FaithWorld

Exorcisms and charlatans flourish in impoverished Gaza

gaza koran

(A man reads a Koran in Gaza, 3 Dec 2010/Suhaib Salem)

The shabby room in a one-story house in suburban Gaza was shrouded in darkness, and only the mutterings of a bearded exorcist broke the silence. A man lay stretched on a grubby mattress, writhing, as the faith healer recited Koranic verses to chase away an evil spirit. “Get out, you demon,” the exorcist, who calls himself Sheikh Ali, threatened the spirit. “Get out or I will burn you.”

There are a lot of demons to chase in this poverty-riddled Palestinian enclave, say a growing number of Koranic exorcists who have set up shop in Gaza, offering to end the torments of their sometimes highly disturbed patients. The growth of exorcist clinics is seen by some as a sign of rising religious fervour among ordinary Palestinians. Hamas, the Islamic militant group that runs Gaza, however, is increasingly concerned that many exorcists are simply charlatans.

Nobody knows how many exorcists are here, but Hamas investigators say they uncovered 30 cases of fraud last year alone. There have also been complaints that healers are using dark magic to cast spells on their clients, and the police say they have found evidence of sexual abuses committed during these sessions.

“We caught some suspects red-handed, practicing exorcism, using magic to separate married couples and other things, under the pretext of helping people,” said Lieut. Col. Abdel-Baset Al-Masri, head of Hamas’s police investigation unit. “It was all an act of deception and exploitation. Some people handed over fortunes and one woman gave all her jewellery to one of these exorcists.”

The idea of demonic possession exists in many religions, and belief in the existence of demons and spirits, known as jinns, is widespread among Muslims, but many mainstream clerics doubt they can possess the human body, and disapprove of the work of the so-called Koranic clinics. Sheikh Ali begs to differ. He says jinns can wreak havoc on human relations, driving a wedge between married couples or causing women to be infertile, and he says his work shows they can also take up residence in a human body.

Saudi clerics condemn protests as un-Islamic

saudi protest

(Supporters of Saudi Shi'ite cleric Tawfiq al-Amir hold his pictures during a demonstration following his release in Al-Ahsa March 6, 2011. Cleric Tawfiq al-Amir was arrested last week after calling for a constitutional monarchy and a fight against corruption/Stringer)

Saudi Arabia’s council of senior clerics has issued a statement forbidding as un-Islamic the public protests, which the rulers of the U.S. ally and key oil exporter fear could spread following demonstrations by minority Shi’ites. The kingdom has escaped major protests like those which toppled leaders in Egypt and Tunisia, but the wave of unrest has reached its neighbours Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan and Oman.

“The Council of Senior Clerics affirms that demonstrations are forbidden in this country. The correct way in sharia (Islamic law) of realising common interest is by advising, which is what the Prophet Mohammad established,” said the statement by the body headed by the Mufti Sheikh Abdul-Aziz Al al-Sheikh.

Extend Catholic-Jewish amity to Islam, Jewish official tells dialogue meeting

coexist

(An art exhibition poster reading "coexist" using the Islamic crescent, Jewish David Star and Christian cross, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2001 /Reinhard Krause)

The historic reconciliation between Jews and Roman Catholics over the past 40 years should be extended to Muslims to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, a senior Jewish official has said. The regular dialogue the two faiths have maintained since the Catholic Church renounced anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council should be “a model for transformed relations with Islam,” Rabbi Richard Marker told the opening session of a meeting reviewing four decades of efforts to forge closer ties after 1,900 years of Christian anti-Semitism and to ask how the dialogue can progress in the future.

“Forty years in the histories of two great world religions is but a blink of an eye,” Marker, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, said on Sunday evening. “But 40 years of a relationship is a sign of its maturity.”

Timeline – Ups and downs in recent Catholic-Jewish relations

Senior officials from the Roman Catholic Church and international Jewish groups met on Monday in Paris to review relations after 40 years of sometimes difficult dialogue.

Following is a timeline of the ups and downs in Catholic-Jewish relations since the first papal visit to Israel.

1964 – Pope Paul VI is the first modern pope to visit the Holy Land. During the visit he avoids using the word Israel, which the Vatican did not recognise at the time.

Erdogan urges Turks in Germany to integrate, not assimilate

erdogan 1

(Confetti is released as Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan leaves the stage following a speech to some 15,000 Turks living in Germany at an arena in Duesseldorf February 27, 2011/Wolfgang Rattay )

Turkish immigrants in Germany should integrate into society but not assimilate to the point where they abandon their native culture, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on a visit to Germany on Sunday. Speaking to some 10,000 members of Germany’s large Turkish community in the wake of last year’s heated debate over the place of foreigners in the country, Erdogan took up the theme of integration amid what he sees as persistent European xenophobia.

“You must integrate, but I am against assimilation … no one may ignore the rights of minorities,” he said, adding that individuals should have the right to practice their own faith.

Suleiman the Magnificent TV drama opens Turkish divide on religion

sultan 1

(Demonstrators attack billboards advertising the TV series "The Magnificent Century" in Istanbul January 9, 2011/Murad Sezer )

A steamy television period drama about a 16th century sultan has angered conservative Muslims in Turkey and sparked a debate over the portrayal of the past in a country rediscovering its Ottoman heritage.

“The Magnificent Century” chronicles the life of Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled the Ottoman Empire in its golden age. Scenes which have particularly offended show a young and lusty sultan cavorting in the harem and drinking goblets of wine, pursuits frowned upon by the Muslim faithful for whom the sultan had religious as well as temporal authority.

Tunisia needs separation of mosque and state – religaffairs min

tunis secular

(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: "Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolution is unlikely to trigger Islamic militancy in the traditionally secular state, but Muslim leaders should avoid mixing religion with politics, the government’s minister of religious affairs said.

“After the January 14 revolution, the country experienced change on every level, including the religious sphere,” Aroussi Mizouri, minister of religious affairs in the caretaker government, told Reuters. “Today, there is no restriction on speech in the mosques. But they should not become platforms for political ideology,” he said in an interview this week. “We are counting on everyone to keep our society open and tolerant.”

Watching Bahrain, Saudi Shi’ites demand reforms

saudi shi'ite

(Shi'ite Saudi Muslim worshippers during the Ashura festival in Qatif ,December 27, 2009/Zaki Ghawas)

When Saudi Shi’ites mark the birthday of the Prophet Mohammad, meeting at mosques and exchanging sweets is only part of what’s going on. The Shi’ites also are testing the tolerance of Sunni clerics and taking advantage of reforms introduced by King Abdullah that allow them greater freedom to practise their branch of Islamic faith.

For the hundreds of Shi’ites who gathered on Sunday in the rundown eastern town of Awwamiya, near the Gulf coast, this year is special. Just an hour’s drive and a bridge away is the island nation of Bahrain, usually a place where Saudis go for a bit of weekend fun but now the scene of a majority Shi’ite uprising that is challenging the minority Sunnis’ grip on power.

In free Egypt, Salafists regroup and speak out

cairo mosques

(Cairo mosques on a foggy cold day, December 11, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

Islamists who suffered some of the toughest oppression of President Hosni Mubarak’s era are speaking out and regrouping for the first time in years, making the most of freedoms they have not enjoyed since the 1970s.  Egypt’s Salafists are resurfacing, from groups that once took up arms against Mubarak’s administration, such as the Gama’a al-Islamiya, to others only involved in peaceful preaching to advance their fundamentalist vision of Islam.

The Gama’a al-Islamiya’s return to prominence worries some Egyptians. The name hit world headlines in 1997 when its followers massacred foreign tourists at a temple in Luxor, ignoring a truce to which its leadership is still committed.

In the wave of freedom that has swept Egypt since Mubarak was toppled, the Salafists have returned to the mosques from which they were banned. Clerics who have been out of the public eye for years are reappearing from Assiut to Alexandria. They hope to take their place in a new Egypt where Islamists are assuming a more assertive role: the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood is becoming ever more vocal in stating its views on what the new military-led government should be doing.

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate

sarko

(President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 16, 2011/Francois Mori)

France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year. Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.