FaithWorld

In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

turkey headscarfFreshman Busra Gungor won’t have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey’s Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf. (Photo: Women demonstration for headscarves at the  Constitutional Court in Ankara on October 23, 2008/Umit Bektas)

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country’s secular constitution.

“I was ready to wear the wig, just like my cousin did,” said Gungor, a 18-year-old student wearing a pastel-colored headscarf. “This is about my freedom. I don’t see why my headscarf should be seen as a threat to anybody.”

The debate is not unique to Turkey — France and Kosovo, for example, ban headscarves in public schools, and parts of Germany bar teachers from wearing them.

Germany holds inflamed debate on Islam and migration

merkel JUGermany’s inflamed public debate about Islam and integration risks serious overheating as politicians compete to make ever tougher statements criticizing Muslims immigrants they accuse of refusing to fit in here.

The escalating row, sparked off when a Bundesbank board member slammed Muslims as dim-witted welfare spongers, has mixed some social problems and some Muslim customs into a vision of Islam as a looming menace to German society. (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel tells CDU meeting that multicultural policies have failed, in Potsdam, 16 Oct. 2010/Thomas Peter)

When President Christian Wulff tried to build bridges by saying Islam was now part of German society, critics retorted the country was based on “Judeo-Christian values” and should not accept any more immigrants from foreign cultures.

Radical Islamists aim to infiltrate Hamburg mosques

hamburg mosque (Photo: An imam leads prayers at Central Mosque in Hamburg October 8, 2010/Christian Charisius)

Radical Islamists from a shut down Hamburg mosque linked to the September 11 attacks on the United States are now trying to infiltrate other mosques in and around the German city, according to officials and Muslim leaders.

Small groups of radicals have turned up at several mosques trying to establish a new meeting place since the Taiba Mosque, where the 9/11 leader Mohammad Atta once prayed, was raided and closed by police in August, they told Reuters.

With radicals no longer grouped around one mosque near the city’s main train station, security services have stepped up their observation of Islamists around the city and Muslim associations are on the lookout for suspicious newcomers.

Turkey needs to re-interpret secularism – senior MP

erdogan (Photo: Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan watches his wife Emine voting in a constitutional referendum, in Istanbul September 12, 2010/Osman Orsal)

Turkey has to re-interpret its principles of secularism to adapt to a changing society, an AK Party member in charge of drafting a new constitution said, joining a growing debate over the Muslim country’s identity.

Turkey, a rising regional power which aspires to join the European Union, was founded by Kemal Ataturk as a secular republic on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. But a power shift led by a new middle class of observant Muslims which forms the backbone of the AKP government is challenging Turkey’s ability to reconcile Islam and secularism.

In the lastest twist of a long-running dispute, Turkey’s Higher Education Board last week ordered Istanbul University, one of Turkey’s biggest, to stop teachers from expelling female students who wear the Muslim headscarf from classes.

German universities to train Muslim imams, teachers

schavan

Germany has announced it will fund Islamic studies at three state universities to train prayer leaders and religion teachers more in tune with Western society than the foreign imams preaching at most mosques here.

Two universities, Tübingen and Münster, are famous for their faculties of Christian theology and count German-born Pope Benedict among their former professors. The third, Osnabrück, opened a course for imams this week with 30 students. (Photo: Education Minister Annette Schavan in Berlin, October 14, 2010/Thomas Peter)

Since the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States, several European countries have been seeking ways to educate imams at their universities rather than importing them from Islamic countries out of step with modern and multicultural societies.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Attacking Sufi shrines in Pakistan

sufi shrineAmil Khan has a post up at Abu Muqawama about last week's bombing at a Sufi shrine in Karachi and its implications for intra-Sunni conflict between Deobandi Taliban militants and people of the majority Barelvi sect:

"There are all sorts of studies written by people much cleverer than me that will tell you violence in this type of conflict aims to do a lot more than just kill its immediate victims. In Pakistan, right now, it also aims to push people into ideological camps (for or against) so that the perpetrators can claim they defend a constituency and create an ideological cover for their actions. In that sense, the attacks were aimed at forcing people to think about the 'who is Muslim and who is not' argument." he writes.

"I would add just raising this argument where once it wouldn't be entertained at all is an achievement for extremists because, well.. if you are arguing about whether Muslims are really Muslims, whether people agree or not, you have already radicalised on the sly the discourse concerning non-Muslims, or Shia."

Arab Christians face political Islam threat-official says

synod bishops 1 (Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10  Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)

The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.

At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.

“Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world,” said Naguib. “This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.”

Christians in Arab Gulf face hurdles to worship

doha church (Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)

Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. “If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe … it is a miracle that nothing has happened,” said Bishop Camillo Ballin.

These churchgoers represent only the tip of the iceberg. Ballin reckons his flock in Kuwait numbers around 350,000 out of a total of half a million Christians in the country.

At least 3.5 million Christians of all denominations live in the Gulf Arab region, the birthplace of Islam and home to some of the most conservative Arab Muslim societies in the world. The freedom to practice Christianity — or any religion other than Islam — is not always a given in the Gulf and varies from country to country. Saudi Arabia, which applies an austere form of Sunni Islam, has by far the tightest restrictions.

Egypt Christians say intolerance grows, close ranks

coptsMinarets and church towers mingle on Cairo’s skyline, but tensions mar Egypt’s record of religious coexistence and a perception of growing intolerance is leading some Christians to shun their Muslim compatriots.

Amira Helmy, from a middle-class area of the capital, was brought up by a Muslim neighbour after her mother died and attended a state school alongside Muslim children. “Most of my friends were Muslims. We used to go on outings together and some would call to me from below my house so we could walk to school,” recalls Helmy with a smile. (Photo: Leader of Egypt’s Copts, Pope Shenouda (C), with fellow clergymen,June 8, 2010/Asmaa Waguih)

Now a housewife in her 40s, she sends her daughter Christine and son Kirollos to a private Christian school and forbids them from mingling with Muslim children to protect them from insults. Around a tenth of Egypt’s 78 million people are Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts — descendents of Christian communities that founded monasticism in the early centuries after Jesus.

Vatican synod to mull Middle East Christian exodus

baghdad churchWith Christianity dwindling in its Middle Eastern birthplace, Pope Benedict has convened Catholic bishops from the region to debate how to save its minority communities and promote harmony with their Muslim neighbours.

For two weeks starting on Sunday, the bishops will discuss problems for the faithful ranging from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and strife in Iraq to radical Islamism, economic crisis and the divisions among the region’s many Christian churches. (Photo: Worshippers light candles after Mass at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Baghdad October 3, 2010/Mohammed Ameen)

They come from local churches affiliated with the Vatican, but the relentless exodus of all Christians — Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants — has prompted them to take a broad look at the challenges facing all followers of Jesus there.