FaithWorld

Teach Islam at German universities – academic council report

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Humboldt University in Berlin, 8 Jan 2010/Friedrich Petersdorff

Germany should set up centres for Islamic studies at two or three state universities to educate Muslim scholars, teachers and pastoral workers for its large Muslim minority, an academic advisory council has said. The Council on Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat) said the lack of such institutes at universities, which already teach Christian and Jewish theology, “does not do justice to the importance of the largest non-Christian faith community in Germany.”

Muslim organisations should join advisory boards to help develop Islam institutes and choose faculty members and all main Muslim views in Germany should be represented, it said in a report (here in German) on Monday.

“For me, this is part of a modern integration policy,” Education Minister Annette Schavan told Deutschlandfunk radio in Berlin. “The main question will be who the partner is in developing this.”

Since the September 11 attacks in the United States, several European countries have been seeking ways to educate Muslim imams and teachers in Europe rather than importing them from Islamic countries out of step with modern western societies.  France has set up an imam training course in Paris run jointly by the Grand Mosque and Catholic Institute, which stepped in after the Sorbonne university declined to join because it might violate the separation of church and state.  Private schools operate in several countries, but the German report advised against this option, saying Islamic studies needed to be in the university system to ensure they met the same academic standards as theology studies of other faiths. hamburg mosque

Imam Ali Mosque in Hamburg, 22 Aug 2006/Christian Charisius

The report said Germany, where around four million Muslims live, has about 700,000 Muslim pupils and would need 2,000 Islam teachers if all states offer religious education for them. Only a few states now teach Islam, often with teachers from Turkey.

Agca says he is a messiah who will write a “perfect Bible”

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A hand-written letter by Mehmet Ali Agca released by his lawyers on 13 Jan 2010/Umit Bektas

Mehmet Ali Agca, Pope John Paul’s would-be assassin due to be released from prison on Monday, has answered a set of questions put to him by Reuters through his lawyers. Earlier on Wednesday, his lawyers issued a hand-written letter to journalists in which he called for a new “American Empire.”  Our later news story on his answers to our questions highlights his stated desire to visit the late pope’s tomb in Saint Peter’s Basilica. The statement went on to call on Pope Benedict to announce the end of the world and say he would prove he was “Agca the Messiah” and would write the “perfect Bible.” Agca’s answers are rambling and bizarre. Since we’re bound to hear more from him when he’s released, here’s the complete text of the Q&A to give a fuller view of his current thinking. The Reuters bureau in Istanbul translated it from the original Turkish.

1. How are you feeling after your many years in prison?

“For around thirty years I have been staying in cells on my own. I experienced hell on earth. But in spite of everything I am well. I feel good in myself both physically and psychologically.”

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul

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Pope John Paul meets Mehmet Ali Agca in Rome's Rebibbia prison on 27 Dec 1983/Vatican photo

Mehmet Ali Agca, the man who tried to kill Pope John Paul in 1981, is due to be released from prison in Turkey on January 18.  In a rambling statement issued by his lawyers on Wednesday, he called for a “new American Empire” championing peace and democracy.

Here are some facts about Agca and the enigmatic path that took him from life as a small-time gangster in Turkey to the would-be assassin on St. Peter’s Square.

Does Europe’s new prez really think it’s a Christian club?

rompuy1Europe’s new president, Herman Van Rompuy, is little known outside his native Belgium. One of the few background facts about him circulating since his election is his opposition to Turkish membership in the European Union.  The operative quote, expressed in a 2004 speech when he was an opposition deputy in the Belgian parliament, is:

“Turkey is not a part of Europe and will never be part of Europe. An expansion of the EU to include Turkey cannot be considered as just another expansion as in the past . . . The universal values which are in force in Europe, and which are fundamental values of Christianity, will lose vigour with the entry of a large Islamic country such as Turkey.” (Photo: Herman Van Pompuy, 19 Nov 2009/Sebastien Pirlet)

The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, said something quite similar In an interview with Le Figaro, also in 2004: “Turkey always represented another continent throughout history, in permanent contrast with Europe,” he said, and joining it to Europe would be a mistake. Europe is united by its “culture which gives it a common identity. The roots which formed … this continent are those of Christianity.”

Muslim creationism is back in the news, this time in Egypt

darwinm-portraitMuslim creationism is back in the news. There’s been a spate of articles in the U.S. and British press recently about the spread of this scripture-based challenge to Darwinian evolution among Muslims, mostly in the Middle East but also in Europe. The fact that some Muslims have embraced creationism, a trademark belief of some conservative American Protestants, is not new. Reuters first wrote about it in 2006 — “Creation vs. Darwin takes Muslim twist in Turkey” – and this blog has run several posts on the issue, including an interview with Islam’s most prominent creationist, Harun Yahya. What’s new is that these ideas seem to be spreading and academics who defend evolution are holding conferences to discuss the phenomenon. (Photo: Portrait of Charles Darwin, 12 Feb 2009/Gordon Jack)

There are too many recent articles about Islamic creationism out there now to discuss each one separately, so I’ll have to just link to them in the … New York TimesWashington PostBoston GlobeSlateGuardianNational Beliefnet … … Many of these articles highlight the role of Harun Yahya, the once secretive Istanbul preacher and publisher who has gone on a PR offensive in recent years and turned very media-friendly (as Steve Paulson describes in that Slate article). But as Michael Reiss, a London education professor and Anglican priest told the Guardian, “what the Turks believe today is what the Germans and British believe tomorrow. It is because of the mass movement of people between countries. These things can no longer be thought of as occurring in other countries.”

Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal (Photo: Harun Yahya, 21 May 2008/Osman Orsal)

Over the weekend, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria, Egypt hosted a conference on “Darwin’s Living Legacy: An International Conference on Evolution and Society” with the British Council. The simple fact of holding a conference on Darwin in the heart of the Middle East, where his theory of evolution is widely rejected, is already noteworthy. According to the Guardian‘s Riazat Butt, Nidhal Guessoum, professor of physics and astronomy at the American University of Sharjah, told the conference that only three Muslim or Muslim-majority countries out of a possible 22 taught evolution. Another participant, astronomer Salman Hameed, who is professor of integrated science & humanities from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, wrote on his informative science-and-religion blog Irtiqa: “It is incredible that this conference is taking place in Egypt. I don’t know what will be the reaction here. Simply by its location, it may remove some of the stigma regarding evolution in the Muslim world, or it may end up generating a backlash. Frankly, I have no idea about the reaction.”

Muslims angry at German soccer club over song

German Muslims have inundated one of the country’s top soccer teams, Schalke 04, with complaints about a verse in the club’s anthem which, they say, is disparaging towards the Prophet Mohammad.

The club has its home in Gelsenkirchen in Germany’s industrial heartland and immigrants make up about a third of the town’s population. Most of them have a Turkish background. Germany’s biggest mosque was opened in nearby Duisburg last year and many Schalke supporters are Muslims, as chat rooms like this one point out.

The lines in question are: “Mohammad was a Prophet who doesn’t understand football” although the words that follow seem positive: “But from all the beautiful colours he came up with blue and white.” Schalke’s colours are blue and white.

from Global News Journal:

One dent at a time, Turkey’s nation-state edifice erodes

"Happy is he who calls himself a Turk."

One of the first things that catches your attention when you drive out of the airport of Diyarbakir, the largest city in Turkey's mainly Kurdish southeast, is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk's famous phrase engraved on mountain slopes in big white letters.

Bent on building a secular and modern Turkey after World War One, Ataturk carved a united Turkish nation out of the disparate ethnic and religious groups that inhabited the old Ottoman empire -- sometimes by forced "Turkification" as was the case with ethnic Kurds.

That once-monolithic nation state is slowly being dented as pluralism becomes an acceptable fact of life in Turkish society.

Orthodox renew hope Turkey will re-open historic seminary

Empty classroom at the Orthodox Halki seminary, Sept. 2006The silent halls and empty classrooms tended by elderly priests at a former Greek Orthodox seminary on an island off the Istanbul coast belie the crucible the school has become in Muslim Turkey’s quest to join the European Union.

The EU has said re-opening Halki seminary, a centre of Orthodox scholarship for more than a century until Turkey closed it down in 1971, is crucial if Ankara is to prove a commitment to human rights and pluralism and advance its membership bid. (Photo: Halki seminary classroom, 18 Sept 2006/Tom Heneghan)

The pro-Islamist government, despite introducing other sweeping reforms to bring Turkey closer to EU membership, has thus far refused to re-open the 165-year-old school located on a pretty wooded isle called Heybeliada in the Sea of Marmara.

Turkish TV gameshow looks to convert atheists

game-showGiven the popularity of glitzy television gameshows of all sorts, it was probably inevitable that some secular channel somewhere one would come up with one about religion. Turkey’s Kanal T television station now has.

Its show, entitled “Penitents Compete,” will bring together spiritual guides from Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism who try to convert a group of non-believers. Those who get religion win a pilgrimage to a holy site of the faith they’ve chosen — Mecca for Muslims, the Vatican for Christians, Jerusalem for Jews and Tibet for Buddhists.

But the show, due to debut in September, has run into some unexpected trouble. The religious authorities in Muslim but secular Turkey have refused to provide an imam for the show, which they say will cheapen religion. Read the whole story here.

Turkish language fest shows Muslim preacher’s global reach

gulenThe 700 children who have come to Turkey for the Turkish Language Olympics — an annual event described in my feature “Turkish language fest shows preacher’s global reach” — will know little if anything about the controversy here over the powerful socio-religious community behind their schools. (Photo:School girls sing at Turkish Language Olympics in Istanbul, 3 June 2009/Halit Omer Camci)

Getting ready to perform in a huge auditorium in Istanbul more often used for international conferences, the 30-odd signing competition entrants appear giggly and excited, fussing over their elaborate folk costumes. Most are visiting for the first time and have been completely charmed by Turkey – just as Turkey has been charmed by them.

The children attend schools run by individuals or associations inspired by the teachings of Muslim preacher Fethullah Gülen. He is revered by many Turks as a tolerant, moderating force in Islam, but suspected by some secularist Turks of harbouring a covert political agenda. Gülen groups are active in publishing, inter-faith dialogue, charity and above all education.