Latest News

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 14:06
by Testriono 07 February 2012 Jakarta - In Bogor, a city in Indonesia’s West Java province, the Presbyterian congregation GKI Yasmin has been prohibited by the local administration from holding services in their church for years. Indonesia’s Supreme Court has ruled that revoking the church’s permit is illegal. However, GKI Yasmin and many churches like it have not been protected from a small but vocal minority in Indonesia that has tried to prevent churches from receiving building and worship permits – and in some cases has even organised mobs to attack churches and congregants. The case of GKI Yasmin is troubling, but is not representative of the status of all churches across the country. Throughout Indonesia, there are churches that successfully receive permits to build churches and whose congregants worship peacefully in religiously diverse neighbourhoods. Those working to resolve the problems in Bogor can look to the positive examples of...Read More
Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 14:05
by Amine Ghali 07 February 2012 London - A year after the fall of the previous regime Tunisia is undergoing an unprecedented political transformation. A transition government has led the country to the successful election of a constituent assembly. A new government has already been appointed, marking the second phase of the transition process focused on drafting the constitution and reforming the economy. However, the only way this momentum will continue is if those in power are willing to include all national stakeholders in tackling the nation’s challenges. While these major political developments are taking place, the reality of growing economic problems and social instability is of increasing concern. Recent news about the economy is worrying not only politicians but also the Tunisian public in general. The Central Bank announced a growth rate of zero for 2011 (down from an average of about 4 per cent in recent years), more than 80 international companies have...Read More
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 10:20
by Ariel Katz 31 January 2012 Brighton, United Kingdom - I am on the train, travelling south from Tel Aviv to Be’er Sheva. Three Bedouin women dressed in hijab (headscarves) enter the train ahead of me and my daughter, each with a toddler. They see there are no seats together, so they opt to sit on the floor, near the doors. I find seats for myself and my daughter. Across the aisle from us sits a man with a kipah, a cap worn by Orthodox Jewish men. A Bedouin woman in hijab and her toddler sit facing him. The toddler is cranky; she is tired of sitting on mother's lap. She wants to explore. Her mother holds her firmly as she squirms and whines, trying to pacify her. Because she is using simple Arabic language for a three year-old, I can understand every word. It is one of those unpleasant situations that happens all the time, and usually is tolerated in silence, as if it were unnoticed. In this instance, the young man with the kipah reaches into his backpack and...Read More
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 10:13
by Ken Ballen 31 January 2012 Washington, DC - During the course of six years as a federal prosecutor and investigator I interviewed at great length more than 100 radicals and terrorists who fought in the name of Islam. I chronicled the stories of many of these extremists leaving the path of violence when exposed to the corruption of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Ahmad al-Shayea, a 19-year-old Saudi, went to Iraq to fight Americans partly because he saw photos online of tortured prisoners at Abu Ghraib. His is a story of disenchantment – one that many other young Muslim men told me. When arriving in Iraq with some 45 would-be fighters from all over the Arab world, an Al Qaeda leader exhorted Ahmad and his fellow recruits to undertake suicide missions, but no one volunteered. As Ahmad later explained, he came to Iraq to defend the honour of Islam against Abu Ghraib and American torture, “not die right away in a suicide bombing before I could even help a single...Read More
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 10:09
by Alice Hackman 31 January 2012 Cairo - On 25 January, hope filled the air as Egyptian activists took to the streets in tens of thousands on the anniversary of the revolution, this time asking for a new president before a new constitution. Stories from the square were mostly of renewed optimism – but there were also a few stories of sexual harassment. Many women have stood up to demand a change, and alongside them a few men, who are demonstrating the important role that they too must play in stopping such behaviour. Sexual harassment at protests is not a popular topic in Egypt as activists fear that it will give ammunition to state media to tarnish their revolution, and English language newspapers who write about it are accused of sensationalism. But it happens, and Egyptian women are speaking up about it. In December 2010 some of them started HarassMap, a Google map used to collect and locate complaints as evidence. Samira Ibrahim, a detained activist, made...Read More
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 10:08
by Muqtedar Khan 31 January 2012 Newark, Delaware - Islam has become an important part of American discourse leading up to the 2012 federal elections and candidates everywhere appear eager to take a position on Islam for political gain. Across the country, rising Islamophobia has made it difficult for some Muslims to build mosques and practice their faith, although their right to do so is enshrined in the First Amendment of the US Constitution. In the current race for the presidential nomination, some presidential candidates are invoking Islam and Muslims in a negative fashion in an attempt to bolster their popularity with populations they perceive to be suspicious of Muslims or Islam. For example, if elected, former presidential candidate Herman Cain promised not to appoint Muslims to his cabinet. This is representative of recent trends. In 2010, some Republican Congressional candidates used the proposed Park 51 Muslim community centre, famously branded as the “...Read More
Wednesday, February 1, 2012 - 10:08
by Dr. Abdulla Elmadani 31 January 2012 Manama - A report was released two months ago by the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI), an independent body established by the monarchy to document the violence against demonstrators who called for reform last spring and provide recommendations for future government policies. It demonstrates that excessive practices were used by the government to rein in demonstrators – including painful and at times lethal human rights abuse. No government should perpetrate such acts against its citizens. Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has acknowledged the tragedy, begun the process of identifying and prosecuting its perpetrators and called for reform, which are necessary steps. The tragic confrontations between demonstrators and government forces here last year filled me and my fellow citizens with sorrow. These violent crackdowns left dozens of demonstrators dead and many more wounded, while an unknown number...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:59
by Rasha Dewedar 24 January 2012 Cairo - In the year following the Egyptian revolution, a newfound freedom of expression is breaking the silence about crucial issues in Egypt that were previously considered taboo. A recently released feature film is a practical example of how art in Egypt can be an effective tool in shaping community awareness and overcoming silence. Asmaa is the first Egyptian feature film to sympathetically present the unique challenges faced by local AIDS patients. Written and directed by Amr Salama, this pioneering film aims to promote a greater understanding of those suffering from AIDS and is based on the true story of an ambitious and courageous rural woman. While the average Egyptian is likely to commiserate with those who are ill, they are less likely to do so if someone is diagnosed with AIDS, and a few go so far as to view those carrying the HIV virus as sinners. Asmaa has thus played an important role in fostering dialogue. Unlike other women in...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:47
by Shelina Zahra Janmohamed 24 January 2012 London - Qaisra Khan and I are standing in the Round Reading Room of the world-renowned British Museum in London. Around us people are busy installing historic artefacts from the Muslim world relating to the haj, the pilgrimage to Mecca – a principal religious obligation of adult Muslims. Khan is one of the curators of the exhibit “Hajj: Journey to the heart of Islam”, which will open on the 26th of January at the British Museum. She is visibly excited that those who are not Muslim will finally get to vicariously experience the pilgrimage through this pioneering exhibit. Relics painstakingly gathered from public and private collections from the UK, Saudi Arabia and other parts of the world are on display. Loans from Saudi Arabia include a seetanah, an embroidered cloth that parts in the middle to allow entry into the Kaaba itself when being used. The reds and blues which surround the stitched Arabic calligraphy...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:46
by Singgih Nugroho 24 January 2012 Salatiga, Indonesia - US President Barack Obama's November visit to Bali in November 2011 to attend the 19th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summits was his second official visit to Indonesia in his role as president. In November 2010 he gave a speech at the University of Indonesia in which he praised the country for successfully reconciling Islam and democracy, as well as its ability to manage diversity democratically. This praise was undoubtedly welcomed by many. However, many Indonesians find these words at odds with recent US policy in the region and feel that more must be done to improve relations between the two countries. In late November, before his arrival in Bali, Obama announced the deployment of a Marine Air-Ground Task Force of 2,500 in Darwin, Australia – a mere 800 kilometres away from Indonesia – for the first time since World War II. This decision surprised and worried many...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:44
by Natalia Simanovsky 24 January 2012 Tel Aviv - The Israeli government and security establishment are viewing the sweeping changes in the Middle East and North African region with apprehension. While it is human nature to fear the unknown, the recent developments represent a window of opportunity for reshaping the region. That is not to say that the dangers facing Israel are imagined; Israel must now contend with the consequences of the removal of its biggest ally in the region, Hosni Mubarak, and face a newly-elected government whose position on matters relating to the Jewish state are uncertain at best. While not underestimating the challenges facing Israel as it tries to navigate its way through uncharted territory, the new regional order could present Israel with interesting strategic opportunities. Israel, however, has to be cognisant of the nuances being presented. The Arab Spring and the new landscape that has emerged in its wake have led to a number of...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:41
by Jon Pahl 24 January 2012 Philadelphia - What’s so scary about sharia, or Islamic legal principles? According to a recent decision from a US Federal Appellate Court – one level below the Supreme Court – not much. The recent decision of the 10th Circuit Court effectively blocks implementation of Oklahoma Law 755, also called the “Save Our State” measure. Law 755 was passed as a constitutional amendment by 70 per cent of Oklahoma voters in November 2010. Along with prohibiting courts from using “international law”, it also expressly “forbids courts from considering or using Sharia Law”. Similar laws have passed in Tennessee and Louisiana and comparable bills are pending in at least 20 states. The 10th Circuit Court received the case after US District Judge Vicki Miles-LaGrange decided in favour of Muneer Awad, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Oklahoma, who had sued to block the law. He...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:40
by Sally Zohney 17 January 2012 Cairo - The revolution drastically transformed everything in the lives of Egyptians. Yet while there has been quite a bit of attention paid to the dramatic political changes, more attention needs to be paid to the cultural and artistic scene that has been taking Egypt by storm since early 2011. Rather than being confined to art galleries or movie screens, this new wave of artistic expression is spilling over into all areas of life and causing previous boundaries to crumble. Since Mubarak’s removal in February 2011, anyone walking the streets of Cairo might see stencilled graffiti calling for protests and encouraging people to join them. The proliferation of this type of socially-engaged graffiti becomes even more significant in the context of increased control over political participation, including mass arrests of young activists, as well as brutality by police and military forces against protesters and revolutionaries. When you walk...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:24
by Naava Mashiah 17 January 2012 Geneva - The growing rift between Israel and the Arab world makes it hard to imagine that Jews and Arabs once coexisted across the Middle East. At one point these identities could be found not only in the same neighborhood, but even in the same person. Is it an oxymoron to be an Arab Jew? An Arab Jew refers either to a Jew living in the Arab world or whose ancestors came from Arab countries. This term flourished once in the Middle East but is not widely known today. Not long ago there were Jews living in the cities of the Middle East who were integrated into their societies and held influential roles in their communities and economies. My grandfather, Baba Yona Mashiah, was such a figure in Baghdad. He was, I would say, an Arab Jew. My childhood was sprinkled with stories of his grand personality, power and business acumen. He was a prominent land and real-estate developer and in the 1940s contributed to building “Baghdad el Jedidah...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:21
by Stephanie Saldana 17 January 2012 Jerusalem - Twelve years ago, I travelled to a monastery in the Syrian desert, where I met an Italian priest by the name of Father Paolo Dall'Oglio. For 20 years, he had been living in rural Syria, serving as the abbot of the ancient monastery of Deir Mar Musa. There, he led a community of Arabic-speaking monks and nuns dedicated to prayer, hospitality, manual work and dialogue with Muslims. As I settled in I was astonished to notice Muslims visiting all day, admiring the church frescoes, joining the local Syrian Christians for lunch, even excusing themselves so that they could perform their prayers in a quiet corner of the monastery grounds. I had never seen love between Muslims and Christians embodied so effortlessly, a communion of human beings sharing daily life. Over the following years I came to know Father Paolo well, and grew accustomed to the Muslims who visited his monastery almost daily. Father Paolo told me stories. He...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:19
by Anya Cordell 17 January 2012 Chicago - Martin Luther King, Jr., the renowned American civil rights activist, said, “Men hate each other because they fear each other, they fear each other because they don’t know each other, and they don’t know each other because they are often separated from each other.” Americans commemorated his legacy on 16 January, a fitting moment to ask, how can we interrupt this cycle? Reflecting on this question, I recalled my community confronting this issue when my black neighbour was murdered by a white supremacist. For months we convened each night of the week where the murder occurred to walk and talk together. This simple practice became a transformational, ongoing event. It was our response to communal trauma in order to support the family of the victim, reclaim our neighbourhood and reframe our lives in the wake of the shock that hate had interjected. Two years later the 9/11 attacks exposed trauma and fear laid...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:18
by Omezzine Khélifa 17 January 2012 Tunis - On 28 November 2011, the Dean of the Department of Letters, Arts and Humanities of Manouba University refused to give in to pressure from a group of protesters using violence to demand that classes be accessible to young women wearing the niqab, or face veil. Faced with this refusal the protestors erected barriers to block the professors and students from their classrooms and prevent classes from taking place. Numerous parents, students and professors quickly moved to protest these actions and defend the institution’s rules. The preservation of neutrality in public institutions, respect for their rules and the protection of individual freedoms have been up for debate in recent months. The end of the previous regime and subsequent political transition has allowed for greater openness and more public debate on key issues, such as ensuring the rights and freedoms of all Tunisians – including minority groups. The...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:17
by Daood Hamdani 10 January 2012 Ottawa - This May, as Muslims mark the twentieth anniversary of the induction of Al-Rashid mosque in Fort Edmonton Park, the country’s largest living history museum, the spotlight will be on the leadership role of Muslim women in this historic event. Fifty years after they burst onto the front line to help complete the construction of Canada’s first mosque in 1938, Muslim women took over a floundering campaign to save it from demolition. They surprised many by not only preserving this irreplaceable piece of Canadian heritage but enshrining it in the history museum. Al-Rashid, once a bustling hub of community life, started drifting into disrepair after the congregation outgrew it and moved to a new Islamic centre in 1982. Numerous efforts to raise money and find a new location for the old structure failed. Al-Rashid was set for demolition in 1988. Out of options, the Muslim community could only hope for a miracle. To many,...Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:15
by Frank Fredericks 10 January 2012 New York - In the 19 November 2011 issue of The Economist, the cover story, called “The magic of diasporas” outlines the benefits of mass immigration, particularly to the West. However the changing demographics in major metropolises can also be a highly destabilising force. This is especially true in the United States in cities where immigration is high and demographics can change significantly in less than a generation. In some places this has resulted in an increase in hate crimes and communal tensions. Yet some cities handle racial and ethnic diversity better than others and provide valuable lessons for other communities. One example of this is Queens, one of the lesser known boroughs of New York City. Queens is the most diverse county in America; US Census Bureau statistics suggest that 138 languages are spoken there. Is it a hotbed of racial and ethnic tension? Crime reports suggest surprisingly that it’s not....Read More
Monday, January 30, 2012 - 14:14
by Mark Scheel 10 January 2012 Shawnee Mission, Kansas - Praising Ambassador Akbar Ahmed’s new book of poetry, Suspended Somewhere Between: A Book of Verse, Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea, opined, “Anyone wanting to understand Islam today must read Akbar Ahmed’s collection. We are given rare glimpses into the dilemmas, pain and despair but ultimately love and hope of Muslims through the verses of this true renaissance man.” In a world that all too often seems fractured along religious and cultural lines, Ahmed's work provides an important model of what can be accomplished through interfaith understanding. At a recent tour stop at the University of Missouri-Kansas City promoting his book, Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at American University in Washington, DC and former Pakistan Ambassador to the UK, explained that his life experiences, given artistic expression in this poetry collection, “…reflect our situation...Read More

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