FaithWorld

Islamic finance has image problem in Christian-majority African states

kenya shillings

A currency dealer counts Kenya shillings in Nairobi on October 23, 2008/Antony Njuguna

Africa’s Islamic finance industry needs to overcome negative perceptions among non-Muslims to successfully expand into predominantly Christian sub-Saharan Africa, an industry leader has said.

Northern Africa is largely Muslim and countries such as Egypt and Sudan have offered Islamic banking for decades.  Now some lenders are looking to expand into sub-Saharan nations, such as Uganda which is 80 per cent Christian.

Islamic banking operates on a small scale in a few sub-Saharan countries, such as Kenya, South Africa, Botswana and Nigeria. Industry participants say Tanzania, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia — which all have minority Muslim populations — would be next.

“This is a business and frankly we are indifferent to whether you are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, a non-believer or whatever,” said Suleiman Shahbal, chairman of Gulf African Bank, which was launched in 2008 and is one of Kenya’s two Islamic banks. “Some people are extremely hostile and they see a political agenda in Islamic banking. It is not political at all, we have no political agenda … Some even think we support al Qaeda, which is of course complete nonsense.”

U.S. Christian leaders slam Uganda’s anti-homosexuality act

kampalaA diverse group of U.S. Christian leaders — who don’t always see eye to eye on same-sex lifestyle issues — have spoken out against a law under consideration in Uganda that could make homosexual behavior punishable by death. You can see the full statement and list of signatories here.

Our Christian faith recognizes violence, harassment and unjust treatment of any human being as a betrayal of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves. As followers of the teachings of Christ, we must express profound dismay at a bill currently before  the Parliament in Uganda. The ‘Anti-Homosexuality Act of 2009′ would enforce lifetime prison sentences and in some cases the death penalty for homosexual behavior, as well as punish citizens for not
reporting their gay and lesbian neighbors to the authorities
,” it says in part.

Regardless of the diverse theological views of our religious traditions regarding the morality of homosexuality, in our churches, communities and families, we seek to embrace our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as God’s children worthy of respect and love,” it added.

“I’ll be at Lambeth telling my story…” — Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson, 7 March 2004/Brian SnyderBishop Gene Robinson hasn’t been invited to the Anglican Communion’s Lambeth Conference, which opens next week, but he’s sure to be in the news all the same. The openly gay Episcopal bishop, whose consecration in 2003 sparked a near-schism by traditionalist Anglicans from the Global South, plans to preach in churches, attend receptions and appear at a film premiere in Britain before, during and after Lambeth (details below). He also plans to blog at a site called Canterbury Tales from the Fringe. Extensive coverage seems guaranteed.

The absence of the Communion’s most critical conservatives should heighten Robinson’s media presence. Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola, who led the rival GAFCON conference in Jerusalem last month, is boycotting the ten-yearly Lambeth Conference, as are four other traditionalist primates. So it seems unlikely that reporters there will hear headline-grabbing sound bites like accusations of apostasy against Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (as Akinola made at GAFCON) or charges that gay hit men might be ready to whack their critics (as Uganda’s Archbishop Henry Orombi said in a recent sermon).

Mike Conlon has blogged here about the effort to lower the Lambeth Conference’s profile, which could indirectly raise Robinson’s. The 1998 session was dominated by a divisive debate about homosexuality and voting on a resolution “rejecting homosexual practice as Lambeth 1998, 17 july 1998/Kieran Dohertyincompatible with Scripture.” That makes headlines. This time around, the organisers seem to have taken the wind out of the critics’ sails by drawing up an agenda with no voting rounds on it. “Everything they’ve suggested says there won’t be any voting of any kind at any point,” said Jim Naughton, spokesman for the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Survey says world’s top 10 intellectuals are Muslims

Foreign Policy July/August issue coverThe bimonthly U.S. international affairs journal Foreign Policy has just published a survey of the world’s top 20 public intellectuals and the first 10 are all Muslims. They are certainly an interesting group of men (and one woman) but the journal’s editors are not convinced they all belong on top. In their introduction in the July/August issue, they wrote: “Rankings are an inherently dangerous business.” It turns out that some candidates ran publicity campaigns on their web sites, in interviews or in reports in media friendly to them. So intellectuals who many other intellectuals might have put at the top — say Noam Chomsky or Richard Dawkins — landed only in the second 10 or in a much more mixed list of post-poll write-ins.

“No one spread the word as effectively as the man who tops the list,” the introduction said. “In early May, the Top 100 list was mentioned on the front page of Zaman, a Turkish daily newspaper closely aligned with Islamic scholar Fethullah Gülen. Within hours, votes in his favor began to pour in. His supporters—typically educated, upwardly mobile Muslims—were eager to cast ballots not only for their champion but for other Muslims in the Top 100. Thanks to this groundswell, the top 10 public intellectuals in this year’s reader poll are all Muslim. The ideas for which they are known, particularly concerning Islam, differ significantly. It’s clear that, in this case, identity politics carried the day.”

From the Fethullah Gülen websiteStill, the results are interesting. Fethullah Gülen, pictured at right by his website announcing the survey result, heads a network of schools and media that is probably the world’s largest moderate Muslim movement. He may be one of the most influential Muslims that non-Muslims have never heard of. We ran a feature about him just last month.

Orthodox Anglicans skate around schism at conference

Religion reporters have been tracking the slow disintegration of the Anglican Communion since 2003 with one word itching away at the tips of their typing fingers — schism. We don’t get to write history with a capital “H” that often and the few times we do can be career high points. So the prospect of covering an event where you can draw parallels to the Great Schism of 1054 (east-west back then, north-south now, etc) is tempting. In the meantime, though, even a hint of a schism is enough to land the term in a story. But it has to have the right packaging — adjectives such as “potential” or “looming” or something else — to indicate the big kaboom has not actually happened (or at least not yet). So we can scratch the itch a bit, but not too much.

Covering the current orthodox Anglican conference GAFCON in Jerusalem, the Daily Telegraph has scratched at that itch really hard with a story headlined “Anglican church schism declared over homosexuality.” It took a 94-page guidebook for “a pilgrimage to a Global Anglican future” as proof that Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinole and his allies have finally cut their ties to the Anglican Communion. “Hardline church leaders have formally declared the end of the worldwide Anglican communion, saying they could no longer be associated with liberals who tolerate homosexual clergy,” it wrote.

Nigerian Archbishop Peter Akinola and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 28 Oct 2005/Antony NjugunaWell, up to a point, as our news story reports. The guidebook, entitled “The Way, The Truth and The Life”, goes to the rhetorical brink of schism … and stops. “There is no longer any hope … for a unified Communion,” Akinola writes. “All journeys must end some day.” He gives no road map for the future.

Lambeth Conference: News or Not?

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, 22 Feb 2008/Darren StaplesIt has been spoken of as a setting for schism. But could the Lambeth Conference — the worldwide Anglican Communion‘s once-a-decade global meeting beginning July 16 in England — be a bust when it comes to headline-making news?

That’s the way leaders of the U.S. Episcopal Church see it. There will be no grand pronouncements made or resolutions voted on, they say. The traditional Western parliamentary idea that produces winners and losers on debated issues has been scrapped for face-to-face meetings. Some of them have been baptized ”Indaba groups,” which Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has described as a Zulu term denoting “a meeting for purposeful discussion among equals.”

The Rev. Ian Douglas, a professor of World Christianity at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts who helped plan the meeting, recently told reporters at a briefing:

What role for God in the Lord’s Resistance Army?

Wizard of the Nile bookcoverIf you read religion news from around the world, you’ve probably heard about a shadowy group called the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda. You’ve probably wondered what part religion has played in this group known for its child soldiers, mutilations of innocent civilians and plans to create a theocratic state based on the Ten Commandments. And who is Joseph Kony, the self-styled messenger of God who abducted thousands of children over two decades?

In his new book The Wizard of the Nile, British journalist Matthew Green investigates those questions and offers explanations based on political, tribal and regional tensions behind the conflict known outside for its bizarre religious trappings.

Some background before going any further — Matt worked for Reuters in east Africa for five years until 2006 before leaving to write the book. But we’re apparently not the only ones who liked his “splendidly spun yarn” (review in The Times). His current employer, the Financial Times, ran an excerpt last week.