More 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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, that didn’t take long.
Standing behind a wall of pearls and prayer beads in a shop in Mecca, souvenir dealer Mohammad Hamdi says business has never been so bad. Shops, hotels and tour operators in Islam’s holiest city in western Saudi Arabia are counting the losses as many pilgrims, worried about swine flu, stay at home.
Saudi Arabia is launching its first co-educational high-tech university, but unless clerical influence is removed the state education system will not move into the modern age, analysts say. King Abdullah has invited heads of state, business leaders and Nobel laureates next week to the opening of a technology university which has attracted top scientists and is meant to produce Saudi scientists and engineers.
Saudi Arabia’s only film festival has been cancelled, dealing a blow to reformist hopes of an easing of clerical control over culture that had been raised by the low-key return of cinemas in December. In a country where movie theatres had been banned for almost three decades, the annual Jeddah Film Festival — started in 2006 — presents aspiring Saudi film makers and actors with a rare opportunity to mingle with more experienced peers from other countries.
The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Miroslav Volf is director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and a theology professor at Yale Divinity School, where he co-teaches a course on faith and globalization with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. A native of Croatia and member of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., he has been involved in international ecumenical and interfaith dialogues, most recently in Christian-Muslim dialogue.