FaithWorld

Muslims in Azerbaijan protest for right to wear headscarves

azerbaijan (Photo: Pro-headscarf protest at the education ministry in Baku, December 10, 2010/Turkhan Karimov)

Hundreds of people protested in Azerbaijan on Friday for the right to wear Islamic headscarves in schools, challenging the strictly secular regime. Around 800-1,000 people took part in the demonstration outside the Ministry of Education, far more than Azerbaijan’s opposition has mustered in recent years to demand reform in the tightly-controlled former Soviet republic.

Some Islamic communities in mainly Shi’ite Azerbaijan complain of discrimination by a regime analysts say is anxious to stem any challenge from politicised Islam or radicalism as a potential threat to stability in the oil and gas exporter.

There is no explicit ban on the wearing of headscarves in schools, but the government this year introduced a standard school uniform which precludes traditional Islamic dress.

The country of 9 million people is bordered to the West by Turkey, where a secular state must accommodate growing conservative religious influences, to the south by the Islamic Republic of Iran and to the north by Russia’s North Caucasus, gripped by an Islamist insurgency against Moscow.

Read the full story by Lada Yevgrashina here.

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Muslim religious demands on French state schools rising: report

lyceeThe sometimes difficult integration of Muslims is climbing the ladder of public concerns in Europe. It’s been hotly debated in Germany and figured in recent elections in the Netherlands and Austria. Now, a French government body called the High Council for Integration (HCI) has drawn up a critical report about the problems faced by — and posed by — school pupils with immigrant backgrounds. It’s not only about Muslim pupils, but they are mentioned so frequently that it’s clear who’s mostly involved here. (Photo: Lycée Condorcet in Paris,  27 June 2009/Juan Antonio Cordero)

Among its findings, the report says Muslim pupils and parents in France are increasingly making religious demands on the state school system and that teachers should rebuff these demands by explaining the country’s principle of laïcité, the official separation of church and state. Among the problems it listed were pupils who upset classes by objecting to courses about the Holocaust, the Crusades or evolution, who demand halal meals and generally “reject French culture and its values.”

For more of its findings, read our news report on the study here.

“It is becoming difficult for teachers to resist religious pressures,” said the report, posted in draft form (here in French) on the website of the newspaper Journal du Dimanche (JDD), which published an article in its paper edition entitled “School threatened by communalism.” “We should now reaffirm secularism and train teachers how to deal with specific problems linked to the respect for this principle,” it said. The final report will be presented to the government next month.

Malawi Muslims burn Gideons Bibles in protest

bibleMuslims in southern Malawi have been burning Bibles in protest against their distribution in Islamic schools by Gideons International, a senior Muslim Association of Malawi official said on Tuesday.

Sheikh Imran Sharif, the association’s secretary general, said the burning of Bibles was carried out by a few Muslim fanatics and the association has ordered them to stop. The Muslim protest has been widely criticised in secular Malawi, which has had little religious friction. (Photo: Bible, 14 Dec 2008/Edgeurged)

Malawi has 1.7 million Muslims, mostly living in the south of the country, that has a population of about 15 million.

Excerpts from Pope Benedict’s speech to Catholic pupils in London

pope pupils (Photo: Pope Benedict meets school children in London September 17, 2010/Steve Parsons)

Pope Benedict urged Catholic schoolchildren in London on Friday to strive to become saints and to aim for more than just just money or fame.

Here are excerpts from his speech:

“…I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. … Let me explain what I mean. When we are young, we can usually think of people that we look up to, people we admire, people we want to be like. It could be someone we meet in our daily lives that we hold in great esteem. Or it could be someone famous. We live in a celebrity culture, and young people are often encouraged to model themselves on figures from the world of sport or entertainment. My question for you is this: what are the qualities you see in others that you would most like to have yourselves? What kind of person would you really like to be?

“When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. I am asking you not to pursue one limited goal and ignore all the others. Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own, it is not enough to make us happy. Being highly skilled in some activity or profession is good, but it will not satisfy us unless we aim for something greater still. It might make us famous, but it will not make us happy. Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple – true happiness is to be found in God. We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success, or in our relationships with others, but in God. Only he can satisfy the deepest needs of our hearts.

London protesters accuse pope of hypocrisy over sex abuse – report and photos

protest 2 (Photo: Protest as Pope Benedict XVI arrives by car at St Mary’s University College in London September 17, 2010/Peter Macdiarmid)

Pope Benedict reminded his Church on Friday that its first priority was to provide a safe environment for children as the pontiff was met by the first substantial protest of his delicate visit to Britain.  Several hundred people whistled and shouted “Pope must resign” and “shame” as the papal motorcade entered a Catholic school complex in Twickenham, southwest London.

They held placards reading “Hypocrisy and lies” and “Catholic paedophile cover up.”

The shouting of the protesters duelled with the singing of hymns from inside the school, where the pope held what was dubbed “the big assembly” of several thousand Catholic school children from throughout Britain.

Excerpts from pope’s London speech to Catholic teachers

twickenham 2 (Photo: Nuns waiting for Pope Benedict at a Catholic school in London, 17 Sept 2010/Kevin Coombs)

Visiting a Catholic school in London on Friday, Pope Benedict said teachers should give their pupils not only marketable skills but also wisdom, which he said was inseparable from knowledge of God. Catholic schools and Catholic religious teachers play an important part in transmitting this wisdom, he said. He also stressed the need to protect pupils from sexual predators.

Following are excerpts from his address to the teachers:

“I am pleased to have this opportunity to pay tribute to the outstanding contribution made by religious men and women in this land to the noble task of education… As you know, the task of a teacher is not simply to impart information or to provide training in skills intended to deliver some economic benefit to society; education is not and must never be considered as purely utilitarian. It is about forming the human person, equipping him or her to live life to the full – in short it is about imparting wisdom. And true wisdom is inseparable from knowledge of the Creator, for “both we and our words are in his hand, as are all understanding and skill in crafts”.

“This transcendent dimension of study and teaching was clearly grasped by the monks who contributed so much to the evangelization of these islands … Since the search for God, which lies at the heart of the monastic vocation, requires active engagement with the means by which he makes himself known – his creation and his revealed word – it was only natural that the monastery should have a library and a school. It was the monks’ dedication to learning as the path on which to encounter the Incarnate Word of God that was to lay the foundations of our Western culture and civilization…

Child abuse was widespread in Belgian Catholic Church – Church report

AdriaenssensChild sexual abuse was widespread in the Belgian Catholic Church and drove at least 13 victims to suicide, according to a report published on Friday.  “Almost every institution, every school, particularly boarding schools, at one time harboured abuse,” Peter Adriaenssens, the head of a Church commission monitoring complaints, told a news conference. (Photo: Peter Adriaenssens, July 6, 2010/Yves Herman)

More than half of its 200-page report, based on cases recorded up till then, consists of excerpts of testimony from victims. The 475 cases it recorded included victims as young as two. Two-thirds were male and boys aged about 12 were particularly vulnerable. In most cases, abuse tailed off when victims reached 15 or 16.

Adriaenssens said: “With these testimonies, it was not about superficial handling. It was about oral and anal abuse, forced and mutual masturbation. In other words, it was about people who had experienced serious acts.”

Muslims seek to add Islamic holidays to New York school calendar

new york (Photo:  New York City skyline, December 12, 2009/Jessica Rinaldi)

Muslim parents, students and civic groups are campaigning to add two of their religious holidays to the New York City public school calendar, pinning their hopes on state lawmakers after failing to win over Mayor Michael Bloomberg to the idea. Supporters say there are more than 100,000 Muslim students in the public schools, or about 12 percent of the enrollment.

Putting Eid Ul-Fitr, a holiday marking the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, celebrating the end of

the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on the list of official school holidays will help ease suspicion and reduce anti-Muslim sentiment nearly a decade after the September 11 attacks, they say.

SPECIAL REPORT – In Irish schools, Catholic Church remains master

irish church school (Photo: A Virgin Mary statue in an Irish school, 3 June 2010/Cathal McNaughton)

Roisin Hyde was five when she was hastily baptised a few days before she started primary school. Hyde’s parents were agnostic but because non-Catholics in Ireland had few other places to learn how to read and write, the family latched onto the only option they knew.

Thirty-five years on and Hyde, an architect in Dublin, is struggling over where to educate her own two-year-old son.  It’s a dilemma faced by parents the world over. But in Ireland, where the Catholic Church runs more than nine in ten primary schools and half of all high schools, it’s a question that too often has just one answer.

“I would say that a lot of my friends, the only time they have been inside a church is to get their kids christened so they could go to the local school,” Hyde, 40, says. “I just feel so hypocritical doing it, going along for one day and then not attending.”

Ban on headscarves in schools upsets devout Muslims in Kosovo

kosovo scarfThe leader of a protest against Kosovo’s ban on headscarves in public schools says devout Muslims could resort to violence to get their way, though Islam is not central to the lives of most Kosovo Albanians.

The June 18 rally in the capital Pristina by 5,000 women in headscarves, supported by some bearded men, was held after a few headscarf-clad girls were prevented from entering their schools.  It was an extraordinary sight in Kosovo, whose 2 million population is 90 percent Muslim but mostly secular in lifestyle. (Photo: Kosovo Muslim women protest in Pristina against a headscarf ban in public schools, June 18, 2010/Hazir Reka)

The Kosovo education ministry banned religious garb in primary and high schools late last year, prompting heated debate about religious liberties in the country, a former province of Serbia that declared independence two years ago.