Inflammation and stories on religion

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 Darussalam

Brunei 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% 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 BruneiBrunei 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 Yemen
Yemen 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% 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 regard 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, a 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


Bahrain is a small Muslim country located in the Persian Gulf off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Bahrain has only been independent of imperial governance for 42 years. It has been governed by a Sunni-led constitutional monarchy since its release from British rule and Iranian influence in 1971. Although many of the violent conflicts in the Middle East dwarf the issues in Bahrain, the country’s refugee problem has grown since 2011. Shia refugees in Bahrain today face displacement, religious segregation and suppression of free speech.

Until recently, Sunni and Shia Muslims have lived in relative peace since Bahrain’s formal independence. In comparison to many other Islamic countries in the Middle East, Bahrain experienced little violence along religious lines. Whether this was because the nation is in its infancy, or because of the absolute rule of the government, remains to be seen. However, it is clear that a stark divide between the two sects of Islam was revived in light of recent political turmoil.

The dominant sect of Shia Muslims began a series of protests in 2011 which have occurred through to the present day. Dissatisfied with their representation in the government since independence, protesters hope to galvanize political reform. The royal family’s militant suppression of free speech caused most protests to subside and created a mass of Shia refugees.

Government analysts noted the possibility that the religious divide between Sunni and Shia has been rehashed as a political tactic to suppress dissenters. Bahraini dissenters are displeased with the lack of democratic representation in the government. As local Bahraini historians and politicians suggested, pitting the two sects of Islam against each other appears to be an attempt to consolidate power within the royal family.

Civil unrest in Bahrain and the royal family’s purported desire to consolidate power within the country led to the marginalization of Shia Muslims. Below are ten facts about Shia refugees in Bahrain which indicate the disenfranchisement, poverty and exploitation they suffer.

10 Facts About Shia Refugees in Bahrain

  1. Most Bahraini refugees are Shia Muslims. Unlike most instances of political scapegoating, the situation in Bahrain is peculiar in that the Shia sect of Islam is the religious majority.
  2. The official reason for the exile of many Shia Muslims is the sect’s purported allegiance to Iran’s political agenda. However, there is no hard evidence that Bahraini Shia Muslims are advancing an Iranian political agenda. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Bahraini exiles are noted political dissenters who are critical of Bahrain’s royal family.
  3. Shia refugees live in ghettos which are becoming increasingly common in Bahrain. The slums are often purposely masked by new infrastructure. This infrastructure is funded by donations from Arab nations seeking to quell the civil unrest boiling beneath the surface.
  4. Political dissidents in Bahrain can receive sentences of up to five years in prison, which may include torture depending on the dissident’s level of cooperation. The Security Law of Bahrain, which passed in 1975, states that any political prisoner may be imprisoned for up to three years if the ruling party deems the dissident a threat to the ultimate goals of the nation.
  5. Routine and institutionalized discrimination against Shia Muslims bars the religious group from easily obtaining the most basic human necessities, such as food, shelter and water.
  6. Since 2012, the Sunni ruling family has been tinkering with the citizen naturalization process to disrupt the demographics of Bahrain and weaken the voice of the Shia in the nation’s political institutions.
  7. The right to fair trial is regularly kept from Shia Muslims, which serves to exacerbate the injustices which cause extreme poverty in ghettos.
  8. Health care for Shia refugees is minimal, but there is an even more chronic lack of medical care for persons living with HIV/AIDS, posing a serious threat to public health.
  9. While the egregious human rights violations carried out against the Shia in Bahrain have subsided somewhat recently, the institutions which facilitated these abuses of power remain intact. Work must still be done in order to alleviate the poverty and oppression of Shia Muslims in Bahrain.
  10. Bahrain has not agreed to the 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons or the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. This means that the treatment of refugees in Bahrain is not monitored, and information concerning refugees in Bahrain is disorganized and largely missing.

Linford Spencer

Photo: Flickr

Iran Describes Education 2030
Iran’s government criticized the “western-influenced” U.N. global education plan known as Education 2030, claiming that it contradicts all of Islam’s principles.

“In this country, the basis is Islam and the Koran. This is not a place where the faulty, corrupt and destructive Western lifestyle will be allowed to spread its influence,” supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on his website.

The Education 2030 plan emphasizes five principles that the U.N. perceives as most important, also known as the Five Ps: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership.

Education 2030 is one of 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), exemplifying the importance of education for all.

The U.N.’s plan outlines how to take promises made by a nation and turn their words into actions at a regional, national, and global level while providing guidelines on how to do so properly.

This plan has support from the U.N. Development Programme, the U.N. Populations Fund, the U.N. Refugee Agency, UNICEF, U.N. Women and the World Bank.

The heart of the Education 2030 plan lies within the support of the country and governments, promoting the change the plan is hoping to see over the next 15 years.

Khamenei has openly opposed the Education 2030 plan and blames the Supreme Council of the Cultural Revolution for being careless. He claims that “signing that document (Education 2030) and its silent implementation is certainly not allowed, and this have been announced to the organizations in charge.”

He then stressed that Iran is not a place for the infiltration of the flawed, devastating and corrupt Western lifestyle and that an international organization under the influence of large powers has no right to make decisions of other nations of differing histories, cultures and civilizations.

He did not give specific details on the opposition of the plan, however, commentators in Iran believe the promotion of gender equality in education contravened Islam.

At other times, Khamenei has promoted education in Iran and applauded educators for the significance and importance of education, explaining things such as the power of vocational programs for hiring skilled workers who are “national assets.”

Mary Waller

Photo: Flickr

Poverty In Malaysia
Poverty in Malaysia is a controversial economic and political issue. The definition of poverty and the poverty line in Malaysia has been disputed for years and causes much political uproar, including political protests and debates.

Malaysia has grown rapidly in economic development, with 65.6 percent of the population aged 15 years and above employed and working in 2014. With that many people working, each household is expected to make a sufficient income.

It has been recorded that there was a 55.3 percent reduction in the percentage of population below the poverty line in Malaysia, meaning that the country’s poverty is a large focus for the government and the community, and they are working together to solve the problem.

A survey conducted in 2014 by the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), on a sample size of 81,634 households, shares the preliminary data that only one percent of these households were living below the poverty line index. That’s right – Malaysia has a poverty population of one percent, meaning that only 300,000 people of 33.3 million are living in poverty in Malaysia.

The government is currently working to solve Malaysian poverty by using the four-pronged method of thinking discussed below.

4 Approaches to Addressing Poverty In Malaysia

  1. Educate and lift the level of education among the poor children in school, and teach them business practices that can help them gain a higher income job and possibly run a company.
  2. Strengthen social safety nets, and provide government-funded empowerment
  3. Ensure income is redistributed to uplift those in poverty.
  4. Create policies that promote economic development.

Malaysia has one of the largest middle classes in any Muslim country. It’s made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians. Many of these middle-class people own their own modern houses and condos, own two cars and employ Indonesian maids.

Malaysia is on the right track to completely eliminate its impoverishment and strengthen its economy. Aid from the U.S. can only guarantee these goals.

Rilee Pickle

Photo: Flickr