FaithWorld

from Commodity Corner:

Running after oil in Ramadan

naimiThe Muslim holy month of Ramadan has disrupted one of the wackier tasks for OPEC reporters: running around Vienna's beautiful inner ring road with Saudi Arabia's Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi, who likes to keep himself and the press corp fit. He often uses the 45 minute walk-cum-jog to give media a background briefing of his view on the oil market as he and the bizarre group of security, aides and reporters trot past the city's stunning palaces and bemused Viennese on their way to work (or home from a night's revelling). (Photo: al-Naimi with journalists in Cairo, 28 Nov 2008/Amr Dalsh)

The daylight fast for Muslim delegates and ministers means that most meetings are taking place late at night, making an early morning run less practical. Naimi ran on Tuesday afternoon, accompanied only by security. He didn't go at all on Wednesday morning, much to the chagrin of the reporters on the early shift. The run is sometimes the only chance for media to get Naimi's insight. It is a blessing and a curse for reporters on the beat, who have to be up at the crack of dawn to take part but are often rewarded with the biggest oil story of the day. Maybe Naimi figures this time there's no need for a background briefing. With the oil price where it is, he seems relaxed enough to put it all on the record.

Dry spell casts pall over Ramadan in India

foodseller (Photo: Food sellers on Ramadan evening near old Delhi’s Jama Masjid (Grand Mosque), 23 Aug 2009/Parth Sanyal)

For Imrat Salaam, the holy month of Ramadan couldn’t have come at a tougher time: India’s weakest monsoon in decades has hiked food prices, and her eldest son, the main breadwinner, lost his job in the economic downturn.

The start of the fasting month, the holiest in the Muslim calendar and which began on Saturday in most countries, is usually a joyful occasion, but the mood at the Salaam household in Delhi’s old quarters is somber, as the family is unable to put together a decent meal to break their day-long fast.

France24 TV airs “Ramadan in France” series in English

Volunteers distribute soup at Paris Ramadan soup kitchen, 12 Sept 2008/Benoit Tessier

The France24 satellite television channel has put out an interesting series in English on Ramadan in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority. According to a survey just published, 70% of Muslims polled here said they would fast during the Islamic holy month now underway and only 20% said they would not. The rest said they would fast partially or gave no answer.

Former Paris staffer Brian Rohan (now in Berlin) visited a Ramadan soup kitchen in Paris last year for a Reuters feature illustrated by the photo above taken by Benoit Tessier.

Here are links to the France24 videos:

* Ramadan in France: a guide

* Ramadan in France, behind closed doors

* Free meals, despite the crisis

* Muslims in Europe: transforming the continent?

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Al-Azhar plans satellite television channel about Islam

azhar-sheikhDressed in his robe and turban, Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy sits in the plush offices of the main benefactor of his new satellite television channel and speaks about how modern technology can be turned to service for Islam. The al-Azhar scholar, who in 2000 launched a phone-in service for Muslims seeking religious guidance, is one of the founders of Azhari, a 24-hour channel due to launch on the first day of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which this year will start in mid-August. Read my interview with him here. (Photo:Sheikh Khaled Al-Guindy, 31 May 2009/Tarek Mostafa)

The channel will be broadcast on both main satellite channels operating in Egypt and will be accessible worldwide. It will initially transmit in Arabic with some English and French programming and there are plans to add content later in Urdu and Turkish. Azhari received its initial 15 million Egyptian pounds funding from a Libyan businessman and philathropist, Hassan Tatanaki.

Guindy told Reuters the plan really got going about a month ago, when he officiated at the wedding of Tatanaki’s daughter. “The father of the bride and I forgot completely about that wedding and started to talk about a new wedding, about how to introduce this new channel to the rest of the world,” he said.

German Turks join the party in pre-Lenten carnival

(Photo: Carnival revelers parade in Düsseldorf, 4 Feb 2008/Ina Fassbender)

Germany’s pre-Lenten carnival festivities got underway on Thursday with an official Turkish carnival association is joining in the fun this year for the first time.

Long sidelined from the usually raucous celebrations, an annual highpoint in Catholic areas such as the Rhineland, Bavaria and Black Forest, residents of Turkish origin in the city of Dortmund have created their own “Guild of Fools”. That means they can have their own float in Monday’s big procession, a troupe of dancers and a symbolic “prince and princess couple”.

“We set up our own association because many Turks in Germany have enjoyed carnival over the years. As an official guild, we want to enable Turks living in Germany to join in,” says the 1st Turkish Guild of Fools Dortmund 09 on their website.

See how and why France’s Muslim Council doesn’t work

CFCM leaders representing (from left) Muslims from Turkey, mixed groups, Morocco and Algeria, 22 June 2008/Gonzalo FuentesAs the official umbrella group for Europe’s largest Muslim minority, the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) should play an important role in integrating Islam into French society. In fact, it hardly has any influence at all. The CFCM is so split by internal differences that it can hardly agree on when Ramadan should start or end. The link above is to the Wikipedia entry on the CFCM because the council has not been able to get its act together sufficiently to produce its own website.

France 24, the all-news TV station Paris launched two years ago as a kind of “French CNN,” has produced an excellent report on the CFCM — “Divisions within French Islam deepen at Ramadan.” It zooms in on the rivalry between Algerian and Moroccan Muslim groups that has crippled the council from the start. In one of the France 24 logomost telling scenes in the report, the Algerian and Moroccan groups meet separately at the (Algerian-run) Grand Mosque of Paris before a joint session where they argue about how to decide when Ramadan ends. The discussion got so heated that journalists were asked to leave the room.

The report also has interviews with leading figures in the CFCM as well as observers and critics. In all, an insightful report into the politics of Islam in France today.

Off with their heads — Saudi clerics blast racy Ramadan TV

Ramadan television always throws up some controversy or talking point in the Arab world, but never of the nature of this year’s talking point. Hardline Saudi religious scholars are saying enough’s enough on the fun and frolics of Ramadan television and demanding trials for TV channel owners that could impose the death penalty.

MBC logoWhat’s more, these owners are in fact Saudi royals and their friends. The main culprit is MBC1, owned by a brother-in-law of former King Fahd, but others include billionaire playboy prince Alwaleed bin Talal, dubbed by the religious right in Saudi Arabia “the shameless prince” (al-amir al-majin). The clerics in Saudi Arabia have enormous influence and they are worried that liberals in government and their royal allies are plotting to caste them aside and secularise the country.

It is unlikely that Alwaleed or the family of Fahd’s sister are worried about the attacks. They live in a world apart of palaces, servants, private planes and cruise ships in France and probably no one could get near them if they tried. The clerics were careful to talk about a legal process in any case. In fact, one of them, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan, said specifically that he wasn’t calling for vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.

Paris Muslims break Ramadan fast in soup kitchen

Volunteers distribute soup at Paris Ramadan soup kitchen, 12 Sept 2008/Benoit TessierPARIS (Reuters) – It’s sunset in the French capital, and hundreds of hungry people are poised to begin their meals at the sounding of a Muslim call to prayer.

Elsewhere in the world, the call rings forth from the minarets of mosques, but inside a tent in a gritty part of north Paris, it comes from a tinny radio speaker.

For the holy month of Ramadan, a soup kitchen has opened outside Cite Edmond Michelet, a tough public housing project in Paris’ notorious 19th arrondissement. On the menu is a traditional dinner, starting with yoghurt and dates.

French Ramadan trial story revives church-state debate

A Ramadan soup kitchen in Paris, 16 Oct 2006/Charles PlatiauShould a court delay the opening of a trial because a Muslim defendant is weak due to the Ramadan fast? A dispute has broken out in France about this because a court in Rennes allowed just such a delay for a French Muslim accused of armed robbery. His lawyer had said his client would be in “great physical and psychological weakness” due to the fast. Critics promptly cried foul and accused the court of violating laïcité, France’s separation of church and state. The Rennes public prosecutor denied the decision was made for religious reasons, citing other complicating factors he said must be resolved before the trial could start.

The case looks like the “virginity lie” dispute back in June. In both, a court is accused of wrongly taking religious considerations into account to give a ruling favourable to Muslims. The court denies the charge. In the end, it turns out that the lawyer involved got the desired ruling without formally arguing for it on religious grounds. It all seems legitimate but leaves the impression with the public that exceptions are being made for Muslims.

A lawyer for one of the seven men on trial in Rennes on the armed robbery charges further complicated things by saying the real issue was discrimination. “I don’t understand this uproar in the media when it’s normal procedure to obtain a delay because of Jewish or other feast days,” Yann Choucq said. “And there are no court hearings on Christmas or Easter.  Are some religions more respectable than others?”

Low-key “first” as cardinal attends Paris iftar dinner

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois and Rector Dalal Boubakeur, 3 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanSome “firsts” take place amid crowds and television cameras, others happen more quietly. The Grand Mosque of Paris chose the low-key approach when it received Cardinal André Vingt-Trois on Wednesday evening for an iftar dinner. It was the first that a Roman Catholic archbishop of the French capital had visited its leading mosque for the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast. After a short prayer by an imam and introductory remarks, they sat down to an North African-style dinner of spicy chorba (soup), chicken and olives and dessert of honey pastries and mint tea.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, about five million, and interfaith contacts often depend on the personalities involved, especially at the local level. Pope Benedict will meet a delegation of French Muslims — some national leaders such as the cardinal’s host, Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur, and some local leaders active in Christian-Muslim dialogue — when he visits Paris next week.

Grand Mosque of Paris courtyard, 3 May 2008/Tom HeneghanBoubakeur thanked Vingt-Trois for the support the Church had given its “immigrant brothers” over the years, especially help to integrate young Muslims. In one such project, the Catholic Institute of Paris offers courses on French politics, law and secularism for future imams studying Islamic theology at the Grand Mosque.