Giving Thanks, for Khartoum and Kennedy

Thanksgiving Khartoum Kennedy
via Mormon Newsroom and Mohamed Al Hammadi / Crown Prince Court – Abu Dhabi

Happy Thanksgiving to all American friends. Religious freedom is one item of gratitude, as well as positive signs it may be developing around the world.

Consider again these promising signs I’ve been privileged to report on the past two years:

Arab Gulf — Why Christianity is Surging in the Heart of Islam

Indonesia — World’s Biggest Muslim Organization Wants to Protect Christians

Morocco — Arab Christians and the Marrakesh Declaration

Egypt — Let My People Build

Bahrain — Saudi Arabia’s Neighbor Defends Religious Freedom of Individuals

Saudi Arabia — The Game of Thrones Christians Should be Watching

Italy — Muslims Work for Religious Freedom


Not all is rosy, of course, and some nations pretend nothing is wrong.

Sudan is one of them. But in recent engagement, the United States has religious freedom on the agenda for improvement of ties and removal of sanctions.

As Crux has reported:

A leading U.S. diplomat visiting Sudan said the United States is willing to work with the Sudanese government to help it achieve the conditions necessary to remove its designation as a “Country of Particular Concern” in the U.S. State Department’s annual International Religious Freedom Report.

Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan was speaking on Nov. 17 at the Al-Neelain Mosque in Omdurman, located on the western bank of the Nile River, which separates it from the national capital.

Sullivan said “supporting human rights, including religious freedom, has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of the United States’ bilateral engagement with Sudan.”

The event at the mosque included leading Muslim and Christian clergy. Sudan is 97 percent Muslim, and the small Christian community has faced harassment, especially since the predominantly Christian and animist south of the country became the independent state of South Sudan in 2011.

The State Department’s 2016 International Religious Freedom Report cited reports of government arresting, detaining, or intimidating Christian clergy and church members, denying permits for the construction of new churches, closing or demolishing existing churches and attempting to close church schools, restricting non-Muslim religious groups and missionaries from operating in or entering the country, and censoring religious materials and leaders.

There is always room for cynicism, and perhaps frequently it is warranted.

Does the United States care more for counterterrorism and military contracts, and will let this item slide if progress is seen elsewhere?

Will Sudan put on a nice face and make superficial improvements, only to squeeze non-Muslim communities once the diplomats leave?

Maybe. But this Thanksgiving, let not cynicism be a landing place. Even the public rhetoric of religious freedom is something to celebrate. It sets a tone; attitudes can adjust over time.

And as the US ambassador told his Sudanese audience, it took a while in America.

“I am the grandson of Irish-Catholic immigrants who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts in the 1880s. At the time they arrived – and for many decades that followed – Catholics in the United States faced widespread prejudice based on their religion,” he said.

“When John F. Kennedy – another Catholic from my home state – ran for president of the United States in 1960, he even had to give a prominent speech to reassure the nation that his faith was compatible with the duties of the office of president.”

Sullivan said recalling such history “seems quaint” today, but added it took many decades – “it was not easy” – to reach the point where it is “nearly unthinkable” that one’s status as a Catholic in the United States would serve as a disadvantage to a person’s ambitions for life.

“The American experience in this regard underscores that respect for the human dignity of every person – regardless of religious belief or origin – is a key component of not only protecting human rights, but also fostering a society that can flourish, build upon each other’s strengths, and move forward together,” he said.

America has had flaws, too. She still has some, and may be developing others.

But today, around the table, give thanks to God for what exists — both at home and abroad.

Those who love God do not need freedom to follow their faith. But ample facilitation makes our world a better place.

Appreciate, and pray for more. And then, enjoy your turkey.


Muslims Work for Religious Freedom, in Italy

(via the Muslim World League)

Some of the articles I’ve written concern interfaith efforts to secure religious freedom, particularly in Muslim nations.

Two days ago, the Saudi-based Muslim World League met with the Italian Minister of the Interior to best secure Muslim rights in the traditionally Catholic nation.

In a helpful explanation from the 2016 US Report on International Religious Freedom, Italy has a series of “accords” with recognized religious groups in the nation.

The Catholic Church is separate from the government but does have a unique accord privileging it somewhat above the 12 other Christian denominations and religious groups. Accords are signed through the Ministry of the Interior, and grant tax-deductible status, state financial support, property rights, clergy recognition, and religious holiday waivers for students and employees. Non-accord groups can apply for these benefits on a case-by-case basis.

Muslims do not have an accord with the government.

Part of the issue may be that Muslims have no administrative entity governing their affairs. Among the topics discussed with the minister is the role of the Muslim World League to help unify the local Muslim community, and secure Islam as a recognized religion.

Italy lauded the MWL for its role in spreading the values of tolerance and coexistence.

A few days earlier the secretary-general of the MWL met Pope Francis, and agreed to set up a joint committee to pursue the values issued in their statement:

  • Religion and violence are incompatible
  • Religions have moral resources capable of contributing to fraternity and peace
  • The phenomenon of fundamentalism, in particular when violent, is troubling and joint efforts are required to counter it
  • Situations exist where freedom of conscience and of religion are not entirely respected and protected
  • There is an urgent need to remedy this, renewing religious discourse and reviewing school books

This is a worthy statement, though the urgent need would seem to require more than the suggested remedies. Yes, these would help change a culture over the long term. But laws guaranteeing freedom of conscience and religion are currently lacking in several countries within the Muslim World League.

Perhaps the statement is a polite and friendly way to begin to address this, without the shame associated with naming names – as does the US Report on International Religious Freedom.

The statement of religion and violence being incompatible is also curious. Islam has a well-defined tradition of religiously sanctioned jihad. It need not be equated with terrorism, but neither is it exactly equivalent to Christian just war theory. I find it strange the Muslim World League could sign on to such a clause, without further delineation.

But they are discussing the right things. The common criticism of interfaith statements of toleration is that Muslims do not practice what they preach in their own countries.

It remains to be seen if the Muslim World League will act on these principles, but it is encouraging that the Vatican has a joint committee to hold them responsible.

And, to be held responsible. In coordination with the MWL, Italy has taken steps to better ensure the religious freedom of minority faiths.

Do note when Muslim nations do the same.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Italy, NGOs

 Flag Cross Quran


The facts known or the story straight. Above board or underhanded. In Egypt this week it is one or the other. God, let it be the former.

For there are many who doubt, many who accuse.

Egypt announced the ID of the Italian researcher tortured and murdered two months ago was found in a home connected to a criminal gang killed in a shootout with police.

A joint investigation is being conducted with Italy, but some on both sides of the Mediterranean consider it far too tidy a conclusion. These point figures at Egyptian police, who have made clear they had no role in his disappearance.

At the same time, dozens of civil society organizations have been named in the reopening of a file linking them to illegal foreign funding, sponsored to work against the regime.

Investigations are proceeding, and over the years the state has left a murky legal field for NGO operation. But some on both sides of the Atlantic consider this an assault against independent voices, though Egypt insists it simply wants compliance with the law.

God, provide the truth.

There are criminals somewhere, find them. Civil society needs funds, provide them.

If accusations against Egypt are true, her moral morass grows deeper with each new revelation. If Egypt is innocent, the force of the onslaught against her grows stronger.

Whether guilt is mixed or confined to one side, hold the responsible accountable, God. Sooner rather than later, let there be transparency.

Through it all, preserve Egypt and her people. Bless them, and may their story, with all its facts, one day be celebrated.







Friday Prayers for Egypt: Maadi, Murder

Flag Cross Quran


The news this week is gruesome, and hits too close to home.

An Italian researcher was found dead on the side of the road with signs of torture evident. And a six-hour police siege near a Cairo suburb popular with foreigners resulted in the death of two alleged terrorists.

Egypt needs peace, God. Perhaps these are signs of a desperate resistance smoldering on its last ashes. Perhaps it signals deeper issues that threaten stability for the unforeseen future.

Either way, God, make Egypt safe. Safe for the residents from the infiltration of criminals. Safe for the foreigners most usually welcomed.

But these days are not usual, God. Frustrated by loss of political power some are turning to violence. Frustrated by lack of international support some are enflaming xenophobia.

The hope is not a return to normal, but an establishment of good. Make Egypt vibrant. Help Egypt flourish. Free her from the tensions that bind her spirit.

May foreigners listen, learn, and share liberally. May Egyptians prosper, police, and inspire politically.

God, give comfort to the Italian’s family. Give comfort to the nation he studied. May no life be lost to vanity. May no horror undo a home.