Italian far-right uses pig to “desecrate” future mosque site

A pigItaly’s far-right Northern League has come up with some provocative ways to protest against the construction of mosques. One of its members, Senator Roberto Calderoli, has called for a “Pig Day” to demonstrate against a planned mosque in Bologna. In December 2006, protesters left a severed pig’s head outside a mosque being built in Tuscany. Their latest idea was to parade a pig around the site of a planned mosque in Padua last weekend to “desecrate” the property.

Italy’s Sky TV has the video here. It’s in Italian but you’ll get the point.

The woman leading the protesters is former deputy Education Minister Mariella Mazzetto, a Northern League member. She told the journalist: “We have blessed the ground that the city of Padua wants to transfer for the mosque … It is a question of defending Italian identity.” Muslims and non-Muslims joined in denouncing the protest.

The rest of the video deals with a case that could be seen as the opposite of the Northern League’s approach. A priest in Treviso has been allowing local Muslims to use his parish hall for Friday prayers for three years. “For me, they are all children of God,” Father Aldo Danieli told Corriere della Sera. But his bishop told him on Saturday he would have to stop the practice, since Church law said Catholic places of worship could not be used by other religions.

This probably won’t be the last time that the Northern League uses pigs to try to provoke Muslims. How should they react?

Iraq state TV to broadcast Sunni and Shi’ite Friday prayers

Umm al-Qura mosque, Oct. 10, 2006Iraq’s state television channel Iraqiya plans to broadcast Friday prayers from both Shi’ite and Sunni mosques, a novelty in a country where until now Islamic services were only shown on sectarian channels. That kept the two neatly separate. Rather than take either side, Iraqiya avoided broadcasting Friday prayers after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But it began today with a live transmission from the Sunni Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad.

Station manager Nawfal Abd Dahash told Reuters in Baghdad: “We will start doing live broadcasts from mosques from both sects. This is to enhance national unity and to prove that there is no difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis.”

The broadcast came from the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, which until a few months ago was a stronghold for al Qaeda Sunni Islamists. It also came at a time when Sunni communities in many parts of Iraq are taking up arms to drive out the Islamists.

Muslim scholar questions Vatican understanding of Islam

Cardinal Jean-Louis TauranThe cautious Vatican reaction to the dialogue appeal from 138 Muslim scholars has prompted one of the signatories to question whether the top Catholic official for relations with Muslims understands Islam. More specifically, Aref Ali Nayed has asked how Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran can say that a serious theological dialogue with Muslims is not possible because they will not discuss the Koran in depth. This debate (discussed in an earlier post here) is dense and highly specialised. But it may be at this level that this unprecedented dialogue could take off or fail to ignite.

Nayed, a former professor at the Pontifical Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies (PISAI) in Rome and main spokesman for the 138 scholars, flatly refutes Tauran’s view. He says Muslims have always interpreted the Koran and studied it both historically and linguistically. Their methods were even the forerunners of the “historical-critical” method that Christians use with the Bible, he says. Protestants began applying this “higher criticism” to the Bible in the 18th century and Catholics accepted it only in 1943, making them latecomers to this exercise in Nayed’s view. I am no specialist on these details and will need to hear reactions from Christian theologians.

Readers interested in Nayed’s argument can read it on the website of Islamica magazine or read Cindy Wooden’s story for the Catholic News Service on it. I’ll just quote the crisp conclusion:

Faith factors at play in two European elections at the weekend

Two general elections on Sunday made it an interesting weekend on the religion&politics beat in Europe. Put simply, a pro-Catholic party lost in Poland and an anti-minaret party won in Switzerland. There was no link between the two votes and religion was not the main issue in either. But the faith factor was in the air and it highlighted two trends at the crossroads of church and state in Europe.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (L) in church with brother Lech (R) and Lech’s wifePoland’s Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski lost his election despite strong support from the powerful media empire of right-wing Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, whose outlets include the controversial Radio Maryja that critics call xenophobic and anti-Semitic. Kaczynski and his twin brother Lech , Poland’s president, have enjoyed support from older Poles and many clerics because of their fervent Catholicism. But Jaroslaw’s government got mired down in infighting and picked fights with the European Union, Germany and Russia. The Polish bishops, sensing the Church was being used for political purposes, told priests not to use the pulpit to endorse any candidates.

The Polish Catholic Church played a major political role before 1989, standing as an alternative to the Soviet-backed communist government in Warsaw. Since then, however, democracy, economic growth and European Union membership have changed the country profoundly. The close ties between some conservative political parties and the Catholic Church faded in most of Europe years ago and are fading now in Poland, even while a majority of Poles still attends church regularly.

French mosque fund starts work after political delays

President Nicolas Sarkozy at a Paris Grand Mosque iftar dinnerBuilding mosques has become a hot topic this year in several European countries. One of the issues is whether foreign funds, mostly coming in from Middle Eastern states without any official supervision, might be used secretly to build or finance mosques preaching radical Islam.

The French government has come up with an interesting way to handle this problem by creating a semi-official Foundation for Islamic Works. It is meant to take in donations from home or abroad and distribute them among the different organisations in the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM). Its books would be open and inspected by the state, ensuring the whole procedure is transparent. This would not stop donors from contributing directly, but it should limit it, officials say.

The foundation was actually announced in March 2005 but political rivalries leading up to last May’s presidential election put it on hold for two years . The foundation’s board has now held its first meeting.