FaithWorld

Bashir plans Islamic law if Sudan splits, defends flogging woman

sudan (Photo: Sudan’s President Omar Hassan al-Bashir addresses a rally in Gedaref, December 19, 2010/stringer)

Sudan will adopt an Islamic constitution if the south splits away in a referendum next month, President Omar Hassan al-Bashir said on Sunday. The vote on independence for south Sudan is scheduled to start in three weeks and was promised in a 2005 peace deal that ended a civil war between the mainly Muslim north and the south, where most follow traditional beliefs and Christianity.

“If south Sudan secedes, we will change the constitution and at that time there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,” the president told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref. “Sharia (Islamic law) and Islam will be the main source for the constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,” he said.

An official from south Sudan’s main party criticised Bashir’s stance, saying it would encourage discrimination against minorities in the north and deepen the country’s international isolation.

The 2005 peace deal ending the civil war set up an interim constitution which limited sharia to the north and recognised “the cultural and social diversity of the Sudanese people.”

Analysts expect most southerners to choose independence in the poll, due to start on January 9 and last for a week. Read the full story by Khaled Abdel Aziz here.

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.

Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Christmas season Bethlehem

bethlehem 1 (Photo: A decorated Christmas tree next to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, December 15, 2010/Ammar Awad)

The birthplace of Jesus is hardly an easy “weekend getaway” spot, but for a taste of how today’s Holy Land feels, this hospitable Palestinian town draped over the steep hilltops outside Jerusalem is an essential place to visit.

Most foreigners fly into Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, an hour away from Jerusalem, and enter via Israeli checkpoints into the occupied West Bank. Security remains tight but there is currently no tension to deter the hardy traveler.

Visitors love to come at Christmas, when a crowded Bethlehem celebrates its most famous date at the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square. But the town hosts tourists year round. In the summer it’s hot. In winter, there can be a veil of snow on the rooftops so warm clothing is advisable.

India Congress scion Rahul Gandhi says radical Hindus a threat

gandhis (Photo: Rahul Gandhi with his mother Sonia Gandhi, in New Delhi May 21, 2009/B Mathur)

Rahul Gandhi, seen as an India prime minister in waiting, told the U.S. ambassador radical Hindu groups could posed a bigger threat to the country than the Islamists who attacked Mumbai in 2008, a leaked cable showed. The comments made to Timothy Roemer last year were immediately criticised by the main opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adding to political sparring that has deadlocked parliament and pushed policymaking into limbo.

Gandhi’s comments, made in response to a question from Roemers on the Pakistani-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) militant group, referred to religious tension created by more extreme BJP leaders, according to the cable dated August 3, 2009. It was released by WikiLeaks and published on Friday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper.

Gandhi said there was evidence of some support for the LeT among Indian Muslims, the ambassador wrote, according to the cable.  “However, Gandhi warned, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community,” Roemer wrote. The ambassador added a comment that “Gandhi was referring to the tensions created by some of the more polarizing figures in the BJP such as Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi.”

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.

Much ado about nothing: fine for niqab-wearing French driver dropped

niqab (Photo: Sandrine Mouleres, June 28, 2010/Stephane Mahe)

A French police tribunal has annulled a 22 euro ($29.50) fine against a woman found wearing a niqab while driving in the western city of Nantes last April. The case fuelled not just one but two separate debates in France, one on banning the “burqa” and another on polygamy among immigrants. Full veils have been legally banned, the polygamy debate has temporarily fizzled out and Sandrine Mouleres, the Muslim convert who challenged the fine, seems to have come out a winner. For now, at least…

The tribunal annulled the traffic ticket issued by officers who argued that Mouleres could not see properly while wearing her niqab, which covered her face but left an opening for her eyes. As her lawyer Jean-Michel Pollono put it: “This means one can drive today with a niqab. There is no danger as long as whatever the driver wears doesn’t block her vision. A niqab moves with the head.”

The second debate, about polygamy, arose when it was reported that Mouleres was one of four wives of an Algerian-born man, Liès Hebbadj, and he might be collecting family allowances for all four. Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux suggested he might be stripped of his French nationality if found guilty of these allegations. Hebbadj fought back by saying he doesn’t have four wives, but one wife and three mistresses (and 12 children among them). “If one can be stripped of one’s French nationality for having mistresses, then many French could lose theirs,” said Hebbadj, a halal butcher in Nantes.

Algeria hails its religious freedom, critics not so sure

algiers (Photo: An Algerian stands near the newly restored Notre Dame D’Afrique Basilica in Algiers December 13, 2010/Zohra Bensemra)

A Catholic church that has been a landmark in Algeria’s capital for over a century has officially re-opened after restoration work, providing a symbol of religious tolerance in the mainly Muslim country. Algeria is emerging from a nearly two-decade-long Islamist insurgency, but the Catholic community has maintained a presence, even though several Christian clergymen have been among hundreds of thousands killed in the violence.

The Notre Dame d’Afrique basilica was built by French settlers in the late nineteenth century.  An inscription running around the inside of the dome reads: “Our Lady of Africa, pray for us, and for the Muslims.”

“Religious freedom in Algeria is a reality,” Religious Affairs Minister Bouabdellah Ghlamallah told reporters after a ceremony to mark the completion of repair work on Monday. “Everybody has the right to practice their religion provided that the law is fully respected,” he 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.