In a move to position itself as the intellectual centre of the Muslim world, Turkey has announced plans to open an Islamic university similar to Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the oldest and most respected centre of Islamic learning. The head of the Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs Mehmet Gormez has put forth plans to transform the private 29 Mayis University into an International Islamic university which will rival Al-Azhar. Turkey’s relations with Egypt have soured since the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from power in 2013. Ankara lost prestige when the Egyptian revolution swept away Mohammad Morsi, a protégé of Turkish President Erdogan. 

Opening its own Islamic university suggests that President Erdogan’s goal is to de-legitimize Egypt’s religious credentials by making them Turkey’s own. Michael Rubin, Middle East specialist at the American Enterprise Institute said “The move to build an Islamic seminary is part of a trend in Turkey of viewing itself as the once and future spiritual leader of the Muslim world. Prime Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, spoke enthusiastically of Turkey regaining the power it held as the Ottoman Empire. For six centuries, the Ottoman Empire controlled all of Eastern Europe to the Arabian Peninsula whilst claiming direct spiritual descent from the prophet Mohammad. 

The Turkish attempt to compete with Al-Azhar is not about spreading Islam, but rather has a political goal. It wishes to restore its glorious past as the caliphate state. Ankara’s announcement comes amid years of stonewalling for Turkey’s Christians to build their own seminaries which have been impossible for Turkey’s Christians to realize over the decades. Turkey has held out the possibility of re-opening Halki Seminary for years. But Erdogan has made that contingent on two conditions: the Greek government not interfere with its Muslim citizens choosing their own mufti; and Turkey being allowed to renovate two Athens mosques from the Ottoman era. 

Any Christian citizen among Turkey’s Armenian, Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant minorities who wants to receive a seminary education must study abroad. The high cost of education abroad as well as limited participation due to language restrictions are recurrent problems. Turkish Protestants have few options for theological education. They either learn informally from a pastor in their church, attend Turkish-language theology seminars abroad, or get formal training in English in the West. Only a handful of Turkey’s approximately 50 Protestant pastors have a formal seminary education, due to the language barrier and high costs.

Umut Sahin, General Secretary of the Association of Protestant Churches said “The situation will change only if religious communities apply to the Constitutional Court of Turkey and the European Court of Human Rights to seek judicial remedies. No group has opened such a lawsuit.” Analysts say there is no hope of displacing  Al-Azhar, as the global centre of Muslim scholarship. The move is about Erdogan’s ego rather than the nation. “It’s less that Turkey sees itself as the premier Muslim state, and more that President  Erdogan sees himself as a new Sultan, or Caliph,” said Rubin. “Erdogan wants to make himself leader of the Islamic world.” 

Turkey has been on a 12 year building binge of mosques since the AKP began its rule. Some 17,000 mosques have opened in the last decade, increasing the country’s total to 93,000. They are all funded by the government. All imams receive their salary from the state. Critics of Turkey’s president say his recent moves to reinforce the AKP’s Islamist agenda have tarnished Erdogan’s image as a Muslim  reformer—that he is drawing mosque and state dangerously close together. “Erdogan has said he wants to raise a religious generation and he means it. He is simply Khomeini in a suit, and we forget that at our peril” Rubin said.

Source: World Watch Monitor

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The Canadian Supreme Court has reversed a decision it made in 1993 to ban physician-assisted suicide thus putting Canada amongst a handful of Western countries where the practice will be legal. The top court said mentally competent, consenting adults who have intolerable physical or psychological suffering from a severe and incurable medical condition have the right to a doctor’s help to die. The illness does not have to be terminal. The decision takes effect in 12 months. The decision rejected the argument by the Canadian  government that the ban should remain intact. The case related to two women with debilitating illnesses who have since died. 

Gloria Taylor, an activist who had a neuro-degenerative disease, joined the lawsuit in 2011 and died of her illness in 2012. The family of a second woman, Kay Carter, who travelled to Switzerland to end her life, was also a plaintiff. Assisted suicide is legal in Switzerland, along with Belgium, Luxembourg the Netherlands and a handful of U.S. states. Canada’s Supreme Court ruled against assisted suicide in 1993. It agreed last year to take another look. The sole judge left on the court from the last time is Beverley McLachlin, now chief justice, and she supported assisted suicide then. 

The Canadian government said it would study the decision and gave no indication whether it would oppose it. The 9-0 ruling was the latest defeat for the government before the Supreme Court, where the prime minister has sought to appoint more conservative judges. Harper has appointed seven of the nine judges since taking office in 2006. Last year, the court blocked Harper’s plans to introduce elections to the Senate and term limits for senators. In 2013, it struck down Canada’s restrictions on adult prostitution as unconstitutional, over the government’s objections. Both decisions were unanimous. 

The Canadian Parliament can overturn the court’s ruling, but that is an unlikely outcome. If it does nothing the court ruling will come into effect in 12 months’ time. Parliament has previously rejected attempts to legalize physician-assisted suicide through bills brought by its members. Religious and other organizations representing disabled people had opposed any relaxation of the ban, arguing that this would make them ulnerable to being killed. “This ruling has made it clear that people with disabilities are being invited to end their lives,” said Taylor Hyatt, who has cerebral palsy and spoke from a wheelchair in the Supreme Court foyer.

Quadriplegic Conservative Member of Parliament Steven Fletcher, argued that they should have the choice. “There does need to be some criminal code provision though to prevent abuse” Fletcher said. It is too early to know if Canada will become a suicide tourism destination, like Switzerland. It is unclear whether Canadian law would allow the practice for non-residents. Allowance for those suffering unbearable psychological pain is not unique. It was included in a bill passed last summer by the Canadian province of Quebec, and Switzerland allows assisted suicide for people suffering debilitating mental illness, though it is uncommon.

Source: Intercessors Network

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In Sierra Leone, an 8-year-old boy called the national hotline. “My mum is dead in my house and we don’t know what to do.” The father had already died, and this boy was now head of the household with five younger siblings. He called for a burial team to pick up his mother’s remains. In West Africa, the death of parents from the Ebola epidemic has caused a surge in orphans, mostly young children age 5 and under. More than 25,000 of them are in urgent need of in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea. Most of these children have lost both parents to the virus. Fearful relatives are shunning or abandoning them as possible carriers of the virus. 

“What I’m seeing on the ground is quite disturbing,” said Susan Hillis, a senior adviser with the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. “Children under 5 in both Liberia and Sierra Leone, commonly get into the ambulance with mum who has to be taken to an Ebola centre for admission. But there’s no one to take the children. “By that point, everybody knows the mother probably has Ebola, and they are afraid of the children, who could transmit the infection to whoever takes care of them.” Until the Ebola outbreak, families were willing to provide informal foster care. 

Hillis said, “With the history of ruthless civil war, it has been common for people in these countries to take in children who are not  biologically theirs. In Liberia, about 35% of kids live with people who are not their biological parents.” In hospitals, contagious patients sometimes spread Ebola to these uninfected children. Health officials now plan to place these children into interim care centres to protect them from infection. Some children still fall through the cracks. The World Health Organisation said the epidemic seems to be slowing down in Liberia and Guinea, but not in Sierra Leone, where “steep increases persist.” 

Government leaders in affected countries are turning to churches and mosques to help care for shunned orphans and Ebola survivors. As a sign of solidarity in the fight against Ebola, Christian pastors and Muslim imams in Sierra Leone are coordinating outreach. The religious leaders “exchange pulpits” to instruct adults in effective Ebola care and prevention. This reinforces the message that minority Christians and majority Muslims must set aside religious and cultural divisions in an effort to stop the spread of Ebola, and care for orphans and survivors.

Source: Christianity Today

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The Islamic State (also known as IS) and al-Qaeda are teaming up in Syria, and more Middle East groups are pledging allegiance to the caliphate. Reports have surfaced of the terrorist groups agreeing to work together in Syria instead of fighting each other. Al-Qaeda initially distanced itself from the Islamic State, but as IS has grown in resources and size, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda has vowed to fight with Islamic State instead of against it. In addition, an audio clip reportedly featuring IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi acknowledged the allegiance of Muslim radicals in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, and Algeria. 

Meanwhile, Islamic State growth in Pakistan is going virtually unnoticed. “More than 400 Islamic State leaders are in Pakistan. They are operating in Syria and Iraq from Pakistan,” shares Nehemiah, the national director of Forgotten Missionaries International’s (FMI) work in Pakistan.  “90% of the leadership is in Pakistan, not in Afghanistan,” he adds, recalling the U.S. hunt for al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden. In 2011, Bin Laden was found and killed in his Pakistani compound by U.S. Navy Seals. Although Taliban leaders swore allegiance to the Islamic State last month, FMI’s Bruce Allen says the Pakistani government denies an ISIS presence in their country. 

“They’re saying this while they’re removing banners, stickers, and posters that are announcing Islamic State is here,” Allen says. “They’re acting like ostriches with their heads buried in the sand.” Based on Islamic State activity they’re seeing on-the-ground, Allen says Pakistan will soon join Iraq and Syria in the headlines. For all places of worship – whether indoors or outdoors – Christians remove their shoes to indicate the space is holy ground. Typically, men sit on one side of the meeting area or the front and women sit on the opposite side or the back. “We anticipate that in the next few weeks or months: there will be an attack here in Pakistan,” he states. 

A Muslim doctor recently called Nehemiah and expressed concern about an Islamic State base being constructed near her home. “She was very worried; she called me and told me what was going on. Pray that the forces of radical Islam are driven back, and that they would take no further territory. Pray that shelter and resources will be provided for families taking refuge throughout the Middle East. Ask God to open the eyes of Pakistan’s indigenous Christian leaders so they can prepare their congregations for challenges and encourage them in the hope of Christ.

Source: Mission Network News

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In Scotland, a government leader, John Finnie, recently introduced a bill to reduce the role of Christianity in the nation’s educational system. According to a Scottish law passed in 1973, three religious figures were supposed to be included on local school authority boards—one from the Church of Scotland, one from the Roman Catholic Church, and a third from another religious organization. Finnie’s bill would have removed that requirement, thus preventing a significant Christian vote on educational matters. Following a huge outcry, in which less than a fifth of the people responding to the move agreed with Finnie, the bill was dropped. 

Reverend Sally Foster-Fulton of the Church of Scotland’s Church and Society Council said, “Clearly, the Church was not alone in recognizing the added value which religious representatives bring to their participation in education committees.” David Robertson, a Free Church minister, agreed. Saying churches have a valuable role to play in Scotland, he added, “We hope to continue to have a major input into Scotland’s education system—for the sake of Scotland’s children.”

Source: BBC

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The world’s largest Muslim country may soon be looking at some significant change for religious freedom priorities. New President, Jokowi Widodo, is living up to his reputation as a reformer by proposing a controversial change. Voice of the Martyrs spokesman Todd Nettleton explains, ‘He’s proposing a Parliamentary bill within the next six months to protect religious minorities, which includes Christians. Another facet of change he wants to make would be to remove religious identity from the national ID cards the Indonesia government issues.’ Also part of the proposed bill would streamline the process for non-Muslims to get permits for places of worship.

Source: Mission Network News

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A prominent evangelical Christian leader has launched an effort to recruit 1,000 pastors to run for political office, hoping to inject religious issues and candidates into the 2016 election. David Lane, founder of the American Renewal Project, said he hopes he can persuade pastors to run for offices such as school boards, city councils and even up to state legislature and Congress. “Government is not going to save America. Wall Street is not going to save America. The Republican party is not going to save America. If America is going to be saved it will be done by Christian men and women restoring a Judeo-Christian culture to the country,” Mr. Lane said.

Source: Washington Times

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