FaithWorld

Would-be presidents court Senegal’s holy kingmakers

(A woman walks past a mural of Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood's figurehead and spiritual guide, the late Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba Mbacke, in Dakar, January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Penney )

It is not everyday that Senegal’s octogenarian president Abdoulaye Wade lets the television cameras into his bedroom. But Wade, seeking a new term in next month’s election, was quick to usher them in when his visitor was Serigne Abo Mbacke, a leader of the Mourides, 129-year-old Sufi order of Islam that counts millions of devotees in his West African country.

The ensuing images of two men demurely perched next to each other on a king-size divan may not have made great television. But the photo opportunity was not lost to voters as proof of the intimate link between Senegal’s Sufi fraternities and the body politic of this Muslim but staunchly secular state.

“I have never hidden that I am a Mouride – anyone who votes for me knows they are voting for a Mouride,” Wade told Reuters after this month’s meeting at a plush residence in Touba, the central town that is the Mourides’ spiritual home. “Any power must have a popular base, and as it happens I benefit from this very broad popular support.”

The Mourides are one of four main Muslim communities that have helped shape history in one of Africa’s most stable democracies and whose leaders – known as “marabouts” – are being courted by politicians of all hues before a February 26 election. A religious, economic and social force with no real parallel elsewhere, Senegal’s fraternities are a pillar of the moderate Sunni Islam espoused by over 90 percent of the nation, and co-exist comfortably with minority Christians and other faiths.

Frankincense production is doomed, scientists warn

(Foreign visitors extract perfumed gum from a frankincense tree the Socotra island March 27, 2008. Socotra that is located in the Arabian Sea, 380 km (238 miles) south of mainland Yemen and 80 km west of the Horn of Africa. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah)

Trees that produce frankincense, a fragrant resin used in incense and perfumes and a central part of the Christmas story, are declining so fast that production could be halved over the next 15 years, scientists said on Wednesday.

In a study published in the British Ecological Society’s Journal of Applied Ecology, ecologists from the Netherlands and Ethiopia looked at large-scale field studies and predicted that tree numbers could decline by 90 percent in the next 50 years. If fire, grazing and insect attack, the most likely causes of decline, remain unchecked, then frankincense production could be doomed altogether, they warned.

Pope Benedict expresses shame for Christian violence in history

(Pope Benedict XVI (C), Wande Abimbola (R) of Nigeria, Rabbi David Rosen (2nd R), Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (L) and Ecumenical Patriarch of Orthodox Church Bartolomeo I attend the "Prayer for Peace," a inter-religious meeting in the Italian pilgrimage town of Assisi October 27, 2011. REUTERS/Giampiero Sposito)

Pope Benedict, leading a global inter-religious meeting, has acknowledged “with great shame” that Christianity had used force in its long history but said violence in God’s name had no place in the world today. Benedict spoke as he hosted some 300 religious leaders from around the world – including Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Taoists, Shintoists and Buddhists – in an inter-faith prayer gathering for peace in the city of St Francis.

“As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith,” he said in his address to the delegations in an Assisi basilica on Thursday.  “We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature,” he said.

from Africa News blog:

Could Islamist rebels undermine change in Africa?

Creeping from the periphery in Africa’s east and west, Islamist militant groups now pose serious security challenges to key countries and potentially even a threat to the continent’s new success.

The biggest story in Africa south of the Sahara over the past few years hasn’t been plague, famine or war but the emergence of the world’s poorest continent as one of its fastest growing – thanks to factors that include fresh investment, economic reform, the spread of new technology, higher prices for commodity exports and generally greater political stability.

Nigeria and Kenya, the most important economies in West and East Africa respectively, are pillars of the change in Africa as well as having the largest and most easily accessible markets for foreigners.

Factbox on Anwar al-Awlaki, U.S.-born al Qaeda cleric killed in air strike

(Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born cleric linked to al Qaeda's Yemen-based wing, gives a religious lecture in an unknown location in this still image taken from video released by Intelwire.com on September 30, 2011/Intelwire.com)

Yemen’s Defence Ministry said on Friday that Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S.-born Muslim preacher linked to al Qaeda’s Yemen-based wing, had been killed, in what a security official said was an air strike. Awlaki had been implicated in a botched attempt by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to bomb a U.S.-bound plane in 2009 and had contacts with a U.S. Army psychiatrist who killed 13 people at a U.S. military base the same year.

U.S. authorities have branded him a “global terrorist” but Sanaa had previously appeared reluctant to act against him. It was not immediately clear if Awlaki had been killed in a Yemeni air raid or a U.S. drone strike. A U.S. drone aircraft targeted but missed him in May. Yemeni officials had previously reported that Awlaki had been killed in late 2009.

Report shows rise in world restrictions on religion

Nearly a third of the world’s population lives in countries where it is becoming more difficult to freely practice religion, a private U.S. research group has reported. The Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion and Public Life said government restrictions and public hostility involving religion grew in some of the most populous countries from mid-2006 to mid-2009.

“During the three-year period covered by the study, the extent of violence and abuse related to religion increased in more places than it decreased,” according to the report “Rising Restrictions on Religion.” Only about one percent of the world lives in countries that saw more religious tolerance during those years, it said.

The Pew Center review of 198 countries found those deemed restrictive or hostile in the previous report were growing even more so, while the opposite was found for those with more religious tolerance. A substantial rise in public hostility toward religious groups was seen in China, Nigeria, Thailand, Vietnam and Britain, while government restrictions rose substantially in Egypt and France.

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.

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.

POPE-BLASPHEMY/

(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.