Whenever the Palestinian issue heats up, the temperature rises in the gritty neighbourhoods the French call the banlieues (suburbs). These areas, best known for the low-cost housing projects that postwar city planners planted out there, are a vibrant and edgy mix of local working class, recent immigrants and minorities now in France for several generations.
When French President Jacques Chirac ‘s government wanted to ban Muslim headscarves in state schools back in 2004, it had to find a way to (1) make the ban look fair and (2) avoid a backlash from the majority Catholic electorate. A ban had to target all religions, but couldn’t be absolute because that could violate international rights norms. It also risked alienating some Catholic voters because because many Catholic girls wore necklaces with small gold crosses. So Paris came up with a ban on “conspicuous religious symbols” that would bar Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and large Christian crosses. That only bishops actually wore large crosses did not seem to matter.
If you go by what’s reported in the media (including by us), you’d think cemetery desecrations in France like the big one last weekend happen occasionally and target mostly Jewish and Muslim graves. Those are the cases the police report and we write about. A report by two parliamentary deputies, however, has taken an overall look at the problem nationwide and come up with some unexpected conclusions.
Articles about Islamic finance are usually long on finance and short on Islam. Knowing that the various schools of Islam can interpret and apply sharia in different ways, I recently wondered how this looked in the financial sector, especially since Islamic banking has spread in recent years and non-Muslim institutions and investors were getting into the business. A conference on Islamic banking in France brought several sharia scholars to Paris, so I took the opportunity to interview them for the news story posted here.
A court has declared France’s “virginity lie” couple to be legally married, despite their appeal to annul their nuptial vows because the wife turned out not to be the virgin she had claimed to be. The case caused an uproar a few months ago because they were initially granted an annulment on the grounds that she had lied about an “essential quality” necessary for the marriage contract. The case was argued as if the issue were simply about a business contract where one party had lied about the goods being delivered, and the first court accepted it on those grounds.
Does Sony need a full-time religious affairs adviser? Someone who says “that’s OK” or “whoa, don’t go there!” It looks like they could use one, judging by its decision to recall and remaster its Playstation 3 video game LittleBigPlanet because it might offend Muslims. LittleBigPlanet was supposed to be one of the biggest releases of the season. And then Sony found out some background music had a few phrases from the Koran in it and they decided to replace the disks with different music. An in-house religion maven who does some “content debugging” would cost much less than this embarrassing exercise.
As the official umbrella group for Europe’s largest Muslim minority, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) should play an important role in integrating Islam into French society. In fact, it hardly has any influence at all. The CFCM is so split by internal differences that it can hardly agree on when Ramadan should start or end. The link above is to the Wikipedia entry on the CFCM because the council has not been able to get its act together sufficiently to produce its own website.
For a country keen to improve relations with the Vatican, France has made some surprising faux pas this year. Things have been going well on the surface. President Nicolas Sarkozy has sung the praises of religion in public life several times this year. Pope Benedict was warmly welcomed during his visit to Paris last month. But behind the scenes, Paris has apparently flubbed what should be a routine procedure — naming a new ambassador to the Holy See.
The answer is Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population. At least that was the conclusion of the latest Pew Research Institute survey of attitudes about religion around the world — a look at 24 countries based on thousands of interviews. Indonesia came in first with 99 percent of the population rating religion as important or very important in their lives — and it topped everyone else in the “very important” slot at 95 percent. Beyond that 80 percent of those surveyed in Indonesia say they pray five times a day every day — adhering to one of the five pillars of Islam.