FaithWorld

Factbox-U.S. cites repression of religious freedom around the world

The United States on Wednesday unveiled its annual survey of religious freedom, citing countries ranging from North Korea to Eritrea as repressing religious liberties.

Following are some of the conclusions from the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report on eight countries previously named as areas of “special concern” over their limits on religious freedom.

religious 1MYANMAR (BURMA)

The report said Myanmar’s military rulers ignored constitutional guarantees of freedom of religion and systematically restricted efforts by Buddhist clergy to promote human rights and political liberties. (Photo: Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon, October 23, 2010/Soe Zeya Tun)

The government actively promoted Theravada Buddhism, especially among minority groups, and pressured students and poor youth to convert, it said.

“Christian and Islamic groups continued to struggle to obtain permission to repair places of worship or build new ones,” the report said, adding that the Muslim Rohingya minority experienced severe legal and economic discrimination, resulting in many Rohingya refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.

Iraq pres rejects Aziz death order, partly because he is Christian

azizIraqi President Jalal Talabani said on Wednesday he will not sign an execution order for Tareq Aziz, the former deputy of dictator Saddam Hussein sentenced to death last month for crimes against humanity.

“No, I will not sign the execution order for Tareq Aziz, because I am a socialist,” Talabani told French television France 24 in an interview. “I sympathize with Tareq Aziz because he is an Iraqi Christian. Moreover he is an old man who is over 70.” (Photo:  A video grab of former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tareq Aziz listening to the court verdict in Baghdad March 11, 2009/Iraqiya TV via Reuters TV)

Iraq’s high tribunal passed a death sentence on Aziz, once the international face of Saddam’s government, in October over the persecution of Islamic parties in Iraq during Saddam’s rule. The Vatican and Russia both called on Iraq not to carry out the death sentence on humanitarian grounds, noting his age and health problems. The Vatican said mercy would help the war-torn country make progress toward reconciliation, peace and justice.

Mob in Athens abuses Muslims as they celebrate Eid

athens 1 (Photo: Muslim immigrants pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations in front of Athens university November 16, 2010/Yannis Behrakis)

Dozens of far-right activists and local residents threw eggs and taunted hundreds of Muslim immigrants as they gathered to pray in a central square for Eid al-Adha surrounded by a protective cordon of riot police.

Greece, which has become the main immigrant gateway to the European Union, has a growing Muslim community and tensions between locals and incomers have run high in some Athens areas such as Attiki square, the scene of Tuesday’s incident.

athens 2 (Photo: A Greek Orthodox priest (with beard in rear) sits outside a cafe with other Greek neighbours as Muslim immigrants pray during Eid al-Adha celebrations in Attiki square in Athens November 16, 2010/Yannis Behrakis)

Athens’ Muslim community is without an official mosque and prayers are usually held at cultural centres or community halls or private apartments around the city. The Muslim community in Greece is estimated at about 1 million, in a country where most people are Greek Orthodox Christians.

Amazing photo of Eid travellers in Bangladesh

eid b'desh

An overcrowded train approaches as other passengers wait to board at a railway station in Dhaka, November 16, 2010. Millions of residents in Dhaka are travelling home from the Bangladeshi capital to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday on Wednesday. Muslims around the world celebrate Eid al-Adha to mark the end of the haj by slaughtering sheep, goats, cows and camels to commemorate Prophet Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail on God’s command. Reuters photo by Andrew Biraj.

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Merkel: Germany doesn’t have “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity”

merkel (Photo: Chancellor Angela Merkel in Karlsruhe, 15 Nov 2010/Kai Pfaffenbach)

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans debating Muslim integration to stand up more for Christian values, saying Monday the country suffered not from “too much Islam” but “too little Christianity.”

Addressing her Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party, she said she took the current public debate in Germany on Islam and immigration very seriously. As part of this debate, she said last month that multiculturalism there had utterly failed.

Some of her conservative allies have gone further, calling for an end to immigration from “foreign cultures” — a reference to Muslim countries like Turkey — and more pressure on immigrants to integrate into German society.

Haj pilgrims flock to Mount Arafat to beg forgiveness

arafat 1 (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Plains of Arafat, 15 Nov 2010/Mohammed Salem)

Millions of Muslims gathered around Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad delivered his last sermon, to beg for God’s forgiveness on Monday, the spiritual climax of the annual haj pilgrimage. Pilgrims flocked mostly on foot to Arafat, a rocky outcrop in a dusty plain a few kilometers away from Mecca, to pray until sunset. They set up tents where they could, squatted on the side of the road in shelters or stayed at the nearby Namira mosque.

A record of at least 2.5 million pilgrims have come to Saudi Arabia to perform this year’s haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion. So far, the authorities have reported none of the major problems or disasters that marred the event in previous years, such as building collapses and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

But the sheer number of pilgrims was still a worry for the Saudi government. Around 100,000 security forces have been deployed to the oversee the pilgrimage, security officials said.

Saudi Arabia opens Chinese-built haj pilgrimage train

haj 2Hoping to decrease accidents and boost tourism, Saudi has built a railway line to improve transport for millions of Muslims who flock to the kingdom on the annual haj and move en masse from one holy site to another. At least 2.5 million pilgrims are expected to perform the haj, which began on Sunday. One of the world’s biggest religious gatherings, it has been marred in the past by stampedes, accidents and political demonstrations. (Photo: Haj pilgrims in Mina, near Mecca,  November 14, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

Authorities say the 6.6 billion riyal ($1.76 billion) project will lessen congestion of the pilgrim route swollen with
some 70,000 cars and buses jamming the roads. The railway is the first such project in more than half a century in the world’s top oil exporter. It will ferry pilgrims around holy sites outside Mecca to perform rites such as the “devil’s stoning”, when pilgrims stone a wall in ritual defiance of the devil and temptation.

The 18-km train line has stops at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa, haj sites that Islamic tradition says Prophet Ibrahim — the biblical patriarch Abraham — once visited and that Prophet Mohammad established as a pilgrim route 14 centuries ago. The Chinese-built train is the latest high-tech addition to the haj after Saudi Arabia built electric stairways in the Grand Mosque and showers to cool off pilgrims following the haj route. The ticket, good for a week, costs $70.

At least 2.5 million Muslim pilgrims begin haj

haj 1 (Photo: Pilgrims at Mena, near Mecca, November 14, 2010/Mohammed Salem)

At least 2.5 million Muslims began the annual haj pilgrimage on Sunday, heading to an encampment near the holy city of Mecca to retrace the route taken by the Prophet Mohammad 14 centuries ago.

Traveling on foot, by public transport and in private cars, the pilgrims will stream through a mountain pass to a valley at Mina, some three km (two miles) outside Mecca. The path is the same as the Prophet himself took on his last pilgrimage.

The haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion, lasts for five days. In the past it has been marred by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.

Mecca goes upmarket but commercialism unnerves some Saudis

meccaSitting in the marble lobby of a luxury hotel in Mecca, Moroccan bank director Mohammad Hamdosh gets a breather from the cacophony of pilgrims bustling around the Grand Mosque in Islam’s holiest city. Millions have flocked to the city in Saudi Arabia for the annual haj pilgrimage, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it. But some can afford more than others, and a controversial construction boom is catering to their needs.

“Every pilgrim comes according to his means. God gave me money, so why shouldn’t I stay in this hotel?” says Hamdosh, on a trip that has cost him 12,000 Euros ($16,545). “Haj is tiring so it’s good to have a room to rest.” (Photo: The Kabaa andt the Grand Mosque dwarfed by luxury high-rise hotels, 12 Aug 2010/Hassan Ali)

Inside the mosque, all pilgrims are equal as they circle the black stone known as the Kaaba toward which Muslims around the world turn in prayer every day. But outside an array of towering five-star hotels have sprung up where the wealthy can bask in a 24-hour view of the Kaaba. The high-rises dwarf the mosque and the surrounding town, nestled in the mountains in the hinterland of the port city Jeddah.

Allah’s tailors gaining profile in Turkey with chic headscarves

headscarves (Photo: Women in headscarves in the Taksim area of Istanbul July 13, 2008/Morteza Nikoubazl)

Along Istanbul’s busy Eminönü waterfront, women swathed in dark coats and scarves knotted once under the chin jostle past others clad in vivid colors and head coverings carefully sculpted around the face. Two decades ago such a polished, pious look scarcely existed in Turkey. But today it has the highest profile exponents in First Lady Hayrünnisa Gül and Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s wife Emine, and the brands behind it plan ambitious expansion.

The headscarf remains one of Turkey’s most divisive issues. Everything from the way it is tied and accessorized, to the poise and demeanor of the wearer, is laden with meaning in this majority Muslim but officially secular country of 74 million. From a simple headcovering, stigmatized in the early days of the Turkish Republic as backward and rural, it has become, in the last decades, a carefully crafted garment and highly marketable commodity, embodying the challenge of a new class of conservative Muslims to Turkey’s secularist elites.

“It was hard to find anything chic for the covered women 10 years ago, but fashion for pious women has made huge progress in the last 6-7 years,” said Alpaslan Akman, an executive in charge of production and marketing at Muslim fashion brand Armine.