FaithWorld

Germany opens first Reform synagogue since WW2

hameln

(Hameln, 21 November 2006/Marek Nocny)

Germany opened its first new Reform synagogue since the Holocaust on Sunday, marking a major step in the revival of Reform Judaism, which traces its roots to the country. The synagogue in the northern city of Hameln was built on the foundation of its predecessor, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the “Kristallnacht” pogrom in 1938. The congregation received financial backing for the synagogue primarily from local and state government.

“It’s incredible that, after the Shoah, in Germany a synagogue could be built with money that came from German political organizations,” the congregation’s president Rachel Dohme told Reuters.  The city’s reform congregation was founded in 1997 and has some 200 members, the majority of which are from the former Soviet Union.

Reform, or liberal, Judaism was pioneered in Germany by Israel Jacobson two centuries ago.

Read the full story by Eric Kelsey here.

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Guestview: Why “militant Islam” is a dangerous myth

koran kalashnikov

(A Palestinian gunman marches with a Koran and his rifle during a protest in Deir al-Balah September 25, 2002/Magnus Johansson )

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dalia Mogahed is Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. mogahed

(Dalia Mogahed/ Gallup)

By Dalia Mogahed

Right-wing pundits in the U.S. and Europe sometimes argue that it is misguided to avoid religious language when describing terrorists. They point out that members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates call themselves “jihadists”, a derivative of the Arabic noun “jihad” meaning a struggle for God. They explain that it is therefore accurate and fair to refer to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates by the same term.

Conservative German state bans burqas for civil servants

niqab

A French Muslim wearing a niqab veil in Nantes, April 23, 2010/Stephane Mahe

Hesse, a state run by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats, on Wednesday became the first German region to ban Muslim face veils for public sector workers.

Hesse Interior Minister Boris Rhein announced it was “not acceptable” for the teacher in Frankfurt to wear a face veil because “public sector workers are obligated to have neutral religious and political views”.

The decision was prompted by a local teacher who had told her school she wanted to wear a burqa in the classroom after returning from maternity leave. She had not previously worn one.

Will Pew Muslim birth rate study finally silence the “Eurabia” claim?

paris prayers

(Photo: Muslims who could not fit into a small Paris mosque pray in the street, a practice the French far-right has compared to the Nazi occupation, December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

One of the most wrong-headed arguments in the debate about Muslims in Europe is the shrill “Eurabia” claim that high birth rates and immigration will make Muslims the majority on the continent within a few decades. Based on sleight-of-hand statistics, this scaremongering (as The Economist called it back in 2006) paints a picture of a triumphant Islam dominating a Europe that has lost its Christian roots and is blind to its looming cultural demise.

The Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or popularised the term with her 2005 book “Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis” and this argument has become the background music to much exaggerated talk about Muslims in Europe. Some examples from recent weeks can be found here, here and here.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and the taboo of secularism

graveFor everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer's assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama).  "The Politics of God" is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state.  But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.

Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:

"For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong."

The point of highlighting this essay is not to argue that Pakistan should emulate the west, nor indeed that secularism is necessarily the answer, but rather to suggest that there is still a debate to be had in a country where even using the word secular is becoming taboo. (And before anyone accuses me of orientalism, the advantage of looking at it through the lens of European history is that it also strips out some of the other factors which contribute to the nature of Pakistani society today -- the war in Afghanistan, America's response to 9/11, the role of the army, its past use of militant proxies, the weakness of its civilian governments, the fragility of the economy etc, etc).

Pope Benedict not fully welcome at German parliament next year

reichstag (Photo: The Reichstag building in Berlin, November 22, 2010/Pawel Kopczynski)

A rousing welcome in Berlin it may not be.

Pope Benedict’s invitation to address German parliament during his visit to his homeland next September 22-25 has not sat well with some members of the opposition. Volker Beck, the Green party floor leader, has protested that inviting a religious leader to address parliament, the Bundestag, is unprecedented and the wrong place to speak about religion.

“The German Bundestag is justifiably cautious when inviting a foreign head of state,” Beck told the German daily Die Welt. “Firstly the pope is the head of a religion and secondly the head of a state.”

German abuse victims humiliated by compensation sums

heimkinder (Photo: A man wearing a T-shirt reading “former foster home child” at a news conference presenting the final report on abuse in foster homes in Berlin, December 13, 2010./Thomas Peter)

German victims of abuse in foster homes say the 120 million euros proposed as compensation was “humiliatingly” small compared with damages awarded in other countries, and vowed to fight for more. After a two-year inquiry, a government-appointed panel on Monday recommended 120 million euros be set aside for an estimated 30,000 victims expected to file abuse claims.

“It’s a poor start to the compensation process and another humiliation of victims,” the VEH victims’ group leader Monika Tschapek-Güntner said. “Roughly 30,000 victims are expected to apply for damages which will leave individuals between 2,000 and 4,000 euros.”

Tschapek-Güntner said that a deal struck between abuse victims and the Catholic Church in Ireland resulted in payments averaging 76,000 euros per victim. Irish compensation claims are expected to top 1 billion euros.

Inquiry cites almost 2,000 Dutch Catholic sex abuse reports

deetmanAlmost 2,000 people have declared themselves this year victims of sexual and physical abuse while they were minors in the care of the Roman Catholic Church in the Netherlands, an independent commission said on Thursday. (Photo: Wim Deetman, 1 Jan 2006/Roel Wijnants)

The investigation into abuses dating back to 1945 shows that the Netherlands ranks second worst behind Ireland for known cases in scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in Europe and the United States. The church-appointed commission’s findings were requested by the Dutch bishops’ conference after cases surfaced involving paedophile priests in the Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Germany and other countries.

“I am very respectful of the people who came forward because declaring yourself a victim is a big step,” said Wim Deetman, a Protestant former education minister and former mayor of The Hague who heads the commission, of the 1,975 reported cases.

Saudi king, religious police, Islam and donkeys – via WikiLeaks

mutaween 1 (Photo: Religious police perform dusk prayers with Saudi youth outside a Riyadh cafe on June 27, 2010 during half-time of the Germany-England World Cup soccer match. The police ensured that people watching matches in cafes said their prayers during the tournament/Fahad Shadeed)

WikiLeaks has come up with an interesting insight into the way King Abdullah views his own kingdom’s religious police, the mutaween who enforce Islamic behaviour in public. A cable from the Riyadh embassy entitled IDEOLOGICAL AND OWNERSHIP TRENDS IN THE SAUDI MEDIA and dated 11 May 2009 mentions what appears to be a U.S. diplomat’s visit to a Saudi newspaper editor whose name is XXXed out. The Saudi says the king had visited the office and complained about how ignorant the religious police were about Islam and how they  treated people like donkeys:

//Okaz//
18. (S) In a meeting with Jeddah CG and XXXXXXXXXXXX, XXXXXXXXXXXX was blunt when asked about SAG efforts in countering extremist thinking. “King Abdallah was here,” he said, pointing around his well-appointed office XXXXXXXXXXXX in Jeddah. “He told us that conservative elements in Saudi society do not understand true Islam, and that people needed to be educated” on the subject. King Abdallah, he said, used a metaphor of a donkey to explain how the religious police use the wrong approach. “They take a stick and hit you with it, saying ‘Come donkey, it’s time to pray.’ How does that help people behave like good Muslims?” XXXXXXXXXXXX quoted the king as saying.

The same cable also comments on a new and more moderate tone in religious programming on some television channels:

Germans more negative towards Muslims than other Europeans

germany (Photo: Anti-Muslim campaign posters by a far-right party in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state, with slogans saying  ‘Ban minarets – also for NRW’ and ‘Vote pro NRW – Stop Islamisation’, in Bonn, April 23, 2010/Wolfgang Rattay)

Only about one third of Germans think positively of their Muslim neighbors, a much lower proportion than in other western European countries, according to a new poll published on Thursday. In contrast, 62 percent of Dutch and 56 percent of French people responding to the TNS Emnid survey indicated they had positive attitudes toward Muslims.

Detlef Pollack, a Muenster University sociologist who led the study, attributed Germans’ views to their lack of contact with Muslims compared to people in other nations surveyed. “The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive,” he said.

The survey broke down the German results into western and eastern responses, reflecting continuing divisions in the once-divided country. Only 34 percent in the west and 26 percent in the east had positive impressions of Muslims, it said.