SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Hundreds of Christians in Pakistan protesting against the burning of their homes by a mob over alleged blasphemous remarks made against Prophet Muhammad have clashed with police in at least two cities.
Police fired tear gas canisters and used batons to disperse almost a thousand demonstrators who had gathered in Karachi and Lahore, and took six protesters into custody.
In Lahore, hundreds of protesters, some carrying large crucifixes, blocked a main highway as they pressed their demands for better compensation payments from the government following the destruction of their homes, police official Malik Awais said.
Smaller demonstrations were held in the capital, Islamabad, and the adjoining city of Rawalpindi.
The protesters called on Pakistan's government to better protect minorities.
Local Christian pastor Khalid Masih said it was "quite clear that [the] government of Pakistan has failed to protect the rights of the minorities."
Police in Lahore said that they had arrested around 150 people accused of setting the Christian homes on fire after a non-Muslim was accused on Friday of making offensive comments about Prophet Muhammad.
On Saturday, a group of Muslims burned about 170 houses in the Christian neighbourhood of Lahore.
Police said that those accused of rioting are being investigated for alleged arson, robbery, theft and terrorism.
Christians are often the target of Pakistan's harsh blasphemy laws, which rights activists say are frequently used to persecute religious minorities or settle personal disputes.
Politicians have been reluctant to reform the laws for fear of being attacked by religious groups, as has happened in the past.
Police usually make arrests following rioting in blasphemy cases to calm down public anger and most of those detained are never convicted.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
Two prominent politicians were assassinated in 2011 for urging reform of the law.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- Police have arrested around 150 people accused of burning dozens of Christian houses in eastern Pakistan after a non-Muslim was accused of making offensive comments about Islam's Prophet Muhammad, police said Sunday as Christians rallied against the destruction.
The Christian demonstrators blocked a main highway in Lahore and police fired tear gas shells to disperse the protesters who demanded assistance from the government.
Government spokesman Pervaiz Rasheed promised the government would help hem rebuild their houses, but the Christians expressed dissatisfaction with the way the government was handling the incident.
"I have been robbed of all of my life's savings," Yousuf Masih said, standing close to his burned house. He said the government's announcement that it would give 200,000 rupees ($2,000) compensation to each family was a joke.
The incident began on Friday after a Muslim accused a Christian man of blasphemy — an offense that in Pakistan is punished by life in prison or death. On Saturday, a mob of angry Muslims rampaged through the Christian neighborhood, burning about 170 houses.
The Christian man is in police custody pending an investigation into the allegations.
Those who rioted are being investigated for alleged arson, robbery, theft, and terrorism, said police officer Abdur Rehman. The Pakistani police usually arrest rioters to tamp down public anger, but those accused are rarely convicted.
The law is often misused to settle personal scores and rivalries.
Akram Gill, a local bishop in the Lahore Christian community, said the incident had more to do with personal enmity between two men — one Christian and one Muslim — than blasphemy. He said the men got into a brawl after drinking late one night, and in the morning the Muslim man made up the blasphemy story as payback.
Such accusations of blasphemy in Pakistan can prompt huge crowds to take the law into their own hands. Once an accusation is made it's difficult to get it reversed, partly because law enforcement officials and politicians do not want to be seen as being soft on blasphemers.
According to Human Rights Watch, there are at least 16 people on death row for blasphemy and another 20 are serving life sentences.
Last year, there was a rare reversal of a blasphemy case. A teenage Christian girl with suspected mental disabilities was accused of burning pages of the Quran. But she was later released after a huge domestic and international outcry about her treatment. A local cleric where she lived was arrested and accused of planting the pages in her bag to incriminate her, a rare example of the accuser facing legal consequences. However, he was later freed on bail.
Also on Sunday, a suspected U.S. missile strike killed a foreign militant who was riding on horseback in Datta Khel in North Waziristan, according to three Pakistani intelligence officials who spoke anonymously because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- In surah Tawhid we read: “God is Samad (He is the One whom all turn towards in need), neither did He begat nor was He begotten”. Some commentators of the Quran believe the verse “neither did He begat nor was He begotten” to be the interpretation of the term Samad in the previous verse.That is to say, what is meant by God being Samad, is that no one can be begotten from Him, nor can He be begotten from anyone.
Logically, it is impossible for a God who is Samad, to have the trait of begetting or being begotten, because when something is born from something else, it shows that it is divisible, and divisibility signifies composition. In other words, the one begetting will necessarily have parts, and anything made up of parts, is in need of those parts, because if those parts aren't combined, that particular thing will never exist. Therefore, it is logically impossible for something to be born from God, and if we believe that it is, we have made God in need of something, and this does not match up with His perfect essence; in reality, such a false belief shows that one hasn’t understood who He really is.
As for why He hasn’t been begotten, it is because the one being begotten is in need of the one begetting. In other words, if – God forbid – God was begotten, it would necessitate His need towards that being/thing begetting Him, and as we said before, it is impossible for God, who is All-Sufficient, to be in need of anyone/anything. So it makes no sense for God to either be begotten or to beget.
Now, if we find a proposition in religious teachings that goes against this certain and unquestionable verdict of the intellect that an all-sufficient God is in no need of anything and that everything is in need of Him, we have no choice but to say that such religion has deviated from its original monotheistic path for sure.
We believe that all divine prophets, Prophet Jesus being one of them, believed in this and would disseminate the message of “لم یلد و لم یولد” (neither did He begat nor was He begotten). As the Quran discloses, in the first hours after his birth, in the cradle, and in response to those with mistrust, Prophet Jesus says: “Indeed I am a servant of Allah! He has given me the Book and made me a prophet!” So if there are some who, in contradiction with the intellect’s verdict, believe in him being son of God, it is due to the alteration their religion has undergone.
Scholars believe this alteration and deviation to be the work of one by the name of Paul.
Paul was initially a Jew, a Pharisee to be exact, who was at animosity with the Christians of that time, and wouldn’t hesitate to persecute, torture and kill them. It was then that he, all of a sudden, embraced Christianity and changed his name to Paul. He is one of the most influential and effective propagators of Christianity. He would present the religion in a way that everyone would embrace it. He would use verses of the Old Testament
to argue for his conversion and justify it for the people. He propagated for 20 years and spent years compiling Christian tradition.
The following are his main teachings:
1. That Christianity is a universal religion (not an exclusive one like Judaism).
2. The trinity and the divinity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.
3. Jesus, the son of God, came down to earth to purify man of original sin.
4. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and ascension to the heavens and sitting next to the Father and his judgment.
Paul was the first to speak of Jesus’ divinity and to set the foundations amongst the people for such. He said that Jesus was savior, establisher of the Kingdom of God in the world and will return once again after his ascension to the heavens, making him savior of this world and the next. He is Lord; one who was before everything and everyone, and everything came into existence through him.
Such deviant beliefs weren’t tolerable for many Christians, to the extent that even some of the disciples of Jesus countered them and rejected Paul. His claim of Jesus’ divinity and being the son of God is so unreasonable that even the New Testament cannot corroborate such a claim, rather, this same book itself can be used to refute this claim.
The Bible is made up of the Old and New Testament; the Old Testament being the book of the Jews (although they don’t call it the Old Testament and just call it the Hebrew Bible, which is a neutral term compared to ‘Old Testament’) which is constituted of 39 books, while the New Testament is exclusive to the Christians.
In the Old Testament, there is no explicit mention of Jesus being son of God and in the New Testament, which the Christians believe in, sometimes Jesus has been described to be man (and not God or the son of God), and sometimes to be God or son of God.
Here, we will list some examples for this, and give our insight on them:
a) Jesus being man:
1. “Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased”.
2. In the book of Acts, it reads: “The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-the God of our ancestors-has glorified his servant Jesus”.
Based on these two verses, Jesus is the servant of God and His chosen one.
b) Divine Jesus
1. Mark 15:39 reads: “Truly this man (Jesus) was the Son of God”.
First of all, although here, it has been said that Jesus is the Son of God, its literal meaning hasn’t been intended; in cases like these, being the son or father has a metaphorical meaning and that is what is actually intended. For example, in another part of the New Testament, it reads: “But those that received him, to them he gave authority to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his Name. Those who had not been born of blood, nor of the desire of the flesh, nor of the desire of a man, but of God”.
Also, another part reads: “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”.
So, anyone familiar with the way the Bible speaks will see that all believers and righteous people have been introduced as children of God, but no one has ever claimed that believers are born from God!
What is the difference between verses like these and those that speak of Jesus being son of God?! Not only has the term ‘son’ been used for the believers, it has also been used for special individuals as well.
Regarding Solomon, God says: “I will be his father, and he will be my son”.
Yet no one claims Solomon to be the son of God.
Therefore, even if the book of the Christians is actually the book of Jesus, it doesn’t explicitly say that he was the son of God, and this was a deviation innovated later into the Bible.
Secondly, there are many discrepancies in the Bible that show this book cannot be a divine book in its entirety. One of these discrepancies is the fact that Jesus has been introduced as both the Son of God, and the servant of God (if we take being the son of God to mean that he was begotten).
It is discrepancies like these that have caused some prominent Christian figures to object and criticize this doctrine. Arius, a Christian presbyter in Alexandria, is one of those who spoke out against this doctrine in the year 325. He said: “God is totally separate from creation. So it isn't possible for us to see the Christ who came down to the world and was born like every other human, to be the same with God whom he was not familiar with.”
These objections led to the first ecumenical council of the Church to be held in Nicaea, in which a creed was developed, namely, the Nicene Creed.
Although the one to pioneer the divinity of Christ was Paul, it was this council that established this doctrine which still holds till today.
So, to sum it up, there exists no contradiction between divine religions, unfortunately today, it is only Christianity that has distanced from Prophet Jesus’ (AS) original teachings. True Christianity never had any contradiction with Islam; Islam came to supplement and complete these very religions.
 Farsi translation of Al-Mizan, vol. 29, p. 672; Tafsir Nemouneh, vol. 27, p. 439.
 Maryam:30; “قالَ إِنِّي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ آتانِيَ الْكِتابَ وَ جَعَلَني نَبِيّ”.
 Muballighi Abadani, Abdullah, Taarikhe Adyan va Mazahib, vol. 2, the section on the biography of Paul. See: Imam Jawad (AS) website.
 Although we believe that this book is not the same one revealed unto Prophet Jesus.
 Ashnayi va Barresiye Masihiyyat (the group for compiling educational books), Islamic Seminary Propagation Department, p. 25.
 Matthew 12:18.
 Acts 3:13.
 Mark 15:37-39.
 John 1:12-13.
 1 John 4:7
 1 Chronicles 17:11-14.
 Taarikhe Kelisaye Qadim.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - People with no religious affiliation make up the third-largest global group in a new study of the size of the world's faiths, placing after Christians and Muslims and just before Hindus.The study, based on extensive data for the year 2010, also showed Islam and Hinduism are the faiths mostly likely to expand in the future while Jews have the weakest growth prospects.It showed Christianity is the most evenly spread religion, present in all regions of the world, while Hinduism is the least global with 94 percent of its population in one country, India.
Overall, 84 percent of the world's inhabitants, which it estimated at 6.9 billion, identify with a religion, according to the study entitled "The Global Religious Landscape" issued by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life on Tuesday.The "unaffiliated" category covers all those who profess no religion, from atheists and agnostics to people with spiritual beliefs but no link to any established faith."Many of the religiously unaffiliated do hold religious or spiritual beliefs," the study stressed."Belief in God or a higher power is shared by 7 percent of unaffiliated Chinese adults, 30 percent of unaffiliated French adults and 68 percent of unaffiliated U.S. adults," it said.
Exact numbers for religious populations are impossible to obtain and estimates for the size of the larger faiths can vary by hundreds of millions. This study by the Washington-based Pew Forum appears to be one of the most extensive to date.Pew Forum demographer Conrad Hackett said the 2,500 censuses, surveys and population registers used to compile the report did not allow a further breakdown to estimate the world population of atheists and agnostics."It's not the kind of data that's available for every country," he said. "A census will typically ask what your religion is and you can identify a number of particular affiliations or no religion.
An age breakdown showed Muslims had the lowest median age at 23 years, compared to 28 for the whole world population. The median age highlights the population bulge at the point where half the population is above and half below that number."Muslims are going to grow as a share of the world's population and an important part of that is this young age structure," Hackett said.By contrast, Judaism, which has 14 million adherents or 0.2 percent of the world population, has the highest median age at 36, meaning its growth prospects are weakest.Hackett noted that Israel, which has 40.5 percent of the world Jewish population, had a younger age structure than the United States, where 41.1 percent of the world's Jews live.Global Christianity's median age is 30 and Hinduism's 26. With a median age of 34, the growth prospects for religiously unaffiliated people are weak, the study showed.
The study estimated Christianity was the largest faith at 2.2 billion adherents or 31.5 percent of the world's population.The Roman Catholic Church makes up 50 percent of that total, with Protestants -- including Anglicans and non-denominational churches -- at 37 percent and Orthodox at 12 percent.There are about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world, or 23 percent of the global population. "The overwhelming majority (87-90 percent) are Sunnis, about 10-13 percent are Shia Muslims," the study said.Among the 1.1 billion unaffiliated people around the world, over 700 million, or 62 percent of them, live in China alone, where they make up 52.2 percent of the Chinese population.
Japan is the only other country with an unaffiliated majority, at 57 percent of the national population. After that comes the United States, where 16.4 percent of all Americans said they have no link to an established faith.The world's Hindu population is concentrated mostly in India, Nepal and Bangladesh. Half of the world's Buddhists live in China, followed far behind by Thailand at 13.2 percent of the world Buddhist population and Japan with 9.4 percent.
The study found that about 405 million people, or about 6 percent of the world population, followed folk religions such as those found in Africa and China or among Native American and Australian aboriginal peoples.Another 58 million, or nearly 1 percent of the world population, belonged to "other religions" including Baha'i, Taoism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism. Most were in the Asia-Pacific region.
Source : Reuters
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – ‘mistake,’ Pope says
The entire Christian calendar is based on a miscalculation, according to Pope Benedict, who claims in a book published Wednesday that Jesus was born several years earlier than commonly believed.
The “mistake” was made by a sixth century monk known as Dionysius Exiguus or in English Dennis the Small, the Pontiff says in the book Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives.
“The calculation of the beginning of our calendar — based on the birth of Jesus — was made by Dionysius Exiguus, who made a mistake in his calculations by several years,” the Pope writes in the book, which went on sale around the world with an initial print run of a million copies. “The actual date of Jesus’s birth was several years before.” (AP Photo/L’Osservatore Romano) www.shafaqna.com/English
Shafaqna (Shia International News Association) - When the the Right Reverend Justin Welby is confirmed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury tomorrow, it will be an announcement which has been months in the making.
The current Bishop of Durham has been the favoured candidate to succeed Dr Rowan Williams for some time, despite the Church of England drawing out the decision making process since March.
While clergymen may have delayed in reaching their verdict, for many of those who have worked closely with Dr Welby, he is a natural choice as the leader of the Church of England.
As well as fronting the Church of England in Britain, Dr Welby's role will also see him leading more than 80 million Christians in 160 countries as head of the Anglican Communion.
The 56-year-old has a fascinating background and family, having turned his back on a successful career in the oil industry 20 years ago to become a priest.
Yahoo! News UK takes a look at the self-deprecating former oil executive hoping to bring his business brain into the role as the Church's most senior bishop.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby looks set to be appointed as the new Archbishop of CanterburyBorn in London in 1956, Justin Portal Welby was educated at Eton and read law at Trinity College Cambridge during formative years in a colourful family.
His father, Gavin Welby, made a living as a whisky bootlegger in 1920s Prohibition America, before at one stage dating Vanessa Redgrave.
Meanwhile his mother, Jane Gillian (nee Portal), had once been a private secretary to none other than Winston Churchill.
Dr Welby's early career gave no clue as to his future position as the head of the Church of England.
He worked as a financial director in the oil business and was group treasurer for FTSE 100 oil exploration group Enterprise Oil Plc before his drastic career change.
After 11 years working in the oil business, Dr Welby quit the industry in 1992 to pursue a career as an Anglican priest.
The father-of-five, himself happily married for 30 years, took a degree in theology, later explaining that he was "unable to get away from a sense of God calling".
His decision to join the church was also made in part due to personal tragedy.
In 1983, a car crash claimed the life of his seven-month old daughter Johanna - a tragedy which he said was a "very dark time for Caroline (his wife) and myself", but one which "bought us closer to God".
Recalling the moment Dr Welby turned his back on the oil industry, his former boss at Enterprise Oil, Sir Graham Hearne, told the Guardian: "I said to him, 'Oh, Justin, that's very bad news. Why would you leave us? Which company has stolen you?'
"And he said, 'Don't worry about it. It's the Lord!' And he explained. And I of course was not happy to see him go but I understood fully the reasons.
"I think I knew he had faith, but he didn't push it in your face at all."
Dr Welby was rector at St James Church in Southam, Warwickshire from 1995 until 2002, before moving on to roles at Coventry Cathedral and as the Dean of Liverpool in 2007.
Dr Welby was consecrated as Bishop of Durham - the fifth most senior Church of England bishop - last October, in what has been a rapid ascent through the CofE heirachy.
But Rev John Armstrong, who took over when Dr Welby left one of his earliest church posts in Southam, believes his predecessor has the required skills to be a success as the new Archbishop.
Rev Armstrong told Yahoo! News UK: "His faith made him the sort of person he is today, but he had gifts which were applicable both in the oil industry and working in the Church.
"He is good at communicating with people and getting them to communicate with each other, and that will work in his favour in his new role.
"He certainly did a good job here and was instrumental in bringing this Church a lot more alive than it was before."
Although said to be an opponent of same sex marriage and the appointment of gay bishops, Dr Welby is not said to be aggressive in his beliefs.
His more understated approach, as well as his business expertise, are likely to endear him to Church leaders more than the conservative thinking of other frontrunners such as the Archbishop of York, the Right Reverend John Sentamu.
Dr Welby's ability to listen to opponents' point of view will also be key in his new role.
Last summer as Bishop of Durham, he was called on to defuse tensions over a vote on women bishops.
Even on homosexuality, where he was defended the Church's right to oppose same sex marriage, he was keen to accommodate opposing views.
Other former colleagues of Dr Welby have described him as an "enthusiastic, hands-on vicar" who is also "very, very likeable".
Perhaps it is his ability to engage with the ethics of the City that is the clincher, however.
His work on the parliamentary commission on banking standards was an obvious extension to his previous published works, most of which have been about the rights and wrongs of finance and management.
Welby promises to be a chief executive with a conscience, to boot. But it is his political brain that matters most.
He is a healer of wounds, not an aggravator — a skill he will have need of during his time in Lambeth Palace.
From there he will take charge not just of the Church of England but also the schism-hit worldwide Anglican communion.
A tough job for a man whose working life once confined him to whizzing through slides in corporate boardroom presentations.
Source: By Chris Parsons | ukiegeneric.cm
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Father Attallah Hanna, the archbishop of Sebastia in Jerusalem, strongly denounced the "Israeli" army for its attempts to recruit Christian Palestinians from the 1948 occupied lands.
Father Hanna said those who participated in suspicious meetings with Israelis to encourage the Christian young men of Palestine to join the army do not represent the Palestinian Christians and their national affiliation and only represent themselves.
He stressed that the Palestinian Christians are Arabs and an essential part of the Arab nation, describing these "Israeli" attempts as a grave conspiracy aimed at uprooting the Christian Palestinians from their national identity.
The "Israeli" war ministry organized recently a meeting in Nazareth Illit city between a number of Christian clergymen and "Israeli" officers from the army and its intelligence to urge the Christian Arabs to join the army and fight in its ranks.
For its part, the Islamic Movement in the 1948 occupied lands warned the Arab young men of falling into the trap of the "Israeli" attempts to Israelize them and create sectarian conflicts between the different spectra of the Palestinian people inside the Israeli occupied territories.
The Islamic Movement also urged the Arab political parties and movement in the 1948 occupied lands to take active role within the Arab committee against military and civil service in order to pool the efforts to confront Israel's attempts to recruit Palestinian young men.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — The loudest Christians making waves about Islam for much of this year have not been terribly, well, Christian. There have been the protests against plans to build mosques in places like Tennessee and New Jersey, and arson attacks on mosques in Joplin, Missouri and Toledo, Ohio. The anti-Muslim posters placed in New York City and Washington, DC subway stations by Pamela Geller’s organization. And that crude now-infamous video that sparked riots across the Middle East.
These contentious activities have garnered headlines and defined for many the “Christian” take on Islam in the U.S. And that’s been too much for a growing number of Christian organizations who are fed up with Islamophobia. Just in the past month, four separate campaigns have started to push back against extreme Christian voices and to preach a message of tolerance and love.
Sojourners—the community founded and led by evangelical author and speaker Jim Wallis—responded to subway ads calling Muslims “savages” by purchasing space to post its own posters in the same subway stations. The message is simple: “Love Your Muslim Neighbors.” After the mosque attacks in Joplin and Toledo, Sojourners bought billboards in both communities to broadcast the same message. “It’s only an extremist fringe that would ever attack another religion’s place of worship in this country,” explained Sojourners spokesman Tim King to the Christian Post. “But unless we offer up an alternative voice, it will be the message and acts of extremists that most across the country and the world hear.”
Geller’s subway ads also prompted a response from an interfaith coalition called Shoulder-to-Shoulder. The group worked closely with the United Methodist Women to produce a letter signed by 168 Washington-area clergy and religious organizations calling on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority to donate any proceeds from Geller’s ads to charity. It also countered with its own Metro advertisement: “Hate speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed.”
Two other religious campaigns are focused on educating Americans—and particularly Christian communities—about Muslims and Islam. On October 11, the Interfaith Alliance led by Baptist minister Welton Gaddy, along with the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center, released a guide called “What is the Truth about American Muslims? Questions and Answers.” The online document addresses topics such as the role of mosques in Muslim life, whether U.S. courts can ever substitute religious law for civil law (spoiler alert: no), and the meaning of Muslim words like “jihad” and “Taqiyya.”
The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, which was founded by Rev. Richard Cizik, is also undertaking a massive effort to broaden American perceptions of Islam and challenge stereotypes. The group produced and released an hour-long documentary called “Islam in America: The Christian Truth,” which tells the stories of American Muslims, but also of conservative Christians who have exchanged their fear of Islam for tolerance and understanding. Cizik and his colleagues intended the film to prompt discussion of Islamophobia in Christian communities, and they released it after the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in the hope that churches and other religious communities could discuss honestly their fears and beliefs.
Efforts like these too often go unnoticed or uncovered by journalists because they are earnest and have the goal of bringing people together instead of tearing them apart. That’s a sad commentary on journalism, but also on all of us who react to stories of religious hatred but flip past stories of religious cooperation with a “meh.” Too many of my colleagues also question whether campaigns to promote education or civility are actually representative of American Christians, because these efforts don’t fit the assumptions they have about who American Christians are. At the same time, they rarely ask whether Pamela Geller or Terry Jones of Qur'an-burning infamy represent anyone other than a small pitchfork-wielding band of followers. Until they do, the antics of Geller and Jones will make the front page while the efforts of Christians to push back against them will remain mostly exiled to the religion pages. — www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Thousands of Christian pilgrims from around the world marched through the streets of Jerusalem on Thursday alongside Israeli soldiers and workers, in an annual show of solidarity with the Jewish state.
A spokesman for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) said about 5,000 pilgrims from around 90 countries took part, out of a total participation that Israeli officials estimated at about 25,000.
ICEJ spokesman David Parsons said the turnout of pilgrims was about the same as last year, although there had been some cancellations from those fearing an imminent outbreak of war between Israel and Iran.
"I understand that there's been quite a few cancellations, at least from North America and some other areas, because of jitters about something breaking out here," he told AFP.
Christian delegates have been holding a conference in Jerusalem during the week-long Sukkot festival -- the Feast of Tabernacles -- which the Jewish faithful have been celebrating since Sunday.
Organizers said that participants included representatives of the Israel Allies Foundation's Chairmen's Conference, which brings together pro-Israel parliamentarians from governments around the world.
The World Jewish Congress said it hosted a meeting of lawmakers from 17 countries who "endorsed Israel's right to defend itself against existential threats such as those posed by the Iranian regime and its nuclear program."
Israel and much of the international community believe Iran's nuclear project masks a weapons drive, despite repeated denials from Tehran, and the Jewish state has warned it could launch a preemptive military strike.
Thursday's march included uniformed workers of the state-owned electricity corporation and other utilities, labor union representatives, staff of the national airline EL Al and bank employees, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
Among the Christian participants there were the familiar delegations from Europe and North America as well as a large contingent from China and what Parsons said was a 1,300-strong group from Brazil.
"This year more than 50 percent of our pilgrims are from developing nations: Latin America, Africa and Asia," he said.
Among the Israeli spectators lining the closed streets of central Jerusalem, several held signs reading, "Thank you for supporting Israel."— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) — Barack Obama has drawn fire from the Christian right over his attempt to criticise Muslims who are offended by slander of the prophet Mohammed while desecrating other religions.
Right-wing critics turned on the president over his speech to the United Nations in which he sought to dampen the backlash against the anti-Muslim film that prompted violence across the Middle East earlier this month. They accused him of saying that the foundation of Christianity is itself a slander against Islam.
Obama told the UN that the modern world presents a unique challenge because "anyone with a cell phone can spread offensive views around the world with the click of a button". He said the notion that the flow of information can be controlled is obsolete and so the question is how to respond to offensive material.
The president said that there is no justification for violence and the killing of innocents in response to an offending video or hate speech because that "empowers any individual who engages in such speech to create chaos around the world".
"We empower the worst of us if that's how we respond," he said.
Obama returned to the theme later in the speech when he implicitly noted the hypocrisy of those who resort to violence because they believe their religion is offended while refusing to respect the beliefs of others. That's when he upset some on the Christian right.
"The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam. But to be credible, those who condemn that slander must also condemn the hate we see in the images of Jesus Christ that are desecrated, or churches that are destroyed, or the Holocaust that is denied. Let us condemn incitement against Sufi Muslims and Shiite pilgrims," he told the UN.
"It's time to heed the words of Gandhi: 'intolerance is itself a form of violence and an obstacle to the growth of a true democratic spirit.' Together, we must work towards a world where we are strengthened by our differences, and not defined by them. That is what America embodies, that's the vision we will support."
The backlash was almost immediate with some on the right saying the president was launching a thinly veiled attack on Christians.
"It is an orthodox Christian belief that Mohammed is not a prophet," wrote Erick Erickson, the editor of the conservative website Red State. "Actual Christians, as opposed to many of the supposed Christians put up by the mainstream media, believe that Christ is the only way to salvation. Believing that is slandering Mohammed."
Erickson also saw a double standard in Obama condemning the slander of Mohammed while condemning only the desecration of the image of Christ.
"Note he says we cannot 'slander the prophet of Islam' but it's only the image of Christ in the next sentence – not actually Christ himself desecrated. If this is so, why does Barack Obama's government continue funding the National Endowment for the Arts, which funds Christ in piss, the Virgin Mary painted in dung, etc.?" he said.
Another conservative site that pushes an interpretation of Christian values, Sword at the Ready, accused the president of the apparently contradictory aims of "an all-out attack on faith" while also attempting to appease the Muslim world.
"Since all Islam demands everyone recognize Mohammed as God's true prophet – for the Salafists, Sufis and Shia – anyone who does not acknowledge the prophet is considered not only an infidel – but slander the prophet by their refusal to submit to him," it said. "Obama knows this having been raised a Muslim in Indonesia. His speech at the UN was an all-out assault on not only freedom of speech, but of faith. In cleverly cloaked words to deceive ignorant Americans, key phrases ping the ears that the Muslim world will understand what Obama really means."
John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the UN and arch conservative, derided Obama for "moral equivalence" for allegedly suggesting that the anti-Islam film was equally as offensive as the killings that followed it.
"It was like a great big warm fuzzy blanket. The president comes out in favour of tolerance. There's your breaking news," Bolton told Fox News. "The problem with the speech was that it was infused with the fallacy of moral equivalency – that there's sort of extremism and intolerance everywhere and it's all the same."
Obama also sought to defend the US from criticism in the Arab world that it did not ban the offending video on the grounds of the constitutional protection of free speech.
"Here in the United States, countless publications provoke offence. Like me, the majority of Americans are Christian, and yet we do not ban blasphemy against our most sacred beliefs. Moreover, as president of our country, and commander-in-chief of our military, I accept that people are going to call me awful things every day, and I will always defend their right to do so. Americans have fought and died around the globe to protect the right of all people to express their views – even views that we disagree with," he said.
While that statement may be open to challenge on several levels, including the claim that the US has defended free speech around the globe, Erickson attacked it on the grounds that in criticising the offending video the president was intruding on the rights of those who made it.
"Just words, Mr President? You say 'there is no speech that justifies mindless violence', but all last week you condemned a ridiculous video trailer for a movie that does not exist. Your government ran advertisements in Pakistan denouncing the video. What of free speech, Mr President? Last week you were saying the violence was understandable given the offensive film and this week you are trying to claim it was mindless," he wrote.—www.shafaqna.com/English