FaithWorld

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.

The survey was conducted Nov. 12-15, a week after 13 people were killed in a shooting at the Fort Hood Army post. Major Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim born in the United States to immigrant parents, has been charged with  murder in the case. U.S. intelligence agencies have said he tried to contact Islamists with suspected al Qaeda ties.

(Photo: Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the the suspect in  the mass shooting at the U.S. Army post in Fort Hood, Texas. REUTERS/Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences/Handout)

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.

Muslim creationism is back in the news, this time in Egypt

darwinm-portraitMuslim creationism is back in the news. There’s been a spate of articles in the U.S. and British press recently about the spread of this scripture-based challenge to Darwinian evolution among Muslims, mostly in the Middle East but also in Europe. The fact that some Muslims have embraced creationism, a trademark belief of some conservative American Protestants, is not new. Reuters first wrote about it in 2006 — “Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey” – and this blog has run several posts on the issue, including an interview with Islam’s most prominent creationist, Harun Yahya. What’s new is that these ideas seem to be spreading and academics who defend evolution are holding conferences to discuss the phenomenon. (Photo: Portrait of Charles Darwin, 12 Feb 2009/Gordon Jack)

There are too many recent articles about Islamic creationism out there now to discuss each one separately, so I’ll have to just link to them in the … New York TimesWashington PostBoston GlobeSlateGuardianNational Beliefnet … … Many of these articles highlight the role of Harun Yahya, the once secretive Istanbul preacher and publisher who has gone on a PR offensive in recent years and turned very media-friendly (as Steve Paulson describes in that Slate article). But as Michael Reiss, a London education professor and Anglican priest told the Guardian, “what the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries. These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries.”

Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal (Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal)

Over the weekend, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt hosted a conference on “Darwin’s Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society” with the British Council. The simple fact of holding a conference on Darwin in the heart of the Middle East, where his theory of evolution is widely rejected, is already noteworthy. According to the Guardian‘s Riazat Butt, Nidhal Guessoum, professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, told the conference that only three Muslim or Muslim-majority countries out of a possible 22 taught evolution. Another participant, astronomer Salman Hameed, who is professor of integrated science & humanities from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, wrote on his informative science-and-religion blog Irtiqa: “It is incredible that this conference is taking place in Egypt. I don’t know what will be the reaction here. Simply by its location, it may remove some of the stigma regarding evolution in the Muslim world, or it may end up generating a backlash. Frankly, I have no idea about the reaction.”

Top Japan pol calls Christianity self-righteous, Islam hardly better

japan-buddhistA top politician in Japan’s ruling Democratic Party has praised Buddhism while calling Christianity “exclusive and self-righteous” and Islam only somewhat better.  Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa made the remarks after meeting the head of the Japan Buddhist Federation, a group traditionally close to the rival Liberal Democratic Party, which was trounced by the Democrats in an August election.

Christianity “is an exclusive and self-righteous religion. And society in the United States and Europe, which are based on Christianity, are at a dead end,” the Nikkei newspaper quoted Ozawa as telling reporters after the meeting. “Islam is better, but it is also exclusive.” (Photo:Buddha statue at Todaiji Temple in Nara, western Japan, 29  Oct 2008/Itsuo Inouye)

Ozawa, seen by some as the mastermind behind the Democrats’ election win, had kinder words for Buddhism, which along with Shinto is the dominant religion in Japan, although many people take a mostly secular and eclectic view.  Christians are a tiny minority and Muslims are few in Japan.

Qatari firm in talks to make Prophet Mohammad film

mohammadA film about the Prophet Mohammad backed by the producer of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Matrix” is under discussion, a Qatar media firm said Sunday, with the aim of creating an English-language blockbuster for the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims.

Filming of the $150 million movie is set to start in 2011, with Barrie Osborne as its producer, Almoor Holdings said. Almoor said the film – in which the Prophet would not be depicted, in accordance with Islamic strictures – was in development and talks were being held with studios, talent agencies and distributors in the United States and Britain.

Alnoor said it aimed to attract the “best international talent” to star in the motion picture.

Italian Muslims approve pope’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate

caritas-in-veritate1When Pope Benedict issued his encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Love in Truth) in July, he addressed it to “the bishops, priests and deacons, men and women religious, the lay faithful and all people of good will”. That list puts Catholics first, but it gets around to a wider audience by the end. Maybe because of that sequence, most of the discussion about the document has been in Catholic circles.

But in the pope’s back yard, i.e. in Italy, the message has attracted a wider audience. In a rare reaction from a non-Christian organisation, the Italian Muslim association Comunità Religiosa Islamica (CO.RE.IS.) Italiana has welcomed the encyclical and drawn parallels between its outlook and that of Islamic economic and social thinking. CO.RE.IS presented its reaction on the occasion of the Ecumenical Day of Christian-Islamic Dialogue in Italy on Tuesday. Following are some excerpts:

“The recent financial crisis, that witnessed an almost worldwide economic crash, should constitute a further confirmation of the impossibility of establishing a presumed society of wellbeing only upon market rules, excluding any transcendence, any metaphysical and religious perspective, as the pontiff has well expressed it … Just like the market cannot find in itself the meta-principles that would discipline it according to nature and to the function that God has entrusted to man on earth, money and capital cannot constitute a value in themselves, regardless of the finality of actions and of the realities that underlie their use…

Shots fired to disperse Afghan Koran protest in Kabul

afghan-koran-protest (Photo: Afghans protest at parliament building in Kabul, 25 Oct 2009/Ahmad Masood)

Afghan police fired into the air on Sunday to break up a protest by thousands of people who had gathered in the capital, Kabul, to protest against what they said was the desecration of a copy of the Koran by foreign troops.

Protesters, claiming foreign forces had burned a copy of Islam’s holiest book during a raid in Maidan Wardak province last week, blocked traffic in Kabul for more than an hour. A spokeswoman for U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said none of their troops were involved in the incident and blamed the Taliban for spreading a false rumor that a copy of the Koran had been burned.

Thick plumes of smoke rose above the crowd as protesters set fire to a large effigy of what they said was U.S. President Barack Obama. “Death to America. Down with Israel,” chanted one man at the rally, which was organized mainly by university students. Others threw stones and clashed with police but no casualties were reported.

“Common Word” aims for “common deed” for peace

20091007commonword3 (Photo: Common Word conference with (from left) former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Georgetown University Professor John Esposito, Bosnian Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, 7 Oct 2009/Georgetown University – Phil Humnicky)

Will a common word lead to a common deed? That’s the challenge that the “Common Word” group of Islamic scholars has posed at its fourth major Muslim-Christian dialogue conference now underway at Georgetown University in Washington. The group, which next week marks the second anniversary of its launch, has broken the ice with Christian leaders and fostered a lively and fruitful interchange with them. But it always said its goal was not simply to have more harmonious conferences among theologians. They want to make a real impact lessening tensions between Christians and Muslims out in the real world.

blairFormer British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now a mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, clearly endorsed this aim at the opening session on Wednesday. “The single most important thing is the translation of words into deed,” he told about 600 people attending the conference. “We’ve got to show — not by a dialogue among the elites, although it is very important that the key people come together — but actually building bridges among people.” (Photo: Tony Blair, 14 May 2009/Jason Reed)

Blair reminded his audience that many people think religion is not a solution but rather the problem in conflicts around the world. To counter this, he said, people of faith must not only foster understanding among believers but also refute the critics of faith.  “If we show by our actions that we are engaged in understanding and respect and justice, that is how we will succeed,” he said. “And that is what will overcome not just the extremism within religion but the cynicism outside of it.”

Germany asks if Islam impedes on freedom of speech

GERMANY/A decision by the German publisher Droste not to print a murder mystery about an honour killing because it contained passages insulting Islam has raised questions in Germany about religion impeding on freedom of speech.

Droste publishers said they would have published the book, entitled “To Whom Honour is Due”, had author Gabriele Brinkmann softened the tone in some sections In one, for example, an angry character tells another to dispose of a Koran using a crude phrase we would not reproduce here. “The author was not prepared to change the derogatory passages, which would have  been a condition for the publication,” Droste said in a statement on its website. (Photo: The Merkez Mosque in Duisburg, Aug 21, 2009, Reuters/Ina Fassbender)

Little did they realise what a stir this decision would cause in Germany, which is sensitive to any compromise on freedom of speech and where security fears over Islamists have blocked several artistic ventures in recent years. “For me, it is about the principle. That is why I went public about this. I won’t hurry to be obedient and carry out self censorship,” Brinkmann told German media.  “Justified fear or cowardice?” asked the headline in the daily Hamburger Abendblatt.

Will the Nobel Peace Prize go to a religious leader this year?

nobel-ceremony (Photo: Nobel Peace Prize 2008 award ceremony, 10 Dec 2008/Ints Kalnins)

The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced on Friday in Oslo. What are the odds that a religious leader will win? I checked with our bureau in Oslo for the latest buzz.

“The Peace Nobel is basically a guessing game,” chief correspondent Wojciech Moskwa warned. A total of 205 individuals and organisations were nominated this year and a record number remained on the secret short list late last month, he learned in an interview with Geir Lundestad, the head of the Norwegian Nobel Institute. Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, French-Colombian politician and former hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Quang Do and various U.N. organisations have gained traction as possible nominees, but Lundestad firmly declined to comment on the speculation.

prio-logoBy contrast, the independent International Peace Research Institute (PRIO) in Oslo publishes its own picks and it named Colombian peace activist Piedad Cordoba, Jordanian interfaith dialogue pioneer Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal and Afghan human rights activist Sima Samar as its favourites. “PRIO does not appear to have any special inside track, but they have on occasion been right,” said Moskwa.