Sunday, 27 February 2011


The Following statement from a group of Islamic Leaders in Libya calling themselves the Network of Free Ulema is being posted on the web note that they ask for help - NOT sanctions. This statement follows an earlier one from the same group calling upon people in Libya to rise against the Gadaffi regime

statement from The Network of Free Ulema – Libya: “To the religious leaders of all faiths, to the political leaders of all countries, to the heads of all international organizations, and to all men and women of good will. As servants of the brave and dignified Libyan people, the Muslim Scholars and Tribal Leaders of Libya are united in informing you of the following:

We are grateful for all the great efforts that are now being made to stop the massacre of our people. However, we urge you to please hurry and redouble your efforts. We have already lost thousands of our brave youth, and the injured are now in the many thousands.

Please urgently send into Libya as much medical and humanitarian aid as possible. The Egyptian-Libyan border, Benghazi Port, and Misrata Port are now open, and we urge Libyans inside and outside the country to help in every way they can with logistics and distribution. We very much appreciate the early response from Turkey and from the International Red Cross/Red Crescent in this regard.

Internationally, we expect all punitive actions and measures to be directed and applied to Gaddafi personally, his family, close associates, and their mercenaries, and any other complicit parties.

We do not support ‘sanctions against Libya’ or anything against Libya. All actions and measures should be against Gaddafi himself, his family, their close associates, and their mercenaries. Judicially these criminals have no official governmental positions, and D0 NOT constitute the Libyan government. They have N0 immunity. The approach that should be taken by all who are trying to help us is that of urgently issuing and applying International Arrest Warrants for clearly committing crimes against humanity, to be pursued in the International Criminal Court.

The brave Libyan people will endure and are now more unified than ever, through the grace of God and the blood of our martyrs. We are certain of, and look forward to, the inevitable victory, promised by God to the oppressed of the earth.”

Saturday, 19 February 2011


One of the interesting and underreported elements of the Egyptian revolt has been the cooperation between young Christians and Muslims. The following article is originally from the Common Ground News website and I discovered it posted on the website Bikya Masr

By Yasser Khalil

CAIRO: The recent protests in Egypt that led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, and their political ramifications, have been covered extensively in the media. But stories of Christian-Muslim solidarity have not been broadcast as widely, and they deserve to be.

During the protests, Christians stood in a circle around Muslims during their Friday prayers to protect them from police. And last Monday, Muslims stood around Christians in Tahrir Square as they conducted mass, and joined them in prayer for those who were injured or died in the protests.

Prior to the demonstrations, there was a growing fear in Egypt that tensions between Muslims and Christians would escalate and culminate in violence, especially in light of recent attacks that targeted Christians in the region, the latest of which was the bombing of a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve that killed 23 people.

To prevent such violence from reoccurring, Egyptians began to mobilise through a new online initiative called “An Internet Free of Sectarian Strife”, launched by Amr Khaled, who is described by The New York Times as “the world’s most famous and influential Muslim television preacher.” He began the initiative in January after he saw how the Internet was being used to disseminate rumors and agitate tensions between Muslims and Christians in the country.

Word of the initiative spread quickly, and it has proven very popular among Egyptian youth primarily because of Khaled’s huge following in the country. The roots of this initiative began with his lectures in 1998, after years of terrorist incidents claimed the lives of innocent people and religious bigotry began spreading among groups that were adopting extremist interpretations of Islam.

Many have found messages of balance and harmony in the young, dynamic preacher’s rhetoric, which are all too rare in other speakers’ lectures. Between 2000 and 2002, his lectures – mainly about tolerance in Islam – were being attended by audiences of 35,000. Today, his Facebook page has around two million friends and his lectures are watched by millions across the Muslim world.

It is clear that youth are playing a key role in the initiative’s implementation and development.

The “Internet Free of Sectarian Strife” initiative features prominently on Khaled’s website (, which receives around two million visitors every month. Many Egyptian youth have replaced their Facebook profile photo with the initiative’s logo, a cross within a crescent. Other websites and forums from around the region have also included the logo on their websites to promote the campaign.

The initiative’s main partners are influential media outlets in Egypt and the Arab world, including the Egyptian OTV television station and the news outlet Seventh Day, both owned by a leading Copt businessman, Naguib Sawiris; the United Copts website, which is managed by a group of Copts living in the United States and has an influential presence in Egypt; and the website, which is managed by, a well-known Islam-focused outlet; as well as many youth-oriented Egyptian websites.

These partners identified ten basic items that they hope will become “rules for internet users and a code of honour for Internet media outlets to abide by.” The rules are to not use the following: blanket generalisations, foul language; rumours without credible sources, sarcasm, videos that could enflame tensions and violent or hateful fatwas (non-binding legal opinions). The rules also encourage words of peace and compassion, respect for others’ faith and disagreement with ideas, but respect for individuals. Finally, partners have agreed that users should never post their opinions while angry.

This initiative is promising and could lead to improved Muslim-Christian relations in Egypt. However, the core solution lies in addressing the problems that create such tension in the first place.

Some solutions that can be enacted on the national level include: allowing all citizens the right to build houses of worship, amending school curricula to promote religious freedom, ensuring that authorities handle conflicts between members of different religions according to the law as opposed to bias based on political alliances and ensuring equal opportunity in the workplace regardless of a person’s religious beliefs.

Khaled’s positive initiative is an important first step to address the core causes of extremism that lead to sectarian tension. The solidarity amongst Muslims and Christians during the recent protests shows that both groups can overcome divisions, and offers new hope that coexistence and religious equality can be the foundation of a new Egypt.


* Yasser Khalil is an Egyptian researcher and journalist. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Monday, 14 February 2011


Today I had the third meeting of a planning group that is organising a conference on Christianity and other faiths supported by The Council of Black Led Churches, Queen's, Churches Together in England and Birmingham Churches Together. The details of the conference are below. It's been a long time in gestation with a couple of us trying to find ways of getting it started for about 18 months. Now after having pulled together a diverse and truly ecumenical organising team our plans are fully underway. Check out the details below - come to the conference and book early - places limited!


10am- 4.30pm

Mount Zion Community Church Birmingham B6 4TN

Faith, Hope & Love - Christian Witness in a Multi Faith Society.

An exciting day conference organised by an alliance of Christian Churches in
Birmingham and Churches Together in England that will tackle the difficult
but exciting question of how to be a Christian disciple in a multi faith

The Conference through a variety of inputs, dialogues and workshops will
seek to
help Christians become more confident as part of a multi faith society
share stories that empower others
gather Church leaders and members who are new to inter faith engagement
act as a catalyst for further developments
create a safe environment where people can share their stories and ask the
difficult questions.

Workshops include:

Natasha & Jenni from The Feast on Christian and Muslim young people working and sharing faith together

Richard Reddie author of 'Black Muslims in Britain : Why are a Growing Number of Young Black Men Converting to Islam?' on Black Muslims and Black Culture

Andrew Smith of Scripture Union on Evangelicals and Inter Faith Dialogue

Pall Singh of The Sanctuary and The Lozells Project on Who is our Neighbour ? - increasing our awareness of those we live alongside.

Ray Gaston author of 'A Heart Broken Open - Radical Faith in an Age of Fear' exploring Living Faithfully, Hopefully & Lovingly in a multi faith society

Sharing our stories sessions with Bishop Joe Aldred, Archbishop Bernard Longley and Pall Singh of The Sanctuary & The Lozells Project talking about their own experience of working with other faith communities.

For more information go to

Or contact either:
Revd Ray Gaston at Queens Foundation 0121 452 2623
Pastor Peter Pennant Council for Black Led Churches
Gale Richards Heart of England Baptist Association 07765931348
Bishop Basil Richards Church of God of Prophecy 07738241710

Cost £5 in advance £8 on day
Discounts for advance group bookings 5 for £20 10 for £35
To get a booking form for the conference email Birmingham Churches Together at or download booking form from

Conference is supported by Birmingham Churches Together, the Council of
Black Led Churches, Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education
and Churches Together in England.

Saturday, 12 February 2011


An excellent lecture by Jewish Feminist scholar of the New Testament Amy-Jill Levine. It's challenging, humorous, provocative and engaging - Inter faith encounter as it should be!

There is also a good interview with Levine at Explore Faith

Friday, 4 February 2011


The news that broke in yesterdays's Birmingham Mail about local councillors Salma Yaqoob and Mohammed Ishtiaq's refusal to join in a standing ovation for a decorated soldier has led to a flurry of comment in the national dailies and on blogs, much of it of the usual vitriolic Islamophobic flavour. For what it's worth I have sent the following to the letters page of the Birmingham Mail

Well done Cllrs Yaqoob and Ishtiaq for remaining true to your principles despite enormous pressure to do otherwise.
The increasing weight upon us all to conform to supporting the government's invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq by exerting emotional pressure through the parading of 'national' heroes in the public space ( council meetings, football matches) is to be resisted; not out of a disrespect to an individual act of human courage like that of Matt Croucher, but out of a deep conviction that we should resist attempts to use Matt's example of human selflessness to legitimate a war that is so widely questioned both here and internationally. While Matt's action in falling upon a grenade to save his friends demonstrates the best of our humanity, the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan remain examples of the worst of human endeavours. Salma Yaqoob's and Mohammed Ishtiaq's refusal to rise is directed against the latter and is commendable as an act of moral courage based upon conscience and principle and I for one respect and applaud them for remaining in their seats.

Rev'd Ray Gaston
Interfaith Enabler
Birmingham District of The Methodist Church

Addition on 12/2/11 - Great to see that my letter got published in Wednesday's edition of the Birmingham Mail