Tag: Bangladesh

UK Foreign Office hosts global summit on freedom of religion or belief

“Religious freedom can counter violent extremism” was the key message at a two-day global conference held at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) last week.


The UK Foreign Office hosted a summit exploring how religious freedom prevents extremism, Oct. 2016. FCO

The conference explored ways to build resilience against extremism and identified opportunities for collaboration.

More than 50 expert speakers and over 170 participants from 38 countries met in London ahead of International Religious Freedom Day on 27 Oct.

The FCO, which is responsible for safeguarding the UK’s national security, stated that “extremism is the biggest security challenge of our age and a significant barrier to global prosperity, development, peace and stability”.

‘Most powerful tool’ to fight extremism


Baroness Anelay addresses summit, Oct. 2016.

Baroness Joyce Anelay, the Minister for Human Rights at the FCO, said: “Freedom of religion or belief is one of our most powerful tools in the fight against extremism. That is why freedom of religion is so important, and directly relevant to the fight against extremism.

“If we value others, regardless of what – if any – religion they follow, and if we teach our children to do the same, we also give them the tools to reject intolerance. If we lay the foundations for open, equal and plural societies, then we also build communities resilient to extremism; communities where everyone has the intellectual independence to resist hateful ideologies, religious or otherwise.”
The conference heard a first-hand account of the consequences of religious intolerance from a Christian gospel singer from the east-African country of Eritrea who was imprisoned in a metal shipping container for nearly three years because of her faith. Helen Berhane, who was arrested in 2003, described her incarceration as “very harsh”. She was tortured and kept in solitary confinement with little food and air. “Even now when I see a container I imagine [the imprisonment] for 32 months,” she told the BBC.

Berhane’s home of Eritrea isn’t alone in restricting religious freedom. Countries like China, Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, Iran, Burma, Bangladesh and North Korea are also variously accused by human rights organisations. Each of these countries appears in the annual World Watch List of the 50 most difficult places to live as a Christian, published by the charity, Open Doors.

‘The basic human right’

Freedom of religion, many argued, constitutes the basic human right. “In 74% of countries, there are violations of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is the right to believe, not to believe or to change your belief,” said religious freedom campaigner Lord David Alton, who spoke about why a knowledge of religion is vital to understanding today’s world. Violation of Article 18, he added, leads to genocide, persecution and discrimination.”

A key reason for championing religious freedom, the conference heard, is that it provides the best means of challenging erroneous, potentially dangerous interpretations of faith that can lead to violence.

“One of the most amusing and depressing things you hear from people involved in terrorist activity here is the level of religious illiteracy that they have,” said Raffaello Pantucci, Director of International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. “I can give you a long list of quite amusing stories of individuals who would go off to Syria with a copy of Islam for Dummies,” he said, suggesting how little they knew of the religion they were going to fight for.

David Saperstein, US Ambassador for International Religious Freedom, said: “If there are extremist ideas out there, religious freedom empowers more responsible voices to confront those extremist voices.”

Religions must ‘expel’ violent extremism

Few religions are immune from misrepresentation, said Professor Thomas Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown University. “Every religion has had some violent extremism, but every religion has to expel it,” he said. “And today … in my view, the biggest threat is Islamist extremism. Muslims need religious freedom to expel this from their midst. They are prevented from doing so by laws that keep them silent.”


Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyeh at the FCO summit, Oct 2016.

Farr’s opinion was supported by Sheikh Abdallah Bin Bayyeh, President of the Forum for Peace and Understanding in Muslim Societies, based in the United Arab Emirates. Speaking to the BBC through an interpreter, he said: “Nietzsche said civilisations get sick, and this analogy is appropriate because the Muslim civilisation has become ill. What I’m attempting to do is diagnose that illness and treat from within the tradition itself so that Muslim civilisation can become well again… The treatment is a proper reading of the [Islamic] text and an understanding of the aims and imports of the texts themselves. Therefore, human flourishing; therefore peace. And so religious literacy is very important in understanding the purpose.”
Canon Sarah Snyder, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, said: “Many of the states troubled by violent extremism are deeply religious societies… The cooperation of faith leaders is vital to the building of inclusive, plural and peaceful societies.”

She argued that leaders aren’t just Imams, Bishops, Muftis and Chief Rabbis, but ordinary people of faith who have established their moral authority in a community. This is particularly true of women, she said, who “are often seen as the victims of violence, but [also] they are on the front line of peace-building. Women are the ones who, in every single community that’s facing conflict, are leading peace initiatives. They are the first people to spot early warning signs of a shift in that community; they are usually the first people to try and change the negative shifts, and they are tackling extremism with their own young people and their own communities. So we need to see the women as agents of change, not just as victims.”

Source: World Watch Monitor

Cairo bishop urges Church to be ready for martyrdom

by Jayson Casper

A senior Anglican archbishop from the Global South called for the Church to be “ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Christ” in the face of persecution, restrictions, terrorism, and violence carried out in the name of religion


Archbishop Mouneer Anis. Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Cente

Archbishop Mouneer Anis of Cairo was addressing archbishops and bishops from some of the most difficult places in the world in which to practise the Christian faith: Sudan, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, Southern Africa, West Africa, Indian Ocean, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and South East Asia.

More than 100 delegates also discussed the importance of ecumenical and inter-faith dialogue. Guests at the opening session included representatives of the Vatican, Coptic Orthodox Church and Al Azhar University in Cairo, the seat of Sunni learning.


Al Azhar representative Saeed Amer. Michael Adel, Bridges Cultural Center.

The leaders of the Anglican Communion’s Global South (the world’s third largest Christian denomination, after the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches) – which is home to 72 per cent of the worldwide Anglican population, or about 62 million people – discussed critical challenges facing them, including poverty, the refugee crisis and religious violence.

Archbishop Anis said the Church in the Global South had many challenges and weaknesses, and highlighted the prevalence of disease and “polygamy, tribalism, corruption, and harsh treatment of women”, as well as “false teaching” of the prosperity gospel, and the teaching of the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.

He also warned of an “ideological slavery” resulting from “some Western churches and organisations using their wealth and influence to push their own agendas in the Global South”. He continued: “We need to be aware of this, and resist all kinds of slavery, whether financial or ideological”, or else face “cultural defeat and captivity”.

While the archbishop and other speakers stressed fidelity to the teachings of Christ and criticised provinces they accused of departing from them, Anis added: “We cannot continue to focus on the faults of others while neglecting the needs of our own people.”

A former Bishop of North Africa, Bill Musk, noted that North African Christians were persecuted in the early centuries of Christianity as they are now, and said unity was vital to withstand such challenges. A communiqué from the talks reported: “The Arab invasions eventually overwhelmed the Church [in North Africa], but the seeds of its demise were sown long before.”

Bishop Emeritus Musk also praised the fifth-century Council of Carthage, which took place in what is now Tunisia, at which it was decided that no diocese had the right to discipline leaders in another, despite a deep cultural divide within the Church. Bishop Musk described the Church at that time as being riven between a Latin elite that advocated a compassionate response to Christians who denied their faith under persecution, and local Berbers, who insisted upon faithfulness to Christianity until death.

Speakers at the conference emphasised the Church’s North African heritage, challenging the view of the Church as a foreign imposition foisted on Europe’s former colonies. American Canon Dr. Ashley Null, highlighted the “deep dependence” of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, one of the architects of Anglicanism, on St. Augustine, whose bishopric of Hippo lies in modern-day Algeria.

Dr. Null, who is writing a five-volume study of the private theological notebooks of Archbishop Cranmer, noted that “in his day, Augustine was derided as the son of a Berber who spoke Latin with an African accent”.

On the second day of the conference, the bishops had a 90-minute audience with President Fatah Al-Sisi, who told them Egypt was keen to guarantee freedom of belief and worship for all its citizens. Egypt’s Coptic Christians have complained of targeted attacks worsening again this year.

(Bishops from North America and Australia joined the six-day conference (3-8 Oct.) in the Egyptian capital. Four bishops from the UK, including the Bishop of Durham Paul Butler, were there as guests, with the knowledge of the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby).

Source:World Watch Monitor

ISIS Claims Responsibility for Murder of Bangladeshi Man Who Reportedly Converted to Christianity

By Heather Clark

Bangladesh-compressedJHENAIDAH, Bangladesh — The barbaric Islamic group ISIS, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, has claimed responsibility for the murder of a Bangledishi man who reportedly converted to Christianity from Islam.

“Soldiers of the caliphate were able to eliminate the apostate, named ‘Samir al-Din’, by stabbing him with a knife,” the SITE Intelligence Group reported on Thursday.
According to reports, the 85-year-old man was a homeopathic doctor who preached the gospel following his conversion in 2001. He is stated to have led nearly 500 people to Christ.

“He was devoted to preaching Christianity. That’s why the militants killed him,” Harun-or-Rashid of One Way Church told BD News 24.
However, al-Din’s son claims that his father never converted and that he prayed five times a day toward Mecca.
One Way Church disagrees, stating that he was just “in a meeting of the church at Gopinathpur village on Jan 3” and that he had told others that his life was in danger.

“The local church has shown us papers confirming his conversion to Christianity in 2001. But family members have told us that he used to offer prayers as a Muslim,” Mohammad Azbahar Ali Shaikh, a superintendent of police, told Benar News in confirming that there are conflicted reports over al-Din’s religion.

al-Din was found on Thursday lying in a coffin-like structure with blood on his chest and an injury to his hand. He is believed to have been stabbed while working at his homeopathic practice.

While police have doubts that ISIS was responsible for the murder, they have strongly condemned the attack.
“We have been providing maximum protection to all minorities. We will do whatever necessary to crush the militants in Bangladesh,” Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters.

As previously reported, Bangladeshi Christians have been on edge over the threat Muslim attacks in recent months, including reports of actual violence, such as the story of Luke Sarker, 52, who suffered minor injuries after he was knifed by three Islamic men who came to his home pretending to want to learn more about Christianity.
“Christians are certainly sensing a ‘heightened’ security risk,” Bruce Allen of Forgotten Missionaries International (FMI) told reporters last month.

Source: Christian News

Italian priest shot in Bangladesh by gunmen

Attack on priest riding bicycle in northern city of Dinajpur is latest targeting foreigners blamed on Islamic militants


Troops guard the Bangabandhu national stadium before a World Cup qualification match, in Dhaka on Tuesday. Security has been tightened in the city since the Paris attacks. Photograph: Stanley Chou/Getty Images

An Italian priest is fighting for his life in northern Bangladesh after being shot and seriously wounded by unidentified gunmen.

The attack today is the latest in a series targeting foreigners in the country, which have been blamed on Islamic militant groups including Islamic State.

The priest, identified only as Piero, was riding his bicycle in the northern city of Dinajpur when gunmen on a motorbike shot him several times at close range before fleeing, a police inspector said.

It was unclear who was responsible. The attack comes after an Italian aid worker was shot dead in September and a Japanese farmer was killed days later in Dhaka, the capital. Isis claimed responsibility for both attacks.
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The Bangladesh government has repeatedly denied the group was behind the attacks, saying there is “no presence of [Isis] militancy” in the Muslim-majority country and blaming local opposition political parties.

Western intelligence services and governments, however, fear Isis and other international extremist organisations are gaining a foothold in the poor, chaotic nation.

Bangladesh is also reeling from a series of murders of secular bloggers and a publisher of secular books, attacks claimed by a local banned hardline Islamic militant group thought to be linked to al-Qaida.

However, there has been several violent disputes between Christians and Muslims in recent months in the area where the shooting occurred, and it is possible that the attackers had purely local motivations. Many were linked to land disputes.

Cities across south Asia are on high alert after the events in Paris last week, where Isis terrorists killed more 129 people. The methods used by the gunmen in Dinajpur resembled the group’s previous attacks against foreigners.

“It was a planned attack,” said Ruhul Amin, chief of Dinajpur police. “It was a continuation of the attacks being perpetrated across the country.”

Tarun Kanti Halder, director of the hospital treating the priest said his condition was stable but it could deteriorate. “Piero has nasal fractures which could lead to internal bleeding. His eyelid has also been badly bruised,” Halder said. A bullet is believed to have slipped past his head but it did not penetrate.

The priest, who is in his 60s, had been working as a doctor at a Catholic mission in Dinajpur for some time, according to another priest, Anthony Sen, who lives in the city.

Sen said Piero had been riding a bicycle at about 8am when three attackers shot him at close range.

Source: The Guardian

Mob burns down Catholic homes in Bangladeshi village

By Antuni David, Panchagarh
November 9, 2015

Four Catholic families in northern Bangladesh had a narrow escape when a group of Muslims burned down their homes, accusing the families of witchcraft.


The remains of homes belonging to Catholics after a mob allegedly set fire to them on Nov. 5. (Photo by Antuni David)

The families were attacked early on Nov. 5 in Kamarpara, in Panchagarh district.

They say a Muslim mob tried to lock them inside their houses before setting them on fire.

The attack was sectarian and followed a long campaign of abuse against them, they said.

“For more than a year, Muslim youths from a neighboring village accused us of practicing witchcraft and told us to leave the village. They abused us in public and threw bricks at our houses,” said Ramni Das, 57, who lost two houses in the attack.

“They wanted to kill us by burning us alive, but we managed to escape. We have lost everything,” said Das, a cane worker.

Neighbors came to their rescue and pulled them from the burning buildings, he said.

Das has filed a complaint with local police against seven people over the attack. Police have yet to make any arrests.

Local police officials say they are investigating the alleged attack.

“The suspects … have fled the area. We are helping to mediate for compensation,” said Dinabandhu Nath, a local police official.

Ainul Islam, a local Muslim shopkeeper and the uncle of one of the accused, said his nephew was being falsely accused.

“I know some youths including my nephew have had problems with Christians, but I don’t think they were behind the arson attack,” he said.

Abul Hosssain, chairman of the union council, a local government body, expressed shock over the arson attacks.

“Personally, I know the victims to be good people. For the past year, I have tried to calm the situation and have publically said the witchcraft accusations were false, but I didn’t think things would reach such an extreme,” said Hossain.

“We are trying to resolve the matter without the need of a court case, so that Hindus, Muslims and Christians can live peacefully in the future.”

There are some 300 Catholics in Karmarpara who were once from the Hindu Ksatriya (warrior) caste. They embraced Christianity decades ago, but say they are often exploited and abused by Muslims due to their poor socioeconomic status.

Local church officials say they are providing aid to the families.

“We are also working with local leaders to seek legal action against the attackers,” said Father Prodip Marnadi, assistant parish priest at the Fatima Rani Catholic Church.