FaithWorld

Losers all around in French Muslim council election

(Mohamed Moussaoui (4th R), President of the French Muslim council, speaks to the media after a meeting at the prime minister's office in Paris April 26, 2010. UOIF leader Fouad Alaoui is second from the right in the light suit//Gonzalo Fuentes)

 

Even the winner risks ending up among the losers in France’s Muslim council election on Sunday as the organisation meant to represent Islam here is torn apart by rivalries, boycotts and bitter attacks. Incumbent Mohammed Moussaoui will be returned as head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), but a boycott by the two rival Muslim federations competing with his Rally of French Muslims (RMF) group makes the victory a hollow one.

The campaign has also fuelled the ethnic tensions crippling French Islam, which is split among factions backed by Algeria, Morocco and Turkey and others who oppose any meddling from the Muslim countries that they or their forefathers left behind.

“This CFCM will start off an empty shell and continue to run on empty,” Kamel Kabtane, rector of the Grand Mosque of Lyon, told Lyon Capitale magazine after announcing he was boycotting the election. “It risks dying a quiet death.”

The curious voting method used, which allocates electoral college delegates to each federation according to the total floor space of its mosques around the country, was the reason Moussaoui’s rivals gave for the boycott.

Banned Islamists say time for change in Morocco

mosque morocco

(A mosque in Ksar el Kebir February 5, 2008/Rafael Marchante)

The banned Islamist group Justice and Charity, believed to be Morocco’s biggest opposition force, has said “autocracy” will be swept away unless the country pursues deep democratic reform.

The group of Sufi inspiration is believed to have 200,000 members, most of whom are university students, and is active mainly in the poor districts of some cities. Banned from politics, its avowed aim is to achieve a peaceful transition to a pluralist political system inspired by Islam.

In a statement posted on its website late on Sunday, Justice and Charity said the unrest in Egypt and Tunisia left “no place today for distortions … and empty, false promises… The gap between the ruler and the ruled has widened and confidence is lost … The solution is either a deep and urgent democratic reform that ends autocracy and responds to the needs and demands of the people, or the people take the initiative and (it) erupt peacefully … to sweep autocracy away.”

Support for UN vote against defaming religion wanes

ungaA U.N. General Assembly committee has once again voted to condemn the “vilification of religion” but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes on Tuesday in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly  in New York September 24, 2010/Keith Bedford)

Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of “vilification.” It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to “Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia.” Last year’s resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.

Algerian court clears Christians of charge of flouting Ramadan by eating during day

ramadan 1Two Christian men on trial in Algeria for eating during daylight in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan were acquitted on Tuesday, a verdict their supporters said was a triumph for religious freedom.

The two men, members of Algeria’s small Protestant community, were charged with offending public morals for eating at the building site where they were working before the Ramadan fast had been broken for the day. (Photo: Food shoppers in Algiers on first day of Ramadan, August 11, 2010/Louafi Larbi)

After the judge in the small town of Ain El-Hammam, about 150 km (93.21 miles) east of the Algerian capital, ruled they were innocent, a group of about seven Protestants standing on the steps of the courthouse shouted “Hallelujah!”

Morocco expels proselytising Christians ‘to prevent conflict’

rabat church

Saint Pierre Cathedral in Rabat, November 12, 2008/Rafael Marchante

Morocco has expelled foreign Christians who tried to convert Muslims because, as a moderate Islamic state, it wants to foster “order and calm” and avoid a clash between faiths, its Islamic affairs minister has  said.

The government has expelled around 100 foreign Christians since March, many of them aid workers, in what Western diplomats have called an unprecedented crackdown on undercover preaching.

“These incidents (expulsions) were prompted by the activism of some foreigners who undermined public order,” Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs Minister Ahmed Toufiq told Reuters in an interview late on Thursday. “There are some who hide their proselytism and religious activism under the guise of other activities.”

Morocco resists Islamist calls to ban Elton John from music festival

elton john

Elton John at Carnegie Hall in New York on May 13, 2010/Lucas Jackson

Elton John will headline Morocco’s biggest music festival this week despite calls by religious conservatives for the gay singer to be turned away. Allowing the British singer and songwriter to perform at the Mawazine World Rhythms festival in the capital Rabat would tarnish the image of the north African kingdom, say powerful opposition Islamists.

“Elton John is one of the best artists in the world. He is great and extraordinary when he appears on stage. That’s why we invite him and welcome him to the Mawazine festival,” festival director Aziz Daki told Reuters. “The private life of a singer is not our business. We do not invite singers and artists after assessing their private lives.”

The festival, backed by Morocco’s King Mohammed, brings together musicians from 50 countries and has drawn criticism from Islamists who say such events encourage promiscuity and alcohol consumption, corrupting Islamic values.

France’s burqa debate stokes passions in North Africa

Anne, an assumed name, a 31-year old French woman who has been fined for wearing a niqab while driving, speaks to the media during a news conference with her husband Lies Hebbadj in Nantes, western France, April 26, 2010.  REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Files

Veiled French woman Anne (an assumed name) fined for wearing a niqab while driving in Nantes meets journalists on 26 April 2010/Stephane Mahe

A French proposal to ban full face veils has stoked debate in Europe and also provoked strong reactions across the Mediterranean in North Africa, where many of France’s Muslims trace their origins.

Former French colonies Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia are still tied to France by history, language and migration, so their views on the “burqa” issue could have a direct influence on how Muslims inside France react to a ban.

Algeria also opts for “Sufi card” to fight Islamist extremism

algeria-sufi (Photo: Sufi at festival in southern Algeria, 24 March 2008/Zohra Bensemra)

FaithWorld recently ran a post about Pakistan considering playing the “Sufi card” in its campaign against Islamist militants. The idea is that promoting this mystical and tolerant school of Islam could counteract the influence of more radical readings of the faith. It looks like they’re not the only ones considering this:

After using police raids, arrests and gun battles in its fight against Islamist insurgents, Algeria is now deploying a new, more subtle weapon: a branch of Islam associated with contemplation, not combat.

The government of this North African oil and gas producer is promoting Sufism, an Islamic movement that it sees as a gentler alternative to the ultra-conservative Salafism espoused by many of the militants behind Algeria’s insurgency.

Rabat bets on better imams to counter extremist Islam

marrakech-mosqueMorocco has shifted from mass arrests to tight surveillance in its fight against Islamic militants and hopes a new campaign to reinforce the authority of state-appointed imams will cut off support for jihadism.

As militants reach a growing audience through DVDs and the Internet, the government has tried to seize back the initiative, revising laws governing mosques and adding new theological councils to tighten control of religious life in the regions. (Photo: Koutoubia Mosque in Marrakech at sunset, 7 Jan 2005/Tom Heneghan)

Now it is preparing to send 1,500 supervisors into the north African country’s towns and villages to make sure that imams are preaching the moderate local version of Islam and respect for King Mohammed in his role as leader of Morocco’s Muslims.

If Hillary goes to Jakarta, can Barack be far behind?

Is U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Jakarta a hint that President Barack Obama will pick Indonesia as the first Muslim country he visits in his drive to improve U.S. relations with the Islamic world? There were lots of other suggestions when he first mentioned this back in December, including Egypt (the New York Times pick) and Morocco (judging by what might have been a write-in campaign on our comments page).

My tip at the time was either Indonesia or Turkey. In recent weeks, Turkey’s star has probably faded as its relations with Israel soured recently. Those strains came after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan angrily accused Israeli President Shimon Peres of “knowing very well how to kill” in Gaza during a debate at the World Economic Forum in Davos and then stormed off the stage. (Photo: Hillary Clinton with Jakarta schoolgirls, 18 Feb 2009/Supri)

Clinton said all the right things today, like telling the country where Obama spent four years as a boy that it was proof that modernity and Islam can coexist. “As I travel around the world over the next years, I will be saying to people: if you want to know whether Islam, democracy, modernity and women’s rights can co-exist, go to Indonesia,” she said at a dinner with civil society activists. Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda reciprocated by telling her Indonesia shared the United States’ joy at Obama’s election and she should tell the U.S. president “we cannot wait too long” for a visit.