28 May 2007

American Muslim demographics and views of religion

The recent Pew Research Center survey of American Muslims indicates the following demographic profile for this population:

While 52% of adult Americans overall are female and 48% male, 54% of adult American Muslims are male, while 46% are female.

American Muslims are a younger group than Americans in general. 30% of adult American Muslims are aged between 18 and 29, while only 13% are aged 55 or more. On the other hand, 21% of adult Americans in general are aged between 18 and 29, and 30% are 55 or older.

60% of adult American Muslims are currently married, as opposed to 57% of adult Americans as a whole.

The racial composition of American Muslims is different from that of the overall American population. Only 38% of American Muslims are white, as opposed to 77% of Americans as a whole. Blacks account for 26% of American Muslims but 11% of Americans. Asians make up 20% of American Muslims and 5% of Americans in general. 4% of American Muslims are Hispanic, as are 13% of Americans as a whole.

In educational attainment, Muslim Americans are very similar to Americans in general. 10% of American Muslims have gone to graduate school, as have 9% of Americans as a whole. 14% of American Muslims have a bachelor's degree, as do 16% of Americans as a whole. However, as many as 21% of adult American Muslims have not graduated from high school, while the figure for Americans as a whole is 16%.

Income-wise, Muslim Americans are also very close to the overall American population. While 16% of American Muslim households have an annual income of US $100,000 (Canadian $108,000) or above, the same was true of 17% of American households overall. Again, while 35% of American Muslim households earn less than US $30,000 (Canadian $32,400) a year, so do 33% of American households overall.

However, in home ownership, American Muslims are far behind Americans as a whole: 68% of adult Americans own a home, but only 41% of American Muslims do.

Income disparities between Muslims and non-Muslims are much greater in four Western European countries than in the US. 45% of French Muslim households have an annual income of €17,500 (Canadian $25,400) or less, compared to only 27% of French households overall. 73% of Spanish Muslim households have an annual income of €14,500 (Canadian $21,100) or less, compared to 50% of Spanish households overall. 53% of German Muslim households have an annual income of €18,000 (Canadian $26,100) or less, as opposed to 35% of German households overall. 61% of British Muslim households have an annual income of ₤20,000 (Canadian $42,800) or less, compared to 39% of British households overall.

Interestingly, 23% of American Muslims live in households that contain both Muslims and non-Muslims.

59% of American Muslim households contain children.

50% of American Muslims are Sunnis, while 16% are Shi'ites. As many as 22% do not belong to a specific sect.

91% of American converts to Islam were born in the United States.

59% of Muslim converts in the US are African-American, while 34% are white. 55% of converts are Sunni, while 6% are Shi'ite.

49% of converts embraced Islam when they were less than 21 years old. 67% of American converts to Islam were Protestants before they became Muslims, 10% were Catholics, while 4% were Orthodox Christians. 15% did not observe any religion before becoming Muslims.

58% of American converts to Islam embraced the religion because of the beliefs and practices of Islam. 18% did so for reasons primarily connected with family and marriage.

86% of American Muslims believe that the Qur'an is the word of God, while 78% of American Christians think the same about the Bible. Only 50% of American Muslims think that the Qur'an is the literal word of God, while 40% of American Christians have this view of the Bible.

60% of American Muslims believe that there is more than one correct way of interpreting "Islamic teachings".

74% of American Muslims are satisfied with the mosques in the areas where they live.

41% of American Muslims report praying five times a day. Another 20% perform some of the five prayers.

48% of American Muslim men and 45% of American Muslim women believe that women should pray at the mosque "separately from men". 20% of Muslim men and 26% of Muslim women think that women should pray at the mosque "behind men, not separately".

78% of American Muslims report being "very happy" or "pretty happy" with their lives. The same is true of 87% of Americans as a whole.

47% of American Muslims think of themselves as "Muslim first", while 28% see themselves as "American first". On the other hand, 42% of American Christians think of themselves as "Christian first", while 48% see themselves as "American first".

51% of American Muslims are "very worried" or "somewhat worried" that "women wearing the hijab will be treated poorly". Curiously, only 44% of American women who always wear the hijab share this concern.

It seems that, overall, African Americans face more prejudice than American Muslims. For example, 26% of American Muslims say they were "treated or viewed with suspicion" in the past year, while the same is true of 33% of African Americans.

Muslim Americans who voted in the 2004 presidential election backed John Kerry over George W. Bush by a 71-14 margin.

Only 63% of adult Muslim US citizens are registered to vote, while 76% of adult Americans are overall.

55% of American Muslims think that the current US War on Terrorism is not "a sincere effort to refuce terrorism". This compares with 63% of Turkish Muslims, 66% of Moroccan Muslims, 52% of Jordanian Muslims and 59% of Pakistani Muslims.

While 78% of American Muslims believe that suicide bombing can never be justified, this view is shared by 64% of French Muslims, 69% of Spanish Muslims, 70% of British Muslims, 83% of German Muslims, only 28% of Nigerian Muslims, 43% of Jordanian Muslims, 45% of Egyptian Muslims, 61% of Turkish Muslims, 69% of Pakistani Muslims, and 71% of Indonesian Muslims.

61% of American Muslims think that a way can be found "for Israel and Palestinian rights to coexist". 67% of Americans overall, as well as 67% of Israelis overall, share this view.

This is the fourth (of four) posts in a Notes on Religion series on the Pew Research Center's
survey of American Muslims, released in May 2007.

Here are links to the other three:

[First post] [Second Post] [Third Post] [Fourth Post]

27 May 2007

Yet more on American Muslims

Here are some other findings of the Pew Research Center's survey of American Muslims:

35% of American Muslims were born in the United States.

24% were born in the Arab world, 18% in South Asia, 8% in Iran, 5% in Europe, 4% in non-Arab African countries.

After the United States, the countries that account for the largest number of American Muslims (by birth) are Pakistan and Iran (8% each). Next come India, Lebanon and Yemen (4% each), followed by Bangladesh, Iraq and Bosnia-Herzegovina (3% each).

18% of American Muslims only arrived in the US in 2000 or later.

Of foreign-born American Muslims, 26% came to the US primarily for "educational opportunity", 24% came for "economic opportunity", another 24% came for "family reasons", and 20% came to the US to escape conflict or persecution.

77% of Muslims in the United States are US citizens.

This is the third (of four) posts in a Notes on Religion series on the Pew Research Center's survey of American Muslims, released in May 2007. Here are links to the other three:

[First post] [Second Post] [Third Post] [Fourth Post]

More on the survey of American Muslims

Continuing our discussion of the recent Pew Research Center survey of American Muslims, it turns out that Muslims in the United States hold rather social democratic views. 70% favour a bigger government, while only 43% of Americans as a whole do.

73% of American Muslims think the US government should do more to help the poor, a view that 63% of Americans share overall.

On homosexuality, 63% of American Muslims think it should be discouraged, while only 38% of Americans think so in general.

While 35% of Americans approve of George W. Bush's job performance, only 15% of American Muslims do. 63% of American Muslims (as opposed to 51% of Americans in general) are Democrats, or have pro-Democrat views.

72% of American Muslims and 60% of American Christians say that religion is "very important" in their lives. Curiously enough, 61% of American Muslims pray everyday, while 70% of American Christians do so. 40% of American Muslims go to the mosque every week, while 45% of American Christians attend church services weekly.

54% of American Christians think that churches "should express views on political and social issues," while only 43% of American Muslims say the same about mosques.

This is the second (of four) posts in a Notes on Religion series on the Pew Research Center's survey of American Muslims, released in May 2007. Here are links to the other three:

First post] [Second Post] [Third Post] [Fourth Post]

23 May 2007

Survey of American Muslims released

The Pew Research Center has released a large-scale survey of American Muslims, which gauges their opinion on subjects like the the American lifestyle, Islamist extremism, September 11, discrimination, US foreign policy (including the Iraq War), religious observance, homosexuality, President George Bush, and US domestic politics.

The survey also attempted to find out the number of Muslims in the United States, as well as the national, racial, sectarian, age and gender composition of the community. Finally, the respondents were asked about their incomes, education levels, employment, and, importantly, their interpretations and opinions concerning religious matters, such as the Qur'an, and the way mosques operate.

The survey sample consisted of 1,050 Muslims, and participants were paid $50 for taking part. The survey was conducted over landline telephones.

You can view the Pew Research Center's complete report in a PDF file.

Here, though, is a sample of the results:

The survey found that Muslims make up only 0.6% of the US population, which means that there are 1.4 million Muslims over the age of 18 in the United States. This is substantially lower than the currently widely accepted estimate of 6 million Muslims, but the latter number includes children. If we multiply 0.6% by the total US population, i.e. 301.7 million, we get 1.8 million Muslims. However, because American Muslims are a younger population on average than the overall American population, that number is likely to be higher.

65% of American Muslims are foreign-born, while the other 35% are native-born. Only 14% of American Muslims are people who were born into Muslim families in the US. 21% of American Muslims are converts.

It seems that American Muslims are optimists. 71% said that it is possible to "get ahead with hard work", while only 64% of the general public agreed with the statement. Also, interestingly enough, 38% of American Muslims are satisfied with the current state of the United States, while only 32% of the general public are.

43% of American Muslims think that "Muslims coming to the U.S. today should adopt American customs". 62% believe that "life is better for women here than in Muslim countries".

51% of American Muslims are "very concerned about Islamic extremism in the world these days".

53% of American Muslims believe that it is more difficult to be a Muslim in the US since September 11. 54% think that the government singles Muslims out for surveillance. Only 25%, however, report being victims of discrimination "as a Muslim in the U.S."

75% of American Muslims (as opposed to 47% of Americans in general) think that starting the war in Iraq was a wrong decision. 48% of American Muslims (as opposed to 29% of Americans in general) are against the war in Afghanistan.

83% of American Muslims said that suicide bombing could rarely or never be justified. 68% have a somewhat or very unfavourable view of Al-Qaeda. However, only 40% believe that Arabs carried out the September 11 attacks on the United States.

The discussion of this fascinating survey will continue on Notes on Religion in the coming days, God willing.

This is the second (of four) posts in a Notes on Religion series on the Pew Research Center's survey of American Muslims, released in May 2007. Here are links to the other three:

[First post] [Second Post] [Third Post] [Fourth Post]

Falwell's funeral draws thousands

Over 10,000 people attended Rev. Jerry Falwell's funeral in Lynchburg, Virginia on 22 May. The speakers at the funeral had been chosen by the late Falwell himself, along with the music. The funeral was held at the Thomas Road Baptist Church, where he had worked for 41 years.

Falwell died on 15 May, aged 73.

He is remembered for his role in bringing Evangelical Christianity to the political forefront in the United States, and also for founding Liberty University, which is located in Lynchburg.

A student at Liberty University was arrested after home-made bombs were found in his car. According to the police however, he was not planning to use the bombs at the funeral (Miami Herald).

18 May 2007

Дзякуй, Беларусь!

У трыццацідзённы пэрыяд ад 15 красавіка да 14 траўня, 7% са 155 наведвальнікаў гэтага блёґу прыйшлі сюды зь Беларусі. Такім чынам, Беларусь у гэтым месяцы была на 3-м мейсцы па колькасьці наведвальнікаў Notes on Religion, пасьля Канады ды ЗША.

Заўсёды прыемна бачыць на сайце сваіх людзей. :)

[This post talks about visitors to Notes on Religion from Belarus.]

16 May 2007

New Zealand set to spare the rod

The New Zealand Parliament has passed a bill that criminalises spanking -- or smacking, as it is known there. A poll shows that about three quarters of New Zealanders see nothing wrong with smacking their children. Different Christian groups have found themselves on opposite sides of the issue (BBC).

NWFP Christians ask govt for help

Christians in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province (NWFP) have asked the government for protection after receiving an unsigned letter threatening unspecified consequnces if the Christians do not convert to Islam. The letter was delivered to the house of Michael John, a Christian MP, in Charsadda. About 500 Christian families live in the town.

Pakistani authorities have deployed policemen to protect the NWFP's Christians, but representatives of the minority say that the patrols are few and far between (BBC).

Evidently, those who sent the letter, if it is genuine, have forgotten God's words, as revealed in the Qur'an: "Let there be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also reportedly said, "Whoever hurts a dhimmi [a non-Muslim living under the protection of a Muslim state], I am his adversary, and I shall be an adversary to him on the Day of Resurrection" (Al-Khatib).

Visitor profile, 15 April to 14 May 2007

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

This month (15 April to 14 May 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 155 visits, that is, 25% less than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was five a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. Visitors were dispersed much more widely this month than they had been the previous month. The largest number of visitors (34%) came from Canada, and the second-highest number came from the United States (33%). Belarus, my native country, came a distant third with 7%.

Within Canada, 77% of the visits this month came from Quebec.

The biggest proportion of visitors this month (39%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. As for those who were referred by Google, their most common search term was 'notesonreligion'. They knew what they were looking for. :)

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (55%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

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

The total number of visitors during these two months was 362. The average number of visitors was six per day.

The largest number of visitors (45%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (30%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 7%.

Quebec accounted for over two-thirds (67%) of visitors from Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (37%) 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 'notesonreligion'.

The most popular browser was Firefox (48%). 94% of the visitors were Windows users.

Praise be to God, who allows people from the different corners of the world to communicate with, and learn from, each other.

14 May 2007

Scientologists vs. BBC reporter

Representatives of the Church of Scientology, an organisation founded by science-fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, have allegedly stalked BBC reporter John Sweeney. While Sweeney was making a documentary on the religion, he counted 13 people following his team around. His hotel was also broken into.

Sweeney conducted several interviews with people who had been "disconnected", that is, cut off from all contact, by Scientologist relatives for not believing in the religion's doctrines.

Former Scientologists told Sweeney that one such doctrine is that, 75 million years ago, a space lord named Xenu forcibly brought a large number of "Thetans" to Earth, placed them inside volcanoes, and then blew them up using advanced weapons. Scientologists have to pay their church to find out about the religion's key beliefs, and knowledge about the belief in Xenu reportedly costs individual Scientologists £100,000 (Canadian $219,000) (BBC).

Terrorism suspects on trial in the US

Three Muslim men, including US citizen José Padilla, are on trial in the US on terrorism charges. Padilla has been in detention since 2002. He spent part of this time at a US Navy base, despite the fact that he is American. Eventually, he was transferred to a civilian prison.

Prosecutors say that Padilla filled out an application to attend an Al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Defence lawyers for the accused men, however, are saying that the US government does not have a case (BBC).

09 May 2007

Johnston kidnappers want Abu Qatada released

Jaysh al-Islam (The Army of Islam), a Palestinian militant group, has taken responsibility for kidnapping the BBC's Gaza correspondent, Alan Johnston. In exchange for the release of Johnston, who was kidnapped on 12 March, Jaysh al-Islam is demanding the release of all Muslims held in British jails, and, in particular, Abu Qatada, a Palestinian-Jordanian imam who is currently in detention under suspicion of supportin Al-Qaeda (BBC).

Since Johnston was kidnapped almost two months ago, and it has taken Jaysh al-Islam this long to make its demands public, the question that begs itself is whether Johnston was kidnapped by people who had no idea why they were taking him prisoner. Perhaps, during the preceding almost two months of silence, there was a quiet struggle underway between militants who wanted to release Johnston, and those who wanted to keep him prisoner as a bargaining chip.

I should add that all mainstream Palestinian groups, including the governing party, Hamas (despite its terrorist roots) have strongly condemned Johnston's kidnapping, and the government has pledged on several occasions to work for his release.

Pope in Brazil

Pope Benedict XVI is visiting Brazil, the country with the largest number of Catholics in the world. He is due to canonise Brother Antônio Galvaão, who is set to become the first Brazilian-born Catholic saint. Catholics account for 64% of Brazil's population.

On 13 May, the Pope is scheduled to open a meeting of about 200 bishops from Latin America and the Caribbean. The main topic under discussion is expected to be the church's steady and large-scale loss of members to various evangelical denominations. Abortion is likely to be another topic under discussion, as politicians in Mexico and Brazil have made several moves to weaken their countries strict anti-abortion laws (BBC).

Welsh Hindu temple seeks to prevent slaughter of its bull

The Skanda Vale Temple, located in western Wales, is fighting to save the life of a temple bull suffering from bovine tuberculosis. Welsh authorities intend to slaughter the bull, named Shambo, in order to prevent the disease from spreading from him to other cattle, or to humans.

However, the other 34 cows belonging to the temple are so far not showing any signs of tuberculosis, and the temple is asking the Welsh Assembly Government to make an exception for Shambo.

Killing cattle is strictly forbidden in Hinduism (BBC).

Iraqi Israelis long for homeland

Jewish Israelis of Iraqi origin still retain strong emotional ties to Iraq, even after 50 years after much of the Iraqi Jewish community immigrated to Israel.

Yakov Reuveni, originally from the southwestern Iraqi city of Amara, fondly remembers joining Shi'ite processions commemorating the Battle of Karbala in his childhood.

Eli Mizrakhi, who was born in Israel but whose family came from Iraqi Kurdistan, says, "most of us still feel connected to the country where we or our ancestors came from. Our parents and our grandparents still remember many things from their Iraqi past and they bring them to us, with food, music, language."

As for life in Iraq before the migration to Israel, Reuveni observes that "
we never thought of who was Jewish and who was Arab, until 1947. It all suddenly changed. The people that you knew as good people turned into bad people for you and you became bad for them. It was very sad" (BBC).

So while the founding of Israel on what used to be Arab land set off repercussions that forced almost the entire Iraqi Jewish community out of Iraq, the community's continuing sense of attachment to Iraq may one day, perhaps, be used as a way to build bridges between Israel and its Arab neighbours. Iraqi Israelis could be great ambassadors for their adopted country if peace is established in the region.

08 May 2007

Egyptian court rejects military trial for Muslim Brothers

An Egyptian court has found a presidential order calling for a group of Muslim Brethren to undergo trial in a military court to be invalid. The group has been charged with supporting terrorism, as well as membership in a banned organisation (BBC).

The court has displayed an impressively independent spirit, for which it must be commended. The Muslim Brotherhood is a fact of life in Egypt, and the government knows this as well as anyone. To selectively prosecute some people for belonging to the group, while 88 out of Egypt's 454 MPs are known Brethren, is sheer hypocricy. Furthermore, military courts ought to have no place in civilian life.

However, I don't think the courts can achieve much by themselves until the executive decides to liberalise the system. It would be appropriate for Egypt's ally, the United States, to put some pressure on it to do so, but, unfortunately, the US doesn't have many cards left to play because of the Iraq fiasco.

Abe sends offering to controversial shrine

The Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, has sent a potted tree as an offering to the Shinto Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Japan's war dead. Visits to the shrine by previous prime ministers of Japan have courted controversy among neighbouring countries, such as China and South Korea, because, among the spirits honoured at the shrine, are those of 12 World War II "Class A" war criminals.

Abe is trying to avoid straining relations with Japan's neighbours, and has not visited the shrine since taking the prime ministerial post (BBC).

King Herod's tomb allegedly discovered

Ehud Netzer, an Israeli archaeologist based at Hebrew University, has claimed to have discovered the tomb of King Herod I (74 BCE - 4 BCE), who ruled Judaea under Roman suzerainty from 37 BCE to 4 BCE.

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Herod ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, that is, the killing of all children under two years old, in Bethlehem.

Herod also expanded the Second Jewish temple, and enlarged Jerusalem's city walls.

Although his tomb may well have been discovered, Herod's body was not found inside. It is thought to have gone missing in the 1st century CE.

The tomb allegedly belonging to Herod is on the West Bank, south of Bethlehem (BBC).

Man whose eye was "miraculously" healed meets Pope

Six years ago, Phil McCord, facilities manager at a convent near Terre Haute, Indiana, had his eye healed by a miracle, or so he believes. He prayed to Mother Théodore Guérin (1798-1856), who founded the convent. After his prayer, his eye was healed, and 12 different doctors who subsequently examined him were unable to explain the recovery scientifically.

As a result of this reported miracle, which was the second claimed for Mother Théodore, the Catholic Church canonised her in 2006. St Théodore's remains have been disinterred, and placed in a shrine at the convent.

For his part, McCord is planning to convert to Catholicism. He recently met briefly with Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican. Unfortunately, however, his dry cleaner had given him the wrong pair of trousers, and so he had to meet the Pope wearing trousers that were two inches too short (BBC).

Six Muslims charged with anti-army plot in US

Six Muslim men, among them one American, two holders of work visas and three illegal immigrants, have been arrested in New Jersey, and have been charged with plotting to attack the US Army base at Fort Dix, with the intention of killing "as many soldiers as possible."

According to US Representative Chris Smith (Republican-New Jersey), the men had trained for the attacks in Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.

The group was under surveillance for over a year, and was arrested after taking delivery of AK-47 assault rifles from an undercover FBI agent posing as a weapon dealer.

Sohail Mohammed, a Muslim lawyer from New Jersey, has condemned the media's description of the men as "Islamic militants," (San Diego Union-Tribune).

I agree with S. Mohammed on this: these men should no more be called "Islamic militants" than the IRA (in the days of old) should be called "Christian militants". However, it is quite possible that they were, indeed, acting in the name of Islam, led by their own delusions.

What these men don't understand is that the United States is home to millions of Muslims, who may not all agree with American foreign policy, but who nevertheless want to live in the country peacefully, as loyal citizens or residents, and to influence US policies by means of lobbying and votes, rather than violence. The last thing that American Muslims need is militants smearing their names and placing them, as a group, under increased suspicion.

Northern Ireland gets home rule

The leading Protestant and Catholic political parties in Northern Ireland have begun implementing their power-sharing agreement, paving the way for a restoration of home rule in the province. Ian Paisley of the (Protestant) Democratic Unionist Party has been sworn in as First Minister, while Martin McGuinness of the (Catholic) Sinn Féin has become Deputy First Minister (BBC).

The BBC's James Robbins has written an interesting retrospective piece looking at the long and winding road to peace in the region.

Congratulations, Northern Ireland! Let's hope the agreement sticks.

07 May 2007

Christian leaders rally for illegal immigrants in London

Christian priests joined trade union activists in London today for a rally that called for the issuance of two-year work permits to all illegal immigrants who have been in Britain for at least four years. According to the organisers of the rally, 300,000 people would be covered by the scheme (out of an estimated total of 570,000-870,000 illegal immigrants currently in the country).

The British government is strongly against the idea of the temporary work permits.

Earlier, a mass was held at the Westminster Cathedral to pray for illegal immigrants. Addressing the rally, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor, said, "Our government and the governments all over the world must treat migrant workers with justice and with dignity" (BBC).

Fine sentiments, but won't this sort of plan, if it is actually implemented, simply encourage a flood of new illegal immigration? How do you deal justly with existing illegal immigrants, who face difficult living conditions because of their lack of work permits, without inviting in many others who would want to gain the same rights through the back door?

06 May 2007

Sarkozy promises to defend women forced into burqa

The French president-elect, Nicolas Sarkozy, has said in his victory speech that "France will not abandon the women condemned to wear the burqa" (BBC).

But France has already abandoned the women -- the Frenchwomen -- who wear the hijab. Excuse me, but who is France to lecture others on how people should dress, when its own citizens do not have the freedom to choose their clothes without hindrance? This is a rather unimpressive start for Sarkozy, and it shouldn't come as a surprise.

Militants destroy CD and movie shops in Pakistan

Over a dozen CD and film shops have been destroyed in explosions in Tangi and Charsadda, in the North West Frotier Province (NWFP). It seems that the bombing campaign was carried out by militants convinced that the shops contravened Islamic principles (BBC).

I wish the militants engaged in this sort of thing would understand what effect their blind hatred has on perceptions of Islam around the world. As Pervez Musharraf's failed military campaign in the NWFP shows, the solution to the problem may well lie in the region itself. The common people of the NWFP ought to turn these gangs out of every hiding place of theirs.

12th-century Buddhist art found in Nepal

A set of twelfth-century (or older) murals depicting the life of the Buddha has been discovered in Nepal, 250 km northwest of Kathmandu. The murals, which are made up 55 panels set within a painting 8 m wide, is located in a cave in a cliff 4,300 m above sea level.

The murals were found by a shepherd who took refuge in the cave from rain. The shepherd later informed an international team of researchers about them (BBC).

Iranian couple sets off on world tour by bycicle

Jafar and Naseem Edrisi from Iran have set out on a tour of four continents on bycicles. They are planning to cover a distance of 20,000 km in two years. They are aiming to promote world peace, improve the international image of their homeland, and plant trees in every city they visit, thus constructing a "green line... to help the environment."

The Edrisis are financing the expedition with money they themselves saved up over the last two years.

Among the things they packed for the journey are a Qur'an, a Bible, and several books of Persian poetry (BBC).

We should have more of this in the world, eh? Ma sha' Allah.

Khatami visits the Vatican

Former Iranian President Seyyed Mohammad Khatami is visiting Vatican City, where he has met with Pope Benedict XVI.

In the coming week, the Vatican is planning to host a seminar for diplomats from several Muslim countries, where they will be told about the Catholic Church's interfaith and inter-cultural dialogue initiatives (BBC).

I should add that Khatami's visit can also be seen as part of a continuing "dialogue between civilisations", which is his preferred alternative to the "clash of civilisations" posited by Samuel Huntington and others.

Priest-imam football match cancelled in Norway

A football (soccer) match between Church of Norway priests and Muslim imams, which was scheduled to be held on 5 May in Oslo, has had to be cancelled because the two sides could not come to an understanding regarding female players.

Two days before the match was supposed to be held, the imams' team announced that they could not play against a mixed-gender team, because Islam does not allow unrelated men and women to come into close physical contact. The Church of Norway team agreed to make the game an all-male event. However, the female ministers who had been dropped from the team were angry at the development, which led the team captain to tender his resignation.

As a result, the Church of Norway called off the match. According to a Church spokesman, though, "both sides have learned to better understand our cultures and we have had an open discussion" (BBC).

I think that, first of all, the imams should not have made such a big deal out of the presence of female players on the Church of Norway team, but, having said that, I think that the Church team also displayed a large measure of inflexibility. Come on, now. Men and women don't play on the same teams in professional football matches. Why do they have to play together in this sort of bridge-building event? Why not hold a separate football match for female Church of Norway ministers and a team of Muslim women? If that is discrimination, isn't the existence of separate men's and women's World Cups a form of discrimination as well? Where are the Church of Norway's protests at regular, all-male or all-female football matches?

Gül steps down as presidential candidate

After a second unsuccessful parliamentary vote where he stood for the position of Turkish head of state, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül has withdrawn his candidacy. Because of the Islamist origins of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, Gül's run for president aroused fervent opposition among large segments of Turkish secularists (Белорусские новости).

It remains to be seen how Turkey can come out of this impasse. Earlier, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced that he would like to have the president directly elected by Turks in the future. But I think it's quite likely that the secularists would try to block any such move, having already twice disrupted the presidential election in parliament by depriving the sessions of a quorum.

It seems the opposition parties are determined to subject Turkey to some form of minority rule.

03 May 2007

Interest in religion growing at US universities

Anecdotal evidence -- as well as a recent survey -- seems to indicate that a religious revival is underway at American universities and colleges. Religious studies classes are attracting more students, students are forming a large variety of religious discussion groups, and, at some universities, a growing number of students are attending religious services.

According to Peter Gomes, Harvard University's preacher, "there is probably more active religious life [at Harvard] now than there has been in 100 years." (New York Times).

I witnessed some of this revival at Grinnell College in Iowa between 1999 and 2003, which had a number of active religious groups on campus, and hosted such diverse activities as Islamic Friday prayers, Shabbat services, and pagan worship ceremonies. It's nice to see this sort of openness to religion spreading around the US.

Terrorists attack Banlgadeshi railway stations

A new terrorist organisation that calls itself "Jadid al-Qaeda" has set off simultaenous bombs at railway stations at the Bangladeshi cities of Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet. The bombs were placed in cotton bags at the stations. They resulted in a single casualty: a rickshaw driver was wounded in Chittagong when he opened the bag containing one of the bombs.

Jadid al-Qaeda had left metallic plaques inside the bags claiming responsibility for the attacks. The plaques also contained threats against the minority Ahmadiyya Muslim sect, and warnings to Bangladeshis to stop working for NGOs, which, in some cases, receive foreign funding (BBC).

You'd think that this cowardly group, in its search for a scary-sounding Arabic name for itself, would at least double-check its grammar. "Jadid al-Qaeda" makes no grammatical sense in Arabic.

All that these bombs have succeeded in doing was to injure the poor, innocent rickshaw driver. How is he related to NGOs?

The lunatic bombers, who aim to kill innocent people in the name of Islam, should understand that Bangladesh is not the right country for them. Their type lost all legitimacy by siding with Pakistan in 1971. The newfound extremists are merely setting themselves up for destruction.

Nasrallah praises Winograd Commission

Hassan Nasrallah, head of Hizbullah, has expressed his "every respect" for the Winograd Commission, praising it for condemning Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's leadership failures, despite having been appointed by Olmert himself (BBC).

Northern Irish Loyalist group renounces violence

The Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a Protestant Loyalist terrorist group in Northern Ireland has renounced violence, and has declared that it will give up terrorism starting tomorrow. The UVF is responsible for killing over 500 people in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It also killed 33 people in the Republic of Ireland in 1974.

The UVF said that it had put its arms "beyond reach", but is refusing to give them up completely (BBC).

It's about time, and let's hope the UVF will be courageous enough to take the next step: complete disarmament. If the peace process in Northern Ireland continues successfully, perhaps the province could become a model for Iraq.

Paper accuses Ahmadinejad of indecent behaviour

A conservative Iranian newspaper has accused President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of indecency and a violation of the Shari'a after he kissed the hand of his former schoolteacher. At the moment the controversial gesture took place, the teacher was wearing gloves (BBC).

This just goes to show the extent to which Iran's conservative establishment is willing to go to intrude into the everyday lives of Iranians, despite the fact that this sort of behaviour exposes them -- and Iran -- to international ridicule. So the man showed respect and affection towards his childhood teacher. It is the newspaper that is being indecent.

02 May 2007

Pope expected to widen use of Latin Mass

Pope Benedict XVI is expected to authorise wider use of the Latin Mass, in a move that is already stirring controversy. The reason is that, once a year, on Good Friday, the Latin Mass includes a prayer for the conversion of the Jews to Christianity (BBC).

Whether or not the Latin Mass, on that one day per year, calls for the conversion of Jews, the fact remains that Christianity is a proselytising religion, as is Islam. Perhaps what is incumbent on followers of these religions is not to stop seeking to pray to God for what they will, but rather to be sensitive to and respectful of the beliefs of others.

Pope stands by archbishop who was mailed a bullet

Pope Benedict XVI has called Angelo Bagnasco, the Archbishop of Genoa, to express his support, after Bagnasco received a bullet in the mail for opposing an Italian parliamentary bill that would give more rights to unmarried couples, including same-sex ones. Along with the bullet, the package also contained a picture of Bagnasco stamped with a swastika (BBC).

It's odd when liberals adopt fascist scare tactics, eh?

Sexual abuse by Catholic priests revealed in Ireland

The Dublin Archdiocese of the Roman Catholic Church has announced that almost 150 priests and other members of Catholic religious orders have been suspected or accused of sexually abusing children in Ireland since 1940. As many as 15,000 people have filed compensation claims for abuse suffered at the hands of priests or nuns in orphanages. It is expected that the Irish government will pay the victims a sum of €760 million (Canadian $1.1 billion) (BBC).

Let's hope there is a good way to separate the real victims from false ones; it would be a shame if scams such as those perpetrated after Hurricane Katrina are repeated here.

It is an encouraging sign that the Catholic Church is finally tackling the issue with a degree of openness. The question is, though: why does the Irish state have to compensate the victims? Why can't the Church itself pay?

01 May 2007

World's tallest pagoda opens in China

A 154 m tall pagoda has been completed at a Buddhist temple in Changzhou, in China's Jiangsu Province. The pagoda cost 300 million yuan (Canadian $43 million) to build, and features a large bell that can be heard from 5 km away. A survey conducted in February suggested that China has about 200 million Buddhists and Taoists (BBC).

The Buddha, as far as I know, preached out in the open and shunned luxury. I wonder what he would think about this sort of expense lavished on a pagoda in his name.

Something Even More Magical

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