FaithWorld

Sharia boards face scrutiny amid financial crisis

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A teller at Bank Syariah Mandiri in Jakarta February 17, 2010/Supri

Sharia boards face increased scrutiny and criticism as high-profile corporate defaults and cautionary comments from respected scholars cast a harsh light on the fast growth of financial products touted as Islamic.

Experts say rapid growth in the industry, which some estimates value at around $1 trillion, has put more pressure on scholars to sign off on increasingly complicated structures, wrapped in sharia packaging.

“In areas that have to do with capital guarantees, fixed income and derivatives … 40 to 50 percent of what’s being sent out is form over substance,” said Jawad Ali, managing partner at Dubai-based law firm King & Spalding.  “Mistakes do happen when a sharia board focuses on the instrument being presented … and there is little scrutiny on how the structures are being implemented.”

Influential scholar Sheikh Taqi Usmani rocked the industry last year when he said many structures presenting themselves as Islamic didn’t meet the definition of true sharia compliance, raising concerns in the industry that some deals could be deemed un-Islamic after investors had bought them.  Those concerns increased when Kuwait’s Investment Dar — which defaulted on a $100 million sukuk last May — presented a legal defense in the British High Court that one of its wakala, or agency deals, wasn’t sharia compliant.

Read Shaheen Pasha’s full story here.

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Al-Azhar leader Sheikh Tantawi dies in Saudi Arabia

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Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi in Cairo September 16, 2006/Nasser Nuri

Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, who as the head of Egypt’s most prestigious seat of Islamic learning al-Azhar was Sunni Islam’s top authority, died of a heart attack on Wednesday on a visit to Saudi Arabia, religious officials at al-Azhar said. He was 81.

Mohamed Wasel, Tantawi’s deputy, will temporarily take charge of the Sunni Muslim institution until Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appoints a new head. Wasel has been heading al-Azhar’s committee for inter-faith dialogue.

Al-Azhar, which runs schools, universities and other educational institutions across Egypt and sends scholars to teach in countries across the Muslim world, receives most of its funding from the state.

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.

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.