CAIR Responds to President Trumps Speech on Islam, Calls for New Policies and Concrete Actions

(WASHINGTON, D.C., 5/21/2017) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today responded to President Trump’s speech broadcast this morning from Saudi Arabia seeking to reset relations with the Muslim world.

Last week, CAIR offered advice to the president as he prepared the speech offered today.

SEE: CAIR Offers Advice to Trump on ‘Islam’ Speech Being Written by Author of Muslim Ban

In his response to President Trump’s speech, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

“While President Trump’s address today in Saudi Arabia appears to be an attempt to set a new and more productive tone in relations with the Muslim world, one speech cannot outweigh years of anti-Muslim rhetoric and policy proposals – including an attempt to enact a Muslim ban by executive order, which his administration continues to defend in court.

“We welcome President Trump’s recognition of Islam as ‘one of the world’s great faiths,’ but that recognition does not wipe out years of well-documented anti-Islam animus. The president should also recognize the contributions American Muslims make – and have made for generations – to the betterment of our nation.

“New policies and concrete actions – not mere rhetoric – are what is needed to reset relations with the Muslim world.

“Such concrete actions should include condemning Islamophobia, protecting the civil rights of American Muslims and other minority groups, achieving just and comprehensive resolutions to the various Middle East conflicts, ending religious and ethnic profiling at borders and in airports, ending support for dictators whose oppression foments extremism and violence, and supporting mainstream Muslims who peacefully pursue social, economic and political progress around the world.

“President Trump should instruct his representatives to stop legal efforts aimed at reinstating his ‘Muslim ban’ executive order and should remove anti-Islam advisers like Sebastian Gorka and Steve Bannon from his team. He should also appoint a recognized American Muslim representative to lead his outreach to other Muslims.

“American Muslims share the goals of stamping out violent extremism, protecting minorities targeted by hate and providing a more hopeful future for children of all faiths and backgrounds. That has never been in doubt.

“We also share the belief that the struggle to end violent extremism is not a battle between faiths or civilizations. But when a faith or civilization is viewed exclusively through the lens of violence and extremism, that singular perspective creates distortions that inevitably lead to policies that have the opposite of the desired effect.

“Muslims in America and around the world have consistently condemned violent extremism and Muslim military personnel of many nations – including our own – are on the ground fighting those who carry out acts of violence. Muslims die daily fighting ISIS, Al-Qaeda and other terror groups.

“ISIS has called for American Muslim leaders to be assassinated after they deconstructed that group’s anti-Islamic actions. We are still waiting for President Trump to acknowledge that reality or to acknowledge and repudiate the growing Islamophobia in America for which he and his supporters must assume a large degree of responsibility.

“We note the evolution of President Trump’s terminology away from ‘radical Islamic terrorism’ – which Muslims and nonpartisan policy-makers view as offensive and counterproductive – to the use of the term ‘Islamist.’ [NOTE: President Trump did refer to ‘Islamic extremism’ and ‘Islamic terror’ in today’s speech.]

“While the shift in terminology seems to be a laudable attempt to delink the faith of Islam from terrorism, the use of the ill-defined term ‘Islamist’ will only serve to perpetuate that false linkage.

“Unfortunately, ‘Islamist’ is often used to describe both those engaged in acts of terrorism and those seeking peaceful social and political participation based on mainstream Islamic values and principles.

“Without actually defining the term or outlining what criteria are used when applying that label to individuals, groups or nations, the linkage of the term ‘Islamist’ to violence and extremism unjustifiably associates all of Islam to the anti-Islamic acts of a tiny minority of extremists. Many American Muslims are motivated by their faith to engage in making an American democracy that works for everyone. 

“The American Muslim community stands ready – as it always has – to counter the poisonous views and violent actions of anyone who would violate the principles of Islam and the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) by committing acts of terrorism or espousing religious extremism.

“As God says in the Quran: ‘And thus have We willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all humankind.’” (The Holy Quran, 2:143)

The Washington-based civil rights and advocacy organization urges community members to report any bias incidents to police and to CAIR’s Civil Rights Department at 202-742-6420 or by filing a report at: http://www.cair.com/report      

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

La misión de CAIR es mejorar la comprensión del Islam, fomentar el diálogo, proteger las libertades civiles, capacitar a los musulmanes estadounidenses, y construir coaliciones que promuevan la justicia y la comprensión mutua.         

– END –

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Indonesia: Stop Public Flogging of Gay Men

Two Indonesian men walk into a cell prior to their trials at a shariah court in Banda Aceh on May 17, 2017. 

© 2017 Getty Images

(New York, May 20, 2017) – Indonesia’s President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo should immediately intervene to prevent the scheduled May 23, 2017 public flogging of two young men convicted of same-sex sexual relations, Human Rights Watch said today. The men were prosecuted under Aceh province’s abusive Sharia regulations and sentenced to 85 lashes with a cane, which constitutes torture under international law.

On March 28, unidentified vigilantes forcibly entered an apartment in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, and took two men in their twenties to the police for allegedly having same-sex relations. A Sharia (Islamic law) court convicted them of sodomy on May 17. While Aceh’s Sharia courts have enforced public flogging before, this is the first time that Sharia courts have sentenced people to flogging for homosexual acts.

President Jokowi has spoken out in support of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in Indonesia, so the imminent public flogging of two young men for same-sex relations is a crucial moment to act,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Jokowi needs to be clear to Aceh’s authorities that flogging is torture for which they will be held to account.”

Aceh’s Sharia ordinances empower members of the public as well as the special Sharia police to publicly identify and detain anyone suspected of violating its rules. Cell phone video footage of the raid apparently shot by a vigilante shows one of the two men visibly distressed as he calls for help on his cellphone.

Under Aceh’s Islamic Criminal Code (Qanun Jinayah), the men faced up to 100 lashes in public as punishment for same-sex behavior. The prosecutor recommended 80 lashes because the men were young and reportedly admitted their guilt.

“The court’s less-than-maximum sentence of 85 lashes is no act of compassion. It does not change the reality that flogging is a grotesque display of medieval torture,” Kine said.

Local government officials in Aceh have long stoked discrimination against LGBT people, Human Rights Watch said. In 2012 then-Banda Aceh Deputy Mayor Illiza Sa’aduddin Djamal advocated harsh punishments for homosexuality, telling the media: “Even if one case of homosexuality [is] found, it’s already a problem.” In 2013, after Djamal was elected mayor of Banda Aceh, she told reporters that “homosexuals are encroaching on our city.” In February 2016, she announced she would create a “special team” to make the public more aware of the “threat of LGBT” and to “train” LGBT people to “return to a normal life” while posting an image of herself to Instagram holding a handgun and vowing to flush LGBT people out of Aceh.

Aceh’s Sharia police have previously detained LGBT people. In October 2015, Sharia police arrested two women, ages 18 and 19, on suspicion of being lesbians for embracing in public and detained them for three nights at a Sharia police facility in Banda Aceh. Sharia police repeatedly attempted to compel the two women to identify other suspected LGBT people in Aceh by showing them photographs of individuals taken from social media accounts – sparking fears among LGBT people in Aceh that the Sharia police could target them in the future.

In April 2016, four United Nations special rapporteurs wrote to the Indonesian government expressing concerns about the abusive enforcement of Sharia against LGBT people in Aceh. In October 2016, Jokowi broke his long silence on escalating anti-LGBT rhetoric by defending the rights of the country’s LGBT community, saying that “there should be no discrimination against anyone.”

“The clock is ticking for Jokowi to demonstrate that his support of equal rights for all is not empty rhetoric. He needs to start by protecting these two young men from torture,” Kine said.

Publication of Azusa Pacific Universitys Dead Sea Scrolls to Enhance Biblical Scholarship

Azusa Pacific University announces the long-awaited formal publication of rare Dead Sea Scroll (DSS) manuscripts from its Special Collections library. In 2009, the university acquired five ancient biblical manuscripts for scholarly study and preservation for posterity. A faculty team from APU’s School of Theology has completed its systematic examination, transcription, and analysis of the 2000-year-old manuscripts. The highly anticipated official publication of these rare and fragile antiquities will appear as a volume in the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project series in 2017.

The publication was prepared in collaboration with an editorial team at Princeton Theological Seminary headed by James H. Charlesworth, Ph.D., George Collord Professor of New Testament. This volume will join other recently published volumes of Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Schøyen and Museum of the Bible collections.

“The first volume in the Supplement Volumes of the Princeton’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project is the editio princeps of manuscripts of biblical compositions found among the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Charlesworth. “These manuscripts were unknown and thus not included in earlier publications of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls are extremely important because they contain some different readings from those found in our Bibles. Some of these readings help us correct the texts of the Bible. Along with Professor Rietz, my associate editor, and the scholars at APU, I am excited to share these Dead Sea Scrolls with all who are devoted to our Bible and an international, multicultural audience.”

“We look forward to bringing complete information about APU’s ancient biblical manuscripts to the scholarly world,” said lead researcher William Yarchin, Ph.D., the Dean’s Endowed Professor of Biblical Studies in APU’s School of Theology. “Some of these manuscripts contain wording found in no other Hebrew manuscript, and scholars are keen to integrate that information into the existing body of biblical scholarship. It is also important to provide this material to the scholarly world in light of concerns over possible forgeries among scroll fragments that have recently come to light. One of our fragments has been carbon dated as truly ancient. So we are confident, and we fully support all future scientific studies that can help advance research in ancient manuscripts.”

Among the five ancient fragments are portions from the book of Leviticus, the book of Deuteronomy, and the book of Daniel, inscribed at about the time of Christ or within a century earlier. It is possible that the Daniel fragment owned by APU is the world’s oldest existing manuscript of Daniel 5:13-16.

Of the significant findings, „The university’s Deuteronomy 27 fragment features a unique reading in verse 4 that agrees with the Samaritan Torah. This will give scholars new insights into the relationship between Judaism and Samaritanism in antiquity,” said Karen Winslow, Ph.D., professor and chair, biblical and theological studies in the Azusa Pacific Seminary.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been described as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever. They include the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence. Scholars credit the scrolls for increasing knowledge of the origins of Christianity and revolutionizing their understanding of Judaism. Azusa Pacific University’s five Dead Sea Scroll fragments include: 1) portions of Leviticus 10:4-7; 2) portions of Deuteronomy 8:2-5; 3) portions of Deuteronomy 27:4-6; 4) portions of Daniel 5:13-16; and 5) an unidentified fragment. All five fragments are from Qumran Cave 4. In 2010, APU held a public exhibition of these manuscripts along with other biblical artifacts from its Special Collections. Along with its Dead Sea Scroll holdings, APU oversees an archaeological excavation of the biblical site Abel Beth Maacah, a 35-acre tel in the northernmost border of present day Israel. Dig findings include a 3,000-year-old seal depicting ritualistic dance and a silver hoard likely from the late Bronze Age.

Publication of Azusa Pacific Universitys Dead Sea Scrolls to Enhance Biblical Scholarship

Azusa Pacific University announces the long-awaited formal publication of rare Dead Sea Scroll (DSS) manuscripts from its Special Collections library. In 2009, the university acquired five ancient biblical manuscripts for scholarly study and preservation for posterity. A faculty team from APU’s School of Theology has completed its systematic examination, transcription, and analysis of the 2000-year-old manuscripts. The highly anticipated official publication of these rare and fragile antiquities will appear as a volume in the prestigious Princeton Theological Seminary Dead Sea Scrolls Project series in 2017.

The publication was prepared in collaboration with an editorial team at Princeton Theological Seminary headed by James H. Charlesworth, Ph.D., George Collord Professor of New Testament. This volume will join other recently published volumes of Dead Sea Scroll fragments in the Schøyen and Museum of the Bible collections.

“The first volume in the Supplement Volumes of the Princeton’s Dead Sea Scrolls Project is the editio princeps of manuscripts of biblical compositions found among the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Charlesworth. “These manuscripts were unknown and thus not included in earlier publications of the Dead Sea Scrolls. These scrolls are extremely important because they contain some different readings from those found in our Bibles. Some of these readings help us correct the texts of the Bible. Along with Professor Rietz, my associate editor, and the scholars at APU, I am excited to share these Dead Sea Scrolls with all who are devoted to our Bible and an international, multicultural audience.”

“We look forward to bringing complete information about APU’s ancient biblical manuscripts to the scholarly world,” said lead researcher William Yarchin, Ph.D., the Dean’s Endowed Professor of Biblical Studies in APU’s School of Theology. “Some of these manuscripts contain wording found in no other Hebrew manuscript, and scholars are keen to integrate that information into the existing body of biblical scholarship. It is also important to provide this material to the scholarly world in light of concerns over possible forgeries among scroll fragments that have recently come to light. One of our fragments has been carbon dated as truly ancient. So we are confident, and we fully support all future scientific studies that can help advance research in ancient manuscripts.”

Among the five ancient fragments are portions from the book of Leviticus, the book of Deuteronomy, and the book of Daniel, inscribed at about the time of Christ or within a century earlier. It is possible that the Daniel fragment owned by APU is the world’s oldest existing manuscript of Daniel 5:13-16.

Of the significant findings, „The university’s Deuteronomy 27 fragment features a unique reading in verse 4 that agrees with the Samaritan Torah. This will give scholars new insights into the relationship between Judaism and Samaritanism in antiquity,” said Karen Winslow, Ph.D., professor and chair, biblical and theological studies in the Azusa Pacific Seminary.

The Dead Sea Scrolls have been described as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries ever. They include the oldest biblical manuscripts in existence. Scholars credit the scrolls for increasing knowledge of the origins of Christianity and revolutionizing their understanding of Judaism. Azusa Pacific University’s five Dead Sea Scroll fragments include: 1) portions of Leviticus 10:4-7; 2) portions of Deuteronomy 8:2-5; 3) portions of Deuteronomy 27:4-6; 4) portions of Daniel 5:13-16; and 5) an unidentified fragment. All five fragments are from Qumran Cave 4. In 2010, APU held a public exhibition of these manuscripts along with other biblical artifacts from its Special Collections. Along with its Dead Sea Scroll holdings, APU oversees an archaeological excavation of the biblical site Abel Beth Maacah, a 35-acre tel in the northernmost border of present day Israel. Dig findings include a 3,000-year-old seal depicting ritualistic dance and a silver hoard likely from the late Bronze Age.

Freedom of religion: UN expert hails Albania, but notes new challenges and unresolved issues from the past

TIRANA / GENEVA (17 May 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, today praised the Albanian Government’s policies and practices to promote and protect interreligious harmony and co-existence in the country.

However, he noted that Albania’s multi-religious society faces many challenges, including democratic consolidation, economic and social development, as well as those related to rapid globalisation, and urged the authorities to address unresolved issues dating back to 1967, when Albania officially became an atheist state.

Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania, and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving inter-religious harmony,” Mr. Shaheed said at the end of his first fact-finding mission to the country, from 8 to 17 May.

The expert noted that Albania is a multi-religious society with a deeply troubled past where intense and systematic persecution of all religions, after the late sixties, when it effectively wiped out religious institutions in the country and extinguished all public expressions of religion by the eighties.

“Many issues related to the abuses carried out prior to the end of the authoritarian rule in 1990 remain unresolved, such as the restitution of properties seized and destroyed or repurposed by the state,” he stressed. “However, the free, voluntary and respectful expression of religious sentiment lies at the heart of the interreligious harmony and co-existence that characterizes the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Albania today.”

“The underlying circumstances and disposition that nourish and promote interfaith harmony in Albania are unique to the country, and there are many examples of good practices, in both governmental policy and communal engagement that can be instructive to the international community,” Mr. Shaheed said.

Among them, the expert noted the State’s neutral position towards the religious or belief communities in the country, and the positive, respectful and inclusive engagement of religious communities with the State. He also drew attention to a robust legal framework that guarantees the freedom of religion for all in all its dimensions; the promotion of societal attitudes of mutual respect across different religious and belief communities; and a genuine societal commitment to interfaith solidarity and cooperation.

The Special Rapporteur also noted the rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructures and the revitalization of spiritual leadership that has taken place since 1990, and expressed hope regarding the apparent absence of political mobilization along religious fault lines. “In this regard, I recommend the Albanian authorities to speed up the restitution of properties to boost the capacity of religious communities to carry out their functions,” he said.

“The high degree of inter-religious marriage and social, political, economic and residential intermingling, as well as the very low number of reported cases of discrimination on account of religion or belief, suggest that the ethos of ‘living together’ in mutual respect and harmony was not just a slogan, but a deeply-held value for many Albanians,” the expert underscored.

“I call on the Government to continue the country’s trajectory towards democratic consolidation especially strengthening the rule of law,” the Special Rapporteur said. “I encourage it to pursue the priority dimensions of its national strategy on the prevention of violent extremism, especially introducing respectful civic education on religions, managing increasing religious diversity, and investing in social inclusion.”

During his ten-day visit, Mr. Shaheed met with members of the government, civil society, international organisations, foreign diplomats, human rights organisations, religious communities, and minority groups in a range of meetings conducted in Tirana, Kavaje, Korce, Girokaster and Shkoder.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on his mission to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

ENDS

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Albania
 
For more information and media requests:

In Geneva (before and after the visit): Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 22 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org
In Tirana (during the visit): Ms. Nora Kushti (+355 69 20 90 253 / nora.kushti@undp.org) or Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 79 444 6129 / +44 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org)

Freedom of religion: UN expert hails Albania, but notes new challenges and unresolved issues from the past

TIRANA / GENEVA (17 May 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, today praised the Albanian Government’s policies and practices to promote and protect interreligious harmony and co-existence in the country.

However, he noted that Albania’s multi-religious society faces many challenges, including democratic consolidation, economic and social development, as well as those related to rapid globalisation, and urged the authorities to address unresolved issues dating back to 1967, when Albania officially became an atheist state.

Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania, and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving inter-religious harmony,” Mr. Shaheed said at the end of his first fact-finding mission to the country, from 8 to 17 May.

The expert noted that Albania is a multi-religious society with a deeply troubled past where intense and systematic persecution of all religions, after the late sixties, when it effectively wiped out religious institutions in the country and extinguished all public expressions of religion by the eighties.

“Many issues related to the abuses carried out prior to the end of the authoritarian rule in 1990 remain unresolved, such as the restitution of properties seized and destroyed or repurposed by the state,” he stressed. “However, the free, voluntary and respectful expression of religious sentiment lies at the heart of the interreligious harmony and co-existence that characterizes the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Albania today.”

“The underlying circumstances and disposition that nourish and promote interfaith harmony in Albania are unique to the country, and there are many examples of good practices, in both governmental policy and communal engagement that can be instructive to the international community,” Mr. Shaheed said.

Among them, the expert noted the State’s neutral position towards the religious or belief communities in the country, and the positive, respectful and inclusive engagement of religious communities with the State. He also drew attention to a robust legal framework that guarantees the freedom of religion for all in all its dimensions; the promotion of societal attitudes of mutual respect across different religious and belief communities; and a genuine societal commitment to interfaith solidarity and cooperation.

The Special Rapporteur also noted the rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructures and the revitalization of spiritual leadership that has taken place since 1990, and expressed hope regarding the apparent absence of political mobilization along religious fault lines. “In this regard, I recommend the Albanian authorities to speed up the restitution of properties to boost the capacity of religious communities to carry out their functions,” he said.

“The high degree of inter-religious marriage and social, political, economic and residential intermingling, as well as the very low number of reported cases of discrimination on account of religion or belief, suggest that the ethos of ‘living together’ in mutual respect and harmony was not just a slogan, but a deeply-held value for many Albanians,” the expert underscored.

“I call on the Government to continue the country’s trajectory towards democratic consolidation especially strengthening the rule of law,” the Special Rapporteur said. “I encourage it to pursue the priority dimensions of its national strategy on the prevention of violent extremism, especially introducing respectful civic education on religions, managing increasing religious diversity, and investing in social inclusion.”

During his ten-day visit, Mr. Shaheed met with members of the government, civil society, international organisations, foreign diplomats, human rights organisations, religious communities, and minority groups in a range of meetings conducted in Tirana, Kavaje, Korce, Girokaster and Shkoder.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on his mission to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

ENDS

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Albania
 
For more information and media requests:

In Geneva (before and after the visit): Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 22 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org
In Tirana (during the visit): Ms. Nora Kushti (+355 69 20 90 253 / nora.kushti@undp.org) or Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 79 444 6129 / +44 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org)

Freedom of religion: UN expert hails Albania, but notes new challenges and unresolved issues from the past

TIRANA / GENEVA (17 May 2017) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, Ahmed Shaheed, today praised the Albanian Government’s policies and practices to promote and protect interreligious harmony and co-existence in the country.

However, he noted that Albania’s multi-religious society faces many challenges, including democratic consolidation, economic and social development, as well as those related to rapid globalisation, and urged the authorities to address unresolved issues dating back to 1967, when Albania officially became an atheist state.

Freedom of religion or belief is a practical reality in Albania, and there is much the world can learn from the Albanian experience in respecting freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief and achieving inter-religious harmony,” Mr. Shaheed said at the end of his first fact-finding mission to the country, from 8 to 17 May.

The expert noted that Albania is a multi-religious society with a deeply troubled past where intense and systematic persecution of all religions, after the late sixties, when it effectively wiped out religious institutions in the country and extinguished all public expressions of religion by the eighties.

“Many issues related to the abuses carried out prior to the end of the authoritarian rule in 1990 remain unresolved, such as the restitution of properties seized and destroyed or repurposed by the state,” he stressed. “However, the free, voluntary and respectful expression of religious sentiment lies at the heart of the interreligious harmony and co-existence that characterizes the situation of freedom of religion or belief in Albania today.”

“The underlying circumstances and disposition that nourish and promote interfaith harmony in Albania are unique to the country, and there are many examples of good practices, in both governmental policy and communal engagement that can be instructive to the international community,” Mr. Shaheed said.

Among them, the expert noted the State’s neutral position towards the religious or belief communities in the country, and the positive, respectful and inclusive engagement of religious communities with the State. He also drew attention to a robust legal framework that guarantees the freedom of religion for all in all its dimensions; the promotion of societal attitudes of mutual respect across different religious and belief communities; and a genuine societal commitment to interfaith solidarity and cooperation.

The Special Rapporteur also noted the rapid reconstruction of the religious infrastructures and the revitalization of spiritual leadership that has taken place since 1990, and expressed hope regarding the apparent absence of political mobilization along religious fault lines. “In this regard, I recommend the Albanian authorities to speed up the restitution of properties to boost the capacity of religious communities to carry out their functions,” he said.

“The high degree of inter-religious marriage and social, political, economic and residential intermingling, as well as the very low number of reported cases of discrimination on account of religion or belief, suggest that the ethos of ‘living together’ in mutual respect and harmony was not just a slogan, but a deeply-held value for many Albanians,” the expert underscored.

“I call on the Government to continue the country’s trajectory towards democratic consolidation especially strengthening the rule of law,” the Special Rapporteur said. “I encourage it to pursue the priority dimensions of its national strategy on the prevention of violent extremism, especially introducing respectful civic education on religions, managing increasing religious diversity, and investing in social inclusion.”

During his ten-day visit, Mr. Shaheed met with members of the government, civil society, international organisations, foreign diplomats, human rights organisations, religious communities, and minority groups in a range of meetings conducted in Tirana, Kavaje, Korce, Girokaster and Shkoder.

The Special Rapporteur will present a final report on his mission to the Human Rights Council in March 2018.

ENDS

Mr. Ahmed Shaheed (the Maldives) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief by the UN Human Rights Council in 2016. Mr. Shaheed is a Visiting Professor at Essex University, UK; a former member of the Maldivian presidential Commission Investigating Corruption; and a foreign policy advisor to the President of the Maldives. He was Foreign Minister of the Maldives from 2005 to 2007 and from 2008 to 2010. He led the country’s efforts to sign and ratify all nine international human rights Conventions and to implement them in law and practice. Mr. Shaheed is the former Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Iran.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page: Albania
 
For more information and media requests:

In Geneva (before and after the visit): Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 22 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org) or write to freedomofreligion@ohchr.org
In Tirana (during the visit): Ms. Nora Kushti (+355 69 20 90 253 / nora.kushti@undp.org) or Ms. Maken Tzeggai (+41 79 444 6129 / +44 917 9889 / mtzeggai@ohchr.org)

Pres. Trump Delivers a Message of Courage in Liberty University Commencement Address

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 Washington, D.C. – This morning, President Donald Trump gave the commencement address at Liberty University to a crowd of more than 50,000 people – his first commencement address since becoming president.

 “President Trump delivered an outstanding message today that I believe will resonate not only among Liberty University graduates but among Christians throughout America and around the world,” said Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, an alumnus of Liberty University. 

 A highlight of the president’s address was when he stated, „I know that each of you will be a warrior for the truth, the country and your family.   Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the courage to do what’s right.  Be true to yourself, your country, and your beliefs,” he told the graduates.  The president later added, “Always have the courage to be yourself.”

 “The president is exactly right,” noted Perkins. “The ability to offer deliverance and freedom to others is lost when we as Christians shrink back from living and proclaiming the truth of God.  Jesus called us to act for the benefit of others, rather than in fear.  We are called to stand with resolve, in service to the One who saved us. We have been called to live with no fear.” 

 “Twenty five years ago, I remember my own graduation at Liberty University.   It’s a great credit to the university—the largest Christian college in America—that President Trump has chosen it as the place to make his first commencement address.  Today was a great day for the University, its president, Jerry Falwell Jr., and a great day for the legacy of my friend, mentor, and Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell,” added Perkins.

 “I look forward to this president continuing his work to advance religious liberty so that these graduates will have the freedom to do what the president challenged them to do today,” concluded Perkins.

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Archbishops highlight the place of faith in British life

Faith has a central role to play in politics and this general election, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York said today (6 May 2017)

In a pastoral letter to the parishes and chaplaincies of the Church of England, Archbishops Justin Welby and John Sentamu urge people to set aside „apathy and cynicism” and draw new inspiration from the ancient Christian virtues of „love, trust and hope”.

The three-page letter, intended to be shared in churches from this Sunday onward, encourages voters to remember Britain’s Christian history and heritage as well as a concern for future generations and God’s creation as they make their decisions.

Following divisions of recent years, it calls for reconciliation drawing on shared British values based on cohesion, courage and stability. It upholds marriage, family and households as the building blocks of society which should be „nurtured and supported” as a „blessing”.

At a time when political differences may be felt more intensely than ever, the Archbishops insist that Christians’ „first obligation” during the election and beyond is to pray for those standing for office and recognise the personal costs and burdens carried by those in political life and by their families. But Christians also have a duty to play an active part in the process, they add.

The letter also calls for space for faith in political debate and says politicians must be free to speak openly about their own beliefs and convictions and treated fairly for doing so. „This election is being contested against the backdrop of deep and profound questions of identity,” they say.

„Opportunities to renew and reimagine our shared values as a country and a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland only come around every few generations.We are in such a time. 

„Our Christian heritage, our current choices and our obligations to future generations and to God’s world will all play a shaping role.
If our shared British values are to carry the weight of where we now stand and the challenges ahead of us, they must have at their core cohesion, courage and stability.”

The Archbishops highlight major concerns over poverty, housing and the dangers of „crushing” debt among other issues.

They call for a generous and hospitable welcome to refugees and migrants but also warn against being „deaf to the legitimate concerns” about the scale of migration into some communities.

They also single out the importance of standing up for those suffering persecution on grounds of faith around the world.

Faith, they argue, has a unique role to play in preventing extremism and religiously motivated violence.
„Contemporary politics needs to re-evaluate the importance of religious belief,” they insist.

„The assumptions of secularism are not a reliable guide to the way the world works, nor will they enable us to understand the place of faith in other people’s lives.

„Parishes and Chaplaincies of the Church of England serve people of all faiths and none. Their contribution and that of other denominations and faiths to the well-being of the nation is immense – schools, food banks, social support, childcare among many others – and is freely offered. But the role of faith in society is not just measured in terms of service delivery. 

The new Parliament, if it is to take religious freedom seriously, must treat as an essential task the improvement of religious literacy.

They add: „Political responses to the problems of religiously-motivated violence and extremism, at home and overseas, must also recognise that solutions will not be found simply in further secularisation of the public realm.”

176 SOFTBALL STUDENT-ATHLETES MAKE GRADE AS AMC ALL-ACADEMIC; 13 RECOGNIZED AS CHAMPIONS OF CHARACTER

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Softball – Fri, May 5, 2017 at 8:05 PM

ST. LOUIS – The American Midwest Conference has released its list of All-Academic Team honorees for softball, and 176 young ladies made the cut in the AMC.

Central Baptist College and William Woods University led the way with 20 All-Academic softball athletes, Lindenwood University-Belleville followed closely with 18, and Williams Baptist College boasted 17 honorees. In all, 10 of the AMC’s 13 teams had at least 10 athletes honored with the award.

To qualify as AMC All-Academic, a student athlete must have been in attendance at the nominating institution for at least a full term, and must carry a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. Additionally, she must complete the season with her team.

Additionally, 13 athletes were recognized as members of the AMC Softball Champions of Character team. Each team has one member of the team, who was selected as the best representative of the Five Core Values of the NAIA’s Champions of Character Initiative on her team.

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