25 December 2007

Closed banks a headache for Zimbabweans

Even though Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, promised on Christmas Eve that banks would stay open across the country on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Zimbabweans have found their banks closed today. The country has lately been going through a cash shortage, and the closure of the banks means that the few ATMs there are in Zimbabwe are unable to cope with the demand. This left customer queueing up instead of celebrating the holiday at home.

Tawanda Moyo, a teacher lining up at an ATM, said
I was hoping to find a shorter queue since it's Christmas, but it seems everyone has come out. After a year in which the struggle to survive got harder, one expected to rest through Christmas, not to be queuing for hours (BBC).
Just one more reason why Mugabe should resign and finally hand over power to people who may do something good with it.

Pope prays for peace

In his annual "Urbi et Orbi" (to the City and the World) speech, Pope Benedict XVI has called for a peaceful resolution of conflicts raging in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Africa and other places. He also spoke out against terrorism, and against violence towards women and children.

The Pope called on politicians to "seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions" to conflicts that are "destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations". The Pope also prayed for consolation to be given "to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war" (BBC).

Bigger celebration in Bethlehem this year

According to the Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, 25,000-35,000 "pilgrims and tourists" visited his city on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year. This is twice as high as last year's numbers.

As Bethlehem shopkeeper Jacques Aman put it, "This year is very much better than the last seven years for tourism. The atmosphere is better in general. There is relative calm, from the security standpoint."

After praying at the Midnight Mass, President Mahmoud Abbas, who is a Muslim, "We pray next year will be the year of independence for the Palestinian people."

Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said during the Midnight Mass that "This land belongs to God. It must not be for some a land of life and for others a land of occupation and a political prison" (BBC).

Merry Christmas!

I would like to wish all my Catholic and Protestant readers a Merry Christmas!

During this joyful season, let us remember the ties that bind together those who believe in God and Jesus (pbuh).

You can see some pictures showing Christians celebrating Christmas in nine different countries around the world here.

23 December 2007

Suicide bomber kills 50 worshippers in Pakistan

A suicide bomber detonated his weapon in the midst of worshippers celebrating Eid al-Adha at a mosque near Peshawar, Pakistan on 21 December, killing at least 50 people and injuring around 100. He was apparently to be targeting the Aftab Ali Sherpao, a former interior minister unpopular in some quarters in Pakistan due to the military campaign he waged against Islamist rebels (BBC).

If the perpetrators bomb fellow-Muslims on Eid, what remains to be said about the state of their morals?

22 December 2007

Eid mubarak!

I would like to wish all my Muslim readers a happy Eid al-Adha!

Here are some pictures of Muslims celebrating Eid in different parts of the world.

18 December 2007

Bangladeshi Muslim helps Jews under attack

Hassan Askari, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi accountancy student living in New York, is being hailed as a hero in New York after he helped rescue a group of four Jews from 14 Christian assailants who attacked them on the Subway.

When a member of the Christian group wished the Jewish passengers a merry Christmas, two of them replied with "Happy Hanukkah." According to the group of Jews, the Christians were not happy to hear that, and started assaulting the Jews, both physically and verbally, with the insults focusing on the victims' Jewish faith.

At that point, Askari stepped into the fray and pushed one of the Christian attackers. As a result, in Askari's words, "They grabbed me and punched and beat me up." He suffered bruises to the eyes and nose.

About protecting the Jewish victims of the attack, Askari says ""I just did what I had to do…. My parents raised me that way.... In Islam it teaches you to be helpful to your fellow man, to be kind, courteous."

According to Walter Adler, 23, one of the Jewish victims of the attack, "A random Muslim guy jumped in and helped a Jewish guy on Hanukkah - that's a miracle. He was the only person to help us…. He's basically a hero."

As a result of Askari's action, Adler managed to pull the emergency brake of the train. The police entered the carriage at the next station and arrested ten of the attackers.

Meanwhile, Askari celebrated Hanukkah with Adler the day after the incident (Al Arabiya).

Subhan Allah. This sort of story brings hope of a greater degree of understanding between Muslims, Jews and Christians, an understanding that may exist in many cases on a day-to-day level, but is often hidden underneath sensational news of discord.

A handful of Belarusians takes part in Hajj

A small number of Belarusians and foreigners residing in Belarus are taking part in the Hajj this year. The first time Belarus sent a Hajj delegation after independence in 1991 was in 1998. The largest number of Belarusian pilgrims so far -- over ten people -- went on Hajj in 2002.

There are thought to be over 30,000 Muslims in Belarus (BELTA).

The standard quota for non-Saudi Muslims is one Hajji per 1,000 Muslims, so Belarus ought to be sending 30 people or more each year. I think it's financial difficulties that make this figure hard to reach.

26,000 Russian pilgrims go on Hajj

A record 26,000 pilgrims from Russia have gone on Hajj this year, after Saudi Arabia raised Russia's quota from 20,000. Chechnya alone accounts for 3,000 pilgrims.

Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, head of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Russia, observed that
This year, because of religious consciousness, the end of violence in the North Caucasus and in Chechnya in particular and the current growth of people's well-being, people can just allow themselves to do this.
Russia currently has 4,000 mosques, up from the 90 it had at the end of the Soviet era, and Islam is undergoing something of a revival there.

Rushan Abbyasov, director of international relations for the Russian Council of Muftis, observed that Hajjis from other parts of the world are still getting used to the presence of Russian pilgrims. According to him,
"A good many people are surprised that there are Muslims in Russia" (International Herald Tribune).

17 December 2007

Volunteers look for tampered Santa Claus letters

After 15 children in Ottawa recieved letters from Santa Claus containing vulgarities, 12 volunteers got together at the Canada Post headquarters in the Canadian capital to inspect 1,500 letters written by other volunteers and due to be sent to children in response to the letters they write to Santa Claus. No new letters containing unfriendly messages or swear-words were found.

A million Canadian children get letters from Santa Claus, written by volunteers across Canada, each year (Ottawa Citizen).

16 December 2007

Secret funeral held for Aqsa Parvez

The family of Aqsa Parvez, the 16-year-old Muslim Canadian girl who was allegedly strangled recently by her father, moved her funeral on 15 December without informing other mourners of the fact. As a result, when Aqsa's friends and teachers gathered at the Islamic Centre of Canada in Mississauga in the afternoon, they were told that the funeral had already taken place, and that Aqsa had already been buried.

According to an employee of the mosque bookstore, "this was all just set up as a decoy for the media". The bookstore worker said this an hour and a half before the funeral was scheduled to begin, which lends credence to this version of events. Many mourners were left frustrated by the sudden move.

The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) later held a vigil in honour of Aqsa. According to CAIR-CAN spokeswoman Maryam Dadabhoy,

We're not here to talk about religion or culture – it has nothing to do with it – we're just here based on the fact that she lost her life and we just want to work towards stopping this from happening in the future

Farheen Khan, president of the Toronto chapter of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP), said that "there's a certain stigma attached to reaching out" to victims of domestic abuse within the Muslim community in Canada, and that more needs to be done "to build that awareness that there are services – that this doesn't have to be the way it has to end" (Globe and Mail).

Hiding from mourners certainly doesn't make Aqsa's family look good. May justice prevail in this case.

Happy Victory Day!

I'd like to wish all my Bangladeshi readers a happy Victory Day!

You can see news reports on Victory Day celebrations here.

Visitor profile, 15 November to 14 December 2007

Welcome to the ninth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 November to 14 December 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 82 visits, that is, 12% more than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was three a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. The largest number of visitors (44%) came from Canada, and the United States came second with 32%. The UAE came a distant third with 6%.

Within Canada, 17% of the ISPs were in Quebec.

The largest number of visitors this month (40%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common Google search terms that brought visitors to Notes on Religion were 'rashed chowdhury blog' and 'saeed bin maktoum al maktoum married'.

The most popular browser this month was Firefox (56%). 99% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 December 2007):

The total number of visitors during these nine months was 1,092. The average number of visitors was four per day.

The largest number of visitors (37%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (31%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 65% of the visitors' ISPs within Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (48%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

12 December 2007

Indian judge orders Hindu gods to appear before him

Sunil Kumar Singh, a judge in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, has used newspaper ads to summon the Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman to "appear before the court personally". Earlier, he had sent them court summons through the mail, but the letters were returned. The postal authorities said that the addresses used had been "incomplete".

Singh is seeking Ram and Hanuman's testimony in a case that has remained unresolved for the past 20 years. It involves a land dispute concerning a Hindu temple dedicated to the two gods. Manmohan Pathak, the priest of the temple, says that the 1.4 acre plot the temple is located on belongs to him, as it was granted to his grandfather by a local king. On the other hand, local people assert that the temple belongs to the gods it is dedicated to. Singh wants to ask the gods their opinion on the ownership dispute.

According to Bijan Rawani, a lawyer in Dhanbad, "since the land has been donated to the gods, it is necessary to make them a party to the case" (BBC).

You can't make this stuff up! This should help the priest's case, though.

05 December 2007

Gibbons back in England after 8 days in prison

The British teacher at the centre of the teddy bear naming row in Sudan is now safely back in England. After successful negotiations carried out with the Sudanese government on her behalf by Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi, Muslim members of the British House of Lords, Gillian Gibbons was pardoned by President Omar al-Bashir. She promptly flew back home, accompanied by the two peers.

Upon her return, Gibbons, 54, said, "I'm just an ordinary middle-aged teacher in search of adventure and I got a bit more of an adventure than I bargained for." She also encouraged someone to take up her position at the Unity Primary School in Khartoum, while she herself plans to start looking for a new job soon.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the 15-day sentence received by Gibbons had been "a gross overreaction".

Meanwhile, Khalid al-Mubarak, a spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in London, "It is an unusual case, which came about as a misunderstanding which was not managed well in the early stages" (Los Angeles Times).

Thank God common sense has prevailed. My congratulations to Mrs Gibbons, her family, and the two peers.

Catholic schools in Calgary drop anti-Catholic novel

The Catholic school network of Calgary has decided to remove copies of the fantasy novel The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman from library shelves pending a review of the book's suitability for young Catholics. Earlier, some Catholic schools in Ontario decided to remove the book from their stacks as well.

Pullman is reportedly anti-Christian, and the book contains themes deemed by some Catholics to be offensive. As a result, a US organisation called the Catholic League has called for a boycott of the recent film based on the novel (National Post).

While for some this decision on the part of Catholic schools in Calgary will no doubt smack of the old days, when the Index Librorum Prohibitorum told good Catholics what they could not read, I think any school has the right to decided what reading matter is appropriate for its students. Any parents who disagree with the schools' policies can, of course, buy copies of the book or borrow them from a public library.

Shi'ite militants demand British withdrawal from Iraq

The Islamic Shi'a Resistence in Iraq, a group that was not internationally known before its kidnapping of five British men on 29 May has demanded that Britain withdraw from Iraq, threatening to kill the hostages if the demand is not carried out.

The militant group has released a video showing one of the five captives. In a written statement shown on the video, the group asks Britain to "withdraw all the thieves and the gangs that they have brought with them to plunder and squander our wealth and resources, and to return what they have stolen".

According to the British Foreign Office, negotiations have been going on quietly for some time to try to secure the five men's release (BBC).

I certainly hope the negotiations succeed.

03 December 2007

Afghans' views on women

In a survey conducted in October and November 2007, a majority of Afghans revealed that they favour many freedoms for women, but still want them to wear the burqa (PDF here).

59% of Afghans (including 51% of Afghan men) strongly support the idea of women voting. 27% (30% of men) support the idea somewhat.

38% of Afghans (including 23% of Afghan men) strongly support the idea of women working outside the home. 29% (32% of men) support the idea somewhat.

31% of Afghans (including 19% of Afghan men) strongly support the idea of women holding government office. 29% (27% of men) support the idea somewhat.

60% of Afghans (including 52% of Afghan men) strongly support education for girls. 29% (33% of men) support the idea somewhat.

At the same time, 49% of Afghans (including 56% of Afghan men and 42% of Afghan women) strongly support the idea of women wearing the burqa. 28% (29% of men and 27% of women) support the idea somewhat. Meanwhile, 4% of Afghan men and 11% of women are strongly opposed to the idea.

Afghans oppose the Taliban, want NATO to stay for now

The results of a poll conducted in Afghanistan between October and November 2007 indicate that Afghans oppose the Taliban and support both President Hamid Karzai and his American backers, along with their NATO allies. The poll, commissioned by the BBC World Service, ABC News and the German network ARD, involved interviews with 1,377 Afghans from different parts of the country.

Some results (taken from this PDF):

54% of Afghans believe their country is headed in the right direction. The biggest factor in this view is "good security". For those who believe Afghanistan is headed in the wrong direction, the biggest reason is problems with the economy.

According to 30% of Afghans, the biggest problem currently facing Afghanistan is "security/warlords/attacks/violence". According to 26%, the Taliban is the biggest problem.

"Security from crime and violence" was the biggest priority for the largest number of Afghans (28%). "Getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan" was the topmost priority for only 3% of Afghans.

15% of Afghans rate work done by the current Afghan government as excellent, and 44% rate it as good.

26% of Afghans rate work done by Karzai as excellent, and 37% rate it as good.

8% of Afghans rate the role of the US in Afghanistan as excellent, and 35% rate it as good. 21% rate it as poor.

84% of Afghans want the current government to continue ruling the country. 4% would rather have the Taliban rule.

52% of Afghans believe that the Taliban is the biggest danger to the country. 10% think the US is.

Asked their opinion about the 2001 US invasion which toppled the Taliban government, 35% of Afghans rated the intervention as very good, and 40% rated it as mostly good.

20% of Afghans strongly support the presence of US troops in Afghanistan today, while 51% support it somewhat.

25% of Afghans strongly support the presence of NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan today, while 42% support it somewhat.

1% of Afghans strongly support the presence of foreign "Jihadi fighters" in Afghanistan, while 13% support it somewhat.

1% of Afghans strongly support Taliban fighters, while 4% support them somewhat.

Asked whom they blame the most for the violence seen in Afghanistan today, 36% fo Afghans named the Taliban, 22% named al-Qaeda and "foreign jihadis". 16% named the US or George Bush, and 3% blamed NATO and ISAF member-states.

42% of Afghans think the Taliban have grown stronger over the past year.

60% of Afghans believe that the government should negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban.

74% of Afghans think that attacks against US forces in Afghanistan are not justified.

77% of Afghans think that attacks against non-American NATO or ISAF forces are not justified.

91% of Afghans think that attacks against the Afghan police or army are not justified.

94% of Afghans think that attacks against officials of the Afghan government are not justified.

42% of Afghans believe that US forces should leave the country only after security is restored there.

43% believe that non-US NATO and ISAF forces should leave only after security is restored in Afghanistan.

Only 3% of Afghans think the Taliban have a "very strong presence" in their area, while 7% think they have a "fairly strong presence".

By contrast, 11% of Afghans think that US/NATO/ISAF forces have a "very strong presence" in their area, and 39% think they have a "fairly strong presence".

3% of Afghans think that "foreign jihadis" have a "very strong presence" in their area, and 11% think they have a "fairly strong presence".

35% of Afghans are very confident and 47% are fairly confident that the Afghan government can provide security in their area.

1% of Afghans are very confident and 7% are fairly confident that the Taliban can provide security in their area.

12% of Afghans are very confident and 40% are fairly confident that US/NATO/ISAF forces can provide security in their area.

2% of Afghans are very confident and 10% are fairly confident that "foreign jihadis" can provide security in their area.

69% of Afghans believe the Pakistani government allows the Taliban to operate from its territory.

62% of Afghans believe the cultivation of opium is "unacceptable in all cases".

84% of Afghans think their government should "kill off" the poppy crop.

69% of Afghans have a very unfavourable view of the Taliban, while 15% have a somewhat unfavourable view of them.

76% of Afghans have a very unfavourable view of Osama bin Laden, while 11% have a somewhat unfavourable view of them.

48% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of the US, while 17% have a very favourable view of it.

38% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of the UK, while 11% have a very favourable view of it.

49% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of Germany, while 22% have a very favourable view of it.

38% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of Iran, while 14% have a very favourable view of it.

63% of Afghans have a very unfavourable view of Pakistan and 16% have a somewhat unfavourable view of it.

30 November 2007

Muslim peers hope to secure teacher's freedom

The British Muslim peers Lord Ahmad and Lady Warsi are planning to visit Sudan on a private initiative to try to secure the release of Gillian Gibbons, a British teacher currently serving a 15-day sentence for insulting religion over the permission she gave her students in September to name a teddy bear Muhammad. The pupils named the bear Muhammad after one of their own number. The affair went to court after a member of the school staff complained to the Sudanese education ministry. The peers hope that President Omar al-Bashir and the chief justice of Sudan will find it possible to hand Gibbons over to their fellow Muslims, without appearing to bow to pressure from the British government.

The student named Muhammad, whose name landed his teacher at the centre of the controversy, has spoken out in support of Gibbons. He admitted that naming the bear Muhammad had originally been his idea. His family described Gibbons as "very nice".

Nevertheless, there was a demonstration against Gibbons in Khartoum after Friday prayer today. The protesters demanded a harsher punishment than the 15-day prison sentence Gibbons is serving. In fact, some of them chanted slogans such as "No tolerance -- execution" and "Kill her, kill her by firing squad" (BBC).

I sincerely hope that Lord Ahmad and Lady Warsi's mission to Khartoum will succeed. They're wise to have come up with a face-saving exit strategy that will hopefully allow Gibbons to go back home and put the ordeal behind her.

For the people who want Gibbons dead, though, I can't find the right words. Their ignorance and lack of human empathy is simply astounding. This whole sordid story reminds me of the plight of the Bangladeshi cartoonist Muhammad Arifur Rahman who got in serious trouble both with noisy Islamists and with the interim government after authoring a cartoon in which a little boy gives his cat's name as "Muhammad the Cat" after being told by a mullah to place Muhammad before any name. There, too, some demonstrator's bayed for Arif's blood, even though the poor guy was just making fun of overzealous preachers who'd like all men in Bangladesh to present themselves as Muhammad So-and-So.

Muhammad the Cat, Muhammad the Bear... are these attacks on the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)? A moment's reflection would tell us they're not. And yet there are plenty of people in various Muslim countries who jump at the opportunity to holler and shout until they're blue in the face, demanding the death of one person, the imprisonment of another, etc. etc. Why so much insecurity? Do they think the Prophet Muhammad can be hurt by someone naming a toy bear after him, even intentionally? The Prophet refused to invoke God's punishment on people who had their children throw stones at him until he bled. Instead, he prayed for the guidance of those people. So what have these noisy crowds, who claim to be defending the Prophet, learned from his life and deeds?

The Prophet (pbuh) was gentle even to a man who urinated in the middle of the mosque in Medina. We have to take a long and hard look at ourselves and ask whether we live up to the Prophet's example, or even try to live up to it.

23 November 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'd like to wish all of my American readers (including my wife!) a happy Thanksgiving.

Praise be to God, each one of us has much to be thankful for. As we celebrate, though, let us spare some thought to the less fortunate, such as the victims of Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh.

You can find many American Thanksgiving-related news articles here.

US political scientists deny anti-Semitism accusation

John Mearsheimer, of the University of Chicago, and Stephen Walt, of Harvard University, who recently co-wrote a book entitled The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, have become the object of a storm of criticism. Their book alleges that US policy on the Middle East is, in many ways, shaped by a lobby that represents right-wing Israeli interests. They are careful not to equate this lobby with American Jews in general.

Nevertheless, Abraham Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, has accused Mearsheimer and Walt of spreading "classic anti-Semitic canards". Indeed, so incensed is Foxman by the arguments presented in The Israeli Lobby, that he has written his own book, The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control, as a rebuttal.

According to Walt, "Reasonable people can disagree and one of the reasons we want to have a discussion is to get issues out in the open so people can talk about them." The historian Tony Judt, while disagreeing with some aspects of the book, has praised the authors for what he called their "enormous act of intellectual courage" in furthering the debate on the role of the Israeli lobby in the US (BBC).

22 November 2007

Taslima forced to leave Kolkata

The Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who had been living in exile in Kolkata for the last three years, has moved to Jaipur, Rajasthan after an Indian intelligence agency informed her that it was too dangerous for her to remain in Kolkata. According to an unnamed intelligence officer, "she agreed to leave after some initial grumbling." Eearlier, as many as 43 people were wounded in a riot caused by Muslim protesters calling on India to expel Taslima from its territory (BBC).

It's sad that the Indian government can't ensure the safety of its guests, but, at the same time, it makes sense for Taslima to get out of West Bengal for a while and stay in a place where little is known about her. But then she might as well move back to Norway, where she lived before Kolkata. It's a shame that the space for dissent in South Asia seems to be shrinking in many parts of the region.

21 November 2007

Russians attempt to coax millenarians out of cave

An area near Penza in Russia is witnessing attempts by groups and individuals to persuade the members of a splinter sect of Orthodox Christians to leave the man-made cave where they are currently holed up. Those trying to put an end to the self-imposed isolation include the group's nominal leader, the self-proclaimed prophet Piotr Kuznetsov. The group of 29 people in the cave includes four children, one of whom is less than two years old. The group has been inside the cave for almost a month now.

Priests and monks from the mainstream Russian Orthodox Church have also tried, so far in vain, to persuade the members of the sect to come out. The sect believes that the end of the world will arrive soon, and have placed themselves in the cave in expectation of the event. They threaten suicide in case the authorities try to storm their stronghold (BBC).

Let's hope the Russian authorities don't try anything silly.

Anti-Taslima protesters riot in Kolkata

Protesters led by the All-India Minority Forum, a group dominated by Muslims, have barricaded several major streets in Kolkata and attacked the policemen who had been sent to dispersed them. The rioters are demanding that the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, who has been accused on insulting Islam in her homeland, be expelled from India. According to the All-India Minority Forum, Taslima had "seriously hurt Muslim sentiments" by calling for revisions to the Qur'an, an accusation she denies. The protesters also wanted to express their disaffection with the recent violence in the Nandigram region of West Bengal.

According to Kolkata's chief of police, Gautam Chakrabarty, "the protesters started pelting policemen with brick bats and acid bottles in several places." As a result, the army was called in to restore order. Idris Ali, an All-India Minority Forum leader, said that agents provocateurs working for West Bengal's Communist government had caused the violence in order to discredit the protests. However, Biman Bose, the leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), countered the accusation, saying of the protesters, "they have planned the trouble, they must take the blame for this mayhem" (BBC).

Frankly, Ali's attempt to blame the Communists for the riot looks pathetic. I think Indian Muslims have a lot to learn from North American Muslims: arguments should be countered with arguments, books with books, not with riots. If someone disagrees with Taslima's views, they should challenge or criticise her in the press or in books of their own that attempt to disprove what Taslima makes out to be true. Instead, when literary criticism and political disagreement takes the form of a riot, with protesters throwing stuff at the police, the first victim is sanity.

17 November 2007

Rape victim faces 200 lashes in Saudi Arabia

A Shi'ite Saudi woman who was raped 14 times by a group of seven Sunni Saudi men has been herself sentenced to six months in prison and 200 lashes. The rapists, meanwhile, were given prison sentences ranging from two to ten years.

The woman's crime, according to the appeals court that doubled the number of lashes she was originally sentenced to receive, was that she had ridden in a car with an unrelated man. The reason the court doubled her sentence and added a jail term is that, according to them, she had tried to manipulate the judicial system through the media. The appeals court also doubled the rapists' jail sentences. Originally, the perpetrators were supposed to serve between a year and five years in prison.

The appeals court has also withdrawn the licence of the victim's lawyer, which means he that he is now barred from practising his profession (BBC).

The only word that occurs to me is "disgusting". On second thought, there are many choice words you could describe the actions of the Saudi court with, including "deranged", "apalling" and "highly, exceptionally un-Islamic".

According to the Qur'an, someone who has been found guilty of adultery should be flogged a hundred times. Now, the person who is to be flogged has to be found guilty of actually having engaged in extra-marital sex, not of merely being in the same enclosed space as an unrelated member of the opposite sex. So to sentence the victim of rape to twice the punishment prescribed by God for a confirmed adulterer or adulteress simply defies belief. On the other hand, this is Saudi Arabia we're talking about.

16 November 2007

Visitor profile, 15 October to 14 November 2007

Welcome to the eighth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 October to 14 November 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 73 visits, that is, 3% more than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was two a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America. By far the largest number of visitors (44%) came from Canada, and the United States came second with 22%. India came third with 8%.

Within Canada, 9% of the ISPs were in Quebec.

The largest number of visitors this month (41%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common Google search term that brought visitors to Notes on Religion was, of all things, 'sylheti sex clips'. I can assure you, though, that there are no sex clips on this blog, Sylheti or otherwise; nor are there likely to be in the future.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (58%). 97% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 November 2007):

The total number of visitors during these eight months was 1,010. The average number of visitors was four per day.

The largest number of visitors (36%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (31%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 70% of the visitors' ISPs within Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (48%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 92% of the visitors were Windows users.

11 November 2007

Happy Remembrance Day

I would like to wish all of my Canadian readers, as well as others from countries where this or a similar holiday is observed, a happy Remembrance Day.

As we remember those who are no longer with us, let us take the opportunity to hope and pray for peace everywhere in the world.

You can find articles on Remembrance Day commemorations from different parts of the world here.

09 November 2007

Notes on Religion gets 1,001 visits

Dear Readers,

Notes on Religion crossed the 1,000-visit mark on 8 November, alhamdu lillah. The 1,000th visitor to the blog came from somewhere in North America.

I'd like to thank everyone who has visited Notes on Religion and contributed to it in one way or the other. It makes me happy to see people from different parts of the world using this blog as a source of information.

Check back once in a while to see what's new, and keep those comments coming!

08 November 2007

Is the Pope coming to Quebec next year?

Marc Cardinal Ouellet, the Archbishop of Quebec and the primate of the Catholic Church in Canada, is planning to organise an open-air mass attended by 100,000 people in Quebec City next year as part of it's 400-anniversary celebrations. He has asked Pope Benedict XVI to attend and preside over the mass.

Ouellet said that the mass "will certainly be the culmination of our efforts to re-evangelize Quebec". He explained that "there is a need in Quebec to reconnect with our Christian roots and to revive the Catholic identity" (Windsor Star).

I think, though, that it would take more than a mass to "re-evangelize" Quebec, which has turned into a highly secular society in the last few decades. Big events such as this one may attract the public's attention for a few days or weeks until the next major headline comes along, but if the Church is serious about reviving Quebec's Catholic identity, etc., it has to show its relevance to people's lives, something it has, to some extent at least, failed to do since the Quiet Revolution.

Bouchard-Taylor Commission hears about religion in Drummondville

On 6 November, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission, which is canvassing public opinion in Quebec concerning reasonable accommodation, held a session in Drummondville, a city of about 67,000 in the Centre-du-Québec region.

During the session, the commission heard from some Catholics who argued against the province's plan to drop the teaching of Catholicism at public schools in favour of the teaching of religion as a general subject. Gilbert Deshaies, a Drummondville resident, stated that "religious thought should be forged in a child before he submits his faith to criticism."

On the other hand, Lionel Émard, a Catholic priest, argued that it was not the role of the state to promote a certain religion, but rather the responsibility of the relevant religious community itself.

Aziza Aboulaz, an immigrant from Morocco, aimed to counter the negative image of Islam held by some by informing the audience that she did not have to get her husband's permission to address the commission, and that she had a car which she could drive. She also said she had worked in the banking sector in Morocco for 15 years. On the other hand, she asked what she called Muslim fundamentalists to be more realistic in the demands they made from Quebec society at large.

Finally, Gérard Malo, a World War II veteran, spoke out against what he considers to be a moral decline in the province. According to him, this decline has set in due to consumerism and a reduction in religious observance. In this regard, he said Christians had a lesson to learn from Muslims, who pray "a lot and well". Malo finished by praising God in six different languages (Radio-Canada).

06 November 2007

40 killed in Afghanistan by suicide bomber

A suicide bomber has allegedly set off an explosion in which 40 people, mostly civilians and including children, were killed in Afghanistan's Baghlan Province today.

The attacker targeted a sugar factory where a visit by a parliamentary delegation was underway. Six MPs, including the opposition politician Mustafa Kazimi, a veteran of the anti-Soviet struggle, were killed in the attack. The children who were killed were there to welcome the MPs.

The Taliban have denied responsibility for the bombing, and have condemned the attack (BBC).

I am inclined to believe the Taliban on this one, mostly because how far away this attack was from their usual area of activity. However, I wouldn't put it past them to do this sort of thing elsewhere in the country. The Taliban are no strangers to using suicide bombing, without regard to civilian casualties, as a means to try to evict NATO soldiers from Afghanistan.

Abdullah of Saudi Arabia visits Vatican

Saudi king Abdullah visited the Vatican today and met with Pope Benedict XVI, in what was the first ever meeting between a pope and a reigning king of Saudi Arabia. A Vatican spokesman later said the two leaders had had a "warm" meeting.

Benedict brought up the issue of the contributions of over a million Christian residents to Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah presented the Pope with a jewel-encrusted gold sword, while Benedict gave the king an engraving of the Vatican made in the 16th century in return. During their half-hour meeting, Abdullah and Benedict also discussed a possible "just solution" to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians (BBC).

Very encouraging. The more mainstream voices emphasise what is common between Muslims and Christians, the harder it should be for extremists on either side to try to stir up conflict.

Musharraf blames extremists for emergency

Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf has blamed "the activities of extremists" for the difficult state Pakistan has found itself in, which, in his view, necessitates the state of emergency currently in force there. He also accused "some members of the judiciary" of "working at cross purposes with the executive and legislature in the fight against terrorism and extremism" (BBC).

Now the problem with this way of describing things is that it completely takes the blame off the executive, headed by none other than Musharraf himself. His prevarication with dealing with the extremists is what got Pakistan into this mess in the first place, in my view (not to mention the creation of the Taliban by Pakistan in the first place).

It's not by concentrating more and more power in the hands of a dictator that one deals with a dangerous situation confronting a country. To succeed in the fight against Talibanisation, Pakistan needs consensus. Imposing virtual martial law is highly unlikely to produce one. I think it's time for Musharraf to admit his failure and hand the country back to the civilian politicians.

Muslims pray for Ontario hospital

The Brampton Civic Hospital, which officially opened on 28 September, was blessed by the Muslim community of the north-western Greater Toronto Area (GTA) in a ceremony held on 21 October (see p. 15 of this PDF).

In an event organised by the Muslim Friends of the William Osler Health Centre, over 500 people gathered to perform the Islamic noon (zuhr) prayer at the hospital, and to pray for the success of the establishment. Contributions worth $5,800 were collected for the hospital from those assembled (Canadian Asian News).

This is a perfect illustration of where the superiority of the Canadian model of immigrant integration lies as compared to, say, the French model. Whereas in France any attempt to hold a public prayer at a public hospital would have very possibly led to an outcry in society, in Canada (though not in Quebec), this sort of thing fits in quite well with the majority population's understanding of their own country. What better way to make the users of a hospital feel that they have a stake in it than to have them pray for it, in their own way? What better way to make public institutions truly public, rather than off-putting manifestations of a faceless state?

04 November 2007

Muslim charity donates 5 tonnes of chicken in Toronto

Muslimserv, and Islamic charity based in the Greater Toronto Area, donated 5,000 kg of chicken to several food banks in the GTA last Ramadan (September-October) (see p. 28 of this PDF). It purchased the meat from Maple Lodge Farms using money donated by contributors, and donated it to the Daily Bread Food Bank, which caters to the community at large. The food bank then distributed the meat to those in need.

According to the head of Muslimserv, Shah Nawaz Hussain, food banks were used by almost 323,000 people in the GTA at last count. Of this number, 40 percent were children.

The Daily Bread Food Bank now considers Muslimserv among the GTA's top five anti-hunger fundraisers. As a matter of principle, the Muslim charity has the meat donated to anyone in need, regardless of religion, race or gender. It focuses its activities on Canada, and sends money overseas only in extraordinary conditions (Canadian Asian News).

What a wonderful initiative, ma sha' Allah. Apart from directly helping people who need food, I hope that Muslimserv's actions will help non-Muslims (and Muslims themselves) understand the teachings of Islam regarding sharing with one's neighbour.

02 November 2007

US church gets fined for desecrating Marine's funeral

The Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church has been fined US $10.9 million (Canadian $10.2 million) by a court in Maryland for invasion of privacy and emotional distress resulting from its protests at the funeral of Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq in March 2006.

Members of the church attended Snyder's funeral with signs saying "Thank God for dead soldiers" and "You're going to hell".

The Westboro Baptist Church, which is not affiliated with any Baptist movement, claims that the losses suffered by the US in the Iraq War are the result of Americans' toleration of homosexuality. In their defence, members of the church argued that they had a constitutional right to free speech. The church plans to appeal the sentence (BBC).

What I don't understant is this: if the members of the church do think homosexuality is so offensive, why say "You're going to hell" at the funeral of a soldier who probably had nothing to do with that orientation? Why adopt a repulsive practice to fight something which the church considers repulsive?

Police role questioned in tragic Kolkata marriage

Last September, a Muslim man named Rizwanur Rahman, 29, was found dead on the railway tracks in Kolkata. His death, attributed by the police to suicide and by his family to murder, ended a marriage that was not wanted by his in-laws and, more controvercially, the Kolkata police.

Rahman's widow, Priyanka Todi, 23, is a Hindu and, moreover, from a wealthy family. Rahman, on the other hand, lived with the rest of his family in a two-room apartment, and that is where he brought his new wife when they got married in August. The bride had prepared herself for the move by forgoing air-conditioning for a year.

Soon after Todi moved in with Rahman and his family, the police started showing up at their apartment. Acting on behalf of Todi's father, who couldn't persuade her to go back to her family's house, the "anti-rowdy" branch of the police employed threats to get the couple to go to the police station. However, no charges were brought against them.

Finally, the police succeeded in getting Todi to go back to her parent's house, with a written guarantee that she would be able to return to her husband in a week. However, she did not return within the week, and in two weeks, Rahman died under a train.

In a press conference over the matter, Kolkata's police chief, Prasun Mukherjee, who was later transferred to a different position due to a public outcry over the matter, said that the Todi family's opposition to the marriage was "natural".

There has been loud opposition to the actions of the police in Kolkata. Whether or not Rahman took his own life, many in Kolkata think that it was money that made the police act the way they did. As a Telegraph of India editorial put it, "The police seem to feel avuncular towards a particular economic class only" (New York Times).

A sordid tale this, but the uplifting part of it (as usual) is how people from different walks of life have come together over the issue and let their voices be heard. Since when is the police supposed to be a rich dad's enforcer squad?

23 October 2007

Lukašenka in hot water over anti-Semitic comments

Belarus and Israel are in the middle of a diplomatic spat over controversial comments made recently by Belarusian President Aliaksandr Lukašenka (Lukashenka) about Belarusian and Israeli Jews.

Speaking to Russian journalists in Minsk on 12 October, Lukašenka declared,

If you have been to Babrujsk [Babruysk], did you see what state the city is in? It was scary to walk into it, it was a pigsty. It was largely a Jewish city; you know how Jews act towards the place they live in. Take a look at Israel; I have been there, for one.... Under no circumstances do I want to hurt them, but they do not really make sure that the grass is mowed like in Moscow, among the Russians, or Belarusians. What a city it was.... We fixed it up, and we say to Israeli Jews: Come back, guys. I told them: Come back with money.

Five days later, the Israeli ambassador to Belarus, Zeev Ben-Arie, protested in no uncertain terms, saying that "in these comments, one can hear echoes of a myth that I had hoped had long been buried by the history of enlightened mankind, about poorly dressed, dirty, foul smelling Jews, an anti-Semitic myth." Ben-Arie also said he hoped that "Belarusian cities would reach the level of Israel's municipal services and social services in general."

Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni accused Lukašenka of anti-Semitism, saying

It is the responsibility of world leaders to battle anti-Semitism, which rears its ugly head in various places around the world, not promote it. Anti-Semitism reflects first and foremost on the community in which it appears, and on its leaders.

On 18 October, the Belarusian ambassador to Israel, Ihar Lia
ščenia (Liashchenia), issued a statement reminding Israelis that "during the last five or six centuries, Jews in our region did not feel as protected and safe anywhere as they did in the Belarusian lands.... This good attitude towards Jews, which has become traditional, persists in modern Belarus as well."

Regarding Babrujsk, Liaščenia remarked that the residents of the city,

with the help of the state, were trying to host the republic-wide harvest festival in a decent manner. The renewed, rebuilt city of Babrujsk is, among other things, a homage to many generations of members of the Jewish community whose native city this was.

"Belarus and anti-Semitism are mutually exclusive ideas," Liaščenia concluded (Белорусские новости).

One can't envy poor Liaščenia his duty of restoring calm after Lukašenka's gaffe. After all, Lukašenka managed to squeeze three typical anti-Semitic stereotypes into one statement: that Jews are allegedly dirty, that they allegedly have no attachment to the place they live in, and that they are simultaneously rich. That Liaščenia managed to turn Lukašenka's words around and portray the restoration of parts of Babrujsk as a homage to Jews is a credit to his quick thinking, or that of others in his embassy or the Belarusian foreign ministry.

Liaščenia is right on one thing. Belarus has historically been a highly tolerant place towards minorities (for instance, there were mosques in operation in Belarus centuries ago, while even in modern-day Greece and Slovenia, the very existence of mosques is a controversial issue). It remains tolerant to this day. However, as Lukašenka's words show, we Belarusians (yes, I am one) have some way to go towards living up to the image of tolerance we always congratulate ourselves with.

20 October 2007

Visitor profile, 15 September to 14 October 2007

Welcome to the seventh installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 September to 14 October 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 71 visits, that is, 10% less than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was two a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from Asia, Australasia, Europe and North America. By far the largest number of visitors (49%) came from Canada, and the United States came second with 17%. Australia came a distant third with 6%.

Within Canada, 49% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

The largest number of visitors this month (44%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common Google searches ranged from 'natasha aliyeva' to 'natasha aliyeva belarus'.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (54%). 94% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 October 2007):

The total number of visitors during these seven months was 937. The average number of visitors was four per day.

The largest number of visitors (36%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (31%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 76% of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (49%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 92% of the visitors were Windows users.

13 October 2007

Eid mubarak!

I would like to wish the readers of Notes of Religion a blessed Eid.

Here's a BBC photo series showing Eid celebrations around the world, from Afghanistan to the United States.

08 October 2007

Buddhist pagodas stand empty in Yangon

Buddhist temples and pagodas in Yangon are not attracting the kinds of crowds they normally do, following the military crackdown on anti-government protests led by Buddhist monks. Monks have been arrested in their hundreds, while many others have left their monasteries to stay with their families. Laymen appear hesitant to visit pagodas for fear of provoking the government (BBC).

What the Burmese army should expect, though, is that, sooner or later, this hesitancy will probably fade, once again leading to free or semi-free interactions between laymen and monks, and another protest campaign, similar to the one recenly put down, may well erupt.

07 October 2007

Pro-Jewish Iranian TV show depicts Holocaust

"Zero Degree Turn", a mini-series airing on Iranian state TV, has come as a revelation to both Iranians and foreigners. It is set in Paris during World War II, and shows a fictional employee of the Iranian embassy there forging Iranian passports in order to save a number of Jews from the Holocaust. The character is based on a real-life Iranian who rescued 500 Jews in France using this tactic.

While President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has declared the Holocaust a fabrication, it seems higher-up authorities, such as the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, would like to make it clear that they do not share Ahmadinejad's position. Since Khamenei controls the state TV network, the show had to have his approval in order to air (AP).

Once again, Ahmadinejad has proven to be a bit of a wildcard even as far as the conservative Iranian clerical establishment is concerned, and so they're pushing back, but in a way that is both subtle and likely to gain Iran new friends or at least sympathisers.

03 October 2007

Monks fleeing Yangon

Buddhist monks in their dozens are reportedly trying to escape Yangon as a military crackdown on anti-govenrment protests continues there. The hundreds of monks already arrested will reportedly be sent to prisons in the north of Myanmar. Meanwhile, bus drivers are denying the monks passage out of the city, for fear that the government would stop them from obtaining petrol in retaliation.

According to Burmese government officials, ten people have been killed so far in clashes related to the protests. However, according to pro-democracy activists and foreign diplomats, the true number is several times higher.

Meanwhile, a Burmese army officer has defected to Thailand after his unit was ordered to Yangon to put down the protests. According to the officer,
I knew the plan to beat and shoot the monks and if I stayed on, I would have to follow these orders. Because I'm a Buddhist, I did not want to kill the monks" (BBC).

So it looks as if the pro-democracy movement has been quashed for now, but what the Burmese people have seen over the last few days is not just the power of the army, but also their own power, especially when they gather in their tens of thousands. The day may not be too far away when they start marching in their hundreds of thousands, making it very hard for the army to brutally supress them, as they have been doing so far.

27 September 2007

Nine people killed in Myanmar clashes

Nine people, all of them civilians, were killed today during clashes between the army and anti-military protesters in Yangon. They included eight Burmese protesters and a Japanese video journalist working for AFP. This was the tenth-day of Buddhist-monk-led anti-government protests in Myanmar.

Last night, the army raided several monasteries in Yangon, beat up sleeping monks and arrested hundreds of them. Therefore, there were fewer monks on the streets today than was the case before during the protests, but tens of thousands of people still participated. Clashes between the army and the civilian protesters lasted six hours, having started after some protesters apparently tried to disarm the soldiers.

ASEAN has expressed its "revulsion" at the deaths in Yangon, while the UN is planning to send a special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to deal with the crisis (BBC).

Hopefully this is the beginning of the end of the Burmese military regime. However, it has shown a lot of resilience in the past, and so the civilians clashing with it are either very brave, or desperate. In either case, this would be a good time for the generals to try to cut a deal and leave power, but, unfortunately, I don't think they'd be interested in that option.

22 September 2007

Former Nazi camp guard next door to Holocaust survivor

Polish-born Nathan Gasch, who survived the Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz camps during the Holocaust, found himself living next door to a former Sachsenhausen camp guard in a retirement home in Mesa, Arizona recently. Gasch realised that his neighbour, the Romanian-born Martin Hartmann, had a troubled past when he saw a picture of Hartmann in an SS uniform. Gasch chose not to reveal his finding to anyone. As he puts it, "I figured we were living in a community here. I just let it go."

However, after an investigation that took two years to complete, Hartmann was discovered by Office of Special Investigations of the US Department of Justice. It turned out that Hartmann had been a member of the SS Death's Head Guard Batallion, composed of volunteers, during the Second World War. He came to the US in 1955, and later became a US citizen under false pretences. Last month, Hartmann, who is now 88 years old, was stripped of his US citizenship and deported to Germany (BBC).

I think Hartmann ought to stand trial in Germany, but somehow I doubt that's going to happen.

15 September 2007

Visitor profile, 15 August to 14 September 2007

Welcome to the sixth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 August to 14 September 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 79 visits, that is, 67% less than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was three a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent except Africa. The largest number of visitors (46%) came from Canada, and the United States came second with 30%. The United Kingdom came a distant third with 9%.

Within Canada, an overwhelming 89% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

The largest number of visitors this month (29%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. As for those who were referred by Google, their most common search term was "din dalit".

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (52%). 86% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 September 2007):

The total number of visitors during these six months was 866. The average number of visitors was five per day.

The largest number of visitors (35%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (32%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 79% of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (50%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 92% of the visitors were Windows users.

Indian culture minister offers to quit

Ambika Soni, India's Minister of Culture, has offered to resign in a dispute over whether the Hindu gods are mythological figures or not.

The trouble started when the Indian government decided to build a shipping channel called the Sethusamudram Ship Canal to link the Palk Strait with the Gulf of Mannar. This would give ships a way to circumnavigate the Indian peninsula without going around Sri Lanka. The channel, however, would cut through a sand-and-stone formation known as Adam's Bridge in English and Ram Setu (or "Ram's Bridge") in Hindi.

Some Hindu groups see any attempt to cut through the natural formation as blasphemy, because they believe it to have been constructed in ancient times by the Hindu god Ram with the help of monkeys. On 12 September, the Archaeological Survey of India submitted documents to the Supreme Court saying that the fact that Ram is mentioned in Hindu holy texts does not prove his existence in real life.

In response, Hindu groups held demonstrations in Delhi, Bhopal and other areas. The Archaeological Survey has now withdrawn its report from the Supreme Court, and the two Archaeological Survey directors responsible for the report have been suspended.

Ms Soni has now left the decision over whether or not she will continue in her job to PM Manmohan Singh (BBC).

The question is why the culture minister would take the fall over a construction project that is about commerce and shipping, rather than culture. Even if the Archaeological Survey falls within her portfolio, the government should either take or refuse the blame collectively, rather than letting a relative junior member accept the blame for arousing public anger among Hindus.

The Sethusamudram Ship Canal is expected to cost US $560 million (Canadian $576 million). Obviously there are bigger fish involved here.

13 September 2007

Ramadan mubarak!

I would like to wish the readers of Notes on Religion a blessed Ramadan.

If you're wondering how Muslims go about fasting all day during this month, I'd recommend this BBC article on the subject.

You can read a variety of other Ramadan-related news stories on Google News.

11 September 2007

Dubai sheikh marries Belarusian waitress

Sheikh Saeed bin Maktoum al-Maktoum, 30, a member of the ruling family of Dubai, has married Natasha Aliyeva, a 19-year-old Belarusian trainee waitress he met at Hotel Minsk. Their simple Islamic wedding was preceded by a courtship that lasted less than a month.

The couple met after Sheikh Saeed arrived in Belarus to take part in a shooting championship and moved into the presidential suite of Hotel Minsk. He asked for a glass of orange juice to be sent up to him, and the juice was brought by Aliyeva. The sheikh was immediately smitten, and asked her out. Prior to the wedding, Aliyeva converted from Christianity to Islam, the religion not just of her new husband, but also her Azerbaijani-born father, Muslim Aliyev.

According to Nina Shakhnut, one of Aliyeva's high-school teachers, "Natasha has really aristocratic looks and such charm. I can see what the prince sees in her."

Aliyeva's mother, Liliya, was at first reluctant to let her daughter marry Sheikh Saeed: marriage to him would mean adapting to "a faraway country, strange people, polygamy." Indeed, Sheikh Saeed already had a wife and five children; Aliyeva was to become his second wife. Eventually, Aliyeva's mother relented, and the wedding went ahead.

According to the sheikh's new mother-in-law, he is "an honest, intelligent and tactful man with an excellent education. His fortune doesn't interest me. I'm not a woman to exchange my daughter for money. I don't believe Natasha cares for his fortune either."

That fortune is quite substantial: Sheikh Saeed reportedly has assets worth ₤8 billion (Canadian $16.9 billion / US $16.3 billion).

The newly-married couple have now departed for Cyprus, where Sheikh Saeed is taking part in another shooting competition. Natasha's sister Galina is moving to Dubai with them, to act as interpreter for the newlyweds.

Sheikh Saeed's late father, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was the emir of Dubai between 1990 and 2006. Asked by Belarusian journalists whether he would one day himself become the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Saeed answered, "Is it important? Money and power come and go. Belief is the only thing that remains for ever" (Daily Mail).

07 September 2007

Two women beheaded in Pakistani tribal area

The bodies of two beheaded women have been discovered near the city of Bannu in Pakistan's North Waziristan Agency. A note found nearby accused the women of "acts of obscenity", a reference to prostitution. The district police suspect Islamist militants of having carried out the attack (BBC).

Once again, this sort of brazen act highlights the need for the Pakistani government to take charge in areas like North Waziristan. At present, the government seems incapable of protecting its own citizens; what is needed is not a bloodbath like at the Red Mosque, but a step-by-step strategy to integrate the so-called Federally Administered Tribal Areas into the rest of the country, in a way that preserves the quasi-autonomy of the region while making it hard for militants to operate there with impunity.

06 September 2007

Israelis kill ten Palestinian militants

Israeli forces have killed six Palestinian militants belonging to Islamic Jihad and the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades as they were approaching the Israeli border in two cars.

Earlier, the Israelis killed four Palestinian militants in a fight near Khan Younis. The militants were responding to an incursion into the Gaza Strip by Israeli tanks and bulldozers (BBC).

So the low-intensity strike and counter-strike continue. As long as this continues, there is a pretext for some (including Hamas and Edud Olmert) to refuse to accept peace with their neighbours. They cling to power, while their foot soldiers (and, often, innocent bystanders) suffer the consequences.

Hamas in negotiations over Shalit

The Palestinian militant group Hamas is negotiating separately with the International Committee of the Red Cross and several European countries over access to, and the possible release of, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured in a joint operation by Hamas and other Palestinian groups in June 2006.

The Director-General of the ICRC, Angelo Gnaedinger, has held talks with former Palestinian PM Ismail Haniya, a Hamas leader, asking for the ICRC to be given access to Shalit. Haniya said he was aiming to reach an "honourable prisoner-swap deal" involving Shalit and Palestinian prisoners being held by Israel (BBC).

Myanmar monks release govt. officials

Buddhist monks in Pakokku, Myanmar have released the twenty government officials whom they had held for five to six hours.

The dispute started on 5 September, when about 400 people took part in a monk-led demonstration in Pakokku to protest against the rise of natural gas prices in Myanmar. Security personnel fired into the air to disperse the demonstrators, injuring three monks in the process.

Today, 20 government officials arrived at a monastery in Pakokku to apologise for the incident. However, instead of accepting their apology, a group of monks set fire to the officials' cars, and detained them for several hours, releasing them after the intervention if an abbot.

Hundreds of the monks' lay supporters gathered outside the monastery to cheer them on while the officials were being held (BBC).

So it seems that the Buddhist establishment is the only social force that can get away with protests in today's Myanmar. I wonder if this temporary capture of the 20 officials will lead to sustained opposition on the part of the monks, akin to Pope John Paul II's campaign against Communism in Poland.

Tutu appointed barbecue man

Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, has been appointed patron of Braai (Barbecue) Day celebrations in South Africa. The next Braai Day is schuduled for 24 September.

According to Tutu, "ordinary activities like eating can unite people of different races, religions, sexes..." (BBC).

German police pursues ten terror suspects

After arresting three Muslim men accused of plotting terrorist attacks on several targets in Germany, the German authorities are looking for ten more people suspected of helping the three with their planning.

According to Monika Harms, a German federal prosecutor, the three men, who include two Germans and a Turk, had trained in Pakistan, and obtained 700 kg of explosives. They were allegedly planning to attack locations used by Americans, including the Frankfurt Airport (BBC).

As it is, many Germans don't have a very high opinion of Muslims. And now this. What were those three thinking (if indeed the accusations have some merit to them)? It is precisely this sort of thing that gives ammunition to those who would restrict the civil liberties of minorities, so these three people, as well as the other ten, if they are guilty, were endangering innocent people in more ways than one.

Suicide bombing in Algeria

An unknown group has carried out a suicide bombing in the Algerian city of Batna, killing at least 15 people. The attack seemed to be aimed at crowds waiting for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika.

Although there has been no claim of responsibility for the attack, Bouteflika blamed Islamist militants, adding that "terrorist acts have absolutely nothing in common with the noble values of Islam" (BBC).

02 September 2007

Lebanon takes Nahr al-Bared camp

After over three months of clashes, the Lebanese army has taken the Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp, located near Tripoli. The rebel group Fatah al-Islam, which had been holed up in the camp, seems to be in disarray. Its leader, Shaker al-Abssi, has reportedly been killed, while its surviving members have fled the camp. In all, 37 rebels and five Lebanese soldiers were killed in a battle on 1 September.

Prime Minister Fouad Siniora has declared victory "over the terrorists, those who sought chaos, destruction and tragedies for Lebanon." The army has planted Lebanese flags over the camp, and Siniora has promised to reopen the camp, saying, however, that in future the camp would be run exclusively under Lebanese authority (BBC).

I hope the Lebanese army's success is permanent, and a clone of Fatah al-Islam does not appear in the camp in a few weeks' time. The best thing to do, of course, would be to give the refugees Lebanese citizenship, and integrate them into the local population. That is not, however, something that any Arab state other than Jordan has been willing to contemplate.

30 August 2007

Taliban release Korean hostages

The Taliban have handed over the last of the South Korean hostages they were holding to the International Committee of the Red Cross. In exchange, South Korea has confirmed that it would withdraw its 200 soldiers from Afghanistan, as it had already been planning to do, and also that it would prevent its citizens from travelling to Afghanistan for missionary activity or any other purpose (BBC).

I wonder how the South Korean government is supposed to enforce its travel ban to Afghanistan. Can't any South Korean who wants to go to Afghanistan go to a third country with an Afghan embassy, obtain a visa, and go there?

I guess one way is for it to make a deal with the Afghan government that would guarantee a blanket policy of denying Afghan visas to South Korean citizens. But then would the Afghan government be willing to make such a concession to the Taliban?

27 August 2007

Bosniak war widow wants church off her land

Fata Orlović, a Bosnian Muslim woman from the village Konjević Polje in Bosnia-Herzegovina, has been waging a battle for several years to get a Serbian Orthodox church removed from her property. Orlović was expelled from her village during the Bosnian War, and her husband was killed in the war. When she returned in 2000, she found that a church had been constructed on her land, right in front of her house.

Ever since, she has been appealing to the authorities to remove the church. The Bosnian Serb authorities have relented, and are now planning to dismantle the church building and move it to a different location.

It is not dislike for Christianity that motivates Orlović. As she says, "It doesn't bother me that it's a church.... I respect churches as much as mosques. But if they want a church they should just put it on their land instead of mine. I respect all nations and religions, but I can't respect people building on my land."

According to James Rodehaver, the Human Rights Director of the Organisation for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) office in Sarajevo, "If she doesn't get the church off her land you will never have a society that is governed by the rule of law.... The legacy of the war would never be resolved" (BBC).

This story does show that Bosnia has come a long way since the war, though. The very fact that the Bosnian Serb authorities are taking Mrs Orlovi
ć's request seriously and are willing to remove the building that was illegally placed on her land -- despite the fact that it is as politically sensitive a building as a church -- speaks volumes.

Tiny Dalit paper makes waves in India

The Din Dalit is one of the huge number of newspapers in India and it has some degree of influence: for instance, it helped a man get his social security, which the government had previously denied him.

However, the Din Dalit is also a newspaper with a difference: every week since 1986, its part-time editor, a Dalit (untouchable) man named Gaurishankar Rajak, has written most of it himself by hand, and then photocopied it into 100 copies. Nowadays, the paper also has a reporter. Over the years, the paper has developed a following in Dumka, Jharkhand. As Dhrub Rai, a rickshaw driver, observed, "Rajak has simply waged a war against corruption and social evils here" (BBC).

On the one hand, it is sad that so much effort on the part of one person -- and thousands like him elsewhere in India -- has to go into demanding rights the respect of Dalits' rights in modern-day India. On the other hand, the very fact that the Din Dalit has been published for 21 years and has not faced attacks from high-caste neighbours, shows that India has come a long way from the days of prevailing caste-based oppression.

India blames Pakistani, Bangladeshi groups for bombing

The Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, has blamed unnamed "terrorist organisations based in Bangladesh and Pakistan" for the recent bombings in Hyderabad, which killed 42 people.

Meanwhile, Indian President Pratibha Patil has indicated that the intention of the bombers had been to harm harmony between Hindus and Muslims in the city (BBC).

Is the Indian authorities' tendency to blame most terrorist attacks on Pakistani -- and recently Bangladeshi -- groups a symptom of the fact that they do not possess adequate knowledge of terrorist groups possibly operating within their own country? In other words, why did it have to be Pakistanis or Bangladeshis, and not Indians?

The very idea that terrorists from Pakistan and Bangladesh supposedly cooperated in this attack is kind of hard to take given the sheer distance between the two countries. On the other hand, operatives representing unsavoury groups in the two countries may have met up in India, in which case someone was possibly harbouring them, and that someone might be an Indian group. So any way you look at it, blaming Pakistani and Bangladeshi groups looks like a copout.

Shi'ite flag flies over Basra police station

There are conflicting reports over the fate of a base in Basra that was recently evacuated by British forces. In theory, the Iraqi Police, which the British shared the station with, were supposed to take over control. However, there have been reports that the Mahdi Army, a Shi'ite militia, has taken over the base. Trying to refute those reports, a British Ministry of Defence spokesman said that a green Shi'ite flag was now flying over the base, rather than the black (and also Shi'ite) Mahdi Army flag (BBC).

So, even if the Iraqi Police is now in charge of the base, they are flying a sectarian flag, rather than a national one. This makes me wonder, at least for a moment, if the "Coalition of the Willing" is setting Iraq up for something like what was seen in Palestine and India in 1947-48, even if unintentionally.

Shi'ites and Kurds form new alliance

Four Shi'ite and Kurdish parties have formed a new ruling coalition in Iraq. These parties have also signed a "reconciliation" agreement with Sunni groups, but Vice-President Tariq al-Hashemi's (Sunni) Iraqi Islamic Party so far has no plans to join the coalition (BBC).

It seems that the whole key to end the civil-war-like state of affairs in Iraq is to bring the Sunni Arabs on board, and I wish Maliki would try harder to do so.

26 August 2007

Mother Teresa suffered decades of doubt

A compilation of Mother Teresa's letters, due to be published next month under the title Come Be My Light, reveals that she doubted the existence of God and heaven, and that she found no attraction in "saving souls," that is, converting people to Catholicism. While outwardly every bit the Catholic, she suffered from an intense spiritual drought in her heart.

At her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1979, she proclaimed that "Christ is in our hearts, Christ is in the poor we meet, Christ is in the smile we give, and Christ is in the smile we receive." However, writing to Father Michael van der Peet, her spiritual adviser, she admitted that "the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see -- listen and do not hear -- the tongue moves but does not speak."

In fact, Mother Teresa, known after her death as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, believed that she was involved in the "verbal deception" of people who admired her.

While these revelations, which come from letters Mother Teresa wanted burned after her death (they were preserved on the Church's orders), may make her less popular with some, but others are already saying that she is as holy as they thought previously, only more human (Daily Mail).

Afghans angry at balls donated by the US

About 100 people have demonstrated in the Afghan city of Khost after US troops stationed in the area airdropped some footballs (soccer balls) aimed at children in the area. They were protesting the fact that some of the balls were decorated with, among other things, Saudi flags.

Since the Saudi flag contains the Muslim declaration of faith, "There is no god except God, and Muhammad is the Messenger of God," the footballs would indirectly invite players to kick an object bearing the name of God.

A US military spokeswoman has expressed regret over the mistake (BBC).

This once again starkly highlights the need for understanding the US Armed Forces to understand Islam and Muslims. Any interpreter who took a look at one of those footballs would be able to flag them as inappropriate.

Diana memorial scheduled for Friday

The family of the late Diana, Princess of Wales is planning to hold a memorial service on 31 August to mark the ten-year anniversary of her death in Paris, aged 36. The service is to be held in a military chapel in London, and should include readings by Princes William and Harry, as well as Lady Sarah McCorquodale, Diana's elder sister. About 500 people are expected to attend, including over 30 members of the royal family (BBC).

Partial curfew imposed in Baghdad

A partial curfew of indefinite duration has been imposed on Baghdad and its surroundings by the Iraqi government, meaning that, while cars are still allowed to move, two-wheeled vehicled and push-carts are not. This is a measure aimed at protecting Shi'ite pilgrims who are due to attend a festival next week (BBC).

The question is: what good is a curfew that gives cars freedom of movement in a country where so much damage has been wrought by car bombs? Is this a failure of the imagination on the part of the Iraqi government, or just an attempt at not embittering the population further by making life even more difficult for them?

20 August 2007

Visitor profile, 15 July to 14 August 2007

Welcome to the fifth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 July to 14 August 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 238 visits, that is, 318% more than the previous month, alhamdu lillah. The average number of visitors during this period was eight a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. The largest number of visitors (39%) came from the United States, and Canada came a distant second with 15%. Brazil was third with 4%. Because the highest number of visitors to the blog this month came from the US, I'll convert all currencies cited into US dollars during the upcoming month, God willing.

Within the US, the largest number of visits came from California (15% of the American total). In Canada, 72% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

An overwhelming majority of visitors this month (84%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. As for those who were referred by Google, their most common search term consisted of the URL of Notes on Religion.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (59%). 90% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 August 2007):

The total number of visitors during these five months was 787. The average number of visitors was five per day.

The largest number of visitors (34%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (33%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 77% of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (39%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

14 August 2007

Suicide bombers strike Yazidis; scores of casualties

Several suicide bomb attacks have killed 175 or more people near Mosul. The attacks were aimed at Iraq's Yazidi minority, whose members worship Malak Ta'us, or the Peacock Angel. The attack came after a period of rising tension between the Yazidis and Muslims of the area, after an incident in April in which a group of Yazidis allegedly stoned a formerly Yazidi girl who had converted to Islam (BBC).

It looks like some people in Iraq are really determined to drive all minorities out of the country.

09 August 2007

Hadrian's statue found in Turkey

Archaeologists working in the ruins of the Roman city of Salagassos, located in modern Turkey, have found pieces of a huge statue of Emperor Hadrian (Publius Aelius Traianus Hadrianus, 76-138), who ruled the Roman Empire from 117 to 138. Salagassos was declared the "First City" of the Pisidia province by Hadrian, as well as a centre for the official cult of the emperor.

The recently uncovered statue would have stood 4 or 5 m tall. It was one of many statues to Hadrian erected in the city, which also had a temple dedicated to the emperor (BBC).

30 July 2007

Are the Lebanese against Hamas? It depends

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 67% of Lebanese respondents have an unfavourable view of Hamas. However, while 87% of Lebanese Christians and 76% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims hold that view, only 35% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims do.

Once again, I think the fact that 50% of Lebanese Shi'ites actually hold a positive view of Hamas (a Sunni militant group) lies in the fact that many Lebanese Shi'ites support the equally militant Shi'ite group Hizbullah.

Religious divide on Israel and Palestine in Lebanon

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 49% of Lebanese respondents agree with the idea that "a way can be found for Israel and Palestinian rights to coexist". However, 70% of Lebanese Christians and 57% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims agree with this statement, but only 16% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims do.

If nothing else, this demonstrates what an unhealthy influence Hizbullah has been in Lebanon; the militant group's support base consists of Shi'ites, and they are the main recipients of its propaganda that rejecting peace with Israel.

Views of Sunnis and Shi'ites on Iran and Ahmadinejad

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 45% of Lebanese Muslims have a fabourable view of Iran, and 39% have a favourable view of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. However, 86% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims have a favourable view of Iran (a majority-Shi'ite country), while only 8% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims do. Similarly, 76% of Lebanese Shi'ites have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, while only 5% of Lebanese Sunnis do.

In Kuwait, the divide is less stark. Overall, 37% of Muslims in Kuwait like Iran, and 25% like Ahmadinejad. While 51% of Shi'ites in Kuwait have a favourable view of Iran, only 34% of Sunnis do; while 51% of Shi'ites in Kuwait have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, only 20% of Sunnis do.

In Africa, the difference is even less pronounced, but nevertheless exists. In Mali, 50% of Muslims overall like Iran, while 42% like Ahmadinejad. However, 54% of Malian Shi'ites have a favourable view of Iran, while 44% of Malian Sunnis do; 44% of Malian Shi'ites have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, while 38% of Malian Sunnis do.

In Nigeria, 64% of Muslims like Iran, while 61% like Ahmadinejad. However, while 81% of Nigerian Sunnis have a favourable view of Iran, 75% of Nigerian Sunnis do; while 79% of Nigerian Shi'ites have a favourable view of Ahmadinejad, 76% of Nigerian Sunnis do.

Religious divide in view of American culture

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), 71% of Lebanese respondents like American music, movies and TV. However, when broken down by religion and sect, it turns out that 87% of Lebanese Christians and 84% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims like American cultural exports, but only 37% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims do.

58% of Ethiopians like American cultural exports; 73% of Ethiopian Christians do, but only 36% of Ethiopian Muslims.

59% of Nigerians like American music, movies and TV; 82% of Nigerian Christians do, but only 38% of Nigerian Muslims.

54% of Malaysians like American cultural exports; 73% of Malaysian Buddhists do, but only 40% of Malaysian Muslims.

What is really interesting, apart from the religious distinctions within these countries, is the fact that many more Muslims seem to like American culture than the proportion that likes the country itself.

What do Muslims think of the US?

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here), the following proportions of Muslim respondents have a favourable view of the US:

43% in Kuwait, 33% in Lebanon, 22% in Egypt, 20% in Jordan, 15% in Morocco, 13% in Palestine, 9% in Turkey, 51% in Bangladesh, 27% in Indonesia, 15% in Pakistan, 9% in Malaysia, 78% in Mali, 69% in Senegal, 49% in Nigeria, 48% in Ethiopia, 41% in Tanzania.

What stands out to me here is that the majority of Bangladeshi Muslims hold a favourable view of the US: Bangladesh is the only non-African country surveyed where this is the case. I wonder why. Perhaps the anwer lies in the fact that a large number of Bangladeshis know their compatriots living in the US who send back a balanced view of the US to their friends and relatives in Bangladesh.

Religious divide in view of the US in Lebanon

Asked in the recent Pew Global Attitudes Survey (PDF here) about their opinion of the United States, only 47% of Lebanese respondents had a favourable view of the country.

However, when the results are sorted according to the religion and sect of the respondent, a much more nuanced picture emerges. Thus, 82% of Lebanese Christians have a favourable view of the US, as do 52% of Lebanese Sunni Muslims. On the other hand, only 7% of Lebanese Shi'ite Muslims have a favourable view of the US.

I wonder if the proportion of Shi'ites and Sunnis with favourable views of the US would be exactly the opposite in Iraq.

Bin Laden's popularity low among Muslims

According to the recent Pew Global Attitudes survey (results available in a PDF), few Muslims have confidence in Osama bin Laden.

Asked whether they had "confidence in Osama bin Laden to do the right thing regarding world affairs," the following proportions of Muslim respondents said they had a lot of confidence or some confidence in him: 20% in Jordan, 20% in Morocco, 18% in Egypt, 13% in Kuwait, 5% in Turkey, 1% in Lebanon, 38% in Pakistan, 41% in Indonesia, 39% in Bangladesh, 32% in Malaysia, 30% in Mali, 20% in Senegal, 37% in Ethiopia, and 11% in Tanzania.

Only in two countries or territories did the majority of Muslim respondents express a lot or some confidence in bin Laden: Palestine, with 57%, and Nigeria, with 52%.

It is not surprising that Palestinians have a somewhat different view of the world from other Muslims at the moment, but what's with bin Laden's relatively high popularity among Nigerian Muslims? Perhaps President Umaru Yar'Adua should investigate the roots of the disaffection that Nigerian Muslims must be feeling.

26 July 2007

US court orders Sudan to pay Cole victim families

A US federal court in Virginia has found Sudan guilty of involvement with the bombing of USS Cole by al-Qaeda in 2000, and has ordered the Sudanese government to pay US $8 million (Canadian $8.4 million) in compensation to the families of 17 US Marines who died in the attack.

According to Judge Robert Doumar, who presided over the trial, "It is depressing to realise that a country organised on a religious basis with religious rule of law could and would execute its power for purposes which most countries would find intolerable and loathsome."

The ruling was based on the Death on the High Seas Act. The families can collect the sum from Sudanese assets frozen in the US.

Sudan denies any ties with al-Qaeda, and the US government seems to agree (BBC).

I wonder if Doumar took the US government's position into account in making his judgement.

HIV children's families protest medics' release

The Libyan Association for the Families of HIV-Infected Children has protested against the pardon granted by Bulgarian President Georgi Parvanov to the six Bulgarian medics convicted in Libya of deliberately infecting the 438 children with HIV. The association has released a statement saying the pardon shows disrespect towards Muslims, and calling for Libya to break off relations with Bulgaria.

Each of the victims' families have received compensation of US $1 million (Canadian $1,054,000) from an international fund (BBC).

It's strange to see this accusation coming from the victims' families, given that, under Islamic law, a murderer is released following the payment of compensation. So, even if the five Bulgarian nurses and the Palestinian-Bulgarian doctor accused of infecting the children were guilty, the compensation should have settled the case under the Shari'a. Now, I know Libya is not run by Shari'a rules, but the family's self-identification as disrespected Muslims calls their protest into question.

Further, if anyone should be blamed for this sordid mess, it's obviously Muammar al-Gaddafi and the rest of the Libyan leadership, who tried to make scapegoats out of the six medics for domestic consumption, and then traded them to Bulgaria in exchange for better ties with the EU.

25 July 2007

Most Muslims against the use of suicide bombing

The results of a Pew Global Attitudes Survey carried out in April in 47 countries (available in a PDF file) show that the majority (often an overwhelming one) of Muslims in 15 different countries are against suicide bomb attacks on civilian targets.

According to the survey, the proportions of Muslims who believe that suicide bombing is sometimes or often justified are: 34% in Lebanon, 20% in Bangladesh, 9% in Pakistan, 23% in Jordan, 10% in Indonesia, 11% in Tanzania, 42% in Nigeria, 16% in Turkey, 39% in Mali, 26% in Malaysia, 21% in Kuwait, 18% in Ethiopia, 18% in Senegal, 11% in Morocco, and 8% in Egypt.

The only territory polled where a majority of Muslims supports the use of suicide bombing as a tactic was Palestine, where 70% of respondents think it can sometimes or often be justified.

Something Even More Magical

In other news...