FaithWorld

King Abdullah slaps down Saudi cleric criticial of co-ed university

kaust1 (Photo: Visitors view model of KAUST campus at opening, 23 Sept 2009/Susan Baaghil)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Last week, a senior Saudi Islamic cleric criticised the country’s first mixed-gender university, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), and suggested an Islamic committee to make sure it followed Islamic principled and didn’t teach “alien ideologies” such as evolution.

Late on Sunday, the state news agency SPA reported that King Abdullah had removed Sheikh Saad Al-Shithri from a top council of religious scholars.

okazAl-Shithri’s comments sparked angry reactions from liberals who saw the new university as a beacon for research that will eventually produce Saudi scientists, spearheading modernity in the conservative Islamic State. For those of you who read Arabic, here’s a sample of several op-ed pieces that ran in the daily Okaz.

“This is a strategy for the conservatives to control the university. Or at least to have a major say in it. This is the old trick for them to have the upper hand to sabotage reforms,” said Jamal Khashoggi, editor-in-chief of Alwatan daily newspaper, about the clerics comments on the university.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Palestinian Non-Alcoholic Beer

taybehThe fifth annual Palestinian Oktoberfest was held on October 3rd and 4th, at the mainly Christian town of Taybeh, West Bank. Located several kilometers north of Ramallah, Taybeh, is home to the first and only Palestinian beer - Taybeh Beer. Established in 1995, Taybeh Beer can also be found abroad, being sold and distributed in Germany, the United Kingdom and even Japan.

The two-day beer festival celebrates the town's now famed beverage and markets other local Palestinian products such as olive oil, honey, and embroidery to international visitors, as an effort to boost the Palestinian economy.

This year's Oktoberfest boasted a diverse program featuring Brazilian and Greek bands and traditional Japanese dancers. Organizers expected more than 10,000 visitors, a new record.

Saudi cleric to king’s university: don’t teach evolution, mix sexes

kaustA senior Saudi cleric said religious scholars should vet the curriculum at the kingdom’s only co-educational university, meant to be a beacon of science, to prevent “alien ideologies” such as evolution. (Photo: King Abdulla at KAUST opening, 23 Sept 2009/Susan Baaghil)

King Abdullah’s University of Science and Technology (KAUST), designed to produce Saudi scientists, is the only educational institution in the kingdom where men and women can mix. It is located near a Red Sea village away from the clutches of religious police and opened on September 23.

“The recommendation is to set up sharia committees at this university to oversee these studies and look into what violates the sharia (Islamic law),” Sheikh Saad al-Shithri, a member of a panel of top scholars, was quoted by al-Watan newspaper.

Should Berlin let Muslim pupils pray at school?

A ruling by a Berlin court allowing a 16-year-old Muslim pupil to pray towards Mecca in a separate room at school has raised questions about the extent of religious freedom in Germany.  Some media, including the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, describe the ruling as a landmark case, saying it is the first time a German court has considered whether the right to practise religious beliefs should extend to schools.

Muslim man praying in BerlinThe case arose in 2007 when the head of a school in Berlin, which has a strong secular tradition, forbid a boy and his friends from kneeling on their jackets to pray where they could be seen by other pupils.

The school argued it was religiously “neutral” but the boy, whose mother is Turkish and father is a German who converted to Islam, decided to go to court.

Bumps on the road towards a burqa ban in France

burqa-libraryRemember all the talk about France banning the burqa and niqab Muslim veils for women a few months ago? That project is now in the parliamentary inquiry phase, a six-month fact-finding mission expected to wind up late this year and produce a draft bill to outlaw them. That’s the way France handled it in 2003 when it wanted to stop Muslim girls from wearing headscarves to state schools. But the process seems more complex this time around. There’s less passion and more hesitation in the debate. A smooth progression from the inquiry to the ban and to its implementation no longer looks assured. (Photo: Woman in a niqab outside a public library in Ronchin, northern France, 9 Aug 2009/Farid Alouache)

To get a feel for the debate, I dropped by the panel’s latest open hearing late on Tuesday and listened to the arguments being made. Five mayors from suburbs with Muslim minorities were due to speak to the panel, which is led by a Communist deputy named André Gerin who makes no bones about his view that a ban is needed. Mayors like these men play a key role in an issue like this, because they are on the front lines dealing with social change and are taken seriously when they clamour for change. Several are also deputies in the National Assembly – France allows them to occupy multiple offices – so they can easily lobby at the national level for something they want.

Sitting alone at the press table in the committee room, I soon saw why the drive towards a ban seems to be hitting some bumps. The mayors don’t know what they want. All think something has to be done, but most are worried that an outright ban wouldn’t work. Here’s my news story on the session.

from Global News Journal:

Southeast Asia’s Islamists try the domino theory

Photo: Jihad book collection in Jakarta Sept.21, 2009. REUTERS/Supr

A half-century ago, Washington worried about Southeast Asian nations falling like dominoes to an international communist movement backed by Maoist China, and became bogged down in the Vietnam War.

Noordin Top, believed to be the mastermind behind most of the suicide bombings in Indonesia -- including the July 17 attacks on two luxury Jakarta hotels -- pronounced himself to be al Qaeda's franchise in Southeast Asia.

Top and his allies in Jemaah Islamiah (JI) aimed to create an Islamic caliphate across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand and Southern Philippines. Even before the 9/11 suicide airliner attacks, they were trying to spark an Islamic revolution with ambitious plots and attacks.

“No religion” segment of U.S. population profiled

At the “Values Voter Summit” of conservative Christian activists I attended last week in Washington, more than one participant lamented the “secularization” of America.

That will come as a surprise perhaps to more than one foreign reader of this blog, given America’s famously high rates of religiosity which set it apart from much of the rest of the developed world. And the evangelical tradition which much of the U.S. “religious right” comes from has been fast growing in recent decades.

spire1But Americans who claim no religion are fast growing and Trinity College in Hartford offers a detailed portrait of this group in a new report released this week called “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”

Indonesia’s sharia push may scare investors, moderates

indoensia-shariaRecent moves in Indonesia, including plans by one province to stone adulterers to death, have raised concerns about the reputation of the world’s most populous Muslin country as a beacon of moderate Islam.

The provincial assembly in the westernmost province of Aceh — at the epicenter of the Indian Ocean tsunami that killed 170,000 people there nearly five years ago — this week decreed the ancient Islamic penalty of stoning to death for adultery. (Photo: Indonesian Muslim women support sharia, 19 Sept 2006?Supri Supri)

The decision could still be overturned once Aceh’s new parliament is sworn in next month. But many, including Aceh’s governor, the central government in Jakarta, and local businessmen, are concerned about the impact a broadcast public execution by stoning could have on Indonesia’s international reputation.

Adapting the U.S. “Koran for Dummies” for French readers

koran-for-dummies-175coran-pour-les-nuls-175If you don’t know anything about the Koran but want to learn, does it make any difference if you’re an American “dummy” or a French “nul”? That  isn’t meant to cast doubts about knowledge on either side of the Atlantic. But it does arise now that the French version of the American guide to Islam’s holy book has just been published in Paris.

The book at right is based on the original text at left, but it would be wrong to call it a translation. First Editions, the French publisher of the “Pour les Nuls” (“For Dummies”) books, took the U.S. original and asked a leading Paris-based Islam specialist, Franco-Algerian Malek Chebel, to adapt it for French readers.

Chebel, who has also just published his own translation of the Koran and an accompanying “encyclopedic dictionary,” explained at the book presentation here that he had to make several changes. The original text by Sohaib Sultan, now the Muslim chaplain at Princeton University, was fine for U.S. readers, he said. “There weren’t errors,” he explained, “but I had to make some fundamental changes. I told the editor, she checked with the American publishers and asked if they agreed. They went along with it. So I worked from that basis and the book became a French book.”

Saudi co-ed university highlights need for education reform

kaust (Photo:KAUST under construction near Jeddah, 19 Oct 2008/Asma Alsharif)

Saudi Arabia is launching its first co-educational high-tech university, but unless clerical influence is removed the state education system will not move into the modern age, analysts say.  King Abdullah has invited heads of state, business leaders and Nobel laureates next week to the opening of a technology university which has attracted top scientists and is meant to produce Saudi scientists and engineers.

The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is the first institute in one of the world’s biggest oil exporters that is outside the reach of the education ministry, where clerics opposing cutting religious content have a strong say. Men and women will be able to mingle, a stark contrast to otherwise strict gender segregation in the Islamic kingdom.

Despite its immense financial resources, the parameters of Saudi school and university education are governed by religious strictures and many subjects are off-limits for women to study.