FaithWorld

Egypt’s moderate Islamic TV extends reach with new languages

azhar (Photo: Al Azhar mosque in Cairo, 10 March 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Egypt’s al-Azhar’s satellite channel that seeks to promote moderate Islam launched four language services to extend its reach to millions of Muslims worldwide, its designers said on Sunday.

Al-Azhar, one of the oldest seats of Sunni Islamic learning, will target viewers in English, French, Urdu and Pashto besides its now running Arabic programs, in a renewed effort to further U.S. President Barak Obama’s call for greater religious tolerance.  The station was launched to coincide with Obama’s visit to Cairo in mid-2009 and his call for better ties between the Muslim world and the United States.

“There is a wide open market for religious moderation on the airwaves,” said Sheikh Khaled El Gendy, Azhar religious scholar and one of the channel’s content developers.  “We are competing with voices of intolerance for the attention and loyalty of young people,” said Gendy, who hosts a live call-in program for viewers struggling with the interpretation of Islam to seek guidance.

Read the full story by Dina Zayed here.

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Iraq’s Arab neighbours wary of Shi’ite sway after vote

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Shi'ites mark the religious ceremony of Arbain at Imam Abbas shrine in Kerbala, 5 Feb 2010/Mushtaq Muhammed

Iraq’s Arab neighbours fear a split Iraqi election could further marginalise minority Sunnis and hope any coalition government formed by the Shi’ite frontrunner will resist Iran’s sway. Many Sunni Arabs had wanted a stronger showing by secularists, who they now hope will bring cross-sectarian balance to any coalition government that could be formed by Shi’ite Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

“These election results show that there is a Shi’ite wave in the region which threatens Arab security in the region. Iran has a hidden role in the Arab region and it supports Shi’ite elements in the area, particularly in Iraq,” said Magid Mazloum from the Centre for Gulf Studies in Cairo.

Al-Azhar leader Sheikh Tantawi dies in Saudi Arabia

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Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi in Cairo September 16, 2006/Nasser Nuri

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.

Mohamed Wasel, Tantawi’s deputy, will temporarily take charge of the Sunni Muslim institution until Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak appoints a new head. Wasel has been heading al-Azhar’s committee for inter-faith dialogue.

Al-Azhar, which runs schools, universities and other educational institutions across Egypt and sends scholars to teach in countries across the Muslim world, receives most of its funding from the state.

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.

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.

Pew maps the Muslim world

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life just released a demographic study of the Muslim world it says is “the largest project of its kind to date.” Click here http://pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=450 to see the report ”Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Muslim Population.”

SAUDI/PILGRIMAGE-ECONOMY/

The report drew on data from 232 countries and territories and involved Pew researchers working with nearly 50 demographers and social scientists around the world. It is certainly a useful reference for anyone interested in the Islamic world. (PHOTO: Hundreds of thousands of Muslims pray inside the Grand Mosque in Mecca Sept. 15, 2009. REUTERS/Susan Baahil)

Among its highlights:

Iraq religious parties may face election backlash

Missy Ryan in our Baghdad bureau sees a possible drop in support for religious parties in Iraq:

BAGHDAD – When Iraqis last voted in 2005, some in Washington feared the mainly Muslim nation would veer in the direction of Iran, an Islamic theocracy, instead of becoming the moderate democracy they envisioned for post-Saddam Iraq.

The question when Iraqis elect new provincial leaders on January 31 will be whether the religious parties that have dominated politics since then can hang on to power despite a bitterness felt by voters starved of services and security.

A “Shi’ite invasion” of Sunni Arab countries? Qaradawi sees one

Yousef al-Qaradawi, 10 May 2006/Fadi Alassaad 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.

Free to contact work with fellow Shi’ites in neighbouring Iran and develop links with the powerful Shi’ites of Lebanon and even with the more precariously-placed Shi’ites in the Gulf Arab coutnries, the rise of the Shi’ites in Iraq has been nothig less than a seismic shift in the region’s potical landscape. Numerous Arab leaders have shown their concern with comments suggesting a crescent of Shi’ite power was developing across the region from Lebanon to Iran (as Jordan’s King Abdullah has said) or that Arab Shi’ites real loyalties are to Iran (according to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak).

Al-Jazeera.net logoQaradawi’s intervention is of equal import. He is one of the most influential of Sunni religious figures, a former Muslim Brotherhood sheikh in Egypt who settled in Qatar where Al-Jazeera television gave him a weekly television show. His opinions generally reflect the mainstream of Islamist thinking, veering neither into the rigid obsessions of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism nor appearing to compromise principles for the sake of a modernity that suits the West.

Al-Azhar’s modern twist on book burning

al-Azhar Mosque in Cairo, 13 July, 2006/Suhaib SalemEgypt’s al-Azhar university and mosque complex has placed a modern twist on the age-old ritual of book burning – now they want to throw a film to the flames.

Earlier this month, Egypt summoned an Iranian diplomat to protest against an Iranian documentary about the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, saying it would hurt improving ties between the two countries. Official statements from Cairo gave few details as to the contents of the film, other than suggesting it glorified Sadat’s assassins and portrayed Sadat as a traitor who sold out the Palestinian cause.

But apparently calling in the Iranian diplomat was deemed insufficient censure of the film, and al-Azhar, the thousand-year-old edifice of Islamic learning, was called into the fray as well. The government-appointed Sheikh of al-Azhar Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, known for his close ties to the state, convened an emergency session of al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Academy to address the issue. The resulting statement was published in the state’s flagship al-Ahram daily.

Egypt outlaws protests in places of worship

Protest in al-Azhar mosque against Pope Benedict’s Regensburg speech, 22 Sept 2006/Nasser NuriEgypt’s parliament has passed a law criminalising protests in places of worship, a measure the government’s opponents see as part of a wider pattern of reining in popular opposition.

The bill has been touted as a bid to protect the sanctity of places of worship by a government eager to burnish its religious credentials, tarnished by unpopular foreign policy decisions and a continuous crackdown on the Islamist opposition.

However, the law passed on Wednesday is widely seen as an effort to clamp down on the protests often held in major mosques such as al-Azhar, the university-mosque that has been a center of Islamic learning for over a thousand years.