FaithWorld

Moscow prison opens first prayer room for Muslims

butyrkaA prison where Soviet-era writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was jailed and a third of inmates are Muslims from the North Caucasus and Central Asia, has become the first in Moscow to open a Muslim prayer room.

Nineteenth century Butyrka prison in central Moscow, which also held Adolf Hitler’s nephew Heinrich among other high-profile prisoners, held its first prayers on Friday, in a hall near a Christian church that has operated since 1989. (Photo: Butyrka prison, Moscow, 29 May 2010/Stanislav Kozlovskiy)

“Religion is the best way for one to improve and heal, and we wanted Muslims to also benefit from this,” Kamil Mannatov from the Russian Council of Muftis told Reuters on Monday.

Mannatov, who heads the Muftis’ department on military and prisoner affairs, said the Council signed an agreement with Russia’s Federal Prison Service in May 2010 to build Muslim prayer halls across the country.

Tensions between ethnic Russians and the country’s 20 million Muslims, a seventh of the population, flared dramatically last month in a string of large-scale ethnic clashes, shocking politicians and ordinary Russians.

Analysis: Catholic Church raises hopes of role in Cuban change

cuba 1The Roman Catholic Church has won praise for securing the release of political prisoners in Cuba, raising hopes it can do more to broker reforms on the communist-ruled island and perhaps even help improve U.S.-Cuba ties.

Sidelined for decades by the communist authorities until Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1998, the Church has now carved out a visible role as an interlocutor with the government, and as a possible catalyst of change. (Photo: Released prisoner Ariel Sigler Amaya in a wheelchair at Santa Rita Church as he joins the weekly protest of the Ladies in White, a group made up of imprisoned family members, in Havana June 20, 2010./Desmond Boylan)

Cuba’s Cardinal Jaime Ortega raised his voice earlier this year, asking President Raul Castro to accelerate economic reforms and end government harassment of the dissident group Ladies in White during their peaceful street protests.

Malaysia getting bruised over caning women

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A Malaysian demonstrator in Kuala Lumpur during a protest in January against Christan use of the word Allah for God, 8 Jan 2010/Bazuki Muhammad)

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a 33-year-old mother of two, will have an audience with Malaysian royalty next week when she will ask to be caned.  Malaysia’s  royals (the country has nine sultans, one for each state on the peninsula) don’t usually grant audiences to commoners, even part-time models such as Kartika, to discuss corporal punishment. But the Malay royal families are officially in charge of religious affairs, and Kartika was convicted two years ago  in an Islamic court of drinking a beer.

She’s already paid a 5,000 ringgit ($1,469) fine in a case that has sparked a raging debate over the powers of Islamic courts to issue such rulings, because federal law shields women from such punishments. She has said repeatedly that she just wants to be caned and be done with it. (And perhaps in the process take a bit of revenge given the storm of controversy over the case?)

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul

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Pope John Paul meets Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome's Rebibbia prison on 27 Dec 1983/Vatican photo

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul in 1981, is due to be released from prison in Turkey on January 18.  In a rambling statement issued by his lawyers on Wednesday, he called for a “new American Empire” championing peace and democracy.

Here are some facts about Agca and the enigmatic path that took him from life as a small-time gangster in Turkey to the would-be assassin on St. Peter’s Square.