FaithWorld

Dutch concerns over Islam, globalisation drive Wilders’ support

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Geert Wilders,5 March 2010/Suzanne Plunkett

After scoring gains in local elections, Dutch anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders is now primed to make waves in a national poll in June by tapping into discontent over Islam and globalisation.

In the first test of public opinion since the collapse of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende’s coalition government last month, Wilders’ Freedom Party (PVV) became the largest party in the city of Almere and came second in The Hague on Wednesday.

Drawing strength from a savvy public relations machine and a populist anti-immigration stance that plays well with part of the electorate, Wilders also represents a vote against the political elite, political experts say.  “He thrives on discontent in society and multiculturalism and he has targeted Islam,” said Nico Landman, an associate professor in Islamic studies at Utrecht University.

Muslims now make up about 6 percent, or 1 million of the 16 million population of the Netherlands.  “We need to give an opposing voice and that’s what we want to keep doing and we haven’t done that enough,” said Henny Kreeft, chairman of the Dutch Muslim Party chairman.  “Wilders creates fear and reacts to the Islamisation of the Netherlands, but there is no Islamisation of the Netherlands.”

Read Aaron Gray-Block’s full analysis here.

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Tahir ul-Qadri and the difficulty of reporting on fatwas

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Muhammed Tahir ul-Qadri at a youth camp in Coventry, central England, August 9, 2009/Kieran Doherty

It never was and may never be easy to report about fatwas for a world audience. This point was driven home once again today when a prominent Islamic scholar presented to the media his new 600-page fatwa against terrorism and suicide bombing. Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri is a Pakistani-born Sufi scholar whose youth workshops fostering moderation and understanding in Britain had already caught our attention. His effort to knock down any and every argument in favour of violence is certainly welcome. But the back story to this event is so complicated that it’s hard to report on the fatwa without simply ignoring many important parts of this back story.

Part of the problem was the PR drumroll leading up to ul-Qadri’s news conference.  Minhaj-ul-Quran, his international network to spread his Sufi teachings, touted this fatwa in an email to journalists a week ago as a unique event “because at no time in history has such an extensively researched and evidenced work been presented by such a prominent Islamic authority.” Hype like this usually prompts journalists to throw an invitation straight into the trash can.

Malaysia getting bruised over caning women

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A Malaysian demonstrator in Kuala Lumpur during a protest in January against Christan use of the word Allah for God, 8 Jan 2010/Bazuki Muhammad)

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 33-year-old mother of two, will have an audience with Malaysian royalty next week when she will ask to be caned.  Malaysia’s  royals (the country has nine sultans, one for each state on the peninsula) don’t usually grant audiences to commoners, even part-time models such as Kartika, to discuss corporal punishment. But the Malay royal families are officially in charge of religious affairs, and Kartika was convicted two years ago  in an Islamic court of drinking a beer.

She’s already paid a 5,000 ringgit ($1,469) fine in a case that has sparked a raging debate over the powers of Islamic courts to issue such rulings, because federal law shields women from such punishments. She has said repeatedly that she just wants to be caned and be done with it. (And perhaps in the process take a bit of revenge given the storm of controversy over the case?)

from The Great Debate:

Islam, terror and political correctness

-- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. --

The Islamic terrorists of the Bush era are gone. They have been replaced by violent extremists in a purge of the American government's political lexicon. Smart move in the propaganda war between al Qaeda and the West? Or evidence of political correctness taken to extremes?

Those questions are worth revisiting after the publication in February of two key documents issued by the administration of President Barack Obama, the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) and the Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. Both deal with what used to be called the Global War on Terror. Neither uses the words "Muslim" or "Islam."

Malaysia canes women for having sex out of wedlock

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Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, due to be caned for drinking beer, 24 Aug 2009/Zainal Abd Halim

Malaysian authorities have caned three women under Islamic laws for the first time in the Southeast Asian country, Home Minister Hishammuddin Hussein has said. The sentences were carried out on February 9 after a religious court found them guilty of having sex out of wedlock. Two of the women were whipped six times.

Hishammuddin’s comments signal that the mostly Muslim country is now prepared to flog Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a mother of two, for drinking beer, despite the international criticism that the case has garnered.

Factbox: Roots of Yemen’s conflict with northern Shi’ite rebels

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A Yemeni soldier aims at rebel targets in this undated photo released by the Yemeni army on 25 Jan 2010.

Yemen announced a truce with northern Shi’ite rebels on Thursday, aimed at ending a war that has raged on-and-off since 2004 and that drew in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a Yemeni official said.

The conflict with the northern rebels, who complain of social, religious and economic discrimination in the southern Arabian state, intensified last year. A truce was to start at midnight on Thursday, the official said.

Teach Islam at German universities – academic council report

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Humboldt University in Berlin, 8 Jan 2010/Friedrich Petersdorff

Germany should set up centres for Islamic studies at two or three state universities to educate Muslim scholars, teachers and pastoral workers for its large Muslim minority, an academic advisory council has said. The Council on Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) said the lack of such institutes at universities, which already teach Christian and Jewish theology, “does not do justice to the importance of the largest non-Christian faith community in Germany.”

Muslim organisations should join advisory boards to help develop Islam institutes and choose faculty members and all main Muslim views in Germany should be represented, it said in a report (here in German) on Monday.

“For me, this is part of a modern integration policy,” Education Minister Annette Schavan told Deutschlandfunk radio in Berlin. “The main question will be who the partner is in developing this.”

Serbian church leader breaks with past, invites pope to Belgrade

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Patriarch Irinej at a news conference in Belgrade, 28 Jan 2010/Ivan MIlutinovic

For all of Irinej Gavrilovic’s 80 years, his Serbian Orthodox Church has kept its distance from the Vatican and the pope, maintaining a division whose roots date back a millennium.  But only a few days into the job as the 45th Serbian Orthodox Patriarch, Irinej has several times repeated an invitation to the Roman Catholic pontiff, hoping that both men could celebrate a significant anniversary in 2013.

It was an expression of hope, not only that the churches could overcome past differences, but also that two men already in their 80s could make plans three years into the future.

On Thursday, Irinej discussed the invitation in a forum that none of his  recent predecessors had ever employed, the news conference, amid a give and take with a gaggle of reporters. There he said his church will be glad to welcome Pope Benedict to Serbia in 2013 in a bid to foster dialogue about reconciliation between two largest Christian communities, a millennium after their Great Schism.

Islamic finance’s reputation as “safe” is a myth: Qatar regulator

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Traders at the Saudi Investment Bank in Riyadh, 8 Oct 2008/Fahad Shadeed

It’s a myth to assume Islamic finance products are safer than conventional products and underlying risks should be studied more carefully, Qatar’s top regulator said at the Davos World Economic Forum meeting on Wednesday. Despite being billed as a safer alternative to traditional banking because assets must underpin deals, Islamic bondholders have found they may not have any more legal safeguards than conventional counterparts in the event of default.

Such issues were highlighted after sukuk — or Islamic bonds — had the first ever defaults last year.  Sukuk, one of the flagship products in the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry, are structured as profit-sharing or rental agreements and returns are derived from underlying assets because Islamic laws prohibits paying or earning interest.

“There is some assumption that some of it is cosmetically more comforting, but when so many Islamic instruments are now trying to mimic the effect of conventional products, you need to examine if they carry the same risk profile,” Philip Thorpe, chief executive of Qatar Financial Center Regulatory Authority, told Reuters.

Muslim Brotherhood to Egypt: Don’t squeeze out moderates

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Mohamed Badie in an interview with Reuters in Cairo, 26 Jan/Asmaa Waguih

The new leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has said that  government efforts to squeeze Egypt’s biggest opposition group out of politics would only spur on “deviant” and potentially violent Islamic movements.  Mohamed Badie, 66, told Marwa Awad and Edmund Blair of the Reuters Cairo bureau the group would campaign in this year’s parliamentary election, but a state crackdown would likely prevent a repeat of its success in 2005 when it secured a fifth of the seats.

“The Muslim Brotherhood, which carries the banner of moderate Islam, must be given the chance to teach Egyptian society to benefit the nation and its people,” said Badie, picked as the group’s new leader this month.  “When we were prevented from playing the role of spreading moderate Islam, thorns sprouted in Egypt’s soil and so did terrorism,” he said, adding he rejected “deviant and ‘takfiri’ ideology”, referring to groups that declared people infidels.

Read the whole story here.

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