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In the Press

  • A crown court judge has been allowed to rule on sharia cases, in the first case of its kind.
     
    District Judge Shamim Qureshi, who sits at Bristol Crown Court, received permission from the Judicial Office to double as “presiding judge” at the Muslim Arbitration Tribunal (MAT).
     
    The MAT was established in 2007 by a hardline cleric, Sheikh Faiz-ul-Aqtab Siddiqi, who led an anti-Charlie Hebdo demonstration after 11 of the magazine’s staff were murdered by terrorists.
     
    Theresa May, the Home Secretary, is due to launch an independent review into sharia courts and councils amid concerns that a “parallel” justice system is developing in Britain. There are particular concerns that the courts are discriminatory towards women.
  • Exam boards have come under pressure to cancel exams on the day of a Jewish festival, which falls in the middle of the exams season, following a decision to bring forward tests to fit in with Ramadan.
     
    The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents exam boards, has said it compiles timetables over a year in advance and it considers a number of factors, including the interests of faith communities, when putting together the calendar for the exams.
     
    However, the JCQ said that in a “large and complex system” is not possible to make allowances for everyone.
     
    The statement emerged as a campaign group called for "religious rules to change, not the system".
     
    And now a prominent Jewish leader has said he would expect Jewish children would have special arrangements made during the Shavuot festival, which this year falls in the middle of the exams season.
  • It is time to "blow away" all the "nonsense" that prevents police from properly pursuing extremist suspects, London Mayor Boris Johnson has said.
     
    In a BBC interview, Mr Johnson was asked about Londoner Siddhartha Dhar, who is thought to have fronted a so-called Islamic State propaganda video after fleeing the UK while on bail.
     
    He said laws governing bail were "pretty ineffective" and police work was hampered by "very uppity lawyers".
  • The Dutch Medical Federation (KNMG) has affirmed the conscience rights of doctors to refuse to participate in euthanasia.
     
    The DutchNews.NL reported
     
    Dutch doctors must retain the right to refuse to help their patients to die, the doctors’ federation KNMG has told the NRC [a Dutch newspaper]. While most doctors back euthanasia, or assisted dying, they should never be compelled to cooperate, Rutger Jan van der Gaag [the president of KNMG] is quoted as saying. Euthanasia should not be something that can be forced on doctors, he said.
  • An anti-persecution charity has reported that a Christian pastor in Sudan has been acquitted of charges against him.
     
    Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) says that Pastor Hafiz Mengisto, senior minister of the Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church, has been acquitted of obstructing a public servant from performing the duties of his office.
     
    Mohamed Mustafa, the lawyer for the church, was also charged with the same crime but was acquitted as well.
     
    The trials began in December and the court accepted that the prosecution had failed to follow due procedure when initiating a criminal case against a registered lawyer before dismissing it.
     
    Pastor Mengisto and Mr Mustafa were arrested and charged in July 2015 after police officers came to Khartoum Bahri Evangelical Church with a court order to demolish a building on the church's property.
  • A Catholic nursing home for elderly patients in Diest, Belgium, has been sued by the family of a 74-year-old cancer patient for having denied access to her doctor who was to euthanize her four years ago.
     
    Mariette Buntjens, whose metastatic cancer was causing her much suffering in its terminal stage, was eventually removed from the nursing home by ambulance and taken to her home in order to be killed after having said goodbye to her loved ones “in peaceful surroundings.” The lawsuit was filed soon after by her daughter, Nadine Engelen, against the non-profit association to whom the Sint-Augustinus rest home belongs. After two postponements, a hearing is to take place in April at a civil court in Louvain.
     
    The lawsuit is being seen as a landmark case in Belgium where conscientious objection against euthanasia is part of the law for doctors and medical staff, but where the euthanasia lobby is hoping to establish that medical institutions cannot refuse euthanasia to be performed within their walls for moral reasons.
  • Pastor James McConnell from Shore Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, has been prosecuted under the 2003 Communications Act after he said Islam was "heathen", "satanic" and a "doctrine spawned in hell".
     
    The 78-year-old faced two charges - improper use of a public electronic communications network and causing a grossly offensive message to be sent by means of a public electronic communications network - after the comments made from the pulpit of his Whitewell Metropolitan Tabernacle on May 18 2014 were streamed online.
     
    He denied both alleged offences.
     
    District Judge Liam McNally heard the high profile trial over three days at Belfast Magistrates' Court last month but reserved his judgment.
  • A headteacher who was accused of misconduct in the so-called Trojan horse scandal in Birmingham has been banned indefinitely from teaching after being found guilty of professional misconduct.
     
    Jahangir Akbar, who was the acting headteacher of Oldknow academy in Small Heath, Birmingham, was found by a disciplinary hearing to have “failed to uphold public trust in the profession and maintain high standards of ethics and behaviours”. Investigators said he allowed an undue amount of religious influence on the education of pupils at his school.
     
    The National College for Teaching and Leadership panel found that Akbar put pressure on teachers who did not share his views to leave, promoted those who supported him, reformed the curriculum to exclude sex education, separated boys from girls in some classes and banned the celebration of Christmas and Diwali.
     
    Akbar also reacted inappropriately by shouting at a parent when challenged about his daughter’s education, and said he was glad when a pupil was said to have been bullied. The tribunal said Akbar’s behaviour amounted to “misconduct of a serious nature”.
     
    In a ruling published by the government, the panel said that “by decreasing the diversity of religious education and eliminating a diverse range of cultural events, there was a failure [by Akbar] to promote the spiritual, moral, cultural and mental development of pupils at the school”. 
  • “First, I am from a Muslim background,” Firuza* said, scooting her white plastic chair farther into the sun as she shared her story during a short break from babysitting. “In school we were taught there was no God. God doesn’t exist… I learnt about God in my family. My grandfather was a Muslim leader, a mullah. He taught us stories of God from the Qur’an.”
     
    Desiring devoutness, Firuza quit high school at age 15 to study in an Islamic boarding school about an hour away from her house. Ten days into her stay, however, she returned home.
     
    “The head of the [school] was a very rude, yelling woman, all covered in black, and I was scared. I didn’t see any godliness,” she explained.
     
    Firuza re-enrolled in high school, learnt reading and Arabic script, and continued following standard Islamic practices: attending the mosque, praying and fasting during Ramadan. After finishing high school, she decided to study in her country’s capital city.
     
    “There, I heard about Jesus for the first time,” she remembered.
  • Christianity is being subtly “silenced” within the public sector in the UK because of a civil service culture which treats speaking about faith as “not the done thing”, according to a former top Whitehall mandarin appointed as Church of England’s most senior lay official.
     
    William Nye said a “secularising spirit” now permeates the machinery of government, leading to an unspoken “squeezing out of Christianity” from national life, despite public expressions of support from David Cameron and other ministers.
     
    He said ministers or the general public would be surprised to realise the full extent to which faith is now seen as “odd and unusual” within the public sector in Britain.

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