FaithWorld

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 diplomatEgypt’s government last week dismissed the pope’s remarks as “unacceptable interference” and summoned its Vatican ambassador back to Cairo for consultation. (Photo: Pope Benedict greets an Arab diplomat to the Vatican after calling for protection of Christian in Muslim countries, January 10, 2011/Alessia Pierdomenico)

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said on Thursday that al-Azhar’s move would not change the Vatican’s “policy of openness and desire for dialogue” with Islam. The freeze came a few weeks before the next scheduled meeting of the Joint Committee for Dialogue of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue and the Permanent Committee of al-Azhar for Dialogue among the Monotheistic Religions.

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)

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.

GUESTVIEW: Why stoning Sakineh is a mistake

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. This interview with Abdullahi Ahmed an-Naim and Massimo Papa about Iran’s stoning sentence against Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani on charges of adultery was originally published in Oasis, a Venice-based magazine on Christian-Muslim dialogue. Martino Diez is director of research at the Oasis International Foundation. sakinehBy Martino Diez .

Professor Naim, what is your assessment of Sakineh’s case?
Officially, the authorities maintain this is a straightforward murder case. Although I have not followed the matter in detail, I think that the ambiguity of the versions produced throughout the years is suspicious and betrays the presence of political manipulation. This poor woman has ended up at the centre of a struggle between different underground factions. There are many cases similar to this. (Photo: Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani in an undated photo handout from Amnesty International)

About this charge, and especially the (momentarily suspended) sentence, the authorities have invoked Islamic legitimation. Sakineh’s case would be included in the hudùd category, which comprises crimes explicitly defined as such in the Koran itself: murder, adultery, theft, slander and alcohol consumption.

South Africa Muslims look to welcome Muslim World Cup fans

cape town mosqueSouth Africa’s Muslim community says as many as 130,000 Muslim fans could visit for the World Cup and it has set up welcome centres and a website to inform visitors where to eat and pray close to stadiums.

In Cape Town, local Muslims are expecting to welcome Muslim supporters from Algeria, who will play England in Cape Town on Friday, as well as fans of Muslim faith from competing nations such as Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.

Just minutes from Cape Town’s Green Point stadium is the Bo-Kaap district, one of the city’s oldest residential quarters and traditionally associated with the Muslim community.

Islamic finance has image problem in Christian-majority African states

kenya shillings

A currency dealer counts Kenya shillings in Nairobi on October 23, 2008/Antony Njuguna

Africa’s Islamic finance industry needs to overcome negative perceptions among non-Muslims to successfully expand into predominantly Christian sub-Saharan Africa, an industry leader has said.

Northern Africa is largely Muslim and countries such as Egypt and Sudan have offered Islamic banking for decades.  Now some lenders are looking to expand into sub-Saharan nations, such as Uganda which is 80 per cent Christian.

Kenya investigates Islamic group crackdown on soccer and films

kenya fan

A Kenyan soccer fan attends their 2010 World Cup qualifying soccer match against Nigeria at the Kasarani stadium in Kenya's capital Nairobi, November 14, 2009/Thomas Mukoya

Kenya has deployed security agents to its border with Somalia after Islamic clerics announced they had clamped down on the public broadcast of soccer and films, a security official has said.  Clerics in the frontier town of Mandera said on Monday they had confiscated a number of satellite TV dishes in a football-obsessed nation ahead of the World Cup because public film dens were corrupting youths.

“Two groups, an undercover team from National Security Intelligence Service and (an) anti-terrorist unit, arrived here on Tuesday night to investigate,” a senior local security source who did not wish to be named told Reuters late on Thursday.  Another team has been dispatched to Dadaab refugee camp which is home to some 270,000 mostly Somali refugees in the mostly Muslim region.

Irish bookmaker slashes odds on pope’s resignation

Pope Benedict XVI waves as he arrives to lead his weekly audience in the Paul VI hall at the Vatican March 10, 2010.  REUTERS/Alessia Pierdomenico

Pope Benedictat his weekly audience in the Vatican March 10, 2010/Alessia Pierdomenico

Irish bookmaker Paddy Power said Friday it had cut the odds on Pope Benedict resigning after allegations of child abuse by priests in Germany gripped the Roman Catholic Church.

Ireland’s biggest bookmaker, which has branches in Britain as well as Catholic Ireland, said it had cut the odds from 12 to 1 to 3 to 1 following a “cascade of bets.”