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The Evolving Orthodox Triangle Constantinople – Kiev – Moscow

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Churches think in centuries and are not bound to short-term political mandates. On January 5, 2018 the Patriarch of Constantinople implemented his decision to grant independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, a move that upset Moscow. To understand the current developments, it is worth looking back at this centuries-long history of fluid relationship between Constantinople, Kiev and Moscow.

Constantinople-Kiev: Christianization

In 882, Oleg of Novgorod moved his capital to Kiev and continued the work of Rurik to unite Slavic tribes, setting the stage for the history of Kievan Rus. The prediction of Saint Andrew was unfolding. It is said that during the first century, when Andrew the Apostle traveled to what is now Kyiv, he climbed onto a hilltop overseeing the Dnepr River. There he planted a cross, prophesizing the future of the great Christian city and the role it would play.

The Slavs were a loose union of tribes, whilst Constantinople was flourishing. In 980, Vladimir the Great ruled in Kiev and endeavored to consolidate and expand further his territories. In 988, he conquered the city of Kherson, in Crimea, where a bishop see had been established since the fourth century. Although accounts vary on the conversion of Vladimir, what is clear is that the Byzantine emperor sent his sister Anna to marry Vladimir, uniting Kiev and Constantinople. When Anna arrived, Vladimir converted to Christianity, restored Kherson to Constantinople, and returned to Kiev with Crimean ecclesiastics. It is undeniable that economic and political reasons influenced his choice to convert as his agenda leaned toward the Christian world.

Although the Byzantine emperor appointed the head of the clergy in Kiev, he faced opposition from the Kievan princes who did not endorse a filiation of churches from Constantinople, nor did they submit to the emperor’s authority to make Kievan Rus a colony of the Byzantine Empire. Relations with the empire were complicated: Constantinople did not mingle directly in Kiev’s internal affairs but would not let the princes interfere in religious matters. In other words, the authority of Constantinople over Kiev was exerted through the clergy, who enjoyed considerable powers in Kievan Rus. As a consequence, the first inclination toward creating an independent church appeared. Yaroslav the Wise proclaimed Hilarion of Kiev the first non-Greek metropolitan in 1049. Nonetheless, Constantinople regained control over the appointment of the head of the church in Kiev. Constantinople never bestowed upon Kiev the right to appoint its own Slavic metropolitan, establishing a red line that would trigger immediate action from Constantinople. For centuries to come, the position would mostly be held by Greeks, who remained outside of internal Kievan politics. As Kiev had grown to be a major economic center, it was in Constantinople’s interest to stay on good terms with its Slavic neighbor, gaining importance on the international scene.

Yaroslav the Wise passed away in 1054, a key date as it is the year of the schism between Rome and Constantinople.

Kiev choses Constantinople over Rome

Opinions on rites and theological elements diverged over time between Rome and Constantinople, in part because of linguistic differences. Latin became dominant in the West while Greek was the language of choice in the East. Because of the status of language as a major cultural vehicle, the use of different languages impacted religious rites. Gradually, Rome imposed the closure of churches following the rites as practiced in Constantinople and Constantinople did the same to churches following the practices of the Western Church. Eventually, the Roman pope Leo IX and Michael Cerularius of Constantinople excommunicated each other in 1054.

Humbert of Silva Candida, the papal legate who delivered the excommunication to Patriarch Michael Cerularius, decided to stop by in Kiev on his way back to Rome from Constantinople. The newly converted Kievan Rus represented an attractive potential ally for Rome, especially given that the young federation of Slavs was expanding in size and importance on the international scene. Since integrating with this new community of Christians would strengthen their hand against Byzantium, Rome’s envoy visited the Grand Prince of Kiev with the aim of convincing him to join Rome. Yet Yazislav, the new Grand Prince of Kiev, refused any allegiance to Rome. The clergy in Kiev would remain on the Orthodox side with Constantinople in the great East-West schism.

But rivalries amongst Slavs were fierce. In 1169, the pious Grand Prince of Vladimir-Suzdal Andrey Bogolyubsky sacked Kiev and took many religious pieces, including a highly revered Byzantine icon of the Mother of God of Odigitriya, one of the holiest in Russian Orthodoxy. He initiated the construction of many churches in Vladimir-Suzdal, near today’s Moscow and converted more Slavic tribes. He is also renowned for having made the first attempt to set up a new eparchy to compete with Kiev. Around the year 1170, he bypassed the Kiev Patriarchate and directly requested of the Patriarch of Constantinople, Luka Khrizovergus, that he established an eparchy in Vladimir. He also asked for the new metropolitan to have the same rank as the one in Kiev. The patriarch declined his request, but the competition with Kiev had begun.

Moscow enters the scene

The Mongol invasion spread quickly from east to west and reached Kiev in 1240. The city was destroyed and almost its entire population was dispersed. Kiev, the beautiful jewel of a city was shattered. Some sixty years after the destruction of Kiev, the city was still not recovering. So, the metropolitan Maksim moved his residence from Kiev further east to Vladimirin 1299. Nonetheless, he kept his title of Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus. The transfer of the religious center from Kiev was a major move, the consequences of which greatly affected the future of Orthodoxy and lay power as well. At that time, the Mongol dominated the region. The first union of Slavs, the Kievan Rus had disappeared and new states had not formed yet.

In a short span of three decades, major events shaped the face of the new power that emerged in Moscow, the capital of the Grand Duchy of Moscovy.

Under the relative religious tolerance of the Mongols, the church consolidated its power and the metropolitan Piotr moved to Moscow in 1325, giving the sign that the city was one of the leading politico-religious centers.

In the meantime, Constantinople was mired in its own problems and the Eastern Roman Empire was suffering through its last days. As the Vatican was entering the Renaissance era, it was eager to end the 1054 schism, especially to its own advantage. Thus the Catholic pope was well inclined to help Constantinople, which had asked for help and unity in resisting the Ottoman threat. At the Council of Florence in 1439, the Catholic Church and the Patriarch of Constantinople signed an agreement that should have put an end to the schism. At that time, Constantinople was still appointing the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Rus, and it counted on the support of Moscow to endorse the agreement. But reality dictated otherwise as Russia had gained much distance from Constantinople and its issues. The Patriarch of Constantinople died soon afterward, and it was decided that his signature was nonbinding for the Orthodox churches. Only Constantinople still hoped that the union with Rome would save them from the Ottomans. But a decade later, in 1453, Constantinople fell under the control of the Ottomans.

Moscow-based bishops decided to emancipate themselves from Constantinople, which had compromised with the Catholics to save itself, yet was now under Muslim rule. For the first time, Moscow elected its own head of the church, independently from Constantinople. Although the autocephaly of the Russian Orthodox Church was recognized only in 1589, the church became de facto independent in 1448, with Jonah as its first metropolitan. One of his first objectives was to maintain religious unity in territories over which his predecessors had authority. Eventually, in 1458, the canonical territories over which the metropolitan professed corresponded to those over which the Grand Prince of Moscow ruled. This transition was reflected in his title, which changed in 1461 to Metropolitan of Moscow and All Rus. The Russian Church was now an actor of importance that saw itself as the guardian of Orthodoxy, the Third Rome.

The new Autocephalous Church asserts itself

The remaining element was the recognition of autocephaly by Constantinople. Without the approval of its peers, the self-proclaimed autocephaly has no validity in the Orthodox world.

The Ottomans imposed heavy tributes on patriarchates that fell under their territorial control. Economically weakened, the patriarchates lost considerable weight, especially Antioch, which had been weakened and forced into exile several times due to centuries under the dominion of Arabs and crusaders. In 1586–1587, the patriarch of Antioch, Joachim V, engaged in a journey to collect donations from other Orthodox churches. In Moscow, the future tsar Boris Godunov offered his support and seized this political moment to stir ambitions of an official autocephaly. Two years later, the patriarch of Constantinople, Jeremias II, traveled to Moscow with the same objective of collecting money. During his stay, he would have discussed with Boris Godunov the possibility of remaining the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch but being based in Russia. Finally, after lengthy negotiations, Jeremias II decided to give autocephaly to the Russian Orthodox Church and returned home. The recognition was made official in 1589 with the concurrence of the other three original patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem.

In 1589, the Russian Orthodox Church for the first time had a patriarch at its head, Job of Moscow. There were now five patriarchs: Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, and Moscow. And the tsar was the guardian of Orthodoxy.

Kiev, the Tsarist Empire and the church

Peter the Great launched many reforms to modernize Russia, following European model. He replaced the patriarchate with a committee termed the Holy Synod, placing a bureaucrat, the Chief Procurator, as its de facto head and the tsar’s eyes and ears in the church. With authority over religious matters and control over the appointment of bishops, Peter succeeded in relegating the church to the status of a ministry or state department, with clerics placed in charge of spiritual matters.

Catherine the Great continued the policies of Peter the Great. She entertained the Austro-Russian idea of dissolving the Ottoman Empire. As part of this scheme, she nurtured plans to embark on a “Greek Project”: re-establishing a Greek Byzantine empire to replace the Muslim Ottoman Empire, which had gained ground in continental Europe. For instance, she supported the Daskalogiannis Rebellion in Crete in 1770, in which Cretans rose up against the Turks. In reality, she was rather indifferent to religion: she embraced the project, promoted by Prince Potemkin, for geopolitical rather than religious reasons. Yet it did not materialize, and no alliance with Austria came into being. In 1783, Catherine decided to annex Crimea, putting an end to the revolts occurring there and, most importantly, pushing the Ottoman Empire back across the Black Sea. Crimea became a Russian province and part of Novorossiya or “New Russia” in 1784.

Religion politics in Russo-Turkish Wars

Eventually, tensions between the Russian and Ottoman empires had reached a climax, and war broke out in 1787. The conflict lasted for five years but was decided to Russia’s advantage. Russia was therefore able to consolidate its positions around the Black Sea but never captured Constantinople, the gateway to the Mediterranean’s warm waters and an Achilles heel for Moscow to this day. Even though the Treaty of Jassy, signed at the end of the war on January 9, 1792, recognized the Russian territorial gains, relations with the Ottoman Empire remained tense. Russian expansion benefited from momentum on the world scene shaken by the French and American revolutions. Consequently, nobody really reacted to Russian expansion until the situation in France had stabilized. But Napoleon reaction was short-lived.

Alexander’s victory over Napoleon gave him a new sense of divine mission, and by 1814, the tsar had grown more religious and prone to messianism. His religious awakening triggered his initiation of the Holy Alliance between Prussia, Austria, and Russia. Signed in Paris in 1815, this alliance aimed to promote Christianity but was also a reaction to the Napoleonic Wars. The Great Powers wanted to ensure a balance of power in Europe and avoid revolutions. During the two hectic decades that followed, the Catholic Church remained strong and Napoleon III pursued a pro-Catholic agenda, as proven by his 1849 expedition to restore the pope. He posed as the champion of Catholicism in Europe, which in part explained his decision to engage in the Crimean War against Russia.

With its territorial gains and advances well into the Black Sea region, Russia represented a growing threat for the Ottoman Empire and its French and British allies. Paris, together with London, backed the Ottoman Empire, whose western territories in the Balkans saw many uprisings, such as those of the Orthodox Serbs and Orthodox Greeks.

The trigger of the Crimean War of 1853–1856 was religious, but the roots were indisputably linked to the fear of Russia’s growing influence in the weakened Ottoman Empire. At the beginning, quarrels between Catholic and Orthodox monks arose in Palestine about their prerogatives. As the matter had reached serious levels, Tsar Nicholas I intervened and asked the Sultan to recognize the right of Russia to protect the Christians of the Ottoman Empire according to the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, signed after the war of 1774. This right gave the Russian Orthodox Church further predominance over the Patriarchate of Constantinople. The document also gave Russia access through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. This privilege was certainly not pleasing to France or England.

Catholic France declared that it wanted to have authority over the Eastern Christians, a decision contradicting a previous agreement that gave Russia the right to protect Christians. The French Catholic Emperor Napoleon III promised support to the Sultan if he were to resist this Russian “aggression.” Stung by the humiliating conditions of the treaty following the Ottoman defeat, the Sultan agreed. Consequently, a new war erupted between the Ottoman Empire and Russia. As promised, France, joined by England, intervened in support of the Sultan to preserve the territorial integrity of his empire.

The protection of holy places and Christians became the source of an international war with several fronts around the Black Sea, including in the Caucasus. The war was eventually lost by Russia, which was then forced to hand over several territories around the Black Sea. As a result, France gained influence in the Holy Lands.

Moscow – Constantinople Competition

World War 1 put an end to both Russian and Ottoman empires. Under the Soviet, religion was undermined, priests were killed and churches destroyed. So, the Russian church found itself in a state of confusion when the Soviet government collapsed. The church was divided and weak. During the final years of the twentieth century, the ROC stabilized and consolidated its power over its canonical territory thanks to the support of the Russian authorities. It also reasserted its stance within the Orthodox Church worldwide. By far the largest in terms of parishioners and with growing wealth, the Russian Orthodox Church overshadowed the patriarch of Constantinople.

The later did not enjoy much freedom under the new Turkish rule. In addition, it had lost jurisdiction in the Balkans in the nineteenth century. Turkish authorities imposed that the Patriarch should be a Turkish citizen, usually of Greek origin, and such candidates are rare. All in all, the Patriarch of Constantinople has been in an increasing difficult position for centuries, and Moscow has proved to be a strong challenger. In 2016, the ROC asked to convene the Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete and not in Istanbul as Turkish authorities had downed a Russian jetfighter deployed for operations in Syria. Based on this security argument, the Council agreed to change location. Nonetheless, local Orthodox churches, namely the Bulgarian Church, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch, and the Serbian and Georgian Orthodox churches refused to participate because of disagreements over the agenda. The ROC suggested solving those issues to guarantee full attendance, even if it meant postponing the Council. Eventually, the disputes were not resolved and the ROC decided to cancel its participation. By so doing, the ROC expressed a defiant message about the role and authority of the Constantinople Patriarchate. Tensions never resolved and the situation in Ukraine added insult to injury in the relation between Constantinople and Moscow.

Moscow – Kiev: rivals once more

Since the mid seventeenth century, Kiev remained largely under the rule of the Tsar and then Soviet Moscow. Ties binding Ukraine and Russia were strong especially in the field of alimentation, industry and energy.

After the end of the Soviet Union, the Western European World and Russia have tried to attract Kyiv into their respective spheres of influence, a game from which Kiyv benefitted. In 2014, the tables turned drastically with the Euromaidan revolution that toppled President Yanukovych.  Incapable of averting Ukraine’s choice of the EU, Moscow was concerned that Ukraine might ally with NATO. Russian authorities treated the situation as a security matter and actively supported the separation of the autonomous region of Crimea and its attachment/annexation to Russia. The situation spiraled out of control and a kinetic conflict erupted in the Donbas, leading to serious readjustments in international affairs.

Against the backdrop of the complex international relations prevailing in the early twenty-first century, interests of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian state have overlapped in Ukraine. The question of religion and allegiance to the Kyiv or Moscow patriarchate has become a matter of identity and call for resistance among some Ukrainians against Russia in 2014. This unfortunate confusion resulted in intra-Orthodox confrontation with the killing of orthodox priests and the destruction of orthodox churches. In a vicious circle, religious and political differences fueled each other.

Many critics have interpreted the positions of the Russian church and the Russian authorities as two sides of the same coin. Consequently, the Russian church became synonymous with Russian interference in Ukraine, and as such the separation as we see it unfolding was almost a fait accompli.

The creation of an autocephalous Ukrainian Orthodox Church is another turn in this fluid relationship between the three historic cities of Constantinople, Kyiv and Moscow. And it is hardly to be the last move…

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Cruelty to Animals Gets More Media Coverage than Beheaded Christians

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– The Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria described the area as “killing fields”, like the ones the Khmer Rouge created in Cambodia to exterminate the population.

– “We are Aramaic people and we don’t have this right to have anyone protect us? Look upon us as frogs, we’ll accept that — just protect us so we can stay in our land”. — Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, home to many of the Christians who fled jihadis, National Catholic Register, April 7, 2017.

– In an era of round-the-clock information… the abominations suffered by Christians have been left without images, while the brutality against the Chinese pig was streamed all over. Christians are an endangered species; pigs are not.

– One of the last Nigerian Christians was executed by an Islamic State child soldier. Slaughterhouses’ workers go on trial in France for abuses to animals. But the same France has already repatriated more than 250 ISIS fighters, the same people who turn Iraqi churches into slaughterhouses.

First there was the beheading of 11 Nigerian Christians during the recent Christmas celebration. The next day, a Catholic woman, Martha Bulus, was beheaded in the Nigerian state of Borno with her bridesmaids, five days before the wedding. Then there was a raid on the village of Gora-Gan in the Nigerian state of Kaduna, where terrorists shot anyone they met in the square where the evangelical community had gathered, killing two young Christian women. There was also a Christian student killed by Islamic extremists who recorded his execution. Then pastor Lawan Andimi, a local leader of the Christian Association of Nigeria, was beheaded.

“Every day”, says Father Joseph Bature Fidelis, of the Diocese of Maiduguri, “Our brothers and sisters are slaughtered in the streets. Please help us not be silent in the face of this immense extermination that is taking place in silence”.

The Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria described the area as “killing fields”, like the ones the Khmer Rouge created in Cambodia to exterminate the population. Most of the 4,300 Christians killed for their faith during the last year came from Nigeria. Nina Shea, an expert in Religious Freedom, recently wrote:

“An ongoing Islamic extremist project to exterminate Christians in sub-Saharan Africa is even more brutal and more consequential for the Church than it is in the Middle East, the place where Christians suffered ISIS ‘genocide’, as the U.S. government officially designated.”

Unfortunately, the murder of these Christians during the last month has been largely ignored by the Western media. “A slow-motion war is under way in Africa’s most populous country. It’s a massacre of Christians, massive in scale and horrific in brutality and the world has hardly noticed”, wrote the French philosopher, Bernard Henri Lévy.

While Christians were murdered in Nigeria, the global media ran a story of a pig being tied up and shoved off a bungee tower at a new theme park in China. The story went viral on BBCThe IndependentThe New York TimesSky NewsDeutsche Welle and many other mainstream media outlets. The Chinese pig got more media coverage than any of these murdered Christians in Nigeria. You often have to search for these martyrs on local African sites. “Pig Bungee Jumping Stunt In China Prompts Global Outcry”, wrote the Huffington Post. Where has been the global outcry for the serial butchering of Christians just because they are Christians?

The killing of a gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo, committed to save a child’s life, triggered more emotion and media coverage than the beheading of 21 Christians on a beach in Libya while they invoked the name of Jesus in Arabic and whispered prayers. ABC, CBS and NBC devoted six times more coverage to the death of one gorilla than they did on the mass execution of Christians.

“The world prefers to worry about pandas rather than about us, threatened with extinction in the land where we were born”, said Nicodemus Daoud Sharaf, the Syrian Orthodox Archbishop of Mosul as well as a refugee in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, home to many of the Christians who fled jihadis. When the Archbishop said that four years ago, it looked as if it were just provocation to shock Western public opinion. But Archbishop Sharaf was right.

The French-Lebanese writer Amin Maalouf also noted “threats to pandas cause more emotion” than threats to Christians. Archbishop Sharaf gave another example:

“In Australia they take care of frogs. One of our Syriac citizens, who’s a builder, bought land, took money from a bank and wanted to build houses and sell them. Then when he wanted to get a certificate to build, in the middle of the land, he came across a hole with eight frogs in it. The government of Sydney told him: ‘You can’t build on this land’. He said: ‘But I’ve taken money from the bank and I must get to work’ and they pushed him to build in another place, making him pay $1.4 million to build a different place for these eight frogs. And yet we are the last people who speak Jesus’ language. We are Aramaic people and we don’t have this right to have anyone protect us? Look upon us as frogs, we’ll accept that — just protect us so we can stay in our land”.

In an era of round-the-clock information on our mobile phones, computers, televisions and social media, the abominations suffered by Christians have been left without images, while the brutality against the Chinese pig was streamed all over. Christians are an endangered species; pigs are not. “The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has several categories to define the danger of extinction that various species face today”, according to Benedict Kiely, the founder of Nasarean.org, which helps the Christians of the Middle East.

“Using a percentage of population decline, the categories range from ‘vulnerable species’ (a 30-50 per cent decline), to ‘critically endangered’ (80-90 per cent) and finally to extinction. The Christian population of Iraq has shrunk by 83 per cent, putting it in the category of ‘critically endangered'”.

If you search for a cover dedicated to this extinction you have to go on the confessional media, such as the British weekly Catholic Herald, which just noted “The end of Iraqi Christianity?” Or the French Catholic media, La Croix, telling the story of Syrian Christians:

“Before the start of the civil war in 2012, 20,000 Assyrians populated the banks of the Khabur, a river that crosses northeastern Syria and flows into the Euphrates. The occupation of part of the region by Isis in 2015 forced the majority into exile. The Khabur is today a dead valley”.

One of the last Nigerian Christians was executed by an Islamic State child soldier. Slaughterhouses’ workers go on trial in France for abuses to animals. But the same France has already repatriated more than 250 ISIS fighters, the same people who turn Iraqi churches into slaughterhouses.

Western media stirred global indignation about Russia’s laws against “homosexual propaganda” prior to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. But the same Western media never protested the Islamist regimes that punish people with the death for converting to Christianity or countries where Christians are threatened with death if they do not convert to Islam.

Mauro Armanino, a priest of the Society for African Missions in Niger, who describes a situation of open genocide, writes:

“The repeated threats to the Christian communities in the border area with Burkina Faso have achieved the aim they set: to decapitate the communities and then fall prey to the fear of professing faith in Sunday prayers in the chapels….On Tuesday, January 14, in a village not far from Bomoanga, which, for over a year, has helplessly witnessed the kidnapping of Father Pierluigi Maccalli, a group of criminals who went to settle the scores with the chief nurse who works in a dispensary in the area, took the nephew from his home and was beheaded. In Bomoanga people no longer go to church on Sunday”.

These persecuted Christians feel more and more alone in a world that sees them as intruders. They are as if suspended in a limbo, between an amnesic and weak West and a rising radical Islam. There seems to be no way to push the Western world to become aware of this tragedy that no one talks about and which could have fatal consequences for the future of our civilization.

“Out of fatigue or shame, or both, we close our eyes”, writes Franz-Olivier Giesbert.

“Does the life of Christians from East, Africa or Asia count for a negligible amount? This is a question that we have the right to ask when we see the place that our dear media give to the killings and discrimination that Catholics and Protestants are subjected to on the planet: nothing or almost nothing, with a few happy exceptions. It is our hypocrisy that feeds the clash of civilizations”.

So, shall we now return to our hypocritical indignation about the cruelty inflicted on Chinese pigs?

From our partner International Affairs

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Give me religion that does not polarise society

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A few years ago in Aceh, a poster was put up by the Islamic Sharia Department in Banda Aceh of the communications and information agency office, stating:

“A woman whose strand of hair is seen deliberately by a man who is not her husband will be punished by 70,000 years in hell. One day in the afterlife is equivalent to 1,000 years in this world. A woman who enters hell will draw in with her two of her menfolk: her father, her brothers, her husband or her son. This is how terrible the punishment is!”

I received a photo of the poster through one of my WhatsApp groups and shared it with friends. One of them, Harry (not his real name), hilariously pointed out the absurdity of it all.

“What? Do radicals see women’s hair as pubic hair, and are hijab underpants for women’s heads?” he asked incredulously, referring to the headcover worn by Muslim women in Indonesia.

Harry added, to his knowledge, there is nothing in the Quran about women’s hair. “What’s written on the poster is a 1,000 percent deviant!” he exclaimed.

It’s also a mind-crushingly asinine, idiotic and imbecilic fantasy based on nothing but an overly fertile, sick and twisted imagination!

Lucky for him, Sinta Nuriyah, the widow of Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid, Indonesia’s fourth president (1999-2001), known for his liberal and often eccentric views, corroborated Harry’s view. Like many respected ulema before her, she stated recently that it was not obligatory for Muslim women to wear hijab. The statement of Bu Sinta, 71, a well-respected figure in the prodemocracy movement, went viral.

Bu Sinta pointed out that she always tries to interpret Quranic verses contextually, not textually. She conceded that many Muslims misinterpret the Quran because it has gone through many interpretations, including by those who have their own personal agenda.

It’s also a matter of deliberate distortion, which has reached alarmingly ridiculous proportions. The poster in Aceh is just one example; there are many others, for example, related to circumcision for girls, child marriage, polygamy, mut’ah (temporary marriage, in fact, thinly veiled prostitution), marital rape, violence against women, notions of halal and haram, prohibition to wish Christians a merry Christmas, the trigger-happy way some Muslims accuse others of being kafir (infidels), teaching kids intolerance, and even the abuse of Islam to protect corruption and to scam people by using (or misusing) the sharia label.

It’s part of what I see as being a three-pronged phenomenon across the nation: one, creeping radicalization and intolerance; two, public duping by distorting Quran verses or just making things up that have no basis at all in sharia, Islamic fiqh (jurisprudence) or hadits (the Prophet’s sayings); and three, a kind of moral panic meant to distract from the real issues people face that obviously differ from region to region.

Remember the Chernobyl nuclear and radiation disaster in 1986 in what was then the Ukraine Soviet Socialist Republic?

The ongoing deliberate distortion and manipulation of Islam by a bunch of ignoramus radicals could be said to be Indonesia’s Chernobyl. In fact it’s worse, because it’s not an accident but deliberately engineered — not just by radicals but also by mainstream politicians taking advantage of it to support their political agenda. Notions of sharia and halal are also being commercialized, where even fridges can be labeled halal.

The “system” — if you can call it that — is rotten to the core. It’s a deliberate fabrication of toxic and evil lies intended to control the minds of many young Indonesian Muslims and turn them into mindless zombie robots that eschew any form of logic or true knowledge of Islam and Islamic history.

Radicals ultimately want Indonesia to become a caliphate. On YouTube, an “influencer” known as Ustad Haikal Hassan, explains that the caliphate system is an ideal political system that we should aim for. Unfortunately, he says that the caliphate concept is not used by Muslims but by Europeans and it is now the basis for the European Union. What?? Talk about being utterly clueless about what both the EU and a caliphate are!

Since the beginning of the Reform Era in 1998, Indonesian Muslims have become more and more conservative, abiding by (mis)interpretations of text rather than going by the spirit of Islam that embodies peace, mutual respect and love.

But now, over 20 years into the Reform Era, I reckon we are now in jahilliyah (age of ignorance) of Islam in Indonesia, which thrives on hypocrisy, greed and ego and power-driven motives. Radicals so easily point their fingers at others accusing them of blasphemy, when in fact it is they who are committing blasphemy — of the worse kind because it’s done with evil intent.

Islam, born in the seventh century, was intended as an “antidote” to Arabia, which was then considered an age of jahiliyah. So, it’s a pretty ironic state of affairs that we have become what we once fought against.

In relation to the pressure to wear a hijab (though many wear it voluntarily), women are starting to fight back. Many now see it as part of the Arabization of Indonesia and of the caliphate-pushing radical agenda.

Late last year, Indiah, a friend who has been wearing the hijab since 2003 after she went on the haj, told me she was planning to unveil herself in 2020.

She is also one of the proponents of the Selasa Berkebaya (Kebaya on Tuesdays) movement, kebaya being a blouse usually worn with a batik sarong, considered the Indonesian traditional costume.

A young progressive ustad known as Gus Miftah (Miftah Maulana Habiburrahman) recounts how his wife now no longer wears the hijab. She wore it for almost three years, especially when accompanying her husband. One day, he suggested that she take it off “to save Indonesia from the raging influence of Arabic culture”.

She was pretty happy about it, as she didn’t wear the veil before marrying him. Gus Miftah is now the only ustad whose wife doesn’t wear a hijab. You can imagine the bullying they both received, but they stood their ground.

In relation to Ibu Sinta, some women activists have respectfully asked: Why doesn’t she take off her headcover, even though it’s not a hijab, but it’s still a headcover. Ayo Bu Sinta, just do it! You’d go triple viral!

Early version published by Jakarta Post under the title: Cover men’s eyes, not women’s hair!

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Religious Harmony exists in Pakistan

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Pakistan is a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-religion society. Diversification is the strength and beauty of democracy. Pakistan has emerged as a mature and responsible state. The leadership in Pakistan is visionary and capable. Pakistan has four provinces with their own identity, many ethnic groups with their own traditions and culture, and several religions with full freedom.

The state religion in Pakistan is Islam, which is practiced by 96.28% of the population. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Pakistani constitution, which established a fundamental right of Pakistani citizens, irrespective of their religion, to equal rights. The remaining 4% practice Hinduism, Christianity, Ahmadis, Sikhism, and other religions.

Christians make up 1.6% of Pakistan’s population, which becomes roughly 4 million. The majority of the Pakistani Christian community consists of Punjabis who converted during the British colonial era and their descendants. Pakistani Christians mainly live in Punjab and in urban centers. There is also a Roman Catholic community in Karachi which was established by Goan and Tamil migrants when Karachi’s infrastructure was being developed by between the two World Wars. A few Protestant groups conduct missions in Pakistan. There are few Orthodox too and some migrated from India.

The number of Churches in Pakistan are in several thousand. Only in Islamabad, which is a small city with a total population of 1 million, and 150 thousand Christians only. There exit around 40 Churches of various sizes. Some of them are quite big while few are small but the majority are well in medium-sized.

It is the season for Christmas, Christians are celebrating it with full religious freedom and enjoying the seasons. While Muslims also enjoy the big sales and discounts offered on the occasion of Christmas and New Year season. It is a festival moot in Pakistan and can be witnessed everywhere.

Christians have played an important role in Pakistan, since the freedom movement, partition of sub-continent and later on in the socio-economic development of Pakistan. Christians have been serving in the high positions of the Government of Pakistan, especially their role in defense services is always lauded. Bagwan Das, a Hindu has served the most powerful post in Pakistan as Chief Justice of Pakistan. Sikhs are serving in the Defense services of Pakistan and contributing a positive role.

All religions are living a peaceful life under the protection of the Pakistani constitution. The Constitution of Pakistan protects the basic right of its citizens irrespective of their religion. However, a soft corner exists for minorities in the Government of Pakistan. The government provides them extra facilitations and concessions in many respect. Just like, extra holidays on their religious festivals like Hindu enjoy an official holiday on Diwali and other important festivals, Sikhs enjoy extra holidays for Besakhi, etc., and Christians enjoy extra holidays on Christmas and Easter, while Muslims do not have such holidays. But minorities also avail the Muslim Holidays equally. 

Some of the Hindu Temples, Gurdawars and Churches are donated or maintained by the Government funding and some of these are built by the Government of Pakistan. Or at least, the land is provided by the Government of Pakistan free of cost. In Islamabad, several Churches were built by Government Funding and handed over to local Christian communities. Of Course, some of the Churches were built under British rule pre-independence. However, the Government of Pakistan provide them funds for repair and maintenance and routine operation, while managed by local Christian communities independently.

There exist several missionary schools and hospitals, where the Christian community get admission on priority and Muslims can be entertained if space is available. In Christian’s localities in Islamabad, the land is provided by the Government of Pakistan free of cost, while utilities like Gas, Water, Sanitation and Electricity is provided on priority.

Pakistan is a country with 96% population Muslim, bans the use of Alcohol, but minorities are exceptions and provided licenses and special quotas.

In the Pakistani educational system, there is a provision for non-Muslims to choose the subjects which suit them and their religion.

Generally speaking there is no discrimination against any religion in Pakistani society and certainly no discrimination officially at all. However, the criminals exist in any religion and culture, in any nation. If some Muslim commit crime against any minority, Pakistani courts provides them justice. Law enforcement agencies are there to provide them full protection. There is so much evidence where Pakistani courts and law has sided with the minorities.

However, some times, few individuals in order to take asylum in the developed world, fabricate fake stories and Western media project such as fake stories. It is understood, that Pakistan is undergoing an imposed hybrid war by the few Western nations and Western media is availing all avenues to coerce Pakistan. But, sensible people can differentiate between fake propaganda and the actual facts on the ground. In fact, Western media is no longer credible, as it is being used as a tool in some of the Government’s hands to achieve their strategic goals only.

The recent opening of Kartarpur Corridor for Sikhs between India and Pakistan, which facilitates 150 Million Sikhs around the World, is a very good example of Pakistan’s vision on religious freedom.

The US puts Pakistan on Watch List of countries which lacks religious freedom, is not less than a joke. It is only an act to put Pakistan under pressure and leveraged while negotiating with Pakistan. While the ground realities are completely opposite. The society is in harmony and living together for 7 decades. Pakistan is country where the degree of freedom is much more than any other country on the world. The US keeps its eyes closed on Indian official discrimination against its minorities, human rights violations in Kashmir, Israel’s brutality in Palestine. and its own act of brutality in Iraq, Libya, Ukraine, Latin America, Syria, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. The discriminatory legislations in the US to bar few countries, based on their religion is worst example of racism.

Trust, ill-motivated–designs of a few Western powers will not succeed and sensible individuals and nations, understands the facts and may not buy fake stories and negative propaganda.

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