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Islamic World News ( 28 Oct 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Turkey's head scarf ban prevents advance of Islamist agenda to undermine pluralism

DUBAI: New movie ‘Messenger of Peace’ will focus wholly on rich values of Islam

Jakarta: Bali attackers: for Islam, are they heroes or criminals?

Muslim feminist Nawal El Saadawi -- in Dialogue

Government groups focused on Muslim women are “patronising”, says a Muslim peer

Peace deal focus of Somalia meeting

$200m Islamic bank launched in Bahrain

1000 artworks to see before you die: Islamic art

Jakarta: One Indonesian shares women's rights in Islamic schools

DALLAS: Dragging death suspect's sister rebuts race angle

BAGHDAD: Iraqis see US force plans as blackmail

In the name of Islam: Reply of Zul Nordin to RPK 

Credit crunch may spur Islamic finance

Bloomberg: Islamic Bloggers Confront Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt Politics

Compiled by Syed Asadullah


Turkey's head scarf ban prevents advance of Islamist agenda to undermine pluralism

October 26, 2008

Farzana Hassan [President, Muslim Canadian Congress]: "The Muslim Canadian Congress, in welcoming the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey to disallow the lifting of the ban on hijabs, viewed it as a significant triumph of secularism over repressive Islamist practices. The court recently ruled that amendments to the constitution by the ruling AKP in an effort to permit hijabs in universities would amount to rendering "nonfunctional the basic features of the republic." At the core of this decision is the recognition that the hijab continues to be a tool of oppression for Muslim women, severely undermining their right to express their faith in their own unique and personal way, if they so desire.

Faith and its expression must be a matter of personal choice rather than something that is handed down as a "categorical imperative" through a system of belief that is repressive and outmoded in its inward and outward manifestations. While the decision of the Constitutional Court of Turkey may restrict the rights of women who claim to have adopted the hijab of their own free will, one must question the authenticity of such claims through a process unearthing some of the repressive religious underpinnings of such decisions. It is the same suspicion over the authenticity, or lack of it, that European lawmakers have chosen to restrict the use of religious headgear in public institutions.

One would need assurances for example, that women who reject the hijab would not be subjected to coercion in the matter, simply because the orthodoxy considers it a religious requirement. The lifting of the ban would have empowered the fundamentalist Islamic forces, resulting in the marginalization and oppression of women, reducing their role in society to one of subservience and subjugation. This would be tantamount to providing leverage to the religious right in their unrelenting attempts at enforcing compliance for the practice where it is not voluntary.

Traditional Muslims often bristle at such criticism by downplaying the social pressures faced by women who reject the hijab. This, however, is a gross misrepresentation of reality. Even women, who supposedly opt for it, do so because they are rarely if ever exposed to an alternative exegesis on the issue, which does not regard the hijab as a requirement. Women's "choice" in the matter can be considered authentic only if they are exposed to other narratives on modesty, which do not entail the covering of the hair.

Turkey as a modern state and last bastion of secular Islam must continue to uphold its tradition of the separation of religion and state. The headgear or hijab is a political tool and a threat to Turkey's long secular tradition. Currently, there is tremendous pressure on secular women to cover up according to orthodox requirements, even in large cities. The present government has also attempted to eliminate the secular dress code in government offices. It has taken a slower, steadier path, careful not to jolt the establishment too quickly while at the same time floating an occasional trial balloon for social reforms to advance the Islamist agenda.

Islamism, quite distinct from Islam, is a fascist ideology that needs to be countered with equal force, blow for blow, at each step of its numerous incursions into civil society. It strikes at the foundational principles of liberal and secular democracies, seeking eventually to undermine cherished values of freedom, pluralism and egalitarianism. Just at the time as Islamists are relying on the pluralism card to advance their religious agenda, they are making plans to eventually kill any other competing worldview.

Muslim and non-Muslim dalliance with pluralism to allow the spread of Islamism is misguided. They are scantly aware of the Islamists' long term agenda to establish an orthodox form of Islam which allows no dissent whatsoever. Proponents of pluralism must recognize that the two philosophies are mutually contradictory at practically every step of the game, and cannot possibly form the basis of a genuine relationship based on universal humanistic principles."

Opinions expressed in JURIST's Hotline are the sole responsibility of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, or the University of Pittsburgh. Source:


‘The Messenger of Peace’ will be set during time of Prophet Mohammed, focus wholly on rich values of Islam.

DUBAI - Producer Oscar Zoghbi, who worked on the "Halloween" series of Hollywood movies, has joined a team working on a new picture on the birth of Islam, according to details unveiled in Dubai Monday.

Titled "The Messenger of Peace", the movie will be set during the time of the Prophet Mohammed, a media statement by the production company said.

Zoghbi, who was more recently involved in redeveloping Twickenham Studios in Britain, also contributed to making the 1977 film "The Message", regarded as the only epic to portray early Islam.

The new film "is not about division and conflict but will focus wholly on the rich values common to all Muslims, like compassion and tolerance," Zoghbi said.

Having worked with Moustapha Akkad, director of "The Message", Zoghbi said he appreciates the sensitivities and challenges linked with the subject of Islam.

As with "The Message", there will be no depiction of the Prophet Mohammed on screen, as images of the prophet are strictly forbidden in Islam.

"Since 9/11, Islam's image has suffered tremendously," said Hajja Subhia Abu Elheja, an international film financier and executive producer of the new movie. "Now more than ever it has become important to bridge the gap of understanding between Muslims and non-Muslims."

"It is telling that only one great historical film has ever been made about Islam, a religion with 1.5 billion followers, whereas Christianity has been the subject of over 30," he said.

Hollywood director Ramsey Thomas, also linked with "Halloween" and with other films like "Boiling Point", will write the script for the new film, which will be shot in English but dubbed into other languages, in particular Arabic.

Moustapha Akkad died with more than 60 other people when bombers attacked three hotels in Amman, Jordan in 2005.



Bali attackers: for Islam, are they heroes or criminals?

By Mathias Hariyadi

Conflicting opinions among Indonesian Muslims over the methods used by Amrozi and his companions to promote "holy war." Some consider them "pioneers in the struggle," while others call their act "disproportionate." Their execution has been set for early November; growing alarm over security in the country.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Contrasting reactions among Indonesian Muslims to the news of the execution, set for early November, of the three people responsible for the massacre in Bali in 2002, in which more than 200 people died. If some of the fundamentalist Koranic schools celebrate the attackers as "heroes" and pioneers of the "holy war," others define the attack as "a disproportionate response" to the oppression of the Islamic world, and stigmatize the killing of innocent people.

Last October 24, General Bambang Hendarso Danuri, Indonesia's chief of police, confirmed that the elite police corps, which goes by the name of Brimob, is making final preparations to proceed with the execution of Amrozi, Imam Samudra, and Ali Gufron, Amrozi's older brother, also known as Mukhias. "They will face the firing squad in early November,” says General Danuri, without giving an exact date. He also says that the three men have asked personally to have their bodies buried in their home town. For Amrozi and Mukhlas, that is in Lamongan in the province of East Java, and for Imam Samudra, in Serang, in the province of Banten.

General Danuri confirms that there has been a general reinforcement in security measures in the country; new "sensitive targets" are under observation, added to the places where there are American citizens or institutions, the possible targets of terrorist attacks. On October 21, the security forces stopped an attack on a large fuel depot north of the capital.

Amrozi's relatives say they want to visit him "for the last time" at the maximum-security prison of Nusakambangan, in the district of Cilacap; Lulu Jamaluddin, Imam Samudra's younger brother, reiterates his absolute innocence: "I strongly believe that the bombing attack was not done by them,” he says.

A growing number of Indonesian Muslims are speaking out in support of Amrozi and his companions. The students of the Islamic school Darusy Syahadah are expressing their solidarity, calling them "holy warriors." "They are like us, they wanted to do good deeds," says one 18-year-old student, Nawawi. Experts on terrorism explained that the Koranic school of Darusy Syahadah has long been a center for recruiting and indoctrination for Jemaah Islamiah, the Indonesian fundamentalist group connected to al Qaeda. Its graduates include Salik Firdaus, the suicide attacker who blew himself up in Bali in 2005, killing 20 people.

Experts on international terrorism emphasize, however, that the situation in the country is much more "complex and intricate," and that support for the struggle advocated by Jemaah Islamiah has collapsed after the repeated attacks that have caused numerous deaths among civilians. In fact, many schools, although they support "holy war," have come under the influence of the government policy aimed at "uprooting" terrorism, which has partly stemmed the bloodshed. The principal of the Darusy Syahadah Islamic school, Mustaquim, confirms that the motivations behind the suicide attacks are "noble," but the "method" is wrong.

The Koranic school al-Mukmin, in Ngriki, founded by the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiah, Abu Bakar Bashir, is paying homage to the terrorists, but the opinions there are at odds. According to fundamentalist leader Bashir, the 2002 attack in Bali was the result of a "micro-nuclear" device planted by the CIA, because the bomb set off by Amrozi and his companions only "shattered glass and didn't wound people, or at most wounded them a little." But the headmaster of the school, Wahyudin, expresses a different opinion, calling the indiscriminate bombing attacks at bars and nightclubs on the island of Bali a disproportionate response to the global oppression of Muslims.



Muslim feminist Nawal El Saadawi -- in Dialogue

By Sara Wajid                                                               

Less than a minute in, Nawal El Saadawi, the ideological godmother of Muslim feminists, flouts author interview protocol rather fabulously, by pretending she's not really doing one.  I'm at a sunny breakfast table in Edinburgh on the last day of her UK book tour, to discuss the republication of her seminal 1970s books, but the 76-year-old Egyptian psychiatrist and 2005 presidential candidate is, apparently, slightly baffled by the reissues.

"It was a surprise.  Zed (Books) was not paying attention to my books.  They are not really interested in novels or feminism so we had many quarrels over the years," the white-haired iconoclast cheerfully informs me.  "Then suddenly they were publishing these three books again and I was astonished.  Why they are interested now?  Apparently they are relevant again.  They are!"  The high priestess of first-wave feminism shrugs, pulling off a combination of aloof disinterest and effective book-plugging with panache.

Saadawi wrote these revolutionary, shocking books on the brutal sexual subjugation of Arab women when in her forties, after working as a doctor in rural Egypt.  The series includes her best-known novel Woman at Point Zero (1973) about a prostitute who is sentenced to death for killing her rapist, and The Hidden Face of Eve (1977), which opens on the unblinking description of the clitorodectomy Saadawi underwent aged 6.

The books crackle with righteous fury, depicting a world in which little girls are routinely sexually abused by sex-starved male relatives and mutilated by their mothers in the name of Allah.  Breaking these taboos in the 1970s made her the internationally recognised authority on the status of women in the Arab world and 'introduced the word feminist into Egyptian culture'.  But how do her ideas stand up in a world where 'throwing off the veil' has become as anachronistic as 'burning your bra'?

A new generation outspoken critics of women's status in Muslim societies have emerged, young challengers for the crown.  What does Saadawi make of the notoriously right-leaning, controversial, Dutch-Somalian, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who campaigns against FGM and cites Saadawi as an influence?  She winces at the mention of her name.

    It's become fashionable to talk about female circumcision but divorced from broader politics.  I look at you as a whole.  If you support the war in Iraq but you're fighting female circumcision am I supposed to say 'Oh she's a hero, she's a feminist'?  But you're supporting the war in Iraq and standing next to Condoleeza Rice!  I have to understand your ideology and vision to see if you're really true or if you're just playing the game.

What about solidarity with another woman who has been threatened by Muslim extremists for her defence of womens' rights?  "No, it would be ridiculous to make an alliance with her on that basis," she explains and gives me a pitying look for asking such an obtuse question.  She ends the discussion firmly saying we shouldn't give the already over-exposed Hirsi Ali any more attention.

She prefers the French feminist and psychiatrist Julia Kristeva as an ideological ally and agrees with her that the hijab has no place in schools and that public space should be secular.  "When I was a child there weren't any veiled students around.  Of course, we didn't have Sadat who encouraged the Muslim Brotherhood, but we had other oppressions and I don't prefer the past," she says emphatically.  "My daughter is happier and has more freedom than me.  There is progress and backlash, progress and backlash."

Later, Hirsi Ali's name crops up again when we discuss Saadawi's critics and I glimpse her infamous temper.  Saadawi lets rip, "This type of woman, like the Dutch woman, Ayaan, their work is weak and they want to be stars.  I'm a hard-working woman; I work and I write and I deserve respect -- these sensationalist women cannot work hard."  She does have over forty books as evidence.  The day we met she had a tennis injury sustained during her daily 6am exercise regime.

Saadawi is on the road again, partly because the Egyptian government is threatening to revoke her citizenship.  She left Cairo earlier this year in 'irritation' after being interrogated by police in January along with her daughter, a seditious columnist.  She's writing and teaching at Spellman Women's College in Atlanta ("I am a little devilish you know.  I teach creativity and dissidence," she bantered with the audience at her London reading).

Being an enemy of the state is a point of pride and has been all her life; she spent a month in prison in 1981 for criticizing the one-party rule of President Sadat and her husband, a political dissident, did 15 years.  In 1988 she made it onto a Muslim extremist death list and moved to the United States for 8 years.  A comical legal case was brought against her in 2001 by religious conservatives, who invoked an obscure law against apostates marrying Muslims, and attempted to forcibly divorce her from her husband.  The bitchy joke in Cairo was that her mild-mannered husband was behind the plot.

But many feel Saadawi no longer deserves to be called the 'leading spokeswoman on the status of women in the Arab world'?  "Absolutely not," says Ahdaf Soueif, the Egyptian novelist and cultural commentator.

    Nor has she been for the last twenty years.  I know women who say she opened their eyes to feminism as we might say about the early iconic feminist writers in any language.  But after she was imprisoned along with about 1000 other people, her western career began and from then on her discourse was tailored to the West and she lost touch with her Arab audience.

Soueif echoes a younger generation of Middle-Eastern and Arab women who are proud of their modernity and resent the prominence given to Saadawi's writing in the West.  Manal Lotfi, an Egyptian journalist working in London explains, "She's brave -- charismatic but also aggressive.  In such a conservative society she stands up and takes attacks and criticism from many factions.  But she doesn't represent or understand ordinary women, most of whom are religious.  There are more Egyptian women in higher education than men now."

At times, she does seem uncomfortably out of step with Muslim women.  In reply to a question about the adoption of the hijab by many young Muslims in the West, she answered unequivocally: "Women who wear the veil and say they choose to do so are either lying or ignorant."  I wondered what the two young Muslim women in the audience wearing hijab thought of her answer.  But at other times her writing seems uncannily prescient -- she wrote in The Hidden Face of Eve over thirty years ago of an "incomplete or biased understanding of Islam and of the role it has played in social change."

This is in keeping with her analysis of the 'Qatib girl' case.  A rape victim in Saudi Arabia was sentenced to 200 lashes because she admitted that when she was attacked she was sitting in a car with a man, to whom she wasn't related -- a crime under Sharia law.  The story was widely reported in the western press and the Saudi King has subsequently pardoned the woman under international pressure.  "Of course I'm very much against punishment for an honour crime," Saadawi told me a few weeks later on the phone, "but this issue is very political because Islam is the enemy of the West and supposedly the only religion which kills women.  I disagree with this -- killing and violation of women is to be found in Israel and by the US government too for instance.  But why didn't Clinton take up the killing of Iraqi people and speak up against the American military machine?  Why didn't he make a big row in the media about that?"

    This case is horrible but there is also a lot of violation of human rights in Saudi of people who are fighting against the exploitation of Saudi oil, which is for the kingdom and for the US rather than for the Saudi people.  Only the sexual problems are exposed.  But the husband of this woman is great -- he supported her and took the criminals to trial -- we should also be focusing on this positive progressive man.

Sara Wajid is a writer based in London.  This interview was published in Darkmatter on 13 February 2008 under the Creative Commons 2.0



Government groups focused on Muslim women are “patronising”, says a Muslim peer

27 October 2008

Shadow Cabinet member Baroness Warsi picked out the example of the Muslim Women’s Advisory Group, launched this year to advise the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Lady Warsi, shadow minister for social cohesion, told peers at question time: “The creation of such groups is actually dividing communities and it is quite patronising because it says to Muslim women you can only engage with us as Muslim women and not as individuals.”

But Lord Patel of Bradford, for the Government, replied: “If it is suggested that by focusing on Muslims or Muslim women we are patronising them or creating divisions that were not previously there I completely disagree.

”We are working with a community that has disproportionately high rates of unemployment, poor educational attainment and poor health all of which lead to disenfranchisement and alienation.

”We cannot address those issues faced by the Muslim community and Muslim women if we don’t engage with them just as we do with wider inter-faith groups.”



Peace deal focus of Somalia meeting

Opposition groups want Ethiopian forces to leave Somalia as a pre-condition for compromise [EPA]

A meeting of East African leaders is about to begin in Nairobi, Kenya, to discuss a potential new peace deal for Somalia, Al Jazeera's Mohammed Adow reports.

The meeting is being hosted by the regional body, Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).

It follows a UN deal, brokered on Sunday, between the interim Somali government and an opposition group.

That pact calls for Ethiopian troops to withdraw from key areas of the capital Mogadishu and regional centres.

There were fears that the IGAD initiative would overlap with the separate UN-led Somali peace process in Djibouti.

The UN special envoy to Somalia has, however, lent his support to the Nairobi conference.

Neighbours' audit

With only nine months left before the mandate of their government expires, Transitional Front Government (TFG) leaders attending the Nairobi conference are expecting to be audited by the very neighbours that helped create it.

The TFG came out of an earlier Kenya conference.

It has been in control of Mogadishu since last year, backed by thousands of Ethiopian troops.

Though there is little progress on the ground, the TFG denies it has failed.

Mohamed Talha, the deputy speaker of parliament, said: "We recognise ourselves that we have sacrificed and have been victimised.

"Many members of parliament were killed and injured, we lost many friends, and we want the international community and Somalis to recognise that we are heroes not failures."

Ongoing battle

The TFG has been battling fighters loyal to the Islamic Courts' Union, which had previously controlled the capital, and large parts of southern Somalia.

The Islamic Courts' military wing, Al Shabaab, has split into a separate force.

Al Shabaab rejected Sunday's UN deal and has vowed to keep fighting.

For the past year, the TFG has been opposed by a group called the Alliance For the Re-Liberation of Somalia (ARS), which includes the Islamic Courts' Union.

But the ARS has also split - one faction signed the ceasefire deal on Sunday, the other opposes it.

The Nairobi conference – one of nearly 20 peace initiatives held for Somalia in the past 18 years - is welcome news to its people.

But given the dire situation in Somalia, many question its ability to succeed.

Somalia has been without an effective government since 1991.

Humanitarian disaster

Today, Somalia is one of the world’s greatest humanitarian disasters, some say even worse than the western Sudan region of Darfur.

Nearly a half of the country’s population of seven million people depend on food aid according to UN estimates.

Many have fled their homes in the capital and live on its outskirts in some of the most desperate conditions.

Hundreds of others cross their borders daily to live as refugees.



$200m Islamic bank launched in Bahrain


MANAMA: A group of Middle East investors has pressed ahead with the launch of a $200 million Sharia-compliant investment bank in spite of the current global financial turmoil.

First Investment Bank, headquartered in Bahrain, says it offers institutional and individual investors innovative, diversified products and services with a special focus on the Middle East and North Africa region.

It will look at opportunities in private equity, oil and gas and real estate and when the market improves look to get involved in the sukuk market.

And it is already looking at a $500m investment in a real estate project in Bahrain.

It has an authorised capital of $200m and a paid-up capital of $120m.

The bank's shareholder base consists of some of the Gulf region's most renowned financial institutions including First Investment Company, Boubyan Bank, Commercial Real Estate Company and Gulf Investment House, all of Kuwait plus Tabayun Investment (Bahrain), Abdullatif Al Issa Group (Saudi Arabia), Al Mawarid Finance (Dubai) and Noor Capital of Abu Dhabi.

"The GCC is the world's fastest-changing economy, the region's liquidity and oil reserves coupled with the bold move to diversify its economic base presents an attractive proposition for investors," said First Investment Bank chairman Dr Mohammad Al Alloush.

"Over the past five years the Islamic banking industry and financial services sector as a whole has undergone a rapid transformation and we now see some of the most dynamic and innovative transactions being launched from the Gulf region.

"Bahrain's Islamic finance sector, in particular, is leading the way for the rest of the world in terms of research, regulation and performance.

"The kingdom has firmly established itself as a global hub for Islamic finance as a result of the forward thinking policies and focused efforts of the Central Bank of Bahrain.

"We intend to create new models in the region's investment banking industry and seek out partnerships between the private and public sector that will deliver maximum benefits to the community at large," he said.

"As we begin to introduce innovative, high-return products to the market we hope to generate further investment opportunities and provide a boost to the kingdom's global position as a leader in the Islamic finance industry."

Chief executive officer Jamal Ali Al Hazeem said with Islamic banking firmly on the rise, there is an ever increasing need for skilled professionals who can shape the industry's future.

"First Investment Bank's emphasis on training and development has enabled the bank to attract and build a team that possesses an intricate knowledge of Sharia guidelines and of the changing conditions in the investment environment. Equipped with that knowledge our people are able to maintain solid client relationships based on common goals and shared values.

"Our investment strategy is developed around capital and fee-based business lines and we aim to generate income through private equity, real estate, and capital markets. The bank's strong pan-Gulf shareholder base allows us to cater to a wider target audience; our investors will be able to capitalise on the strength of our integrated, regional and international network."

He said that the bank would clearly pursue a conservative and prudent strategy in the current economic climate.

"The current economic crisis is a time when both Islamic and conventional banks will have to be more innovative and prudent to success but it is a time which will separate the men from the boys." Source:


1000 artworks to see before you die: Islamic art

The use of the written word to decorate a building is one of the crucial characteristics of Islamic art

Crystalline stucco, glistening tiles, inlaid wood and walls decorated with ramifying patterns, which on closer inspection include words from the Qur'an, are among the wonders of Islamic religious art. The emergence, early in the history of Islam, of scepticism about the value of images did not limit possibilities for decorating places of gathering and prayer. On the contrary, the interiors of mosques proliferate with unprecedented abstract invention almost from the very first Arab conquests in the early middle ages.

The oldest surviving Islamic religious buildings, such as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (built by 691), are visibly influenced by the mosaics of Byzantium. But already in the Dome of the Rock there's more interest in repeated motifs from nature than in iconic faces and bodies. The mosque, with its expansive interior and even vaster courtyard, evolved from the house of the Prophet Muhammad in Madina; the unique decorative features that started to appear in mosques by the eighth century include the mihrab - a large niche set into the wall that faces Mecca, conventionally explained as a visual indication of the direction in which to pray - and the minbar, a raised platform and lectern comparable to the pulpit in European churches. These are often highly ornate and exquisitely beautiful, many placed in museums, in Islamic and non-Islamic lands, as works of art in their own right.

One of the most powerful examples of medieval Islamic art in a museum is an entire wooden minbar from Egypt, its tall, towered frame carved into geometrical interlapping star-shapes inset with white ivory. This mathematical pattern, its order relieved by opulent ivory details and organic truth - like a microscopic view of snowflakes or minerals - is a captivating example of the patterning that, with their spiritually inspired studies of mathematics and knowledge of ancient Greek science, medieval Muslims perfected.

An earlier and even more spectacular example of Islamic religious art's subtle combination of rich texture and complex symmetrical order is the mihrab in the Great Mosque at Cordoba, created in the 10th century for al-Hakam II. Interweaving stucco patterns are juxtaposed, as in an illuminated manuscript, with words from the Qur'an: this use of the written word to decorate a building is one of the crucial characteristics of Islamic art. Luxurious manuscripts of the Qur'an such as the ninth-century Blue Qur'an with its gold letters on blue parchment are very different from Christian illuminated manuscripts with their images and marginalia: the words of Islam's holy book are presented as purely as possible and themselves become the "art". Mosque and book, word and decoration flow into one another in these masterpieces of Islam.

• Mosaics in the Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem (691)

• Mosaics in the Great Mosque, Damascus (706)

• Blue Qur'an, gold on blue parchment in Musée des Arts Islamiques, Qayrawan (9th century)

• Richly decorated mihrab of the Great Mosque at Cordoba, Spain (10th century)

• Minbar in bone and wood from the Kutubiyya Mosque, in Badi' Palace, Marrakesh (begun 1137)

• Mihrab from Mosul, in Baghdad Museum (13th century)

• Mihrab from Isfahan, Iran, in Metropolitan Museum, New York (c1354)

• Wood and ivory minbar from Egypt, in V&A (c1470)

• Interior of Mosque of Shaykh Lutfallah (1603-1619)

The palace

The court art created for Islamic rulers in the middle ages soars on a magic carpet ride of imagination and grace. Light, airy palaces were decorated with shining tiles, honeycomb-like stucco vaults and hypnotically patterned carpets. The pleasures of life were celebrated in intricate perfume bottles, lustrous serving dishes and magnificent water vessels. Monstrous beasts such as a green copper-alloy griffin with curvaceous wings and throat and sharp beak and ears, today in the cathedral museum in Pisa, Italy, bring to mind the fabulous world of the 1,001 Nights.

Islamic court art reached its heights in al-Andalus, the Muslim kingdom in Spain established by 740 and destroyed by the Christians in 1492. The rulers of al-Andalus proclaimed their faith with Cordoba's Great Mosque and Seville's Giralda minaret, but it is the ethereal luxury of Andalusian court art that has captivated later generations. The art of using plaster to decorate buildings is taken to truly fantastic lengths in Andalusian masterpieces such as a stucco doorway from the Aljaferia palace in Saragossa, today in Madrid's Archaeological Museum.

Out of two strait-laced columns at the bottom of the doorway spurts a phoenix flame of pulsing ornament. The design mocks architectural common sense - it includes representations of a broken or falling buttress - and the fiery splendour of the "arabesque" joyously contradicts the neat, even design on the upper doorframe. This is not architecture but pure, purposeless art.

It's even more beguiling to see such effects, with immense structures of cascading plaster dangling above geometrical patterns repeated across vast walls of lustrous tiles, in the unique Alhambra in Granada - a dreamer's palace that floats above the city. Far from being hostile to all figurative depiction, Islamic medieval art abounds in images of animals, including the stone lions in the Alhambra's Patio de los Leones, yet it's the enigmatic, spiritual beauty of geologically cavernous stucco vaults and cool blue tiles that is so unreal.

Lustreware - the use of metal to create dazzling pottery glazes - was invented by Islamic artists and ancient ceramics still glint in their museum cases. Even after the reconquista, Andalusian artists continued to create fabulous interior spaces for Christian palaces, while the Muslim arts of luxury reached new heights in 16th-century Istanbul at the court of the Ottomans.

This was the age when European artists such as Holbein started depicting the intricate weaves of eastern carpets. One the greatest of all surviving Islamic carpets is the hypnotically decorated Ardabil carpet, woven in 16th-century Iran under the Ottomans' rivals the Safavid dynasty, that can be seen today in London's V&A.

Key works

• Marble window grille from Al-Andalus, now in Cordoba Provincial Archaeological Museum, Spain (11th century)

• Stucco doorway from the Aljaferia, Saragossa, now in Museo Arqueológico Nacional, Madrid (11th century)

• Patio de Los Leones, Alhambra, Granada (11th century)

• Gilded silver perfume flask with niello inlay, in Museo Provincial de Teruel, Spain (c1044-1103)

• Pisa Griffin, copper-alloy figure of a griffin, in Museo dell' Opera del Duomo, Pisa (11th century)

• Stucco decorated interiors of the Alhambra (begun 1052)

• Blue underglaze painted and incised ewer from Iran, now in Metropolitan Museum, New York (1215-1216)

• Copper-alloy basin inlaid with silver, in Freer Gallery of Art, Washington (1239-1249)

• Underglaze painted bowl from Syria, now in Metropolitan Museum, New York (13th century)

• Ardabil carpet from Tabriz, Iran, now in V&A (1539-1540)

Court painting

A young prince stands robed in orange in a green garden. The pearls, rubies and other precious stones hung around his neck, dangling from his ear as he presents his moustached profile to us, wrapped around his head-dress and held contemplatively between slender fingers as he admires a fine jewelled object play against the flower petals that dance on the dark grass. The subject of this exquisite painting on paper, Shah Jahan, inscribed it in his own hand: "A fine likeness of me in my 25th year, by Nadir al-Zaman."

This portrait of a Mughal prince was created in India in the 17th century - but the tradition it embodies comes from another time and place. The Muslims who established the Mughal empire in 16th-century India were inheritors of painting styles developed at Islamic courts in Iraq and Iran in the middle ages. In 1258 the Mongol rulers of China conquered Baghdad; they established the Ilkhanid dynasty in Persia and in their wake Islamic book illumination became more painterly and ambitious. The Mongols brought with them the influence of Chinese painting, while paper became readily available for artists to experiment - giving entire pages over to sophisticated, lush pictures illustrating histories and secular stories.

The pictures signed by Junayd in a manuscript collection of poems copied in Baghdad in 1396 create a dreamlike world of enchanted palaces whose painted window grilles and carpets are reminiscent of surviving medieval Islamic palaces; the romantic cityscape of Junayd's scene of Humany on the Day After his Wedding becomes, in the later art of Mughal India, a paradise of gardens, jewels and elegant princes. These are lovely visions of pleasure.

Key works

• Humay on the Day After his Wedding Has Gold Coins Poured Over Him as he Leaves Humayun's Room, painting by Junayd (1396)

• The Seduction of Yusuf, painting by Bihzad (1488)

• The Youthful Akbar Presenting a Picture to his Father Humayun, painting from Mughal-period India, now in the Gulistan Palace Library, Tehran (late 1550s)

• Akbar Hunting, outline and portraits by Miskina, painting by Sarwan (c1590)

• Babur Supervising the Laying Out of the Garden of Fidelity, painted by Bishndas; portraits by Nanha (c1590)

• Shah Jahan as a Prince by Nadir al-Zaman (1616-1617)



One Indonesian shares women's rights in Islamic schools

In her boarding schools, Lily Munir teaches women and children that their religion supports gender equality.

By David Montero

 The Christian Science Monitor, October 28, 2008 edition

Jakarta, Indonesia - Lily Munir asks the 50 young mothers in her classroom to use their imaginations. What would it be like, she says, if your husband supported your right to work and helped with housework?

The women in their seats look surprised at the question. Some of them laugh.

What begins as jokes about bad husbands grows into a serious discussion about gender roles and women's rights. Islam supports women's empowerment, Ms. Munir tells her students, so men should, too.

It's a simple but important way Munir, who since 2002 has run the Center for Pesantren and Democracy Studies in Jakarta, is challenging traditional views on gender in Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country.

In so doing, she is reclaiming what she sees as the Koran's intended but lost message.

Where many in the West see a book of intolerance, Munir sees a text whose basic demand is harmony among all faiths. Where radical Islamists see a call to arms, she sees a blueprint for peace.

And instead of looking at Koranic verses that justify gender disparities, Munir sees a mandate for all men to work for the empowerment of women.

To put her ideas into practice, she opened a training center in 2002 to reach out to traditional religious boarding schools called pesantren. There are as many as 18,000 such schools throughout Indonesia, instructing up to 3 million students, according to one estimate. That's a fraction of Indonesia's education system, which also includes 40,000 religious schools called madrassahs. But pesantrens play a significant role in preparing Indonesia's future generations.

They have also sometimes been seen as incubators of violence. Several men charged in the 2002 Bali bombings, in which members of the militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah killed more than 200 people, had worked at a pesantren in East Java.

A suicide bomber who later struck the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta was also said to be a student of a pesantren. As a result, the schools – and religious education through Indonesia – have been viewed with greater alarm.

"Unfortunately, if you Google 'pesantren,' the definition you come up with is a place that teaches terrorists in Indonesia," says Ron Lukens-Bull, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, who has written extensively about pesantrens.

But he disagrees with that negative characterization. "There are maybe 100 to 150 pesantrens that are Islamist radical leaning. That's not very many," he says, adding that "the pesantrens have always been very open and culturally accommodating."

Munir also sees radical pesantrens as the exception that must be checked.

Having been raised herself in a pesantren in Jombang, East Java, which her parents founded in the 1950s, Munir knew firsthand that there is much to respect about their traditions.

"[My parents] were very progressive and very gender-sensitive," she says. "My mother was the first woman judge in Indonesia. That was thanks to my father, who practiced the teaching of the Koran: those men should ... be empowering women."

But she also saw that her parents' values were not shared by all pesantrens, and that women's rights are often neglected in religious schools.

"Our center started with issues relating to women. That's the most pressing problem – that we promote gender equality, gender equity, and women's rights," says Munir.

Statistics support her view. The literacy rate for women in Indonesia is 86 percent, compared with 94 percent for men, and employment opportunities for women have declined in recent years compared with those for men.

To help address the imbalance, Munir's organization runs three schools, instructing about 500 children and, in many cases, their mothers. Classic Islamic instruction is combined with seminars on women's health and gender equality.

And through outreach training sessions in about 10 districts of East Java, she reaches hundreds of teachers, working to make gender equality a part of their instruction. That can mean holding anything from a reading of the Koran's views on women to a seminar on sexual abuse, a taboo subject.

"She's doing things that are new and innovative. She's pushing the pesantren community further than the traditional perspective," says Professor Lukens-Bull.

Sometimes that's as simple as pushing the women to read more. Standing in front of the class, Munir asks if many of the women have noticed the library downstairs. Many say yes.

But when she asks if many of them have actually picked up one of those books, many say no – prompting a friendly admonishment to read more.

Alongside issues of gender, Munir's organization also helps pesantrens incorporate discussion of pluralism, democracy, and tolerance into religious curricula.

Her approach is novel not only for what she teaches, but because she eschews the rote learning often employed in religious schools.

"I tell my students: Don't just memorize. Let's discuss. Why do you think it is important? And that's how the Koran suggests you should invite people to Islam, not by force, not by threatening," she says, quoting in Arabic, "Invite people into the way of God, with wisdom."

Lukens-Bill says that, through efforts like Munir's, pesantrens can be strengthened as an effective bulwark against radical tendencies. "There's a very thoughtful and significant segment of the pesantrens that are completely against radicalism," he says.

And that tolerance starts with empowered mothers educating their children, says Yonita Lydia, a mother of three who attended Munir's workshop.

"We have to raise a good generation. In the Koran it talks about tolerance. Islam is tolerance," she says, pointing to a verse in a Koran cradled in her lap: "Here, it says: 'Unto you your religion and unto me my religion.' "



Dragging death suspect's sister rebuts race angle


Oct. 27, 2008, 3:58PM

DALLAS — Krystala Boyd said Monday she has heard "a million and one stories" about her brother's alleged involvement in the racially charged dragging death of a black Texas man but believes just one.

Her brother, she said, was close friends with the victim and innocent in his death.

"This was no hate crime," Boyd said. "You can't hate somebody you love."

Authorities have arrested two white men: Boyd's brother, Shannon Keith Finley, and Charles Ryan Crostley, both 27. Authorities said the men purposely ran over 24-year-old Brandon McClelland last month following an argument on the way home from a late-night beer run. McClelland's body was dragged about 70 feet and dismembered by the trauma, which happened near Paris, about 95 miles northeast of Dallas.

Finley and Crostley are jailed on charges of murder and evidence tampering.

McClelland's family and members of the Nation of Islam and the New Black Panthers are protesting the district attorney's stance that the killing was not racially motivated. They say it was a "copycat" of the decade-old James Byrd slaying, in which three white men chained a black man to a pickup truck and dragged him for three miles.

County and district attorney spokesman Allan Hubbard said prosecutors do not think race was a factor but would change their stance if new evidence or information turns up. Unlike the Byrd case, there is no indication McClelland was tied or chained to the truck. Officials also point out that McClelland was friends with the two murder suspects.

Boyd said her brother and McClelland have been friends for about 10 years. She added that McClelland, known to friends and family as "Big Boy," would stay at Finley's apartment nine nights out of 10.

"They were like brothers," Boyd said. "Brandon would come to all of our family functions. He was around all of our kids. He would have dinner with us. I have known Brandon longer than I have known my own husband."

Ben Massar, Finley's attorney, also dismissed the hate crime angle as "completely false."

"And that is what is really upsetting to his family," Massar said.

According to Boyd, Finley and Crostley have been friends since they were young boys, and McClelland joined their group about 10 years ago.

McClelland and Finley have at least one prior connection: McClelland was convicted of perjury for providing a false alibi for Finley, who was charged with murder in 2003 and pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2004.

In the manslaughter case, Finley was accused of fatally shooting a white friend in the head. He said they were being robbed by two black men, who never were caught, officials said.

Finley has also been convicted of driving while intoxicated and marijuana possession. Crostley has convictions for DWI, marijuana possession and property theft, according to county records.

Deric Muhammad, a Nation of Islam member who is helping an independent investigation of the case, said proof of the friendship between Finley and McClelland bolsters the argument that the killing was racially motivated.

"I think that worsens the case," Muhammad said. "It doesn't exonerate the case from being a hate crime."

Boyd said she spoke to her jailed brother by telephone Monday and that he does not understand the reason behind the case's racial implications.

"He's doing OK for the most part," she said. "I am so sorry, my whole family is so sorry for (the McClellands') loss. But we believe Shannon and (Crostley), and we don't believe they had anything to do with his death."

A phone call to a listing for Crostley's attorney was unanswered. Crostley and Finley have not been indicted; the grand jury is scheduled to convene Nov. 13.



Iraqis see US force plans as blackmail


28 Oct 2008

The US military has warned it will shut down military operations and other vital services in Iraq on January1 if the Iraqi Government doesn't accept a new agreement on the status of US forces or a renewed UN mandate for the American mission in Iraq.

Many Iraqi politicians viewed the move as akin to political blackmail, a top Iraqi official told McClatchy Newspapers yesterday.

As well as halting all military actions, US forces would cease activities that support Iraq's economy, educational sector and other areas ''everything'' the nation's Sunni vice-president, Tariq al-Hashimi, said.

''I didn't know the Americans are rendering such wide-scale services.''

Mr Hashimi said General Ray Odierno, the top US military commander in Iraq, had listed ''tens'' of areas of potential cut-offs in a three-page letter. He said the implied threat had caught Iraqi leaders by surprise.

''It was really shocking for us,'' he said. ''Many people are looking to this attitude as a matter of blackmailing.''

US embassy officials said a lengthy list of the sort Mr Hashimi described had been passed to the Iraqi Government.

Among the US's services are its protection of Iraqi borders, of its oil exports and of other shipping through the Shatt al Arab waterway into the Gulf and all air traffic control over the country.

The status-of-forces agreement, which calls for a final withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, was supposed to resolve several contentious issues between the two countries, but its completion the week before last has instead provoked a political crisis within Iraq's Shi'ite-dominated Government and between Iraq and the US.

Fearing a serious battle in the Iraqi Parliament, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki solicited amendments from his cabinet and called a meeting to review them.

But the two main Shi'ite parties, Mr Maliki's Dawa Party and the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, could not produce their full lists of demands.

He postponed the meeting until today.

Mr Hashimi said Iran, a long-time backer of both parties, was pressuring Iraq's leaders not to accept the agreement.

The dispute ''is real and factual. The government is not manip-ulating this dispute.'' He said he hadn't yet seen the objections to the accord, even those from his own Sunni-based Iraqi Islamic Party.

Political party heads, including Mr Hashimi, say Mr Maliki is resp-onsible for the pact, but Mr Maliki has been unwilling to back the accord unless his Shi'ite coalition and other party members join him to take the political heat. AP



In the name of Islam: Reply of Zul Nordin to RPK 

By Vineeth Menon  

28 October 2008

In a response letter to Raja Petra Kamarudin - RPK - the jailed editor of Malaysia Today following to his criticism of MP Zulkifli Nordin, the latter criticized the Internal Security Act (ISA) of Malaysia saying Islam do not condone the arrest and detention of opponents under such a draconian law.

Zul Nordin also called for the immediate release of RPK and all ISA detainees and maintained that RPK may have been misinformed about his speech on the ISA in Parliament. A must read.

Zulkifli Nordin, who is the MP for Bandar Baru Kulim said in the exclusive email sent to WorldFutures that he regret the challenge by his friend 'Pet' on the ISA. "My friend Pet also challenged me to make a stand on ISA, alleging that I support ISA. Obviously Pet was not given the full text of my speech. And that is very unfortunate. So I don't blame Pet for his writing. And I understand how easily a detainee's view can be distorted by giving him a distorted information," he wrote.

"I challenge the Islamic authority to be gentlemen enough to bring Pet to any Syariah Court and let him defend his thought and views," he also said, but added that he does not have to listen to the opinion of non-Muslims since he does not have to learn Islam from non-Muslims.

Read the composed and strong reply to RPK's criticism of Zulkifli Nordin, an MP whom we insist is a gentleman and is a good listener. He is a good Muslim altogether by the way he replied to his good friend Pet.



Credit crunch may spur Islamic finance

October 28, 2008

The fast growing Sharia financial system may receive a further boost as an alternative to capitalism amid the credit crunch and banking crisis, Islamic academics and clerics believe.

Already said to be worth $US300 billion ($A498 billion) and expanding at 15 per cent a year, the Islamic system forbids the levying or payment of interest, preferring shared ownership and splitting of profits.

The global economic meltdown shows "the need for a radical and structural reform of the global financial system. The system based on the principles of Islam offers an alternative which could reduce risks," Hatem al-Naqrashawi, head of theological studies at Doha University, told AFP.

"Islamic banks don't buy credit but manage concrete assets which shelter them from the difficulties that American and European banks are experiencing," explained Abdel Bassat al-Shibi, managing director of Qatar International Islamic Bank.

Islamic finance is different from capitalism in two main ways. It bans interest-bearing loans, seen as usury, a practice forbidden by Islam, and also forbids speculation. Instead, it favours sharing risks and profits between a bank and a client.

Sharia compliant products include Ijara, a way of buying a house through a lease and subsequent ownership, rather than through a mortgage. Others are Musharaka, the sharing of profits and losses, and Murabaha, under which the seller declares the profit margin being made on the sale of a commodity.

Murabaha is seen as a way of enabling a buyer to avoid taking an interest-bearing loan, though some Islamic scholars say it is too similar to the charging of 'riba', or interest.

In the past three decades, the number of Islamic financial institutions has risen above 300, spread among 75 countries. Their total assets are more than $US300 billion ($A498 billion) and are growing an at average rate of 15 per cent a year, according to studies.

"The collapse of capitalism based on usury and paper and not on the trading of goods on the market is proof that it is in crisis and shows the Islamic economic philosophy is holding up," prominent Egyptian-born Qatar-based cleric Sheikh Yussef al-Qaradawi told a recent conference in Doha.

"We have all the wealth... the Islamic nation has all or nearly all the oil and we have an economic philosophy which no one else has," he said, referring to the fact that Islamic countries, headed by Saudi Arabia, hold a large part of the world's proven crude oil reserves.

Suleiman al-Audah, an influential Saudi cleric, called for an "international Islamic summit to define the framework and the stages of an Islamic economic alternative."

Some Islamists admit, however, that this alternative is not yet operational.

"Theoretically, the Islamic economic system offers a complete and solid mechanism... but in practice, the Islamic banking experience is not yet mature, because it offers limited products like 'Murabaha'," Audah, a moderate Islamist, told AFP.

His caution is shared by Egyptian Islamist intellectual Fahmi Howaidi, for whom the Islamic system "could bring solutions to certain banking problems but cannot be a magic wand" to end the financial upheaval which is shaking the world. Source:


Islamic Bloggers Confront Muslim Brotherhood on Egypt Politics

27 Oct 2008. By Daniel Williams

Oct. 28 (Bloomberg) -- Abdel Moneim Mahmoud once organized student elections, collected donations and educated chicken breeders about the dangers of bird flu as an operative for the Muslim Brotherhood. That all ended after he criticized Egypt's controversial Islamic political group on his blog, Ana-Ikhwan (I Am Brotherhood).

Mahmoud, 28, condemned its opposition to women and Christians holding high office in Egypt, including the presidency. He also questioned its slogan, ``Islam is the answer'' -- a rallying cry of associated groups and imitators across the Islamic world -- for implying that religious scripture should be the primary criterion for political action.

Brotherhood officials told Mahmoud to stop blogging or drop out of the organization. While he suspended active participation, he still considers himself a member. He is also unrepentant.

``The youth of the Muslim Brotherhood used to listen and obey,'' he says. ``Some leaders don't like it, but we don't keep quiet.''

Mahmoud is part of a new generation of Islamic-oriented bloggers in the Middle East whose willingness to air internal matters online has created as much of a stir as their opinions, says Diaa Rashwan, an analyst at Cairo's Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies.

``What's new is this launching pad used by young people: the blog,'' he says. ``They are loyal to the Brotherhood, but believe in open debate.''

Strikes, Torture

Until recently, political blogging in Egypt was largely the domain of secular democracy activists who reported on strikes and torture and promoted protests against the 26-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. Brotherhood bloggers took their cue from these campaigners, says Mahmoud, a reporter for the independent, non-Islamic newspaper Al-Dustour.

Two years ago, some Brothers, mainly in their 20s, began detailing the arrests and torture by police of their own members. Some also turned to criticizing the Brotherhood itself. They released details of a draft political platform currently being discussed internally that includes the ban on women and Christians leading a Muslim-majority country.

``We don't think these activities are harmful,'' says Magdi Saad, 30, marketing manager for a real-estate firm who runs the blog Yalla Mesh Mohem (It Doesn't Matter). ``We think we put a human face on the Brotherhood. The leaders were shocked.''

Watchword: Discipline

Discipline has long been the watchword for the 80-year-old group. Public airing of internal debates was considered off limits, and membership lists and training information are veiled from public view, partly because Brothers have been perpetually subject to imprisonment.

During part of its history, members preached violent struggle against the government. In 1974, under the influence of what was then its younger generation, it disowned bloodshed, except in the case of armed action against the U.S.-led occupation in Iraq and by Palestinian groups including Hamas against Israel.

The Brotherhood is a model for Hamas and other Islamic political organizations such as Islamic Action Front in Jordan. Unlike Hamas, it isn't on the list of terrorist organizations compiled by the U.S. State Department.

Although Egypt's government legally bars the Brotherhood from politics, it is the country's largest opposition force. The group, which estimates its membership at more than 1 million, won 88 of 454 parliamentary seats in Egypt's 2005 elections by running candidates as independents.

Public Exposure

Mahmoud and Saad have been jailed on occasion for their involvement in the Brotherhood; still, they seem unafraid that their public exposure on the Web puts them in further danger. During interviews in public places, they spoke without looking over their shoulders. Such conversations were considered risky, even in private, a few years ago.

``The government knows who we are anyway,'' Mahmoud says.

``The government is happy to characterize us as a secretive organization; we don't want to play that game,'' adds Mustafa Al-Naggar, 29, a dentist. In his Waves in a Sea of Change blog, he wrote, ``It is not shameful to revise our ideas or change our positions.'' He has also suggested that members as young as 30 be considered in selecting Brotherhood leaders, instead of 40, which is now the case.

Divided Opinion

The Brotherhood acknowledges that blogging has created a division of opinion in the organization. Abdel Moneim Aly El- Barbary, a physician and high official, monitors the bloggers and estimates their number at about 150. He says he belongs to the faction that supports them; still, he wants them to avoid attacking personalities, be polite and keep their critiques positive.

It is better for members to air disagreements than let them fester in private, says El-Barbary, 55, who adds that restrictions should apply only to sensitive organizational issues such as finances. He also says blogging permits Brotherhood officials to see what the rank-and-file is thinking, since the leaders are frequently jailed and meetings of more than five people generally require permission under Egyptian law. ``We have to adapt to modern times,'' he says.

Ali Abdul-Fattah, 50, another Brotherhood official, says it's common knowledge that members disagree on lots of subjects. Still, he opposes the trend.

``The bloggers have to be guided,'' he says. ``The Brotherhood is immune from a split, but we don't want them to portray disunity.''

Notwithstanding the youthful critiques, he says the Brotherhood's guidance committee, effectively its central board of elders, is firmly in charge. Asked if the measure that prohibits women and Christians from the Egyptian presidency might be deleted from the final political platform, Abdul- Fattah says no.

``That won't change,'' he says. ``Some things are fundamental.''

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Cairo at Source: