FaithWorld

Grief-stricken Pakistani Christians bury slain cabinet minister

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(People gather near the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti after a funeral ceremony inside a church in Islamabad March 4, 2011/Faisal Mahmood)

Shouting “death for killers”, thousands of Pakistanis on Friday buried Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s only Christian government minister who was killed by Pakistani Taliban for challenging a law that stipulates death for insulting Islam. His assassination on Wednesday was the latest sign violent religious conservatism is becoming more mainstream in Pakistan, a trend which could further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally.

Bhatti, a Catholic, was the second senior official to be assassinated this year for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead in January by one of his bodyguards.

“The message of Shahbaz Bhatti is to purge Pakistan of killers and hatred,” Reverend Father Emmanuel Pervez told thousands of men and women gathered in Bhatti’s village in central Pakistan for mass prayers. “We will not accept oppression … Bhatti’s message is that we should not let Pakistan be defamed.” bhatti 5

(Christians shout slogans as they carry the casket of Pakistan's Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti for burial at his native village Khushpur, March 4, 2011/Mian Khursheed)

Pakistan media warn of growing chaos after Christian minister slain

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(Christians protest in Hyderabad against the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, March 3, 2011/Akram Shahid )

Pakistan is being swept towards violent chaos by a growing wave of Islamist extremism, the country’s newspapers said a day after Taliban militants killed the country’s only Christian government minister. The assassination of Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in broad daylight in the capital Islamabad on Wednesday threatens to further destabilise the nuclear-armed U.S. ally where secular-minded politicians are imperiled by a rising strain of violent religious conservatism in the society.

“Mr. Bhatti’s brutal assassination has once again highlighted the fact that we are fast turning into a violent society,” the liberal Daily Times said in its editorial. “This is not the time to be frightened into silence. It is time to implement the law and not surrender in front of extremists.”

Factbox – Pakistan’s blasphemy law strikes fear in minorities

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(File Photo: Shahbaz Bhatti, chairman of the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, shows a cross burned during an attack on a church in central Punjab province during a news conference in Islamabad November 14, 2005/Faisal Mahmood)

Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. The anti-blasphemy law has been in the spotlight since November when a court sentenced a Christian mother of four to death, in a case that has exposed deep rifts in the troubled Muslim nation of more than 170 million people.

While liberal Pakistanis and rights groups believe the law to be dangerously discriminatory against the country’s tiny minority groups, Asia Bibi’s case has become a lightning rod for the country’s religious right. In January, the governor of the most populous state of Punjab, Salman Taseer, who had strongly opposed the law and sought presidential pardon for the 45-year-old Christian farmhand, was gunned down by one of his bodyguards angry about the governor’s stand.

Taliban say killed Christian Pakistani cabinet minister for blasphemy

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(The body of assassinated minority minister Shahbaz Bhatti is carried from a hospital after he was killed in Islamabad on March 2, 2011S/Faisal Mahmood)

Taliban militants on Wednesday shot dead Pakistan’s only Christian government minister for challenging a law that mandates the death penalty for insulting Islam, the latest sign of instability in a country where many fear radical Islam is becoming more mainstream. Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti is the second senior official this year to be assassinated for opposing the blasphemy law. Provincial governor Salman Taseer was shot dead by his own bodyguard in January.

These killings, along with frequent militant attacks and chronic economic problems have raised fears for the future of U.S.-ally and nuclear-armed Pakistan, where an unpopular coalition government is struggling to cope.

Christian Pakistani minister shot dead in Islamabad ambush

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(The bullet-riddled car of slain Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti in Islamabad March 2, 2011/Faisal Mahmood )

Pakistani Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti, who had called for changes in the country’s controversial blasphemy law, was killed in a gun attack in Islamabad on Wednesday, officials said. Police said the shooting took place near an Islamabad market. Bhatti, a Roman Catholic, was the only Christian in the Pakistani cabinet.

“The initial reports are that there were three men who attacked him. He was probably shot using a Kalashnikov, but we are trying to ascertain what exactly happened,” said Islamabad police chief Wajid Durrani. A hospital spokesman said Bhatti had several bullet wounds.

Masses mourn at funeral of Turkish Islamist leader Erbakan

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(Mourners surround the coffin of Turkey's former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan at his funeral in Istanbul March 1, 2011/Osman Orsal )

Turks, including the country’s political leaders, paid their respects on Tuesday to former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, the founder of the country’s modern Islamist movement, who died on Sunday.  Sombre music poured from loudspeakers outside Istanbul’s 15th Century Fatih Mosque and street vendors sold scarves emblazoned with the message “Mujahid Erbakan”, celebrating the Erbakan as a holy warrior, as mourners chanted “Allahu Akbar”, or “God is Great”.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul, proteges of Erbakan, joined other leaders for prayers in front of the coffin, laid out in the mosque’s courtyard and draped in green cloth adorned with Koranic verses. The streets, rooftops and balconies of houses surrounding the mosque were crammed with men wearing skull caps, and women, either veiled or wearing head scarves — marks of respect. Some mourners carried Palestinian flags.

Respected head of Tunisian Islamist group to step down

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(Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi in Tunis February 4, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

The head of Tunisia’s Ennahda Islamist movement, Rachid Ghannouchi, will step down and be replaced this year, he told Turkey’s state-run news agency in an interview published on Friday. Ghannouchi, a respected Muslim scholar who has spoken in favour of women’s rights and democracy, returned to Tunisia from two decades in exile following last month’s overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali.

His planned departure calls into question the future leadership of Ennahda, which is expected to be a significant political force in forthcoming elections in the predominantly Muslim North African state. Analysts have said any moves to sideline Ennahda, which is likened to Turkey’s ruling AK Party, which emerged from a series of Islamist parties, could backfire by radicalising the group and encouraging militants seeking a foothold in the country.

“Ghannouchi … said that he would soon quit as the leader of Ennahda, as he did not want to assume any political duties in any section of the government,” according to the report from Turkey’s Anatolian news agency. “He said the Ennahda movement would elect its new leader at a congress to be held this year.”

Tunisia needs separation of mosque and state – religaffairs min

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(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.”

Tunis march against Islamists, for harmony after Polish priest murdered

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(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)

About 15,000 demonstrators have protested in Tunis against the country’s Islamist movement, calling for religious tolerance a day after the Interior Ministry announced a Polish Catholic priest had been murdered by an extremist group.

“We need to live together and be tolerant of each other’s views,” said Ridha Ghozzi, 34, who was among the protesters carrying signs and chanting slogans on Saturday including “Terrorism is not Tunisian” and “Religion is Personal”.

In the new Egypt, Gama’a Islamiya steps out of shadows

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(Tahrir Square in Cairo February 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak has allowed an Islamist group that took up arms against his administration to step out of the shadows for the first time in years. The Gama’a al-Islamiya (Islamic Group) this week held its first public meetings in 15 years, said Assem Abdel-Maged, a leading member of the group who has spent half his life in prison for a role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

That would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago when Mubarak was still in power. Mubarak spent years suppressing Islamists he saw as a threat to his rule and survived an assassination attempt by militant Islamists in 1995.

Abdel-Maged, who once shared a cell with Al Qaeda no. 2 Ayman al-Zawahari, says the Gama’a wants a new start in relations with the state. The group remains committed to non-violence and a truce it declared in 1997, he said.