FaithWorld

Islamist militants hold prayers for bin Laden in Pakistan

(A supporter of the banned Islamic organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa clears tears while taking part in a symbolic funeral prayer for al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Karachi on May 3, 2011/Athar Hussain)

The founder one of Pakistan’s most violent Islamist militant groups has told Muslims to be heartened by the death of Osama bin Laden, as his “martyrdom” would not be in vain, a spokesman for the group said on Tuesday.

Lashkar-e-Taiba (Let), the militant group blamed for the 2008 terror attacks on Mumbai, has been holding special prayers for bin Laden in several cities and towns since he was killed in an operation by U.S. forces in Pakistan’s northwestern garrison town of Abbottabad on Monday.

A spokesman for LeT founder Hafiz Mohammad Saeed said he had told followers in the eastern city of Lahore that the “great person” of Osama bin Laden would continue to be a source of strength and encouragement for Muslims around the world.

“Osama bin Laden was a great person who awakened the Muslim world,” Saeed’s spokesman Yahya Mujahid quoted him as saying during prayers at the headquarters of the LeT’s charity in Lahore on Monday. “Martyrdoms are not losses, but are a matter of pride for Muslims,” Saeed said. “Osama bin Laden has rendered great sacrifices for Islam and Muslims, and these will always be remembered.”

France plans nation-wide Islam and secularism debate

sarko

(President Nicolas Sarkozy at the Elysee Palace in Paris, February 16, 2011/Francois Mori)

France’s governing party plans to launch a national debate on the role of Islam and respect for French secularism among Muslims here, two issues emerging as major themes for the presidential election due next year. Jean-François Copé, secretary general of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP party, said the debate would examine issues such as the financing and building of mosques, the contents of Friday sermons and the education of the imams delivering them.

The announcement, coming after a meeting of UMP legislators with Sarkozy on Wednesday, follows the president’s declaration last week that multiculturalism had failed in France. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister David Cameron have made similar statements in recent months that were also seen as aimed at Muslim minorities there. France’s five-million strong Muslim minority is Europe’s largest.

Church of England to wash some Bible imagery from baptism rite

baptism 1

(Sistine Chapel fresco The Baptism of Christ c. 1482 by Pietro Perugino)

The Church of England has voted to use more accessible language during baptisms to help it connect better with congregations, especially non church-goers.  Members attending the Church’s General Synod, or parliament, in London, agreed that the Liturgical Commission should provide supplementary material to help prevent the eyes of  worshippers “glazing over” during important parts of the service.

The Reverend Tim Stratford, from Liverpool, said on Wednesday his motion was “not a request for christenings without Christianity.” Quite the opposite.  “I am not asking for the language of Steven Gerrard,” he said, referring to the Liverpool and England  soccer star. “Just references that could be understood by the majority.”

Parts of the service were difficult to use “without seeming inappropriately schoolmaster-like”, he said.  Stratford said he did not disagree with the words currently being used, such as “I turn to Christ, I repent of my sins, and I renounce evil.”

In France, far right seizes on Muslim street prayers

paris street prayers (Photo: Muslims pray in the street during Friday prayers near an overcrowded mosque in the Rue des Poissoniers  in Paris on December 17, 2010/Charles Platiau)

A call to prayer goes up from a loudspeaker perched on the hood of a car, and all at once hundreds of Muslim worshippers touch their foreheads to the ground, forming a sea of backs down the road. The scene is taking place not in downtown Cairo, but on a busy market street in northern Paris, a short walk from the Sacre Coeur basilica. To locals, it’s old news: some have been praying on the street, rain or shine, for decades.

But for Marine Le Pen — tipped to take over from her father this weekend as leader of the far-right National Front party — it is proof that Muslims are taking over France and becoming an occupying force, according to remarks she made last month.

Her comments caused a furore as she seized on the street prayers to drive home the idea that Islam is threatening the values of a secular country where anxiety over the role of Muslims in society has deepened in the past few years.

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.

In Islamic Iran, unofficial prayer sellers’ trade is booming

prayerIn Islamic Iran where clerics rule, unofficial “prayer sellers,” who promise to intercede with the divine to solve all manner of life’s problems, are seeing their business boom.  Backstreet spiritual guides like YaAli are tolerated by the authorities and increasingly sought after by Iranians seeking help from on high.

“People from all walks of life — mostly young women — come here asking for prayers that can solve their problems,” says YaAli sitting on a chair in a crumbly old alley in Tehran.  “There are lots of methods depending on the problems. Some prayers (written on a piece of paper) should be burned and some should be put in a bowl of water. You should follow the instructions.”

Iran’s clerics believe in the power of prayer but they advise people against using prayers that lack a religious basis. One customer said she believed a lack of government support for women was one reason so many turn to the “prayer sellers.”

Muslim washing rite goes hi-tech with “wudu” machine

wuduA Malaysian company has invented a machine it says will help Muslims purify themselves before prayers without excessively wasting water. The ornate, green-colored machine comes with automatic sensors and basins to curb water usage during wudu, an Arabic word used to describe the act of washing the face, arms and legs before prayers.

The wudu, or ablution, rite precedes the five daily prayers Muslims are obligated to perform. There are more than 1.7 billion Muslims in the world, with the majority in Africa and the Middle East where water supplies are scarce.

Inventors AACE Technologies is counting on rich countries in these two regions to snap up the machines that will be available in the next six months and cost $3,000-$4,000 a piece.

October a busy month for Indian religious festivals

October is a busy month for Indian religious festivals in India. Here are Reuters videos from three of them.

Diwali, the five-day festival of lights, was celebrated by Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the country with fireworks and prayers. It marks the return of Lord Raama to his kingdom Ayodhya after defeating Ravana, the ruler of Lanka, in the ancient epic Ramayana.

The three-day Chhath Puja, an ancient Hindu festival dedicated to Surya, the chief solar deity, concluded on Sunday with thousands of devotees offering prayers to Sun God across India. Most devotees are married women praying for their families.

Should Berlin let Muslim pupils pray at school?

A ruling by a Berlin court allowing a 16-year-old Muslim pupil to pray towards Mecca in a separate room at school has raised questions about the extent of religious freedom in Germany.  Some media, including the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, describe the ruling as a landmark case, saying it is the first time a German court has considered whether the right to practise religious beliefs should extend to schools.

Muslim man praying in BerlinThe case arose in 2007 when the head of a school in Berlin, which has a strong secular tradition, forbid a boy and his friends from kneeling on their jackets to pray where they could be seen by other pupils.

The school argued it was religiously “neutral” but the boy, whose mother is Turkish and father is a German who converted to Islam, decided to go to court.

Obama, the inaugural prayer and U.S. culture war

President-elect Barack Obama hopes to reach across the political divide, but the uproar over the preachers at his inauguration celebrations show just how wide some of those divisions are in America, our Dallas correspondent Ed Stoddard writes in a pre-inaugural analysis. (Photo: Obama in Philadelphia at the start of his train voyage to Washington, 17 Jan 2009/Brian Snyder)

Some gay rights activists have expressed anger at Obama’s choice of California pastor Rick Warren to give the invocation prayer at his inauguration on Tuesday because of Warren’s opposition to gay marriage. And some conservatives are up in arms over openly gay Episcopal bishop Gene Robinson’s role in an earlier part of the celebrations.

But political analysts and activists say many Americans appear weary of the “culture war” battles over issues like gay marriage, and Obama may find some safe ground in the middle.