FaithWorld

Indonesia’s Islamist party: hijabs, uniforms and a Hitler tweet

Jakarta’s Ritz Carlton hotel this weekend was a sea of brightly coloured Islamic headscarves and the crisp white uniforms of the Islam-based Prosperous Justice Party (PKS), the third biggest party in President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s cabinet. PKS held their national congress at the luxury hotel

, the site of a deadly July 2009 bomb attack perpetrated by Islamist militants,

and the topic on everyone’s lips was how to broaden the party’s appeal and shake off their image as hardliners.

CORRECTION: This post originally identified this Ritz Carlton as the site of the 2009 bombing, which occured at a different Ritz Carlton location.

pks 1It’s a reputation the party earned by pushing conservative policies such as Indonesia’s anti-pornography law and supporting the introduction of stoning for adulterers in semi-autonomous region of Aceh, where sharia law is practiced. (Photo: Sharia police check women caught wearing tight pants in Aceh province May 26, 2010/Junaidi Hanafiah)

But a tough moral line has not proved a great vote winner in majority Muslim Indonesia, where most people practice a very moderate form of Islam that incorporates pre-Islamic traditional beliefs. PKS increased its vote only slightly in the 2009 election and all other Islam-based parties actually lost votes.

Chechen women say police paintball them for not covering hair

chechenWomen in Russia’s volatile Muslim Chechnya region say that police have targeted them with paintball pellets for not wearing headscarves, outraging rights activists.  The attacks highlight tension over efforts by Chechnya’s firebrand Moscow-backed leader, Ramzan Kadyrov, to enforce Muslim-inspired rules that in some cases violate Russia’s constitution. (Photo: Chechen women voting near Grozny, November 27, 2005/Eduard Kornienko)

“A car carrying men in military uniform slowed down to approach us, one started filming on his mobile phone, and when they sped away we noticed paint all over our clothes,” a woman in the Chechen capital Grozny said on Friday  on condition of anonymity.

Several witnesses told Reuters that men in camouflage, which is worn by many Chechen police and security officers, had fired paintball guns at women from cars with tinted windows in multiple incidents this month. Critics say that in return for keeping relative calm in Chechnya, site of two separatist wars with Moscow since the mid-1990s, the Kremlin allows Kadyrov to run it like a personal fiefdom and lets him impose his vision of Islam.

Egypt’s moderate Islamic TV extends reach with new languages

azhar (Photo: Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, 10 March 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s al-Azhar’s satellite channel that seeks to promote moderate Islam launched four language services to extend its reach to millions of Muslims worldwide, its designers said on Sunday.

Al-Azhar, one of the oldest seats of Sunni Islamic learning, will target viewers in English, French, Urdu and Pashto besides its now running Arabic programs, in a renewed effort to further U.S. President Barak Obama’s call for greater religious tolerance.  The station was launched to coincide with Obama’s visit to Cairo in mid-2009 and his call for better ties between the Muslim world and the United States.

“There is a wide open market for religious moderation on the airwaves,” said Sheikh Khaled El Gendy, Azhar religious scholar and one of the channel’s content developers.  “We are competing with voices of intolerance for the attention and loyalty of young people,” said Gendy, who hosts a live call-in program for viewers struggling with the interpretation of Islam to seek guidance.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Killings of Ahmadis unleashes fresh soul-searching over Pakistan’s identity

ahmadiIn a country which has suffered many bombings, the killing of more than 80 people in two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore last week has unleashed a particularly anguished bout of soul-searching in Pakistan, going right to the heart of its identity as an Islamic nation.

When he heard the news, wrote Kamran Shafi in Dawn, "I ran home and put on the TV and burst into tears, first of rage and a seething anger; and then of complete and utter helplessness and sadness. Shame on us."

"Tell me – is this a country that we can be proud of?,"  wrote Kalsoom on the blog Changing up Pakistan. "Pakistan was supposedly established as a homeland for Muslims, to free them of discrimination. This same country now allows persecution to continue not just unabated but often by the writ of the state."

Islamic finance seeks young scholars to lead growth, improve products

islamic bankWith Islamic finance a $1 trillion industry globally and expected by ratings agency Moody’s to reach $5 trillion in time, students of sharia have more opportunities than ever before to take their skills beyond the mosque doors and into the boardroom.

Reflecting the change in times, many current scholars now prefer to call themselves sharia advisors or technicians to suggest that their duties are more professional rather than simply clerical. (Photo: Dubai Islamic Bank, January 28, 2008/Jumana El Heloueh)

Professionally, it can be a lucrative endeavor. Scholars working on Islamic finance deals are paid consulting fees, depending not only on the services provided but also the seniority and fame of the scholar.

Pakistani law fuels hatred of Ahmadis, prompts attacks: UN experts

ahmadiOfficial discrimination in Pakistan against the Ahmadi Muslim sect fuels hatred of the community and prompts violent attacks against them, according to three U.N. human rights investigators.

In a statement issued by the United Nations in Geneva following deadly bombings last Friday of two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, the three said the authorities had failed to head off the attacks despite many signs that they were coming. (Photo: Ahmadis bury attack victims in Chenab Nagar,  northwest of Lahore on May 29, 2010/stringer)

“Members of this (Ahmadi) religious community have faced continuous threats, discrimination and violent attacks in Pakistan,” said the experts, who included Pakistani human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir.

Afghanistan to probe NGOs after “preaching” report

aid

Afghanistan has launched an investigation into the activities of hundreds of aid groups after a local media report accused a Norwegian organisation of preaching Christianity, a crime punishable by death.

Foreign and Afghan non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are involved in essential humanitarian projects across the country — helping out in areas ranging from health to education — but some Afghans remain skeptical of their motives and suspect they could be a front for proselytising. (Photo: An Afghan girl with refugee women waiting to receive free blankets distributed by a foreign charity in Kabul on December 2, 2002/Radu Sigheti)

Afghanistan’s economy ministry said on Sunday it had formed a commission to investigate all NGOs after a local TV report accusing Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) of promoting Christianity.

Skirts replace jeans as Indonesia’s Aceh enforces sharia

aceh 1

A sharia police officer escorts women caught wearing tight pants during a street raid in Aceh province on May 26, 2010/Junaidi Hanafiah

In a bid to implement Islamic law to the letter, Indonesia’s West Aceh district on Thursday started giving away long, loose skirts to cover up Acehnese women caught wearing tight jeans. The westernmost province of Aceh on Sumatra is the sole upholder of sharia law in the predominantly Muslim, but secular Indonesia. The previous local parliament passed a controversial law in September allowing adulterers to be stoned to death.

Wilayatul Hisbah, the Aceh sharia police who began this year conducting raids on unmarried couples caught together as well as gamblers and drinkers, on Thursday set up road blocks to search cars and buses for women wearing tight trousers.

Saudi liberals see hope as clerics argue over gender segregation

saudi women

Saudi women praying at Eid al-Adha in Riyadh on November 27, 2009/Stringer

Divisions among senior Saudi clerics over the legality of gender segregation could mark a new drive by reformers allied to King Abdullah to push social reforms in the puritanical Islamic state.  The divisions came to the open when the kingdom’s morals police, or the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, reversed a decision to sack Ahmad al-Ghamdi, its regional head for the Mecca region.

After the kingdom opened its first co-ed university in September — a project sponsored by King Abdullah — Ghamdi published a research paper that questioned the legality in Islam of gender segregation as enforced by the Commission.

“The commission was forced to cancel the decision to sack Ghamdi. This will strengthen the state’s role,” said Khaled al-Dakhil, a prominent Saudi political writer.  “The state has been gaining influence while that of the religious establishment has been declining, simply because it has gradually been given a lesser say over decisions taken by the state.”

Film champions liberalism in conservative Egypt

pyramids

The great Giza pyramids and the Sphinx on March 27, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dals

A new film exploring issues of sexual freedom, polygamy and individuality has drawn media praise in Egypt, but its liberal message remains on the margins in the country’s conservative society. The appearance of Rasayel El Bahr, or Messages from the Sea, in Egyptian theatres is the latest indication of an easing of censorship rules, which film critics say reflects government efforts to counter Islamism.

The film’s themes are striking in a country where the streets are dominated by the Islamic headscarf and where, analysts say, the state is battling against the rise of stricter versions of Islam emanating from Gulf states like Saudi Arabia.

In director Daoud Abdel Sayed’s story, Yehya, a young doctor who moves to coastal Alexandria and slowly shakes free of social norms, falls in love with Nora, who leads him to believe she is a prostitute. Viewers learn that Nora, as the second wife in a polygamous marriage, just sees herself this way. Polygamy is permitted in Egypt under Islamic sharia law.