FaithWorld

Halal food going mainstream in Europe – Nestlé

halal-parisThe business of selling food that is halal, or acceptable to Muslims, is set to grow rapidly in Europe in coming years as more supermarket chains target the sector. Frits van Dijk, executive vice president at the world’s biggest food group Nestlé, told Reuters at the World Halal Forum Europe in The Hague that he expected the halal food business in Europe to grow by 20 to 25 percent within the next decade.
(Photo: Halal hamburger restaurant in Paris suburb, 10 Aug 2005/Jacky Naegelen)

The total European halal food market is currently valued at about $66 billion, including meat, fresh food and packed food, while the global market is worth about $634 billion.“We are starting to see that these products are not just in speciality shops but are also starting to get into the mainstream of modern retailers,” said Van Dijk, pointing to Britain’s Tesco and France’s Carrefour, which stock halal goods.Milk powder, cooking aids, seasoning and sauces are among the most popular halal products in Europe at the moment, while Nestlé has recently started selling a range of meat-based and frozen food halal products in France, Van Dijk said.Read the whole story here.

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France retreats from burqa ban plan amid burst of hot air

gerinFrench Communist parliamentarian André Gerin, a leading proponent of a ban on full facial veils here, is an old hand at avoiding answering unwelcome questions. One that has become increasingly difficult for him is whether France should prohibit Muslim women here from wearing the veils, known as burqas and niqabs, as a way to combat Islamic fundamentalism. He got a real grilling about this on Europe 1 radio today. After ducking the persistent question “will you propose a legal ban?” several times, he finally admitted that, well … uh … there wouldn’t be a ban after all. There would be “recommendations” that could be supported by Muslim leaders here, i.e. would not include the ban they oppose. (Photo: André Gerin supports striking firemen, 4 Feb 1999/Robert Pratta)

If you speak French, have a listen here.  Click here for our news story.

It looks like anything else said about this topic from here on in is simply hot air — and Gerin generated a lot of that, too. He first tried to brush off the Europe 1 questioner by responding that nobody appearing before the parliamentary inquiry he heads has spoken up for these head-to-toe coverings. Fine, but that’s not an answer. Behind this fashion of “walking coffins” was “a fundamentalist drift” he was determined to combat, he went on. The goal, he added with rising rhetorical stakes, was to launch “a great public action against the stranglehold Islamic fundamentalism has in certain areas of our country, especially over women.” The National Assembly should pass “a law of liberation (of women),” he declared. But it would only contain  “recommendations” that he didn’t elaborate on.

French Muslim soccer team refuses to play gays

footballAn amateur Muslim soccer team has provoked an outcry in France after refusing to play against a team which promotes homosexual rights and has gay players.

The Creteil Bebel Muslim team pulled out of its planned tie with Paris Foot Gay (PFG) at the weekend, saying it went against their religious beliefs to play against homosexuals.

The PFG said they would sue Creteil Bebel for homophobia, but the team defended the pullout, saying religious convictions were much more important than any sporting event.

Sarkozy explains French laïcité to visiting Catholic bishops

bishops-elyseeFrench President Nicolas Sarkozy took time out from a busy schedule on Friday to welcome 18 Catholic cardinals, archbishops and bishops from across Europe into the Elysée Palace for a short talk about laïcité. The prelates were in Paris for an annual session of the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), a Swiss-based body that brings together all those bishops’ conferences. Among the topics at the three-day conference are relations between church and state in Europe, so it was natural that they’d take the opportunity to learn more about France’s trademark secular system. (Photo: Zagreb Archbishop Josip Bozanic (L), Esztergom-Budapest Cardinal Péter Erdö (C) and Bordeaux Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard arrive to meet President Sarkozy, 2 Oct 2009/Charles Platiau)

Cardinal Péter Erdö of Esztergom-Budapest, current CCEE president, came out full of praise for the president’s presentation. It was “maqnifique”, he told waiting journalists in French. “We’re very pleased to hear the president’s point of view”, which he described as “a constructive way of interpreting laïcité”. Erdö recalled that France’s legal separation of church and state, imposed forcibly in 1905, had led to “great conflicts” in the past. “But today, I think it is one form of constructive collaboration and mutual respect” in Europe. He added that the bishops gave Sarkozy a copy of Pope Benedict’s encyclical “Caritas in veritate” (Charity in Truth) signed by the pontiff himself.

Outside of France, laïcité is sometimes seen as a hostile system the Catholic Church must be instinctively allergic to. It can give rise to some hostility, especially from officials who are actually what has to be called laïcité fundamentalists. And it can complicate life not only for the Catholic Church but all religious groups there. But in fact, most religious groups here have learned to live with the system and defend it to visiting foreigners who expect to hear them groaning about it.

Bumps on the road towards a burqa ban in France

burqa-libraryRemember all the talk about France banning the burqa and niqab Muslim veils for women a few months ago? That project is now in the parliamentary inquiry phase, a six-month fact-finding mission expected to wind up late this year and produce a draft bill to outlaw them. That’s the way France handled it in 2003 when it wanted to stop Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to state schools. But the process seems more complex this time around. There’s less passion and more hesitation in the debate. A smooth progression from the inquiry to the ban and to its implementation no longer looks assured. (Photo: Woman in a niqab outside a public library in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache)

To get a feel for the debate, I dropped by the panel’s latest open hearing late on Tuesday and listened to the arguments being made. Five mayors from suburbs with Muslim minorities were due to speak to the panel, which is led by a Communist deputy named André Gerin who makes no bones about his view that a ban is needed. Mayors like these men play a key role in an issue like this, because they are on the front lines dealing with social change and are taken seriously when they clamour for change. Several are also deputies in the National Assembly – France allows them to occupy multiple offices – so they can easily lobby at the national level for something they want.

Sitting alone at the press table in the committee room, I soon saw why the drive towards a ban seems to be hitting some bumps. The mayors don’t know what they want. All think something has to be done, but most are worried that an outright ban wouldn’t work. Here’s my news story on the session.

Would Polanski get a pass if he were a paedophile priest?

polanskiIt’s hard to watch France’s political and cultural elite rush to support filmmaker Roman Polanski against extradition to the United States on a decades-old sex charge and not wonder exactly how they interpret the national motto liberté, égalité, fraternité.” It’s tempting to ask whether they’re defending the liberty to break the law and skip town, respecting the equality of all before the law and championing a brotherhood of artists who can do no wrong. (Photo: Roman Polanski, 19 Feb 2009/Hannibal Hanschke)

Here in Paris, Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared the arrest was “a bit sinister … frankly, (arresting) a man of such talent recognised around the world, recognised in the country where he was arrested — that’s not very nice.” He and his Polish counterpart have written to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue. Culture Minister Frédéric Mitterrand said “just as there is a generous America that we like, there’s also an America that scares us, and that’s the America that has just shown us its face.” Directors, actors and intellectuals have been signing a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.

Almost all the focus is on the argument that Polanski is a brilliant director, the charge of unlawful sex with a 13-year old dates back to 1977 and the victim herself says she wants the whole issue to be forgotten.  Almost completely ignored is the fact that he fled the U.S. to escape sentencing, which added a crime to the original crime. There is such a widespread assumption that all artists and intellectuals would automatically support Polanski that Paris papers today — both the left-of-centre Libération and the conservative Le Figaro — wrote with an air of surprise that Hollywood was not storming the barricades to back him.

Britain muddles through with assisted suicide guidelines

purdyPressure is growing in Europe for some form of legalised euthanasia but few governments have gone as far as the Benelux countries in allowing assisted suicide in clearly defined cases. The mix of growing public support for ending lives of the terminally ill or brain dead but continued prohibitions on it in the law has led to some long and hard-fought legal battles in Italy (Eluana Englaro) and in France (Vincent Humbert). (Photo: Multiple sclerosis sufferer Debbie Purdy, whose case prompted Britain’s new guidelines, 2 June 2009/Stephen Hird)

It has also created a legal and ethical twilight zone where for compassionate reasons the law did not really punish the doctors, nurses or relatives who helped someone die. In France, this became clear in a number of court cases where the person accused of assisted suicide were convicted but got only a short suspended sentence. In Britain, a frequently used way to get around the law has been the so-called “suicide tourism” route to the Dignitas suicide group in Zurich.

Pressed by the Law Lords to clarify British policy, the Director of Public Prosecutions in London has issued guidelines indicating when someone who helps another person to commit suicide might face legal action. At first glace, this may seem like a clarification. But it still leaves enough questions out there to leave the issue shrouded in uncertainty. The reception in London has been mixed. Some commentators say this strikes a sensible balance but others think it’s not enough and parliament has to debate and legislate on it.

France opts for legislative juggling to allow Islamic finance

assemblee-nationaleEager to attract Middle East investment but uneasy about linking faith and finance, the French parliament has opted for some legislative sleight-of-hand to pass a law allowing the issuance of interest-free Islamic “sukuk” bonds. The move is part of France’s two-year drive to create a new European hub for Islamic finance, whose value globally is estimated at $1 trillion. But instead of introducing a separate bill, which would attract attention to it, the governing UMP party tucked the proposed change of French trust law into a larger bill on financing reform for small and medium-sized companies. And it chose to do this by introducing it as an amendment in the second reading of the bill — the one that usually gets fewer headlines. (Photo: French National Assembly, 15 Sept 2009/Charles Platiau)

Sounds confusing? That seems to be exactly what the legislators wanted. As my colleague Tamora Vidaillet wrote here in an earlier post entitled “France courts Islamic finance, as long as it’s not too obvious,” bankers, politicians and goverment officials are clearly uneasy about promoting Islamic finance in France. “There is a clear sense of apprehension over how Islamic finance would fit into French society, where the policy of laïcité – the strict separation of church and state — tries to keep anything religious out of the public sphere as much as possible,” she wrote. “Many admit that French companies and banks may hesitate to do anything that uses the label Islamic as this could highlight sensitivities over social and cultural divides.”

The opposition Socialist Party opposed and attacked the change. “We are introducing Islamic law into the French legal framework. This deeply shocks us, it is unacceptable.” said Socialist MP Henri Emmanuelli. “When Muslims are rich, we try to attract them. When they’re poor, we expel them.”

Adapting the U.S. “Koran for Dummies” for French readers

koran-for-dummies-175coran-pour-les-nuls-175If you don’t know anything about the Koran but want to learn, does it make any difference if you’re an American “dummy” or a French “nul”? That  isn’t meant to cast doubts about knowledge on either side of the Atlantic. But it does arise now that the French version of the American guide to Islam’s holy book has just been published in Paris.

The book at right is based on the original text at left, but it would be wrong to call it a translation. First Editions, the French publisher of the “Pour les Nuls” (“For Dummies”) books, took the U.S. original and asked a leading Paris-based Islam specialist, Franco-Algerian Malek Chebel, to adapt it for French readers.

Chebel, who has also just published his own translation of the Koran and an accompanying “encyclopedic dictionary,” explained at the book presentation here that he had to make several changes. The original text by Sohaib Sultan, now the Muslim chaplain at Princeton University, was fine for U.S. readers, he said. “There weren’t errors,” he explained, “but I had to make some fundamental changes. I told the editor, she checked with the American publishers and asked if they agreed. They went along with it. So I worked from that basis and the book became a French book.”

New French law bars Scientology dissolution even if convicted

scientology (Photo: Scientology members demonstrate against a 1999 fraud trial in Marseille. Their banner says:”Scientology: 40 years in France. A new religion that will always be there.”)

A new French law means the Church of Scientology cannot be dissolved in France even if it is convicted of fraud, it has emerged during a trial of the organisation.  A prosecutor has recommended that a Paris court dissolve the church’s French branch, which has been charged with fraud after complaints by former members who say they gave huge sums to the church for spiritual classes and “purification packs”.

The Church of Scientology’s French arm denies fraud.

Whatever the ruling, under a legislative reform passed just before the start of the trial in May, it is no longer possible to punish a fraudulent organisation with dissolution.  The legal snag was discovered by the Inter-ministerial Unit to Monitor and Fight Cults. Georges Fenech, head of the unit, demanded on Monday that the legal power to dissolve an organisation be reinstated.

Even if the law is changed again, it cannot be applied retroactively to the Scientology trial, which was held in May and June, with the ruling expected in late October. Registered as a religion in the United States, with celebrity members such as actors Tom Cruise and John Travolta, Scientology enjoys no such legal protection in France.