FaithWorld

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.

Protests are illegal without government approval in Egypt, and mosques such as al-Azhar are among the Muslim Brotherhood members protest in al-Azhar mosque, 20 Oct 2006/Goran Tomasevicfew venues available for the public to voice discontent, possibly because the government would be reluctant to be seen as violating such a hallowed place by sending in riot troops.

Such protests have enjoyed extensive coverage on pan-Arab channels such as al-Jazeera, and this seems to have irked the government, which recently spearheaded a drive to bring satellite broadcasters to heel.

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.