FaithWorld

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.

On Wednesday, a team of mostly Muslim restorers — working for one of Egypt’s biggest construction firms known as The Arab Contractors — huddled in one corner, using special chemicals, paint and brushes to rescue the remaining paintings.

“My job is to restore historic art pieces, be they Muslim, Coptic or Jewish,” Fathi said.

Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood member says he will seek presidency

(he new headquarter of the newly-formed Muslim Brotherhood Party during a news conference in Cairo, April 30, 2011. The Muslim Brotherhood said on Saturday it will contest up to half the parliamentary seats in elections scheduled for September/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

A senior member of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood said he would run for president as an independent, a move that could draw votes from backers of the Islamist group that has said it will not field a candidate. Secular groups and the West are concerned by how much power the Brotherhood may gain after the first elections since the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak. Decades of authoritarian rule has curbed the development of potential rivals.

Egypt’s biggest Islamist movement had sought to assuage fears by saying it would not seek the presidency in polls due by early next year; nor would it pursue a majority in September parliamentary polls, contesting only 50 percent of seats.

Days of protest after Christian governor named in southern Egypt

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(A Coptic Orthodox church in Cairo, April 18, 2009/Tarek Mostafa)

Muslims in southern Egypt protested for a third day on Sunday over the appointment of a Christian governor, saying his predecessor, also a Christian, had failed to solve their problems. Thousands rallied outside the governor’s office in Qena and prevented employees from entering, blocked highways leading to the town and sat on a railway line into the province demanding that the appointment of Emad Mikhail be reversed.

Egypt’s interim military rulers, who took control when President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in a popular uprising, selected Mikhail last week as one of several new appointments to replace officials associated with his autocratic regime. The protesters say Mikhail’s predecessor, Magdy Ayoub, failed to stem sectarian violence and address poverty and unemployment, which grew during his tenure. Witnesses say some Coptic Christians joined the protest as well.

“The experience of a Coptic governor has failed. There is no objection to his Coptic identity but the previous governor left a negative impression of Christian officials,” Youssef Ragab, a witness in Qena, told Reuters by telephone.

France starts ban on full-face veil, factbox on veils in Europe

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(Kenza Drider, a French Muslim of North African descent, wearing a niqab at the Gare de Lyon railway station in Paris April 11, 2011/Jean-Paul Pelissier)

France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force on Monday, making anyone wearing the Muslim niqab or burqa in public liable to a fine of 150 euros or lessons in French citizenship.

Mainstream Muslim groups, which had a six-month grace period after the law was passed to explain it to their supporters,  opted not to protest at its entry into force. “We’ve already had our debate about the law and now our position is clear: we respect French law 100 percent,” said a spokesman for the French Council of the Muslim Faith.

Once-armed Islamists talk tolerance by Egyptian temple

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(Mosque (R) in part of Luxor temple/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

The Egyptian Islamist group al-Gama’a al-Islamiya preached non-violence and tolerance of tourism this week outside a pharaonic temple close to the Luxor site where its members massacred 58 foreigners in 1997.

The group which took up arms against the state in the 1990s and played in a role in Anwar Sadat’s assassination in 1981, gathered followers by the Luxor Temple on Friday to espouse the peaceful activism it is pursuing in the post-Hosni Mubarak era.

The organisers had picked the location, by a mosque in the Luxor Temple complex, as a message to tourists “that there is no danger to their presence in Egypt”, Sheikh Assem Abdel-Maged, one of the group’s leaders, said in a telephone interview. “Some tourists attended the meeting and took photos and there were some meetings with tourists,” he said on Saturday.

Rising Christian anger in Malaysia over Bible seizures

malay bible

(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.

More Indonesian Islamists resorting to violence, anti-terror agency says

indonesia islamists

(Supporters of radical Indonesian Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir chant "God is great", in support of their leader at his trial in a South Jakarta court March 10, 2011/Enny Nuraheni )

Indonesian militants are using parcel bombs and targeting minorities to try to push an Islamist agenda on the government and they could launch further small attacks, the country’s anti-terror agency chief told Reuters. Militant attacks and incidents of religious intolerance have risen in recent weeks, with mobs lynching three followers of a minority Islamic sect and torching two churches on Java island. Parcel bombs have been sent to people involved in promoting pluralism and counter-terrorism in Jakarta.

The head of the National Counter-Terrorism Agency, Ansyaad Mbai, said Islamic organisations that had not previously been involved in acts of terror were joining a militant network in Indonesia because of a convergence on certain issues.

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood wants quick constitutional amendments

brotherhood

(Khairat el Shater at Tahrir Square in Cairo March 4, 2011/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)

Egypt needs to start functioning again and prevent army rule from dragging on too long, the Muslim Brotherhood said, calling for the swift implementation of constitutional amendments to restart political life.

A month after a popular uprising forced President Hosni Mubarak from office, politicians from across the spectrum have begun to debate whether a new constitution is needed to breathe life into political institutions.

The Muslim Brotherhood can rally support quickly and would benefit from a quick election. It says it would take too long to draw up a new constitution that included all parties’ desires, so amending the current one is the only way forward.

Tunisia needs separation of mosque and state – religaffairs min

tunis secular

(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: "Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolution is unlikely to trigger Islamic militancy in the traditionally secular state, but Muslim leaders should avoid mixing religion with politics, the government’s minister of religious affairs said.

“After the January 14 revolution, the country experienced change on every level, including the religious sphere,” Aroussi Mizouri, minister of religious affairs in the caretaker government, told Reuters. “Today, there is no restriction on speech in the mosques. But they should not become platforms for political ideology,” he said in an interview this week. “We are counting on everyone to keep our society open and tolerant.”

In free Egypt, Salafists regroup and speak out

cairo mosques

(Cairo mosques on a foggy cold day, December 11, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh )

Islamists who suffered some of the toughest oppression of President Hosni Mubarak’s era are speaking out and regrouping for the first time in years, making the most of freedoms they have not enjoyed since the 1970s.  Egypt’s Salafists are resurfacing, from groups that once took up arms against Mubarak’s administration, such as the Gama’a al-Islamiya, to others only involved in peaceful preaching to advance their fundamentalist vision of Islam.

The Gama’a al-Islamiya’s return to prominence worries some Egyptians. The name hit world headlines in 1997 when its followers massacred foreign tourists at a temple in Luxor, ignoring a truce to which its leadership is still committed.

In the wave of freedom that has swept Egypt since Mubarak was toppled, the Salafists have returned to the mosques from which they were banned. Clerics who have been out of the public eye for years are reappearing from Assiut to Alexandria. They hope to take their place in a new Egypt where Islamists are assuming a more assertive role: the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood is becoming ever more vocal in stating its views on what the new military-led government should be doing.