Holy Sites in Jerusalem Re-Opened

Last Friday three Arab Israelis opened fire from a sacred site in Jerusalem which is called Noble (Haram Al Sharif) Sanctuary for Muslims and Temple Mount for Jews. Using automatic weapons the three Arab Israelis killed two police officers and were later shot dead inside the compound. The Holy Sites were re-opened today with stricter security checks.

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The Arab-Israeli conflict is only studied a little in British schools as the focus is on modern wars such as World War I and World War II. We take an initial look at the subject in Religious Studies when studying about pilgrimages and how Jerusalem is contested and valued by Muslims, Jews and Christians. A short BBC video explains the importance of Haram Al Sharif and Temple Mount, and there is a BBC Pictures special about the holy sites, explaining how through modern history there has been unrest over who the site belongs to. The history of the sites brings you closer to understanding both faiths, with important stories for Jews such as Abraham almost sacrificing his son Isaac there, and Temple Mount being where people will receive redemption when the Messiah arrives. Compared to Muslim stories of Muhammad PBUH  having his Night Journey from Makkah to Jerusalem to hear in heaven from Allah about prayer (salah, one of the five pillar of Islam).

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Soul of a Nation

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Soul of a Nation a new art exhibition at Tate Modern art gallery in London examines what it meant to be black and an artist during the civil rights movement, from 1963 – when the idea of black power was emerging in the USA – through to 1983. As you arrive in the first room you are met with the audio of Martin Luther King‘s ‘I have a dream’ speech. It is the first time a lot of the art has been in displayed in the UK. For anybody interested in the history of the civil rights movement or how we are striving for racial harmony, then this is an art exhibition not to be missed, Channel 4 agree.

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Battle of the Sexes

Today in most tennis tournaments, women earn 20% less than men. Equal pay is regularly opposed by male players and people in the tennis industry, most recently by a former US tennis centre CEO Raymond Moore, who said female tennis players “ride on the coattails of the men,” and Novak Djokovic, who said men deserve higher prize money because their matches are more popular.

In 1973, Billie Jean King the women’s tennis number 1 took on Bobby Riggs a former men’s number 1 and won. Her victory changed women’s tennis considerably. Forty years later there might not be complete equality but without Billie Jean King’s tennis match called the Battle of the Sexes, things might be a whole lot worse.

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A new film out this year called Battle of the Sexes will help younger tennis fans and the wider public understand how important that tennis match in 1973 was. Starring Emma Stone and Steve Carell the trailer has just been released and people are saying it might end up being an Oscar contender.

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Muhammad Ali: watch and learn

In today’s lesson where students had to decide who is the biggest hero, Mother Teresa or Muhammad Ali, the latter was a clear winner. Below are some documentaries and films which will provide you with a heaps of information and inspiration from the great man himself.

  • Muhammad Ali – The Whole Story (1996): This is a six hour series which covers the whole of Muhammad Ali’s life.
  • When We Were Kings (1996): I watched this for the first time at University as part of  a film festival and the documentary transfixes you with the heat and passion of boxing. It covers the infamous 1974 ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ between Ali and George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. The focus is, naturally enough, the aging Ali, who was thought at the time to have little chance of beating Foreman yet his ‘rope-a-dope’ strategy –pretending to be in more trouble than you actually are, and cunningly wearing your opponent down in the process – proves devastating.
  • Ali (2001): Will Smith who is most famous for the Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Men in Black stars in this biopic that chronicles ten years in the life of Cassius Clay, from 1964, when he took the heavyweight title from Sonny Liston, to 1974 and the Rumble In The Jungle with George Foreman. In between, there are the wider issues of Ali’s controversial opposition to the Vietnam War as a conscientious objector, his conversion to Islam, his banishment from boxing and his initial return against Joe Frazier.
  • The Trials of Muhammad Ali (2013): This is an American PBS documentary which focuses on Ali’s life outside the ring. A lot of times is given of course to his refusal of the Vietnam draft and the legal and professional problems it caused him (he faced prison, was stripped of his heavyweight title and had his boxing licence suspended for four years).
  • I am Ali (2013): This documentary is just about Ali as a man. There isn’t the focus on Ali as a boxer like other films or documentaries. It shows him as a warm-hearted family man through lots of  audio recordings Ali himself  in the ‘70s.

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Other short clips about Ali are worth watching to learn more about this hero:

  1. BBC News reporting on his death
  2. Inside Story by Al-Jazeera
  3. Muhammad Ali Obituary by the New York Times
  4. The last US President Obama gives a tribute to Ali 
  5. BBC Sports Personality of the Century

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What’s it like in a Youth Offender Institute?

There are often newspaper exposes of how cushy it is in prison: drugs on tap, computer games… a bit like a luxury hotel. Well a court case agains the Ministry of Justice is shedding some light on what Feltham Youth Offender Institute is like for some of guests.

  • locked in his cell for 23 and a half hours a day and denied the education to which he is legally entitled
  • let out of his cell for only half an hour a day to make phonecalls, take a shower or be given medication.
  • not allowed into the gym
  • one-third of imprisoned children spent time in isolation

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Negative Mass means you push it and it accelerates towards you

The Physical Review Letters Journal is reporting on an amazing research paper by scientists who’ve created Negative Mass allowing something which is pushed to then accelerate towards you, thereby breaking Isaac Newton’s Second Law of Motion. A short article in the BBC explains how by cooling rubidium atoms to just above the temperature of absolute zero (close to -273C), created what’s known as a Bose-Einstein condensate. Then in this state with particles moving extremely slowly, and following behaviour predicted by quantum mechanics, they acted like waves. They also synchronised and moved together in what’s known as a superfluid, which flows without losing energy.

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To create the conditions for a negative mass, the researchers had used lasers to trap the rubidium atoms and to kick them back and forth, changing the way they spun. When the atoms were released from the laser trap, they expanded, with some displaying negative mass.

Isaac Newton the man who changed the way the look at the universe:

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Easter Eggs – how Christian are they?

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The British Prime Minister Theresa May has spoken up in a debate about whether the National Trust and Cadbury (the chocolate brand) should make more mention of Easter in their egg hunts. The chocolate brand partner up with the National Trust each year to provide all the Easter eggs which children search for around country estates and houses in the National Trust’s portfolio. Currently on the National Trust website it states there is a lot of Easter fun but the name of the hunt is: Cadbury Egg Hunt – as you can see missing the ‘Easter’. Is this a problem? How Christian are Easter eggs anyway?

Easter Sunday is the culmination of an entire season in the Christian calendar. Preceded by Lent (a time of penance for sin) at Easter Christians celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But what has this got to do with rabbit eggs?  It is interesting how many Easter traditions can be traced back to long before the spread of Christianity. Easter was in fact originally a pagan festival. The ancient Saxons celebrated the return of spring with a festival commemorating their goddess of offspring and springtime, Eostre

The Easter Bunny may well have its origin in the honouring of rabbits in spring as an animal sacred to the goddess Eastre. Although quite why a rabbit should bring you eggs, no-one is quite sure. It’s likely that the pagan symbolism that’s survived has become merged together and increasingly commercialised.  Meanwhile the egg has long been a symbol of new life, so it’s no surprise that they’re used to symbolise nature seeming to “wake up” and bring forward new life in spring. And guess what, this isn’t a recent thing either. Ancient Greeks and Egyptians placed eggs on their tombs. A Roman proverb states, “All life comes from an egg”.

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So for a Christian remembering the events of Holy Week and Easter Sunday, should they be so concerned with people missing the Easter out of an egg hunt which isn’t completely tied to the Christian story anyway? There is no mention of an Easter festival in the New Testament of the Bible.  In fact the celebration of Easter didn’t finally win out until A.D. 325, nearly 300 years after Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection! The word Easter isn’t even to do with Christianity states a Guardian journalist, who goes on to complain that it’s a shame that people needed Jesus’ death and resurrection to make them believe.

‘Jesus had me at “love your enemies”. He sealed the deal with “let he who is without sin cast the first stone”, the parables of the good samaritan, the prodigal son, his transgression of the gender norms of the time, his emphasis on mercy and forgiveness, his reaching out to society’s outcasts, his practical help to the sick and hungry. That’s enough for me, as it evidently was to his disciples, who gave up what they had to follow him long before any crucifixion or resurrection.’

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Let us even consider hot cross buns – how Christian are they? The tradition of baking bread marked with a cross is apparently linked to paganism as well as Christianity. The pagan Saxons would bake cross buns at the beginning of spring in honour of the goddess Eostre. The cross represented the rebirth of the world after winter and the four quarters of the moon, as well as the four seasons and the wheel of life. The Christians then saw the Crucifixion in the cross bun and, as with many other pre-Christian traditions, replaced their pagan meaning with a Christian one – the resurrection of Christ at Easter. According to one story, an Anglican monk in the 12th century baked buns and marked them with a cross in honour of Good Friday. Over time they gained popularity, and eventually became a symbol of the Easter weekend.

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It might not have been until Tudor times that it was permanently linked to Christian celebrations. During the reign of Elizabeth I, the London Clerk of Markets issued a decree forbidding the sale of spiced buns except at burials, at Christmas or on Good Friday.  A song which some might still know to accompany these tasty Easter treats:

‘Hot cross buns, hot cross buns!
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!
If you have no daughters, give them to your sons,
One ha’penny, two ha’penny, hot cross buns!’
Finally, a closer look at the criticism directed towards the National Trust and Cadbury’s. It was really kickstarted by the Archbishop of York who said that by calling the event the Cadbury Egg Hunt it was like “spitting on the grave” of the firm’s Christian founder, John Cadbury. John Cadbury was a Quaker. Quakers don’t celebrate Easter, because a Quaker believes that every day is holy, meaning that the criticism towards Cadbury is poorly judged too.
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