Archbishop Jukka Paarma from the Lutheran Church of Finland added his name to the document issued by Christian and Muslim leaders promoting coexistence at the Coexistence and Peace Making Conference hosted by the Jordanian Interfaith Coexistence Research Center (JICRC) in Amman, Jordan, in January of this year. Thirty-five Christian and Muslim leaders from the Middle East signed then, and since then more international faith leaders have added their signature and support. The signing followed a dialogue between Archbishop Paarma, his delegation, Bishop Younan and his delegation, JICRC Executive Director the Very Rev. Nabil Haddad, HE Mr. Sami Gammoh, Deputy Chair, and HE Minister of Islamic Affairs, the Awqaf and the Endowment for Jordan Mr. Abd AlFatah Salah.
For more information about the JICRC click here.
For a photoshow click here.
Muslim and Christian leaders celebrated “iftar” together in Jerusalem, the daily breaking of the Ramadan fast. More than 100 faith leaders gathered at Notre Dame Center together from all denominations of the Christian faith with Muslim leaders. ELCJHL Bishop Munib Younan opened the meal stressing the need for a shared Jerusalem where all three religions – Muslim, Christian and Jew – can worship and pray freely.
Grand Mufti Husseini said he shared Bishop Younan’s sentiments but pointed out that reality is quite different. He expressed regret that two PA Ministers – of Justice and of Religious Affairs – were denied permission to even attend this meal and were stopped at the checkpoints. Similarly, he noted that only about 20,000 Muslims were permitted entry to pray at Al Aqsa Mosque on the past two Ramadan Fridays, while 100,000 wanted to come.
Local heads of churches paid a solidarity visit to Muslim clerics and leaders Saturday after Friday’s clashes on the Temple Mount after prayer. The Muslims said that Israeli soldiers stormed the Haram al Sharif, throwing sound grenades and using tear gas to force those gathered to leave.
Saturday’s discussion centered around what to do to keep holy sites protected, respected and accessible to all who wish to pray there. According to Muslim leaders, they have been in discussion for 3 years about this reconstruction of the Mugrabi gate area because it was was so sensitive. They believe there are tiles from the Umayyad Dynasty underneath, and they wanted to ensure that everything was preserved properly.
For Palestinians, Muslim and Christian, this is one more example of a unilateral action that disrespects them and their rights, and is unnecessarily provocative at a time fraught with tension over Palestinian infighting and possible new beginnings of the new unity government.
Recent excavations near the Al Aqsa Mosque have brought protests, massive police presence and closures throughout East Jerusalem this week as Muslims claim the Israeli government is violating past agreements to preserve the religious status quo for all holy sites. Rumors and perspectives abound and differ about whether the constuction around the Bab Al-Magharbeh (‘Moroccan’ or ‘Dung Gate’) violates either these past agreements or endangers the structural integrity of any of the structures in the Haram al Sharif, the third most holy site for Muslims. Mystery also surrounds the status of the excavation of tunnels underneath the Haram al Sharif that were begun several years ago and caused widespread outrage in the Muslim and Palestinian communities then.
It was rumored that Israeli Defense Minister Amir Peretz has requested the suspension of these excavations due to worries about inflaming an already-tense situation. The communities here cannot help but be reminded that it was a perceived violation of the Haram al Sharif by Ariel Sharon that sparked the deadly second intifada in October of 2000.
Israeli police were out in force and on high alert Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. This week Muslim clerics have asked Muslims, Palestinians and internationals to protest to stop the excavations.
Despite the statement referred to in this ad by Israeli organization Machsom Watch that the State of Israel will guarantee freedom of religion and access to holy sites, Palestinian Muslims and Christians are routinely deprived of their right to pray at their holy places, even – especially – during the most holy times. Friday, Oct 20, was the last Friday during the holy month of Ramadan, during which Muslims fast and come to pray in Jerusalem more frequently, especially on Fridays.
Every Friday in Jerusalem, they keep out Muslim men from about 15-45. Hundreds of Israeli army and police set up barricades in East Jerusalem and around the Old City gates that allow them to carefully screen all those who attempt to come in. At the checkpoints into Jerusalem, Muslim men of certain ages (usually 15-45 or so) are not allowed to enter Jerusalem or the Old City. Twenty-five people were put into the hospital Friday when tear gas and stun grenades were used to dispel the crowd of families gathered to try to enter Jerusalem at the Bethlehem checkpoint. Pictured here are the men praying at the Bethlehem checkpoint after being denied entry into Jerusalem.
The Oriental Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican Churches invited the higher Islamic council, Chief Islamic Justice Sheikh al Tamimi, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, Islamic Awqaf Adnan Hussein, Jerusalem PLC members and about 100 other dignitaries and civil society leaders both Christian and Muslim to celebrate a traditional “iftar” meal Tuesday after the Ramadan fasting day ended. Bishop Younan welcomed the group, and PA President Abu Mazen’s Chief of Staff Mr. Rafik Husseini gave the President’s regrets that he couldn’t be there since these community-building events are so important.
The speakers called for an end to recent tensions between Muslims and Christians, with Sheikh Tamimi recalling the Covenant of Omar in the 7th century which calls for good relations between Muslims and Christians. He recalled that the majority of Christians and Muslims have lived together in peace since then. The speakers agreed that they should work together to see that statements and events outside of this area not affect relations here. All the speakers emphasized the importance of the Holy City of Jerusalem for all, and His Beatitude Michel Sabbah reiterated their common belief that Jerusalem must be shared among Christian, Muslim and Jew and between Palestinian and Israeli. He said these kinds of events are important and must be continued to strengthen community. They also called for unity not only between Muslim and Christian but also among all the Palestinian factions, and urged an end to violence of all kinds.
Christians packed the Church of the Dormition on Thursday to pray for peace in the world, but especially for peace with justice in the Holy Land. Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Bethlehem – most of whom cannot go to Jerusalem – gathered for a service of their own. About 70 people gathered around Rachel’s Tomb, which is being walled into Jerusalem and becoming home to a new settlement. They walked toward the main checkpoint and the wall, and stopped at a nearby chapel for a prayer service there. The sponsoring organizations released a statement. (Click here to get statement)
This traditional UN day for prayer for peace comes at a time when relations between Christians and Muslims have been strained by the Pope’s recent comments in which he quoted a Byzantine Emperor who said that Muhammed and Islam had brought nothing but evil and inhumanity. In response, some churches were attacked in Nablus, Tubas and Gaza. Bishop Younan has been working with both the Heads of Churches and Muslim leaders here to calm the situation, condemn any form of violence and encourage dialogue as the route to solve conflicts. The Bishop released a statement about the situation this week. (Click here to download statement.)
Thousands gathered Saturday in Nazareth to protest a failed bombing attempt by a Jewish family Friday night at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, where Christians had gathered for traditional Lenten prayers. Fortunately, the homemade mixture of fireworks, flammable liquids and a jar of marbles and nails to serve as shrapnel didn’t explode properly, one witness said, and no one was seriously hurt. But when Muslims and Christians gathered quickly to protect the Holy Site, the army was called out to protect the Jewish family and disperse the crowd, using tear gas and force. Saturday’s protest was a mixture of anger and fear at what Muslims and Christians say is a growing intolerance for their religious sites and freedom.
Heads of churches and Muslim leaders gathered Sunday with Municipality officials, Knesset members and community leaders to calm fears and to call for religious tolerance and education against extremism. They led marchers through the streets to the courtyard of the Church, where the mayor, the Latin Patriarch and a local Muslim sheikh addressed the crowd.
The Cartoon Controversy has swept the world with still-mounting deaths and uncontained violence. Bishop Younan continues to speak for calm and reconciliation, as in his recent public statement. Controversy also continues within Palestine and Israel over the forming of the new Hamas governement and what it will mean for funds and aid to the Palestinians and for future hopes for peace. It is likely the ELCJHL and other charitable organizations will struggle if and when funds are cut as anticipated.
You can tell Fridays here in Jerusalem by the security blimp hovering over the Old City. And by the literally hundreds of Israeli soldiers and many checkpoints on the way into town. This picture – by visiting Pastor Mark Nelson – is from Friday, Feb. 18, during Muslim prayer time. Although peace agreements stipulate that holy sites are to be open to all, the Israeli government regularly prohibits men under a certain age into the Mosque to pray on Fridays, their holy day. Here the Muslims who have been kept outside of their Holy site pray outside Damascus Gate, facing Mecca and a line of Israeli soldiers.