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.
Thousands of Shi’ite Muslims in southern Iraq are wrestling with a choice of religion or democracy before a pilgrimage which may prevent them from voting in elections to provincial councils on Saturday.
Egyptian cleric Yusef Al-Qaradawi has provoked a storm of criticism with comments this month attacking Shi’ites for alleged attempts to proselytize in Sunni Arab societies. It’s a debate which has been bubbling since 2003 when the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein — which the Sunni Arab governments didn’t like but know how to live with — was removed by the American-led invasion and ultimately replaced by a Shi’ite government reflecting the demographic superiority of Shi’ites in Iraq today.
Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah looks determined to get his proposal for an unprecedented Muslim- Christian-Jewish dialogue off the ground. A three-day conference in Mecca to discuss this ended with a soaring declaration of goodwill and benevolent intent. Saudi media reported that Muslim clerics from around the world had supported the call and confirmed that dialogue with other faiths was legitimate in Islam.
There were interesting words on interfaith dialogue from Mecca and Rome today and London yesterday. Efforts to improve contacts and understanding among the main monotheist religions have been gaining steam recently and we’re starting to see some concrete steps. But, as a meeting in Mecca showed, the road ahead could still be quite rocky.
Sunni-Shi’ite tensions are regularly in the news, but usually from a small number of countries in or around the Middle East. Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan are probably the most frequently mentioned. It’s much rarer to hear how Islam’s two main families get along (or don’t) further afield. Now, two of our reporters in Nigeria, Farouk Umar and Estelle Shirbon, have written a feature about sectarian strife in Sokoto, a historic Muslim city in the remote northwest of the country. As they explained: