FaithWorld

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.

A look at the invited audience here to watch the Olympics reveals where the Gülen community fits in the social fabric of Turkey. The vast majority of the women wear the Muslim headscarf and elegant ankle-length coats. These are the same observant professionals who vote for the ruling AK Party.

Turkey’s ardent secularists are suspicious of the Gülen community, but some concede the Turkish Language Olympics have put the international schools in an excellent light. The youngsters, often with full scholarships, are given chances they might never have had in local state education. When you speak to the children they are ambitious and confident and communicate in excellent Turkish, even though not all are from Turkish backgrounds. This helps stir nationalist hearts in Turkey.

Can non-Muslims join an Islamist party – and why would they?

MALAYSIA-POLITICS/ISLAMISTS

By Razak Ahmad

Should non-Muslims be allowed to join an Islamist party? Would the Islamists want them to join? This is the issue facing the Pan Malaysian Islamist Party (PAS) at its annual assembly this week. Photo: Women’s wing of PAS prays at its national convention on 3 June, 2009/Bazuki Mujammad

For decades, PAS dreamed of a rigid theocratic state, even to the extent of issuing an edict in 1987 declaring the ruling Malay-Muslim nationalist ruling party as infidel. The ethnic minority Chinese and Indians who make up a combined 35% of the Southeast Asian country’s 27 million population were rarely in the Islamist party’s political equation.

But now PAS is part of Malaysia’s three-party opposition led by Anwar Ibrahim. It claims that 20,000 non-Muslims have joined the party’s supporters club, which will be recognised as an official party wing if a proposal on the matter is endorsed. This would in turn pave the way for non-Muslim members of the supporters club to become card carrying PAS members.

Will Obama address the Muslim world or the Arab world?

obama-faceWhen President Barack Obama delivers his long-awaited speech in Cairo on Thursday, will he address the Muslim world or the Arab world? In the pre-speech build-up, it’s being called a speech “to the Muslim world” or “to the world’s 1.x billion Muslims” (the estimated total mentioned in different articles fluctuates between 1and 1.5 billion). But the venue he’s chosen — Cairo — and all the focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict make it sound like a speech to and about the Middle East. (Photo: President Barack Obama, 21 May 2009/Kevin Lamarque)

The Middle East is the heartland of Islam, but Arabs make up only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims. Not all Arabs are Muslims. And non-Arab Iran is a major part of the Middle Eastern political scene. So is it correct to call this a speech to the Muslim world? Would it be better to call it a speech to the Middle East?

There is such an important overlap between the Arab and the Muslim worlds that it is hard to disentangle them. The Palestinian issue concerns Muslims around the world, but with varying intensity depending partly on whether it figures in regional politics or stands as a more distant symbol of oppression against Muslims. Politics can also poison Muslim relations with Jews, which can range from bitter enmity to interfaith cooperation depending on where, when and how one looks. The U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq may be justified in Washington as operations against international terrorism, but in Muslim countries they are often seen as attacks on Muslims and Islam.

from Global News Journal:

Austrian far-right leader isolated over Israel stance

Senior figures from across Austria's political spectrum have condemned the head of the far-right Freedom Party, Heinz-Christian Strache, over his party's European election campaign directed against Israel and Turkey.

In an advertisement in the newspaper Kronen Zeitung, Freedom opposes the accession of Turkey and Israel to the European Union. Although Turkey is in EU accession talks, Israel is not.

Heinz-Christian Strache prepares for a TV discussion in Vienna, Sept. 17, 2008. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader (AUSTRIA)

Singing away theological differences in Nazareth

pope-interfaith-1
(Photo: Pope Benedict with Galilee religious leaders, 14 May 2009/Osservatore Romano)

Talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words. There’s more than that behind this picture of Pope Benedict holding hands and singing a song for peace with leaders of other religions in Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation on Thursday. This might seem like an innocent gesture to most people who see it. To some Vatican correspondents following the pope on his Holy Land tour, it was an unprecedented step that spoke volumes about the evolution of his theological thinking.This sing-along started at an interfaith meeting when a rabbi began singing a song with the lyrics “Shalom, Salaam, Lord grant us peace.” At some point, the 11 clerics on the stage stood up and held hands to sing the simple tune together. Never very spontaneous, Benedict looked a little hesitant but then joined in. It was something of a “kumbaya session” — a “religious version of We Are The World,” one colleague quipped — but it was good-natured and well meant. The pope has been preaching interfaith cooperation at every stop on his tour and it seemed appropriate that it culminate in a show of unity among the religions in Galilee.But wait a minute. This is the same Joseph Ratzinger who, when he was a cardinal heading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, frowned on Pope John Paul’s pray-in with other religions at Assisi in 1986. He even declined to attend what became one of the landmark events of his predecessor’s papacy. Catholics cannot pray together with other religions, he argued, because only Catholicism was the true faith and all others were flawed to greater or lesser extents. Praying together carried the risk of syncretism, or mixing religions.Over the years, Cardinal Ratzinger made several critical comments about other religions, especially Buddhism and Islam (although he is changing there as well). He drew a sharp line between Catholics and other Christians in the 2000 document Dominus Iesus that called Protestant denominations deficient and not proper churches. They felt slighted and several said so openly. The only faiths Ratzinger seemed interested in were Orthodox Christianity and Judaism (ironically, given the cool welcome he got in Israel — but that’s another story).Things change when a cardinal becomes a pope. Suddenly, he was no longer just the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, he was the head of the world’s largest church and its smallest country. He was a spiritual leader, a temporal head of state, a major diplomatic figure and one of the most prominent — if not the most prominent — spokesman for religion on the planet. That’s a lot to juggle at the same time.

Sole-searching questions after Benedict visit to mosque

pope-shoes1Pope Benedict has the reputation of being something of a “foot-in-mouth” pontiff when it comes to talking about Muslims. He didn’t have that problem today. His long- awaited speech at the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman won praise for hitting all the right notes about Christian-Muslim cooperation. But there was some sole-searching talk at the press centre here of a potential “shoe-on-foot” problem when it turned out he didn’t take off his red loafers during the visit to the prayer hall. Was this an affront to Islam?

Compare our photos of him visiting the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman today (left) in full footgear and walking shoeless in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on 30 November 2006 (below).

pope-socksJordanian officials said the tan carpets rolled out for him to walk on protected the mosque’s normal carpeting, on which Muslims pray, from any shoe dirt. He therefore did not have to follow the traditional practice of leaving his shoes at the door, they explained. One said that Benedict’s hosts, who also opted to trod while shod, made the exception in deference to the 82-year-old pope’s age. Jordanians are proud of their traditional Arab hospitality and that might explain their readiness to accommodate their guest.

When in a minefield, a pope first turns to prayer

pope-bannerWhen a pope enters a minefield, the most natural reaction for him is to pray. Pope Benedict stressed prayer when he began his tip-toe over the explosive terrain of the Middle East starting his May 8-15 tour of Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories today. From the start, in his remarks during the flight to Amman, he stressed that people should pray for peace. We are not a political power but a spiritual force and this spiritual force is a reality which can contribute to progress in the peace process,” he said on the plane. “As believers we are convinced that that prayer is a real force, it opens the world to God. We are convinced that God listens and can affect history.” This is theologically sound, of course. It’s also politically clever. It’s the lowest common denominator in the Holy Land, maybe the only option all sides might agree on. (Photo: Workers hang banner welcoming Benedict in Amman, 7 May 2009/Muhammad Hamed)

Another theme evident in comments by the pope and King Abdullah is their joint effort to boost Benedict’s image in the Muslim world. His 2006 Regensburg speech hinting that Islam was violent and irrational has not been forgotten in this region. But Jordan, a Muslim country that strongly supports interfaith dialogue initiatives such as the Common Word declaration, wants to redirect attention towards cooperation between the world’s two largest faiths. King Abdullah took the first step in that direction. Speaking at the airport after the pope’s arrival today, he said:

We welcome your commitment to dispel the misconceptions and divisions that have harmed relations between Christians and Muslims. You have warmly received the visits pope-abdullahof Muslim scholars and others. In turn, your historic visit this week to the King Hussein Mosque … your meeting with Muslim religious scholars … is welcomed by all Jordanians. It is my hope that together, we can expand the dialogue we have opened – a dialogue that accepts our unique religious identities; a dialogue that is unafraid of the light of truth; a dialogue that, rightly, celebrates our deep, common values and ties.”

Obama seeks to avoid “clash of civilizations”

U.S. President Barack Obama ended his trip to Muslim Turkey on Tuesday by calling for peace and dialogue with Islam and the creation of a Palestinian state living side by side with Israel.

OBAMA/

In his first trip as president to the Muslim world, Obama sought to rebuild ties after anger at the invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan and accusations his predecessor George W. Bush was biased in favor of Israel.

You can see some of our coverage of his trip here and here.

Obama’s visit, in which he said America “will never be at war with Islam,” marks a strong shift in U.S. policy after his predecessor Bush upset Muslims with his backing for Israel, invasion of Iraq and branding of Iran as part of an “axis of evil.”

A selection of religion reports: week of March 8

manila-moonReuters publishes many more reports on religion, faith and ethics than we can mention on the FaithWorld blog. We sometimes highlight a story here, but often leave an issue unmentioned because it was already covered on the wire, or we have neither the time nor any extra information for a blog post. Here’s a sample of some of the stories we’ve published over the past week:

Philippines says open to amending Muslim autonomy law 13 Mar 2009

China says willing to meet Dalai Lama’s envoys 13 Mar 2009

Jews ask pope for Holocaust studies in schools 12 Mar 2009tibet

Turkey denies firing editor over Darwin article 12 Mar 2009

Pope says pained over “hate, hostility” against him 12 Mar 12 2009

China says it must approve Dalai Lama reincarnation 12 Mar 2009

U.S. says some states curb free speech in name of religion 12 Mar 2009

Australia says may quit UN racism conference 12 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 12 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Rome synagogue in autumn 12 Mar 2009pope-rabbi

Malaysia Christians battle with Muslims over Allah 11 Mar 2009

“Big Love” network apologizes to Mormons 11 Mar 2009

Catholics protest Connecticut church finance bill 11 Mar 2009

Russia church offers to help Kremlin weather crisis 11 Mar 2009

Pope admits Holocaust denier affair was mishandled 11 Mar 2009

Cardinal says bad bankers must ask God’s pardon 11 Mar 2009

US fertility patients want final say on embryos 11 Mar 2009

Dalai Lama slams China over Tibet “suffering” 10 Mar 2009obama

Cameroon demolishes street stalls for Pope’s visit 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell go-ahead puts Obama at odds with pope 10 Mar 2009

Somali cabinet votes to implement sharia law 10 Mar 2009

FACTBOX: Embryonic stem cells, the ultimate master cell 10 Mar 2009

Stem cell advocates finally get their Obama moment 09 Mar 2009

French filmmaker slammed for likening illegals to WWII Jews 09 Mar 2009

jp2-yad-vashem1Vatican paper: Washing machine liberated women most 09 Mar 2009

Chechnya wants newborns to be named after Mohammad 09 Mar 2009

Obama to let health institute decide on stem cells 08 Mar 2009

US stem cell announcement only a first step 08 Mar 2009

Pope to visit Holocaust memorial during Israel trip 08 Mar 2009

Turkish Mosque Holds First Official Kurdish Sermon 08 Mar 2009

(Photo credits from top: Romeo Ranoco, Philippe Wojazer, Alessia Pierdomenico, Larry Downing, stringer)

Anti-Darwin speaker gagged at Vatican evolution conference

Pontifical Gregorian University in RomeThe start of a high-powered Vatican-sponsored acadmeic conference on evolution was anything but fossilized.The third STOQ International Conference, called Biological Evolution, Facts and Theories, began on Tuesday at the Pontifical Gregorian University (picture right) under the patronage of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.The conference, which has been organised together with the University of Notre Dame to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin, had barely gotten underway when charges of censorship and undemocratic and unacademic behaviour began flying.At the end of the first session Oktar Babuna, a Turkish doctor and collaborator of prominent Turkish anti-Darwin campaigner Harun Yahya,asked for the floor to put forward a question. Babuna, a proponent of the Islamic creationist campaign against evolution, spoke about his view that there were insufficient transitional forms from species to species to support the theory of evolution.After he began speaking two professors on the dias, Francisco J. Ayala of the University of California at Irvine and Douglas Futuyma of the State University of New York were visibly irritated. Someone in the hall can be heard saying “turn the microphone off” and seconds later two organisers approached Babuna. One of them abruptly took the microphone away from Babuna and another ordered him to go back to his seat. Watch it all here“After I walked back to my seat someone said “only evolutionists can ask questions,” Babuna told Reuters afterwards. “This is very anti-democratic and very unacademic. If this is a scientific meeting … if you have scientific questions to ask, they should be responded to scientifically, everybody accepts that … if you force people to shut up and don’t let them ask any question … then it is not a scientific theory but an ideology.” The spat was filmed by Babuna’s associate Dr Cihat Gundogdu, who put Atlas of Creationan edited version on the Harun Yahya website.Both men attended the conference with English and Italian versions of Harun Yahya’s super-slick mega-book Atlas of Creation (picture left) in hand. We have done numerous blogs on Islamic creationism, its proponents and its opponents. Some of the links are listed below. But what do you think about the debate and, more importantly, do you think officials at the Gregorian University were right or wrong to yank the microphone from Babuna at a scientific conference?http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2009/02/05/just-before-darwin-day-pew-reviews-faith-and-evolution-in-us/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/12/24/a-one-stop-shop-for-the-latest-on-islamic-creationism/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/11/25/harun-yahya-dangles-big-prizes-for-creationism-essays/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/10/27/richard-dawkins-rips-into-harun-yahya-and-muslim-creationism/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/06/19/harun-yahya-preaches-islam-slams-darwin-and-awaits-jesus/http://blogs.reuters.com/faithworld/2008/04/07/harun-yahyas-islamic-creationist-book-pops-up-in-scotland/