FaithWorld

Factbox: Roots of Yemen’s conflict with northern Shi’ite rebels

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A Yemeni soldier aims at rebel targets in this undated photo released by the Yemeni army on 25 Jan 2010.

Yemen announced a truce with northern Shi’ite rebels on Thursday, aimed at ending a war that has raged on-and-off since 2004 and that drew in neighbouring Saudi Arabia, a Yemeni official said.

The conflict with the northern rebels, who complain of social, religious and economic discrimination in the southern Arabian state, intensified last year. A truce was to start at midnight on Thursday, the official said.

The Yemeni rebels are known as the Houthis after the family name of their leader Abdul-Malik al-Houthi. Here is some background about the Houthi rebels:

WHO ARE THE HOUTHIS?

* The Houthis, like most tribesmen in Yemen’s northern highlands, belong to the Zaidi sect of Shi’ite Islam, whose Hashemite line ruled for 1,000 years before a 1962 revolution.
* Zaidis, who make up about a third of Yemen’s 23 million people, have coexisted easily with majority Sunnis in the past, but Badr al-Din al-Houthi, a cleric from the northern province of Saada, promoted Zaidi revivalism in the 1970s, playing on fears that Saudi-influenced Salafis threatened Zaidi identity.
* After north and south Yemen united in 1990, the movement spawned the al-Haq party and the Houthi-led Believing Youth group. Houthi’s son, Hussein, was elected to parliament in 1993. Saada remained neglected economically by the Sanaa government.

How does a rabbi get involved in dialogue with Muslims?

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--- Rabbi Visotzky and King Abdullah in Madrid, July 2008 ---

How does a rabbi get involved in dialogue with Muslims? On this blog, we often write about interfaith dialogue, for which personal contact is crucial, without talking much about the background of the personalities involved.

Given the constraints of journalism, that’s not surprising. But it does leave out some of the insights I gain from talking at length with rabbis and imams about themselves and their work.

One of these rabbis, Burton Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, has now filled in part of this gap for me by giving a video interview to the Journal of Interreligious Dialogue. Vistozky is an occasional blogger for our GUESTVIEW series of outside contributions.

Pew measures global religious restrictions

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life has come out with a new report that tries to measure, country by country on a global level, government and social restrictions on religion. You can see our coverage of the report here and here and can download the whole report here.

The report, which Pew says is the first major quantitative study of the subject on a global level, ranks countries under two indices — one measures government restrictions on religion, the other social hostilities or curbs on religion that stem from violence or intimidation by private individuals or groups. NIGERIA RELIGION

A damaged mosque in Onitsha in southeastern Nigeria

The Government Restrictions Index is based on 20 questions used by the Pew Forum to assess state curbs on religion at the national, provincial and local levels.

from Photographers' Blog:

Pilgrimage to Mecca

Coverage of the 2009 Haj pilgrimage was an enlightening experience for me as a photographer. I have covered many religious events in Iran but never anything as enormous as the Haj - this year complete with the added threat of H1N1.

I arrived in Jeddah several days before the start of the Haj and found Saudi Arabia to have all the luxuries and organization of the United States. My picture was taken at passport control and fingerprints scanned.  I was met at the airport by our minder from the Ministry of Information with a driver and a large American SUV. We went straight to the media center to get my press credentials and on to the road leading to Mecca to take pictures of checkpoints and security. Police officers were wearing masks to protect them from flu as were many pilgrims.

The following day we left for Mecca at 3 am to be on top of Noor Mountain at sunrise. It was a long, tiring climb but well worth it as the sun started to rise and light allowed me to make images. In the afternoon we went to a military base to take pictures of security arrangements for the Haj, attended by many Saudi and foreign dignitaries including Saudi Arabian Interior Minister Prince Naef bin Abdul Aziz. It was basically a military parade showing the security hardware for police to deal with any security concerns.

Age-old haj stoning of devil pillars in modern multistory complex

mena (Photo: Haj pilgrims stone pillars symbolising the devil in Mena outside Mecca, 27 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

Around two million Muslim pilgrims stoned pillars symbolising the devil in a narrow valley in Saudi Arabia on Friday at what has traditionally been the most dangerous stage of the haj pilgrimage. The pillars stand at Mena, where Muslims believe the devil appeared to the Prophet Abraham.

The Jamarat Bridge in the valley of Mena outside the holy city of Mecca, where pilgrims stone the walls three times over three to four days, has been the scene of a number of stampedes, including one which killed 362 in 2006. But Saudi Arabia has erected a massive four-level building with several platforms for throwing stones to ease congestion and prevent stampedes at the Jamarat stoning areas.

mena-2 (Photo: Haj pilgrims walk from camp to Jamarat to throw stones at pillars in Mena 27 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

Throngs of predominantly white-clad pilgrims filled the road that leads them to and from the Jamarat Bridge. Some stopped to buy fried chicken nuggets while groups from different countries formed human chains with their fellow countrymen to move more quickly through the crowds.

Amid the prayers, some haj pilgrims talk football

mecca-mosqueThe haj is supposed to be a spiritual highlight in a Muslim’s life, but everyday issues can sometimes intrude. In between prayers and visits to various sites, pilgrims often discuss all kinds of current issues. Among Algerians and Egyptians on the haj here this year, the buzz is about the public row sparked by a soccer game to qualify for the 2010 World Cup. Algeria won that match 1-0. (Photo: Haj pilgrims at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, 24 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

The football rivalry has caused considerable bad blood between the two countries. Egypt has recalled its ambassador from Algiers after the play-off, accusing Algerian fans of post-match thuggery at the game’s venue in Khartoum. Egypt had earlier complained when Algerian fans trashed the Algiers headquarters of Egypt-based Orascom Telecom’s Djezzy mobile subsidiary. Before that, Algeria was irked after Egyptian fans pelted the Algerian team’s bus with stones and some fans were hurt in scuffles on game-day in the first round of the qualifier in Cairo.

“We are brothers … This should have never happened and I blame the media in the two countries for instigating ill feelings among the most foolish of us,” said Khaled Salam Abdallah from Cairo.

Saudi Arabia seeks to curb flu and stop protest at haj

haj-maskMore than two million Muslims gather this week for the annual haj pilgrimage to Islam’s holy city of Mecca, where Saudi authorities hope to minimize spread of the H1N1 virus and prevent any political demonstration. (Photo: Saudi security official at a checkpoint between  Jeddah and Mecca, 21 Nov 2009/Caren Firouz)

The haj, one of the world’s biggest displays of mass religious devotion and a duty for Muslims who can perform it, has been marred in the past by fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes.

This year, the mainly Sunni Muslim kingdom is battling Shi’ite Yemeni rebels after they raided its territory, an issue that raises fears of possible protests by fellow Shi’ite Muslims during the rituals. Saudi Arabia bans public protests.

Pilgrims snub H1N1 flu and flock to Saudi Arabia

haj-flu (Photo: Palestinian pilgrim gets vaccinated in Gaza Strip, 6 Nov 2009/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa)

Standing in the middle of a long queue at Jeddah airport, Mahdi Sharif is one of millions of Muslims waiting to enter Saudi Arabia to start the annual haj pilgrimage despite a global outbreak of the H1N1 flu virus.

Little fazed by the spread of the virus, Sharif, who has been waiting for two years to be selected from a raffle of 5,000 Kurdish Iraqis to visit Mecca, wears a protection mask but never thought for a second of delaying his pilgrimage.

“This year I was chosen so I came, I could not say no. The happiness of being chosen is stronger than fear (of illness),” said Sharif in a muffled voice through his medical mask.

Health experts say haj pilgrims risk H1N1 flu wave

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Waves of H1N1 swine flu spread by some three million pilgrims travelling to and from Mecca for next month’s haj threaten to pile pressure on healthcare systems around the world, disease experts said on Thursday.

“No region can be considered free from risk,” said the U.S. and Arab experts, including Saudia Arabia’s deputy minister for preventative medicine, in a study in the journal Science.  The pilgrimage itself, in the last week of November, provides perfect conditions for the spread of the H1N1 flu virus, which is transmitted in droplets and by physical contact.

“The density of pilgrims, the nature of the rituals, and the shoulder-to-shoulder contact recommended during prayers provide a perfect transmission atmosphere,” wrote Shahul Ebrahim of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Ziad Memish of Saudi Arabia’s health ministry.

U.S. sees “mixed picture” on world religious freedom

seoul-prayer-protest (Photo: CHristians pray during an anti-North Korea and pro-U.S. protest in Seoul, 3 Oct 2007/Han Jae-Ho)

The United States sees a mixed picture on world religious freedom, with progress in interfaith dialogue weighed against government repression and sectarian strife in many countries.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday unveiled the latest State Department report on global religious freedom, which particularly criticized Iran and North Korea among other countries for harsh limits on religious expression.

“It is our hope that the … report will encourage existing religious freedom movements around the world,” Clinton said, adding that all people should have the right to believe or not as they see fit.

The report tagged North Korea, Iran, Myanmar, China, Sudan, Eritrea, Saudi Arabia and Uzbekistan among the worst offenders, placing them on a watch list put out earlier this year.