FaithWorld

Muslim creationism is back in the news, this time in Egypt

darwinm-portraitMuslim creationism is back in the news. There’s been a spate of articles in the U.S. and British press recently about the spread of this scripture-based challenge to Darwinian evolution among Muslims, mostly in the Middle East but also in Europe. The fact that some Muslims have embraced creationism, a trademark belief of some conservative American Protestants, is not new. Reuters first wrote about it in 2006 — “Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey” – and this blog has run several posts on the issue, including an interview with Islam’s most prominent creationist, Harun Yahya. What’s new is that these ideas seem to be spreading and academics who defend evolution are holding conferences to discuss the phenomenon. (Photo: Portrait of Charles Darwin, 12 Feb 2009/Gordon Jack)

There are too many recent articles about Islamic creationism out there now to discuss each one separately, so I’ll have to just link to them in the … New York TimesWashington PostBoston GlobeSlateGuardianNational Beliefnet … … Many of these articles highlight the role of Harun Yahya, the once secretive Istanbul preacher and publisher who has gone on a PR offensive in recent years and turned very media-friendly (as Steve Paulson describes in that Slate article). But as Michael Reiss, a London education professor and Anglican priest told the Guardian, “what the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries. These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries.”

Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal (Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal)

Over the weekend, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt hosted a conference on “Darwin’s Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society” with the British Council. The simple fact of holding a conference on Darwin in the heart of the Middle East, where his theory of evolution is widely rejected, is already noteworthy. According to the Guardian‘s Riazat Butt, Nidhal Guessoum, professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, told the conference that only three Muslim or Muslim-majority countries out of a possible 22 taught evolution. Another participant, astronomer Salman Hameed, who is professor of integrated science & humanities from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, wrote on his informative science-and-religion blog Irtiqa: “It is incredible that this conference is taking place in Egypt. I don’t know what will be the reaction here. Simply by its location, it may remove some of the stigma regarding evolution in the Muslim world, or it may end up generating a backlash. Frankly, I have no idea about the reaction.”

In an update on Sunday, Hameed wrote: “There have been some anti-evolutionary comments made in the sessions that dealt with religion and evolution – but overall, the reception seems to have been quite positive – both in Egyptian newspapers and among the local participants.”

salman-hameed (Photo: Salman Hameed/Irtiqa)

As a example of what they’re up against, another participant was Zaghloul El-Naggar, a leading proponent of the theory that the Koran foresaw scientific theories and discoveries, including the Big Bang and a possible cure for AIDS. He was quoted prominently in a recent Al-Jazeera report on the discovery of the 4.4 million year old skeleton known as Ardipithicus or “Ardi.” The report claimed that the find disproved Darwinian evolution — the opposite of what scientists said about the spectacular discovery of the most complete early hominid specimen we have.  The report only appeared in Al-Jazeera’s Arabic-language television channel, which is very popular in the Middle East, and not in its English-language broadcast. “The presence of El-Naggar totally polarized the debate and evoked an equally polarizing reaction from the audience,” wrote Hameed, who promised further posts from the conference ending today.

U.S. sees “mixed picture” on world religious freedom

seoul-prayer-protest (Photo: CHristians pray during an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, 3 Oct 2007/Han Jae-Ho)

The United States sees a mixed picture on world religious freedom, with progress in interfaith dialogue weighed against government repression and sectarian strife in many countries.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday unveiled the latest State Department report on global religious freedom, which particularly criticized Iran and North Korea among other countries for harsh limits on religious expression.

“It is our hope that the … report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world,” Clinton said, adding that all people should have the right to believe or not as they see fit.

The report tagged North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan among the worst offenders, placing them on a watch list put out earlier this year.

“Common Word” aims for “common deed” for peace

20091007commonword3 (Photo: Common Word conference with (from left) former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, 7 Oct 2009/Georgetown University – Phil Humnicky)

Will a common word lead to a common deed? That’s the challenge that the “Common Word” group of Islamic scholars has posed at its fourth major Muslim-Christian dialogue conference now underway at Georgetown University in Washington. The group, which next week marks the second anniversary of its launch, has broken the ice with Christian leaders and fostered a lively and fruitful interchange with them. But it always said its goal was not simply to have more harmonious conferences among theologians. They want to make a real impact lessening tensions between Christians and Muslims out in the real world.

blairFormer British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, clearly endorsed this aim at the opening session on Wednesday. “The single most important thing is the translation of words into deed,” he told about 600 people attending the conference. “We’ve got to show — not by a dialogue among the elites, although it is very important that the key people come together — but actually building bridges among people.” (Photo: Tony Blair, 14 May 2009/Jason Reed)

Blair reminded his audience that many people think religion is not a solution but rather the problem in conflicts around the world. To counter this, he said, people of faith must not only foster understanding among believers but also refute the critics of faith.  “If we show by our actions that we are engaged in understanding and respect and justice, that is how we will succeed,” he said. “And that is what will overcome not just the extremism within religion but the cynicism outside of it.”

A new taint on the Shroud of Turin?

shroud-faces (Photo: An archive negative image of the Shroud of Turin (L) next to one created by Luigi Garlaschelli and released in Pavia, Italy, on 5 Oct 2009/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli (R)/Turin Diocese (L) and Luigi Garlaschelli)

Italian scientist Luigi Garlaschelli tells me he has been getting lots of hate mail as well as emails of support since our Oct 5 story that he had reproduced the Shroud of Turin with material available in the Middle Ages, a feat that he says proves definitively that the linen some Christians revere as Jesus Christ’s burial cloth is a medieval fake.

Given the controversy that has surrounded the Shroud, particularly since the 1988 carbon dating tests, this was hardly a surprise. One of Christianity’s most disputed relics, it is locked away at Turin Cathedral in Italy and rarely exhibited. It was last on display in 2000 and is due to be shown again next year. The Catholic Church does not claim the Shroud is authentic nor that it is a matter of faith, but says it should be a powerful reminder of Christ’s passion.

Until now, scientists have been at a loss to explain how the eery image like a photographic negative of a crucified man was left on the cloth.  Garlaschelli, a professor of organic chemistry at the University of Pavia, will present his findings at a conference in northern Italy this weekend.

U.S. “Religious Right” riled but lacks committed Christian leader

USA/Wanted: a leader for the U.S. social conservative movement. Must be able to press all the right buttons, be a committed Christian and have a vision to propel the Republican Party back to power.

U.S. social and religious conservatives will be searching for someone to fill that void as they gather in Washington this Friday to Sunday for the fourth annual summit of self-styled “Values Voters.” (Photo: Conservative protesters near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, 12 Sept 2009/Mike Theiler)

Dubbed the “Religious Right,” they have been stirred by a summer of discontent when their activists went on the offensive against Democratic President Barack Obama’s top domestic priority of healthcare reform, taking part in widely publicized town hall meetings on the issue that often turned raucous.

World Council of Churches says Pakistani Christians “live in fear”

pakistani-christians-1Christians and other religious minorities in Pakistan live in fear of persecution and even execution or murder on false charges of blasphemy against Islam, the World Council of Churches (WCC) has said. The Council, the Geneva- based global body linking Protestant and Orthodox churches in 110 countries, has called on the Pakistani government to change a law promulgated by military ruler General Zia-ul-Haq that allows for the death penalty for blaspheming Islam. (Photo: Christians in destroyed home in Gojra, 2 Aug 2009/Mohsin Raza)

Since the law was adopted in 1986 religious minorities in the country have been “living in a state of fear and terror … and many innocent people have lost their lives,” the WCC said in a statement.

Pakistan is an overwhelmingly Muslim country where religious minorities account for roughly 4 percent — three quarters of whom are Christians — of its 170 million people.

from India Insight:

Can you outsource God?

– Saritha Rai writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

It is dawn in Kerala, a palm frond of a state in India's South West. As the sun's first rays hit the church steeple, a Holy Mass is being conducted in the local Malayalam language.

Only, the prayer is dedicated to a newborn by his Catholic family half a world away in the United States.

from India Insight:

The Mormons in India

– Sonya Fatah writes for the GlobalPost, where this article first appeared. –

Their voices rang out, echoing in the nearby passageway. "Count your many blessings," they sang. "Name them one by one. Count your many blessings. See what God hath done." And so, the women, some 25 of them, members of the Sisters Committee at one of the six churches of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in New Delhi, closed their Sunday post-service meeting.

"Let us all work together so we can have a temple here,” urged the chair of the meeting, eliciting head nods and verbal assents all round.

Baghdad church bombings leave tiny Christian minority trembling

baghdad-church-1A spate of bombs targeting churches in Baghdad this week has Iraq’s minority Christian community trembling at the prospect of being the next victim of militants trying to reignite war.

Iraqi Christians, one of the country’s weakest ethnic or  religious groups, have usually tried to steer clear of its many-sided conflict. For the most part, they manage.

While Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims killed each other by the dozen at the height of Iraq’s sectarian conflict in 2006 and 2007, Christians were rarely targeted, although sometimes they were.

Debating a burqa ban with a French MP — in English

f24-bothFrance 24, the French international television channel, invited me to debate the proposed ban on burqas and niqabs today with one of the parliamentary deputies leading the campaign. That’s me on the left. On the right is Jacques Myard, deputy for President Nicolas Sarkozy’s centre-right UMP party and a spirited defender of French interests. Myard wanted to ban full facial veils in France two years ago but could not muster enough support at the time. The mood in the National Assembly has changed since then and another deputy, the Communist André Gerin, got together 58 deputies from different parties to launch the inquiry that began work yesterday.

Here’s the video on the France 24 website. It’s about 20 minutes long. Myard presents the French case for banning burqas and niqabs very clearly. If you’ve read about this debate and can’t understand it, he is worth hearing to get a good feel for how many French people state the case for a ban.

Myard puts the debate squarely in the context of laïcité, the quintessentially French way of separating church and state. That separation is such an important principle in Western countries that even the Vatican — history’s big loser in this debate — now supports it. However, this principle is interpreted in different ways in different countries.