FaithWorld

How will Afghan women fare if Kabul and the Taliban reconcile?

(Schoolgirls listen to a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a ceremony marking the start of the school year at Amani High School in Kabul March 23, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

The gaggles of giggling schoolgirls in their black uniforms and flowing white hijabs seen across Afghanistan’s cities have become symbolic of how far women’s rights have come since the austere rule of the Taliban was toppled a decade ago. While women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work, considered un-Islamic by the Taliban, their plight remains severe and future uncertain as Afghan leaders seek to negotiate with the Taliban as part of their peace talks.

The United States and NATO, who have been fighting Taliban insurgents for 10 years in an increasingly unpopular war, have repeatedly stressed that any peace talks must abide by Afghanistan’s constitution, which says the two sexes are equal. But President Hamid Karzai’s reticence on the matter, constant opposition by the Taliban, and setbacks even at the government level cast a shadow on the prospects of equality for the 15 million women who make up about half the population.

“I am not optimistic at all,” said Suraya Parlika, 66, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee and member of the upper house of the Afghan parliament. “We do not know the agenda of the talks and this worries all women in Afghanistan.”

“Women are at risk of losing everything they have regained,” she told Reuters in her office at the All Afghan Women’s Union, the country’s most prominent women’s rights group that she set up 20 years ago.

Builders flock to Mecca to tap into Muslim pilgrimage boom

(Grand Mosque in Mecca surrounded by new construction, November 19, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

The Saudi holy city of Mecca is proving to be the exception to a Middle East property downturn, as more and more pilgrims flock to Islam’s holiest city and fuel a hotel construction boom. The more than 2.5 million pilgrims who flock to Mecca for the annual Haj pilgrimage, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, are witnessing a transformation of the city’s skyline with luxury hotels, high-rise residential blocks and cranes now overlooking the Grand Mosque.

“Mecca has now come of age,” said Shuja Zaidi, vice president of projects and general manager for Mecca Hilton & Towers in Saudi Arabia.

Distraught family of DSK accuser looks to God

(Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn gestures during his bail hearing inside of the New York State Supreme Courthouse in New York May 19, 2011/Richard Drew)

In a living room bare but for a few family photos and Islamic texts, the African man who says he is the brother of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser says he has not slept or eaten properly for days.

“I heard the news on the radio and honestly I do not know what happened. I want to speak to my sister,” the man, called Mamoudou, told Reuters at a village in the Labe region of Guinea, a hard day’s drive north of the capital Conakry.

Libyan clerics in rebel-held east see big role for Islam after Gaddafi

(A Libyan woman wearing a niqab with the colours of the Kingdom of Libya attends Friday prayers in rebel-held Benghazi April 22, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

An Islamic revival is taking hold in rebel-held eastern Libya after decades of tough curbs on worship by Muammar Gaddafi, but clerics say this will not be a new source of religious extremism as the West may fear. Restrictions on Islamic piety have become history in the east of the Arab North African state since its takeover by anti-Gaddafi insurgents, and clerics see a much bigger role for Islam in the country if Gaddafi is ultimately driven from power.

Under the autocratic Gaddafi’s idiosyncratic brand of communal socialism overlaying Islam, worship was carefully regulated and any apparent manifestation of political, or militant, Islam drew harsh security crackdowns. Yet Libyan society remained religiously conservative in character and that is now flowering anew in the rebel-held east.

from Our Take on Your Take:

Citizen religion

From Sri Lanka to Spain, this week's selection of images submitted to Your View depict a wide range of religions. Buddhist Sri Lankans lit candles to mark Vesak Day to honor the birth, enlightenment and death of Buddha, whereas penitents in Spain marked Holy Week with a procession.

View the Your View weekly showcase here.

Harun Yahya’s Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

(Harun Yahya at a news conference in Istanbul May 12, 2011/Murad Sezer)

France’s staunchly secularist educational establishment was shocked four years ago when schools around the country suddenly began receiving free copies of a richly illustrated Muslim creationist book entitled the “Atlas of Creation.” The book by Istanbul preacher and publisher Harun Yahya had come out in Turkey the year earlier. After the French Education Ministry warned teachers not to use it and held a seminar on how to deal with creationist pupils, the issue dropped out of the public discussion. But the Harun Yahya group has been spreading its view in France and is now holding a series of conferences on them. Here is my feature after visiting one of the first meetings in the current series: Muslim creationists tour France denouncing Darwin

AUBERVILLIERS, France (Reuters) – Four years after they first frightened France, Muslim creationists are back touring the country preaching against evolution and claiming the Koran predicted many modern scientific discoveries.

Followers of Harun Yahya, a well-financed Turkish publisher of popular Islamic books, held four conferences at Muslim centers in the Paris area at the weekend with more scheduled in six other cities.

Iran to make university courses more Islamic

(In the mosque at a Tehran university, July 29, 2007/Morteza Nikoubazl)

Iran plans sweeping changes to university courses to make them more compatible with Islam, the official IRNA news agency reported on Friday. Deputy Minister of Science for Research and Technology Mohammad Mehdi Nejad Nouri, quoted by IRNA, said at least 36 courses would be changed by September after revision by a group of university and seminary experts.

The report did not name the subjects that would be changed, but officials said last year Iran would review 12 disciplines in the social sciences, including law, women’s studies, human rights, management, sociology, philosophy, psychology and political sciences, as their contents were too closely based on Western culture. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for modification of these studies in August, saying that many humanities subjects are based on principles founded in materialism rather than divine Islamic teachings.

The Islamic Republic’s hardline rulers accuse the West of engaging in a “soft war”, trying to influence the country’s young generation with non-Islamic ideas. Access to the Internet and illegal satellite television mean Western culture is popular among young Iranians, a vital constituency in a country where 70 percent of the population is under 30 and has no real memory of the 1979 Islamic revolution which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah. Around 50 percent of Iranian university students read humanities.

Syria’s Assad retrenches into power base of his Alawite Shi’ite sect

(A supporter of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad holds aloft a photograph of the president at Hamidiya market in Damascus April 30, 2011/Khaled al-Hariri)

President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly relying on his Alawite power base to crush pro-democracy protests that have posed the boldest challenge to the Assad family’s 41 years of rule over Syria. Assad, an Alawite, sent army and secret police units dominated by officers from the same minority sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, into mainly Sunni urban centers to crush demonstrations calling for his removal for the last six weeks.

Their use of tanks to shell the city of Deraa last week, storming of mosques and attacks on unarmed civilians — as reported by residents and activists — have raised the stakes.  Reports say that Sunni conscripts, Syria’s majority sect, refused to fire at their co-religionists.

Bin Laden ‘eased’ into sea in contentious burial

(Aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, from which Osama bin Laden was buried at sea somewhere in the north Arabian Sea/U.S. Navy)

He may have been America’s enemy number one, but after U.S. forces killed him, Osama bin Laden was afforded Islamic religious rites by the U.S. military as part of his surprise at-sea burial on Monday.

The U.S. military said preparations for the al-Qaida leader’s burial lasted nearly an hour. His body was washed before being covered in a white sheet and religious remarks translated into Arabic by a native speaker were read over bin Laden’s corpse.

U.S. Muslims hope for better days after bin Laden

(People cheer and wave U.S. flags outside the White House as President Barack Obama delivers remarks to the nation on the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, in Washington May 1, 2011/Jim Young)

Many U.S. Muslims were as relieved as most Americans to hear of Osama bin Laden’s death, though they feared the stigma attached to their community since the September 11 attacks will not disappear so quickly. U.S. Muslims have grown frustrated that their condemnations of bin Laden and al Qaeda have gone unheard as some Americans associate Islam with his message of violent jihad.

“It has been a nightmare to try to constantly explain to ordinary Americans that we are not associated with bin Laden. We have tried very hard to convince people that Muslims are not one monolithic group standing behind this monster,” said Imam Muhammad Musri of the Islamic Society of Central Florida. “We were also victims of bin Laden’s ideology of hate,” he said. “The man hijacked our religion, committed crimes in the name of our religion and caused the greatest damage to the American Muslim community and Islam.”