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New York Times solves the problem of Sharia: Get Religion, February 1, 2013 February 2, 2013

Posted by geoconger in Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Get Religion, Press criticism.
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This report on Thursday’s Cairo conference from the New York Times breaks the streak of great stories it has filed from Egypt over the past few months. Long on speculation and short on facts, “Rivals Across Egypt’s Political Spectrum Hold Rare Meeting, Urging Dialogue” on page A10 of the 1 Feb 2013 issue rambles on about what the Times thinks might happen rather than report what has happened. And, (I know you  will be surprised to hear this) the article omits the role religion and religious groups play in the news.

The background to this story is the clash between the Muslim Brotherhood aligned government of President Mohamed Mursi with moderate Muslims and secularist parties to the left, a split with salafist (even more hardline Islamist) parties to the right, coupled with the persecution of religious minorities — primarily Christians, but also Baha’is, Shia, and Ahmadiya Muslims.

The Times has done a great job in reporting on the unraveling of Egypt, but this article does not live up to the standard the Gray Lady has set in its reporting so far.

The article opens with:

With Egypt’s political elites warring and street violence taking on a life of its own, young revolutionaries on Thursday tried to step into the country’s leadership vacuum, organizing a rare meeting of political forces that, in Egypt’s polarized state, was a victory in itself.  The meeting, which included representatives of secular leftist and liberal groups as well as the Muslim Brotherhood, failed to resolve some of the most divisive issues facing the country, including whether Egypt’s president, Mohamed Morsi, would agree to form a national unity government or amend the country’s newly approved constitution, as some opposition leaders have demanded.

The lede is framed in terms of a heroic attempt by “young revolutionaries” to bring the “warring” factions to the conference table, that must (alas) be deemed a noble failure as it did not achieve the immediate aims of “some opposition leaders” in forcing the president to change his government or revoke the new constitution. This political failure is coupled with a likely short term failure in halting the escalating violence in the streets.

Nor was there any assurance that the meeting’s principal call — to end the violence that has led to more than 50 deaths over the last week — would be heeded on the streets. Clashes during protests have become the latest polarizing issue in Egypt’s turbulent transition, with Mr. Morsi and members of his Muslim Brotherhood movement largely blaming shadowy instigators for the violence. Others, though, have faulted the country’s poorly trained security forces for a persistently heavy-handed response to protests.

The article then identifies the “organizers” of the meeting as:

a leader of the April 6th youth movement, three Brotherhood defectors and Wael Ghonim, a former Google executive who played a prominent role in the uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak. Group members said they met several days ago, “to look into ways of leading Egypt out of the crisis and to warn against the threats of being dragged into a cycle of violence.”

And it notes that leaders of the secularist National Salvation Front were present at the meeting along with senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders. A comment is offered by the leader of the National Salvation Front, Mohamed ElBaradei expressing boilerplate optimism, before the story moves back into a discussion of the parlous political state of the country.

At this point we get some hint that something else may be going on:

In another display of high-level concern, the talks on Thursday were held under the chairmanship of the country’s leading Muslim scholar, Grand Imam Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al Azhar mosque and university.  After the meeting, he said that a national dialogue, “in which all the components of the Egyptian society participate without any exclusion” was “the only means to resolve any problems or disagreements.” He urged the participants to “commit to a peaceful competition for power” and to prohibit “all types of violence and coercion to achieve goals, demands and policies.”

And the story closes out with comments from a professor from Georgetown University who warns the situation is spiraling out of control. The problem with this story is that it downplays the role of Al-Azhar at the expense of the “young revolutionaries”, neglects to give details of the 10 point communique endorsed by the government and opposition, and omits the place of religious leaders in the negotiations.

A Reuters dispatch frames this same story in a very different way:

A leading Egyptian Islamic scholar brought together rival politicians on Thursday in a bid to ease a crisis that has triggered street violence, killing more than 50 people, saying dialogue was the only way to resolve differences. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayyeb, the head of al-Azhar mosque and university, brought together members of the Muslim Brotherhood – the Islamist group that propelled President Mohamed Morsi to power – with the president’s most vocal opponents, including liberal politician Mohamed ElBaradei.

The emphasis in this story is the unprecedented intervention by the religious establishment into the political arena — bringing the parties to the negotiating table. The document signed by the participants was prepared by the “young revolutionaries” but it was the al-Azhar that provided the political clout to get everyone round the same table.

Egypt’s State Information Service opened its report in this way:

Political, partisan, and religious powers Thursday 31/01/2013 agreed on an al-Azhar document rejecting violence and encouraging dialogue. The document was proposed by revolution youths and drafted by al-Azhar in cooperation with all political powers that also agreed on forming a panel to draw up foundations and topics of the dialogue to restore security and stability to Egypt.

Note the reference here to “religious powers”. This can be seen again at the close of the government press bulletin which states:

Speaking at a press conference following the meeting, Baradei stressed the need to renounce violence and achieve consensus among all political groups, with the involvement of Al-Azhar and the Church, to resolve disputes peacefully.

Reading these reports with a careful eye you can see the religious angle grow from being a venue for the New York Times to the convener of the meeting for Reuters and the Egyptian SIS, with the added mention of “Church”. And if you delve even further into this story in the Arabic press you will learn the Nour Party — Salafists to the right of the Muslim Brotherhood — have also called for a national unity government.

And you can read the ten point communique that renounces violence “in all its forms and manifestations” and respects the dignity of all Egyptians irrespective of religion or political views. The document calls upon the state to protect the lives of its all citizens, respect the human and legal rights of all Egyptians, and observe the distinction between legitimate political protest and treason. All parties agreed to refrain from and denounce the destruction of public and private property, honor the rights of all Egyptians for free and unfettered speech, worship and belief and engage in a national dialogue to resolve the political disputes dividing the country.

The problem then with the Times report is that it leaves out news that this meeting was not just a bilateral pow-wow between Mursi and his opponents on the left, but a meeting that brought to the table salafists, secularists, moderate Muslims, Nassirites, non-believers, and Christians. The meeting also sought to address the problem of Egypt’s growing religious intolerance — the persecution of Christians, minority religious groups and non-believers.

I must admit to having inside knowledge — the Anglican Bishop of Egypt was a participant in the talks (he is the fellow in the purple cassock in the foreground of the photo of the meeting posted above). Yet the role religion played in this meeting was not conveyed to me via the secret decoder ring supplied to the fraternity of right thinking Anglicans across the globe (we’re like Freemasons but dress better) — this angle was prominent in the domestic coverage, but failed to make its way across the Atlantic to the New York Times.

Why? Could the reporters or editors be cutting down the story for space? Could they be removing the bits that would not be of interest to the Times’ readers, or do not conform to the world view of the Times‘ editorial board? Whatever the cause this story is defective — and I’m sorry to say that the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated Egyptian State Information Service, even with its problematic English syntax, did a better job with this story than the Gray Lady.

This article also neglects to ask the question why? Why is Egypt on the brink of anarchy? Many factors are at work — a collapsing economy, over population, food shortages, unrealized expectations in the wake of the fall of Mubarak. But the catalyst for the on-going political disputes is the imposition of a Sharia-law based constitution, with all that entails for moderate Muslims and non-Muslims. The Times appears shy of addressing this point, of confronting the issue of Sharia law.

With apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein, how does the Times solve a problem like Sharia? They ignore it.

First printed in Get Religion.

First round win for Islamists in Egyptian constitutional referendum: The Church of England Newspaper, December 23, 2012 p 6. December 28, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church in Jerusalem & the Middle East, Politics.
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The Muslim Brotherhood has claimed victory in the first round of voting to introduce a Sharia Law-based constitution for Egypt.  Unofficial returns after Saturday’s vote released by President Mohammed Mursi’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) show 56.6 per cent of ballots cast were in favour of the new constitution, while 43.5 per cent were opposed.

However, the Egyptian Coalition for Monitoring Elections said in a statement after the polls closed on Saturday there were “cases of voter intimidation, delaying the voting process, and early closure of some voting centers with no clear reasons,” while the Egyptian Independent newspaper reported that in some polling places Coptic Christians were not allowed to vote.

In a pastoral letter released on the eve of the vote, the Bishop of Egypt, Dr. Mouneer Anis warned the political battle between Islamists and moderates may push Egypt into civil war.

“I cannot tell you how much I am heavy-hearted because of what is going on in my beloved country Egypt,” Dr. Anis said, as “many Egyptians were expecting that after the 25 January Revolution in 2011 there would be no exclusion for any citizen or groups because of their political or religious stance. Sadly, we are still groaning for this equality.”

The new constitution posed significant problems for Christians, women and moderate Muslims, the bishop said as the constitution would empower religious vigilante groups to impose their views on society. “We have already seen some groups such as ‘The Authority for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice’ who, in the name of Islam, punish others without resorting to the legal authorities,” the bishop wrote, noting the language of the new constitution would give their actions the force of law.

“Another example would be how Article 2 mentions that ‘the principles of the Islamic sharia is the source of all legislation’ while Article 219 defines ‘the principle of the Islamic sharia’ in a vague way which can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the different Islamic sects,” the bishop wrote.

This breakdown of public trust in the government over the constitutional reform process had led to street fighting between the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-democracy activists.  “The two demonstrating groups became violent and more than 450 people were injured and 8 people were killed. The demonstrations continue now and the fear is that another wave of violence and bloodshed may happen tomorrow.”

The bishop said that those who opposed the new constitution believed it should be a document that fosters national unity, not the sectarian interests of one political-religious party.  The document was “dividing the society into Islamists and non-Islamists (moderate Muslims and Christians),” the bishop warned.

Ten provinces, including Cairo and Alexandria voted on 15 December and 17 rural provinces are scheduled to vote on 22 December. “It is heart-breaking to see Egyptians against Egyptians,” Dr. Anis said. “We don’t want to see Egypt in a civil war.”

First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

BBC Bias? Sharia law and Egypt: Get Religion, August 24, 2012 August 24, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Islam.
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Above all – Allah is our goal… The shari’a, then the shari’a, and finally, the shari’a. This nation will enjoy blessing and revival only through the Islamic shari’a. I take an oath before Allah and before you all that regardless of the actual text [of the constitution]… Allah willing, the text will truly reflect [the shari’a], as will be agreed upon by the Egyptian people, by the Islamic scholars, and by legal and constitutional experts…

Mohammed Mursi: Jihad Is Our Path, Death for the Sake of Allah Is Our Most Lofty Aspiration, the Shari’a Is Our Constitution. Misr-25 TV, 13 May 2012. Video clip and translation provided by MEMRI.

From time to time it is important to remind readers (and me) about GetReligion‘s mandate. This site does not seek to discuss religious issues of the moment and their intersection with politics, culture, the arts, economics and the like. It critiques press coverage of religion. The underlying issues are not central to a GetReligion story line.

Nor is this a “gotcha” site. I have made mistakes as a writer and have suffered from the deprivations sub-editors pruning and mis-titling my work. An example of a religion article that is not a proper GetReligion story is this article from the Seattle Times entitled: “Pakistani Christians flee after girl, 12, is accused of blasphemy”.

The subheading states: “A 12-year-old Muslim girl is in jail while Pakistani police investigate allegations that she burned a Quran, a crime that, if she is convicted, carries a life sentence.”

Now this is a dumb mistake. The girl is described as Christian in the article but called a Muslim in the subheading. This is not a question of the Seattle Times not getting religion, but a sub-editor’s mistake.

The mission of GetReligion is to point out what our editor TMatt calls “religion ghosts” — examples of an article misunderstanding, omitting or denigrating the role religion plays in a story. A classic example of this sort of religion ghost appears in a BBC story printed today entitled “Egypt requests $4.8bn loan from visiting IMF chief”.

The story opens:

Egypt has asked the International Monetary Fund for a $4.8bn (£3bn) loan to help revive its struggling economy. The request was made during talks in Cairo between President Mohammed Mursi and IMF chief Christine Lagarde.

Ms Lagarde said the IMF would respond quickly, while Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said he hoped the deal could be finalised before the end of the year. It is needed to cover budget deficits resulting from shrinking tourism and foreign investment revenues.

The article unfolds as a straight forward international finance story, discussing Egypt’s parlous economy, its “balance-of-payments crisis and high borrowing costs”, summarizing negotiations with the IMF, exploring possible U.S., Qatari and Saudi aid, and describing the terms of the loan:

After meeting [IMF chief Christine] Lagarde on Wednesday, Prime Minister Qandil said he expected the IMF loan would be for five years, with a grace period of 39 months and an interest rate of 1.1%.

Perhaps you are asking yourself where the GetReligion angle lies? Is this not a straight forward, somewhat dull, international economics story? Yes — but go back to the top of the article and look at the comments made by candidate Mohammed Mursi to the Muslim Brotherhood. If elected he would govern Egypt under the dictates of Shari’a law — which means a banking system without interest.

Throughout its time in opposition and underground, the Muslim Brotherhood denounced Western banking as being contrary to Shari’a. Sayyid Qutb, the ideologue of the Muslim Brotherhood interpreted the Koran’s verses on riba (interest or usury) to apply to commercial banking.  He accused banks of “eating the flesh and bones” of the poor and “drinking their sweat and blood” through the charging of interest. Hasan al-Banna, the founder of the Brotherhood, in 1947 wrote to the leaders of Muslim state calling for them to repudiate Western banking practices in favor of interest-free Islamic banking.

The religion ghost in this story is whether Mohammed Mursi will jettison his protestations about Sharia law being the cornerstone of his administration in exchange for cheap interest loans from the West to keep his economy afloat.

Reuters and the Telegraph made no mention of the religion angle in their stories also, while the AP noted that past negotiations had been stalled by opposition from the Islamists.  The Financial Times reported:

Analysts say the IMF’s loan terms could impede its acceptance by an Islamist government with populist pretences and a rhetorical commitment to thinning the gap between rich and poor.

The religious ramifications of the interest bearing loans were not omitted in the Egyptian press however. The Egypt Independent reported:

The government should not borrow from the International Monetary Fund to boost the country’s cash reserve, the Salafi Nour Party stated on Wednesday.  “Borrowing from abroad is usury,” said Younis Makhyoun, a member of the party’s supreme committee. “God will never bless an economy based on usury.”

Mahkyoun called on Prime Minister Hesham Qandil to find other ways to raise funds instead of “allowing foreigners to interfere in our affairs.” The government should reduce spending, apply an austerity policy, set a maximum wage, apply Islamic regultations to stock exchange speculations and repatriate funds siphoned abroad, Makhyoun added.

Al-Ahram reported the left was outraged too by the prospect of IMF loans.

Dozens of demonstrators, meanwhile, protested outside the Cabinet building in downtown Cairo during Lagarde’s visit. Protestors, consisting mainly of leftist and revolutionaries, called on Egypt to reject the loan.

They chanted slogans and held signs against the proposed loan –and capitalism in general – such as “No to crony capitalism,” “Down with capitalism,” and “Reject the loans.”

“Why did we have a revolution? Wasn’t it to improve the living conditions of the people? We know that the money from these loans is pilfered by the authorities and will only lead to the further impoverishment of the people,” protest organiser Mary Daniel told Ahram Online.

IMF and World Bank loans are notorious among leftist activists in Egypt, as in the rest of the world, as they are generally seen as a means of spreading capitalism throughout the world.

The state-run daily, which has the largest circulation of any newspaper in Egypt, also noted that  Islamists had been quiet.

Notably, Islamist political forces – which rejected a similar IMF loan offer last April – were nowhere to be seen in Wednesday’s protest.

In April, Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament said that the government’s economic programme failed to provide details on how the key problems facing Egypt’s economy – namely, unemployment and security – would be solved.

Some Islamists went so far as to say that such loans were haram (religiously proscribed) since they relied on interest, which is forbidden according to the tenets of Islam.

Let me offer a historical analogy. In the Fall of 1932 Adolf Hitler toned back his anti-Semitic tirades and played the bourgeois, President Paul von Hindenburg, the army and Germany’s wealthy industrialists. When he was appointed chancellor in 1933 some expected the Nazi leader’s anti-Semitism would dry up as he had achieved his goal of power.

The liberal German-Jewish playwright Carl Zuckmayer wrote at that time:

… even many Jews considered the savage anti-Semitic rantings of the Nazis merely a propaganda device, a line the Nazis would drop as soon as they reached power.

At that time it seemed reasonable that Hitler would drop the anti-Semitic rantings that had helped bring him to power as it no longer served a rational political or economic purpose. Are we seeing something similar happening in Egypt?

Is the Morsi government shedding its ideology, its fundamental commitment to a state governed by the dictates of Sharia law in return for cheap Western loans? Now that the army has been neutered, parliament dissolved and the opposition broken Mohammed Morsi can do as he likes. It would seem to make rational sense that he would drop his anti-modernist religious views now that he has a modern state to run — but will he?

Is there a religious ghost in the IMF story? Is the BBC bringing a Western secular worldview to this story that misses its inherent non-Western faith-driven elements?

Should these two stories be kept separate? Keep financial news in the business section and religion in the Saturday lifestyle supplement? Or, is there a religion angle in this finance story that must be explored in order for the reader to understand? What say you GetReligion readers?

First printed in GetReligion.

Stay ordered in Kashmir blasphemy case: The Church of England Newspaper, February 17, 2012 p 7. February 23, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

A high court justice in Kashmir has ordered a stay of proceedings in the case of the Rev. C.M. Khanna on charges that his baptism of Muslim converts had caused a breach of the peace and aggravated religious tensions in the Northern Indian state.

On 28 Oct 2010 the Anglican priest was called before a Sharia court to answer charges of blasphemy. The summons came in the wake of the publication on the internet of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service Mr. Khanna conducted for seven Muslim men. The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs had charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The All India Christian Council denounced the arrest, noting the Sharia Court had no legal authority in India and accused the police of arresting the priest in order to forestall an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists.  No member of the Kashmir bar would appear in court on Mr. Khanna’s behalf and a number of attorneys called for the state to refuse him bail.

However, bail was granted on 1 December after outside counsel travelled to Srinigar to defend Mr. Khanna before the state court.

On 11 February 2012, Justice J.P Singh of Jammu and Kashmir High Court issued an order staying legal proceedings and directed the Director General of Police and the Home Office to answer Mr. Khanna’s petition that his arrest was unlawful.

According to the petition filed with the court, on 26 Oct Mr. Khanna was summoned to appear before the Sharia Court to answer charges of blasphemy on 28 Oct.  The following day the police began a formal investigation of Mr. Khanna on charges of disturbing the peace – a charge, he noted that was a cloak for the blasphemy charge brought by Muslim leaders.

Mr. Khanna was summoned a second time by the Sharia Court and appeared on 11 Nov before 25 to 30 Muslim clerics.  “The atmosphere in the said proceedings was so surcharged that everybody was shouting insults and false accusations against the petitioner. These proceedings were highlighted almost in every local newspaper in the [Kashmir] Valley,” the petition noted.

It was in the wake of these proceedings that the police arrested Mr. Khanna for fomenting religious strife on 19 Nov, he argued.  He was subsequently kept at a police station “under illegal detention” until he was bailed.

In his petition, Mr. Khanna noted that the Sharia Court had issued a Fatwa on 19 January that ordered his “life ban” on returning to Kashmir.  He asked the court to dismiss the criminal proceedings as no prima-facie case had been presented by the police that he had violated any civil law.  Sharia law, his attorneys argued, should not be empowered by a secular state through the support of the government.

Sharia court orders expulsion of Christian clergy from Kashmir: The Church of England Newspaper, January 27, 2012, p 6. February 2, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Church of North India, Islam, Persecution.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Two priests convicted of blasphemy by an Indian sharia law court have been expelled from the state of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

On 19 January 2012 the Deputy Grand Mufti of Srinigar, Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam held a press conference to report that a sharia court had decided that the Rev. C.M. Khanna of the Church of North India’s All Saint’s Church in Srinigar, Roman Catholic Mill Hill missionary Fr. Jim Borst and two lay catechists, Gavoor Massi and Chandra Kanta must be expelled from J&K – the only Muslim majority state in India.

The four Anglican and Roman Catholics were “guilty of luring the Muslims especially young boys and girls to Christianity by exploiting their financial conditions, promoting immorality and moral degradation, exploiting serious health ailments by facilitating different kind of help to Muslims against the conversion from Islam to Christianity,” Nasir-ul Islam told the press conference according to the Kashmir newspaper the Rising Kashmir Daily.

The sharia court had “imposed a life time ban” on entering J&K, he said, adding that the state government had agreed to enforce the sharia court verdict.

Mr. Khanna, who has left Srinigar for the safety of the state’s winter capital Jammu, told UCANews the sharia court’s actions had put his life in peril, and the “government has not done anything to protect us.”

On 20 January the Greater Kashmir – the state’s largest circulation English language newspaper — published an article allegedly written by one of Mr. Khanna’s converts that offered a lurid account of his conversion.  Mr. Khanna and his wife were accused of plying the young man with alcohol, narcotics, sex, money and the opportunity of moving to California if he became a Christian.  The article entitled “Apostasy Unveiled” culminates with the fantastical passage:

“There were candles and an empty glass on the table. As the prayers went on, someone brought a jug full of red liquid and poured it into the glass. It was swine blood which we all had to drink. Khanna took some sips, then his daughter and I joined the others.”

The 64 year old Anglican minister has denied the charges proffered by the Sharia court, but has had to leave Srinigar after 24 years of service.

The Church of North India’s Bishop in Amritsar, the Rt. Rev. P K Samantaroy denounced the sharia court’s order saying “nobody has the right to expel us from the state or country.”

He told UCANews that it was “unfair” to question the integrity of Christians who “have played a major role in building peace and harmony in the state.”

However, Mufti Nasir warned Christians from trying to return to the state.  He called upon the government to take over the administration of Srinigar’s Anglican and Roman Catholic mission schools and to combat the “dirty and sinister designs” of Christian missionaries.

The mufti appealed to his “fellow Muslims to remain vigilant and guard that such elements don’t reappear in the state.”

Sharia Court convicts Anglican priest of blasphemy for baptizing Muslims: The Church of England Newspaper, January 20, 2012 p 6, January 21, 2012

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The All India Christian Council has condemned an indictment issued by a Sharia law court in Kashmir that charges two priests with blasphemy by enticing Muslims to convert to Christianity.

On 11 January 2012 Muslim leaders in the Northern Indian state issued a statement saying that “it was proved beyond doubt that the accused” the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, the Rev Chander Mani Khanna of the Church of North India, “along with other accomplices was luring Muslim people to change their religion.”

A second priest, Fr. Jim Borst, a Roman Catholic missionary who has worked in Kashmir for 46 years, was also charged with converting Muslims to Christianity.

“The Kashmir situation is going through a critical phase and if such elements are not brought to book it will have a serious and negative impact on the (Kashmiri Muslim) society,” the Muslim leaders said.

“It is shocking and surprising that the state government was allowing such activities. Kashmir society will not tolerate such activities at all and we stand united against such elements,” Mufti Muhammad Nasir-ul-Islam said.  The sentence from the court would be announced shortly, he added.

On 19 Nov 2011 Mr. Khanna was arrested by the Jammu & Kashmir police on charges of fomenting civil unrest.  He was released on 1 Dec 2011 and has since left the state for fear for his life.

However, Christian leaders have denounced the indictment stating that Sharia courts have no civil standing.  In a statement released on 13 January 2012, the All India Christian Council (AICC) said it was “deeply disturbed” by the Sharia court’s actions.  “Such statements can encourage extremist elements to indulge in violence,” the Council said.

“It was hoped that religious and secular authorities, and the state government, would show maturity and responsibility,” the AICC said, “keeping in view the delicately poised public peace situation” in Kashmir.

The “Church does not accept as genuine any conversion brought about by fraud or force,” the AICC said, noting that a fact finding team which went to Srinagar shortly after the arrest of Mr. Khanna and “interviewed Church personnel, Ulema, school, authorities and the police, found no evidence of force or fraud in baptisms that have been carried out over a period of time. Each baptism has been proved to be voluntary.”

The head of the AICC, Dr John Dayal, said it “devolves on the Jammu and Kashmir Government, religious leaders and people of goodwill in the Kashmir valley to ensure that the nights of minorities are respected, their welfare assured, and communal harmony strengthened in the region which so desperately requires and environment of peace for its development and well being.”


Kashmir priest arrested to placate Muslim extremists, report finds: The Church of England Newspaper, December 16, 2011 p 7. December 15, 2011

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The Rev. C.M. Khanna

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Fears of an anti-government rising by Muslim extremists prompted the imprisonment of an Anglican priest in Kashmir, an investigation by the All India Christian Council has found.

In an 8000-word report paper released on 5 Dec 2011, the All India Christian Council stated that the Rev. C.M. Khanna, the vicar of All Saints Church in Srinigar, was arrested to placate Muslim leaders, angered by his baptism of seven young Muslim men.  The baptismal liturgy’s call to renounce Satan and all his works and make amendment for one’s past life was “blasphemous,” local mullahs charged.

On 19 Nov, police arrested Mr. Khanna and charged him with “fomenting communal strife.”  The arrest followed the circulation of a mobile phone video of a baptismal service he conducted for seven Muslim men.  The priest has since been released from prison on bail on 1 Dec, and warned neither to leave the state nor to baptize any more Muslims.

According to the All India Christian Council report, Mr. Khanna had been wary of baptizing Muslims for fear of an agent provocateur seeking to discredit the church.  He had also turned away those who sought financial assistance and offered to convert to Christianity in return for cash.  While Kashmir has no anti-conversion laws, the small Christian community in Srinigar (300 Anglicans and 100 Roman Catholics) has sought to avoid confrontation with the Muslim majority.

However, the seven young men had been attending the church for ten months and displayed “great piety,” Mr. Khanna told investigators. “He was convinced of their motives. But even then, he questioned them and explained the difficulties they could face. They were firm in their new faith and insisted that he baptise them.”

After watching a video of the baptism, the Chief Mufti of Srinigar, Bashir-u-din ordered Mr. Khanna to appear before a Sharia court on 28 Oct.  He interrogated Mr Khanna for six hours and then released, warning him not to baptise anyone else.

The Chief Mufti told the fact finding mission that he had summoned the priest before the court after having received complaints.  “He said by calling their converts’ previous life in Islam in the same breath as shaitan or devil, Rev Khanna had also insulted Islam and had committed a blasphemy to add to the crime of apostasy of the people he had baptized,” the report said.

The mufti waived away the fact finding mission’s observation that religious courts had no legal standing, stating that “the court is a reality and has jurisdiction in the valley, if not in the entire Jammu and Kashmir State.”

“And yet the State government had taken no notice of this development which could have serious repercussions for the state and its religious minorities,” the report noted.

Mr. Khanna’s mistreatment continued after his arrest, as local newspapers printed false stories saying he had paid the young men to convert, and fabricated quotes from the priest that served to inflame public sentiment.  None of the city’s lawyers would agree to act as his counsel, the report noted, and while he was held in jail crowds gathered outside the prison calling for Islamic justice.

While the police stated they had treated Mr. Khanna well and that he had not been tortured, the seven converts were arrested and beaten by the police, who sought confessions that they had been paid to become Christians.  They have since fled the area in fear for their lives.

“We met two of them in Jammu where they are in hiding,” the report said, and “their names are being kept secret because it is feared they may be targeted by both the police and the Islamic groups.”

One of the converts said he “had turned to Christianity after the miraculous healing of his pregnant wife. Both said they had become Christians without any allurement and without any threats, of their own free will, and fully knowing the repercussions of their action.”

The report noted that the “most recent tension against Christians has been brewing since Autumn. Many people told us that some extremist groups and vested interests were planning to use the Christian issue of alleged conversions” as an “issue in their political confrontations with the state government and political parties on the one hand, and with other Islamic groups, specially the moderates, on the other.”

The report said that Islamist extremists were seeking to supplant the traditional Sufi Islam of the region and “were perpetually looking to score political points against each other, and any excuse was good enough to foment trouble, stoning on the roads and widespread riots.”

“This is why the government was jittery and would go to any extreme to ward off trouble from the Islamic groups. The arrest of the pastor had to be seen in this light,” the report said, noting the “writ of the government ran only superficially in the Kashmir valley” and Islamic groups could “mobilise the people in highly emotionally charged demonstrations and riots.”

The All India Christian Council called upon the police to drop all charges against Mr. Khanna and to “follow the law, and not allow themselves to be coerced by mobs.”

They also urged the federal government to intervene and “show its commitment to secularism in all parts of the country by acting with alacrity.”

At the same time, “in a hostile environment such as the Kashmir valley, Christian priests, pastors, NGOs and religious workers must tread cautiously les they infringe unwritten rules and cross invisible lines in social interaction.”

Moral cowardice and Mohammad: Get Religion November 2, 2011 November 2, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Free Speech, Get Religion, Islam, Persecution, Politics, Press criticism.
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Get ready GetReligion readers for a new round of righteous indignation, moral cowardice and sloppy reporting about Islam. There will be a cartoon of Mohammad — quelle horreur — on the cover of the French satirical journal Charlie Hebdo. The magazine is set for distribution on newsstands today, 2 Nov 2011.

My colleagues at GetReligion have written extensively about reporting on images of Mohammad. Articles on Everybody Draw Mohammad Day, South Park, and the Jyllands-Posten cartoons have raised questions about the quality of reporting and unwarranted suppositions about Islam. And although we are only in the first days of this news cycle, the same errors, moral cowardice and surrender to the forces of religious extremism and censorship are cropping up in this latest cartoon controversy.

The editors of Charlie Hebdo — a lowbrow political humor magazine akin to Private Eye — held a press conference on Monday in Paris to announce that the Muslim prophet Mohammed would be this week’s guest editor and the magazine renamed “Sharia Hebdo” for this issue in honor of the occasion.

The French wire service AFP filed this dispatch from the front lines following the press conference:

“In order fittingly to celebrate the Islamist Ennahda’s win in Tunisia and the NTC (National Transitional Council) president’s promise that sharia would be the main source of law in Libya, Charlie Hebdo asked Mohammed to be guest editor,” said a statement.

The weekly has been rebaptised Sharia Hebdo for the occasion, and will feature on its cover a picture of Mohammed saying: “100 lashes if you don’t die of laughter!”

On the back page, a picture of Mohammed wearing a red nose is accompanied by the words: “Yes, Islam is compatible with humour.”

The cover was circulating on social media such as Twitter on Tuesday, with many users incensed and describing it as “puerile”.

The weekly’s publisher, known as Charb, rejected accusations that he was trying to provoke.

“We feel we’re just doing our job as usual. The only difference is that this week, Mohammed is on the cover and that’s quite rare,” he told AFP.

Le Nouvel Observateur — a Paris-based weekly with a circulation of over half a million, it is generally considered the most prominent French-language general news magazine (think Time in its heyday)  — ran a story late Monday evening (with a photo of the offending cover)  on its website under the title “Quand ‘Charlie Hebdo’ devient ‘Charia Hebdo’.” This story drew upon the original AFP report for the details, and added a few color quotes from French social media sites. By the end of the day about two dozen French-language newspapers and broadcasters had their own stories up on the cartoon controversy — with most displaying the cartoon. And being France, opinions ran the gamut from praise to condemnation.

The story began to spread and at midnight Eastern Daylight Time  on Monday night the Worldcrunch news service posted a translation of the Observatuer story illustrated with a copy of the offending issue. However, within hours the Mohammad cartoon disappeared. The article was now illustrated by by picture of a back issue of Charlie Hebdo. Was it copyright concerns or cowardice that led to the spiking of the cartoon?

English language stories began to appear but without the cartoon. The BBC ran a brief item by midday. The Telegraph ran first the AFP story and then its own re-write. By day’s end, the Daily Mail ran the first detailed report entitled “French satirical magazine set to spark outrage by naming Prophet Mohammed as editor-in-chief”.

The Daily Mail’s story was robust, damning both the French and radical Islam (no surprise there).  It led with: “A leading French magazine is set to provoke fury around the world by calling itself Sharia Weekly and pretending that the Prophet Mohammed is editing it.”

The article set the scene well, but closed badly:

Islamic law forbids any depiction of the prophet, even positive ones, to prevent idolatry.There are some six million Muslims living in France – the largest group of its kind in western Europe. While many have welcomed the fall of despots like Muammar Gaddafi following the Arab Spring revolts, many fear that they will be replaced by extreme Islamist governments.

There may not have been space available to flesh out the consequences of Muslim reactions, or to touch upon the past cartoon controversies. The story would have been improved with a word or two on this point. But it too played the coward, running a cover from a back issue of Charlie Hebdo instead of the Mohammad cover to illustrate the story.

And no, Islamic law does not forbid depictions of Mohammad. As my colleagues at GetReligion have pointed out there is no one Muslim law, nor common view on this topic. Here is a gallery of Mohammad images in Western and Turkish art collections.

Silenced, a 2011 book on the collision between Western concepts of free speech and Islam by Paul Marshall and Nina Shae notes:

There are numerous representations of Muhammad in historic Muslim art. Such works are housed in the Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace. Images of Muhammad appeared in illuminated manuscripts dating from as early as the thirteenth century and as late as the eighteenth century.

Sunni Islam, in modern times, has prohibitions against depicting the Prophet or his companions. Sunni theologians at Al-Azhar University continue to prohibit his portrayal, as does the Muslim Brotherhood, and iconoclastic theology has been promoted with particular vigor by the conservative Wahhabi sect, supported by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Shia tradition is less stringently opposed to such depictions. Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani of Iraq, a prominent Shia cleric, suggests on his website that portraying the Prophet is not problematic as long as the depiction is respectful. A primary reason for barring images of Muhammad is the prevention of idolatry…

Yes, I agree the Charlie Hebdo cartoons are puerile. But aesthetic considerations should not be grounds for censorship. Gustave Doré illustrations of Mohammad for Dante’s Inferno are as offensive to the Wahhabist Muslim as is Charlie Hebdo’s juvenile stunt. Nor am I persuaded that the self-censorship on display is intellectually or morally credible.

In 2009 the Yale University Press cancelled the publication of a scholarly book on the Mohammad cartoons after the school’s administration intervened. The university defended its cringing cowardice in a press release. While Yale was “institution deeply committed to free expression” publishing cartoons or “other illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad” ran “a serious risk of instigating violence.”

Writing in Slate, Christopher Hitchens deplored Yale’s mendacity and its misuse of  the word“instigate”. One instigates violence by actively encouraging and abetting it, not by engaging in lawful acts of communication. Lawful or innocent actions can spark violence. But society is not subject to mob rule. Maintaining public order is why we have police forces.

This story may have legs. French President Nicolas Sarkozy will have a tough time winning reelection in 2012. The Socialist challenger François Hollande is playing on economic discontent in France, and is touted to win. However, if the latest Mohammad cartoons spark rioting in the Muslim banlieues, it will be a political gift to Sarkozy (as well as to Marine Le Pen of the National Front).

European Muslim militants have manufactured outrage about Mohammad cartoons in the past — remember it was not until a group of Danish imams toured the Middle East complaining about the Jyllands-Posten Mohammad-with-a-bomb-in-his-turban cartoon that rioting ensued. Danish embassies were attacked and a trail of murder and mayhem spread across the Muslim world that ultimately left some 200 people dead. The Assad regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, among others, have facilitated riots over past cartoons. Whether it is in their political interests to do so now is a calculation that will be made in the coming days.

In his 1946 essay, “Why I Write”, George Orwell stated, “every line of serious work that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly or indirectly, against totalitarianism.”  This is the duty of a free press. Though Stalinism and Fascism no longer have a place in Western intellectual life, the cant, hypocrisy and moral dishonesty they represented remain part of our intellectual and philosophical lives. And it is in this work, in challenging the orthodoxies of left and right, that journalism achieves its moral purpose.

Does the omission of Mohammad cartoons serve this moral good? No, it does not.

Addendum: In the hours between writing this story on Tuesday evening and publication on Wednesday morning the Charlie Hebdo story entered a new phase. The offices of the magazine were fire-bombed early this morning. No group has yet claimed responsibility or other actions against the magazine or its distributors been reported so far.

First published in GetReligion.

Sharia law for the Sudan: The Church of England Newspaper, Oct 28, 2011 November 1, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper, Episcopal Church of the Sudan.
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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir has announced that the Sudan will become Africa’s first theocracy and will give state sanction to Sharia law.

In a 12 Oct 2011 speech to university students in Khartoum, President al-Bashir stated: “Ninety-eight percent of the people are Muslims and the new constitution will reflect this. The official religion will be Islam and Islamic law the main source [of the constitution]. We call it a Muslim state.”

Sudan’s Churches have disputed the president’s claim of a near uniform Muslim population, noting that over a million Christians reside in the North. However, their complaints are not likely to deter President al-Bashir.  The International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 issued a warrant for the arrest of the Sudanese president on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s Darfur region.  President al-Bashir was the first sitting head of state to be charged by the Hague-based court with war crimes, and the first Arab leader to face the prospect of being tried for atrocities by an international tribunal.

In 2008 the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo of Argentina, accused Bashir of directing a campaign of mass murder that has left more than 300,000 civilians dead and driven more than 2.7 million from their homes in Darfur.

International condemnation has not halted al-Bashir and his government is currently being courted by rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.  Saudi Arabia and Sudan have signed an agreement to mine the bed of the Red Sea—with the kingdom providing the financing for the project and royalties shared between the two states.  Last week Iran’s President Ahmadinejad travelled to Khartoum and gave his country’s support to the embattled president.

While Sudan is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, with only a small Shia presence in Khartoum, the government of President al-Bashir has adopted a pan-Muslim domestic policy.  Christians and animists have been the target of the regime’s ire.

Migrants from the southern half of the country before partition this year, Southerners are considered foreigners under laws introduced by President al-Bashir’s government, and have until the Spring of 2012 to obtain residency papers or leave the country.

Along Sudan’s unsettled border with South Sudan in South Kordufan State, Nuba Christians are being driven from their homes by government forces and have been forced to flee south for safety.

Sudanese newspapers report that the Khartoum government has begun the process of Islamisation in the North as well.  Three churches in Omdurman, Khartoum’s sister city across the Nile, have been notified that the land upon which they were built is owned by the government.  The churches have protested this claim and offered title deeds in support of their ownership, but the government has slated the buildings for demolition.

The Barnabas Fund has reported the government has increased “threats and pressure on churches.”  Some pastors “have been warned not to conduct church services, on pain of death, while some churches are closing their schools and considering emigration to the South.”

“The future for non-Muslims and non-Arabs in Sudan is looking increasingly untenable, threatening the very existence of the Church there,” the Barnabas Fund said.

Orphanage seized by Dr. Kunonga: The Church of England Newspaper, Sept 16, 2011 p 8. September 21, 2011

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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

Orphanages, convents and mission hospitals are the latest church facilities to be seized by the breakaway bishop of Harare, Dr Nolbert Kunonga.

On 11 September, sheriff’s deputies accompanied by supporters of Dr Kunonga ejected the staff of the Arthur Shearly Cripps Children’s Home — an orphanage 100 kilometres south of Harare in Chikwaka. Three nursing sisters were ordered to leave the premises immediately, while the five other staff were given 24 hours notice to vacate the property.

It is not known who will now care for the more than 100 orphans living at the facility.

The matron at the orphanage, Sister Dorothy Makwarimba told Newsday: “The messenger of court ordered us to move out immediately. He had court papers which said the property now belongs to Kunonga and since we are refusing to worship under his diocese, we had to go,” she said.

The notice of ejectment dated 6 September, 2011 signed by the Deputy Sheriff for Murewa, ordered the sisters to leave the orphanage and the Convent of the Sisters of the Blessed Lady Mary, and also ordered the priest at the neighbouring St John’s Church to turn that property over to Dr Kunonga.

Attorneys from Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights on 9 September filed an emergency motion asking the notice of ejectment be stayed. A hearing before Justice Tendai Uchena will be held on 14 September to consider their motion.

On 4 August, Zimbabwe Supreme Court Chief Justice Chidyausiku gave an order in chambers that gave custody of the buildings to Dr Kunonga’s faction pending the final adjudication of the lawsuit over their ownership.

While the order attempted to preserve the status quo, the ruling has been used by Dr Kunonga to evict clergy from their vicarages — which had so far remained under the control of the Anglican Church — and now orphanages.

On 24 August lawyers for the diocese filed an appeal with the Zimbabwe Supreme Court asking for an en banc review of the chief justice’s order.

Diocesan lawyers argued that the chief justice’s ruling violated the rules of judicial procedure. They asked the full court to mark the order “null and void” and to preserve the status quo pending a final resolution of the dispute.

Greek ‘no’ to Sharia law: Church of England Newspaper, Sep 2, 2011. September 3, 2011

Posted by geoconger in Church of England Newspaper.
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First published in The Church of England Newspaper.

The Greek government has abrogated portions of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, ending the jurisdiction of Sharia law courts for Greek Muslims.

On 21 August, the Athens’ daily newspaper Ελευθεροτυπία reported that legislators had jettisoned the parallel Sharia law family court system adopted as part of the Greco-Turkish peace treaty as it did not comply with the Greek constitution’s guarantee of equality of the sexes before the law.

The newly adopted family law code will apply to all Greeks, irrespective of religion.

Under the terms of the Lausanne Treaty, which saw an exchange of populations between Greece and Turkey, the 110,000 Muslims in Greek-controlled Western Thrace would not be expelled to Turkey, and would be permitted to have its own Sharia court system and were allowed to practice polygamy. Similar religious-based legal provisions were adopted for the Greek minority in Istanbul, but were later abrogated by the Turkish Republic in the 1950s.

A 2010 law review article by Prof Robin Fretwell Wilson noted that as a result of the Treaty, “Muslims in Greece enjoy unique independence from the Greek government. They maintain their own religious and legal institutions, headed by three Muftis who ‘conduct all matters related to civil law’ using Sharia law, specifically Hanafi law.”

She noted that a recent study of divorce within Western Thrace found that under Sharia law the “wife must compensate her husband for the termination of the marriage … by returning the dowry [and] by waiving her right to alimony or even her right to the custody of the children.”

If the husband does not agree to the divorce, “the wife can terminate the marriage only for important reasons pertaining to fault of the husband.”

While the Greek Muftis have accepted such fault-based reasons as a husband’s violence, “the Mufti[s] often reject divorce applications filed by women, who thus remain trapped in non-functioning marriages,” the study found.

“On the rare occasion that someone disputes a Mufti’s decision, Greek courts routinely find the Mufti’s decision enforceable. Greek civil courts denied enforceability in less than one-half of one percent of cases,” Prof Fretwell wrote inPrivatizing Family Law in the Name of Religion.

This was not “surprising” she noted as the judicial review of the Muftis were limited to “whether the Mufti remained within his field of competence and whether the law applied contravenes the [Greek] Constitution.”

While Greece has moved away from Sharia courts, Britain appears to be moving in the opposite direction. In 2008 the Labour government permitted Sharia judges to rule on a host of civil cases, while the Archbishop of Canterbury that year courted controversy when he backed the introduction of Sharia law in the form of a “plural jurisdiction” allowing Muslims to resolve family disputes in religious tribunals or civil courts.

However, not all agreed with the wisdom of Dr Williams’ views. The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali noted that “it would be impossible to introduce a tradition like Sharía into [British law] without fundamentally affecting its integrity.”

Akinola says ‘no’ to Sharia banking: The Church of England Newspaper, July 29, 2011 p 5. August 1, 2011

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First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.

The former Primate of Nigeria, Archbishop Peter Akinola, has added his voice to the chorus of protest over government-regulated Islamic banks in Nigeria.

Injecting religion into the financial sector while the country wrestled with sharp sectarian divisions was a recipe for disaster, the archbishop said on 10 July at a youth festival in Obantoko, and could lead to the “disintegration” of Nigeria.

However, Muslim leaders have attacked the archbishop, questioning his sincerity in condemning Sharia financial laws.

On 13 January, 2011 the Central Bank of Nigeria released an official circular setting the “Framework for the Regulation and Supervision of Institutions Offering Non-Interest Financial Services in Nigeria.”

The new rules authorized Sharia law-compliant banking under the Fiqh al-Muamalat (Islamic rules on transactions). The Sharia banks would be permitted to take non-interest bearing deposits and to issue Islamic mortgages and loans under government licence.

Central Bank Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has denied allegations the new laws broached the line between church and state. Nigerian Muslim leaders have also denounced the criticism of Sharia banking as ignorant, and have objected to the linking of terrorism with Islam.

A statement released on 11 July by the umbrella group the Conference of Islamic Organisations said there was “no link whatsoever” between “Islamic financial institutions and terrorism.”

“We see the attacks against Islamic banking as insincerity and diversionary tactics to heat up the political situation of the country, thereby portraying Islam and Muslims as trouble-makers,” the Muslim group said.

While financial institutions operating on Islamic banking principles can be found in Europe and across the Muslim world, the Nigerian law goes a step further in requiring the new banks be governed by Sharia law. While church leaders have not objected to the creation of private associations that are self-governed by Sharia law, they sharply object to the requirement that the new institutions under state licence be Sharia-compliant.

Archbishop Akinola called on the Church of Nigeria and “all other well-meaning Nigerians to wake up and appreciate the situation.”

“Well-meaning Nigerians must resist all of this by all lawful means and the National Assembly must see the whole thing as an affront” to the Nigerian constitution “which states unambiguously that no particular religion shall be adopted as state religion.”

“Government must take decisive action and promptly cancel everything about the proposed Sharia banking,” the archbishop said, imploring Christians to “rise to defend our faith which is currently on trial” from pro-Muslim government policies and violent Islamist terror attacks.

“We are too comfortable. We must not allow our enemies to win this battle. This is a battle that we must fight and win,” Archbishop Akinola said.

Speaking to the press after last week’s House of Bishops meeting, the current primate of the Church of Nigeria, Archbishop Nicholas Okoh “there is more to Islamic banking than meets the eye.”

The goal of Islamic banking, Archbishop Okoh said, was Islamic evangelism. “In 10 years from now Islamic banking would have grown and matured to what it is intended to be, a religious oppressive instrument and tool for social coercion of the poor to convert to Islam.”