FaithWorld

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.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Al Azhar Sheikh Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, 7 July 1998/poolCondemning the “deviant group” that produced the movie, the academy said the film was the worst kind of un-Islamic behaviour imaginable, the “worst kind of crime.” Sadat was a martyr who deserved praise for welcoming the shah of Iran and for making peace with Israel, it said. Those acts were evidence of his courage and wisdom, “of which the world of wise men stood in awe.”

Sadat was slain by Islamist assassins in October 1981, when his popularity reached its lowest point with Egyptians following his purge of and extensive crackdown on political opponents of his controversial peace with Israel. His welcoming of the deposed shah in Egypt earned him the enmity of the Iranian regime.

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.

Rare look at Sunni-Shi’ite tensions in Nigeria

Sultan of Sokoto Saad Abubakar, spiritual leader of Nigeria’s Muslims, 3 March 2007/Afolabi SotundeSunni-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:

Shi’a Islam was almost unknown in Nigeria until the early 1980s when Muslim radical Ibrahim Zakzaky, fired by the Iranian revolution, campaigned for an Islamic government and stricter adherence to sharia, or Islamic law.

For many youths in the poor, predominantly Muslim north, joining Zakzaky’s movement was an act of rebellion against a disappointing political and religious establishment.

Iraq state TV to broadcast Sunni and Shi’ite Friday prayers

Umm al-Qura mosque, Oct. 10, 2006Iraq’s state television channel Iraqiya plans to broadcast Friday prayers from both Shi’ite and Sunni mosques, a novelty in a country where until now Islamic services were only shown on sectarian channels. That kept the two neatly separate. Rather than take either side, Iraqiya avoided broadcasting Friday prayers after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. But it began today with a live transmission from the Sunni Umm al-Qura mosque in Baghdad.

Station manager Nawfal Abd Dahash told Reuters in Baghdad: “We will start doing live broadcasts from mosques from both sects. This is to enhance national unity and to prove that there is no difference between Shi’ites and Sunnis.”

The broadcast came from the Baghdad neighbourhood of Ghazaliya, which until a few months ago was a stronghold for al Qaeda Sunni Islamists. It also came at a time when Sunni communities in many parts of Iraq are taking up arms to drive out the Islamists.