FaithWorld

Algerian imams use regional unrest to press pay demands

algerian protester

(A protester at a Socialist Forces Front party (FFS) rally in Algiers March 4, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

When thousands of young Algerians rioted earlier this year over price rises and living conditions, the government asked state-employed Muslim clerics to preach sermons in the mosques appealing for calm. Now, two months later, the clerics themselves are protesting. “We are very angry, and our daily living conditions are bad,” said Hajaj El Hadj, an imam at a mosque near the capital for over 20 years. “We demand a significant pay rise.”

Algeria’s 100,000 imams have joined municipal police, students, doctors, legal clerks, chauffeurs and oil workers who are demanding better pay and conditions and are threatening strikes or protests if they do not get what they want. This phenomenon has come about, in part, because many Algerians realise there has never been a better time to have their grievances resolved.

The government, anxious to stop a wave of popular revolts in the Arab world spreading to Algeria, has been paying out huge sums in subsidies, wage increases and interest-free loans to placate discontent. But it is not without risks. The protests and strikes — which have so far been small, orderly and localised — could develop into something more unpredictable.

“There is a risk different sectors demanding a pay rise may unify their position and behave as one sector. If that happens it will add more pressure on the government,” said Mohamed Lagab, teacher of political sciences at Algiers university.

Russian firm plans halal reindeer meat exports to Qatar

reindeer (Photo: A Nenets tribesman and his  herd of reindeers on the Yamal peninsula, north of the polar circle, August 4, 2009/Denis Sinyakov)

When rival energy producers Russia and Qatar talk business, it’s no longer only about natural gas — they’re talking reindeer meat, which Russia has promised to export and butcher according to Muslim dietary law. The prospect of Russia exporting halal reindeer meat products to the desert kingdom first came up last month when the governor of Russia’s Arctic Yamal Nenets region, where most of Russia’s gas is produced, was in Qatar for investment talks.

“We told the Qatari leadership that we don’t only have oil and gas. We also have reindeer. And then a Sheikh asked, ‘Is reindeer halal? Can Muslims eat it?’ It turns out they can,” Yamal’s governor Dmitry Kobylkin told Reuters in an interview. “They were so surprised to learn there exists another kind of meat that they haven’t tried and that it can be halal. Gold mining is interesting for them, gas, infrastructure, and now investment in halal reindeer meat processing,” Kobylkin said.

After consulting with the imam of the Salekhard Mosque in Yamal’s capital, the state-owned Yamal Reindeer Cmpany that will produce the meat  decided it should  also market halal canned reindeer within Russia.

Hardline Pakistan imam offers reward to kill Christian woman

qureshiA hardline, pro-Taliban Pakistani Muslim cleric on Friday offered a reward for anyone who kills a Christian woman sentenced to death by a court on charges of insulting Islam. The sentence against Asia Bibi has renewed debate about Pakistan’s blasphemy law which critics say is used to persecute religious minorities, fan religious extremism and settle personal scores. Non-Muslim minorities account roughly 4 percent of Pakistan’s about 170 million population. (Photo: Maulana Yousef Qureshi in Peshawar, February 17, 2006/str)

Maulana Yousef Qureshi, the imam of a major mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, offered a $5,800 (3,700 pounds) reward and warned the government against any move to abolish or change the blasphemy law. “We will strongly resist any attempt to repeal laws which provide protection to the sanctity of Holy Prophet Mohammad,” Qureshi told a rally of hardline Islamists.

“Anyone who kills Asia will be given 500,000 rupees in reward from Masjid Mohabat Khan,” he said referring to his mosque. Qureshi, a cleric who has been leading the congregation at the 17th century Mohabat Khan mosque for decades, later told Reuters he was determined to see her killed. “We expect her to be hanged and if she is not hanged then we will ask mujahideen and Taliban to kill her.”

Michelle Obama dons headscarf at Indonesian mosque

michelleU.S. First Lady Michelle Obama donned a headscarf on a visit to an mosque in Indonesia on Wednesday, not a requirement for a non-Muslim but a sign of the Obamas’ efforts to show respect for the Islamic world.

Wearing a beige headscarf adorned with gold beads and a flowing chartreuse trouser suit, she toured Jakarta’s Istiqlal Mosque, Southeast Asia’s largest, while on a short state visit to the world’s most populous Muslim country. (Photo: U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama, Grand Imam Ali Mustafa Yaqub and President Barack Obama tour the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta November 10, 2010/Jason Reed)

U.S. President Barack Obama had been expected to visit another major religious site during his Asian tour, the Sikh Golden Temple in India, but media reports said the visit was canceled after aides balked at the idea of the president wearing a scarf or skullcap required at the site.

Israel charges imam with incitement against pope

nazareth (Photo: Pope Benedict meets religious leaders in Nazareth, May 14, 2009, with many Muslim clerics in white and red turbans in the audience/Atef Safadi)

Israeli authorities have charged the imam of a mosque in Nazareth with inciting violence against Pope Benedict and supporting al Qaeda and “global jihad,” the justice ministry has said.

The indictment said Nazim Mahmoud Salim, who was arrested by police a month ago, led a group of about 2,000 worshippers, and had also preached at the flashpoint al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, Islam’s third holiest shrine.

Salim is charged with inciting violence against Pope Benedict during his visit last year to Nazareth, the town of Jesus’ boyhood in the heartland of Israel’s minority Arab population.

NYC Muslims want more space to pray/ Latest links to Islamic center dispute

mosque space 1 (Photo: Manhattan building now on site of proposed Muslim cultural center and mosque, August 17, 2010/Lucas Jackson)

Muslims in lower Manhattan who have prayed in a crowded basement or in the streets say they are not looking for confrontation with opponents of a new mosque. They simply need the space.

Some New Yorkers traumatized by the September 11, 2001 attacks have emotionally opposed a proposed Muslim community center and mosque two blocks from the site of the World Trade Center. Republican politicians seeking to wrest control of Congress from Democrats in November elections have seized on the issue.

The controversy has sucked in President Barack Obama and stirred debate about the meaning of religious freedom in a nation founded in part on that principle. Competing rallies for and against the Muslim project are planned to mark this year’s ninth anniversary of the attacks.

Did Bloomberg inspire Obama’s speech about NYC Muslim cultural centre?

obama mosque 1There was an interesting echo at the White House when President Barack Obama came out in favour of the proposed Cordoba House Muslim cultural centre near the site of the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York (see our news report here).  Controversy about the project, which opponents call the “Ground Zero mosque,” has been swirling in New York for weeks and went national recently when Republicans Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich joined the critics’ campaign. But until the annual Iftar dinner he hosted on Friday evening, the president had kept out of what his spokesman called “a matter for New York City and the local community to decide.” (Photo: President Obama addresses White House Iftar meal, 13 August 2010/Jason Reed)

Reading his comments, it looks like Obama not only let NYC authorities decide the issue — favourably for the project, as it turned out, as both the local community board and the landmarks commission voted overwhelmingly to let it go ahead. He may also have taken pointers for his speech from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has stood solidly behind the project despite all the emotion it has stirred up.

obama mosque 2After the Landmarks Preservation Commission cleared the last administrative hurdle to the plan — rejecting the opponents’ bid to protect the 1857 building standing on the proposed Cordoba House site from being torn down — Bloomberg delivered a forceful speech on August 3 defending two long-standing American traditions.

Planned New York Islamic center near Sept. 11 site wins approval

A New York city agency denied “landmark” status for an old building near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks, clearing the way for the building to be torn down to make room for a Muslim cultural center which has spurred heated debate.

The City Landmarks Commission decision on Tuesday allows for the demolition of a building near where the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers stood and paves the way for construction of the Cordoba House, set to include a prayer room and a 500-seat auditorium as part of a 13-story cultural complex.

The project, which includes a mosque, drew emotional opposition from protesters who called the location inappropriate in a city still grappling with how to commemorate the attacks carried out by Islamic militants.

Sonorous black Saudi cleric rescinds objection to fatwa against singing

saudi singerAn imam whose voice helped him become the first black Saudi to lead prayers at Mecca’s Grand Mosque said he was wrong to speak against a fatwa prohibiting singing, in the latest spat between reformist and conservative clerics in the kingdom.

King Abdullah’s push for reform has fostered divisions among senior Saudi clerics, and Adil Kalbani shocked conservative clerics in June by speaking in favor of singing, saying neither the Koran nor Prophet Mohammad’s sayings prohibited it. (Photo: Saudi singer Abdul Majeed Abdullah at Qatar’s Song Festival in Doha, January 11, 2007/Fadi Al-Assaad)

But, in remarks published by Saudi al-Hayat newspaper on Wednesday, Kalbani said that he had discussed the fatwa with people including Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh bin Abdul-Aziz bin Mohammad al-Sheikh and had changed his mind.

INTERVIEW – NY imam plans a “Muslim Y,” not a “Ground Zero mosque”

nyc mosque 1When Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf decided to build a Muslim cultural centre in lower Manhattan, the model he chose couldn’t have been more mainstream American — the Young Men’s Christian Association chapters found in cities across the United States.

The institution he had in mind was the 92nd Street Y, a Jewish adaptation of the YMCA concept that is one of New York’s leading addresses for residents of all religions or none to visit for public lectures, debates, concerts or educational courses. (Photo: A demonstrator at a Landmarks Commission’s hearing on the proposed Muslim community center in New York, July 13, 2010S/Keith Bedford)

But Rauf’s project is better known here now as the “Ground Zero mosque,” after the term for the World Trade Centre site. Families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and conservative politicians have mounted an emotional campaign to block it, claiming that locating it only two blocks north of the site was a provocation.