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Anger over Saudi anti-Christian fatwah: The Church of England Newspaper, April 13, 2012 p 7. April 18, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Islam, Persecution.
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Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah

Church leaders in India have joined the call made by Catholic and Orthodox leaders in Europe to condemn the call to tear down all Christian churches in the Arabian Peninsula made by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia.

The All Indian Christian Council (AICC) said the comments made by Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah were “bigoted” and “dangerous” for the millions of Christians living Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf states.

Last month the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia told a group of Kuwaiti clerics that it was “necessary to destroy all the churches of the region.”  His remarks came as Kuwait’s parliament began debate over legislation banning the construction of new Christian churches.  Over 3.5 million Christians live in the Arabian Peninsula including one million Filipino Roman Catholics and several hundred thousand members of the Church of South India along with members of other orthodox churches and protestant denominations.

Saudi Arabia forbids Christian worship and its rigorous anti-Christian policing has drawn condemnation from Western governments.  The AICC’s general secretary, John Dayal, called on the Indian government to protect its citizens and for other “civilized countries to ensure that the nations of the Arabian Peninsula clearly reject the Wahhabi imam’s bigoted statement.”

Archbishop Mark of Yegoryevsk, the head of the Moscow Patriarchate’s department for overseas churches called the Saudi sheikh’s statement “alarming, while the Roman Catholic bishops’ conferences of Germany and Austria said the statement by the Saudi sheikh was an unacceptable denial of human rights for the millions of “overseas foreign workers” in the region.

Sharia Court convicts Anglican priest of blasphemy for baptizing Muslims: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 6, January 21, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The All India Christian Council has condemned an indictment issued by a Sharia law court in Kashmir that charges two priests with blasphemy by enticing Muslims to convert to Christianity.

On 11 January 2012 Muslim leaders in the Northern Indian state issued a statement saying that “it was proved beyond doubt that the accused” the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, the Rev Chander Mani Khanna of the Church of North India, “along with other accomplices was luring Muslim people to change their religion.”

A second priest, Fr. Jim Borst, a Roman Catholic missionary who has worked in Kashmir for 46 years, was also charged with converting Muslims to Christianity.

“The Kashmir situation is going through a critical phase and if such elements are not brought to book it will have a serious and negative impact on the (Kashmiri Muslim) society,” the Muslim leaders said.

“It is shocking and surprising that the state government was allowing such activities. Kashmir society will not tolerate such activities at all and we stand united against such elements,” Mufti Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam said.  The sentence from the court would be announced shortly, he added.

On 19 Nov 2011 Mr. Khanna was arrested by the Jammu & Kashmir police on charges of fomenting civil unrest.  He was released on 1 Dec 2011 and has since left the state for fear for his life.

However, Christian leaders have denounced the indictment stating that Sharia courts have no civil standing.  In a statement released on 13 January 2012, the All India Christian Council (AICC) said it was “deeply disturbed” by the Sharia court’s actions.  “Such statements can encourage extremist elements to indulge in violence,” the Council said.

“It was hoped that religious and secular authorities, and the state government, would show maturity and responsibility,” the AICC said, “keeping in view the delicately poised public peace situation” in Kashmir.

The “Church does not accept as genuine any conversion brought about by fraud or force,” the AICC said, noting that a fact finding team which went to Srinagar shortly after the arrest of Mr. Khanna and “interviewed Church personnel, Ulema, school, authorities and the police, found no evidence of force or fraud in baptisms that have been carried out over a period of time. Each baptism has been proved to be voluntary.”

The head of the AICC, Dr John Dayal, said it “devolves on the Jammu and Kashmir Government, religious leaders and people of goodwill in the Kashmir valley to ensure that the nights of minorities are respected, their welfare assured, and communal harmony strengthened in the region which so desperately requires and environment of peace for its development and well being.”

 

Kashmir priest arrested to placate Muslim extremists, report finds: The Church of England Newspaper, December 16, 2011 p 7. December 15, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution.
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The Rev. C.M. Khanna

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Fears of an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists prompted the imprisonment of an Anglican priest in Kashmir, an investigation by the All India Christian Council has found.

In an 8000-word report paper released on 5 Dec 2011, the All India Christian Council stated that the Rev. C.M. Khanna, the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, was arrested to placate Muslim leaders, angered by his baptism of seven young Muslim men.  The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The arrest followed the circulation of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service he conducted for seven Muslim men.  The priest has since been released from prison on bail on 1 Dec, and warned neither to leave the state nor to baptize any more Muslims.

According to the All India Christian Council report, Mr. Khanna had been wary of baptizing Muslims for fear of an agent provocateur seeking to discredit the church.  He had also turned away those who sought financial assistance and offered to convert to Christianity in return for cash.  While Kashmir has no anti-conversion laws, the small Christian community in Srinigar (300 Anglicans and 100 Roman Catholics) has sought to avoid confrontation with the Muslim majority.

However, the seven young men had been attending the church for ten months and displayed “great piety,” Mr. Khanna told investigators. “He was convinced of their motives. But even then, he questioned them and explained the difficulties they could face. They were firm in their new faith and insisted that he baptise them.”

After watching a video of the baptism, the Chief Mufti of Srinigar, Bashir-u-din ordered Mr. Khanna to appear before a Sharia court on 28 Oct.  He interrogated Mr Khanna for six hours and then released, warning him not to baptise anyone else.

The Chief Mufti told the fact finding mission that he had summoned the priest before the court after having received complaints.  “He said by calling their converts’ previous life in Islam in the same breath as shaitan or devil, Rev Khanna had also insulted Islam and had committed a blasphemy to add to the crime of apostasy of the people he had baptized,” the report said.

The mufti waived away the fact finding mission’s observation that religious courts had no legal standing, stating that “the court is a reality and has jurisdiction in the valley, if not in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State.”

“And yet the State government had taken no notice of this development which could have serious repercussions for the state and its religious minorities,” the report noted.

Mr. Khanna’s mistreatment continued after his arrest, as local newspapers printed false stories saying he had paid the young men to convert, and fabricated quotes from the priest that served to inflame public sentiment.  None of the city’s lawyers would agree to act as his counsel, the report noted, and while he was held in jail crowds gathered outside the prison calling for Islamic justice.

While the police stated they had treated Mr. Khanna well and that he had not been tortured, the seven converts were arrested and beaten by the police, who sought confessions that they had been paid to become Christians.  They have since fled the area in fear for their lives.

“We met two of them in Jammu where they are in hiding,” the report said, and “their names are being kept secret because it is feared they may be targeted by both the police and the Islamic groups.”

One of the converts said he “had turned to Christianity after the miraculous healing of his pregnant wife. Both said they had become Christians without any allurement and without any threats, of their own free will, and fully knowing the repercussions of their action.”

The report noted that the “most recent tension against Christians has been brewing since Autumn. Many people told us that some extremist groups and vested interests were planning to use the Christian issue of alleged conversions” as an “issue in their political confrontations with the state government and political parties on the one hand, and with other Islamic groups, specially the moderates, on the other.”

The report said that Islamist extremists were seeking to supplant the traditional Sufi Islam of the region and “were perpetually looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble, stoning on the roads and widespread riots.”

“This is why the government was jittery and would go to any extreme to ward off trouble from the Islamic groups. The arrest of the pastor had to be seen in this light,” the report said, noting the “writ of the government ran only superficially in the Kashmir valley” and Islamic groups could “mobilise the people in highly emotionally charged demonstrations and riots.”

The All India Christian Council called upon the police to drop all charges against Mr. Khanna and to “follow the law, and not allow themselves to be coerced by mobs.”

They also urged the federal government to intervene and “show its commitment to secularism in all parts of the country by acting with alacrity.”

At the same time, “in a hostile environment such as the Kashmir valley, Christian priests, pastors, NGOs and religious workers must tread cautiously les they infringe unwritten rules and cross invisible lines in social interaction.”