FaithWorld

Islamophobia in Germany? Berlin wakes up after outcry over killing

German politicians have woken up to the potential fallout from the bloody killing in a Dresden courtroom of a 31-year-old Egyptian mother which has unleashed anger in the Islamic world.

It took Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has talked much about boosting the integration of Germany’s roughly 3.5 million Muslims, several days to condemn the killing, perpetrated by a German of Russian origin suspected of being a neo-Nazi.

dresdenSuddenly, the government is trying to soothe tensions to avert a potential storm similar to the violence which erupted over Denmark’s publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammad. And less than three-months before an election, politicians are also worried about security — intelligence services say Germany is already a target due to its deployment of troops in Afghanistan. (Photo: Memorial gathering in Dresden – sign says “Racism kills,” 11 July 2009/Fabrizio Bensch)

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said the U.N. should condemn Germany for the killing. Last week, hundreds of mourners in Alexandria, Egypt, protested at the funeral of the slain woman, Marwa El-Sherbiny. Egyptian media have made much of the incident and some Egyptians have even called for a boycott of German products.

“Germany has no room for xenophobia or Islamophobia,” Merkel’s spokesman told reporters when pressed on the subject at a news conference, adding political failings had not led to the killing. Some politicians attended a memorial ceremony for the victim at the weekend.

Islamic tone, interfaith touch in Obama’s speech to Muslim world

obama-speech-baghdadIt started with “assalaamu alaykum” and ended with “may God’s peace be upon you.” Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a “new beginning” in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course — you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama’s speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)

Among Obama’s Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts — Muslims and non-Muslims — mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it’s not often that you hear an American president talking about them.

Two religious references particularly caught my attention because they weren’t the usual conference circuit clichés. One was his comment about being in “the region where (Islam) was first revealed” – a choice of past participle showing respect for the religion.

Al-Azhar plans satellite television channel about Islam

azhar-sheikhDressed in his robe and turban, Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy sits in the plush offices of the main benefactor of his new satellite television channel and speaks about how modern technology can be turned to service for Islam. The al-Azhar scholar, who in 2000 launched a phone-in service for Muslims seeking religious guidance, is one of the founders of Azhari, a 24-hour channel due to launch on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year will start in mid-August. Read my interview with him here. (Photo:Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy, 31 May 2009/Tarek Mostafa)

The channel will be broadcast on both main satellite channels operating in Egypt and will be accessible worldwide. It will initially transmit in Arabic with some English and French programming and there are plans to add content later in Urdu and Turkish. Azhari received its initial 15 million Egyptian pounds funding from a Libyan businessman and philathropist, Hassan Tatanaki.

Guindy told Reuters the plan really got going about a month ago, when he officiated at the wedding of Tatanaki’s daughter. “The father of the bride and I forgot completely about that wedding and started to talk about a new wedding, about how to introduce this new channel to the rest of the world,” he said.

GUESTVIEW: Interfaith encounter at a Catholic school in Brooklyn

brooklyn (Photo: Brooklyn, with Manhattan in the background, 21 Sept 2008/Ray Stubblebine)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Matthew Weiner is Program Director at the Interfaith Center of New York and Raffaele Timarchi is the Interfaith Center‘s education director.

By Matthew Weiner and Raffaele Timarchi

Why should students in urban high schools learn about religion?

The Interfaith Center of New York recently received a call from Penny Kapanika, a social studies teacher at Nazareth Regional High School in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn. Canarsie lies on the eastern edge of Brooklyn, next to Jamaica Bay. To get to the school, you take the number 4 subway train to the end of the line, hop on a bus down Utica Avenue and finally walk to a sparsely populated neighborhood that was once an Italian and Jewish hold out against white flight.

Nazareth, a Roman Catholic school, is now ethnically African American and Caribbean. In the old days, students came from the neighborhood, but now most of them take the bus from Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant. Only 51% of the kids are Catholic, but most are Christian. The kids, though, live amongst Hasidic Jews  in Crown Heights, where a history of racial conflict still looms large, and Muslims in “Bed Stuy,” one of New York’s poorest neighborhoods.

If Hillary goes to Jakarta, can Barack be far behind?

Is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jakarta a hint that President Barack Obama will pick Indonesia as the first Muslim country he visits in his drive to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world? There were lots of other suggestions when he first mentioned this back in December, including Egypt (the New York Times pick) and Morocco (judging by what might have been a write-in campaign on our comments page).

My tip at the time was either Indonesia or Turkey. In recent weeks, Turkey’s star has probably faded as its relations with Israel soured recently. Those strains came after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of “knowing very well how to kill” in Gaza during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then stormed off the stage. (Photo: Hillary Clinton with Jakarta schoolgirls, 18 Feb 2009/Supri)

Clinton said all the right things today, like telling the country where Obama spent four years as a boy that it was proof that modernity and Islam can coexist. “As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people: if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can co-exist, go to Indonesia,” she said at a dinner with civil society activists. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda reciprocated by telling her Indonesia shared the United States’ joy at Obama’s election and she should tell the U.S. president “we cannot wait too long” for a visit.

Lots of advice for Obama on dealing with Muslims and Islam

President-elect Barack Obama has been getting a lot of advice these days on how to deal with Muslims and Islam. He invited it by saying during his campaign that he either wanted to convene a conference with leaders of Muslim countries or deliver a major speech in a Muslim country “to reboot America’s image around the world and also in the Muslim world in particular”. But where? when? why? how? Early this month, I chimed in with a pitch for a speech in Turkey or Indonesia.  Some quite interesting comments have come in since then. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

Two French academics, Islam expert Olivier Roy and political scientist Justin Vaisse argued in a New York Times op-ed piece on Sunday that Obama’s premise of trying to reconcile the West and Islam is flawed:

Such an initiative would reinforce the all-too-accepted but false notion that “Islam” and “the West” are distinct entities with utterly different values. Those who want to promote dialogue and peace between “civilizations” or “cultures” concede at least one crucial point to those who, like Osama bin Laden, promote a clash of civilizations: that separate civilizations do exist. They seek to reverse the polarity, replacing hostility with sympathy, but they are still following Osama bin Laden’s narrative.

Obama wants to address the Muslim world — but from where?

Now here’s an interesting question. The New York Times reports that President-elect Barack Obama wants to make “a major foreign policy speech from an Islamic capital during his first 100 days in office.” But from which one? As NYT staffer Helene Cooper explains, it’s a question that’s fraught with diplomatic, religious and personal complications. After a day of calling around Washington, she found a consensus:

It’s got to be Cairo. Egypt is perfect. It’s certainly Muslim enough, populous enough and relevant enough. It’s an American ally, but there are enough tensions in the relationship that the choice will feel bold. The country has plenty of democracy problems, so Mr. Obama can speak directly to the need for a better democratic model there. It has got the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist organization that has been embraced by a wide spectrum of the Islamic world, including the disenfranchised and the disaffected. (Photo: Obama image in Jakarta, 25 Oct 2008/Dadang Tri)

That’s a diplomatic answer, the kind you’d expect to get inside the Washington Beltway. Let’s look at this more from the point of view of religion. If the American president gives a major speech in a Muslim country, it will be seen as an indirect comment on the type of mosque-state relations found in that country. It’s not for him as a non-Muslim to endorse a certain type of Islam over another, say Sunni over Shi’ite. But as a politician from a country where church-state relations are a lively issue, one could expect him to ask what message his choice will send concerning the political relationship with religion in the state he chooses.

A “Shi’ite invasion” of Sunni Arab countries? Qaradawi sees one

Yousef al-Qaradawi, 10 May 2006/Fadi Alassaad Egyptian cleric Yusef Al-Qaradawi has provoked a storm of criticism with comments this month attacking Shi’ites for alleged attempts to proselytize in Sunni Arab societies. It’s a debate which has been bubbling since 2003 when the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — which the Sunni Arab governments didn’t like but know how to live with — was removed by the American-led invasion and ultimately replaced by a Shi’ite government reflecting the demographic superiority of Shi’ites in Iraq today.

Free to contact work with fellow Shi’ites in neighbouring Iran and develop links with the powerful Shi’ites of Lebanon and even with the more precariously-placed Shi’ites in the Gulf Arab coutnries, the rise of the Shi’ites in Iraq has been nothig less than a seismic shift in the region’s potical landscape. Numerous Arab leaders have shown their concern with comments suggesting a crescent of Shi’ite power was developing across the region from Lebanon to Iran (as Jordan’s King Abdullah has said) or that Arab Shi’ites real loyalties are to Iran (according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak).

Al-Jazeera.net logoQaradawi’s intervention is of equal import. He is one of the most influential of Sunni religious figures, a former Muslim Brotherhood sheikh in Egypt who settled in Qatar where Al-Jazeera television gave him a weekly television show. His opinions generally reflect the mainstream of Islamist thinking, veering neither into the rigid obsessions of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism nor appearing to compromise principles for the sake of a modernity that suits the West.

Al-Azhar’s modern twist on book burning

al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, 13 July, 2006/Suhaib SalemEgypt’s al-Azhar university and mosque complex has placed a modern twist on the age-old ritual of book burning – now they want to throw a film to the flames.

Earlier this month, Egypt summoned an Iranian diplomat to protest against an Iranian documentary about the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, saying it would hurt improving ties between the two countries. Official statements from Cairo gave few details as to the contents of the film, other than suggesting it glorified Sadat’s assassins and portrayed Sadat as a traitor who sold out the Palestinian cause.

But apparently calling in the Iranian diplomat was deemed insufficient censure of the film, and al-Azhar, the thousand-year-old edifice of Islamic learning, was called into the fray as well. The government-appointed Sheikh of al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, known for his close ties to the state, convened an emergency session of al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy to address the issue. The resulting statement was published in the state’s flagship al-Ahram daily.

Egypt to press ahead with adhan unification – but quietly

A muezzin calls Muslims to prayer, 20 August 2007/stringerIs Egypt’s Ministry of Religious Endowments planning to blindside people by quietly implementing an unpopular project to unify the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer?

That’s certainly the impression I got when I recently spoke to one of the ministry officials in charge of the project to enquire about its status. There has been talk for years about how chaotic and noisy it is to have each mosque in a city call out “Allahu akbar” at slightly different times, in quite different voices, sometimes in different musical keys and different tempos. A project unveiled two years ago to have one centralised call to prayer seemed to officials to be the answer.

The official was cagey at first, refusing to be drawn on whether the plan was going ahead or had been suspended, and refusing to give an ETA for the mythical unified adhan.