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Pressure on the Serbian Orthodox Church in Montenegro

Slavisha Batko Milacic

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The Montenegrin Government adopted a draft law on May 16 that included a register of all religious objects, for which they claim that they were formerly owned by the independent kingdom of Montenegro before it become part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes in 1918. The new law states that religious communities may only retain ownership of their property if they have clear evidence of ownership, triggering accusations from Serbian Orthodox Church that the Government plans to dispute the Church’s property.

”If there is no such evidence, it is a matter of property created and acquired by the state of Montenegro and represents the cultural heritage of all its citizens,” the draft says. Such property will be listed as a cultural treasure, that is, as state property of Montenegro.

On June 8 at the election conference of the Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) in Niksic, Party President Milo Djukanovic said that the Serbian Orthodox Church (SPC) is trying to protect the “big Serbia infrastructure“. Djukanovic also accused the Serbian Orthodox Church, whose members constitute the overwhelming majority of Christians in Montenegro, of hindering the European ambitions of society, and of trying to keep the religious monopoly in the country. Previously, Djukanovic had declared that like Ukraine, Montenego will ask for the autocephaly of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, which is not recognized.

According to him, in the Balkans, as well as in Montenegro, there is still a difficult struggle between the two policies – one that the DPS and Montenegro lead, which is the Europeanization of this area, and the other that tries to conserve the state of the lagging behind of the Balkans. Although, as he pointed out, they did a lot on the building of Montenegrin identity, there was another important step, which is to “correct the serious injustice” done at the beginning of the 20th century and the abolition of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. He suggested that he would work devotedly to the reconstruction of the Montenegrin Orthodox Church, whether somebody like it or not, as well as to guarantee a real but not formal freedom of religion.

„We will not formally ensure that people can pray to God but only in those churches that will be monopolized by them, in this case, the Serbian Orthodox Church. No, it’s not the freedom of religion. We will fight for the freedom of religion and the separation of the church from the state. We will not allow contemporary Montenegro to live under the dictation of a religious organization that represents the relic of the past and which can hardly understand that it has long since passed and that Montenegro, like Serbia and all the societies in the Western Balkans, have the right to its own consistent European future, “said Montenegrin president.

Metropolitan Amfilohije of Montenegro and the Littoral (Serbian Orthodox Church) was shocked by the statement of the Montenegrin president.

“I was stunned by what I heard from the President of Montenegro, the man who is the successor of the communist Government and who publicly declare himself as an atheist. On the other hand, he complains that the church should not interfere in politics, and he tries to be the head of the church, to create its own church. This is the first time in history that an atheist creates a church”.

In a previous interview with the news agency TASS, Metropolitan Amfilohije recalled that the project of the so-called “Montenegrin Church” emanated from the communist rule, already in the years 1970-1980. The Metropolitan mentioned that “the Montenegrin Church” is not recognized by anyone, except by the Ukrainian schismatics: “The only one who has recognized this “Church of Montenegro” is [Filaret] Denisenko. Now, they hope that Constantinople will recognize them, but this is absolutely impossible because Dedeic, who is at the head of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church, was a priest of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in Rome, and was laicized because of his crimes. So there can be no such recognition”.

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Irinej warned Montenegrin President Djukanovic that his actions might lead to a formal curse, or anathema, being declared.

“Let God give him the mind to think what he is doing, and not deserve the anathema of the whole Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church,” Patriarch Irinej told a Church TV station Hram(Temple).

Serbian Orthodox Church is the largest denomination in multi-ethnic Montenegro, but its relations with the pro-Western Government have always been poor. The Government considers Serbian Orthodox Church hostile to the independence of the country, and generally as too pro-Serbian and pro-Russian. The story of the so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church lasts for almost three decades and has had several development phases. In the first phase, at least officially, its initiators in the first half of the 90s of the 20th century were some separatist political parties and quasi-cultural and scientific organizations. However, when Djukanovic strengthened power in 1997, with the support of the West, it began with the change of the historical identity of Montenegro. Then, in the old capital of Cetinje, the clergy of the Serbian Orthodox Church were attacked. The Serbian Orthodox Church easy overcame that first extreme blow in the late 1990s and early 2000s, because, apart from the old capital of Cetinje, the Serbian Orthodox Church was the most important institution in all other cities in Montenegro. The same situation is today.

In line with that Montenegrin regime now started with another tactic. They realized that in spite of strong pressure, the people in Montenegro did not accept the Montenegrin Orthodox Church. That is why the Montenegrin Government decided to take away the temples from the Serbian Orthodox Church and register them as a state property. After that, Montenegrin Government will make appointments for service in the temples for Serbian and Montenegrin Orthodox Church. And then the ruling party will force their party membership to go to the service, when it serves Montenegrin Orthodox Church.  

Western centers of power supported Milo Djukanovic in 1997 and 1999 against Slobodan Milosevic. He was allowed to win the presidential election with various non-democratic methods, and finally in 2006 to make a referendum for separation from Serbia. The referendum was held in a totally irregular atmosphere. Djukanovic is the wildcard of the West who has agreed, to keep Milo Djukanovic in power to change the traditional Serbian/Slavic – Orthodox identity into Montenegrin, Roman Catholic and Western identity. Serbian identity of Montenegro, has already been broken through decades of Yugoslav communist rule which made a strong promotion of Montenegrin nation. As a result, state with a completely new and artificial identity was created.

The only missing link is the Montenegrin church. This is where the global conflict of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is happening. The so-called Montenegrin Orthodox Church openly expresses sympathy for the Catholic Church. If the project of the Government of Montenegro and the West were to pass, Serbian Orthodoxy would be pushed from the Adriatic. That would be the strongest blow to Serbia and Republic of Srpska. It is not pretentious to say that the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church, the historical nation and institution of Montenegro came to the red line of survival of their identity, beyond which there is no further withdrawal.

 From our partner International Affairs

Slavisha Batko Milacic is a historian and independent analyst. He has been doing analytics for years, writing in Serbian and English about the situation in the Balkans and Europe. Slavisha Batko Milacic can be contacted at email: varjag5[at]outlook.com

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Religion

Hajj In The Age Of Coronavirus

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The Hajj pilgrimage is one of the pillars of Islam, required of those who are able and have the financial capacity.  Eid al Adha celebrations follow Hajj and this year Eid fell on July 31.  It is the second of the two major holidays for Muslims and is often called the festival of sacrifice.

Families purchase an animal usually a goat or sheep for the ritual.  The meat is shared with family and friends but mostly distributed to the poor.  There is a strong undercurrent of social welfare in Islam placing a burden on the haves to look after the needs of the have-nots.

This year the coronavirus has caused havoc with the Hajj economy.  It’s roots go deep.  Mecca was always a city of pilgrimage possessing as it did the idols of pre-Islamic gods.  Traders and merchants were wary of Islam which was notably severe on idolatry.  Needless to say, the Hajj soon placated their fears.

Now for the first time in its history, the coronavirus has done what wars could not:  it has restricted Hajj.  Saudi Arabia has closed its borders to Hajj pilgrims.  Even residents have had to fill application forms from which about 10,000 have been selected.  Compare the figure to the two million usual Hajj pilgrims and one gets an extent of the loss for organizers, accommodation and transportation providers (for the Hajj is a peripatetic ritual), etc.   The loss to Mecca and Medina is estimated at around $10 billion.  A sizable hit and when added with other ravages of the coronavirus yields a rough estimate of a 4 percent contraction in the Saudi economy.

Among the worst hit are the travel firms in the pilgrims’ own countries.  Many of these companies specialize in Hajj travel earning in a couple of months enough to sustain them and their workers for the year.  For them, the future looks bleak.  It’s tough also for the sheep and cattle farmers in surrounding countries as far away as Kenya.  They raise livestock to export for sacrifice at Eid al Adha but absent demand prices have crashed. 

If Eid prayers were a jam-packed, shoulder to shoulder event, no longer in the age of social distancing.  And somehow the ritual of stoning the devil (the three pillars at Mina) seems to lose its impact under a greatly diminished quantity of stones from thinned out throwers.

Well, such has been this year’s pilgrimage.  A socially distanced Hajj that included in addition to the stoning a socially distanced circuiting of the Kaaba in the Grand mosque — absent of course the energy and emotion crowds spontaneously generate.

Hajj and its Eid are over, sanitized and played safe by Saudi Arabia.  And cold, scientific rationality ruled.  Is there a lesson there somewhere?

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Forced Conversions in Pakistan

Palwasha Binte Inam

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Pakistan has failed to comply with its international obligations to protect non-Muslim girls from exploitation by powerful groups and criminal elements – forced conversions are a norm in the Islamic state. Even worse is the psychological impact on families of minorities who worry when their daughters venture out, and the culture of intolerance that is promoted when leaders like Mian Mithu celebrate another ‘forceful conversion’ and marriage as a victory for the Muslim faith in the local community. It sends an awful message to our most vulnerable people — that their girls are not safe.

Statistics in this regard are alarming. A 2014 report by the Movement for Solidarity and Peace (MSP) says about 1,000 women in Pakistan are forcibly converted to Islam every year. According to Amarnath Motumal, the vice-chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, every month, an estimated 20 or more Hindu girls are abducted and converted. However, exact figures are impossible to gather. In 2014 alone, 265 legal cases of forced conversion were reported mostly involving Hindu girls. According to the National Commission of Justice and Peace and the Pakistan Hindu Council (PHC), around 1000 Christian and Hindu minority women are converted to Islam and then forcibly married off to their abductors or rapists. This practice is being reported increasingly in the districts of Tharparkar, Umerkot, and Mirpur Khas in Sindh.

To some of us these maybe just stories and incidents, however its disturbing that our country has failed to protect minorities. It’s the tragedy of our society that the media is not free. It is in the strong shackles of the influential people in our country, and when such incidents occur, media only highlight it for a few days and then it all goes in vain. To us, these are just statistics, but in reality, these are the number of families who faced these bummers.

From the distressing story of Reena and Raveena to the heart-rending story of 18-year-old Radha Hindu community was never granted justice, they are never satisfied with the rulings of the court. Forced conversions of young girls is an emotive issue in the Hindu community of Sindh. Those accused claim that young love is being misrepresented by the community, the media and activists. But those who know the whole truth often do not speak.

These are not just “forceful conversions” by the ordinary people, but it’s proper propaganda by the influential people of that region. Mian Mithu, a former PPP member of the National Assembly, is infamous for his involvement in cases of alleged forced conversions. In 2015, when Imran Khan asked MianMithu to join (PTI), the PTI chairman faced so much backlash from the Hindu community that he had to distance himself from the pir.

The PPP had earlier denied MianMithu a ticket when he first came under the spotlight in 2012 because of accusations of forcefully converting a Hindu girl, Rinkle Kumari. He is the pir of the shrine Bharchundi Sharif. However, Mianmitthu turned down all the allegations and said, “In the past 200 years, not a single Hindu has been converted to Islam forcibly,” he claimed. “All those men, women, girls and boys, whether they belong to the Hindu community or any other community, come to us to change their religion out of their own choice. They are not forced to convert.”

But if we notice the head of the communities who are facing these condemnable threats reject Mian’s statements, and they are convinced that everything they are facing is due to these influential people. Makheja mukhiya of Hindu community stated, “Once a girl is raped; she is blackmailed into giving whatever statement they want to be recorded in the court.” Supposedly speaking from his own experience of handling dozens of such cases. He questioned why it is Hindu girls alone who are so eager to change their religion and elope. Why aren’t Hindu boys, who enjoy more social independence than the girls, doing the same?

Makheja, who himself comes from a wealthy upper-caste Hindu family, says that the most unfortunate thing is that their community is being pushed around and cornered although they have lived in Sindh for generations.

The statement of Ameet Kumar who is a social rights activist and mukhiya (chief) of the local Hindu community in Daharki, aches one’s heart: “When a mother gives birth to a daughter in our community, we feel fear.”

The government took the steps, but no pragmatic change has come.

On October 10, 2019, Huma Masih, a 14-year-old girl, was forcibly abducted from her home by Abdul Jabbar, a Muslim man who then compelled her to convert to Islam under duress before marrying her. Either these steps were not concrete, or it lacked implementation or the steps were against the mafia, and influential people and the government failed to make them accountable.

Finally, it may be concluded that social and economic disparities are stark. It is a particularly inegalitarian society, where a few individuals enjoy a privileged status and the impunity that goes with it. In contrast, others have to struggle for even their fundamental rights to be recognized. There is an extreme proselytizing zeal among the local clergy to bring non-Muslims into the fold of the dominant faith. To convert someone is perceived as a pious deed that will bring rewards in the hereafter, no matter the method employed to execute the conversion. Clerics like MianMitho from Ghotki and Ayub Jan Sarhandi from Samaro, to name a few, have become veritable symbols of conversion in Sindh.

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Relentless Debate on Forced Conversions

Ghulam Nabi Abbasi

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Forced conversion is the illegal conversion of a person from one religion to another religion in duress, force, threat and without free consent. The victims of the forced conversion, are mostly the low-caste Hindu girls, are abducted, then trapped in love and then got married with the Muslim men in the seminaries / Madrassas.

The relentless debate on the forced conversions has been in the limelight throughout the Country across the decades. The forced Conversion bill was placed in 2016 and sadly it was effectively blocked by the mobilization of the Islamist groups and parties. A group of Ulema, including the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII) met with Dr. Abdul Qayyum Soomro, the chief minister’s special assistant on religious affairs, on December 5th 2016, and termed the bill against the basic principles of Islam. 7 Religious parties in Karachi launched a campaign against the bill in order to pressurize the Sindh government into repealing it. The JI argued that there could be no age limit on people converting to Islam. Maulana Tahir Ashrafi, of the Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), opposed the idea of age limits on conversions. Religious Parties threatened to lay siege to the Sindh Assembly if the legislature did not repeal the bill. JI leader Advocate Asadullah Bhutto claimed that there had not been a single case of a forced conversion in Sindh. When the chief of JI, Sirajul Haq, called PPP co chairperson Asif Ali Zardari the PPP-led government quickly announced that it would make amendments to the law.

The case study of the two Hindu sisters Reena and ravina meghwar underage girls from Ghotki district of the Sindh were illegally converted and enticed by two Muslim men who were already married and had children. Those underage girls after their conversion into Islam, they are prevented to meet their families once they get married with the Muslim men. 

This case has depicted the illegal conversions discriminate the laws protecting their rights like Pakistan is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which states that the right to freedom of religion includes the right to change one’s religion and that no one shall be subject to coercion to change their religion. The Hindu Marriages Act was passed in 2017 to regulate their marriages but they could not avail benefit from that act and its implementation is zero. Many of the Hindu conversions violate Sections 3 and 4 of the Sindh Child Marriages Restraint Act 2013, which sets 18 years as the minimum marriage age.

Every year 1000 girls are converted into Islam forcibly as per the report of South-Asia Partnership, Aurat Foundation and Human Rights Commission of Pakistan. The hotspots for these conversions are Thar, Umarkot, Ghotki and Jacobabad where these so called conversions take place in large amount. People Convert due to their financial conditions It identified the landlords, extremists and weak local courts are working together to perpetuate this menace rather than defeating the discrimination against the minority groups.

Haris Khalique the writer and General Secretary of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan postulated the scenario these conversions transpire the economic deprivation and patriarchy. Most of these girls come from the scheduled caste and the men they marry are financially better off and that become power dynamic.

Ironically, Pakistan is signatory to the international covenant on Civil and Political Rights and has ratified the (CEDAW) convention on elimination of discrimination against women which clearly envisages that women can enter into marriage with their free consent, but the present scenario in Pakistan shows the ugly side of the picture.

On the whole, the Government has to lay an embargo on the proselytization by approving the bill and implement it widely across the country so that the individuals from the minority and scheduled castes feel secure at their places. Besides, the government has to end this limitless debate of forced conversions by ensuring the equal rights to the religious minorities according to Constitution of Pakistan 1973.

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