FaithWorld

Muslim-Christian sectarian divisions haunt central Nigerian city

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(A police check point in Nigeria's central city of Jos February 15, 2011/Afolabi Sotunde)

An outsider crossing the dried-up gulley between two neighbourhoods in this central Nigerian city might not notice he had stepped over one of its increasingly tense sectarian dividing lines. On both sides, stallholders sell freshly slaughtered meat and tropical fruit under umbrellas. Motorcycle taxis weave in and out of the traffic. Soldiers with AK-47s on the street corners are the only outward sign all is not well.

“No Christians come here because they are scared. We used to have Christians running stalls here but now there is no trust,” said Umar, a Muslim, from behind a pile of mangoes and pineapples.

It is a sentiment mirrored on the other side of the gulley. “I don’t want Muslims in my market,” said Victor, the Christian owner of a meat stall five minutes away.

Perched on a plateau in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt”, where the Muslim north meets the largely Christian south, Jos’s temperate climate and lush vegetation long made it a weekend retreat for Nigerians looking to escape the heat and hustle of other cities.

Egyptians want more Islam in politics, according to Pew poll

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(Anti-Mubarak graffiti in Cairo's Tahrir Square February 1, 2011. The Arabic writing reads "Down with Mubarak."/Yannis Behrakis )

With so much speculation about what role the Muslim Brotherhood might play in any future political system in Egypt, it’s worth looking at some opinion polling data to see what they say they think about the role of Islam in politics.  One recent poll says they want a bigger role for Islam in politics, they want democracy and they reject Islamist radicals such as Osama bin Laden.  Respondents also showed quite high levels of support for traditional Islamic punishments such as stoning for adulterers, cutting off thieves’ hands and death for apostates from Islam.

Whether and how the views mirrored in these results get turned into policy naturally depends on many factors, so this poll the Pew Research Center published in December cannot be any kind of projection of what to expect. Still, it provides at least some data on what Egyptians may want to see from a future government.

Snooker row sparks deadly Christian-Muslim clashes in Nigeria

snookerClashes between Christian and Muslim youths in central Nigeria triggered by a game of snooker have killed four people and led to the burning of houses, churches and mosques, police said on Friday.

Residents said the dispute in Tafawa Balewa, in Bauchi state, started when a man from the Muslim Hausa ethnic group refused to pay for a snooker game on Wednesday evening.

The snooker club owners, from the mostly Christian Sayawa ethnic group, threw him out but he returned with a gang of friends and tried to set the building ablaze, witnesses said.

Top Sunni Islam authority al-Azhar halts dialogue with Vatican

al-azharThe highest authority of Sunni Islam, the Islamic University of al-Azhar in Cairo, has frozen all dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church over what it called Pope Benedict’s repeated insults towards Islam. Benedict this month condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities. (Photo: Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, July 13, 2006/Suhaib Salem)

His remarks followed a New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims against sectarian violence. The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target”.

Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council “reviewed in an emergency meeting on Thursday the repeatedly insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope towards Islam and his statement that Muslims are discriminating against others who live with them in the Middle East,” al-Azhar said in a statement. “The council decided to freeze dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican for an indefinite period,” it added.

Pope: Governments must protect minority Christians

Pope Benedict called on Monday for Pakistan to repeal its anti-blasphemy law and demanded that governments in predominantly Muslim countries do much more to protect minority Christians from violent attacks.

Speaking in his annual address to diplomats days after a senior Pakistani politician who opposed the legislation was assassinated by his own bodyguard, the pope said the Pakistani law was a pretext for violence against religious minorities.

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(Photo: Pope Benedict XVI attends an audience with Vatican-accredited diplomats at the Vatican, January 10, 2011. REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Christian-Muslim clashes flare in Nigeria after Christmas Eve bombings

jos (Photo: After an explosion in Nigeria’s central city of Jos on December 25, 2010 picture/Afolabi Sotunde)

Clashes broke out between armed Christian and Muslim groups near the central Nigerian city of Jos on Sunday, a Reuters witness said, after Christmas Eve bombings in the region killed more than 30 people.

Buildings were set ablaze and people were seen running for cover as the police and military arrived on the scene in an effort to disperse crowds. This correspondent saw dozens of buildings on fire and injured people covered in blood being dragged by friends and family to hospital.

The unrest was triggered by explosions on Christmas Eve in villages near Jos, capital of Plateau state, that killed at least 32 people and left 74 critically injured. Pope Benedict condemned the attacks, which killed six people in two churches.

Haj pilgrims flock to Mount Arafat to beg forgiveness

arafat 1 (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Plains of Arafat, 15 Nov 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Millions of Muslims gathered around Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad delivered his last sermon, to beg for God’s forgiveness on Monday, the spiritual climax of the annual haj pilgrimage. Pilgrims flocked mostly on foot to Arafat, a rocky outcrop in a dusty plain a few kilometers away from Mecca, to pray until sunset. They set up tents where they could, squatted on the side of the road in shelters or stayed at the nearby Namira mosque.

A record of at least 2.5 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia to perform this year’s haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion. So far, the authorities have reported none of the major problems or disasters that marred the event in previous years, such as building collapses and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

But the sheer number of pilgrims was still a worry for the Saudi government. Around 100,000 security forces have been deployed to the oversee the pilgrimage, security officials said.

A review of Christian-Muslim conflict and a modest proposal to counter it

conflict 1At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for “peace teams” to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)

If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion’s capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.

Is this idealistic? Maybe. However, given the number of crises throughout the world that have religion factored into the equation, it certainly seems worth the effort. Many of these conflicts are not simply battles between religious fanatics, as they may be presented, but calculated agitation by one group against another, usually for political or economic advantage. Some smokescreens are easy to see through, others almost impenetrable.

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC – Mark Beach)

Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up “rapid deployment teams” to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world’s two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.

Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.

“We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict,” the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting.  “Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice,” said the statement issued in Geneva.

Nigerian air force joins bid to contain Islamist sect

nigeria 1Nigeria’s security services are beefing up efforts to contain the radical Islamist sect Boko Haram in the remote north, launching joint army and police exercises and using attack helicopters to help with patrols.

Army Chief of Staff Azubuike Ihejirika, appointed by President Goodluck Jonathan just over a month ago, said on Tuesday he had instructed the security forces to be at the ready after a string of attacks blamed on the  sect. (Photo: Bodies lay on the streets in Maiduguri after uprising by Boko Haram in Nothern Nigeria, July 31, 2009/Aminuo Abubacar)

The group, which wants sharia (Islamic law) more widely applied across Africa’s most populous nation, launched an uprising in the city of Maiduguri last year which led to days of gun battles with the security forces in which hundreds died.