FaithWorld

Egyptian TV preacher to fight Islamist extremism in Yemen

khaled (Photo: Egyptian preacher Amr Khaled preaches in Aden November 24, 2010/Khaled Abdullah)

Yemen has enlisted the help of the popular Egyptian television preacher Amr Khaled to help it dislodge militant Islamists’ foothold within its conservative population. The impoverished Arabian Peninsula state, already juggling conflicts in its north and south, is struggling to combat a resurgent wing of al-Qaeda that experts say exploits Yemen’s instability to launch attacks in the region and beyond.

Yemen security forces have launched several military campaigns, including air raids and blockades of cities, to root out suspected al Qaeda militants in Yemen’s south.

Khaled, who CBS television has called “the Billy Graham of Islam,” is a charismatic and moderate populist Muslim preacher known for wooing crowds of upper-middle class Egyptian youths in a high-pitched voice. He’s often described as a “televangelist” or — putting it more Islamically — “telemufti.”

He has now launched a campaign to win the hearts and minds of Yemen’s young people. “The goal of this project is to uproot extremism and spread moderation, to show the true face of Islam, and show a bright picture of Yemen to the world,” Khaled said at an event marking the opening of his campaign in the southern port city of Aden.

Read the full story by Mohammed Mukhashaf and Mohamed Sudam here.

Never heard of Amr Khaled? Here’s that CBS television report on him:

Here’s a Gallup video interview with him in English:

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Condemned Christian woman seeks mercy in Pakistan

bibiA Christian woman sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of blaspheming Islam said on Saturday she had been wrongfully accused by neighbours due to a personal dispute, and appealed to the president to pardon her.

Asia Bibi, mother of four, is the first woman to be sentenced to death under Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law which rights groups say is often exploited by religious extremists as well as ordinary Pakistanis to settle personal scores. (Photo: Asia Bibi in an undated photo handed out by family members on November 13, 2010. Standing left to right is Bibi’s brother Ramzan, Asia, brother Yunus and son Imran)

The 36-year-old farm worker was taken into custody by police in June last year and was convicted by a lower court on Nov. 8. She has been in prison since then, with her case drawing international media attention as well as appeals by human rights groups, and, according to Pakistani media, Pope Benedict.

Saudi Arabia less rigid with Muslims during haj

haj (Photo: Haj pilgrims arrive to cast stones at pillars symbolising Satan in Mena, November 16, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Saudi Arabia’s religious police keep such a low profile during the haj, it’s hard to imagine that you are in Islam’s holiest city.

The kingdom, where Islam first emerged around 1,400 years ago, applies a strict form of Sunni Islamic sharia law that imposes gender segregation, forces shops to close during prayer times and prohibits women from driving.

But in Mecca, the enforcement of many of these rules is relaxed during the haj, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim. And with the government investing billion of dollars in recent years to make pilgrimage safer and more comfortable, many pilgrims end up going home as goodwill ambassadors for the country.

Merkel: Germany doesn’t have “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity”

merkel (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel in Karlsruhe, 15 Nov 2010/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans debating Muslim integration to stand up more for Christian values, saying Monday the country suffered not from “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity.”

Addressing her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, she said she took the current public debate in Germany on Islam and immigration very seriously. As part of this debate, she said last month that multiculturalism there had utterly failed.

Some of her conservative allies have gone further, calling for an end to immigration from “foreign cultures” — a reference to Muslim countries like Turkey — and more pressure on immigrants to integrate into German society.

Haj pilgrims flock to Mount Arafat to beg forgiveness

arafat 1 (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Plains of Arafat, 15 Nov 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Millions of Muslims gathered around Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad delivered his last sermon, to beg for God’s forgiveness on Monday, the spiritual climax of the annual haj pilgrimage. Pilgrims flocked mostly on foot to Arafat, a rocky outcrop in a dusty plain a few kilometers away from Mecca, to pray until sunset. They set up tents where they could, squatted on the side of the road in shelters or stayed at the nearby Namira mosque.

A record of at least 2.5 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia to perform this year’s haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion. So far, the authorities have reported none of the major problems or disasters that marred the event in previous years, such as building collapses and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

But the sheer number of pilgrims was still a worry for the Saudi government. Around 100,000 security forces have been deployed to the oversee the pilgrimage, security officials said.

Saudi Arabia opens Chinese-built haj pilgrimage train

haj 2Hoping to decrease accidents and boost tourism, Saudi has built a railway line to improve transport for millions of Muslims who flock to the kingdom on the annual haj and move en masse from one holy site to another. At least 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to perform the haj, which began on Sunday. One of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, it has been marred in the past by stampedes, accidents and political demonstrations. (Photo: Haj pilgrims in Mina, near Mecca,  November 14, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

Authorities say the 6.6 billion riyal ($1.76 billion) project will lessen congestion of the pilgrim route swollen with
some 70,000 cars and buses jamming the roads. The railway is the first such project in more than half a century in the world’s top oil exporter. It will ferry pilgrims around holy sites outside Mecca to perform rites such as the “devil’s stoning”, when pilgrims stone a wall in ritual defiance of the devil and temptation.

The 18-km train line has stops at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa, haj sites that Islamic tradition says Prophet Ibrahim — the biblical patriarch Abraham — once visited and that Prophet Mohammad established as a pilgrim route 14 centuries ago. The Chinese-built train is the latest high-tech addition to the haj after Saudi Arabia built electric stairways in the Grand Mosque and showers to cool off pilgrims following the haj route. The ticket, good for a week, costs $70.

At least 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims begin haj

haj 1 (Photo: Pilgrims at Mena, near Mecca, November 14, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by the Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago.

Traveling on foot, by public transport and in private cars, the pilgrims will stream through a mountain pass to a valley at Mina, some three km (two miles) outside Mecca. The path is the same as the Prophet himself took on his last pilgrimage.

The haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion, lasts for five days. In the past it has been marred by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.

Mecca goes upmarket but commercialism unnerves some Saudis

meccaSitting in the marble lobby of a luxury hotel in Mecca, Moroccan bank director Mohammad Hamdosh gets a breather from the cacophony of pilgrims bustling around the Grand Mosque in Islam’s holiest city. Millions have flocked to the city in Saudi Arabia for the annual haj pilgrimage, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. But some can afford more than others, and a controversial construction boom is catering to their needs.

“Every pilgrim comes according to his means. God gave me money, so why shouldn’t I stay in this hotel?” says Hamdosh, on a trip that has cost him 12,000 Euros ($16,545). “Haj is tiring so it’s good to have a room to rest.” (Photo: The Kabaa andt the Grand Mosque dwarfed by luxury high-rise hotels, 12 Aug 2010/Hassan Ali)

Inside the mosque, all pilgrims are equal as they circle the black stone known as the Kaaba toward which Muslims around the world turn in prayer every day. But outside an array of towering five-star hotels have sprung up where the wealthy can bask in a 24-hour view of the Kaaba. The high-rises dwarf the mosque and the surrounding town, nestled in the mountains in the hinterland of the port city Jeddah.

Azerbaijan wrestles with Islam in rough region

baku (Photo: Building boom in Azerbaijan capital Baku, 3 Nov 2010/Osman Karimov)

The view from Nardaran’s vast sandstone mosque sweeps down through roses to the Absheron peninsula and the Caspian sea from which Azerbaijan derives its wealth. Devotion to Islam defines life in this dusty coastal village, where walls carry Koranic verses and social grievances against this strictly controlled former Soviet republic find voice in religion.

But it’s a way of life that sits uneasily with the secular regime of President Ilham Aliyev, an authoritarian who draws his power from rich reserves of oil and gas in the Caspian. “They are wealthy, but they are afraid,” Haji Aga Nuriyev, Naradaran elder and former head of the banned Islamic Party of Azerbaijan, said of the political elite around Aliyev.

Like much of the former Soviet Union — Christian and Muslim — this country of 9 million mainly Shi’ite Muslims has witnessed a limited religious revival since the collapse of Communism two decades ago.

Islamic finance in Gulf needs regulation boost

karachi marketFrom Australia to South Africa, governments are scrambling to change the law to accommodate the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry, whose avoidance of toxic debt has looked increasingly attractive since the global crisis. But in the Gulf Arab region, birthplace of Islam and cradle of Islamic finance, governments have taken a more passive approach, which experts say is slowing the industry’s growth. (Photo: A broker at the Karachi Stock Exchange July 5, 2010/Athar Hussain)

“Aside from Malaysia, Sudan and Iran, no government has really owned the Islamic finance project,” Humayon Dar, chief executive of London-based sharia advisory and structuring firm BMB Islamic, said.

In Malaysia, there is a national sharia council that sets rules for Islamic financial institutions. Rules are standardised under the central bank, which has made an active push towards supporting Islamic finance. In the first three quarters of 2010, the Malaysian government accounted for 62.5 percent of all Islamic bonds, or sukuk, issuances globally, valued at $18.4 billion, according to Thomson Reuters data. By comparison, not one sovereign sukuk came out of the Gulf Arab region during the same period.