FaithWorld

Saudi national day reflects monarchy’s growing clout against clerics

abdullah (Photo: King Abdullah on a visit to Jordan, July 30, 2010/Muhammad Hamed)

Saudi authorities are taking greater liberty in celebrating the modern monarchy’s anniversary, a sign of their growing clout against clerics who have criticized holidays outside of the Islamic calendar.

Present ruler King Abdullah, 86, emphasised his push to reform the deeply conservative country upon taking power in 2005 by decreeing September 23 as an official holiday marking the kingdom’s unification led by founder King Abdul-Aziz and an army of ultra-conservative followers.

Since then, celebrations have been getting more colourful to attract larger masses and the labour ministry took the extra step of granting a paid-day off for all public and private sector employees for the day marking unification.

A prominent political writer, Khalid al-Dakhil said authorities’ push for a more jubilant celebration of the National Day highlights that the monarchy no longer feels it has to follow the mores of the Wahhabi clerics.  “The Saudi state had in the past felt a need — or was forced — to listen to the religious establishment … King Abdullah has chosen a different path. Such change could not have happened 40 years ago,” Dakhil said.

Many Saudi clerics consider as heresy any celebration outside the Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, including the Prophet Mohammad’s birthday.

Cross controversy mars historic Armenian Orthodox service in Turkey

armenian 1 (Photo: The Church of the Holy Cross, an Armenian church on Akdamar Island in Lake Van, September 19, 2010/Umit Bektas)

The first Armenian Orthodox ceremony in nearly a century at a church in eastern Turkey was overshadowed on Sunday by a partial Armenian boycott because of the Turkish authorities’ refusal to place a cross on the roof of the building.

Nearly a thousand Armenian Orthodox worshippers out of the expected 5,000 people attended the service at the Church of the Holy Cross, which the government has hailed as a sign of growing religious tolerance — see here and here — in the predominantly Muslim country, which is a European Union candidate.

The church, which has been closed for services since the 1915 mass killings of Armenians at the hands of Ottoman troops, has become a symbol of Turkey’s troubled past with its Armenian minority and a painful process of reconciliation.

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.

Saudi royal order says only appointed clerics can issue public fatwas

saudi fatwasSaudi King Abdullah has ordered that public religious edicts, or public fatwas, be issued only by clerics he appoints, in the boldest measure the ageing monarch has taken to organise the religious field.

Timid efforts by the absolute monarchy to modernise the deeply conservative country have led to a profusion in fatwas from scholars and mosque imams in the country, who use the Internet to publicise them as they fight what they perceive as the westernisation of the country. (Photo: Saudi King Abdullah, 30 July 2010/Ali Jarekji)

Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah gestures during his meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah at the Royal Palace in Amman July 30, 2010.

from UK News:

Rejection of gay clergyman as bishop sends CoE into spin

BRITAIN/

The Church of England has blocked the appointment of a gay clergyman to the role of Bishop of Southwark after a bitter behind-the-scenes battle which has left the conservatives and liberals at loggerheads and possibly weakened the standing of Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, media reports said.

Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans, was rejected after it was leaked that he was on the Crown Nominations Commission shortlist for the post in south London, one of the most liberal of all the church's dioceses, the Daily Telegraph said.

It is a second humiliation for the openly gay but celibate John, who seven years ago was forced to stand down from becoming the Bishop of Reading after opposition from evangelicals.

New Turkish opposition party leader sacks secularist old guard

istanbul

Istanbul, 24 May 2008/Tom Heneghan

Turkey’s new opposition leader has purged key hardline secularists and set a tentative reformist course in a bid to regain ground lost to Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party government, which critics accuse of secretly pursuing an Islamic state.

Kemal Kilicdaroglu, a 62-year former civil servant, was elected chairman on Saturday following the resignation of veteran party leader Deniz Baykal over a sex tape scandal. The CHP delegates elected the new party assembly on Sunday.

While courting the more militant secularist elite, the CHP has lost support among urban, middle-class voters by firmly resisting AK’s European Union-inspired reform steps to pare back army influence and liberalise the economy. The CHP has vigorously opposed moves by AK, which denies Islamist ambitions, to reform a constitution born of a 1980 military coup.

Saudi liberals see hope as clerics argue over gender segregation

saudi women

Saudi women praying at Eid al-Adha in Riyadh on November 27, 2009/Stringer

Divisions among senior Saudi clerics over the legality of gender segregation could mark a new drive by reformers allied to King Abdullah to push social reforms in the puritanical Islamic state.  The divisions came to the open when the kingdom’s morals police, or the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, reversed a decision to sack Ahmad al-Ghamdi, its regional head for the Mecca region.

After the kingdom opened its first co-ed university in September — a project sponsored by King Abdullah — Ghamdi published a research paper that questioned the legality in Islam of gender segregation as enforced by the Commission.

“The commission was forced to cancel the decision to sack Ghamdi. This will strengthen the state’s role,” said Khaled al-Dakhil, a prominent Saudi political writer.  “The state has been gaining influence while that of the religious establishment has been declining, simply because it has gradually been given a lesser say over decisions taken by the state.”

Pope seen undeterred by abuse scandal, reform calls

pope palm

Pope Benedict leads Palm Sunday Mass at the Vatican March 28, 2010/Alessandro Bianchi

The sex abuse scandals lashing the Vatican have led to calls for an end to priestly celibacy, a cleanout of the Catholic Church hierarchy and the resignation of Pope Benedict, but the pope seems unlikely to alter his approach.

The demands, widely aired in the media, are so far removed from the way Benedict works that abuse victims and other critics who raise them seem bound to be disappointed.

Global economic crisis also a values crisis, Davos poll says

wefreportThe World Economic Forum, whose annual Davos summit opening today is a favourite gathering for the rich and powerful, has issued an opinion poll showing two-thirds of those surveyed believe the current economic crisis is also a crisis of values. Almost as many singled out business as the sector that should stress values more to foster a better world. “The poll results point to a trust deficit regarding values in the business world,” the Forum said in a statement.

The fact the Forum conducted this poll may come as a surprise to those who know Davos only from the “CEO in the snow” interviews that flood some cable TV financial broadcasts at this time of year. However, he Forum has widened its scope beyond its initial role as a European management seminar. Since 2001, it has been working with faith communities in inter-faith dialogue, especially between the West and the Muslim world, and more recently a Global Agenda Council on Faith to explore “the challenges that lie in the interactions between religion and society, religion and peacebuilding and religion and business”.

My news story here on the poll gives a summary of its findings. In a few bullet points, they are:

King Abdullah slaps down Saudi cleric criticial of co-ed university

kaust1 (Photo: Visitors view model of KAUST campus at opening, 23 Sept 2009/Susan Baaghil)

Well, that didn’t take long.

Last week, a senior Saudi Islamic cleric criticised the country’s first mixed-gender university, the King Abdullah University for Science and Technology (KAUST), and suggested an Islamic committee to make sure it followed Islamic principled and didn’t teach “alien ideologies” such as evolution.

Late on Sunday, the state news agency SPA reported that King Abdullah had removed Sheikh Saad Al-Shithri from a top council of religious scholars.