Reuters blog archive
A Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of blaspheming Islam said on Saturday she had been wrongfully accused by neighbours due to a personal dispute, and appealed to the president to pardon her.
Asia Bibi, mother of four, is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy law which rights groups say is often exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. (Photo: Asia Bibi in an undated photo handed out by family members on November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Bibi's brother Ramzan, Asia, brother Yunus and son Imran)
The 36-year-old farm worker was taken into custody by police in June last year and was convicted by a lower court on Nov. 8. She has been in prison since then, with her case drawing international media attention as well as appeals by human rights groups, and, according to Pakistani media, Pope Benedict.
"I told police that I have not committed any blasphemy and this is a wrong accusation, but they did not listen to me," Bibi told reporters after meeting with Salman Taseer, governor of the central Punjab province where she is imprisoned. "I have small kids. I have wrongly been implicated in this false case," she said in the prison, covered in a cloak that only revealed her eyes.
Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute to freedom of speech on Wednesday at a ceremony for a Dane whose cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad provoked Muslim protests that led to 50 deaths five years ago.
Merkel, who grew up in Communist East Germany, recalled her joy over the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. "Freedom for me personally is the happiest experience of my life," Merkel, 56, said at the conference on press freedom in Potsdam near Berlin.
A film about the Prophet Mohammad backed by the producer of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Matrix" is under discussion, a Qatar media firm said Sunday, with the aim of creating an English-language blockbuster for the world's 1.5 billion Muslims.
Filming of the $150 million movie is set to start in 2011, with Barrie Osborne as its producer, Almoor Holdings said. Almoor said the film - in which the Prophet would not be depicted, in accordance with Islamic strictures - was in development and talks were being held with studios, talent agencies and distributors in the United States and Britain.
Asher Frohlich's painting of "God's Holy Mountain" (at right) depicts a scene from an imagined future Jerusalem where Islam's Dome of the Rock stands beside a rebuilt Jewish temple and worshipers of different faiths mingle in the courtyard.
Is this scene too good to come true?
The problem today, in the simplest of terms, stems from the fact that one spot in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem, is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Jews know it as the Temple Mount and Muslims call it al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). For more about the religious history of the complex, click here.
It started with "assalaamu alaykum" and ended with "may God's peace be upon you." Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a "new beginning" in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course -- you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama's speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)
Among Obama's Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts -- Muslims and non-Muslims -- mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it's not often that you hear an American president talking about them.
Reuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here's a sample of some of the stories we've published over the past week:
China says willing to meet Dalai Lama's envoys 13 Mar 2009
Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009
Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009
Pope says pained over "hate, hostility" against him 12 Mar 12 2009
Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009
Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009
"Big Love" network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009
Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God's pardon 11 Mar 2009
US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009
Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet "suffering" 10 Mar 2009
Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009
Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009
US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009
(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)
When John Lennon said in 1966 that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus," there was a furious reaction in the United States. Dozens of radio stations in the South and Midwest banned Beatles music and some concert venues cancelled scheduled appearances by the band. Their manager Brian Epstein quickly flew to the U.S. to try to quell the storm. Soon afterward, Lennon told a news conference in Chicago that he was sorry for making the comparison, although he added he still thought it was true. The Vatican, as far as I can see from online archives, stayed silent and aloof even thought it could hardly agree with or approve Lennon's message. (Photo: Japanese band performs in Lennon's memory, 8 Dec 2005/Toshiyuki Aizawa)
When the Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano came out with a nostalgic look back at the Beatles on the 40th anniversary of their 1968 White Album on Saturday, it lead off the article with Lennon's famous quote and promptly shrugged it off. "The remark by John Lennon, which triggered deep indignation mainly in the United States, after many years sounds only like a 'boast' by a young working-class Englishman faced with unexpected success, after growing up with the legend of Elvis and rock and roll," it wrote. The Beatles' music was creative and original, even more so than their haircuts and clothes, and has stood the test of time, it said. The Italian-language original has now been overtaken on the OR website by the latest edition, but an English translation will certainly pop up somewhere (on Zenit?).
Did the "Bali bombers" end up as martyrs or monsters? That's what many must be wondering after the three young men convicted of the Bali nighclub bombings in October 2002 were executed in the dead of the night last weekend in an orange grove on Java. (Photo: Funeral of bomber Imam Samudra, 11 Nov 2008/Supri)
The run-up to the executions turned into a media circus. The three men from the Jemaah Islamiah group -- Imam Samudra, Mukhlas, and Amrozi -- were interviewed extensively by domestic and foreign media before they faced a firing squad last Sunday. They were defiant to the end, calling for more attacks like the one they perpetrated that killed 202 people, most of them foreign tourists. They had, in fact, become media celebrities and the public was fascinated with them. But as monsters or martyrs?
The sentencing of an Afghan journalist to 20 years in jail for distributing an Internet article that said the Prophet Mohammad had ignored the rights of women has raised questions about freedom of expression and possibly the rising influence of hardline Islamists in war-ravaged Afghanistan. But is there politics at play here as well?
Sayed Perwiz Kambkhash, 23, a reporter for the newspaper Jahan-e-Naw ("New World"), was sentenced to death in January for insulting the Prophet after his arrest a few months earlier in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The trial reportedly took five minutes and he was not allowed to offer a defense. The appeals court commuted that sentence to 20 years.
The Jewel of Medina, a novel about the Prophet Mohammad's child bride Aisha already linked to an arson attack in London, was rushed into U.S. bookstores on Monday in a bid to head off any other violence. Author Sherry Jones says it's a respectful account of Aisha's life but Random House baulked at publishing it after being warned it could offend Muslims and provoke violence from a "small, radical segment".
Publisher Eric Kampmann, president of the Beaufort Books company whose London office was firebombed, told Reuters that the surprise measure would help change the discussion about the book. "We felt that, given what was happening, it was better for everybody... to let the conversation switch from a conversation about terrorists and fearful publishers to a conversation about the merits of the book itself," he said.