FaithWorld

“Mormon question” may again dog Mitt Romney’s U.S. presidential bid

(U.S. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney talks to supporters in Detroit, Michigan June 9, 2011/Rebecca Cook)

Republican Mitt Romney has remade himself in a second run for U.S. president, with a leaner campaign apparatus and a message focused with laser-like precision on the nation’s economic problems. But the “Mormon question” still remains for the former Massachusetts governor: are Americans ready to put a Mormon in the White House?

Surveys suggest American voters are more accepting of the idea now than when Romney staged his first presidential run in 2008. But at the margins, many remain suspicious of Mormons. A Quinnipiac University poll this week found voters less comfortable with the idea of a Mormon president than having a leader of any religion other than a Muslim, or an atheist.

“The fact that less than half of voters have a favorable view of the religion is likely to be a political issue that Governor Romney … will have to deal with,” said Peter Brown of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute in Connecticut.

Romney has closer ties to Mormonism than other Mormons in U.S. politics, such as Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and Jon Huntsman, his possible Republican rival for the party’s presidential nomination. A fifth-generation member of the faith whose forebears were involved in the religion from the mid-1850s, Romney is a former lay bishop of Massachusetts’ temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Muslim Brotherhood says it won’t force Islamic law on Egypt

(Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood's newly formed Justice and Freedom Party gestures during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, May 28, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood wants a diverse parliament after elections in September and is not seeking to impose Islamic law on Egypt, the head of the group’s newly formed political party said in an interview. The Brotherhood, which has emerged as a powerful force after years of repression under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, has said it does not want a parliamentary majority, although rivals see it as well placed for a dominant position.

“We only use Islam as the basis of our party … which means that our general framework is Islamic sharia … We don’t issue religious rules in individual cases,” said Mohamed Mursi, head of the Brotherhood’s newly formed Justice and Freedom Party, which will contest the vote.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member says he will seek presidency

(he new headquarter of the newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood Party during a news conference in Cairo, April 30, 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood said on Saturday it will contest up to half the parliamentary seats in elections scheduled for September/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said he would run for president as an independent, a move that could draw votes from backers of the Islamist group that has said it will not field a candidate. Secular groups and the West are concerned by how much power the Brotherhood may gain after the first elections since the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak. Decades of authoritarian rule has curbed the development of potential rivals.

Egypt’s biggest Islamist movement had sought to assuage fears by saying it would not seek the presidency in polls due by early next year; nor would it pursue a majority in September parliamentary polls, contesting only 50 percent of seats.

Nigerian elections seal major power shift to largely Christian south


(Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan casts his ballot in his home village of Otuoke, Bayelsa state April 16, 2011/Joseph Penney)

A decisive election victory by President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria has shifted power firmly to the largely Christian south from the Muslim north and could reopen political fissures in Africa’s top energy supplier.

Violence swept northern cities, leaving hundreds of people dead and many homeless after Jonathan’s crushing victory over his northern opponent Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler.

“Jonathan’s landslide, though on the surface it appears like a resounding pan-Nigeria mandate, has brought back with a vengeance all the religious and sectional cleavage, not to mention ethnic bitterness,” Olakunle Abimbola of The Nation newspaper wrote in a column.

France’s ban on full face veils goes into force

(Official poster for the information campaign about France's full face veil ban/SIG)

(Official poster for the information campaign about France's full face veil ban. The quote says "Nobody can wear clothes meant to hide the face in public."/SIG)

France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force Monday, exposing anyone who wears the Muslim niqab or burqa in public to fines of 150 euros (£131.90).  France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a full face veil. Many Muslim leaders have said they support neither the veil nor the law banning it.

The timing is sensitive after France’s ruling political party, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, called a debate on the place of Islam in France, a move that some say risked stigmatising a portion of the population.

Sarkozy party: Islam debate undercuts French far-right

(Jean-Francois Cope, France's UMP political party leader, speaks at the end of the UMP party's debate on secularism in Paris April 5, 2011. France's ruling conservatives discussed a 26-point secularism platform for the practice of Islam in French society on Tuesday at a debate which has forced the party to fend off accusations of bigotry. The slogan reads " Secularism, to live better together". REUTERS/Charles Platiau )

(Jean-François Copé, April 5, 2011. The sign says: "Secularism - for living together better"/Charles Platiau )

France’s ruling conservative party held a controversial debate on the practice of Islam on Tuesday, rejecting charges of bigotry and saying that airing the issue could help stem the rising popularity of the far-right. President Nicolas Sarkozy called for the discussion on Islam and secularism to address fears that some overt displays of Muslim faith, including street prayer and full-face veils, were undermining France’s secular identity.

With his popularity at record lows a year before a presidential election, Sarkozy has been accused of seeking to woo back right-wing voters increasingly drawn to the National Front party under its telegenic new leader Marine Le Pen. Even before it began, the debate had been tarnished by criticism from religious leaders, a boycott by France’s largest Muslim group and the absence of Prime Minister Francois Fillon.

Rising Christian anger in Malaysia over Bible seizures

malay bible

(A Bible in the Malay language at a church in Kuala Lumpur March 30, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

Rising Christian anger in mainly Muslim Malaysia over the government’s handling of a case involving seized Bibles could complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bid to win back the support of minorities ahead of an early general election. The row over 35,100 imported Malay language Bibles and Christian texts impounded by Customs authorities comes amid a legal battle on the right of non-Muslims to use the Arabic word “Allah” and could raise ethno-religious tensions in the country. The Bibles were seized in 2009 but the case was only made public in January.

“There has been a systematic and progressive pushing back of the public space to practise, to profess and to express our faith,” Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), said in a statement on Wednesday.

Nigerian president appeals to Muslim leaders before vote

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(Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at a campaign rally in Kano, northern Nigeria, March 16, 2011S/Joe Penney)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has appealed to Muslim leaders to help ensure that elections next month, which risk stoking regional rivalries, pass off peacefully. Africa’s most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections spread over three weeks in April, all of which are set to be fiercely contested.

Jonathan met on Sunday with the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria’s most influential Islamic leaders, and other senior figures from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Muslim umbrella organisation Jamatul Nasir Islam in the northern city of Kaduna. Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim community in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for roughly half of the country’s 150 million people, as well as to more than 200 ethnicities, most of whom generally live peacefully side by side.

Islam emerges as divisive issue in French local polls campaign

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(Marine Le Pen, the anti-immigrant National Front leader whose success has prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party to veer to the right before a local elections runoff on Sunday, photographed after voting in the first round on March 20, 2011/Pascal Rossignol )

Islam has emerged as a central issue in the campaign for French local elections on Sunday that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party hopes to win by taking a tough line on the integration of France’s large Muslim minority.

Sarkozy, who faces an uphill battle for reelection next year, has set the tone by blurring the border between his UMP party and Marine Le Pen’s National Front, the once-shunned anti-immigrant party that recently overtook him in opinion polls. Interior Minister Claude Guéant, until recently Sarkozy’s chief of staff in the Elysee Palace, has fleshed this out with a series of statements flirting with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has made National Front leader Marine Le Pen so popular.

Exiled Tibetans vote after Dalai Lama gives up political leader role

dalai lama

(Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers a teaching session inside a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of the northern Indian hill town of Dharamsala March 15, 2011/Mukesh Gupta)

It may be a low-key campaign for 83,000 votes dotted around the globe, but an election of exiled Tibetans may ring in momentous changes for one of the world’s regional hot spots. Three secular candidates are battling to fill a vacuum created by the Dalai Lama’s move to relinquish political power after more than five decades as head of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in Dharamsala, a town of temples, hotels and trinket shops.

The March 20 vote for prime minister may prove a landmark in replacing a religious monarchy with a more radical leader claiming democratic legitimacy to speak for Tibetans, dealing a huge symbolic blow to China’s claims to rule the region. But it could also open up fissures between traditional Tibetans and a younger tech-savvy generation about the role of the Dalai Lama. Some fear for the very future of an exiled movement long used to the dominance of their spiritual leader and opposition to his move has already emerged.