FaithWorld

Taliban suicide blasts at Sufi shrine in Pakistan kill 41

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(Bodies of victims lie at the site of a Sufi shrine hit by Taliban suicide bomb attacks in Dera Ghazi Khan April 3, 2011/Sheikh Asif Raza)

Two Taliban suicide bombers caused carnage on Sunday at a Sufi shrine in Dera Ghazi Khan in eastern Pakistan, killing at least 41 people and wounding scores in the latest bloody attack on minority religious groups. Police said some 65 people were wounded. They said the attackers struck during an annual ceremony for the Sufi saint to whom the shrine is dedicated.

“I was just a few yards away from the place where the blast happened,” said witness Faisal Iqbal. “People started running outside the shrine. Women and children were crying and screaming. It was like hell.”

Taliban militants, who follow an austere interpretation of Sunni Islam, condemn other interpretations of Islam as heretical and have launched repeated attacks on the country’s Shi’ite, Sufi and Christian minorities. They claimed responsibility for Sunday’s suicide bombings.

“Our men carried out these attacks and we will carry out more in retaliation for government operations against our people in the northwest,” Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Arab revolts set to transform Middle East

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(Bahraini anti-government protesters in central Manama, February 16, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed)

The astonishing popular protests against Arab autocrats that have churned the region for three months are the authentic birth pangs of a new Middle East. Israel’s American-backed attempts to bomb Hezbollah and south Lebanon into submission in 2006 did not change the region, as Condoleezza Rice predicted it would. Nor did the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq three years earlier, which former President George W. Bush touted as introducing democracy to the Arab world, have much effect.

The change now is coming from within — and from below. Ordinary people taking to the streets swept away the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia. The leaders of Libya and Yemen are fighting for survival. Arab leaders almost everywhere else are trying to fend off real or potential challenges with a mix of repression and concessions.

U.S. pastor unbowed, vows new anti-Islam protest

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(Pastor Terry Jones at his Dove World Outreach Center church in Gainesville, Florida, April 2, 2011/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

A militant fundamentalist Christian preacher in Florida whose burning of a Koran triggered deadly riots in Afghanistan is unrepentant  and defiantly vows to lead an anti-Islam protest outside the biggest mosque in the United States. The planned demonstration could further inflame tensions over the Koran burning, which led to two days of protests in Afghanistan that included the killings of U.N. staff and stoked anti-Western sentiment in parts of the Muslim world.

“Our aim is to make an awareness of the radical element of Islam,” Pastor Terry Jones told Reuters in an interview on Saturdayat the church he leads in the college town of Gainesville, Florida. A picture of the burning Koran was on his computer screen. “Obviously it is terrible any time people are murdered or killed. I think that on the other hand, it shows the radical element of Islam.”

Extreme fundamentalist U.S. pastor is focus of Muslim outrage – again

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(Afghans protest in Kabul on April 1, 2011 against the burning of the Koran by a U.S. pastor/Omar Sobhani )

A extreme fundamentalist Christian preacher in Florida who caused an international uproar last year by threatening to burn the Koran has put himself back in the spotlight after incinerating Islam’s holy book — again with deadly consequences.

Thousands of protesters in northern Afghanistan, enraged over news that the Florida pastor Terry Jones had overseen a torching of the Koran, stormed a United Nations compound on Friday, killing at least seven U.N. staff.  A suicide attack hit Kabul and a violent demonstration against Koran-burning rattled the southern city of Kandahar on Saturday.

Rising Christian anger in Malaysia over Bible seizures

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(A Bible in the Malay language at a church in Kuala Lumpur March 30, 2011/Bazuki Muhammad )

Rising Christian anger in mainly Muslim Malaysia over the government’s handling of a case involving seized Bibles could complicate Prime Minister Najib Razak’s bid to win back the support of minorities ahead of an early general election. The row over 35,100 imported Malay language Bibles and Christian texts impounded by Customs authorities comes amid a legal battle on the right of non-Muslims to use the Arabic word “Allah” and could raise ethno-religious tensions in the country. The Bibles were seized in 2009 but the case was only made public in January.

“There has been a systematic and progressive pushing back of the public space to practise, to profess and to express our faith,” Bishop Ng Moon Hing, chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM), said in a statement on Wednesday.

French religious leaders warn against divisive Islam debate

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(Abderrahmane Dahmane displays green star to protest against France's Islam debate, March 29, 2011/Gonzalo Fuentes)

The leaders of France’s six main religions warned the government on Wednesday against a planned debate on Islam they say could stigmatise Muslims and fuel prejudice as the country nears national elections next year. Weighing in on an issue that is tearing apart President Nicolas Sarkozy’s ruling UMP party, the Conference of French Religious Leaders said the discussion about respect for France’s secular system could only spread confusion at a turbulent time.

The UMP plans to hold a public forum on secularism next week that critics decry as veiled Muslim-bashing to win back voters who defected to the far-right National Front at local polls last week and could thwart Sarkozy’s reelection hopes in 2012.

Nigerian president appeals to Muslim leaders before vote

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(Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan at a campaign rally in Kano, northern Nigeria, March 16, 2011S/Joe Penney)

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan has appealed to Muslim leaders to help ensure that elections next month, which risk stoking regional rivalries, pass off peacefully. Africa’s most populous nation holds presidential, parliamentary and state governorship elections spread over three weeks in April, all of which are set to be fiercely contested.

Jonathan met on Sunday with the Sultan of Sokoto, one of Nigeria’s most influential Islamic leaders, and other senior figures from the Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs and Muslim umbrella organisation Jamatul Nasir Islam in the northern city of Kaduna. Nigeria is home to the largest Muslim community in sub-Saharan Africa, accounting for roughly half of the country’s 150 million people, as well as to more than 200 ethnicities, most of whom generally live peacefully side by side.

Islam emerges as divisive issue in French local polls campaign

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(Marine Le Pen, the anti-immigrant National Front leader whose success has prompted President Nicolas Sarkozy's UMP party to veer to the right before a local elections runoff on Sunday, photographed after voting in the first round on March 20, 2011/Pascal Rossignol )

Islam has emerged as a central issue in the campaign for French local elections on Sunday that President Nicolas Sarkozy’s party hopes to win by taking a tough line on the integration of France’s large Muslim minority.

Sarkozy, who faces an uphill battle for reelection next year, has set the tone by blurring the border between his UMP party and Marine Le Pen’s National Front, the once-shunned anti-immigrant party that recently overtook him in opinion polls. Interior Minister Claude Guéant, until recently Sarkozy’s chief of staff in the Elysee Palace, has fleshed this out with a series of statements flirting with the anti-Muslim rhetoric that has made National Front leader Marine Le Pen so popular.

Ethiopia’s religious divides flare up in Muslim attacks on Christians

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(A destroyed Protestant church in Asendabo, 300 km (200 miles) west of the capital Addis Ababa, March 16, 2011/stringer)

The hollow chants of “Allahu Akbar!” reverberating from a distance seemed innocuous at first for Abera Gutema, who ventured home quietly from his shop just a short distance away. Moments later, a large, angry mob of machete-wielding Muslim youths descended on his family’s dwelling and chased him out, before burning and looting his property.

Abera, a Christian, escaped through a back door, clutching his infant son Eyoel in one hand. By the time the smoke cleared, all that remained of his hard-earned belongings had been reduced to rubble, not to mention the theft of 100,000 birr — his lifetime savings.

Egyptian Islamists won’t cap ambitions forever, Brotherhood leader says

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(Egyptians walk under a banner by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood calling for a "yes" vote in a referendum on constitutional changes in Cairo March 18, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

The Muslim Brotherhood is not planning to seek power in Egypt’s elections this year but says it will not limit its political ambitions forever and wants secular parties to get organised to foster true competition.

“Everyone must act so we can reach the point where we become like the rest of the countries in the world, with three or four strong parties,” said Mohamed el-Beltagi, a Brotherhood leader.