FaithWorld

Islamic bloc drops 12-year U.N. drive to ban defamation of religion

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud)

(U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addresses the Human Rights Council in Geneva and urges it "to move beyond a decade-long debate over whether insults to religion should be banned or criminalised," February 28, 2011/Valentin Flauraud)

Islamic countries set aside their 12-year campaign to have religions protected from “defamation”, allowing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Genea to approve a plan to promote religious tolerance on Thursday. Western countries and their Latin American allies, strong opponents of the defamation concept, joined Muslim and African states in backing without vote the new approach that switches focus from protecting beliefs to protecting believers.

Since 1998, the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) had won majority approval in the council and at the United Nations General Assembly for a series of resolutions on “combating defamation of religion”. Critics said the concept ran against international law and free speech, and left the way open for tough “blasphemy” laws like those in Pakistan which have been invoked this year by the killers of two moderate politicians in Pakistan. They argued that it also allowed states where one religion predominates to keep religious minorities under tight control or even leave them open to forced conversion or oppression. bhatti funeral

(Funeral of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad March 4, 2011. Pakistani Taliban assassinated Bhatti, a Catholic, for urging the repeal of the blasphemy law/Faisal Mahmood)

But Pakistan, which speaks for the OIC in the rights council, had argued that such protection against defamation was essential to defend Islam, and other religions, against criticism that caused offence to ordinary believers. Islamic countries pointed to the publication of cartoons depicting the prophet Mohammed in Denmark in 2005, which sparked anti-Western violence in the Middle East and Asia, as examples of defamatory treatment of their faith that they wanted stopped. However, support for the fiercely-contested resolutions — which the OIC had been seeking to have transformed into official U.N. human rights standards — has declined in recent years.

British Christian couple loses foster ruling over gays stance

london court

(The Royal Courts of Justice, 18 April 2003/Michael Reeve)

A British Christian couple opposed to homosexuality because of their faith lost a court battle in London on Monday over the right to become foster carers. The couple, who are Pentecostal Christians, had gone to court after a social worker expressed concerns about them becoming respite carers after they said they could not tell a child that a “homosexual lifestyle” was acceptable.

Eunice and Owen Johns, both in their 60s and from Derbyshire in the English midlands, asked judges to rule that their faith should not be a bar to them becoming carers, and that the law should protect their Christian values.

But Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled at the Royal Courts of Justice in London that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation “should take precedence” over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds, the Press Association reported.

Support for UN vote against defaming religion wanes

ungaA U.N. General Assembly committee has once again voted to condemn the “vilification of religion” but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes on Tuesday in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly  in New York September 24, 2010/Keith Bedford)

Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of “vilification.” It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to “Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia.” Last year’s resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.

Condemned Christian woman seeks mercy in Pakistan

bibiA Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of blaspheming Islam said on Saturday she had been wrongfully accused by neighbours due to a personal dispute, and appealed to the president to pardon her.

Asia Bibi, mother of four, is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law which rights groups say is often exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. (Photo: Asia Bibi in an undated photo handed out by family members on November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Bibi’s brother Ramzan, Asia, brother Yunus and son Imran)

The 36-year-old farm worker was taken into custody by police in June last year and was convicted by a lower court on Nov. 8. She has been in prison since then, with her case drawing international media attention as well as appeals by human rights groups, and, according to Pakistani media, Pope Benedict.

Factbox-U.S. cites repression of religious freedom around the world

The United States on Wednesday unveiled its annual survey of religious freedom, citing countries ranging from North Korea to Eritrea as repressing religious liberties.

Following are some of the conclusions from the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report on eight countries previously named as areas of “special concern” over their limits on religious freedom.

religious 1MYANMAR (BURMA)

The report said Myanmar’s military rulers ignored constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political liberties.

“MOOZ-lum” film depicts challenges for black U.S. Muslims

mooz-lumThe makers of a new movie about family life for black Muslims in America want to highlight challenges facing followers of Islam, just as Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” revealed the racism and harsh realities facing black youth in Brooklyn two decades ago.

“MOOZ-lum” was filmed in Michigan, which has a large Muslim population, and premiered to packed theaters at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York last Friday.

“I hope people can walk out of the theater thinking more and trying to understand what we’re facing here,” said director Qasim Basir, adding the movie’s portrayal of discrimination mirrored his own Muslim-American experience.  “I’m hoping to give Muslim-Americans a film that reflects them. I want it to be something the audience can look at and say, ‘This represents me,’” he told Reuters in an interview.

U.S. monitoring 11 sites for possible discrimination against Muslims

anti-mosque (Photo: Rally against proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque near World Trade Center site in New York ,August 22, 2010./Jessica Rinaldi)

The U.S. Justice Department has said it is monitoring 11 cases of potential land-use discrimination against Muslims, a sharp increase in cases under a federal law designed to protect religious minorities in zoning disputes.

In a report on discrimination against mosques, synagogues, churches and other religious sites, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said on Tuesday it has monitored 18 cases of possible bias against Muslims over the past 10 years.

Eight of those have been opened since May, around the time when plans for a Muslim community center and mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan seized media attention and caused a national political uproar. “This fact is a sober reminder that, even in the 21st century, challenges to true religious liberty remain,” the report said.

Berlin issues guidelines on integrating Muslim pupils in schools

GERMANY SARRAZIN/TRIALIf you’re a teacher in Germany and are unsure whether to allow your Muslim pupils to pray at school, to skip swimming lessons or wear the veil, you may want to consult a new handbook aimed at dealing with the sometimes tricky task of reconciling Muslim practices with German schooling.

Berlin’s Ministry for Education, Science and Research has just published a guide called “Islam and School”  giving practical advice on how to resolve these issues and encourage “people to live together respectfully and peacefully”, which you can find in German here.

The guidelines aim to boost the integration of Germany’s Muslim community, Europe’s second largest Muslim population after France. Around 4 million Muslims live in Germany, meaning about 5 percent of the overall population.

Muslim states seek UN Human Rights Council action on West’s “Islamophobia”

human rights council (Photo: Delegates at the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva on March 22, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

Muslim states that say what they call “islamophobia” is sweeping the West and its media have demanded that the United Nations take tougher action against it.  Delegates from Islamic countries, including Pakistan and Egypt, told the United Nations Human Rights Council this week that treatment of Muslims in Western countries amounted to racism and discrimination and must be fought.

Pakistan, speaking for the 57-nation Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), has tabled a resolution at the council instructing its special investigator on religious freedom “to work closely with mass media organisations to ensure that they create and promote an atmosphere of respect and tolerance for religious and cultural diversity”.

Diplomats say the resolution, which also tells the investigator to make recommendations to the Human Rights Council on how its strictures might be implemented, is bound to pass given the majority the OIC and its allies have in the body.

from India Insight:

An easier end to unhappy marriages in India?

India's cabinet this week cleared a proposal to amend the Hindu Marriage Act to allow "irretrievable breakdown of marriage" as a ground for divorce.

Hindu brides sit during a mass wedding ceremony in Noida December 26, 2009. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri/FilesThe amendment had been resisted earlier and been pending for nearly three decades now. Other grounds for divorce, which can take anywhere from six months to 20 years, include cruelty, desertion and adultery.

The amendment, if approved by parliament, will make divorce easier for estranged couples, experts say, particularly in cases where a partner is deliberately delaying proceedings. Even family courts are notoriously ineffective and insensitive when it comes to separation, with judges often admonishing the woman to be more "adjusting" or offering advice thinly disguised as rulings.