FaithWorld

Can Arabs learn from Turkish model of Islam and democracy?

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(Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, December 2, 2008/Umit Bektas)

If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.

Relatively stable, with a vibrant economy and ruled by a conservative and pragmatic government led by former Islamists, Turkey has often been cited as a model Muslim democracy and a linchpin of Western influence in the region.

With a wave of unrest spreading from Tunisia to Jordan to Yemen and as calls intensify for Mubarak to start a transition soon, Middle East analysts are turning their attention to Turkey, a rising diplomatic force in the region.

“The only effective, working model in the Middle East is the Turkish model. There is nothing else,” said Fatwa Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics and international relations at the London School of Economics. “Turkey’s model serves as a foundation for similar societies so I think then in the wake of the protests Arabs will be taking a second look at the Turkish model that marries Islamic values and democracy as a universal form of government,” Gerges said.

Egyptians want more Islam in politics, according to Pew poll

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(Anti-Mubarak graffiti in Cairo's Tahrir Square February 1, 2011. The Arabic writing reads "Down with Mubarak."/Yannis Behrakis )

With so much speculation about what role the Muslim Brotherhood might play in any future political system in Egypt, it’s worth looking at some opinion polling data to see what they say they think about the role of Islam in politics.  One recent poll says they want a bigger role for Islam in politics, they want democracy and they reject Islamist radicals such as Osama bin Laden.  Respondents also showed quite high levels of support for traditional Islamic punishments such as stoning for adulterers, cutting off thieves’ hands and death for apostates from Islam.

Whether and how the views mirrored in these results get turned into policy naturally depends on many factors, so this poll the Pew Research Center published in December cannot be any kind of projection of what to expect. Still, it provides at least some data on what Egyptians may want to see from a future government.

Major Muslim TV preacher Amr Khaled heads for Cairo

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One of the world’s most influential Muslim television preachers said on Friday that he was traveling back to his native Egypt, which is in turmoil amid mass protests against President Hosni Mubarak.

Amr Khaled, whose TV shows promoting Islam are widely viewed throughout the Middle East, told Reuters he was leaving the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland to head for Cairo. He would not say whether he would join the protests.

“My message to all Egyptians now is that our country is precious and the future needs a government that listens and respects young people,” he said in a telephone interview.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women

blasphemyprotestFor all the bad news coming out of Pakistan, you can't help but admire the courage of two very different women who did what their political leaders failed to do -- stood up to the religious right after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his call for changes to the country's blasphemy laws.

One is Sherry Rehman, a politician from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who first proposed amendments to the laws. The other is actress Veena Malik, who challenged the clerical establishment for criticising her for appearing on Indian reality show Big Boss.  I'm slightly uncomfortable about grouping the two together -- the fact that both are Pakistani women does not make them any more similar than say, for example, two Pakistani men living in Rawalpindi or  London. Yet at the same time, the idea that Pakistan can produce such different and outspoken women says a lot about the diversity and energy of a country which can be too easily written off as a failing state or  bastion of the Islamist religious right.

Sherry Rehman is living as a virtual prisoner in her home in Karachi after being threatened over her support for amendments to the blasphemy laws. She has refused to leave the country for her own safety, nor indeed to accept the position adopted by her party leaders -- that now is not the time to amend the laws. Their argument appears to be that trying to amend the laws now would just add more fuel to the fire after religious leaders defended Taseer's killing and organised huge protests in favour of the current legal provisions.

Tunisian Muslims worship freely after revolution

tunis mosqueFor 23 years, Tunisians prayed in fear. They limited their visits to the mosque. They talked to no one. Women could not wear the veil on the street and men could not wear long beards for fear of arrest. On Friday, for the first time since the overthrow of secular ex-president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians attended their weekly sermon without fear that this public expression of piety would cost them their jobs or their freedom.

“We couldn’t pray freely before,” Abdel Kouki, 57, said outside the Quds mosque in the Tunisian capital as hundreds of men, most in suits or jeans, streamed into the small mosque. (Photo: Kasbah Mosque in Tunis, 28 July 2009/Rais67)

Some spilled out onto its courtyard, where they knelt on straw mats. Women, their heads covered, crept in through a side entrance to their gallery to pray.

Top Sunni Islam authority al-Azhar halts dialogue with Vatican

al-azharThe highest authority of Sunni Islam, the Islamic University of al-Azhar in Cairo, has frozen all dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church over what it called Pope Benedict’s repeated insults towards Islam. Benedict this month condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities. (Photo: Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, July 13, 2006/Suhaib Salem)

His remarks followed a New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims against sectarian violence. The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target”.

Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council “reviewed in an emergency meeting on Thursday the repeatedly insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope towards Islam and his statement that Muslims are discriminating against others who live with them in the Middle East,” al-Azhar said in a statement. “The council decided to freeze dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican for an indefinite period,” it added.

A non-prophet organization? A reader objects to “Prophet Mohammad”

gbu page 1A reader recently objected to our use of the phrase “the Prophet Mohammad” in news stories, saying that he as a Christian did not consider Mohammad a prophet and many other non-Muslims presumably didn’t either, therefore we should not write about him as if everyone agreed he was one. The reader wrote:

I’ve just noticed recently that Reuters is following in the footsteps of AP and AFP in designating the Islamic prophet Mohammad as “The Prophet Mohammad”. I as a Christian don’t consider him my prophet, and neither do, I’m sure, Jews, atheists, Hindus, Buddhists, etc. Why then have all the mainstream news outlets decided to treat us all as if we are Muslims? Rightly, he should be described as “the Islamic prophet Muhammad” rather than “The Prophet Muhammad”.

Nikolas

Robert Basler answered on his reader feedback blog Good, Bad and Ugly. Normally, we simply crosspost religion-related items from other Reuters blogs (such as Front Row Washington or Pakistan: Now or Never?), but I’m not sure all readers know that Good, Bad and Ugly (GBU) is the blog where we answer readers’ criticisms. So now that that’s clear, here’s what the GBU editor posted in “A non-prophet organisation?”:

Anti-Muslim bias now the social norm, UK cabinet minister says

warsiPrejudice against Muslims has “passed the dinner-table test” and become socially acceptable in Britain, says the Conservative Party’s chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

Warsi, a Pakistan-born minister without portfolio in Prime Minister David Cameron’s cabinet, will say in a speech at the University of Leicester on Thursday evening that dividing Muslims into “moderate” and “extremist” fuels intolerance, according to prepared remarks published in the Daily Telegraph. (Photo: Baroness Warsi at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, October 3, 2010/Toby Melville)

“It’s not a big leap of imagination to predict where the talk of ‘moderate’ Muslims leads; in the factory, where they’ve just hired a Muslim worker, the boss says to his employees: ‘Not to worry, he’s only fairly Muslim,’” according to the first Muslim woman in a British cabinet. “In the school, the kids say: ‘The family next door are Muslim but they’re not too bad’. And in the road, as a woman walks past wearing a burka, the passers-by think: ‘That woman’s either oppressed or is making a political statement.’”

Dracula goes dry as Turkey’s new drink rules bite

draculaGuests at the Istanbul premiere of a new vampire film were among the first victims of new curbs on alcohol that have raised secularist fears Islamic strictures may be encroaching on everyday life.

The rules, announced earlier this month by the tobacco and alcohol watchdog, tighten up licence requirements for serving alcohol, impose restrictions on alcohol marketing and limits sales to designated areas in stores. (Photo: Dracula souvenirs at Bran Castle, also known as Dracula’s Castle, in Romania, May 19, 2006/Bogdan Cristel)

But the move has revived secularist accusations that Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s government is interfering in people’s lifestyles and imposing Islamic values. The Ankara Bar Association — part of a judiciary that has become a last bastion of Turkey’s secularist old guard — said it had lodged a challenge to the new regulations in the country’s top administrative court.

U.S. legal win could help Islamic finance counter sharia concerns

bankislamA U.S. court decision to dismiss a case alleging that AIG’s (AIG.N) sharia-compliant businesses promoted religious doctrine looks likely to boost confidence in the industry and lift sales of Islamic products in the longer term.

A Michigan district court rejected on Friday a claim filed by U.S. Marine veteran Kevin Murray in 2009 that the U.S. government violated the constitution by allowing funds from insurer American International Group’s $40 billion bailout to be used to fund its Islamic insurance businesses. (Photo: A logo of Malaysia’s Bank Islam in Putrajaya September 3, 2008/Bazuki Muhammad)

Lawyers say the case is significant for the industry in the United States, which has struggled with a backlash against Islam, and is looking for support from the courts and government to promote Islamic finance as a legitimate business.