FaithWorld

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.

“Our position is to turn a new page with the new regime,” he said. “We will perform any positive role we can to help society,” he said in a phone interview from Assiut, one of the areas of southern Egypt where the group developed.

The Gama’a wants to revive its work in da’wa, or proselytising for Islam, and helping the poor, said Abdel-Maged, part of the group since 1978 and a member of its advisory council. It has yet to decide whether it will go into politics.

Muslim-Christian sectarian divisions haunt central Nigerian city

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(A police check point in Nigeria's central city of Jos February 15, 2011/Afolabi Sotunde)

An outsider crossing the dried-up gulley between two neighbourhoods in this central Nigerian city might not notice he had stepped over one of its increasingly tense sectarian dividing lines. On both sides, stallholders sell freshly slaughtered meat and tropical fruit under umbrellas. Motorcycle taxis weave in and out of the traffic. Soldiers with AK-47s on the street corners are the only outward sign all is not well.

“No Christians come here because they are scared. We used to have Christians running stalls here but now there is no trust,” said Umar, a Muslim, from behind a pile of mangoes and pineapples.

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate

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(President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 16, 2011/Francois Mori)

France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year. Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.

U.S. eyes Egypt Islamists as extremist fears fester

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(An Egyptian flag with a peace sign at a rally in Trafalgar Square, in central London February 12, 2011/Luke MacGregor)

U.S. officials are concerned that Islamic extremists may try to exploit Egypt’s upheaval but are not yet convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most influential Islamist opposition group, is necessarily a threat.

The toppling of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday marked the beginning of a new, uncertain era in Egypt that promises to empower Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood, long viewed with deep suspicion in the West.  Al Qaeda is widely seen as weak in Egypt thanks partly to Mubarak, and his departure is raising fears in the U.S. Congress that the rise of even moderate Islamists may give radical elements more room to operate.

Russia’s Muslim elite vows to tackle Islamist extremism

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(Russia's chief Mufti Ravil Gaynutdin in Moscow February 10, 2011/Sergei Karpukhin)

Russia’s Muslims on Thursday set up a council of experts to devise ways to tackle extremism, two weeks after a suicide bomb attack on the country’s busiest airport killed 36.  Earlier this week Islamist leader Doku Umarov said he had ordered the devastating attack on Moscow’s Domodedovo airport.

“People need to be protected from extremism and terrorism, and educated away from this,” said Ravil Gaynutdin, the chief Mufti of Russia, which is home to some 20 million Muslims, or a seventh of the population. “These experts will play a very important role towards making things better… for Muslims to be more involved in Russian society,” Gaynutdin, clad in a flowing black robe and crowned by a silk white hat, told Reuters in an interview before chairing the council’s first meeting.

Guestview: Why “militant Islam” is a dangerous myth

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(A Palestinian gunman marches with a Koran and his rifle during a protest in Deir al-Balah September 25, 2002/Magnus Johansson )

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Dalia Mogahed is Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. mogahed

(Dalia Mogahed/ Gallup)

By Dalia Mogahed

Right-wing pundits in the U.S. and Europe sometimes argue that it is misguided to avoid religious language when describing terrorists. They point out that members of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates call themselves “jihadists”, a derivative of the Arabic noun “jihad” meaning a struggle for God. They explain that it is therefore accurate and fair to refer to Al-Qaeda and its affiliates by the same term.

Islamist rebels take aim at Russia ahead of election year

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(Doku Umarov (C) with Chechen rebels in an undated video/www.kavkazcenter.com/Reuters TV)

A suicide attack on Russia’s busiest airport shows Islamist rebel leader Doku Umarov is serious about inflicting “blood and tears” on the Russian heartland ahead of the 2012 presidential election. Umarov, a 46-year-old rebel leader who styles himself as the Emir of the Caucasus, claimed responsibility for the January 24 attack that killed 36 and said he had dozens of suicide bombers ready to unleash on Russian cities.

Russia is struggling to contain a growing Islamist insurgency along its southern flank nearly 12 years after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rose to popularity by leading Russia into a second war against Chechen separatists.

Indonesia Muslims attack court, churches; mob kills Ahmadis

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(Anti-riot police block protesters outside the court where a Catholic man is on trial for blasphemy in Temanggung February 8, 2011/Stringer)

Hundreds of Muslim radicals set two churches ablaze and attacked a court in Indonesia’s central Java on Tuesday, calling for harsh punishment for a Christian on trial for blasphemy, police said.

The attacks come two days after a mob beat to death three followers of a minority Islamic sect considered heretical by mainstream Muslims, and at the start of so-called “Inter-faith week”, when the country is supposed to celebrate its pluralistic heritage.

British police avert clashes at Luton anti-Islamist rally

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(An English Defence League supporter with effigy of Osama Bin Laden mask during a rally in Luton, February 5, 2011/Paul Hackett)

About 1,500 far-right protesters marched through the centre of the British city of Luton Saturday to rally against “militant Islam,” requiring a heavy police presence to avert clashes with 1,000 anti-fascist demonstrators. A sixth of Luton’s population is Muslim, and past marches by the English Defence League have led to conflict with their opponents. The city centre turned into a virtual ghost town before the rally, with shops boarded up and pubs closed.

But police and community activists averted large-scale violence, making only eight arrests on a mix of assault, drugs and weapons charges. There were no serious injuries.

Tide turns in favour of Egypt’s Brotherhood in revolt

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(Essam El-Erian, spokesperson for the Muslim Brotherhood, at a news conference in Cairo February 6, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The first time Essam el-Erian went to jail, he was 27. Last Sunday, he left prison for the eighth time at the age of 57. The medical doctor’s crime for each incarceration was belonging to the Muslim Botherhood, Egypt’s most influential and best-organised Islamist opposition movement and long feared by President Hosni Mubarak, Israel and the United States.

Egypt’s courts have repeatedly rebuffed the Brotherhood’s requests for recognition as a party on the grounds that the constitution bans parties based on religion.