FaithWorld

Builders flock to Mecca to tap into Muslim pilgrimage boom

(Grand Mosque in Mecca surrounded by new construction, November 19, 2010/Fahad Shadeed)

The Saudi holy city of Mecca is proving to be the exception to a Middle East property downturn, as more and more pilgrims flock to Islam’s holiest city and fuel a hotel construction boom. The more than 2.5 million pilgrims who flock to Mecca for the annual Haj pilgrimage, a duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it, are witnessing a transformation of the city’s skyline with luxury hotels, high-rise residential blocks and cranes now overlooking the Grand Mosque.

“Mecca has now come of age,” said Shuja Zaidi, vice president of projects and general manager for Mecca Hilton & Towers in Saudi Arabia.

A forest of high-rise buildings just next to the Grand Mosque is emerging, built by Saudi developer Jabal Omar and costing more than $5.5 billion, where Hilton and others will open 26 new hotels and add 13,000 more rooms.

“But there’s no doubt that these rooms will also be fully occupied,” said Zaidi. “The simple growth of the Muslim population more than justifies the expansion.”

Malaysia’s Obedient Wives Club angers women’s rights groups

(Ishak Md Nor, 40, (2nd L) and his two wives, Aishah Abdul Ghafar, 40, (C) and Afiratul Abidah Mohd Hanan 25 -- both members of the Obedient Wifes Club -- laugh with their children after the club's launch in Kuala Lumpur June 4, 2011/Samsul Said)

A Malaysian group urging wives to avoid marital problems by fulfilling their husbands’ sexual desires like prostitutes has angered politicians and women’s rights groups, the New Straits Times reported on Sunday. The Obedient Wives Club, which was set up by a group of Muslim women, said domestic violence, infidelity and prostitution stemmed from a lack of belief in God and a failure of women to satisfy their husbands.

The club’s president, Rohaya Mohamed, said it was open to women of all religions and would conduct seminars on how to be a good wife as well as offer marriage counseling. “A man married to a woman who is as good or better than a prostitute in bed has no reason to stray. Rather than allowing him to sin, a woman must do all she can to ensure his desires are met,” Rohaya told the newspaper.

In Kabul’s only synagogue, Afghan merchants open up shop

(An Afghan woman clad in burqa and her daughter walks past a restaurant built inside part of the only synagogue building in Kabul, June 1, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

A lattice of corrugated iron Star of Davids marks Afghanistan’s only working synagogue, a white-washed, two-storey building tucked into a sidestreet in the centre of Kabul. Kebabs, carpets and flowers are served and sold on the ground floor of the synagogue, which has been transformed into businesses over the last 18 months by the country’s sole remaining Jew, who lives upstairs in a small pink room.

Cafe manager Sayed Ahmad is unfazed by his small cafe’s history, where Kabul’s hundreds-strong Jewish community once gathered for prayers. Most fled to Israel and the United States amid the Soviet invasion of 1979. “Some of my customers know this is the synagogue and know about the Jew upstairs, but they don’t care and neither do I,” Ahmad told Reuters in his cafe, where bearded men on purple cushions puff on water pipes and eat traditional Afghan food.

EU assures religious leaders it backs freedom of belief in Middle East

(European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek (L), European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso (C) and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (R) hold a news conference after a meeting with religious leaders in Brussels May 30, 2011/Yves Herman)

European Union leaders assured senior religious figures on Monday they would defend the freedom of belief in the Middle East as part of their support for the spread of democracy in the Arab world. European Commission President Jose Barroso told about 20 Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist leaders at an annual consultation in Brussels that the EU aimed to promote democracy and human rights both in Europe and in its neighbouring countries.

Several of the Christian representatives present expressed concern about religious freedom in the mostly Muslim Arab world, which has seen more freedom of speech in recent months but also more violent attacks on Christian minorities in some countries.

Egyptian Christians worry their country is being hijacked by Salafists

(An Egyptian Christian chants slogans as he protests against recent attacks in front of the state television building in Cairo May 15, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

Last January, Nazih Moussa Gerges locked up his downtown Cairo law office and joined hundreds of thousands of fellow Egyptians to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down. The 33-year-old Christian lawyer was back on the streets this month to press military rulers who took over after Mubarak stepped down to end a spate of sectarian attacks that have killed at least 28 people and left many afraid. Those who camped out in Tahrir Square side by side with Muslims to call for national renewal now fear their struggle is being hijacked by ultra-conservative Salafist Islamists with no one to stop them.

“We did not risk our lives to bring Mubarak down in order to have him replaced by Salafists,” Gerges said. “We want an Egypt that will be an example of democracy and freedom for the whole world.”

Muslims rush to restore torched Egyptian church

(A Coptic Christian boy looks out of the Saint Mary Church which was set on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians on Saturday in the heavily populated area of Imbaba in Cairo May 8, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

Mohammed Fathi worked his brush gently over an icon of Virgin Mary and baby Jesus, removing soot from its surface inside a church gutted in an attack by Islamist militants this month. “It takes a lot of careful work to do that,” Fathi said. “We have to do a lot of tests with chemicals to try to restore the icon to its original condition.”

The 26-year-old is one of a vast group of mostly Muslim craftsmen tasked with restoring St Mary’s Church in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba after militants set it on fire on May 7. Egypt’s military rulers have ordered its restoration at a time when tensions between Christians, who account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, and Muslims are on the rise. The ground floor of the four-storey church was gutted in the fire, destroying 10 out of 27 old icons beyond repair.

Distraught family of DSK accuser looks to God

(Former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn gestures during his bail hearing inside of the New York State Supreme Courthouse in New York May 19, 2011/Richard Drew)

In a living room bare but for a few family photos and Islamic texts, the African man who says he is the brother of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s accuser says he has not slept or eaten properly for days.

“I heard the news on the radio and honestly I do not know what happened. I want to speak to my sister,” the man, called Mamoudou, told Reuters at a village in the Labe region of Guinea, a hard day’s drive north of the capital Conakry.

Beyond bin Laden – Britain’s fight against violent Islamist radicalism

(Muslims hold placards as they march towards the U.S. embassy in London May 6, 2011/Suzanne Plunkett)

In a community centre in the British Midlands, 12 teenage boys — all of south Asian descent — watch intently as Jahan Mahmood unzips a canvas bag and pulls out the dark, angular shape of a World War Two machine gun. He unfolds the tripod, places the unloaded weapon on a table and pulls back the cocking handle. The boys crane forward. Mahmood pulls the trigger; a sharp snap rings out.

It’s two days since the killing of Osama bin Laden, and Mahmood, a local historian, is taking his own stand against global militancy. His show comes with a dose of education: a lesson in how Muslim and British soldiers fought together to defeat the Nazis. His methods are unconventional, but Mahmood believes they help address a weakness at the core of British counter-terrorism policy.

Libyan clerics in rebel-held east see big role for Islam after Gaddafi

(A Libyan woman wearing a niqab with the colours of the Kingdom of Libya attends Friday prayers in rebel-held Benghazi April 22, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

An Islamic revival is taking hold in rebel-held eastern Libya after decades of tough curbs on worship by Muammar Gaddafi, but clerics say this will not be a new source of religious extremism as the West may fear. Restrictions on Islamic piety have become history in the east of the Arab North African state since its takeover by anti-Gaddafi insurgents, and clerics see a much bigger role for Islam in the country if Gaddafi is ultimately driven from power.

Under the autocratic Gaddafi’s idiosyncratic brand of communal socialism overlaying Islam, worship was carefully regulated and any apparent manifestation of political, or militant, Islam drew harsh security crackdowns. Yet Libyan society remained religiously conservative in character and that is now flowering anew in the rebel-held east.

Egyptian Christians to end two-week sit-in protest

(Coptic Christian women protest after clashes between Christians and Muslims in downtown Cairo May 8, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egyptian Christians holding a sit-in in downtown Cairo agreed to end nearly two weeks of protests on Friday, state television reported, after authorities promised to meet some of their demands. Witnesses said some of the protestors had begun preparing to go home after one main protest leader, Father Metyas Nasr, an Orthodox priest, agreed to a government offer to free five young men detained on Thursday following clashes outside a church in the eastern Cairo suburb of Ain Shams.

State news agency MENA said authorities will organise a meeting between Christian and Muslim clergymen on Saturday to discuss the subject of two closed churches in Ain Shams. Nasr was not immediately available to comment.