Inflammation and stories on religion

Malaysian Women
In the country of Malaysia where 30 million people are affected by widespread poverty, human trafficking, crime, a growing Islamic movement, as well as numerous other misfortunes, women are the most affected by these problems. In some Islamic cultures, there is an outlook that Muslim women should be subservient, submissive and should not have equal rights. However, compared to other Islamic countries, women’s aid in Malaysia has been a much greater success.

In this Southeast Asian country, there have been significant developments in the fight to protects women’s rights. One such organization that has joined this fight is the Women’s Aid Organization. This organization is challenging the antiquated views of women as well as helping to end violence against women and work towards equality between men and women.

The Women’s Aid Organization

The Women’s Aid Organization (WAO) was started, courtesy of Tan Siew Sin, the first Minister of Commerce and Industry in Malaysia, who donated a cash reward of RM 30 thousand to establish a shelter for battered women and their children in 1979. This shelter was eventually made into what is today the Women’s Aid Organization.

The vision of this organization is for violence against women to be eliminated. Its mission statement is “to promote and create respect, protection and fulfillment of equal rights for women. To work towards the elimination of discrimination against women, and to bring about equality between women and men.” Women’s aid in Malaysia has been largely influenced by this organization.

The objective of the Women’s Aid Organization is to provide protection, shelter and counseling to women and their children in the case of mental, physical or sexual abuse at any given time. The WAO also takes on research into the factors that play a part in the inequality of women.

Additionally, the organization advocates with government organizations and NGO’s to abolish factors contributing to the subordination of women through law, policy and organized reforms. It strives to provide a better understanding of the issues of violence against women and the underlying inequalities that they face on a daily basis.

Programs in the Women’s Aid Organization

The Women’s Aid Organization has three main services available to help women and their children in times of need.

  1. The first service is the Refuge, which operates as a shelter for abused women and their children. The Refuge is the center for WAO activities to educate women about domestic violence and women and family concerns, which are inevitably associated with this issue.
  2. The second service is the Child Care Centre, which is a place for children of former WAO’s residents who are going back to work and starting their lives over. The children of these women are cared for, either full-time or during the mother’s work hours, and provided an education at local schools along with recreational activities.
  3. The third service is social work, which is the center for advocacy on behalf of the women and children needing help. This section provides services to help women through legal, medical and welfare departments and ensure they are being treated fairly.

These services give women and their children the support and protection they need. Through the combination of these programs and several other services offered through the WAO, an extremely supportive system is created for maltreated women to use whenever it is needed.

Women’s aid in Malaysia has come a long way because of the WAO. Compared to other Islamic countries, this country is more progressive in its approach to the issue of women’s inequalities. Through more organizations like this one, women’s rights will become more of a priority for the authority figures of Malaysia. Aid is very much so needed in this Southeast Asian country, but much more so for women, whose odds are stacked up against them because of the way they have been seen in society for so long.

– Megan Maxwell
Photo: Flickr

Religious FreedomThe Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, specifically mentions religious freedom in Articles 2, 16 and 18. Article 18 states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” explicitly establishing religious freedom as a basic human right.

When working in developing nations, aid organizations often focus their aid toward expanding human rights and freedoms, such as ensuring healthy living conditions or equal education for girls. Since religious freedom is a human right, it is important that aid organizations work against religious persecution and intolerance. There is also a significant link to show that religious freedom boosts economic growth, suggesting that assuring religious freedom will help developing nations prosper overall.

4 Ways Religious Freedom Boosts Economic Growth

  1. Encourages peace – Religious persecution often leads to violence and conflict, disrupting normal economic activities. Conflict especially discourages foreign investment, which is necessary for economic growth, especially in developing nations. For example, many developing nations depend on tourism, which decreases significantly during a conflict. Religious freedom is also a key to stability, which encourages local business.
  2. Reduces corruptionThe Pew Research Center has found that nations with laws and policies that restrict religious liberty have higher levels of corruption. In fact, “Nine of the 10 most corrupt countries have high or very high governmental restrictions on religious liberty” according to the World Economic Forum.
  3. Reduces harmful regulation – Certain religious regulations can create legal barriers and directly affect economic activity. For example, restrictions concerning headscarves have been used to discriminate against women in the workplace and anti-blasphemy laws have been used to attack business rivals.
  4. Promotes diversity – Freedom of religion encourages diversity – religious pluralism – in all areas of society, and diversity has been shown to boost economic growth. For example, the inclusion and participation of minorities can boost economic innovation. According to the World Economic Forum, “the world’s 12 most religiously diverse countries each outpaced the world’s economic growth between 2008 and 2012,” showing that religious freedom boosts economic growth.

U.S. Aid and Religious Freedom

Initially passed 20 years ago, the bipartisan International Religious Freedom Act officially made religious freedom a priority in U.S. foreign policy. According to The U.S. Department of State, “Protecting religious freedom and religious minorities is an American ideal” and supporting victims of persecution and repression remains a priority.

Putting policy into practice, The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) is assembling new metrics to measure religious intolerance in developing nations. USAID also works extensively with local faith-based organizations to actually deliver assistance and relief. Working with local faith-based organizations helps USAID maintain cultural sensitivity and reach community members, who often uniquely trust their faith-based organizations.

At The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom conference, USAID Administrator Mark Greene said, “We believe that religious pluralism, which is part of a cultural mosaic, we believe it is worth preserving as a matter of development.” Religious freedom boosts economic growth and is essential for development, which is ultimately the goal of any foreign aid.

– Kathryn Quelle
Photo: Flickr

the Albigensian crusadeNot many people have heard of the Albigensian Crusade, but if you have, you know that this event was much like a real-life episode of Game of Thrones. Here are 10 things you didn’t know about the Albigensian Crusade.

    1. The crusade began in 1209
      The Albigensian Crusade was a 20-year-long endeavor, lasting from 1209 until 1229.
    2. Pope Innocent III started the crusade against the Cathars
      The Cathars were a religious group that rejected the traditional Roman Catholic Church. They committed themselves to the Cathari religious movement, which dominated southern France in the 1200s. The Cathars believed in a dualistic cosmology that partially adapted Catholic thought into a religion of their own and was thus considered heretical.
    3. The Albigensian Crusade took place in southern France
      The geographical scope of the crusade stretched across southern France: Avignon, Castelsarrasin, Termes and Toulouse.
    4. Catharism was virtually eliminated
      The crusade eventually eradicated Catharism by the end of the 13th century.
    5. Crusaders were instructed to have no mercy and no discretion
      During the capture of Béziers, a key Cathar territory in southern France, the papal legate was asked how to distinguish between Cathars and Christians, and allegedly responded “Kill them all. God will know his own.” Everyone in the south of France was at risk of being considered a heretic simply because of where they lived.
    6. Crusaders believed in “crusade indulgence”
      It was believed that “crusade indulgence” officially absolved sins and ensured that no punishment would be issued in the afterlife. The Albigensian Crusade was very popular among soldiers because they believed their sins would be forgiven for taking part in the crusade.
    7. The crusades morphed into a holy war
      By the 12th century, crusading was dedicated to removing religious diversity. The Roman Catholic Church considered the practice of other religions a threat to human salvation. Crusades branched out from those against Muslims and pagans in the Baltic region to the perceived threat of the Cathars.
    8. Pope Innocent III started the crusade but didn’t finish it
      After spearheading the crusade, Pope Innocent III was murdered while trying to recruit an ally. It is generally believed that the count of Toulouse, Raymond VI, murdered the pope after he tried to recruit the count to join the war effort.
    9. Royal intervention ended the crusade in 1229
      Despite papal inception, King Louis VIII brought the Albigensian Crusade to an end in 1229 after officially restoring control over the region.
    10. There were over one million deaths
      It is estimated that at least one million innocent lives were lost throughout the course of the 20-year crusade. Some Cathars were even burned at the stake.

Even though the Albigensian Crusade came to an end in 1229, it led to further persecution of heretics in the following century, including the infamous Spanish Inquisition and various other crusades. Though they occurred many centuries ago, these persecutions and deaths are part of the numerous human rights violations that have taken place throughout history.

Sloan Bousselaire

Photo: Google

Education in Vatican CityLocated in the heart of Rome, Italy, Vatican City is the smallest independent nation-state in the world. Its borders surround an area of just under 110 acres, and a majority of the nation’s citizens are members of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church. There are roughly 800 people living in Vatican City, and because of the religious practices of the Roman Catholic clergy, there is no annual birth rate. There is no primary education in Vatican City; however, the governing body runs over 15 institutions of higher education. Most of these schools are located outside of the walls of the Vatican, the Ethiopian College being the only exception. Operating within Vatican City, the Ethiopian College guides young African men towards priesthood. One of the largest Vatican-run schools in Rome is Gregorian University, a school which boasts 16 popes and over 19 canonized saints as graduates. Gregorian University was founded in 1551, and the university offers religious educations in topics like canon law and theology.

One cannot discuss education in Vatican City without mentioning the library. The Vatican Library represents one of the largest existing sources of information on the development of the Western world. In 1548, Pope Paul III became the first Cardinal Librarian of the Vatican Library, and it has since served as a tool in the education of thousands of patrons. The American Friends of the Vatican Library was started in 1981, and since then they have raised money and awareness for the treasure trove of information that is the Vatican Library. The American Friends of the Vatican Library is based in Orchard Lake, Michigan, and funds projects like restorations and repairs of the Vatican Library.

Vatican City is by no means a conventional country; however, it is undeniable that education is and has always been something highly regarded by the Vatican City government. Poverty and poor education go hand and hand, and the Roman Catholic Church operating in Vatican City has provided the tools for the education of millions of people since its conception.

Tyler Troped

Photo: Flickr

How to Help People in Brunei DarussalamBrunei is a small nation located in the northern coastal area of the island of Borneo, which also encompasses parts of Malaysia and Indonesia. Brunei’s territory extends itself through an area of 5,765 kilometers of land, where about 423,000 citizens live.

How to help people in Brunei is not an easy question to answer at first glance. The fact is that despite its size, Brunei’s economy is considered to be one of the best performing in the world.

The country mainly exports liquefied gas and crude oil across the globe; natural gas and petroleum represent 60 percent of the country’s economy. Brunei’s extended forest territory allows it to produce abundant amounts of non-renewable resources and energy.

In spite of Brunei’s level of productivity, the issue of how to help people in Brunei remains because, despite the country’s great wealth, the social and political system causes difficulty for Brunei’s citizens.

As an absolute monarchy led by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, freedom of speech has been limited within the media, including radio, television, and print, as well as for citizens.

In 2014, Brunei adopted sharia law, a list of laws based on the religion of Islam. Consisting of three phases, two of which have to be yet implemented, sharia law is currently enforced among Brunei’s citizens.

The only approved phase for the moment includes prison sentences for what most developed first world countries would consider minor. Pregnancy outside marriage, failing to attend Friday prayers, propagating religion other than Islam, among other offenses, are severely punished with prison sentences or fines.

Organizations such as the United Nations have spoken out regarding Bolkiah’s intentions, but despite commenting on the sultan’s ideas for the future of Brunei, the country remains part of the United Nations due to providing free medical care, education and more to its citizens.

Boycotts of the Beverly Hills Hotel and other properties that Bolkiah owns have been enacted by numerous international companies to put pressure on the sultan to repeal sharia law. Celebrities such as Ellen DeGeneres and Elton John have taken up the issue to bring awareness to the inequality and discrimination that is currently taking place in Brunei.

How to help people in Brunei is a social issue rather than an economic one. Brunei is a country that violates human rights every day and no organizations are actively fighting against it. The imposition of sharia law in Brunei is continuous and awareness is key in order to eradicate such human rights violations.

Paula Gibson

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in Vatican CityHome to the St. Peter’s Basilica, the Sistine Chapel and the Apostolic Chapel, Vatican City is one of the most sacred places in Christendom.

The sovereign city-state is contained within a walled enclave inside the city of Rome, giving it the distinction of being the world’s smallest country.

Main water resources in the city-state include the surface water from rivers and wetlands, groundwater from rocks and soil and treated government water supply. Water quality in Vatican City is good, thanks to the proliferation of drinking water fountains that take water directly from the mountains above the city.

Called “Nasoni” in Italian, the drinking water fountains in Rome are seen as inexpensive, environmentally-friendly options. The water is reportedly tested by the authorities about 250,000 times every year, ensuring that water quality in Vatican City is completely safe. Conveyed by an aqueduct to the drinking water fountains, an abundance of water means that a single family has more than 140 gallons to drink.

However, as recently as July 25, Vatican City decided to shut off all of its 100 decorative and drinking water fountains for conservation purposes because of a drought in Italy.

“The drought that is affecting the city of Rome and the surrounding areas of the capital has led the Holy See to take measures to save water,” the Vatican City’s website said. The statement also noted that the water-saving move was “in line with the teachings of Pope Francis.”

Pope Francis has repeatedly emphasized the issue of water security and water quality in Vatican City and around the world.

Earlier this year, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences of Vatican City and the Catedra Del Dialogo y La Cultura Del Encountro of Argentina convened a diverse panel of experts from all over the world in a conference titled, “Human Right to Water: An interdisciplinary focus and contributions on the central role of public policies in water and sanitation management.” Members explored solutions to the global water challenges, including how to make drinking water safe and accessible to the neediest of people and communities.

At the conference, Pope Francis highlighted the importance of water and noted an important distinction between providing life-giving water and water that is safe and of good quality. Noting that every day, thousands of children die due to water-related illnesses, he urged scientists, government leaders, businesspeople and politicians to foster a shared “culture of care and encounter” and hear “the cry of the earth for respect and responsible sharing in a treasure belonging to all.”

Furthermore, Pope Francis’ comprehensive encyclical, Laudato Si’ (On Care For Our Common Home), explains the Holy See’s views about the importance of good water quality: “In fact, access to safe drinking water is an essential, a fundamental and universal human right, because it determines the survival of people, and this is a requirement for the exercise of other human rights.”

As Italy struggles to respond to the drought crisis, both in and outside the Vatican City, Pope Francis has already inspired a global conversation centered on the values of the planet’s single most precious resource: water.

Mohammed Khalid

Photo: Flickr

Hunger In Brunei
Brunei is a country located on the north coast of the island of Borneo in Southeast Asia. Brunei is the only country on the island and has territory between the nations of Malaysia and Indonesia. Hunger in Brunei is a growing problem inherently linked to the government.

Recently, the leader of the country, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, announced his intention to make Shari’a law the primary form of law in the nation. This change stems from the fact that two-thirds of the country’s population is Muslim. This shift of policy in conjunction with growing governmental corruption led to the United Nations expressing grave concern for the country.

In Brunei, food is scarce due to the insurgent groups in the region and arid climates, making growing crops difficult for the farmers in the area. Due to its tropical climate and proximity to the ocean, the main supply of protein comes from marine catches. Marine wildlife acts a primary source of food for the people of Brunei, and the government has made an effort to increase the yields of fishers to meet the requirements for the nation’s food supply.

Outside of the fishing industry, a majority of food is shipped into the country internationally. Although the Brunei government states that they have adequate food distribution policies that ensure food products get distributed to the majority of citizens, data shows that this is not the case. Regardless, the food distribution system distributes sugar, rice and other basic foods. Once transported to communities, they get sold at “fair” food prices.

Political corruption began right as the country found independence in the early 18th century and has continued to affect the country’s population since. Due to much of the food supply being under control by the government and militant groups roaming the country seizing the little amount of food available for the country’s citizens, the amount of hunger in Brunei has increased dramatically since the country’s independence.

Malnutrition in Brunei is commonplace, and children under the age of five are the group most affected. This issue is compounded by the high prevalence of citizens being underweight. For females under the age of five, there is an 8.5 percent chance of being underweight, and males have a 10.8 percent chance.

The significant amount of hunger in Brunei stems from political corruption and the shift to Shari’a law as the primary form of governance. In general, a pregnant mother will struggle to find the volume of food necessary to have babies that are born healthy. The rate of babies born underweight is now at 11.9 percent, an increase since Shari’a law was implemented in the nation.

Beyond issues with the country’s government, the food that is available to the citizens of Brunei is either of low quality or often gets contaminated with toxins. This low quality of food has led to children growing up in the nation to be underdeveloped. About 22.8 percent of males and 16.7 percent of females suffer from stunted development as a direct result of malnutrition and toxic foods.

The political situation in Brunei has contributed significantly to the country’s inability to feed its citizens. Although the government has tried to make strides in better distributing the food the country has, many people still face the issues created by hunger in Brunei.

Continued pressure by the EU should ensure that the government continues to distribute food and sell that food at fair prices. However, as present trends suggest, this may not be possible until more political change occurs in the country.

Nicholas Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights In YemenYemen is a nation located in Western Asia at the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula. Yemen is also the second-largest country in the region and has a population of around 25.5 million people. Due to the unstable nature of the nation’s government coupled with the influence of insurgent groups such as ISIS and Al-Qaeda, human rights in Yemen is a topic that needs to be discussed for it to move from a developing nation to a developed one.

Human Rights In Yemen

Due to the influence of extremist Islamic groups in this region of the world, Yemen struggles to ensure the rights of its women. As a result, human rights in Yemen are not yet where they need to be.

Even though the Yemeni Constitution of 1994 states that women have equal rights as men, the country still struggles to provide this for all women. Yemen’s Personal Status law gives women fewer rights than men and excludes women from decision making and deprives them access and control over their resources and assets.

On top of this, women in Yemen do not have the right to initiate divorce in the same way a man can. Women must first go to court and justify to the public why divorce is imperative to their safety. Yemen has a horrible record of child marriage. According to a UNICEF study in 2005, 48.4 percent of women in Yemen were married before the age of 18. Worse yet, it was only in 2010 that a new law stated the minimum age for marriage in the country was 17.

Freedom Of The Press

Yemen ranks at 136 out of 167 nations in regards to its press freedom. The government has total control over all television and can ban anything that they deem to be releasing “incorrect” information. To further explain the severity of this situation, a journalist in the newspaper Al-Shura criticized Abdul Majeed al-Zindani in a 2001 newspaper. As a result of this action, this journalist was sentenced to 80 lashes.

Freedom of the press is a luxury that many individuals in the West take for granted. If human rights in Yemen are to improve, the ability to publish information without the threat of violence must first be allowed.

Freedom Of Religion

Due to the immense influence of insurgent groups in the region, freedom of religion is hard to attain. The constitution of the country declares Islam as the state religion and uses Sharia law as the source of all governmental legislation. Although Yemen does allow people to practice any religion, a citizen of Yemen is not authorized to convert to another religion if they are currently Muslim.

Different religious groups in the region often get into conflicts and attacks on Jews in Yemen are commonplace. Since the start of the Shia insurgency in the Middle East, many Zaidi Muslims were accused of supporting them. This accusation led to these groups being arrested, beaten, and at times murdered under false accusations. For human rights in Yemen to improve, and to allow people to have the freedom of religion that the Constitution dictates, significant change must occur in the region.

Progress Is Being Made

Although human rights in Yemen are not ideal at this point in time, the government of Yemen is doing much work to fix this issue. Recently, Yemen has been involved in numerous treaties to repair the state of human rights in the country.

Continued political support of these treaties is one way human rights in Yemen can continue to improve. On top of this, attention from the media in countries with freedom of the press will continue to pressure the government of Yemen to improve these conditions.

Nick Beauchamp

Photo: Flickr


Kashmir Family Aid is an organization based out of Portland, Oregon that recognized the influence that secular education in Pakistan could have in combating extremism. The benefit of increased U.S. national security is an added positive outcome. Founder Sam Carpenter assured that the organization’s ultimate goal is fighting poverty through education.

Education in Pakistan is very much bound up in religion. There are over 20,000 madrassas, or religious schools, in Pakistan. This means that 3.5 million children and young adults are given Koranic teachings as their primary source of education, and, while this is a respected and understood aspect of Pakistani culture, it has increased the threat of extremism to the point of government intervention. As reported by the Washington Post, part of the Pakistani government’s 2015 plan for combating terrorism included “registrations and regulation of madrassas,” but it is still approximated that at least 9,000 are unregistered and that two to three percent have ties to student radicalization.

In the politically divided areas of Pakistan and Azad Kashmir, a 2005 earthquake left over 70,000 people dead and three million homeless. The earthquake destroyed 8,000 of the region’s 11,000 primary schools. Kashmir Family Aid was founded to help the area recover from such devastation.

The organization provides school supplies to the small village of Sarli Sacha in the foothills of a rural area that is nearly inaccessible in winter. They continually strive to provide money directly to schools, such as one in the Langla Village that cannot provide the $30 to $40 USD monthly salaries to its teachers. Fearing that the corruption of local officials has contributed to the misappropriation of government funds and undermining of education in Pakistan, Carpenter insists on paying school administrators and teachers in cash.

After bringing secular education to about 1,200 children, Kashmir Family Aid retreated their physical presence, fearing potential kidnap or arrest. In a country where 89 percent of people see Americans as an enemy, help was not always interpreted as such by local leaders. They now work primarily out of their Oregon office to raise money to be contributed to funds such as the Helping Hands Welfare Association.

Providing secular education in Pakistan is potentially one of the most streamlined ways of monitoring and preventing extremism. One of Kashmir Family Aid’s biggest supporters in Azad Kashmir was the prime minister himself, showing that the hope for schools that could produce doctors, educators and community leaders instead of Jihadists is not an American interest alone.

Brooke Clayton

Photo: Flickr

Women in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia is one of the most conservative societies in the world. Women in Saudi Arabia rely on men to allow them the rights to travel, become educated, see doctors and marry. The country was ranked 141 of 144 in the 2016 Global Gender Gap World Economic Forum study, which focused on how women fare in economies, political participation, health and education worldwide.

King Salman of Saudi Arabia recently issued an order granting women in Saudi Arabia access to government services like education and healthcare without requiring male consent. This is a significant step in the direction of women’s emancipation. Maha Akeel, director of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, stated: “Now at least it opens the door for discussion on the Guardian system.” The election of Saudi Arabia to the U.N.’s women’s rights commission a month earlier drew large-scale outrage because of this system, which is not ended by the new law.

The Guardian system is based on the premise that women are inferior to men and cannot make important decisions without them. Any woman’s father is her first guardian, and when she marries, guardianship is shifted to her husband. Many women in Saudi Arabia are abused and have their rights restricted by their guardians. This is possible because the legal system is biased toward men, and there are no female judges in the country. Women in Saudi Arabia are, in this way, deprived of independence for the entirety of their lives.

Feminist-led protests have called attention to these inequalities in the past. For example, in September 2016, 2,500 women approached the king’s office demanding the end of guardianship. A supporting petition was signed by an additional 14,000 women, and an online movement grew under the hashtag #IAmMyOwnGuardian.

Other initiatives have also moved to empower women. The Saudi government has recently encouraged women’s participation in many sectors of the workforce. Saudi Vision 2030, for example, hopes to increase the percentage of working women from 22 to 30.

Although the new law does not end guardianship in Saudi Arabia, it is a historic milestone for women in Saudi Arabia and is a step toward independence for women in the country.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr