From Australia to South Africa, governments are scrambling to change the law to accommodate the $1 trillion Islamic finance industry, whose avoidance of toxic debt has looked increasingly attractive since the global crisis. But in the Gulf Arab region, birthplace of Islam and cradle of Islamic finance, governments have taken a more passive approach, which experts say is slowing the industry’s growth.
A wave of religious fervour and a backlash by secular liberals has left some ordinary Egyptians feeling like strangers in their own country, and civil rights activists warn of a dangerous drift into sectarianism.
(Photo: Worshippers pack the first Mass at St Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Doha, March 15, 2008/Fadi Al-Assaad)
Every Friday in the Muslim Gulf Arab state of Kuwait, 2,000 worshippers cram into a 600-seat church or listen outside to the mass relayed on loudspeakers, prompting their Roman Catholic bishop to worry about a stampede. “If a panic happens, it will be a catastrophe … it is a miracle that nothing has happened,” said Bishop Camillo Ballin.
The president of mostly Muslim Tajikistan has urged parents to withdraw their children from religious schools abroad, an appeal reflecting fears of radical Islam gaining ground in the Central Asian nation. President Imomali Rakhmon, in televised remarks to textile factory workers in a town near the border with Afghanistan, said he was concerned Tajik children attending such schools could return home as “terrorists”.
Television shows with Christian themes have sparked complaints in Saudi Arabia and Lebanon in recent days, but from different groups and for different reasons.
Saudi 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.
A giant clock on a skyscraper in Islam’s holiest city Mecca began ticking on Wednesday at the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, amid hopes by Saudi Arabia that it will become the Muslim world’s official timekeeper.
Saudi artist Maher al-Luqman is always nervous when he goes on stage to eat glass and fire or to walk on nails, for fear the country’s religious police will disrupt his show.
Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, who as the head of Egypt’s most prestigious seat of Islamic learning al-Azhar was Sunni Islam’s top authority, died of a heart attack on Wednesday on a visit to Saudi Arabia, religious officials at al-Azhar said. He was 81.