FaithWorld

French police arrest protesters before burqa ban goes into effect

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(A Muslim woman protests against France's banning of full face veils from public spaces, outside the French Embassy in London September 25, 2010/Luke MacGregor)

French police have arrested 59 people who turned up for a banned protest over the banning of the Muslim full face veil, a police spokesman said. The measure goes into force on Monday and prohibits wearing the full veil, the burqa, in all public places, with a 150 euro ($216) fine for offenders.

The spokesman said 20 of those arrested on Saturday had turned up for the prohibited protest at the Place de la Nation in eastern Paris wearing the full veil. One person was arrested on arrival in France from Britain and one came from Belgium.

President Nicolas Sarkozy and his ruling conservative party, the UMP, face presidential and parliamentary elections in the second quarter of 2012 and have angered many moderates by calling for a debate on the place of Islam in France.

Most French people are of Roman Catholic background but France is home to around 5 million Muslims.

Syria lifts niqab ban, shuts casino, in nod to protesting Sunnis

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(A visitor browses through books at the 26th International Book Fair near Damascus July 31, 2010/Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria has lifted a ban on teachers wearing the full face veil and ordered the closure of a casino, moves aimed at placating conservative Muslims in the tightly-controlled country that has seen weeks of unrest. Last month pro-democracy protests erupted in the majority Sunni Muslim city of Deraa and later spread to other cities, including the religiously-mixed port city of Latakia, posing the greatest challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule.

Thousands of people protested in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Friday, dissatisfied by gestures President Bashar al-Assad has made towards reform.

Egyptian clerics protest at graft in Islamic religious bodies

(Imams shout as they demand that Religious Affairs (Awqaf) Minister Hamdy Zaqzouq maintain an Islamic identity in a post-Mubarak Egypt by making Islam the main source of law in addition to demands to remove the state security apparatus and increase public salaries, in front of the ministry in Cairo March 1, 2011. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh  (EGYPT - Tags: CIVIL UNREST POLITICS RELIGION))

(Imams protest at the Religious Affairs (Awqaf) Ministry in Cairo March 1, 2011S/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egyptian clerics and employees of state Islamic religious bodies are demanding an end to what they say is rampant corruption by senior officials who manage religious endowments. No official figures exist for the sums donated to Egypt’s top Islamic institutions to help manage and build mosques and pay imams, but independent estimates suggest they run to the equivalent of hundreds of millions of dollars.

The bodies have been under state control for more than three decades and their reputation among many Egyptians has declined as part of broader discontent at the failings of government. Last month’s popular revolt that ended President Hosni Mubarak’s three-decade rule was the cue for an anti-corruption drive targeting senior officials in the former regime.

Saudi Shi’ite protests simmer as Bahrain conflict rages

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(Protesters demand the release of prisoners they say are held without trial, in Saudi Arabia's eastern Gulf coast town of Qatif March 11, 2011/Stringer)

Hundreds of young Shi’ite men marched down a commercial street in the Saudi city of Qatif, near the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry, pounding their fists in anger over their country’s military intervention in Bahrain. “With our blood and soul we sacrifice for you, Bahrain,” they chanted as they walked, according to videos of a recent protest posted on the internet. Some wore scarves to conceal their faces. Others waved Bahraini flags.

“People are boiling,” one Shi’ite activist in Qatif told Reuters by phone, asking not to be named for fear of arrest. “People are talking about strikes, demonstration and prayer to help the Bahrainis.”

Handouts dash Saudi king’s reformer reputation

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(Saudi King Abdullah addresses the nation from his office at the Royal Palace in Riyadh March 18, 2011/Saudi Press Agency)

Saudi King Abdullah’s lavish social handouts and a boost to security and religious police, but no political change, leaves his prized reputation as a reformist in tatters, analysts say.

The king, believed to be 87, has carefully crafted an image as a cautious reformer in a country ruled by a single generation of his brothers as absolute monarchs for nearly six decades. But faced with unrest rocking much of the Arab world, he is playing the old game of buying support from key sectors of society to keep family rule as it is.

New York mosque project site faces legal challenge

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(A lower Manhattan building duet to make way for an Islamic cultural center and mosque in New York August 17, 2010/Lucas Jackson )

A New York building set to be demolished for an Islamic cultural center and mosque should be preserved as a monument of the September 11 al Qaeda attacks, opponents of the mosque project have said in court.  A lawsuit by a New York firefighter who survived the attacks in 2001 seeks to overturn a decision by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission last August denying landmark status to the Lower Manhattan building, clearing the way for the 16-story, $150 million center.

U.S. conservatives and many New Yorkers have spoken out against the proposed center, still at least six years from completion. Opponents of the project argue it would be insensitive to put an Islamic cultural center and mosque so close to the site of the toppled World Trade Center twin towers, considering those responsible for the September 11 attacks were Muslim militants.

Tibetan monk burns to death in China protest, support group says

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A Tibetan Buddhist monk burnt himself to death in western China Wednesday, triggering a street protest against government controls on the restive region, a group campaigning for Tibetan self-rule said. The self-immolation appeared to be a small repeat of protests that gripped Tibetan areas of China in March 2008, when Buddhist monks and other Tibetan people loyal to the exiled Dalai Lama, their traditional religious leader, confronted police and troops.

The 21-year-old, named Phuntsog, was a monk in Aba, a mainly ethnic Tibetan part of Sichuan province that erupted in defiance against Chinese control three years ago. The monk “immolated himself today in protest against the crackdown,” said Kate Saunders of the International Campaign for Tibet, a London-based organisation.

“He shouted some slogans about freedom when he did it,” said Zorgyi, a researcher for the organisation, who is based in northern India, where many exiled Tibetans live. “We’ve also received widespread information about a protest with nearly one thousand monks and lay people that came after,” Zorgyi said.

Bahrain declares martial law, Sunni-Shi’ite tensions flair

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(Protesters near the Saudi Embassy in Manama, Bahrain, March 15, 2011/Hamad I Mohammed )

Bahrain declared martial law on Tuesday as it struggles to quell an uprising by the island’s Shi’ite Muslim majority that has drawn in troops from fellow Sunni-ruled neighbour Saudi Arabia. The three-month state of emergency will hand wholesale power to Bahrain’s security forces, which are dominated by the country’s Sunni Muslim elite, stoking sectarian tensions in one of the Gulf’s most politically volatile nations.

The United States, a close ally of both Bahrain and Saudi, said it was concerned about reports of growing sectarianism in the country, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and warned that violence from any side would make matters worse.

Algerian imams use regional unrest to press pay demands

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(A protester at a Socialist Forces Front party (FFS) rally in Algiers March 4, 2011/Louafi Larbi )

When thousands of young Algerians rioted earlier this year over price rises and living conditions, the government asked state-employed Muslim clerics to preach sermons in the mosques appealing for calm. Now, two months later, the clerics themselves are protesting. “We are very angry, and our daily living conditions are bad,” said Hajaj El Hadj, an imam at a mosque near the capital for over 20 years. “We demand a significant pay rise.”

Algeria’s 100,000 imams have joined municipal police, students, doctors, legal clerks, chauffeurs and oil workers who are demanding better pay and conditions and are threatening strikes or protests if they do not get what they want. This phenomenon has come about, in part, because many Algerians realise there has never been a better time to have their grievances resolved.

Saudi insists protests not Islamic, Facebook group calls for demos

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(Saudi Shi'ites protest for the release of prisoners they say are being held without trial, March 3, 2011/Zaki Ghawas )

Saudi Arabia’s ruling family has mobilised the power of its conservative religious establishment to prevent a wave of uprisings against Arab autocrats from roaring into its kingdom, home to more than a fifth of the world’s known oil reserves. Whether these traditional tactics will work with a young population that grew up in the information revolution age, with the ability to use the internet to organise and spread awareness of ideas of universal rights to political participation, is still to be tested.

The day all eyes are fixed on is Friday. More than 32,000 people have backed a call on Facebook to hold two demonstrations this month, the first on March 11 and then March 20. The theme running through comments from princes, clerics and newspaper editorialists is that protests in the key U.S.-allied state are not Islamic, the subject of a fatwa issued by the Council of Senior Clerics this week.