordination as being the exact opposite: profound service to others, extending even to making the ultimate sacrifice of giving one’s life if necessary: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”
His first phrase, “lord it over”, described the Roman masters who wielded ultimate and unlimited power. His second phrase, “high officials”, referred to lesser Roman officials who, having some limitations of power, “exercised authority” over their citizens. In the nearly identical passages in all three Synoptic gospels, Jesus sternly commanded his disciple that “It shall not be so among you”, clearly forbidding both abusive extreme “lording it over” others, and even more moderate, ordinary “exercise (of) authority” over others. Egalitarian Christians consider that this teaching of Jesus to the men who were the 12 Apostles trumps any subsequent interpretation of the teachings of Paul and Peter that allegedly establishes “Husband-Headship” requiring “Wife-Submission”, or denying women opportunities to serve in any leadership position within the Church. The New Testament of the Bible refers to a number of women in Jesus’ inner circle—notably his Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene who is stated to have discovered the empty tomb of Christ and known as the “apostle to the apostles” since she was the one commissioned by the risen Jesus to go and tell the 11 disciples that he was risen.
According to the New Testament, Christ saved a woman accused of adultery from an angry mob seeking to punish her, by saying: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.
Unusually for his epoch, Jesus is said to have provided religious instruction to women. The Gospel of John provides an account of Jesus directly dealing with an issue of morality and women. The passage describes a confrontation between Jesus and the Scribes and Pharisees over whether a woman, caught in an act of adultery, ought to be stoned. Jesus shames the crowd into dispersing, and averts the execution with the words: “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” According to the passage, “They which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last,” leaving Jesus to turn to the woman and say, “Go, and sin no more.”
Another Gospel story concerns Jesus at the house of Martha and Mary where the woman Mary sits at Jesus’ feet as he preaches, while her sister toils in the kitchen preparing a meal. When Martha complains to Mary that she should instead be helping in the kitchen, Jesus says that in fact, “Mary has chosen what is better”
The story of Mark 5:23–34, in which Jesus heals a woman who had bled for 12 year suggests not only that Jesus could cleanse his followers, but this story also challenges Jewish cultural conventions of the time. In Jewish law, women who were menstruating or had given birth were excluded from society. Therefore, the woman in Mark was ostracized for 12 years. Jesus healing her is not only a miracle, but by interacting with an unclean woman, he broke from the accepted practices of the time and embraced women.
So, Jesus treated women with compassion, grace and dignity. The gospels of the New Testament, especially Luke, mention Jesus speaking to or helping women publicly and openly. Martha’s sister Mary sat at Jesus’ feet being taught, a privilege reserved for men in Judaism. Jesus had female followers who were his sponsors, and he stopped to express concern for the women of Jerusalem on his way to be crucified. Mary Magdalene is stated in the Gospels to be the first person to see Jesus after his resurrection. In the narratives, Jesus charged her to tell others of what she had seen, even though the testimony of a woman at that time was not considered valid.
The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote that women were more influential during the period of Jesus’ brief ministry than they were in the next thousand years of Christianity. Blainey points to Gospel accounts of Jesus imparting teachings to women, as with a Samaritan woman at a well, and Mary of Bethany, who rubbed his hair in precious ointment; of Jesus curing sick women and publicly expressing admiration for a poor widow who donated some copper coins to the Temple in Jerusalem, his stepping to the aid of the woman accused of adultery, and to the presence of Mary Magdalene at Jesus’ side as he was crucified. Blainey concludes: “As the standing of women was not high in Palestine, Jesus’ kindnesses towards them were not always approved by those who strictly upheld tradition. According to Blainey, women were probably the majority of Christians in the first century after Christ. Jesus always showed the greatest esteem and the greatest respect for woman, for every woman, and in particular He was sensitive to female suffering. Going beyond the social and religious barriers of the time, Jesus reestablished woman in her full dignity as a human person before God and before men … Christ’s way of acting, the Gospel of his words and deeds, is a consistent protest against whatever offends the dignity of women.
Comparing to Paul’s traditional standing towards women to Jesus’ attitude toward them, what becomes immediately apparent is that somehow his example was not imitated after his death and resurrection. Paul seems eager to put women in their proper place. To be sure, this is not unusual in many religions: the founder establishes certain innovative ideals which at times may even go against well established and revered traditions and customs, but after his death the initial enthusiasm and zeal begins to cool. The attitude toward women in Christianity seems to have been a retrogressive phenomena hardly representing the example of its founder. We shall see further down that something like that also happened to Islam: at a certain point in time a downward movement began and the religion begins to gradually lose its pristine impetus. To be sure, the theory and the ideal remain but the practice leaves much to be desired
Let’s in turn have the Qur’an speak for itself on this issue: “For Muslim men and women, for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in charity, for men and women who fast, for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah’s praise– For them all has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward” (33:35). “The believers, men and women, are protectors, one of another: they enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil, they observe regular prayers, practice regular charity, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy: for Allah is Exalted in power, Wise” (9:71). “And their Lord answered them: Truly I will never cause to be lost the work of any of you, Be you a male or female, you are members one of another” (3:195). “Whoever works evil will not be requited but by the like thereof, and whoever works a righteous deed -whether man or woman- and is a believer- such will enter the Garden of bliss” (40:40). “Whoever works righteousness, man or woman, and has faith, verily to him/her we will give a new life that is good and pure, and we will bestow on such their reward according to the best of their actions” (16:97).
It should be clear from the above passage that the Qur’anic view of women is no different than that of men. They, both, are God’s creatures whose sublime goal on earth is to worship their Lord, do righteous deeds, and avoid evil and they, both, will be assessed accordingly. The Qur’an never mentions that the woman is the devil’s gateway or that she is a deceiver by nature. Moreover, it never mentions that man is God’s image; all men and all women are his creatures, that is all. According to the Qur’an, a woman’s role on earth is not limited only to childbirth. She is required to do as many good deeds as any other man is required to do. The Qur’an never says that no upright women have ever existed. To the contrary, the Qur’an has instructed all the believers, women as well as men, to follow the example of those ideal women such as the Virgin Mary and the Pharaoh’s wife: “And Allah sets forth, As an example to those who believe, the wife of Pharaoh: Behold she said: ‘O my lord build for me, in nearness to you, a mansion in the Garden, and save me from Pharaoh and his doings and save me from those who do wrong.’ And Mary the daughter of Imran who guarded her chastity and We breathed into her body of Our spirit; and she testified to the truth of the words of her Lord and of His revelations and was one of the devout” (66:11-13).
In fact, according to Dr. Azeem, the difference between the Biblical and the Qur’anic attitude towards the female sex starts as soon as a female is born. For example, the Bible states that the period of the mother’s ritual impurity is twice as long if a girl is born than if a boy is (Lev. 12:2-5). The Catholic Bible states explicitly that: “The birth of a daughter is a loss” (Ecclesiasticus 22:3). It was this very same idea of treating daughters as sources of shame that led the pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, to practice female infanticide. The Qur’an severely condemned this heinous practice: “When news is brought to one of them of the birth of a female child, his face darkens and he is filled with inward grief. With shame does he hide himself from his people because of the bad news he has had! Shall he retain her on contempt or bury her in the dust? Ah! what an evil they decide on?” (16:59). The Qur’an makes no distinction between boys and girls. It considers the birth of a female as a gift and a blessing from God, the same as the birth of a male. The Qur’an even mentions the gift of the female birth first:” To Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. He creates what He wills. He bestows female children to whomever He wills and bestows male children to whomever He wills” (42:49).
In order to wipe out all the traces of female infanticide in the nascent Muslim society, Prophet Muhammad promised those who were blessed with daughters of a great reward if they would bring them up kindly: “He who is involved in bringing up daughters, and accords benevolent treatment towards them, they will be protection for him against Hell-Fire”. “Whoever maintains two girls till they attain maturity, he and I will come on the Resurrection Day like this; and he joined his fingers”.
Now, to be fair, we should ask: is the Qur’anic position any different? One short story narrated in the Qur’an sums its position up concisely. Khawlah was a Muslim woman whose husband Aws pronounced this statement at a moment of anger: “You are to me as the back of my mother.” This was held by pagan Arabs to be a statement of divorce which freed the husband from any conjugal responsibility but did not leave the wife free to leave the husband’s home or to marry another man. Having heard these words from her husband, Khawlah was in a miserable situation. She went straight to the Prophet of Islam to plead her case. The Prophet was of the opinion that she should be patient since there seemed to be no way out. Khawla kept arguing with the Prophet in an attempt to save her suspended marriage. Shortly, the Qur’an intervened; Khawla’s plea was accepted. The divine verdict abolished this iniquitous custom. One full chapter (Chapter 58) of the Qur’an whose title is “Almujadilah” or “The woman who is arguing” was named after this incident: “Allah has heard and accepted the statement of the woman who pleads with you (the Prophet) concerning her husband and carries her complaint to Allah, and Allah hears the arguments between both of you for Allah hears and sees all things….” (58:1). A woman in the Qur’anic conception has the right to argue even with the Prophet of Islam himself. No one has the right to instruct her to be silent. She is under no obligation to consider her husband the one and only reference in matters of law and religion.
According to the Bible, a man must fulfill any vows he might make to God. He must not break his word. On the other hand, a woman’s vow is not necessarily binding on her. It has to be approved by her father, if she is living in his house, or by her husband, if she is married. If a father/husband does not endorse his daughter’s/wife’s vows, all pledges made by her become null and void: “But if her father forbids her when he hears about it, none of her vows or the pledges by which she obligated herself will stand ….Her husband may confirm or nullify any vow she makes or any sworn pledge to deny herself” (Num. 30:2-15). In Islam, the vow of every Muslim, male or female, is binding on him/her. No one has the power to repudiate the pledges of anyone else. Failure to keep a solemn oath, made by a man or a woman, has to be expiated as indicated in the Qur’an: “He [God] will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; Or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep your oaths” (5:89). Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, men and women, used to present their oath of allegiance to him personally. Women, as well as men, would independently come to him and pledge their oaths: “O Prophet, When believing women come to you to make a covenant with you that they will not associate in worship anything with God, nor steal, nor fornicate, nor kill their own children, nor slander anyone, nor disobey you in any just matter, then make a covenant with them and pray to God for the forgiveness of their sins. Indeed God is Forgiving and most Merciful” (60:12).
In Islam, the honor, respect, and esteem attached to motherhood are unparalleled. The Qur’an places the importance of kindness to parents as second only to worshipping God Almighty: “Your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him, And that you be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in your life, Say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, But address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, Lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Your Mercy as they Cherished me in childhood’ ” (17:23-24). The Qur’an in several other places puts special emphasis on the mother’s great role in giving birth and nursing: “And We have enjoined on man to be good to his parents: In travail upon travail did his mother bear him and in two years was his weaning. Show gratitude to Me and to your parents” (31:14).
The very special place of mothers in Islam has been eloquently described by Prophet Muhammad: “A man asked the Prophet: ‘Whom should I honor most?’ The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your mother!’. ‘And who comes next?’ asked the man. The Prophet replied: ‘Your father'”. Among the few precepts of Islam which Muslims still faithfully observe to the present day is the considerate treatment of mothers. The honor that Muslim mothers receive from their sons and daughters is exemplary. The intensely warm relations between Muslim mothers and their children and the deep respect with which Muslim men approach their mothers usually amaze Westerners.
The one question all the non-Muslims, who had read an earlier version of this study, had in common was: do Muslim women in the Muslim world today receive this noble treatment described here? The answer, unfortunately, is: No. Since this question is inevitable in any discussion concerning the status of women in Islam, we have to elaborate on the answer in order to provide the reader with the complete picture.
It has to be made clear first that the vast differences among Muslim societies make most generalizations too simplistic. There is a wide spectrum of attitudes towards women in the Muslim world today. These attitudes differ from one society to another and within each individual society. Nevertheless, certain general trends are discernible. Almost all Muslim societies have, to one degree or another, deviated from the ideals of Islam with respect to the status of women. These deviations have, for the most part, been in one of two opposite directions. The first direction is more conservative, restrictive, and traditions-oriented, while the second is more liberal and Western-oriented.
The societies that have digressed in the first direction treat women according to the customs and traditions inherited from their forebears. These traditions usually deprive women of many rights granted to them by Islam. Besides, women are treated according to standards far different from those applied to men. This discrimination pervades the life of any female: she is received with less joy at birth than a boy; she is less likely to go to school; she might be deprived any share of her family’s inheritance; she is under continuous surveillance in order not to behave immodestly while her brother’s immodest acts are tolerated; she might even be killed for committing what her male family members usually boast of doing; she has very little say in family affairs or community interests; she might not have full control over her property and her marriage gifts; and finally as a mother she herself would prefer to produce boys so that she can attain a higher status in her community.
On the other hand, there are Muslim societies (or certain classes within some societies) that have been swept over by the Western culture and way of life. These societies often imitate unthinkingly whatever they receive from the West and usually end up adopting the worst and most superficial (often called “progressive”) practices of Western civilization, the worst perhaps being the dispatching or religion per se as passé and unprogressive and not very modern and “enlightened.” In these societies, a typical “modern” woman’s top priority in life is to enhance her physical beauty. Therefore, she is often obsessed with her body’s shape, size, and weight. She tends to care more about her body than her mind and more about her charms than her intellect. Her ability to charm, attract, and excite is more valued in the society than her educational achievements, intellectual pursuits, and social work. One is not expected to find a copy of the Qur’an in her purse since it is full of cosmetics that accompany her wherever she goes. Her spirituality has no room in a society preoccupied with her attractiveness. Therefore, she ends up spending her life striving more in realizing her femininity than in fulfilling her humanity. The cartoon below brilliantly makes the point. But there must exist a more nuanced and harmonious view of women. Paradoxically, it turns out that the more balanced, harmonious view is the traditional one, often forgotten or discarded.
Why did Muslim societies deviate from the ideals of Islam? There is no easy answer. The ineluctable fact remains that Muslim societies have deviated from Islamic precepts concerning so many aspects of their lives for a long time now. There is a wide gap between what Muslims are supposed to believe in and what they actually practice, as indeed there is also one in Judaism and one in Christianity. The gap has been there for centuries and has been widening. Terrorism and ideological fanaticism is not and never was an Islamic phenomenon. Perhaps it is this ever widening gap that can be blamed for disastrous consequences on the Muslim world: political tyranny and fragmentation, economic backwardness, social injustice, scientific bankruptcy, intellectual stagnation, etc. The non-Islamic status of women in the Muslim world today is merely a symptom of a deeper malady. The cartoon of the two women carrying AK47, one Moslem and one Western, makes the point in this regard. Any reform in the current status of Muslim women is not expected to be fruitful if not accompanied with more comprehensive reforms of the Muslim societies’ whole way of life. Irshad Manji has recently shown us a possible way to analyze the situation and begin the reform process with her book titled The Trouble with Islam Today. The subject will be dealt in part II of this essay. Indeed, the Muslim world is in need for a renaissance that will bring it closer to the ideals of Islam. To sum up, the notion that the poor status of Muslim women today is due to Islam itself is an utter misconception. The problems of Muslims in general are not due to too much attachment to Islam, rather, they may well be due to a long and deep detachment from it.
Ukraine’s Autocephaly: First Results and Possible Influence on Orthodox World
Nearly three months ago, on January 6, Patriarch Bartholomew signed the Tomos of Autoceplahy for the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Though the whole process of granting autocephaly took less than a year – Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko appealed to the Ecumenical Patriarchate in April 2018 – the “healing of the schism” seems to be requiring much more time as the reconciliation between former schismatics and the Orthodox Church, which used to be the only canonical one in Ukraine, can’t happen in one moment.
The Phanar is said to have implemented everything Kyiv had asked it to: the leaders of the two previously schismatic churches – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of the Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) were suddenly reinstated. The two organizations merged in the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU), which was designed to unite the Ukrainian faithful and attract the followers of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP). After the Tomos of autocephaly was granted to the OCU in early January, its hierarchs and the state urged the followers of other denominations (primarily of the UOC-MP) to join the newly established church.
To date, more than 500 UOC-MP parishes have transferred to the OCU. Ukrainian media claim that the majority of them were voluntary but according to the recent report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), in some cases they were initiated by state or local authorities or even representatives of extreme right-wing groups, who were not members of those religious communities. If the Orthodox Church of Ukraine wants the UOC-MP followers actively join it, its hierarchs must intervene and show that violence is not a solution.
Autocephaly was to become one of Poroshenko’s main advantages during the elections. He finally brought to the Ukrainians an independent church separate from Moscow and recognized by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. However, recent polls show that he is lagging behind. The newly elected OCU Primate Epiphanius often highlights the role of Petro Poroshenko in the process of gaining autocephaly but it hardly yields any results as it makes the OCU look like a political project.
So far, the Tomos so hastily granted by Constantinople hasn’t brought the long-expected peace to the Ukrainian Orthodoxy. Believers are still divided, violence has grown and the authority of the new church leaders in Ukraine is weak.
Autocephaly affected not only Ukraine but also the Orthodox world. The Tomos, which was fiercely opposed by the Moscow Patriarchate for obvious reasons, led to an increased level of misunderstanding between the Orthodox Local Churches. Some Churches (of Antioch, Serbia and Poland) joined Moscow in criticizing Constantinople while the others still haven’t recognized the Orthodox Church of Ukraine. There have been calls to convene a Pan-Orthodox Synaxis on the Ukrainian issue (for example by John X of Antioch) but Patriarch Bartholomew refused to hold such a council.
The Ukrainian autocephaly did influence the relations between the Local Churches, and this influence wasn’t positive.
Really disturbing is that the Ecumenical Patriarchate can no longer unite or reconcile the other Local Churches. One can remember the conflict between the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch in 2013 when the first established an archdiocese in Qatar, the land which canonically belongs to the Patriarchate of Antioch. The Phanar that claims to bear the title ‘first among equals’ did nothing to resolve the issue, and that was one of the reasons why the most ancient Orthodox Church was absent at the Pan-Orthodox Council convened by Patriarch Bartholomew on Crete in 2016.
However, Constantinople willingly interferes in the affairs of the Local Churches if it’s beneficial for it. Along with the Ukrainian issue, the Ecumenical Patriarchate is focused on France, in particular on the Archdiocese of Russian Orthodox Churches in Eastern Europe (AROCWE). On November 27, 2018, the Holy Synod of the EP suddenly and unilaterally dissolved the Archdiocese declaring that all its parishes and properties must be transferred to the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The Extraordinary General Assembly held on February 23, 2019, refused to dissolve the Archdiocese. Later, it will be decided whether to come under the jurisdiction of another Church – the Moscow Patriarchate, Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia or Romanian Orthodox Church.
It is still unclear why all of a sudden Constantinople decided to revoke the Tomos of 1999 granted to the AROCWE. It is rumored that this was masterminded by Metropolitan Emmanuel (Adamakis) of France who decided to acquire the Archdiocese’s parishes. Of course, such an act doesn’t boost Constantinople’s popularity among the AROCWE parishioners.
Another act unilaterally revoked by the Phanar was the 1686 ruling that placed Ukraine under the Patriarchate of Moscow. This was a decision that led to the escalation of the conflict between Moscow and Constantinople. These two incidents are serious reasons for concern. What if it decides to declare the ‘New Lands’ in Greece its own territory, for example? An Orthodox war between the Church of Greece and the Phanar?
The Ecumenical Patriarchate has shown how easily it can influence the fates of Orthodox Churches by revoking or interpreting documents it had once issued. On the other hand, it’s not that capable of resolving conflicts even in its own dioceses (see the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America whose Primate Archbishop Demetrios faces strong criticism amid numerous calls of Bartholomew to leave). The gap between Local Churches is widening. And today the Ecumenical Patriarchate is not seen as the leader, the ‘first among equals’ at least, that can unite the Orthodoxy and deal with the threat of another great schism.
Plight of Christians in India
Two Hindu teenagers in Pakistan embraced Islam. It was alleged that they were abducted and forced to change their religion. Pakistan is looking into the incident to ferret out the truth. India’s external-affairs minister trumpeted the incident into limelight. All major newspapers published her rants. Her knee-jerk was obviously intended to please Hindutva adherents, to mint political advantage and to spur anti-Pakistan sentiments. India, itself, has a long history of forced conversions, and persecution of minorities, particularly the Christians. Let us have a bird’s-eye of the problem in India.
Roots of Christianity in India
Christianity is India’s third-most followed religion after Hinduism and Islam. According to religious tables in India’s 2011 census of population, excepting counting, errors and omissions, about 28 million Christians live in India. They constitute 2.3 percent of India’s population. Thomas the Apostle introduced Christianity to India. He reached the Malabar Coast (Kerala) in 52 AD. And, he carried on preaching in every nook and corner of India until martyred.
Today, Christians live all across particularly in South India and the southern shore, the Konkan Coast, and Northeast India. Through sheer hard work, Indian Christians developed niches in all walks of Indian national life. They include former and current chief ministers, governors and chief election commissioners. To ruling Bharatya Janata party’s chagrin, Christians are the second most educated religious group in India after Jains. Christian women outnumber men among the various religious communities in India.
Arrival of Catholicism
Till 16th century, Roman Catholicism was unknown to India. It was introduced by the Portuguese, Italian and Irish Jesuits who preached the gospel of Jesus Christ among the Indians. Alongside preaching, the preachers established Christian schools, hospitals, primary health-care centres through their missions. Later, British, American, German, Scottish missionaries came to preach Evangelical. The evangelist introduced English in missionary schools and translated the Holy Bible into various Indian languages (including Urdu, Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, and others).
Christians now form a major religious group in three states of India: Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Nagaland with plural majority in Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh. Significant Christian population lives in Coastal Andhra, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Kanara (South India).
Disgusted with religio-economic extremism, more and more people, including dalits (down-trodden) are converting to Christianity, a class-less community. Dalits are not allowed to enter even high-caste Hindu temples. Some dalits were even killed at doorsteps of temples for daring tread foot-steps to temples. According to religious tables in India’s Census Report, 24 million Christians constitute 2.3 percent of India’s total population of 1,028 million. The Christian population includes 14 million Christian dalits. Dalits are Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist members of “untouchable” castes who convert to Christianity. The untouchable Christians are the most neglected community in India.
Despite India’s Supreme Court’s decision, Sabrimala Temple remained out of bound for even high-caste adult women. The fanatic Hindus fear lest Christianity, with its egalitarian and social- service message, should engulf Hinduism.
Beginning of Christians’ persecution
India’s present prime minister Narendra Modi, when chief minister of Gujarat state, and LK Advani could be called pioneers of anti-Christian movement. They distributed Bharatya Janata Party (BJP) manifesto, which, inter alia, spoke of enacting an anti-conversion law in states including Gujarat. The laws against conversion are meant to persecute Christian and Muslim minorities.
The BJP’s manifesto was outcome of decades of hatred, stoked up by Hindutva (Hindu nationalist) elements acting with legal impunity and state governments’ connivance. The anti-Muslim hatred created a gory situation first in Gujarat and then in Orissa. The BJP accentuated its propaganda to create an incendiary situation against the aforementioned minorities in different states during elections.
The BJP acted hands in gloves with Sangh Parivar a collection of Hindu nationalist organisations co-operating towards making India a Hindu State to weave religion and politics strategically together in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enabling the Sangh to exploit religion for political gain.
The ostensible justification for such laws is that, in a democracy, the majority has the right to benefit from the principle of ‘majority rule. So, Hindustan (India) is primarily for the Hindus only.
The anti-conversion campaign aimed at restricting the right to propagate religion, which is guaranteed by Article 25 of the Indian Constitution. The aim of the two parties was to convert India into a Hindu state. India claims to be a secular country. But, unfortunately, the country’s legislative history, relating to the issue of conversion underscores the reality that the government always harbored grudge against conversion. Orissa, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan. Arunachal Pradesh and Tamil Nadu passed Freedom of Religion Acts. A common feature of these anti-conversion law is that they made so-called ‘forced conversion’ a cognisable offence under sections 295 A and 298 of the Indian Penal Code.
Cognisability of the offence licensed police to harass missionaries and converts under influence of Hindu fanatics or Government functionaries. Some Indian courts intervened to stop persecution of nouveau converts or Christian preachers. For instance, Chief Justice A.N. Ray in Reverend Stainislaus v. State of Madhya Pradesh (AIR 1977 SC 908), and Yulitha v. State of Orissa and others, ruled that propagation is different from conversion. Ray observed adoption of a new religion is freedom of conscience, while conversion would impinge on ‘freedom of choice’ granted to all citizens alike. But the state governments remained nonchalant to the courts’ observations. The courts’ decisions being declaratory (certiorari), not mandatory (mandamus), remained un-implemented. Interestingly, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (February 1981) advised the State Governments and Union Territories to enact laws to regulate change of religion on the lines of the existing Acts in Madhya Pradesh, Orissa and Arunachal Pradesh (The Statesman, Delhi, November 16, 1982).
There are iron-clad guarantees in the Constitution for religious freedom. Yet, not only the born Christians but also Hindus who become Christians complain of persecution. It is not only Orissa, but also several other Indian states that have passed anti-conversion bills forbidding Hindus to convert to other religions. Such legislation violates the UN Charter of Human Rights which gives a person right to change his or her religion.
Harassment and social boycott
To discourage dalits from converting to Christianity, not only the Centre but also the Indian states have deprived ‘dalit Christians’ of minority-status privileges. Any Hindu who converts to Christianity is socially boycotted and tortured in different ways. Six women at Kilipala village in Jagatsinghpur district (Orissa) had their heads tonsured by influential Hindus. Their offence was abandoning Hindu faith at their own free will. Christian missionaries are harassed, deported and even killed. Indian government ordered ‘deportation of three American preachers from Church of Christ in North Carolina on the first available flight to the US.’. To add insult to their injury, the preachers were even attacked by Hindu fanatics. They had a narrow escape. Courts rarely punish people who manhandle Christian preachers. Dara Singh murdered Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two minor sons.
A few years back, Hindus attacked Christians as tit-for-tat for a book which allegedly insulted Hindu deities. Investigations revealed that the book was not written by any Christian. But, it happened to be displayed on one of the Emmanuel Mission’s book-shops for sale. The Mission is a Christian organisation that runs a chain of schools in various Indian states.
Hindus ignore the fact that Christian missionaries started coming to India, particularly the North-East, in the late 19th century. They promoted education and socio-economic developmental work in the region. In Rajasthan, the Emmanuel Mission, alone, runs over 50 schools.The bill makes religious conversion a non-bailable offence. While giving vent to their wrath against Christians,
Secret survey of Christians
Indian states sometimes conduct secret surveys of Christian population. With Narendra Modi, then as chief minister, the Gujarat government harboured xenophobic attitude not only towards Muslims but also Christians.
A survey of the Christians’ living in northern and central Gujarat, in February 1999 was withdrawn after protests. Modi restarted the survey March 2003 and May 2003 in Christian – inhabited areas (Ahmedabad, Sanaskantha, Jabarkantha, Kutch, Rajkot, Patan, Vadodara, Anand and Banaskantha).
The purpose of the survey was to ‘pinpoint Christians and sort them out, if they become a headache like Muslims’. Indian Express dated June 13, 2003 (dateline Ahmedabad, June 13, 2003) reported Gujarat police has again started a survey of Christian localities. The Christian community in Indian state of Gujarat came to know of the survey when policemen in plain clothes visited a few institutions in Kheda district of central Gujarat and made enquiries about their source of funds, origin and items of expenditure.
The Christian community was rueful at the recommencement of the survey. To them, it negated the state’s then chief minister Narendra Modi’s assurance to visiting team of the National Commission for Minorities, “No survey or census of Christians or other minorities would be carried out in the state”.
The policemen allegedly had a list of 42 Christian institutes, including Don Bosco School and Pushpanjali Society, in Kheda district. The Don Bosco is a secondary school run for poor students from nearby villages, with 150 boys staying in the boarding. Puspanjali is a medical centre with boarding capacity for 60 girls studying in the school.
The Christian trustees refused to give information for fear of harm at the hands of the fanatic Hindus. The analysts point out that the survey of institutions or homes to note down addresses of people on a communal basis are usually a prelude to focused violence against minority communities. Similar surveys were conducted some year ago when Sangh Parivar stalwarts targeted Christian tribes in the Dangs area. Such surveys are akin to door-to-door survey of Jewish localities in pre-World-War-II Germany.
In a resolution, the RSS has called upon the Hindus, particularly Swayamsevaks, to be vigilant about `anti-national and terrorist’ Christian groups, posing a threat to the country’s internal security. It urged the Government to take strong measures against said groups. They condemned Pope John Paul II’s statement criticising Indian states’ legislations banning conversions of the Hindus by missionaries. The executive declared that such conversions were a direct challenge to the sovereignty of the country. It is significant to mention that the Pope had just said that ‘‘free exercise of the natural right to religious freedom was prohibited in India”. RSS’s resolution ignored that the right to change one’s religion was enshrined in the UNO’s Charter of Human Rights, also.
The RSS urged the Centre to lodge a protest with the Pope for exhorting the Christian missionaries to carry on their campaign of conversions defying the law of the land. The persecution continued for five more years. On 12 October 2008, he Pope Benedict XVI was compelled to draw Indian government’s attention the continuing anti-Christian violence in India.
On 28 October, the Vatican called upon the memory of Mahatma Gandhi for an end to the religious violence in Orissa. In a written appeal addressed to Hindus, the Vatican office said Christian and Hindu leaders needed to foster a belief in non-violence among followers (“Vatican invokes Gandhi in plea to end Orissa violence“. In.reuters.com. 28 October 2008).
Christians dubbed `insurgents’
In his interview with India Today (April 4, 2005, Christian Missionaries are with Naxals, page 80-81), K. S. Sudersan (Rashtrya Swayem Sevak Sangh) says, ‘Naxals have a safe base in Andhra Pradesh because Christian missionaries are with them. They attack mandir (temples) and other Hindu institutions but never attack a Church. Because the Chief Minister is a Christian, he has given them abhaydaan (freedom from fear)and crowds of two lakh or more they can gather’.
Sizeable number of Christians (Catholics) also lives in Pondicherry and Goa. A much smaller number live scattered amongst the majority Hindu population in the rest of India.
Trajectory of anti-Christian violence
Incidents of violence against Christians have occurred in nearly all parts of India, it has largely been confined to north, central, and western India, in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and the capital area of New Delhi.
Most incidents remain un-reported for fear of reprisal. Reported incidents date as far back as back as 1964. Human-rights body incorporate reported incidents.
The genocide of Christians in India’s north-eastern state Orissa was outcome of Hindus’ muffled hatred against Christians. Over 500 Christians, including some nuns, were burnt alive. Countless churches, houses and shops were gutted. Even Christian orphanages were not spared. India is, constitutionally, a secular country.
In 1999 a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report stated that Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal, and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (the sister organisations of the Bharatiya Janata Party) are the most accused Hindu organizations for violence against Christians in India. The National Commission for Minorities has stated that the State governments ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies provided support to the perpetrators. In most reported cases the named perpetrators are members of the Sangh Parivar organizations. The Sangh Parivar are small subgroups that formed under the umbrella of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), an umbrella organization whose roots date back to 1925. The RSS, who promote a form of Hindu nationalism called Hinduvata, oppose the spread of “foreign religions” like Islam and Christianity. According to Human Rights Watch, Sangh Parivar and local media were also involved in promoting anti-Christian propaganda in Gujarat. Mainstream Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians are targeted far less frequently than Evangelical and Pentecostal Christians. There was an increase in incidents of violence against Christians after the new BJP government under Narendra Modi came to power after the general election in April–May 2014. Maximum number incidents were reported from Uttar Pradesh. According to a report by Open Doors, the persecution of Christians in India increased sharply in the year 2016.
Attacks on churches
In June 2000, four churches around India were bombed (Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu). A church in Maharashtra was ransacked. In September 2008, two churches were partly damaged in Kerala. In 2015, a church building under construction was vandalised in Haryana. St. George church in Mumbai was also attacked by masked persons. In the same month, the cathedral of Jabalpur was attacked and more than a dozen people were injured. The same cathedral had also been attacked in 2008 and the entire altar burnt down. In April 2015, St. Mary’s Church in Agra was vandalised and statues of Mother Mary and the Infant Jesus were damaged. A Church in Kachna area of Raipur was attacked by a mob during a Sunday service and five people were injured when they tried to stop the assailants.
Several churches were attacked in the capital Delhi in recent years. They include St. Sebastian’s Church (burned), St. Stephen’s college chapel May 5, 2018 (vandalised and the cross desecrated with pro-Hindutva slogans).
In Madhya Pradesh a church was destroyed and bibles were burnt in Mandla district in September 2014. In March 2015, a Bible convention was attacked in Jabalpur, with allegations that religious conversions were taking place. So on.
Christian Council protests
The All-India Christian Council’s president, Joseph D’Souza, alleged, “The State Government was been a passive spectator and often connives, by its deliberate inaction, in the violence against Christians’. According to the Council, ‘Apart from ignoring the distress calls of the community, the Central Government nurtures a hate campaign against it. There should be a halt to the calumny unleashed by the Sangh Parivar leaders”. The Council regretted that the Indian constitution was secular only in name. In practices, the minorities’ life and prestige was at the mercy of the armed RSS gangs’ _ Four nuns and three Brothers belonging to the Missionaries of Charity were attacked by a 40-member gang chanting pro-RSS slogans at a Scheduled Caste colony in Nallalam near Kozhikode in north Kerala.
With likely BJP’s win 2019 elections, hard times await Christians and other minorities. Till a let up in Kashmiri protests, the Christians can sleep well.
Hindu jihad (holy war): India Pakistan context
There is a deluge of malevolent propaganda concerning Islamic Jihad. But, the Hindu kinds of holy yuddha (crusades) are rarely focused.
The non-Muslim writers not only mistranslate the word jihad for qitaal (blood-shed), but also distort the true meaning of Quranic texts by quoting them out of context with ahadith (sayings about Holy Prophet Mohammad life) or peculiar situations to which they relate. The Qur’an gives a clear instruction that there is no compulsion in religion (2: 256). It states that people will remain different (11: 118), they will always have different religions and ways and this is an unalterable fact (5:48). God tells the Prophet that most people will not believe ‘even if you are eager that they should’ (12: 103). Quran enjoins wars are to be avoided (Quran 8:61, 47:35; Bukhari 56:112, 156:94:8 Sahih of Muslim).
For one thing, Islamic jihad (Al-Quran 25: 52) does not mean ‘Holy War’. That term does not exist in Arabic and its translation into Arabic sounds quite alien. Jihad is always described in the Qur’an as fi sabil l’illah. It can mean argumentation, financial help or actual fighting. The term, which is specifically used for fighting, is Qitaal (a compulsion when you are attacked and flushed out of your homes).
Hindu holy and unholy wars
There is too much of negative publicity about Islamic jihad (struggle). But, there is little limelight on koota yuddha in India’s history.
The Ramayanas and the Mahabharata wars elucidate various types of yuddha (wars). In ancient India there were three schools of war. Bhishma’s school of warfare belonged to dharma yuddha (ethical or just war). Two other schools, Brihaspati’s and Krishna’s school of warfare belonged to koota yuddha (all-out war) or maya yuddha (war by tricks or stratagems).
Bhishma stressed chivalry and ruled out surprise and deception. But, Brihaspati recommended that the king should attack an enemy only if the enemy’s strength is one-third of his own (`Udyog Parva’). He suggested that the king should never trust the enemy or spare him, no matter how old or virtuous he may be.
Similarly, keynote of Krishna’s military philosophy was `end justifies the means’. He laid great stress on deception. `Truth may often have to be sacrificed in pursuit of victory’ (Karma Parva). He advocated use of force to defeat the enemy if he was superior in strength or capability (Shalya Parva). Opportunity once wasted never returns (`Shanti Parva’).
Even the enlightened Hindu and the military writers believe that India’s prosperity during various periods of history, for example during the Maurya and the Gupta periods, rose or fell pari passu with rise or fall of military leadership (Major General Rajendra Nath, Military Leadership in India: Vedic Period to Indo-Pak Wars.1990.Lancers Books).
Since partition, the Hindu leaders have put a tab on their innate desire to expose their urge for koota yuddha with Pakistan because of political expediency. India’s confidence-building measures did not contribute to solution of the Kashmir, or Sir Creek issues. They were dilly-dallying tactics to hold a plebiscite in disputed Kashmir. The Congress espoused the cause of secularism to avoid unfettering the polyglot, multi-religious multi-racial genie.
To understand koota yuddha in a modern context, one should first understand popular meanings of the word `Hindu’, Hindustan (hindusthan, bharatvarsha), `Hinduism’ and Hindutva. According to bulk of literature on the subject, `Hinduism’ is not a closely-knit or bounded faith or collection of doctrines. It is a religion (mazhab, not i), or a way of life without a founder. According to Encyclopaedia Britannica 1994-2001: “Hinduism is both a civilisation and a congregation of religions: it has neither a beginning nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy nor organization. Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another…”. The ‘Hindu’ were persons inhabiting the Indus valley area and beyond. The territory inhabited by them was Hindustan. But, the communalistic Hindu calls the territory Hindusthan (the Hindu’s place). The suffix ‘-stan’ being of non-Hindu origin is obnoxious to good sense of the communalists. The communalists find Bharatvarsha more palatable. This word originated from an ancient Hindu king Bharatvarsha. The communalists’ outfits like Sangh Parivar use this name preferentially as it emphasises Vedic roots of the country and its original people. Hindutva is controversially defined in Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his book Hindutva, and adopted by Hedgewar as the basis of his ideology (An Indian parliamentary committee resurrected him as a hero by allowing his portrait to be hung in Indian parliament). The RSS’s aims are a mix of cultural, religious and political objectives – To serve Hindu dharma (religion), sanskriti (culture) and rashtra (nation). Sarvarkar distinguishes ‘Hinduism’ from ‘Hindutva’. He clarified that the `Hinduism’ was concerned with `relevance of life after death, the concept of God and the Universe’. ‘Hindutva’, on the other hand, was ‘Hindus being a nation, bound by a common culture, a common history, a common language, a common country and a common religion’. Koota yuddha is an article of faith with the Rashtriya Swayemsewak Sangha. All its recruits, 10 years’ old and above, are obliged to take the following pratigya (oath): In the name of God and my ancestors. I hereby become a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh for the all-round progress of Bharatvarsh (ancient name of India) by strengthening the holy Hindu dharma (religion). Hindu sanskiti (culture and Hindu society). I shall do the Sangha work with all my heart to the best of my ability and that I shall be bound by this oath for the whole of my life. Bharat Mata Ki Jai ! (Glory to Mother India!).
Following assassination of Gandhi by a former activist of the Sangh, the RSS was banned. To wriggle out of the ban and to appease Sardar Patel, the RSS, in 1948, dropped the term `rashtra’ from its manifesto. Be it noted that, before independence, the pledge included the term ‘Hindu rashtra’. The expunction of the word `rashtra’ from the oath-text does not mean that the Sangh had renounced political dimensions of its thought or practice.
The RSS’s genocidal role is a caricature of Preamble to The Constitution of India which states: “WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCATIC REPUBLIC] …”. Besides, Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth. Terrorism Research Centre, an American think-tank based in East Virginia, enlisted RSS among the world’s leading terrorist organisations. It is significant to note that the Indian media is heavily tilted towards the RSS. In fact the RSS has of late become the unofficial spokesman of the Indian government.
Not only the RSS, but also Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Indian political parties tacitly believe in koota yuddha. Reason: The minorities together are not more than one third of the Hindu population (read Brihaspati’s udyog parva principle justifying 2,800 years back merciless attack when one is numerically three times superior). Illustrations of koota yuddha are Gujarat carnage under prime minister Narendra Modi, then chief minister, burning of Christians’ alive, attack on Golden Temple, anti-sikh riots of 1984, killing of beef-eating minorities by cow guards (gao rakhshak), persecution of Kashmiri students in Indian states, and so on. A crystal-clear manifestation of this mentality was ruling-BJP-supported then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s 11-phase gaurav or papadshahi yatra (pride parade) in July 2002. Earlier, in June 2002, Bal Thackray had said, ‘Muslims can never be trusted. They are like snakes’.
Wake-up call for Pakistan
History tells that only countries with a stable equilibrium between its centrifugal and centripetal forces stay afloat in comity of nations. At the time of Partition, it was predicted that both India and Pakistan would break up into ‘congeries of states’. The basis of this prediction was inability of the new republics to deal with myriad centrifugal forces gnawing into the body politic. In post-independence period, India was fortunate to have visionary leaders who tactfully muzzled centrifugal forces like insurgencies in East Punjab and eastern states, besides the Dravidian and Naxal Bari movements. Indian Union bowed to insurgents’ demands for creation of new states. And, insurgency leaders became chief ministers! India forgot yester years when they burnt to ashes copies of Indian constitution, uprooted rail tracks, immobilizing everyday life. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland and the East Punjab appeared to secede from the Union. India stayed united because of its resilience, we disintegrated.
Pakistan learnt nothing from East-Pakistan debacle (Asghar Khan, We’ve learnt nothing from history). India is now engaged against Pakistan in what Kautliya calls maya yuddha (war of tricks) or koota yuddha (all-out warfare). She is out to isolate Pakistan, get it dubbed as a terrorist state, and corner it by presence in Chahbahar and some Central Asian airbases (Aeini or Farkhor airbases in Tajikistan). Ibn-e-Khaldun says that it is asabia (nationalism) that enables a country to withstand challenges. Toynbee’s Challenge and Response Theory also reminds that if challenges are too heavy, a nation becomes apathetic to environment. Apathy leads to mental degradation, decay and extinction.
Pakistani leaders, including prime-ministers-weres and prime-ministers-to-be should take off their blinkers and try to understand how India, through koota yuddha, hands in glove with likeminded countries, is trying to wreck their economy and country.
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