14 February 2017

Ahok trial: The blasphemy case testing Indonesian identity

.... As the BBC's Rebecca Henschke reports, his blasphemy trial is being seen as a test of Indonesia's religious tolerance.

"Jail the governor now!" cries a group of female students outside the Jakarta court where Basuki Tjahaja Purnama is on trial.

They are wearing brightly-coloured headscarves and stand out in a sea of white-robed men yelling "hang the blasphemer".

"He insulted Islam. Not just Islam in Indonesia but around the world. I could never do anything radical like kill him or make a bomb, but I must do something and that's why I am here," says one protester.

Mr Purnama, known widely as Ahok, angered many after he referenced a Koranic verse while on the campaign trail last September.

He told voters they should not be duped by religious leaders using the verse to justify the claim that Muslims should not be led by non-Muslims. [BBC] Read more

13 February 2017

Muslim ghettos threaten women: One Nation

.... Senator Roberts blamed unchecked immigration for the fraying of Australia's social fabric, insisting it was a reason voters were abandoning the major parties.

Australians were now fleeing areas of heavy migrant settlement, especially Islamic settlement.

"Self-segregation has become a reality," he said.

Australians weren't afraid of any religion but Islam, he said, and immigrants should be chosen from cultures with a track record of assimilation.

Fellow crossbencher Jacqui Lambie called for Australia to follow in the footsteps of Donald Trump and ban anyone in support of Sharia law from entering Australia.

She called for Australia to halve its immigration intake and halve its foreign aid.

"Sharia law is an anti-democratic cancer that doesn't belong in a free society," she told parliament.

"If they support Sharia law and want it in Australia, don't let them in. [AAP] Read more

Swedish minister responds to Iran headscarf criticism

Sweden's Trade Minister Ann Linde has defended the wearing of headscarves by her and other female officials during an official visit to Iran, saying that the law in the country meant she was obliged to do so.

Linde led a Swedish business delegation to Tehran last week, and she and other female members of the delegation were pictured wearing headscarves during the trip, sparking debate on social media over whether a member of the self-described "world's first feminist government" should have done so.

Jan Björklund, the leader of the opposition Liberal party, has attacked Linde, saying she should not have worn a garment which is "part of patriarchal oppression" and that doing so was "ruinous for feminist foreign policy".

But Linde has fired back in turn, accusing Björklund and the opposition of trying to score cheap points over the matter.

"I think it's so stupid I don't know what to say. The opposite: what has he done in Iran to address women's rights?" she told news agency TT. [The Local] Read more

Pakistan capital bans Valentine's Day

A court in Pakistan has banned public celebrations of Valentine's Day in the capital, Islamabad, on the grounds that it is not part of Muslim culture.

The Islamabad High Court's order prohibits all Valentine's Day festivities in government offices and public spaces with immediate effect.

It also directs the media not to promote or cover Valentine's events.

The orders were a response to a private petition which argued that Valentine's Day was contrary to Islamic teaching.

According to the Dawn newspaper, the petition argued that the festival promoted immorality, nudity and indecency under the cover of spreading love.

Valentine's Day has grown in popularity in many cities in Pakistan over the past decade, but some religious groups have denounced it as decadent.

The ban does not affect shops and restaurants, but it is the first time such a ruling has been imposed in the capital. [BBC] Read more

Turkey’s new curriculum: More Erdoğan, more Islam

Some of the changes appeared innocuous: Children will be taught about renowned Turkish and Muslim scientists alongside Einstein and Newton, for instance. But secular-leaning Turks were enraged at the plan to remove classes on evolution and the country’s founding fathers, accusing the government of injecting education with its conservative-religious ideology.

Egitim-Sen, a teachers’ union often critical of government policy, worried that the draft curriculum would encourage a “religious and nationalist” mindset, with its emphasis on “Turkishness” and Sunni Islam. Meanwhile, parliamentarians of the largest opposition party CHP condemned what they saw as the “erasure” of the Turkish republic’s founding president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk: The education ministry wanted to cut back on classes covering him and his successor, Ismet Inönü.

The government hit back: The new syllabus would teach Turkey’s history “from the perspective of a national and moral education,” the education ministry declared. The aim was to “protect national values,” added the undersecretary of education, Yusuf Tekin. Moreover, the ministry pledged it would alter its teaching of religion to comply with the European Court of Human Rights, replacing phrases such as “our religion” with the more neutral “Islamic religion.” [POLITICO] Read more

Sweden defends officials wearing headscarves in Iran

The Swedish government has defended its decision to have its officials wear headscarves during a trip to Iran, saying that failing to do so would have broken the law.

Trade Minister Ann Linde led a business team last week and faced criticism for wearing a headscarf, or hijab.

Sweden says it has the world's first "feminist government".

A prominent Iranian women's rights activist and Swedish politicians have criticised the decision.

"It is ruinous to what is called a feminist foreign policy" said Liberal party chief Jan Bjorklund, who said Iran oppressed women through legislation.

The Swedish government should have requested that female members of the delegation should not have been required to wear a headscarf, he said, and that if the request were not granted any trade agreements should have been signed in Sweden or a third country.

But Ms Linde told the Aftonbladet newspaper that she was not willing to break Iranian law. She said that since the only other option would be to send an all-male delegation, she was required to wear a headscarf. [BBC] Read more

In France, Some Muslims Seek To 'Adapt' Islam To Secular Culture

.... Bilingual sermons are rare in French mosques. Most Muslim clerics in France are foreign and speak in Arabic, which most young French Muslims don't understand. Oubrou says that's one reason why Muslim religious leaders are out of touch with a generation of French Muslims.

The interpretation of Islamic scriptures is often out of sync with modern times, too, he says. He's working to change that. Oubrou says a reformation is long overdue, and he's become a leading force in working for change.

France has suffered two major terrorist attacks in recent years, both carried out by home-grown Islamist extremists. The country is home to Europe's largest Muslim population, and many French Muslims like Oubrou believe it's time to create a uniquely French brand of Islam — one that is compatible with the country's secular values and responds better to the needs of modern Muslims. [NPR (National Public Radio)] Read more

Pakistan bans Valentine's Day for being unIslamic

Pakistan has become the latest country to ban Valentine's Day.

It has prohibited all public celebrations and any media coverage because the celebration is not part of Muslim traditions.

The ruling was handed down by the Islamabad High Court, following an unsuccessful attempt to ban the festival last year.

President Mamnoon Hussain urged Pakistanis not to observe Valentine’s Day, which he criticised as a Western import that threatened to undermine Islamic values.

“Valentine’s Day has no connection with our culture and it should be avoided,” he said at a ceremony last year.

The court passed its ruling to the ministry, federal government, chairman and chief commissioner, who are obliged to submit a response to the order within ten days.

The festival has seen its popularity increase in many cities in Pakistan in recent years, but religious groups have denounced it. [The Independent] Read more

12 February 2017

Saudi Arabia to start granting female gym licenses this month

Licenses will be granted for women’s gyms by the end of February, Princess Reema bint Bandar, vice president for women’s affairs at the General Authority of Sports, told local daily Okaz.

A target is in place to open gyms in every district and neighborhood, it was reported.

Three ministries are set to take part in this process, including the labor, rural affairs and commerce ministries.

Licenses will not be issued for gyms that offer competitive activities, such as football, volleyball, basketball and tennis. The focus will instead be on techniques that contribute to weight loss and fitness, such as swimming, running and bodybuilding. [Arab News] Read more

Mental health therapy for Muslims embraces religion

Traditionally, therapists have shied away from talking about religion as part of treatment.

But an NHS project based on research by Leeds University is "showing some individual signs of success".

Those behind the therapy say many Muslims do not get help because of stigma attached to mental illness.

'I was broken'

Samia, who is in her late 40s, has struggled with depression and is taking part in the project.

"I just felt like I had to constantly keep myself strong and put on a brave face. Deep inside I was actually broken," she says.

"When I actually fell apart, when I was at my lowest, I felt that there was something that I might have done to upset Allah, which is God."

Lead researcher Dr Ghazala Mir, of the university's Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, says this is a common concern among Muslims, who are under-referred for mental health treatment. [BBC] Read more

Donald Trump’s Travel Ban Backed By One In Three Britons, Polls Reveals

A third of Britons back US president Donald Trump’s controversial travel ban on people from a range of Muslim-majority countries, a new poll has found.

The Republican president’s blanket ban gets a 33% approval rating, and while 55% would not like to see a similar move imposed in the UK, nearly one in three voters, 29%, would support that, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent and Sunday Mirror.

Commons Speaker John Bercow’s refusal to allow Trump to address both houses of Parliament during his state visit is backed by 45% of people, while 39% oppose it. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

11 February 2017

Jonathan Brown on sex slavery

.... Brown has recently hit the headlines for defending the practices of slavery and concubinage in a lecture. Like many apologists he borrows from discourses more usually associated with secular liberalism to soothe his listeners’ ears.

Some use the language of human rights and liberalism to defend illiberal practices. Brown disingenuously invokes postmodern relativist uncertainty to trivialise rape. Here are some excerpts from his justification (taken from this piece at the Daily Banter). [Harry’s Place] Read more

10 February 2017

Inside the far-right Q Society's explosive dinner, where Muslims are fair game

"Let's be honest, I can't stand Muslims," said Larry Pickering, cartoonist and VIP guest at the Q Society fundraising dinner held in Sydney on Thursday night.

"If they are in the same street as me, I start shaking."

Then the cartoonist, who had donated for auction one of his own works depicting the rape of a woman in a niqab by her son-in-law, softened slightly.

"They are not all bad, they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings."

The cartoon fetched $600, which will go towards the legal defence bill of the Q Society's leading members, most notably Kirralie Smith, the charismatic blonde who ran in the last election as a NSW Senate candidate for the Australian Liberty Alliance.

The pro-"halal choice" campaigners, who insist they are against Islam but not Muslims, are being sued for defamation by Halal certifier Mohamed El-Mouelhy. [The Sydney Morning Herald] Read more

The Muslim Council of Britain's Little Problem - Miqdaad Versi and Dodgy Facts

.... On the day that the BBC were giving Versi his rave review, he was on social media sharing an untrue story claiming that the government's Prevent counter-radicalisation strategy was forcing King's College London to monitor all student emails. The story was wholly bogus (KCL's policy of reserving the right to monitor all emails on their system came a year before such a policy became a legal duty).

But the fact that Versi was sharing this story was typical of the double-ledger he runs when it comes to facts. He is happy to apply rigorous standards to others, but holds exceedingly lax standards himself, so long as he can carry on his own campaigning work against the UK government's counter-terrorism and counter-extremism programmes -- or continue to exercise his own low standards in trying to cover for people who are designated as "extremists" by the UK government.

Or indeed, in belonging to an organisation correctly identified as an "enabler" of prejudice against the minority Ahmadiyya community. [Gatestone Institute] Read more

Does Europe fear Muslims more than the United States?

A poll on European attitudes toward immigration, Islam and terrorism, partly disclosed this week, found that a majority of Europeans don't want any more Muslim immigration. That is, they appear willing to support the ban which U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to impose in the United States, presently being challenged by the courts.

The poll, still not complete, surveyed 10,000 people in ten European states, and was conducted by Chatham House, the semi-official foreign affairs institute in Britain. Responses to the most controversial issue, on Muslim immigration, were released in summary form before the bulk of the survey. It was designed to show the temper of Europeans on the central political issues of the day: the greatest of these being immigration.

When confronted with the blunt statement “All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”, an average of 55 percent of respondents agreed: 25 percent neither agreed nor disagreed and 20 percent disagreed. [Reuters] Read more

Merkel to kick out migrants as Europe backs US ban

Angela Merkel met state governors last night to hammer out tough measures to speed up the forced repatriation of rejected asylum seekers.

The move by the German chancellor came as police announced that they had arrested two Islamists and averted another terrorist attack — and as a poll revealed that European voters hold views on immigration that are closer to President Trump’s stance than that of their own leaders.

An average of 55 per cent of respondents across ten European countries — including 53 per cent in Germany — agreed with the statement that “all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped”, according to the respected Chatham House think tank. [The Times (£)] Read more

09 February 2017

Christian OAP charged with blasphemy in Pakistan

A Christian pensioner has been arrested for blasphemy after her refused to sell his land to a Muslim man.

According to anti-persecution charity Release International, Mukhtar Masih, 70, is accused of pinning a blasphemous letter to the door of a mosque in Gujanwala, Punjab.

The letter made derogatory remarks about the Koran and Muhammad.

Blasphemy is a crime punishable by death in Pakistan.

Initially, Masih's entire family was detained - including his three grandchildren. All but Mr Masih were later released and have gone into hiding.

Mr Masih is still incarcerated.

Locals believe that the accusation is an attempt to seize his land.

Pakistan ranks as the fourth worst country in the world when it comes to the persecution of Christians, according Open Doors. [Premier Christian Radio] Read more

Muslim teacher wins €9,000 in Berlin discrimination case

The Muslim woman won an appeal before a Berlin-Brandenburg court on Thursday, and is set to receive nearly €9,000 after she was rejected from a teaching job due to her headscarf.

The Berlin-Brandenburg court on Thursday ruled on the side of the woman, who was denied a teaching job at a Berlin elementary school.

Head judge Renate Schaude said that the woman had been discriminated against and because her wearing a headscarf posed no danger to school peace, the discrimination against her was illegal. She was therefore awarded €8,680 in compensation.

She had lost her initial case last year as the Berlin school argued neutrality rules meant no one could wear religious symbols in schools.

But in 2015, Germany’s Constitutional Court ruled that general bans on state school teachers wearing headscarves were unconstitutional - unless headscarves were found to “constitute a sufficiently specific danger of impairing the peace at school or the state's duty of neutrality.”

After this major ruling, some states had to revise their regulations - also because they gave preferential treatment to Christian symbols. [The Local] Read more

08 February 2017

Germany's Muslim Demographic Future

Germany will need to take in 300,000 migrants annually for the next 40 years to stop population decline, according to a leaked government report.

The document, parts of which were published by the Rheinische Post on February 1, reveals that the German government is counting on permanent mass migration — presumably from Africa, Asia and the Middle East — to keep the current size of the German population (82.8 million) stable through 2060.

The report implies that Chancellor Angela Merkel's decision to allow into the country some 1.5 million mostly Muslim migrants between 2015 and 2016 was not primarily a humanitarian gesture, but a calculated effort to stave off Germany's demographic decline and to preserve the future viability of the German welfare state.

If most of the new migrants arriving in Germany for the next four decades are from the Islamic world, the Muslim population of Germany could jump to well over 20 million and account for more than 25% of the overall German population by 2060. [Gatestone Institute] Read more

OCAM warns against advance of radical Islam in Belgium

A radical form of Islam is spreading in Belgium, to the detriment of moderate Islam.

This emerges from a new report by the Coordination Unit for Threat Analysis (known as OCAM). The Mediahuis group newspapers echo this today (Wednesday).

OCAM warns, in its most recent report, of the influence of Salafism in Belgium and Europe, “An increasing number of mosques and Islamic centres in Belgium are controlled by Wahhabism. This is the Salafist missionary apparatus.”

Wahhabism is a radical current of Sunni Islam promoted by Saudi Arabia. It advocates a return to the original “purity” of Islam.

In Belgium, the Imams from this particular current regularly preach in the mosques, and increasingly claim to be strictly Wahhabis, in particular within Brussels, Antwerp and Mechlin.

Simultaneously, the current is spreading in Europe, via Wahhabi television channels and online media. [The Brussels Times] Read more

'It's backward and reduces them to faceless beings': Muslim conference under fire for DELETING faces of female speakers on promotional flyer

Organisers of a controversial Islamic conference in Melbourne have sparked outrage for publishing a promotional flyer with the faces of female speakers blacked out.

Australian Islamic Peace Conference planners came under fire for putting out the flyer advertising speakers at their conference to be held next month.

The pamphlet featured the often smiling faces of 12 male speakers, including controversial Sheikh Shady Alsuleiman and prominent community spokesman Keysar Trad.

But critics were furious the faces of three female speakers - psychologist Monique Toohey, social worker Nina Trad Azam and Islamic teacher Umm Jamaal ud-Din - had been replaced with shadowy veils.

'It's backwards and inappropriate,' said a person with knowledge of the conference planning. [Daily Mail] Read more

In Italy, Islam doesn’t officially exist. Here’s what Muslims must accept to change that

At least 1.4 million Muslims are living in Italy, making Islam the country’s de facto second-largest religion. But as far as Italian authorities are concerned, Islam doesn’t exist.

Unlike Christianity and Judaism, Islam isn’t formally recognized in Italy. This means that mosques cannot receive public funds, Islamic weddings have no legal value and Muslim workers aren’t entitled to take days off for religious holidays.

Now that lack of recognition may change — but not without a cost.

This month, Italy’s Interior Ministry and the country’s nine major Islamic associations signed an unprecedented agreement. Muslim organizations agreed to create a registry of their imams and to require them to preach in Italian. In return, the government vowed to “facilitate the path” toward the official recognition of Islam in Italy.

The “National Pact for an Italian Islam” has been hailed as a first step toward the normalization of Islam in Italy. But it has also been criticized for creating a double standard: no other religious group has been asked by authorities to hold sermons in Italian. The Roman Catholic Church regularly offers masses in foreign languages to cater to an international audience. [The Washington Post] Read more

Pak bloggers leave country after receiving threats for ‘blasphemous’ opinions

Three of the five bloggers detained in January by Pakistan’s security agencies for writing against religious extremism and security operations in Balochistan and the tribal areas have left the country because of threats to their lives.

Waqas Goraya, Ahmed Raza Naseer and Asim Saeed are believed to have left the country in the past week after receiving threats following allegations of blasphemy against them.

Salman Haider, the most prominent of the detained bloggers, is in hiding in Pakistan as he is banned from travelling abroad while an investigation is underway against him. The whereabouts of the fifth blogger, Samar Abbas, remain a mystery.

The families of the rights activists who “disappeared” during January 4-7 held a news conference in Islamabad last month and said online smear campaigns were being conducted against their loved ones. These campaigns labelled the activists as blasphemers, an offence punishable by death in Pakistan. [Hindustan Times House] Read more

Most Europeans want immigration ban from Muslim-majority countries, poll reveals

A majority of Europeans want a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, a poll has revealed.

An average of 55 per cent of people across the 10 European countries surveyed wanted to stop all future immigration from mainly Muslim countries.

The Chatham House study, conducted before US President Donald Trump signed an executive order banning immigration to the US from seven predominantly Muslim countries, found majorities in all but two of the ten states opposed immigration from mainly Muslim countries.

Only 20 per cent disagreed, while 25 per cent said they did not know.

A ban was supported by 71 per cent of people in Poland, 65 per cent in Austria, 53 per cent in Germany and 51 per cent in Italy.

In the UK, 47 per cent supported a ban.

In no country did more than 32 per cent disagree with a ban. [The Independent] Read more

07 February 2017

Bern calls for new office to debate questions of religion

Is a burqa ban against the Swiss constitution? How do you deal with a Muslim schoolboy who refuses to shake his female teacher’s hand? Do burkinis contravene swimming pool hygiene rules?

As such questions are becoming more prevalent in Switzerland, the federal government is considering setting up a new religious affairs office to help the cantons tackle the issues involved, reported Swiss media.

Under the jurisdiction of the federal justice ministry, the religious affairs office would be a point of contact and coordination between the Confederation, cantons, communes and religious communities in Switzerland, government spokesman Raphael Frei told Le Tribune de Genève.

While the cantons ultimately have the authority in such matters, their decisions can have implications at federal level, said Frei. [The Local] Read more