02 September 2010

Indonesia orders Buddha Bar to shut down

The Central Jakarta District Court has ordered the Buddha Bar in Jakarta to close, finding its name and imagery to be offensive to Buddhists, and specifically the Anti-Buddha Bar Forum. The lounge is part of a French-based chain, each featuring a large statue of the Buddha as a centrepiece.

The owners of the lounge, along with the Jakarta Tourism Agency and Fauzi Bowo, the governor of Jakarta, have been fined a total of Rp 1 billion (Can. $116,933 / €86,595).

Will the Pope be swayed by bus ads?

In the run up to Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain, scheduled to take place later this month, a group called Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO) has unveiled a London bus ad campaign that features signs on the exterior of buses saying "Pope Benedict -- Ordain Women Now!"

The campaign cost the CWO ₤15,000 (Can. $24,332 / € 18,003) for a month's worth of ads. Pat Brown, a spokeswoman for the group, said, "We do not want to be disruptive, but I think the church has got to change or it will not survive."

Meanwhile, the Vatican has asked people planning to attend the Pope's public events in Britain not to bring alcohol or musical instruments. On the other hand, flags and folding chairs are encouraged.

The Onion battles anti-mosque prejudice

In an article entitled "Man Already Knows Everything He Needs To Know About Muslims", The Onion pokes fun at most of the arguments being bandied about by the mosque rejection movement.

According to the latest "local man", "All Muslims are at war with America, and I will resist any attempt to challenge that assertion with potentially illuminating facts."

30 Mosques profiles mosque in Utah

Over the years, I've heard lots of stories from Katie about growing up in Utah, in a very Mormon-majority setting. Like the ones where her Mormon friends would disapprove of caffeine, which still makes her dubious about tea and coffee.

Well, yesterday, the 30 Mosques/30 States blog featured a post on the Utah Islamic Center in Sandy, the town where Katie and her family lived for about six years. The article focuses on an interfaith marriage between a Muslim man and a Mormon woman, and makes for thought-provoking reading.

Armstrong on American Muslims

According to Karen Armstrong,

...it was the [Catholic] bishops of the United States who were largely instrumental in pushing forward the reforms of the Second Vatican Council.... American Muslims could exert a similar influence on the Islamic world and prove that it is indeed possible to live according to the ideals of the Quran in the United States. But they cannot do that if they are shunned as potential terrorists and feel constantly on the defensive. It is vital that Western people realize that Islam is not an alien creed but that this tradition is deeply in tune with their own ideals.
What she says sounds very relevant today, given the whole Park51 melodrama. But she wrote these words in 2004, for her foreword to (who else) Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's book, What's Right with Islam: A New Vision for Muslims and the West. In a way it's sad that these words still bear repeating six years later.

30 August 2010

Shas rabbi prays for Palestinians to perish

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, which has four ministerial seats in the current Israeli government, has prayed for the destruction of the Palestinians. While delivering a sermon, Yosef said "Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

In 2001, Yosef said, regarding the Arabs, that "it is forbidden to be merciful to them." He called on Israel to "send missiles to them and annihilate them", because "they are evil and damnable". After a controversy arose regarding these statements, Yosef claimed that he had only meant Arab terrorists, and not all Arabs.

Yosef was born in Basra, and was originally named Abdullah Youssef.

The Palestinian Authority and the US State Department have condemned Yosef's latest remarks. The Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has described Yosef's statement as an "incitement to genocide".

Badakhshanis celebrate the Aga Khan's birthday

The BBC has some spectacular pictures of the Tajik province of Gorno-Badakhshan up today (BTW, the picture on the left isn't one of them; this one's from Wikipedia). Among other things, the photo essay shows Isma'ili Badakhshanis in Khorugh celebrating the Aga Khan's birthday last month.

29 August 2010

30 Mosques profiles Masjid Muhammad in DC

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Back when I lived in Washington, D.C., I'd pray at the Islamic Center of Washington, and sometimes at the Indonesian embassy, where I learned the phrase "dalam bulan suci Ramadhan". But one mosque I'd never even heard about until a few days ago is Masjid Muhammad, the subject of an interesting profile on the 30 Mosques/30 States blog. It sounds like this mosque is a lot better integrated into the general Washington, D.C. community than the Islamic Center is. On the other hand, its congregation also faces more of the social problems that plague some parts of the city. It makes you think.

Anyhow, this is one mosque I'd love to visit on my next trip to D.C., in sha' Allah.

24 August 2010

Manufactured hatred

What I first took to be a storm in a tea cup ended up turning into anything but. Even more than the tragedy of September 11, the current mosque controversy will, I think, define for a generation what it means to be an American Muslim. While I'm not an American myself, my wife is American and Muslim, and so, like millions of others, I have a stake in this issue.

What shocks me more than anything about the mosque debate is that being a Muslim in the US is not as "normal" as I once took it to be. After all, I lived in the US for about five years, both in the Midwest and on the East Coast, both before and after September 11. My faith was pretty much never an issue in any of my dealings with non-Muslim Americans. The sense I got from my stay there was that, unlike the current climate in Western Europe, where being a Muslim automatically places you in the "dodgy" category for a large chunk of the population, in the United States you are judged more by your individual actions than any group identity (barring race, but that's not really the subject here). Well, that was then. Reading about the vitriol that surrounds the Park51 project has made me think again.

A Time poll shows a rather disheartening picture of Americans' attitudes about their Muslim compatriots. Only 55% of the people surveyed believe that most American Muslims are patriotic. Yes, that is a majority, but quite a slim one. Again, 55% would agree to a mosque being built in their neighbourhood. That means that we should be prepared for a slew of anti-mosque protests around the US from the 45% who disagree -- the kind of protests we've already been seeing in California, Tennessee and Wisconsin. It gets worse, though: around 30% of Americans think that Muslims should be prevented from occupying the post of president or Supreme Court judge. Only 44% say that they have a favourable attitude towards Muslims. What do you make of numbers like that? I'm not alone in making comparisons between the current American wave of Islamophobia and older, more ingrained European Islamophobia.

Politicians from both major US parties have been falling over each other in making outrageously Islamophobic remarks, the most infamous, of course, being Newt Gingrich's comparison of Muslims to Nazis. If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is currently touring the Middle East on behalf of the State Department, is a "radical Islamist", as Gingrich claims, then which Muslim is not?

Some media players have not been much better. In particular, News Corporation, which owns the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News (among many other media outlets) unleashed the whole furore in the first place. The New York Times, which has launched a concerted and refreshingly sane attack on the mosque rejection movement, still featured a column that accused American Muslims of supporting "illiberal causes", and an article by the editor of National Review Online, who claimed that Park51 was "a Hamas-endorsed Islamic center". This is one example of the kind of demagoguery that has surrounded the issue. Yes, Hamas has "endorsed" the mosque, while "endorsing" churches and synagogues in the same breath. So are the Sarah Palins of this world going to "refudiate" churches next?

The pleasantly surprising part in all this has been that, as Maureen Dowd has pointed out, some of the most spirited defence for Park51 has come from Republicans, namely Michael Bloomberg and Chris Christie. Now Ron Paul has joined this group, issuing one of the most lucid statements that has yet been made in favour of building Park51. It is a sad thought, though, that Ron Paul, of all people, offers more hope on the issue than Barack Obama does.

So there's some hope here that even right-wing Americans will come to their senses. Newsweek suggests that the issue will go away after the primaries. Perhaps it will. But it certainly leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth, one which may linger for years to come. Perhaps one day Muslims will be praised for revitalising Park Place by building Park51 (some are doing so already). But rebuilding a secure place for Muslims in American society will most likely take far longer.

15 November 2009

The Goldstone Report and the Bible

Going through the Bible the other day, I came across a passage that reminded me of the unbridled attacks launched by the Israeli government and its supporters against the Goldstone Report. The report, authored by a commission headed by the eminent South African Jewish jurist Richard Goldstone, accuses both Israel and Hamas of committing war crimes during the Gaza War of 2008-2009.

President Shimon Peres has stooped to calling Goldstone a "small man". I would counter that such language makes my countryman Peres (we were both born in modern-day Belarus) sound like a small man.

The Bible passage I was referring to is Amos 5: 7-15. In citing it here, I am trying to remind the political leadership of Israel of the Biblical values of justice and truth which they have, in this instance, allowed to fall by the wayside. My favourite part of this passage is "Hate what is evil. Love what is good. Do what is fair in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God who rules over all will show you his favour." These are values that all of us should seek to live by.

As Nicholas Kristof points out, there are "two Israels", or even "many Israels". Let us hope that the one that triumphs in the long run is not Netanyahu's Israel or Lieberman's Israel, but rather the Israel that wants to live side by side with its neighbours in a just peace.


Now playing: "Peace Train" by Cat Stevens

Visitor profiles, 15 October to 14 November 2009

Welcome to the twenty-first installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

The most recent month (15 October to 14 November 2009):

This month, Notes on Religion received 759 visits.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. The largest number of visitors (24%) came from Italy (grazie!). The United States was next with almost 24%, while Canada came third with 16%. In sha' Allah, I'll quote all monetary amounts (if any are discussed) in euros along with Canadian dollars over the coming month.

Within Italy, the largest number of visitors (15%) came from Rome.

A plurality of visitors this past month (34%) were referred to Notes on Religion by Google. The most common Google search term that brought visitors to the blog was 'russian neo nazi beheading'.

The most popular browser this month was Internet Explorer (47%). 91% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March 2007 to 14 November 2009):

The total number of visitors during these two years and eight months was 11,791. The average number of visitors was 12 per day.

The largest number of visitors (43%) came from the United States. The second-highest number (15%) came from Canada. The United Kingdom came third with 7%.

Within the US, the state with the largest number of visitors (14%) was California, while the city with the largest number (5%) was New York.

The majority of visitors (53%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'russian neo nazi beheading'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (47%). 90% of the visitors were Windows users.

Now playing: Kathy's Song by Simon & Garfunkel

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