Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Where sect takes precedence over everything else
By Nasir Jamal
27 May, 2009
LAHORE, May 26: Sectarian strife cuts much deeper into the southern region of Punjab than is publicly realised and officially acknowledged. Sectarian emotions run high, and are rising.
The recent events — such as the suicide bombing at an Imambargah in Dera Ghazi Khan in February and partially successful attempts of armed Jaish-i-Mohammad and other Deobandi activists to grab Barelvi mosques and madrasas in Bahawalpur in early April — are only a few examples of the growing sectarian tensions in the region.
Most people argue that sectarianism poses a great danger to the stability and peace of the area, a much bigger problem than the so-called Talibanisation of southern Punjab. “Sectarianism is a real threat here,” a senior lawyer in Muzaffargarh, who didn’t want to be identified, tells Dawn. “It has the potential to destabilise the entire province, in fact the whole of the country,” he says.
This is an assessment shared by the police. “The sectarian threat has been there for a very long time, and it is no secret,” says Bahawalpur Regional Police Officer Mushtaq Sukhera, who has been recently appointed in this post amid talk that the Punjab government is committed to dealing with the violent sectarian outfits with an iron hand.
Also no secret, the people in the area would intervene, is the police lethargy, and more significantly, the police’s tendency to collude with a sectarian group of their liking.
Syed Gulzar Naqvi, a Shia leader in Muzaffargarh, alleges that police officials who try to take action against the sect-based criminal elements are immediately changed.
RPO Sukhera admits to the charge of laxity on the part of the police. “Police inaction and their tendency to try to maintain status quo with a view to preserving law and order even at the cost of settling the potentially explosive disputes (between the followers of rival sects) according to the law has been a major cause for the spread of sectarian violence,” he says.
“Police in the rural areas have lacked equipment, motivation and clear-cut policy direction in the past,” Sukhera continues. “It is the job of the politicians to take decisions as to how to tackle a problem. The sitting government, nevertheless, has mandated police and administration to do everything and anything they deem necessary to reverse the situation and curb the menace of sectarianism.”
Mostly, the menace of sectarianism in the past has manifested itself in the southern districts of Punjab, just like the rest of the country, in the form of armed clashes between the rival sects, target killings, occupation of one another’s mosques and madressahs, etc.
In recent months, the increasing cooperation between sectarian groups and organisations based in South Punjab and Baitullah Mehsud’s Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has added a new dimension to this kind of violence: suicide bombings. Police cite suicide attacks on Shia gatherings in Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 as well as a suicide bombing in Chakwal in north Punjab on April 5 this year as examples of this cooperation.
Thousands of madressahs representing different schools of thought — Shia, Barelvi, Deobandi, etc — dotting the southern region of the province provide the cadre to the sectarian groups. “The madressahs are churning out militants for the sectarian and jihadi groups fighting in Afghanistan, Kashmir and now the tribal areas,” says Zubaidul Islam Khan Sherwani, district secretary of the Pakistan People’s Party and president of the district bar association in Muzaffargarh. “These thrive on poverty and illiteracy because it is easier to indoctrinate a poor and illiterate person,” he says as he recounts stories of recruitment by different groups for decades’ long jihad from his district.
Obviously, the madressahs don’t agree with this viewpoint. “It has become fashionable to accuse the madressahs of producing militants and Taliban. That is like distorting the reality. Militants could also be the graduates of colleges and universities,” argues Rizwan Ali, an official of a network of several Salfia madressahs in Dera Ghazi Khan set up by Hafiz Abdul Karim, a leader of Markazi Jamiat Ahle Hadith who almost defeated Farooq Leghari from his ancestral seat in last year’s general election on a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ticket.
But he acknowledges that the madressahs had been ‘used by some (agencies or sects?) to recruit cadre’ for organisations like Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Jaish-i-Mohammad, both of whom represent the Deobandi school of thought.
His statement indicates how sectarian affiliations of people dictate their definition of Taliban and militancy as they tend to see everything through the lens of their religious belief.
In Muzaffargarh, for instance, a Shia leader’s comments would imply that all Pakhtuns/Afghans entering his hometown via Dera Ghazi Khan for work are militants and Taliban simply, first, because of their ethnic background, and two, due to their affiliation to the Deobandi school of thought.
The forced occupation of two Barelvi mosques/madressahs, one in the Bahawalpur city and the other in a nearby village, by the Jaish activists in April provoked federal Religious Affairs Minister Hamid Kazmi to accuse Deobandi madressahs of producing Taliban and encouraging extremism. In a similar vein, Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi declared in Multan a few weeks back that the Sunnis (Barelvis) would block the way of militancy in south Punjab.
“The Jaish’s attempt to occupy the mosques of another sect as well as the ministerial statements reflect the deep-rooted religious intolerance,” says a publicity shy police official in Bahawalpur who warned of a clash. “If the Jaish had done a wrong, the ministers were even more irresponsible,” he says.
The hardcore Deobandis, too, have a point of view. “If someone from our organisation(s) goes to the tribal areas or Swat, you (media) are very quick to label us all as Taliban and militant. What do you call the Shias who have gone to Hangu from this part of the country and triggered sectarian violence there? What about Barelvis who occupy our mosques and our madaris? Aren’t they Taliban or militants? To your eye, they aren’t,” protests Rao Javed Iqbal, a Bahawalpur-based leader of the banned Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan.
In so polarised a society, it will surely take more than an avowedly committed police, a few corrected politicians and a mix of indifferent and worried masses to pull south Punjab, or for that matter, Pakistan, to safety. At the outset, the formula of seeing everything through the old, maybe partially applicable, theories has to change. It is too complex for one doctrine – Marxist, nationalist, capitalist, et al – to solve. Sticking blindly to one school of thinking may be as risky as sticking to a sect
Afghan gov't destroys books it says insult Sunnis
By AMIR SHAH and HEIDI VOGT
KABUL (AP) — The Afghan government quietly dumped more than 1,000 Shiite texts and other books from Iran into a river after a local governor complained that their content insulted the country's Sunni majority.
The move appeared to be an attempt by President Hamid Karzai's U.S.-backed government to smooth over a potential thorn in relations between the Muslim sects.
But instead of burying the issue along with the books at the bottom of the Helmand River, the government was facing condemnation Wednesday from Shiite leaders after news leaked a month after the dumping.
"It is a humiliation for all Shiites," said Mohammad Akbari, a prominent Shiite member of parliament. He said a joint commission of Sunni and Shiite leaders should have reviewed any complaints about the books.
Merchants who'd ordered the books for shops in Kabul said there was nothing offensive about their content and that they were destroyed simply because of prejudice against Shiites, who make up about 20 percent of the population.
The dispute highlights the continuing tension between Sunnis and Shiites in Afghanistan despite efforts by the government to preach tolerance across the sectarian divide.
Shiites were persecuted under the largely Sunni Taliban regime that ruled the country until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001. Since then, the two sects have settled into an uneasy coexistence, with the post-Taliban constitution giving Shiites the right to create some laws that apply only to them.
The latest episode started six months ago when a container full of books arrived in western Nimroz province from neighbouring Iran, said the governor's spokesman, Haaji Nazir.
Nestled among boxes of computer and English instruction manuals were more than 1,000 history and religious books promoting Shiite Islam, Nazir said. Iran is a mostly Shiite country.
"Books like these are more dangerous than Taliban bullets," Gov. Ghulam Dastagir Azad told The Associated Press.
But the Kabul booksellers who ordered the books said ethnic prejudice motivated the governor, a Sunni from the country's dominant Pashtun ethnic group. Many Afghan Shiites are ethnic Hazaras.
"He has no respect for the Hazara people," said Mohammad Ibrahim Sharyati, who said he lost about 2,600 books worth about $40,000.
After seizing the books, authorities in the western province held them at a customs warehouse and sent samples to the Information and Culture Ministry in the capital for a ruling.
A commission found that at least some of the books were "dangerous to the unity of Afghanistan" because they contained interpretations of religion that are offensive to Sunnis, said Deputy Culture Ministry Aleem Tanwir.
"They included incorrect statements about the advice of Prophet Muhammad, and this is very dangerous for our Sunni community," Tanwir said.
"We contacted the governor of Nimroz and we told him that he cannot allow these books in Afghanistan," Tanwir said, adding that the books carried propaganda from Iran.
He said the ministry agreed to the idea of dumping the books in the river along the Iranian border as an alternative to burning, because it is against Islam to burn a book that contains the name of the prophet.
About 2,600 history, geography and cultural books were destroyed, along with about 600 Shiite religious books, according to Sharyati and Ahmadi, a bookseller who had ordered the Shiite texts. Ahmadi declined to give his full name out of fear of government reprisal.
Both booksellers say they previously had ordered these books from Iran without any problem. Many of the books in question can be found for sale at shops in Kabul. Sharyati said he orders the books from Iran because paper and printing are cheaper there.
The government's clumsy attempt to prevent controversy by dumping the books is reminiscent of its approach to a contentious Shiite family law passed about two months ago without going through the usual parliamentary debate.
Many Sunni lawmakers said at the time that they passed the law without reading it because they felt they had no right to rule on Shiite matters and that debate would only cause conflict.
When it later emerged that the bill placed heavy restrictions on women's freedom, Karzai put the law on hold and promised a revision of the legislation.
Iraqi boys and girls attend elementary school together, but are separated in secondary grades.
By Philip Forgit, May 27, 2009
IRAQ — Farah Ali, 17, is a sixth-grader in Al-Hillah, Iraq. She recalled, with emotion, “One night… there were fights near our house, and explosions. We were so scared from the fighting between the Americans and the Iraqis...” Her voice trailed off as she looked down to compose herself. Smiling apologetically, she added, “There was no going to school.”
Years of war and embargo set back Iraqi public education. Schools were neglected, destroyed, damaged and closed. Those that remained open were poorly attended because of so much violence. Now there is relative peace, and coalition and Iraqi government school reconstruction projects are booming as students return.
Schools in Iraq begin with elementary grades 1-6. Kindergarten and pre-school are mostly private ventures. With some confusion, secondary school grades are also numbered 1-6. Exams taken at various stages determine one’s eligibility for gifted schools and eventually college.
At the elementary level, girls and boys typically go to school together. Some self-segregation occurs in the classroom, particularly in religiously conservative areas. For the most part there is no forced segregation, and genders mix freely on the playground as well as in the classroom.
Some public systems have all-girl and all-boy elementary schools, but that is rare. Rigid and legalized separation of gender does not occur until the beginning of the U.S. equivalent of the seventh grade, where it continues through high school.
Separation of the sexes is formed by religious belief and by an acknowledgement of the natural attraction of boys and girls, which is deemed a distraction to learning. Al Hamza Naji Hamudi, a 17-year-old boy who attends Al Wahly High School for Special Pupils in al-Hillah smiled broadly when answering whether he would like to see girls integrated,
“Yes,” he said, “but this would be a big problem.”
Iraqi students attend school four hours a day starting Sept. 1 and ending between May and July. School buildings are used in shifts, one in the morning and the other in the afternoon. There is no “separate and unequal” when it comes to female education in Iraq. The facilities, teachers and expectations are the same for male and female students.
Amira Ubayid Al-Bakri, a Babil Provincial Council member (like a state senator), noted that 90% of the high honour graduates are females. She cited statistics for the colleges of medicine and engineering at Babylon University, where 80% of the medical students and more than half of the engineering students were female.
Top pupils in the third grade at the secondary level are sent to schools for “special pupils,” though attendance seems largely confined to those within commuting distance of larger population centres.
Sumira Salam, 19, attends Hillah High School for Distinguished Girls. She is on the “science track,” having made that her preference in the fifth grade of secondary school. She said she “may be a doctor because my parents are both doctors.” Though taking biology, chemistry, and physics on the science track, Sumira will study, as do students selecting the arts track, English, Arabic and Islamic (religious study of the Quran and a book on the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad).
“Islamic” is taught at every grade level. Students memorize verses and the stories of the Quran. In most classrooms, Muslim prayers or sayings of the prophet are prominently displayed. In Shia areas, Shia martyrs are depicted and studied. English is taught from elementary to high school. Some schools, particularly in the cities, offer French.
Dr. Humadi Muhammad Radi-Al-Awadi, director general of education in Babil Province, noted that the Iraqi system provides for students with physical and mental challenges. A special education committee, composed of a doctor, a special-ed teacher and a “manager,” makes assessments as early as the first grade. Students go to a special academy for grades 1-5 and rejoin regular school in sixth grade.
There are no organized sports teams pitting one high school against another, no shared experience of a Friday night at James City County Stadium. There is no physical education in the secondary grades, though it varies from school to school at the elementary level. Some have “sport rooms” and physical education, while others provide a short recess.
At Europa Kindergarten in Baghdad, a door sign featuring cartoon characters Tom & Jerry and the prevalence of burger stands sporting their image welcomes children into a freshly painted art room.
Art education, like music, is rare beyond the youngest grades. However, at Europa, the art room is equipped much like an American school. One piece of work on the wall depicts a Kurd holding an Arab hand with a dove flying above the scene. The grass grows green and flowers burst from the ground.
The war is a subject of much of the art in the room. The school is located amid high-rise apartment complexes pockmarked by bullet holes. A wing of the school recently reopened after renovations from a mortar attack.
Teacher licensure requires specialized teacher training and a college degree usually taking five years. There is no requirement for re-licensure or additional training, though each province typically has a training institute for teachers to learn new skills.
The institute in Babil Province is focused on getting teachers computer literate. There are 104 labs in as many secondary schools, with plans for many more.
In Baghdad Province, schools in urban centres like Baghdad tend to have computer labs while more rural schools, like those in Saab al-Bor, do not. Zain al-Abadin, a 19-year-old from rural Al-Qasim in Babil Province, said that rural schools face great challenges,
“There are 50 to 60 students to a class, and four students on desks built for two,” he lamented. “There are no computers like in the city. Electricity comes and goes, and there is no safe drinking water.”
Muneer Jabar Abbas teaches second grade at Balquees Elementary in Saab al-Bor. She said teachers have autonomy within their classrooms and are given great respect by students and parents.
Planning is done by each teacher. She keeps her plans in a book, but without the regimentation of federal, provincial or local standards, no teacher’s planner resembles that of an American teacher. In some schools, entire grade levels might meet to consult, but the concept of team teaching is unknown.
Whether in a “show” school or disadvantaged, children seem disciplined. The teaching style is mostly regimented rote learning and lecture, particularly at the elementary level, with little interaction between students.
Differences in education aside, students have lofty goals, just as many of their American counterparts.
Farah Ali thinks about what she can learn from America. She hopes to go to Harvard and help build a new Iraq. “I want to study in the U.S., and then come back to Iraq.” she said confidently. “I want to take information from there. I want to be useful and help my country.”
Palestinian Intellectuals Protest against Fatwas that Harm Islam
May 27, 2009
Some fatwas issued recently by jurisprudents in the Muslim world have aroused criticism and derision on the part of Palestinian academics, columnists and newspaper editors. One writer condemned jurisprudents for issuing arbitrary fatwas that serve their own personal interests, or the political interests of some body or faction - sometimes even for a fee. He also criticized their hypocrisy, saying that although they try to monopolize the faith and impose their opinion on others, they do not practice what they preach. Other articles focused on ridiculous and demeaning fatwas issued against women, such as the decree that they must wear a veil revealing only one eye.
Following are excerpts from the articles:
The Jurisprudents Issue Fatwas out of Hypocrisy, Greed, and Personal or Factional Interests
Hafez Al-Barghouti, editor of the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, responded to a fatwa issued by Algerian Salafi sheikh Muhammad 'Ali Farkous (known as Abi 'Abd Al-Mu'izz), who prohibited the eating of a traditional pastry called zulabiyya.
"Every zulabiyya is a forbidden innovation; every innovation is a departure from the path of righteousness; and every such departure [leads straight to the fires of] Hell - though zulabiyya is fried in oil over a fire to begin with, and does not need a fatwa [to send it there].
"[I say that] it is not zulabiyya that is the forbidden innovation here, but the fatwa issued by Algerian sheikh [Muhammad] Farkous, who pronounced zulabiyya a forbidden innovation for no good [religious] reason...
"This inexplicable arbitrariness is the hallmark of many contemporary fatwas, for nearly every [cleric now claims] the authority to issue fatwas on every [conceivable] issue - economic, social, religious or political - just by virtue of being a cleric, though Islam does not [even recognize] the clerics' [authority to impose their opinions on others]...
"[Perhaps] Sheikh Farkous has connections to some pastry restaurant, and issued this fatwa [to harm the business of] a competing restaurant that serves zulabiyya. There have been many cases of financial investment firms enlisting senior clerics to issue fatwas legitimizing their activities. These fatwas, it transpires, were paid for in advance out of the investors' money, [and the investors themselves] woke up [one day] to find that the firm owners had stolen their savings and fled to Egypt or some other country.
"One [Hamas] sheikh banned participation in the 1995 Palestinian elections - but [reversed his decision] in 1996, when he [decided to] run for the Legislative Council. There are also Hamas sheikhs who, a few years ago, sanctioned the resistance and treated anyone who tried to thwart it as a collaborator and traitor - but after Hamas approved the tahdiah with Israel, they issued fatwas stating that anyone who fires [rockets] from Gaza into the occupiers' [territory] is a traitor and infidel.
"Some time ago, I read about a German who converted to Islam during World War I, and explained his decision as follows: 'I found that, in Islam, there is an unmediated [relationship] between man and God. The relationship between them is direct, and this is what persuaded me to convert.'
"[But] the [aforementioned] fatwas reveal that in today's Muslim [world], a sector of priests is emerging, which is monopolizing the faith, interpreting it, and applying ijtihad [i.e. personal judgment] in a way that harms the religion and demeans the tenets [of Islam].
"I know of a sheikh who banned the use of satellite dishes, and attacked people who purchased [them] - but later installed one on the roof of his own home. Asked to explain his conduct, he replied that he likes to watch [TV] programs in order to comment on them... Later, he lambasted the [Turkish TV soap opera] Muhannad and Nour. Asked why he watched it, he answered that his daughter is handicapped and that if he forbade her to watch it she would set herself on fire..."
Most Fatwas Are Anti-Women
Al-Barghouti pointed out that most of the fatwas harmed women most of all. "Among the 'made-to-order' fatwas, there are some that permit all sorts of marriages, with various names, that are more like prostitution [than marriage]. There are also fatwas that generate dissent rather than unity, and incite to civil war - as if what we need is to follow primitive and ignorant [clerics] who, in the name of religion and devoutness, accuse others of heresy and of straying from the right path...
"An Egyptian cleric issued a fatwa that permits a working woman to breastfeed her [male] co-worker, which makes it religiously permissible for them to be alone in a room together.  He did not, however, tell us what would happen if that co-worker got greedy and asked for more and more [breastfeeding] every day..." 
"Do Women Need the Luxury of Seeing Out of Both Eyes?"
Dr. Khaled Al-Haroub, a Palestinian researcher at Cambridge University, wrote in a satirical piece published in the PA daily Al-Ayyam: "The nations are in a race to improve the level of education and employment for women, who constitute 50% of society, and the world is working to promote equality in job opportunities between men and women. Our sheikhs, on the other hand, regard women as a tempting piece of flesh that takes up space in the workplace for no good reason.
"In order to suppress the childish Freudian notions racing through their minds, they have come up with an innovation that puts the solutions offered by the other nations to shame. In their opinion, the solution [to the problem of women in the workplace] is for the woman to breastfeed her co-worker...
"Were it not for our sharp-witted sheikhs, we would have been afraid [to let] our women go to the market, where [danger] lies in wait for them day and night. Only our sheikhs - with their fatwas that penetrate the women's organs in order to protect them - [were astute enough] to realize that a veil with a slit for both eyes can cause civil war and corrupt youth, and thus to decree that [a woman must wear] a veil exposing only one eye. After all, do they need more than one eye to see their way around and examine the produce at the market? Do they [really] need the luxury of seeing out of both eyes? One is enough.
"[Our sheikhs] also had the perceptiveness to realize that women who wear eye shadow are, [and always have been,] a grave [danger] to millions of young men throughout the ages, who collapse like a house of cards whenever they spy a woman's eye powdered in blue. [A veil] revealing only one eye will protect them against this terrible threat of beauty...
"I must say that a one-eyed veil has a certain modernistic [appeal]. Picture the right eye open, and the left hidden by a black veil [worn] over a black robe. Isn't that a captivating artistic image that even Salvador Dali, king of surrealists, could not have come up with? Moreover, we must remember that our honourable jurisprudents have granted women a great deal of freedom - which reflects the tremendous respect they have for them and for their liberty - by allowing them to choose, with complete independence, which eye to use and which eye to hide. Why, they can even switch between the right eye and the left! Does a Muslim Arab woman need more freedom than that?
"In the opinion of our great jurisprudents, women are a [source of] disaster. They are the root of all evil in the universe, and their every thought is devoted to tempting innocent men and leading them to hell. Therefore, the best [solution] is to marry them off at a tender age, as one of our genius jurisprudents recently decreed. This means marrying them off at the age of nine. The honourable sheikh justified this by saying that he sees many nine-year-old girls who display signs of [sexual] maturity and are ripe for marriage.
"Oh sheikh, you deserve the highest medal of honour for backwardness and atrophied [thinking]. If we had a shred of civil [responsibility], we would have sent you and many others of your ilk straight to jail, and left all of you to spend the rest of your lives there."
"If Not For [the Sheikhs], We Would Have Continued... Letting [Our Children Laugh and Chortle in the Company of That Scoundrel, Mickey Mouse"
"Imagine what a disaster it would be if we had no jurisprudents, clerics, or sheikhs to ward off the conspiracies hatched against us day and night by the infidel west, the atheist East, the sinful North and the pagan South. Every morning we wake up to a conspiracy, and every night we go to bed after nipping yet another plot in the bud.
"During the afternoon and the evening, we are [surrounded by] conspiracies, and we breathe them, read about them, see them flickering on the screen and hear about them on the radio. We find conspiracies in the elegant containers of women's beauty parlours, and conspiracies in sardine cans and tuna cans. We ordinary folk cannot [even] grasp the multitude of conspiracies that lie in wait for innocent men [in the form of] promiscuous women or those that lie in wait for the innocent women [in the form of] wolf-like men, not to mention the conspiracies threatening our children...
"What would happen if we stopped the mouths of these honourable sheikhs with wax and shut them up in a lunatic asylum? Imagine the terrible catastrophe and the mental vacuum [that would ensue]... If not for them, we would never rest easy, [knowing that] they protect our borders and our border cities. If not for them, we would have continued to horribly neglect our children by letting them laugh and chortle in the company of that scoundrel, Mickey Mouse. In our ignorance, we though him an ordinary mouse until our sheikhs exposed him, Allah preserve them so that they [continue to] support us and [protect us] from our profound backwardness. [Thanks to them], we now see [Mickey Mouse] in all his hideousness: a minion of the cursed devil in the guise of an innocent mouse, [waiting] to inflict deadly damage on the minds of our children." 
In another Al-Ayyam article, Palestinian columnist 'Abd Al-Nasser Al-Najjar wrote about a recent fatwa permitting a woman to beat her husband: "The ultra-modern sheikh [who issued this fatwa] presented it as a shield that allows the woman to defend herself if [her husband] beats her up. The day after [it was issued], a heated debate broke out among the Al-Azhar scholars, who argued about the validity of such fatwas.
"We ask: Why involve religion in these issues and [thus] turn [religion] into a [symbol of] backwardness? Why issue fatwas permitting beatings and violence? Why shouldn't religion focus on the call for love, peace, and tranquillity, instead of on the call to beat people and teach women karate?" 
 This fatwa argued that the breastfeeding creates a bond of kinship between the man and the women, making it permissible for them to be together in private. See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 355, "Al-Azhar Lecturer Suspended after Issuing Controversial Fatwa Recommending Breastfeeding of Men by Women in the Workplace," May 25, 2008, http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=ia&ID=IA35507.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), October 21, 2008.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), September 29, 2008.
 Al-Ayyam (PA), November 11, 2008.
Saudi Arabia: Religious police want cameras to monitor youth
Riyadh, 27 May (AKI) - Saudi Arabia's religious police want to install surveillance cameras in shopping centres throughout the country in order to watch young people. "We will place surveillance cameras in all shopping centres and public places to monitor the behaviour of young people," said General Abdel Aziz al-Hamin, chief of the committee for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice, quoted by Saudi daily Okaz on Wednesday.
"Our objective is to correct the mistakes made by some youths, in order to protect their moral integrity," said al-Hamin.
However, Saudi Arabia's religious police have been accused by many Saudis of violating young people's privacy by providing the media with the names of those who are caught engaging in behaviour considered in breach of Islamic Sharia law.
Their names are then published in Saudi newspapers.
Al-Hamin, however, has denied the claims and said he never handed over the names of anyone to the media.
In a separate incident, a court in the holy city of Medina on Tuesday acquitted two religious police.
They were accused of having caused the death of four young people, two men and two women, who died in a car accident while they tried to escape from the religious police after being caught together.
Sharia law prohibits unmarried and unrelated men and women to travel together in a car.
The religious police or committee for the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice is a government bureaucracy in charge of enforcing Sharia law. It has more than 3,500 members, as well as volunteers.
Muslims are quick to condemn terrorist attempt
By Kate Pastor
When Khalid Isa heard about the attempted bombing of Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Centre, his first thought was to hope it wasn’t the work of Arabs.
The American-born Palestinian owner of Sqweez Juice Bar & Grill on West 238th Street between Waldo and Grey stone avenues got little relief; however, from learning the alleged terrorists identified themselves as Muslims.
“It’s a misrepresentation of Islam because this is exactly what Islam tells us not to do,” said Mr. Isa, who together with other local Muslims and Jews has started a group called World Peace, One Falafel at a Time. The group is dedicated to enabling dialogue between Muslims and Jews, and ending violence between the groups.
“This is not the way to be, this is not the way to think, this is not the way to grab somebody’s attention, this is not the way toward peace,” he said of the alleged conspirators.
“It’s ridiculous because these are guys who converted to Islam in jail and they don’t know what the hell Islam is about. They have no idea,” Mr. Isa said.
Many Muslims in and around Riverdale have condemned the violence allegedly planned for Riverdale Temple and the Riverdale Jewish Centre on May 20, drawing clear distinctions between their religion and the beliefs held by men thought to be jailhouse converts to Islam.
Three Imams from different Mosques showed up at the Riverdale Jewish Centre’s solidarity rally on Friday. The Muslim American Society of Upper New York’s board president, Ali Salhab, a former Riverdale resident, also walked a letter into the Riverdale Press, repudiating and denying any religious justification for the violent plot.
“We just want to make sure that our neighbours understand where we stand on this issue,” said James Momani, who accompanied Mr. Salhab.
It seems, however, that not everyone does.
Last week, Mr. Isa got a phone call from a friend whose child attends The David A. Stein Riverdale/Kingbridge Academy, MS/HS 141. She was upset because after the foiled plot Islamic children started being taunted by other kids at school, he said.
Mr. Isa’s friend asked if he would consider giving a talk at the school to discuss the true meaning of Islam with children, some of whom may have gotten the wrong idea.
“The word Islam means peace, comes from the word Salam that means peace,” Mr. Isa said, personally enraged that the men he calls “uneducated, uninformed idiots” claim to be bound to him by faith.
The negative impact of violent acts like the one thwarted in Riverdale last week spared almost nobody.
“Hate crimes hurt all of us,” said Mr. Momani. “Today they do something to you, tomorrow they do something to me.”
When Muslims react to violent extremism here in Riverdale, said Basheer Hasan, a Muslim who manages a gas station on Broadway, “It’s gonna be the same reaction like everyone else.”
This is part of the May 28, 2009 online edition of The Riverdale Press.
Church not allowed to use ‘Allah’ till court’s July 7 decision
By Debra Chong and Edward Cheah May 28 2009
KUALA LUMPUR, May 28 — The Catholic Church failed in its bid to get permission to use the word “Allah” while its suit to overturn the government ban is still being heard in the High Court.
The High Court here said the Catholic Church must wait until it decides conclusively on whether it is allowed to use “Allah” to refer to the Christian God.
“This means don’t use ‘Allah’ until the court decides,” said church lawyer S. Selvarajah.
Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew who edits the Catholic newspaper, The Herald, visibly drooped when he heard the news.
The editor-priest had seemed in high spirits earlier and was confident the High Court would allow the church to use the word “Allah” for the time being. He had smiled frequently while speaking with reporters earlier.
Judge Lau Bee Lan set July 7 for the next hearing after dismissing the church’s request to stay the government ban, lawyers for both the church and the state told reporters this afternoon.
The arguments were carried out in the judge’s chambers instead of in open court.
If the High Court allowed the church to use “Allah” in a non-Muslim context, it would be helping the church commit an offence under state laws, a lawyer for the government explained to The Malaysian Insider.
According to a lawyer representing several state Islamic religious councils, it is an offence for non-Muslims to use the word “Allah” to refer to any God other than the Muslim God.
Abdul Rahim Sinwan referred to the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of non-Islamic Religious Enactment that was passed into law by 10 states in 1988.
The states are: Selangor, Malacca, Perak, Terengganu, Kelantan, Kedah, Pahang, Negri Sembilan, Johor and Perlis.
The Catholic Church is suing the Home minister to overturn the Home minister’s ban.
The lawsuit stems from the government’s assertion that “Allah” should strictly refer to the Muslim God in Malaysia. This is a view that the Catholic Church has been challenging.
The word “Allah”, the church argues, does not belong only to the Muslims.
The Herald is published in four languages, including the national language Bahasa Malaysia (BM), which caters to the indigenous Malaysians from Sabah and Sarawak, who are mostly Christians.
Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Reverend Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam filed the suit on February 16 to get a declaration from the courts that the church has the right to use the word in print and in church services.
The Home ministry, which issues the annual printing permit for all publications, had warned the church to stop using the word.
Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar, who headed the ministry then, claimed the church’s use of the word “Allah” in any literature published in BM would confuse Muslims, who make up the biggest religious group in the country.
This is the second consecutive year in which Archbishop Murphy Pakiam is suing the Home minister to settle the dispute over the use of the word “Allah”.
Who Speaks For Islam? Not John Esposito
By: Jonathan Gelbart, May 27, 2009
Georgetown University Professor John Esposito is the media’s favourite go-to man for questions about Islam. As the founding director of the Saudi-financed Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, he is also notorious for downplaying radical Islam. Stanford University hosted his latest round of apologetics on May 13.
Esposito, who spoke at Stanford last year, was on campus to promote the film version of his recent book (co-authored with Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies), Who Speaks For Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. He was joined by the film’s executive producer, Muslim convert Michael Wolfe. The 55-minute film claims to present the results of the “largest, most comprehensive study” of Muslim opinion ever done. The crowd’s political leaning were evident in the audible hisses that greeted the cinematic image of former President George W. Bush.
A question and answer session with Esposito and Wolfe followed the screening. Don Emmerson, director of the Southeast Asia Forum at the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford and an affiliated scholar with the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies, was the first to offer up a challenge. Emmerson pointed out a question posed in the film, “Do you believe a woman should be allowed to work in any job she is qualified for?” is answered affirmatively by large majorities of Muslim men and women, but that the film never clarifies for what exactly the respondents believe women to be qualified. Thus, Emmerson concluded, “No quality control is evident in either the film or, if I may say so, in the book.” Esposito had no response.
Emmerson went on to question the film’s claim that “[the term] ‘jihad’ always has positive connotations for Muslims.” “I can attest,” he said firmly, “that this is simply not true.” Emmerson continued, “In Indonesia...Muslims try to avoid the word ‘jihadi’ because they know that it means somebody who engages in violence, and they don’t want to be identified [with that].” Esposito responded with classic academic hair-splitting, claiming that, “If you really listen to what [the woman] is saying when she refers to jihad, she refers to a specific set of data on jihad. And that’s referring to a particular poll that was done and the data that comes out of that poll.”
In answering the next question, Esposito repeated his decade-old claim that radical Islam poses little to no national security threat to the United States. Citing the allegedly “small” number of post-9/11 arrests that resulted in terrorism charges, Esposito, with palpable disdain, told the audience, “I run into Americans all the time who ask me, ‘How many embedded cells do you think there are?’” (In fact, the 9/11 Commission cited inadequate FBI investigation of these very cells as a contributor to the September 11, 2001 attacks.)
Esposito downplayed radicalism in American mosques, recounting a lecture where an audience member brought up the statistic of 80 percent and attributing the figure to a “Muslim basher.” A number of counterterrorism experts and Islam scholars have cited the 80 percent figure, but in doing so, they are usually referring to the number of American mosques whose leadership is influenced by Saudi-funded Wahhabi extremism. As an alleged expert, one would expect Esposito to be aware of this fact, even if it is rather inconvenient.
Shifting his focus to Europe, Esposito cited a recent, unnamed Gallup study on European Muslims to make the outlandish claim that, “the vast majority of Muslim Europeans, are far more open to their society and far more pluralistic in their hopes and their aspirations than indigenous, liberal, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.” Assuming Esposito was referring to the May 7, 2009 study by Gallup and the U.K.-based Coexist Foundation, his conclusions were way off the mark. The study merely demonstrates that general European populations tend to perceive “ambiguous allegiances” among Muslims based on the elevated importance of the latter’s “religious identities,” a suspicion that is hardly without basis. But for Esposito, it comes down to picking and choosing facts that best fit his narrative.
The most memorable exchange of the night occurred between Esposito and a man who identified himself as an Arab Muslim living in the U.S. The latter raised serious problems with the interpretation of the data presented in the film, as when he demolished the film’s laughable conclusion that women in Muslim countries wear the hijab (head scarf) because they have an “amazing idea of the distinction between its internal and external meanings.”The majority of Muslim women wear the hijab, the questioner said, because of cultural and religious pressure, and he feared that the documentary would, as he put it:
Decrease pressure on movements for women’s rights, reforming Islam, and democracy, [because] the image we get from this movie is that there is a utopia in the Islamic world that we don’t know about. But the reality is that there is no utopia.
Esposito dodged the question by responding that one must distinguish between religious and secular Muslim women. “It’s about what women want,” he asserted. “Interviewing secular women who speak good English doesn’t mean they reflect what Muslim women want.” But, apparently, Esposito’s conclusions do?
The views presented in the film, as well as Esposito’s answers, reflect an interpretation of Islam and Muslims that does not jive with reality. Esposito’s obfuscation when faced with tough questions, his dismissal of the threat of Islamic terrorism, and his refusal to take seriously points of view different from his own reveals an anti-intellectualism that is detrimental to the field of Middle East studies. If Esposito and his ilk are “speaking for Islam,” the world’s Muslims are in trouble.
Jonathan Gelbart is international relations major at Stanford University and the current features editor of the Stanford Review, an independent publication. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.
The woman behind the Sakirin Mosque
By Zehra Rizavi, May 27, 2009
Turkey: The modernist Sakirin Mosque, designed by Zeynep Fadillioglu, is the first mosque in Turkey designed by a female and comes at a time when Turkey remains deeply divided over the role of religion within society. In such an environment Fadillioglu hopes the mosque will become a symbol of unity.
Every surface of our globe can be a mosque, the Prophet Muhammad once said. With sincere intent, a faithful Muslim can conjure a mosque almost anywhere, transforming an airport departure lounge, a city pavement or a grassy knoll at a college campus into a sacred space simply by pausing to prostrate his or her head to the ground and pray.
But this innovative spirit has declined in recent decades, leaving most Islamic skylines dominated by the dome-and-minaret model which first appeared centuries ago. Istanbul, once the seat of the caliphate and the capital of the Islamic world, is now dotted with this familiar architectural design. The city’s skyline has, however, received one distinctive addition in recent weeks, a radical exception of sorts.
The metal sphere of the Sakirin Mosque cuts into the city’s horizon, a sharp contrast to the otherwise uniform shapes set against the pale sky; specialists in Istanbul hand-crafted the enormous wrought -iron and glass façade, painstakingly etching verses from the Holy Qur’an into the interior glass. An asymmetrical bronze and Plexiglas chandelier constructed in China and made from thousands of individually crafted shards of glass, which mimic raindrops, appears to dangle precariously from the ceiling of the 130 foot diameter dome. The glass drops are inspired by a prayer which asks that Allah's light should fall upon the supplicant like rain.
The mimbar, or pulpit, resembles a graceful white stairway, which one imagines will continue to the heavens, but stops short at a platform where the Imam will stand. And finally, the mihrab, a stylized niche designating the kibla, is tulip-shaped and a vibrant turquoise in colour—“an opening to God," says the designer.
And who is the designer who subtly blended modern techniques and materials into what might be the world's most conservative design vernacular? It is a she - Zeynep Fadillioglu, the first female in Turkey to design a mosque. Fadillioglu has made a name for herself designing restaurants, hotels, clubs, bars and private residences across the globe - London, Kuwait, Berlin and Paris, to name a handful of the cities marked by her creations. For almost 25 years, Fadillioglu and her husband, a glamorous, party-loving pair, have been creating sophisticated hot spots that are the number-one destinations for Turkey's glitterati.
Fadillioglu began her career as an interior designer with an eclectic taste. Her own home showcases a treasure trove of possessions amassed from her frequent travels and flea-market sprees. In less capable hands, her home would appear to be a cultural hodgepodge of Eastern and Western pieces, but Fadillioglu has a knack for making things Oriental and European sit together in easy, informal arrangements that never feel artificial or pretentious. The same is true for her design of the Sakirin Mosque; it is an effortless union of the modern with the traditional and the West with the East.
Istanbul’s wealthy Sakir family commissioned Fadillioglu to build the Sakirin Mosque as a memorial to their mother because of Fadillioglu’s harmonious design sensibility. "When I was offered this project I cried," she said. She wept not only because she considered this the opportunity of a lifetime, but because she felt the project refuted the myth that Islam marginalizes women, discouraging them from playing an active, leadership role in the community. Her excitement and pride, however, was tempered by the pressure she said she placed upon herself to create a stunning place of worship.
Despite Turkey's strictly secular status, much of the country remains religiously conservative, and the Sakir family selected one of Istanbul’s most religious areas to erect the mosque. Fadillioglu made a concerted effort from the very beginning to marry tradition with modernity. "Designing everything we tried to be contemporary, but not too futuristic or avant garde," she explained. “We want the public to feel part of the place, rather than watching it as an incredible art object." To achieve a comfortable, uncontrived balance, Fadillioglu hired both craftsmen trained in traditional Islamic architecture and artisans experienced in creating contemporary designs.
Fadillioglu consulted art historians and theologians at every step, not wanting to unwittingly offend anyone, particularly those of a more conservative mindset. She found the same response to all of the design ideas she cautiously put forth to Islamic scholars: “Why not?” The calligraphy artist for the Sakirin Mosque was an Imam and when she first introduced herself to him, Fadillioglu braced herself for a look of disapproval, at best, but instead she caught nothing more than momentary surprise on his face. She expected resistance but was met with open-mindedness. “I had the prejudice myself, that I would have problems,” she admitted with a smile.
Ironically, Fadillioglu said she faced more problems from staunchly secular friends. "People with Western values, they kept on asking me why I was building a mosque.” Some went so far as to suggest that Fadillioglu had compromised her secular ideals by agreeing to take on the project.
Along with her efforts to build a mosque which balanced the modern design elements with traditional ones, Fadillioglu grappled with another issue: Should women be allowed in a mosque's main hall or confined to separate quarters? Fadillioglu drew on her own experiences praying in mosques. "In the Prophet's time, men and women prayed next to each other," she said. "Lately, with the rise of political Islam everywhere, the women's sections have started to be covered up and boxed off. I've been in mosques like that, and I felt very uncomfortable." She decided to return to what she felt were the religion’s roots. Fadillioglu designed an expansive balcony overlooking the central hall and divided only by crisscrossed railings. The balcony has an airy, open feel and allows women to have an unobstructed view of the entire mosque.
The Sakirin Mosque comes at a time when Turkey remains deeply divided over the role of religion within society. A recent opinion poll found that 68% of the country believes a conflict between religion and secularism continues to threaten the country. In such an environment Fadillioglu hopes the mosque will become a symbol of unity. "I think this mosque has all the Western and Eastern values nicely blended.”
Muslim-American Activism: Chicago Muslims Seek to Alter Americans’ Perception of Palestine
INCLEMENT WEATHER did not deter the more than 650 people who filled a small banquet hall at Aqsa School in Bridgeview, IL on March 1 for the first fund-raising dinner held by the American Muslims for Palestine-Chicago.
Because of Israel’s deadly aggression against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip in January, it was only fitting that the dinner’s theme highlighted the humanitarian, political and social crises present in Gaza. AMP’s slogan for the night, “Gaza: Silence Is Not an Option,” made it clear that efforts must remain strong and dedicated in order to achieve justice and security in Palestine as a whole.
Dr. Hatem Bazian, co-founder and chairman of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), said the national grassroots organization “has a Muslim identity,” capable of changing the way Palestine is represented in America. Although Bazian, a professor of Near Eastern and Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, pointed out the significance of Palestine in Islam, he emphasized that the Palestinian issue transcends identity. Everybody has a responsibility to present the truth about Palestine to the general public, he stated.
Bazian proceeded to offer new approaches to spreading awareness. Instead of engaging in a tit-for-tat of Palestinian versus Israeli dead, he suggested the dialogue focus on what supporting Israel costs American taxpayers. Blind support that adds up to more than $3 billion per year actually makes Israel a strategic liability rather than an ally. Furthermore, he pointed out, Israeli antagonism undermines American efforts to create stable and lasting relationships between the West and the Middle East.
AMP recently sponsored the trip to Gaza of Reem Salahi, a California-based lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union. Salahi visited Gaza with the National Lawyers Guild delegation that travelled there to document evidence of war crimes.
She described her impressions of the area that was devastated by three weeks of relentless Israeli shelling and showed the powerful photographs and video clips she brought back that captured the heart-wrenching aftermath of utter devastation. These pictures and videos play a significant role in arguing for the necessity to “document Israelis’ targeting of civilians [and] investigate Israel’s illegal use of weapons.”
AMP is a national grassroots organization with 11 chapters in eight states. Its mission is to bring the Palestinian narrative to the American public. The recent war against Gaza energized the organization, which is quickly growing. National office manager Awad Hamdan said he receives calls inquiring about new chapters on an almost daily basis. The national office is located in the Chicago area. For more information, visit <www.ampalestine.org>.
Azerbaijan: Mosques Close In Baku, "Capital Of Islamic Culture"
Mina Muradova May 27, 2009
Baku may have the designation of this year’s "Capital of Islamic Culture," but a recent series of mosque closures and fresh requirements for registration of religious organizations has prompted concern about how Azerbaijan is living up to its title.
Over the past month, police have closed or torn down mosques in various Baku neighbourhoods for reasons ranging from electricity repairs to alleged construction irregularities. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the 57-member intergovernmental body that designated Baku as its "Capital of Islamic Culture" for 2009, has not commented on the government’s actions.
The latest mosque to close, Ilahiyyat, located on the campus of Baku State University, was shut down "temporarily" for reportedly never having registered with the State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations (SCWRO). Prior to the closure, university administrators complained that classes were regularly disrupted by the Azaan, or call to prayer, and the subsequent arrival of thousands of worshippers.
The mosque was constructed in 1992 by the Presidency of Religious Affairs of the Republic of Turkey, an organization that builds mosques in post-Soviet Turkic countries. Muzeffer Shahin, religious affairs advisor at the Turkish Embassy in Baku, disputed Azerbaijani authorities’ contention that the mosque had been constructed "illegally," the APA news service reported.
Another Turkish-built mosque, Shahidlyar, next to Martyrs’ Lane, was shut down for "repairs" on the eve of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s May 13 visit to Baku. The abrupt action, taken amid rising bilateral tension over Turkey’s creeping rapprochement with Armenia, prompted some Baku residents to assume the decision was a tit-for-tat expression of displeasure over Ankara’s political dialogue with Yerevan. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive]. The State Committee on Work with Religious Organizations has since repeated that the mosque will reopen once repairs are complete.
Officials expressed similar concerns for building methods and property regulations to justify the destruction of two mosques. On May 11, authorities tore down a mosque located on the Oily Rocks, an offshore drilling settlement; the reason was to ensure worshippers’ "safety" since the mosque allegedly had been constructed "on clay." And on April 26, police used bulldozers to tear down the Prophet Mohammed mosque; its imam was accused of having constructed the house of worship on land that belongs to the State Economic University.
Ilgar Ibrahimoglu, an imam and head of the Centre for Protection of Freedom of Conscience and Faith, asserts that Azerbaijani leaders are suffering from what he described as "mosque-phobia."
"A state body that is supposed to protect the rights of believers instead is imposing a police regime," Ibrahimoglu contended. "It is inconceivable to call God’s home an ’illegal’ place."
Ibrahimoglu has an extended history as a government critic. In 2004, authorities evicted worshipers from the Juma mosque in Baku, where he was the imam. His supporters at the time said the government’s action was politically motivated. [For background see the Eurasia Insight archive].
The start of authorities’ "mosque-phobia" can be traced to August 2008, when an explosion at Baku’s Abu-Bakur mosque killed two worshippers and injured another 19, Ibrahimoglu said. The mosque was shut down, and city police subsequently stepped up their presence around other mosques, particularly during Friday prayers.
Gunduz Ismaylov, chief of the SCWRO’s department responsible for interacting with religious organizations, rejected Ibrahimoglu’s allegations. "There is no reason to politicize the situation and create a stir around these closures," Ismaylov said. "Some of them were illegally constructed structures."
Ibrahimoglu argues that the mosque closures are part of a larger picture. Recent amendments to the 1992 Law on Freedom of Conscience, adopted by parliament on May 8, would hinder the registration of religious organizations and simplify their closures, he charged. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has yet to sign the amendments into law.
Before registering with the SCWRA, Muslim groups now need to receive a letter of approval from the Caucasus Muslim Board, a state-associated body that appoints Muslim clerics to mosques and monitors sermons. All religious groups will have to be re-registered by September 2009 in accordance with this requirement.
Religious groups also must submit information about their founders’ citizenship, residence, date of birth, religious doctrine, traditions, official duties, attitude towards family, marriage and education, as well as details about any restrictions put on their members. The group can function only at the address given for their registration. This appears to indicate that any activity outside such venues will be regarded as illegal.
Ibrahimoglu contends that the new requirements would contradict international practice. SCWRO representatives counter that the amendments were dictated by the threefold increase in the number of religious organizations functioning in Azerbaijan (534) since the committee began registering such groups in 2001. Once the current re-registration is complete, "the number of religious communities will double," argued Ismaylov.
"If a religious community’s activity is in accordance with both national legislation and society’s interests, why should we not register it?" he asked.
Rabiyyat Aslanova, the head of parliament’s Committee on Human Rights, said that the law needs to be amended to ensure "state security" and "to prevent harmful missionary activity."
"Some religious sects that are banned in Europe are freely operating in Azerbaijan," she declared during a May 8 parliamentary session without mentioning the names of suspect groups. "We will ban the activity of groups spreading the propaganda of violence . . . [as well as those that are] against the principles of humanity and human dignity."
Ibrahimoglu rejects such arguments. "It should not be allowed to suppress freedom of conscience for the sake of state security."
Editor's Note: Mina Miradova is a freelance reporter based in Baku. http://www.eurasianet.org