FaithWorld

In Ahmadis’s desert city, Pakistan closes in on group it declared non-Muslim

(Ahmadis stand over graves of victims of an attack on one of their mosques, in Rabwah, May 29, 2010/Stringer)

At the office of what claims to be one of Pakistan’s oldest newspapers, workers scan copy for words it is not allowed to use — words like Muslim and Islam. “The government is constantly monitoring this publication to make sure none of these words are published,” explains our guide during a visit to the offices of al Fazl, the newspaper of the Ahmadiyya sect in Pakistan.

This is Rabwah, the town the Ahmadis built when they fled the killings of Muslims in India at Partition in 1947, and believing themselves guided by God, chose a barren stretch of land where they hoped to make the Punjab desert bloom. Affluent and well-educated, they started out camping in tents and mud huts near the river and the railway line. Now they have a town of some 60,000 people, a jumble of one- and two-storey buildings, along with an Olympic size swimming pool, a fire service and a world class heart institute.

Yet declared by the state in the 1970s to be non-Muslims, they face increasing threats of violence across Pakistan as the country strained by a weakening economy, an Islamist insurgency and internecine political feuds, fractures down sectarian and ethnic lines.

“The situation is getting worse and worse,” says Mirza Khurshid Ahmed, amir of the Ahmadi community in Pakistan. “The level of religious intolerance has increased considerably during the last 10 years.”

Ethiopia jails hundreds in Muslim attacks on Christians over Koran rumour

(A destroyed Protestant church in Asendabo, 300 km (200 miles) west of the capital Addis Ababa, March 16, 2011, after Muslim youths attacked Christians/Aaron Maasho )

An Ethiopian court has sentenced 558 people to jail terms ranging from six months to 25 years for attacks on Christians that displaced thousands and led 69 churches to be burned to the ground. More than 4,000 members of local Protestant denominations were forced to flee near the town of Asendabo, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) west of the capital, in March during a rare bout of religious violence.

Mobs of Muslim youths carried out week-long attacks on Protestants after rumours that desecrated pages from the Koran had been found at a church construction site. Authorities reported a single death from the attacks.

Egyptian Christians worry their country is being hijacked by Salafists

(An Egyptian Christian chants slogans as he protests against recent attacks in front of the state television building in Cairo May 15, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

Last January, Nazih Moussa Gerges locked up his downtown Cairo law office and joined hundreds of thousands of fellow Egyptians to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down. The 33-year-old Christian lawyer was back on the streets this month to press military rulers who took over after Mubarak stepped down to end a spate of sectarian attacks that have killed at least 28 people and left many afraid. Those who camped out in Tahrir Square side by side with Muslims to call for national renewal now fear their struggle is being hijacked by ultra-conservative Salafist Islamists with no one to stop them.

“We did not risk our lives to bring Mubarak down in order to have him replaced by Salafists,” Gerges said. “We want an Egypt that will be an example of democracy and freedom for the whole world.”

Egyptian army must stop shrine vandals-religious affairs ministry

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(A resident looks at damage to the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine at a mosque in Qalyoub, north of Cairo April 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egypt’s religious affairs ministry has called on security forces to strike with “a hand of steel” to stop the vandalism of Sufi shrines targeted in attacks blamed on ultra-orthodox Muslims. An increase in attacks on shrines in Egypt is fuelling concern about the role that Islamists will play after the ousting of President Hosni Mubarak, who suppressed Islamist groups that he saw as a threat to his rule.

Scores of shrines have disappeared or were burnt down on the outskirts of Cairo weeks after Mubarak was toppled from power. The attacks have awoken old tensions between Sufis, followers of a mystical Islamic tradition to whom shrines are an important part of religious practice, and ultra-conservative Salafists, who see them as idolatrous.

Hardline Islamist campaign against Egyptian Sufi shrines focus fears

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(Residents inspect damage to the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine at a mosque in Qalyoub, north of Cairo April 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Wielding crowbars and sledgehammers, two dozen Islamists arrived at the Sidi Abdel Rahman shrine in the middle of the night aiming to smash it to pieces. Word spread quickly through the narrow, dirt roads of the poor Egyptian town of Qalyoub. Within minutes, the group were surrounded and attacked by residents who rallied to defend the site revered by their families for generations.

“They say the shrine is haram (something forbidden in Islam), but what they are doing is haram,” said Hussein Ahmed, 58, describing the shrine attackers as Sunni fanatics, at least two of whom witnesses said were then badly beaten.

Islamist rebels take aim at Russia ahead of election year

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(Doku Umarov (C) with Chechen rebels in an undated video/www.kavkazcenter.com/Reuters TV)

A suicide attack on Russia’s busiest airport shows Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov is serious about inflicting “blood and tears” on the Russian heartland ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Umarov, a 46-year-old rebel leader who styles himself as the Emir of the Caucasus, claimed responsibility for the January 24 attack that killed 36 and said he had dozens of suicide bombers ready to unleash on Russian cities.

Russia is struggling to contain a growing Islamist insurgency along its southern flank nearly 12 years after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to popularity by leading Russia into a second war against Chechen separatists.

Indonesia Muslims attack court, churches; mob kills Ahmadis

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(Anti-riot police block protesters outside the court where a Catholic man is on trial for blasphemy in Temanggung February 8, 2011/Stringer)

Hundreds of Muslim radicals set two churches ablaze and attacked a court in Indonesia’s central Java on Tuesday, calling for harsh punishment for a Christian on trial for blasphemy, police said.

The attacks come two days after a mob beat to death three followers of a minority Islamic sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and at the start of so-called “Inter-faith week”, when the country is supposed to celebrate its pluralistic heritage.

Battle for alcohol in Muslim Russia is deadly business

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(Men drink vodka in a car in Ingushetia's largest town Nazran, January 30, 2011/Diana Markosian)

A masked guard clad in camouflage pokes his AK-47 rifle into the shoulder of a vodka-guzzling client in a hotel bar in Russia’s Muslim Ingushetia region, and orders him to leave immediately. The state-employed security guard then leads the man and his coterie of quiet revelers out of the dimly lit bar.

“We heard reports rebels are on the prowl again and we want to prevent any damage,” said the guard, who wished to remain anonymous.

Italy blocks EU religious persecution text ignoring Christians

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(Christians protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them, in Cairo January 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

The European Union failed to agree on a statement against the persecution of religious minorities on Monday after Italy objected to the omission of any reference to the protection of Christians. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a draft proposed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers expressing concern about increasing numbers of attacks on places of worship and pilgrims showed an “excess of secularism”.

“The final text didn’t include any mention of Christians, as if we were talking of something else, so I asked the text to be withdrawn, so in fact it has been withdrawn,” he told reporters.

Haiti voodoo leader urges halt to cholera lynchings of priests

voodoo 1 (Photo: A voodoo priest walks around a believer in a trance during a ritual at a voodoo festival July 24, 2010/Eduardo Munoz)

The head of Haiti’s voodoo religion has appealed to authorities  to halt the bloody lynchings of voodoo priests by people who blame them for causing the Caribbean country’s deadly cholera epidemic. Since the epidemic started in mid-October, at least 45 male and female voodoo priests, known respectively as “houngan” and “manbo,” have been killed. Many of the victims were hacked to death and mutilated by machetes, Max Beauvoir, the “Ati” or supreme leader of Haitian voodoo, told Reuters.

“They are being blamed for using voodoo to contaminate people with cholera,” Beauvoir said on Thursday. The killers accused voodoo priests of spreading cholera by scattering powder or casting “spells” and complained that local police and government officials were not doing enough to halt the lynchings and punish the killers. Voodoo is recognized and protected by the constitution as one of Haiti’s main religions.

“My call is to the authorities so they can assume their responsibilities,” said Beauvoir, who fears more attacks against voodoo devotees. Most of the lynchings occurred in the southwest of Haiti but also in the center and the north.