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.

from Pakistan: Now or Never?:

Pakistan, blasphemy, and a tale of two women

blasphemyprotestFor all the bad news coming out of Pakistan, you can't help but admire the courage of two very different women who did what their political leaders failed to do -- stood up to the religious right after the killing of Punjab governor Salman Taseer over his call for changes to the country's blasphemy laws.

One is Sherry Rehman, a politician from the ruling Pakistan People's Party, who first proposed amendments to the laws. The other is actress Veena Malik, who challenged the clerical establishment for criticising her for appearing on Indian reality show Big Boss.  I'm slightly uncomfortable about grouping the two together -- the fact that both are Pakistani women does not make them any more similar than say, for example, two Pakistani men living in Rawalpindi or  London. Yet at the same time, the idea that Pakistan can produce such different and outspoken women says a lot about the diversity and energy of a country which can be too easily written off as a failing state or  bastion of the Islamist religious right.

Sherry Rehman is living as a virtual prisoner in her home in Karachi after being threatened over her support for amendments to the blasphemy laws. She has refused to leave the country for her own safety, nor indeed to accept the position adopted by her party leaders -- that now is not the time to amend the laws. Their argument appears to be that trying to amend the laws now would just add more fuel to the fire after religious leaders defended Taseer's killing and organised huge protests in favour of the current legal provisions.

from Tales from the Trail:

Obamas make rare church visit

Margaret Chadbourn of Reuters reports the following on the Obama family's church visit.

President Barack Obama , his wife Michelle, and their two daughters made a rare visit to a Washington church service on Sunday and were promptly invited by the pastor to become members of the congregation.Obama_family

The Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, a few blocks from the White House, welcomed the Obama family for a special service celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. on the eve of the holiday honoring the slain civil rights leader.

Family Research Council to issue “Index of Family Belonging and Rejection”

Indices are all the rage these days. In his recently published and thought-provoking ”Why the West Rules — For Now,” historian Ian Morris has created an “index on social development” which, among other things, attempts to measure the West and East’s “energy capture.”

There are of course plenty of other examples (and future historians will no doubt see it as a sign of our times — as Morris notes, ages get the “thought they need”). The latest addition to this swelling modern family of indices will come on Wednesday when the conservative, Washington-based Family Research Council (FRC) releases its  first annual “Index of Family Belonging and Rejection.” The index is a product of its Marriage and Religion Research Institute.

USA/

The details of the index will be released at 10:00 EDT on Wednesday but FRC has already made public the fact that it finds that “less than 50 percent of American children have spent their childhood belonging in an intact family.” It defines an “intact family” as one where “a child’s birth mother and biological father (were) legally married to one another since before or around the time of the child’s birth.” The study will also rank all 50 states and America’s 25 largest cities.

Germans more negative towards Muslims than other Europeans

germany (Photo: Anti-Muslim campaign posters by a far-right party in North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) state, with slogans saying  ‘Ban minarets – also for NRW’ and ‘Vote pro NRW – Stop Islamisation’, in Bonn, April 23, 2010/Wolfgang Rattay)

Only about one third of Germans think positively of their Muslim neighbors, a much lower proportion than in other western European countries, according to a new poll published on Thursday. In contrast, 62 percent of Dutch and 56 percent of French people responding to the TNS Emnid survey indicated they had positive attitudes toward Muslims.

Detlef Pollack, a Muenster University sociologist who led the study, attributed Germans’ views to their lack of contact with Muslims compared to people in other nations surveyed. “The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive,” he said.

The survey broke down the German results into western and eastern responses, reflecting continuing divisions in the once-divided country. Only 34 percent in the west and 26 percent in the east had positive impressions of Muslims, it said.

from UK News:

A priest’s guide: How to Swim the Tiber Safely

About 50 Church of England priests opposed to the consecration of women as bishops are expected to be in the first wave of Anglicans to take up an offer by Pope Benedict and convert to Rome. The traditionalist priests will be joined by five bishops and 30 groups of parishioners, in a structure called an ordinariate, or a Church subdivision, in the new year.

About 300 priests switched in the early 1900s when women were ordained as priests. Then they did not have the comfort of moving over in groups, and nearly 70 returned to the Anglican fold.

Here, one priest explains why he stayed, while another describes why he returned.

Support for UN vote against defaming religion wanes

ungaA U.N. General Assembly committee has once again voted to condemn the “vilification of religion” but support narrowed for a measure that Western powers say is a threat to freedom of expression. The non-binding resolution, championed by Islamic states and opposed by Western countries, passed by only 12 votes on Tuesday in the General Assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, 76-64 with 42 abstentions. (Photo: United Nations General Assembly  in New York September 24, 2010/Keith Bedford)

Opponents noted that support had fallen and opposition increased since last year, when the Third Committee vote was 81-55 with 43 abstentions. The 192-nation General Assembly is expected to formally adopt the measure next month.

The resolution was amended from versions passed in previous years in an attempt to secure support from Western nations. Instead of defamation of religion, it speaks of “vilification.” It also condemned acts of violence and intimidation due to “Islamophobia, Judeophobia and Christianophobia.” Last year’s resolution, as in previous years, focused on Islam and did not mention Judaism and Christianity.

A review of Christian-Muslim conflict and a modest proposal to counter it

conflict 1At a Christian-Muslim conference in Geneva this week, participants agreed to build a network for “peace teams” to intervene in crises where religious differences are invoked as the cause of the dispute. The idea is that religious differences may not be the real problem in a so-called religious conflict, but rather a means to mobilise the masses in a dispute that actually stems from political or economic rivalries. (Photo: Coffins of two of 52 killed in al-Qaeda-linked attack last Sunday on a Baghdad church, 2 Nov 2010/Thaier al-Sudani)

If outside experts could help disentangle religion from the other issues, the argument goes, that could help neutralise religion’s capacity to mobilise and inflame, in the hope of leading to a de-escalation of the crisis.

Is this idealistic? Maybe. However, given the number of crises throughout the world that have religion factored into the equation, it certainly seems worth the effort. Many of these conflicts are not simply battles between religious fanatics, as they may be presented, but calculated agitation by one group against another, usually for political or economic advantage. Some smokescreens are easy to see through, others almost impenetrable.

Christian-Muslim crisis response group to defuse religious tensions

wcc 1 (Photo: Christian and Muslim leaders at Nov 1-4, 2010 Geneva conference/WCC – Mark Beach)

Christian and Muslim leaders agreed on Thursday to set up “rapid deployment teams” to try to defuse tensions when their faiths are invoked by conflicting parties in flashpoints such as Nigeria, Iraq, Egypt or the Philippines. Meeting this week in Geneva, they agreed the world’s two biggest religions must take concrete steps to foster interfaith peace rather than let themselves be dragged into conflicts caused by political rivalries, oppression or injustice.

Among the organisations backing the plan were the World Council of Churches (WCC), which groups 349 different Christian churches around the world, and the Libyan-based World Islamic Call Society (WICS), a network with about 600 affiliated Muslim bodies. They would send Christian and Muslim experts to intervene on both sides in a religious conflict to calm tensions and clear up misunderstandings about the role of faith in the dispute.

“We call for the formation of a joint working group which can be mobilised whenever a crisis threatens to arise in which Christians and Muslims find themselves in conflict,” the leaders said in a statement after their four-day meeting.  “Religion is often invoked in conflict creation, even when other factors, such as unfair resource allocation, oppression, occupation and injustice, are the real roots of conflict. We must find ways to disengage religion from such roles and reengage it towards conflict resolution and compassionate justice,” said the statement issued in Geneva.

The slow death of multiculturalism in Europe

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Ibrahim Kalin is senior advisor to Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan. This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman in Istanbul and is reprinted with its permission.

multiculti europeBy Ibrahim Kalin

Has multiculturalism run its course in Europe? If one takes a picture of certain European countries today and freezes it, that would be the logical conclusion.

The European right is thriving on anti-immigrant attitudes and is likely to continue to reap the benefits in the short term. But there are forces that are sure to keep multiculturalism alive whether we like it or not.