FaithWorld

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.

Islamic finance has been plagued by criticism in the U.S. that it is a means of funneling funds to terrorists or a plot by Muslims to spread a system of Islamic principles known as sharia has plagued the industry in the U.S.

“The case helps the industry by putting the fringe element that is fearful of sharia in its place,” said Isam Salah, partner at King & Spalding in New York. “But I expect we’ll see more of these kinds of cases as we see a multi-pronged effort to combat all things Islamic in the U.S.”

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan and the taboo of secularism

graveFor everyone trying to understand the implications of Salman Taseer's assassination, this essay from 2007 is good place to start (h/t Abu Muqawama).  "The Politics of God" is about why Europe decided, after years of warfare over the correct interpretation of Christianity, to separate church and state.  But it is also relevant to Pakistan, where the killing of the Punjab governor over his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws has shown that what was left of Pakistani secularism, is, if not dead, at least in intensive care.

Read the opening paragraph to understand why it resonates:

"For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong."

The point of highlighting this essay is not to argue that Pakistan should emulate the west, nor indeed that secularism is necessarily the answer, but rather to suggest that there is still a debate to be had in a country where even using the word secular is becoming taboo. (And before anyone accuses me of orientalism, the advantage of looking at it through the lens of European history is that it also strips out some of the other factors which contribute to the nature of Pakistani society today -- the war in Afghanistan, America's response to 9/11, the role of the army, its past use of militant proxies, the weakness of its civilian governments, the fragility of the economy etc, etc).

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

In Pakistan, a death foretold

taseerIn one of the more anguished posts about the murder of provincial governor Salman Taseer, Pakistani blogger Huma Imtiaz wrote that his assassination "is not the beginning of the end. This is the end. There is no going back from here, there is no miracle cure, there is no magic wand that will one day make everything better. Saying 'enough is enough' does not cut it anymore ..."

It was a sense that permeated much of the English-language commentary about Taseer's killing in Islamabad by one of his own security guards. Interior Minister Rehman Malik said Taseer, governor of Punjab province and a leading politician in the ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP), was killed because of his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy laws.  A sense that the forces of religious intolerance are becoming all but unstoppable; and that those who oppose them by promoting a more liberal vision of Pakistan occupy an ever diminishing space.

"Salmaan Taseer was many things, but most recently, he was a champion of a particular strand of liberal, secular discourse in a country where such voices are dwindling down to nothing. He was a minority because he chose to stand next to the Christian and Hindu minorities who are denied basic protection in their own nation.  This is a great loss," wrote historian Manan Ahmed at Chapati Mystery.

Indonesian Muslim cleric warns against over-the-top Christmas

indonesia (Photo: Two Indonesian women — the one on the left wearing a Muslim headscarf — pose for a photo in front of a Christmas tree in a shopping mall in Jakarta December 23, 2010/Dadang Tri)

Opulent Christmas decorations at shopping malls in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, could incite anger among non-Christians, the country’s highest Islamic authority said on Thursday. Although 90 percent of the country’s 240 million people are Muslim, the capital’s myriad glitzy malls have been decorated with Christmas lights and bunting — including faux snow, Santas and nativity scenes.

“Christmas describes a certain religion, and if the religion advertises it too overtly — even though they have only a small number of followers — it will cause jealousy and anger from other groups,” said Ma’ruf Amin, of Indonesia’s Ulema Council.

Retailers say the giant Christmas trees, paper mache reindeers and carols serve no religious purpose and are there to attract more shoppers during the holiday seasons. But Amin said over-the-top festivities could hurt existing tolerance.

European far right courts Israel in stepped-up anti-Islam drive

street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

Far-right political parties in Europe are stepping up their anti-Muslim rhetoric and forging ties across borders, even going so far as to visit Israel to hail the Jewish state as a bulwark against militant Islam.

Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front has shocked the French political elite in recent days by comparing Muslims who pray outside crowded mosques — a common sight especially during the holy month of Ramadan — to the World War Two Nazi occupation. Oskar Freysinger, a champion of the Swiss ban on minarets, warned a far-right meeting in Paris on Saturday against “the demographic, sociological and psychological Islamisation of Europe”. German and Belgian activists also addressed the crowd.

street prayers 2 (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near the Et-Taqwa Mosque in Paris on December 17, 2010. REUTERS/Charles Platiau)

Geert Wilders, whose populist far-right party supports the Dutch minority government, told Reuters last week he was organising an “international freedom alliance” to link grass-roots groups active in “the fight against Islam”. Earlier this month, Wilders visited Israel and backed its West Bank settlements, saying Palestinians there should move to Jordan. Like-minded German, Austrian, Belgian, Swedish and other far-rightists were on their own Israel tour at the same time. “Our culture is based on Christianity, Judaism and humanism and (the Israelis) are fighting our fight,” Wilders said. “If Jerusalem falls, Amsterdam and New York will be next.”

Iraqi Shi’ites mark Ashura without incident, Saudis scuffle in Medina

ashura (Photo: Pilgrims gather between Imam Abbas and Imam Hussein shrines to mark Ashura in Kerbala, December 17, 2010/Mushtaq Muhammad)

More than two million Shi’ite pilgrims in Iraq’s holy city of Kerbala marked Ashura, commemorating the slaying of the Prophet Mohammad’s grandson Imam Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in 680, with no major violence reported amid tight security. But Saudi security forces dispersed crowds of Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims after scuffles broke out in the holy city of Medina.

Shi’ites from across Iraq, along with thousands of foreign pilgrims — most dressed in black — streamed into Kerbala for the emotive ritual on Friday in which the faithful beat their heads and chests and gash themselves with chains and swords to mourn the event that defines Shi’ism and its split from Sunni Islam.

“According to official statistics, there are more than two million Iraqi pilgrims and 248,000 foreign pilgrims who have entered Kerbala city,” said Mohammed al-Moussawi, head of the Kerbala provincial council.

Dutch may introduce burqa ban as early as 2011

wilders (Photo: Geert Wilders in The Hague, December 16, 2010/Jerry Lampen)

The Netherlands could ban full face veils worn by some Muslim women,as soon as next year, Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders told Reuters in an interview on Thursday. Wilders’ populist Freedom Party is the third largest in parliament and provides crucial support to the minority ruling coalition in exchange for the government taking a tougher line on Islam and immigration from non-Western countries.

His party has grown in popularity largely because of his outspoken criticism of Islam, which he describes as “a violent ideology.” He has been charged with inciting hatred against Muslims for comparing Islam to Nazism. The case is due to start over again following a request for new judges.

“We are not a single issue party but the fight against a fascist ideology Islam is for us of the utmost importance,” said Wilders, who argues his comments about Islam are protected by freedom of speech.

Saudi Shi’ites mark Ashura festival in anxious mood

ashura (Photos above and below: Saudi Shi’ite Muslims mark Ashura in Qatif, December 16, 2010/Zaki Ghawas)

Like their Shi’ite brethren across the Middle East, Hussein and his Saudi friends marked the mourning day of Ashura on Thursday, their mood tinged with worry over their future in the strict Sunni Muslim kingdom. Hundreds of black-clad Shi’ites in the small Gulf town of Qatif, in Saudi Arabia’s oil-rich Eastern Province, rose early to join once-forbidden processions to mark the slaying in 680 of Prophet Mohammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein.

Long viewed as heretics or even agents of Iran by the Saudi authorities and hardline Sunni clerics, Shi’ites have been testing pledges to let them practice their rites more freely. Now they fear a reversal in their long struggle for recognition. The freedom to mark Ashura relatively unhindered in Qatif and nearby villages is a fruit of changes launched by King Abdullah since he ascended the throne in 2005.

But the king is about 87 and is in New York for medical treatment. His slightly younger half-brother, Crown Prince Sultan, spent the past two years abroad with an unspecified ailment. With a possible succession in prospect, many Shi’ites worry that a more conservative king might be tougher on them.

Sacred Shi’ite ritual tests Pakistan’s security resolve

ashura (Photo: Shi’ite men at an Ashura procession in Peshawar, January 19, 2008/Ali Imam)

Pakistan is deploying tens of thousands of paramilitary soldiers and police ahead of a religious festival that could be a major security test for authorities struggling to contain militant violence. Many of Pakistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims, who make up 15 percent of the population, will be vulnerable to suicide bombings when they stage large rallies Friday to mark Ashura, the biggest event in their calendar.

Highlighting concerns, paramilitary forces carry people away on stretchers in mock exercises televised live. Officials say army soldiers will be on standby. Recent suicide bombings carried out in defiance of a series of military offensives which the government describe as successful highlighted U.S. ally Pakistan’s instability.

“Ashura is going to be very tense. There is a danger of terrorists trying to attack processions. We are taking all possible measures to avert that,” a senior security official said.

French far-right star compares praying Muslims to Nazi occupiers

prayers (Photo: Muslims in Perpignan pray in public after a Muslim youth was murdered, May 28, 2005/Georges Bartoli)

Marine Le Pen has put paid to the idea she would put a softer face on France’s National Front for elections in 2012 with anti-Muslim comments that have aroused a storm of criticism. Le Pen, the likely next far-right challenger for the French presidency, compared overflowing mosques in France with the Nazi occupation — remarks indicative of a drift to the right in parts of Europe that could let the National Front eat into support for the ruling conservative UMP party in 2012.

Le Pen, the frontrunner to succeed her father Jean-Marie Le Pen as head of the party, made the comments on a television show last Thursday with about 3.4 million viewers watching. On Monday she dismissed any suggestion of a gaffe. “My comments were absolutely not a blunder, but a completely thought-out analysis,” she told a news conference, adding she was merely saying out loud what everyone thought privately.

le pen 1Given support of 12 to 14 percent in recent opinion polls, Marine Le Pen is regarded as more electable than her father, who was convicted in 1990 for inciting racial hatred. But her remarks suggest that far from moderating the party line, she will go all out to outgun conservative President Nicolas Sarkozy to secure the slice of the French electorate that opposes high immigration.