FaithWorld

U.N. rights boss denounces Swiss ban on minarets

minaret-protestThe top U.N. rights official in Geneva has said  Switzerland’s ban on building minarets was “deeply divisive” and at odds with its international legal obligations.

Navi Pillay, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Tuesday that prohibiting an architectural structure linked to Islam or any religion was “clearly discriminatory.” She said the ban was “discriminatory, deeply divisive and a thoroughly unfortunate step for Switzerland to take, and risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human rights obligations.” (Photo: Protesters in Zurich against minaret ban, 29 Nov 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, was asked at a news briefing whether this meant that Switzerland was violating the pact. “It’s not quite the same as saying it’s a violation, but it is a very short step short of saying that,” he said.  Read the whole story here.

In Strasbourg, the Council of Europe, a European human rights watchdog, said the ban raised concern over “whether fundamental rights of individuals, protected by international treaties, should be subject to popular votes.”

Thorbjoern Jagland, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, said in a statement that the ban was linked to issues such as freedom of expression and of religion, as well as the prohibition of discrimination guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The Swiss minaret ban and other trends for Islam in Europe

minarets-trainSwitzerland’s vote to ban minarets on mosques there raises the question of whether anything similar might happen elsewhere in Europe. Researching this for an analysis of the vote today, I found experts distinguished between actually banning an Islamic symbol such as the minaret and using the minaret example to fan voters’ fears and boost a (usually far-right) party’s chances at the polls. It seems Switzerland’s trademark direct democracy system makes it possibly the only country in Europe where both seem possible right now. (Photo: Vote “yes” posters in Zurich’s main train station, 26 Oct 2009/Arnd Wiegmann)

This distinction could become more important in coming months as far-right parties, as they are expected to do, try to exploit the minaret ban to rally support for their anti-immigration policies. The Swiss far right has already suggested going for a ban of full facial veils (aka burqas and niqabs) next. Marine Le Pen, deputy leader of France’s National Front, has called for a referendum in France not only on minarets, but also on immigration and a wide array of other issues linked to Muslims. Filip Dewinter, head of Belgium’s Vlaams Belang, said he wanted to change zoning laws there to ban buildings that damage the cultural identity of the surrounding neighbourhood”. It remains to be seen how far they can get with these demands.

At the same time, the consensus reaction from politicians and the press across Europe today was critical of the Swiss vote. Most of the excited calls for more action come from fringe parties the majority parties keep at a distance (except the Northern League, which is part of Silvio Berlusconi’s government in Italy). Referendums are not as easy to stage in other European countries and are even banned in Germany, where the up-and-coming team of Hitler andGoebbels used them before 1933 to rally support for the Nazi Party.

All are equal on the haj, but some just more than others

haj-hotelThe haj is supposed to be a time when Muslim pilgrims from all walks of life forget the material aspects of life on earth to wipe the slate clean of their sins and declare their acceptance of Islam as God’s ultimate religion for mankind. The simple white robe and sandals the male pilgrims wear are meant to symbolise the equality of all the faithful in the eyes of God. While these spiritual aspects are certainly present at the annual event, pilgrims are also confronted daily with scenes reminding them today’s haj is far from the way it started out 1,400 years ago. But most of them seem to come to terms with that. (Photo: Huge luxury hotel complex towers over Mecca’s Grand Mosque, 9 Dec 2008/Ahmed Jadallah — click on pictures to enlarge them)

The vast majority of the 2.3 million Muslims here come from some of the world’s least democratic, poorest and most corrupt nations where wide social disparities prevail mainly to unequal opportunities and poor education. The scenes at the holy shrines during haj do not contrast much from what the majority of pilgrims endure back home, but they all strive to achieve the spiritual purpose of their journey to Mecca.  At the end of the day, it boils down to what sort of treatment a Muslim can afford to get at the haj. The disparities can be as wide here as anywhere else in the Muslim world.

tents-on-hillsideIt’s hard to imagine how some pilgrims clear their minds of earthly life’s material comforts when they are booked into one of the luxury hotels that surround the Grand Mosque and overlook its cube-shaped Kaaba.  The $600 a night fee for a room at one of these hotels is far beyond the means of most pilgrims.

Age-old haj stoning of devil pillars in modern multistory complex

mena (Photo: Haj pilgrims stone pillars symbolising the devil in Mena outside Mecca, 27 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

Around two million Muslim pilgrims stoned pillars symbolising the devil in a narrow valley in Saudi Arabia on Friday at what has traditionally been the most dangerous stage of the haj pilgrimage. The pillars stand at Mena, where Muslims believe the devil appeared to the Prophet Abraham.

The Jamarat Bridge in the valley of Mena outside the holy city of Mecca, where pilgrims stone the walls three times over three to four days, has been the scene of a number of stampedes, including one which killed 362 in 2006. But Saudi Arabia has erected a massive four-level building with several platforms for throwing stones to ease congestion and prevent stampedes at the Jamarat stoning areas.

mena-2 (Photo: Haj pilgrims walk from camp to Jamarat to throw stones at pillars in Mena 27 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

Throngs of predominantly white-clad pilgrims filled the road that leads them to and from the Jamarat Bridge. Some stopped to buy fried chicken nuggets while groups from different countries formed human chains with their fellow countrymen to move more quickly through the crowds.

from Afghan Journal:

Afghanistan: the Gods of war

[CROSSPOST blog: 27 post: 4308]

Original Post Text:
peshawar twoIn openDemocracy, Paul Rogers writes that one of the great mistakes of the media is that it tends to assume the only actors in the campaign against Islamist militants are governments, with al Qaeda and the Taliban merely passive players.

"Beyond the details of what the Taliban and its allies decide, it is important to note that most analysis of Barack Obama’s strategy published in the western media is severely constrained by its selective perspective. There is a pervasive assumption - even now, after eight years of war - that the insurgents are mere “recipients” of external policy changes: reactive but not themselves proactive," he writes.  

"This is nonsense - and dangerous nonsense. It would be far wiser to assume that these militias have people who are every bit as intelligent and professional in their thinking and planning as their western counterparts. They have had three months to think through the Obama leadership’s policy-development process; and much of this thinking will be about how the US changes affect their own plans - not how they will respond to the United States. Thus they may have very clear intentions for the next three to five years that are embedded in detailed military planning; and what is now happening on their side will involve adjustment of these plans in the light of the great rethink across the Atlantic."

Sudanese woman in trouser case writes book, defies travel ban

lubnaA Sudanese woman who was punished for breaching (insert: what authorities say are) Islamic decency laws by wearing trousers has defied a travel ban by coming to France to publicise her new book.

Lubna Hussein was arrested in July and convicted of indecency charges in a case that made headlines worldwide. She was ordered to pay a fine or face a month in jail, but was spared an initial penalty of 40 whip lashes.

Her book, “Forty lashes for a pair of trousers”, has come out in French and will be translated into English, Arabic, Swahili and other languages.

Saudi Arabia seeks to curb flu and stop protest at haj

haj-maskMore than two million Muslims gather this week for the annual haj pilgrimage to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, where Saudi authorities hope to minimize spread of the H1N1 virus and prevent any political demonstration. (Photo: Saudi security official at a checkpoint between  Jeddah and Mecca, 21 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

The haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it, has been marred in the past by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.

This year, the mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom is battling Shi’ite Yemeni rebels after they raided its territory, an issue that raises fears of possible protests by fellow Shi’ite Muslims during the rituals. Saudi Arabia bans public protests.

Masked gunman kills Russian priest at Moscow church

russian-church (Photo: Russian Orthodox church in Moscow, 1 July 2009/Sergei Karpukhin)

A masked gunman entered a Moscow church and murdered a Russian Orthodox priest who had received death threats for converting Muslims to Christianity and criticizing Islam, prosecutors and church officials said Friday.  The killing could threaten delicate relations between the powerful majority Russian Orthodox Church, which has close ties to the Kremlin, and the country’s growing Muslim minority of about 20 million.

The gunman approached priest Daniil Sysoyev, 34, in St Thomas Church in southern Moscow Thursday night, checked his name and then opened fire with a pistol, a spokesman for the investigating committee of the Prosecutor-General’s office said.

Sysoyev was from Tatarstan, a predominantly Muslim region of Russia on the Volga river. He was threatened after preaching to Muslims and Christians from other denominations. “I have received 10 threats via e-mail that I shall have my head cut off (if I do not stop preaching to Muslims),” Sysoyev stated on a television program in February 2008, according to Interfax. “As I see it, it is a sin not to preach to Muslims.”

Pew poll shows modest rise in concerns about Islamic extremism

A new poll by the Pew Research Center and the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life shows a modest rise in concern among Americans about the threat of Islamic militancy following the deadly shootings in Fort Hood, Texas, earlier this month. Here is a link to the survey.

The nationwide survey, conducted among over 1,000 Americans, found 52 percent were “very concerned” about the possible rise of Islamic extremism in the United States compared to 46 percent in April of 2007.

SHOOTING/INTELLIGENCE

It also found that 49 percent were very concerned about the “rise of Islamic extremism around the world” compared to 48 percent in April of 2007.

POLL: The world’s top 500 Muslims? Read and vote

500-most

If you’ve ever been confused by Muslim names you read in the news or unsure who’s important in the Islamic world, help is near. A new book entitled “The 500 Most Influential Muslims – 2009″ lists prominent Muslims from different fields — politics, religion, women, media, even radicals — with informative short biographies explaining who they are. It starts with an overall “top 50″ list and then surveys the most prominent Muslims in their fields. Here it is in PDF.

The book, edited by Professors John Esposito and Ibrahim Kalin at Georgetown University in Washington, is the first in what is planned to be an annual survey of the top Muslim personalities around the world. It’s a joint effort by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center in Amman and Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. Esposito is director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center and Kalin is spokesman for the Common Word dialogue initiative we’ve written about on this blog before.

As the editors say in their introduction: “Influence in the Muslim world is particular to its context. There is not a clear hierarchy or organised clergy for Muslims to identify a leader, such as a patriarch for Orthodox Christians or a pope for Catholics.” They took a mix of factors into account in working out their top 50 list and have even asked readers to send in suggestions for next year’s list. You can vote for your candidate for “most influential Muslim” in the poll at the bottom of this post.