The cost of unbelief – The Economist

Interesting:

ACROSS the world, people who reject all religious belief or profess secular humanism are facing ever worse discrimination and persecution, but the existence and legitimacy of such ideas is becoming more widely known and accepted. That is the rather subtle conclusion of the latest report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, an umbrella body for secularist groups in 40 countries, which in 2012 began making annual surveys of how freedom of thought and conscience are faring worldwide.

In common with lots of other reports on the subject, it noted that many countries still prescribe draconian penalties for religious dissent, through laws that bar blasphemy against the prevailing religions or “apostasy” from Islam. Some 19 countries punish their citizens for apostasy, and in 12 of those countries it is punishable by death. In Pakistan, the death sentence can be imposed for blasphemy, for which the threshold is very low. In all, 55 countries (including several Western ones) had laws against blasphemy; the perceived offence could lead to prison terms in 39 countries and execution in six.

Aside from all that ghastliness, the report detected a new trend, a “marked increase” in the specific targeting of atheists and humanists, which was a kind of back-handed acknowledgement of the reality that such beliefs existed and were spreading. Saudi Arabia had enacted a new law equating atheism with terrorism. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak had branded “humanism and secularism as well as liberalism” as deviant. And in Egypt, the youth ministry had launched an organised campaign against non-belief among the young, designed to spread awareness of the “dangers of atheism” and the “threat to society” that it posed. Dreadful as it was, this trend could be a negative side-effect of a “different, positive, parallel trend”—the fact that atheism and humanism were being recognised as cohesive world-views.

I asked one of the best-known professed atheists to have emerged from the Muslim world, the exiled Egyptian blogger Mikael Nabil Sanad, what he thought of the report’s conclusions. And Mr Nabil, who was not involved in the report, offered a very similar point about his native country. On the one hand, despite the overthrow last year of an Islamist regime, repression of all minorities, including atheists, is as bad as ever. But, he says, acceptance by society of atheism as a tenable position is growing. Mr Nabil, who recently moved to Washington, DC, told me that in 2008, when he renounced his Coptic Christian background and declared himself an atheist, “it was completely shocking to society”. Now, he says, “society accepts it” as a possibility. For example, there have been television debates between Christians, Muslims and atheists. Last year, a group of Egyptian atheists made some proposals to a committee that was reviewing the constitution; the very fact that such proposals could be aired and reported marked progress in a country where officialdom generally assumed that everybody was Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

Having spent much of 2011 in prison, where he was tortured and went on hunger strike, and then studied for two years in Germany, Mr Nabil says it is unsafe for him to return to Egypt because blasphemy charges have been laid against him. He now hoped to write a book about his experiences and campaign for change in his homeland, where despite the authorities’ best efforts, social media and private communications were still buzzing with discordant and dissident opinions, including atheist ones. There is a broader point there. The fact that dissident religious and anti-religious ideas are being persecuted ever more severely does not mean that the persecutors will prevail.

Not enough being doing to halt persecution of Christians [in Mid-East]: Marmur

Valid points:

“Neither the horror of what Christians go through at the hands of Islamists and others, nor the scale of the crisis of Christian populations in the Middle East especially, appears to be widely known, let alone the subject of public concern.” So wrote Peter D. Williams, the Catholic social and political commentator in the online journal Spiked.

His article was published at the end of last May, days after 28 Coptic Christians were killed and many more wounded on their way to a monastery in Egypt. The same week, Williams reported, there were also two attacks on Christians in the Philippines.

His conclusion is that “it’s hard not to suspect that the reason why the persecution of Christians is not being reported widely across the globe is not merely due to over-familiarity, but because of active disinterest.” He suggests that “more could and would be done if the Western media gave Christians subjected to the cruellest and filthiest forms of tortuous hate the attention and concern their situation truly deserves.”

As a result, according to Prof. Jonathan Adelman of the University of Denver writing in The World Post, the Christian population in the Middle East has dropped from 20 per cent in 1900 to 4 per cent today. It’s likely to drop another per cent by 2050.

The only exception is the Jewish State of Israel where, according to Adelman, “the 160,000 Israeli Christians live as citizens in a democratic First World country with freedom of religion, rule of law and open elections.” They can move anywhere, their holy places are secure and their churches own much land in Jerusalem.

Adelman isn’t blind to problems that the Christian minority is facing also in Israel, mostly by the hands of bureaucrats and some Jewish fanatics. Yet, he insists, “Israel is the only place in the Middle East where the Christians are growing in number. They are excelling in education, doing well in business and feeling relatively safe from their radical tormentors.”

Jews have known for much of their history the lethal power of religious prejudice, much of it manifest as Christian anti-Semitism. It’s therefore gratifying to know that, despite the past, Jews are now providing a safe haven for Christians.

But Israel isn’t in a position to solve the global problem. Collectively, however, the Western world — where most Christians reside and many still greatly influence public discourse and policy — could and should do very much more than they seem to be doing.

That was ostensibly the purpose of the World Summit in Defence of Persecuted Christians held In Washington in early May. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence made the promising declaration that “protecting and promoting religious freedom is a foreign policy priority of the Trump administration.”

Though he assured the audience they “have the prayers of the president of the United States” and that “the suffering of Christians in the Middle East has stirred Americans to action,” it’s not clear if this will go beyond rhetoric and result in tangible deeds.

Having experienced Catholic-laced anti-Semitism as a child in Poland after the horrors of the Holocaust, I identify with the millions of Christians around the world who’re now facing extinction. I’m astounded that the very resourceful churches here and elsewhere don’t seem to be doing enough to protect them. Some, particularly ostensibly liberal Christians, appear to be much keener to find faults with Israel’s treatment of Muslims than to actively support Christians in Muslim lands.

Even if they may not be able to defeat extremism, they should seek measures to protect Christian minorities in ways that go far beyond President Trump’s prayers.

Source: Not enough being doing to halt persecution of Christians: Marmur | Toronto Star

Young Islamists have ′very scant′ knowledge of Islam, study finds | DW | 11.07.2017

Interesting analysis of texts among young radicalized Muslims:

Young Muslims who become radicalized often invent a patchwork, imagined version of Islam that has little or nothing to do with the Koran. That’s the conclusion drawn by scholars at the universities of Bielefeld and Osnabrück. They’ve just published a book analyzing 5,757 messages from a WhatsApp group of 12 young men ahead of a spring 2016 terrorist attack.

The messages came from a mobile phone, seized by police, that had belonged to one of the young men involved in the attack. The researchers say that the chat offers unique insights into the radicalization process and mindset of Islamists in Germany.

The messages also illustrate the enormous differences between Islamism and Islam. Many of the self-styled “true Muslims,” the experts found, themselves have little valid knowledge of the Koran or the rest of their religion.

“The result is a kind of ‘Lego Islam’ that can be continually adapted to new requirements and in practice has nothing to do with the forms of traditional Islam practiced by the majority of mosque communities in Germany,” write co-authors Becem Dziri and Michael Kiefer.

The authors omitted the names of those involved in the chat and didn’t specify the attack, although the time reference strongly suggests that it was the bombing of a Sikh temple in Essen in April 2016. At the time it was reported that the young people involved in that attack were radicalized via social media, and three of them, all teenagers, were later convicted of attempted murder and conspiracy to murder.

Deutschland Anschlag auf Sikh Tempel in Essen (picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Kusch)Luckily no one was killed in the temple bombing

Budding Islamists mix jihad and genies

The conversations leading up to that act of violence suggest that the youths were willing to kill for a faith of which they had only a rudimentary understanding.

“The religious education within the group is very scant,” writes co-author Rauf Ceylan. “Often they didn’t even know the simplest Islamic theological basics. The members of the group are laymen and autodidacts who pick and choose information from the internet and communicate it to the rest of the group.”

Excerpts from the chats often seem like comedy sketches sprinkled with sometimes misused Arabic words and phrases and English slang. In one, a participant responds to a self-appointed leader’s call for a meeting to discuss the jama’a (group) by saying he didn’t have any Islamic clothing. The leader responds: “You can also were sweatpants or something like that. If you want I can loan you something for the day.”

Another message reveals that the author doesn’t even own a copy of Islam’s main religious text.

“I need a Koran,” he writes. “I’ll get one soon from lies [a Salafist group that gives away Korans on the street in Germany]. If I see abu nagi, I’ll tell him he’s a kafir [infidel] because he thinks erdogan [sic] is a Muslim.”

When asked what the most absurd detail of the chats was, Ceylan told DW that participants interwove the belief in magical genies in their pseudo-theology.

“Over the course of the chat protocol, you can see how a religious world gets invented in which supernatural beings can have real effects on the young men,” Ceylan said. “They take fragments of the Koran and cobble them together. That’s why we call it ‘Lego Islam.'”

Salafisten verteilen Korane (picture-alliance/dpa/B.Roessler)Salafists pass out free Korans on German streets

Careers as ‘pop preachers’

Scholars also say that the chat illustrates the process by which young Muslims get radicalized. Key is the role of the “amir,” the self-appointed leader, who “instructed” the others despite lacking any theological credentials himself.

“He’s an alpha male like you have in school,” Ceylan told Deutsche Welle. “The people who act as Salafist preachers aren’t theologians. They’re people who have sometimes failed in life, but if they have a gift for being alpha males, they can become superstars overnight. This shouldn’t be underestimated. You can make a whole career of being a pop preacher.”

The second ingredient in the making of a radical Islamist, the scholars explain, is a young person with the right biography. Emancipation from parents – becoming an adult – gets conflated with emancipation from the mainstream community as one of the “chosen ones.” Ceylan cites the example of a young man who became radical after discovering that his father was having an affair and telling his mother, which led to a divorce.

“These are fundamentally young people who are trying to overcome a crisis in their lives or a biological ruptures,” said Ceylan. “The timing is crucial. Who do I meet in this phase?”

Social media platforms often play a role in radicalizing young people

The importance of language

Ceylan says that although bogus theology is part of the problem, religious instruction is not enough to combat radicalization. He calls for more money for German language imams, psychological therapists in prisons, where many young people get radicalized, and interventions in schools.

“These young people don’t get radicalized secretly, as the chat protocols show,” Ceylan said. “Their teachers see that something’s not right. A kid grows his beard out or starts saying more and more radical things. And the parents see it before everyone else.”

Above all, Ceylan says, those who do intervene with young people susceptible to Islamism need to speak the right language.

“The characteristics of the charismatic ‘self-made’ preachers…are that they speak German, use young people’s slang, make a theatrical impression, display street credibility and present themselves cleverly. That, together with the simplicity of what they teach, makes them attractive to young people.”

Source: Young Islamists have ′very scant′ knowledge of Islam, study finds | TOP STORIES | DW | 11.07.2017

The never-ending argument over what is “real Islam”

Good piece and advice from The Economist:

IN THE commentariat, the world of higher learning (religious and otherwise) and the corridors of political power, the long-running, hot-tempered debate about the real nature of Islam shows no sign of reaching a conclusion. The temperature rises every time some ghastly act of violence is perpetrated by people who say they are inspired by their Muslim beliefs. Broadly it pits those who think that killers who practise violence in Islam’s name are traducing the faith and perhaps mis-stating their own motives, up against those who insist that Islam’s core beliefs (and not just some idosyncratic version of them) can easily prompt people to take up the sword.

Sam Harris, an atheist public intellectual, is among the best-known advocates of the second view. Despite the change of guard at the White House, and the apparent conversion of Donald Trump to a slightly more emollient view of Islam, Mr Harris is still pouring scorn on Barack Obama for insisting that Islam was at heart a religion of peace. Another person whose views Mr Harris excoriates is Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim thinker who combines leftist political ideas with fairly traditional religious ones. Mr Ramadan incurs the American writer’s contempt when he argues that political, economic or geopolitical grievance, rather than any Muslim beliefs, motivate the terrorist group known as Islamic State (IS).

In a new twist of the argument, Mr Harris has published a podcast, lasting nearly two hours, in which he discusses these matters with Graeme Wood, an author and reporter who has travelled the world interviewing prominent members or supporters of IS and probing their motives and intentions. Both broadly agree that some widely held Muslim beliefs, especially those connected with the world’s end times and the battles portending that era, are important drivers of violent behaviour. But this emphasis has been dismissed as “deeply wrong” by Phil Torres, author of a book entitled “The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us About the Apocalypse”. His book argues that apocalyptic ideas could easily become self-fulfilling. But he also observes that bloodshed (and other dramatic events) in the here-and-now are the real reasons why people suddenly start to think about the final acts in history.

All participants in this discussion merit a hearing. Mr Harris and Mr Wood do a decent job of demolishing some of the more simplistic arguments used to support the views they dislike. For example, the point is often made that many of the people who become jihadis, whether they are converts or Muslim by birth, lack theological sophistication. Indeed, at least one was found to be studying a book with the self-explanatory title, “Islam for dummies”. So, the argument goes, being extremely Muslim and being extremely violent do not seem to go together.

The point about non-sophistication may be true as far it goes, but as both Mr Harris and Mr Wood agree, a person can be very passionate about a belief system without fully understanding its details. And there is no guarantee that even if those details were fully mastered, they would prompt the learner to behave in more peaceful ways. To put it bluntly, jihadis may indeed be theologically ignorant, but that does not prove that a sound theological education would make them more peaceful. (That said, there may be plenty of other reasons for encouraging nuanced theological awareness.)

Mr Wood’s research has reinforced his view that IS is much more apocalyptic in its mentality than earlier jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda. IS propagandists take seriously the notion that Dabiq, a location in northern Syria, will witness a titanic battle between Islamic forces and those of “Rome”—which might mean anything from NATO to the Christian world to the constitutionally secular republic of Turkey. Also widespread is the expectation that an Antichrist figure known as Dajjal will emerge (possibly from an island in the Red Sea) and kill Muslim fighters until Jesus returns to earth and leads the faithful to victory. (Jesus is the second-most-revered prophet in Islam after Muhammad.)

Mr Torres agrees that these beliefs are widely held and significant, but also asks why this is now the case. It was the 2003 assault by America and Britain on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which turned many Sunni Muslims to end-time thinking, he notes: “prior to the US invasion, Sunni Muslims were uninterested in apocalypticism.” He points out that apocalyptic thinking is most widespread in the two countries where American-led armies have entered in force, Iraq and Afghanistan. As Mr Torres sees things, apocalyptic obsessions can be both a result and a cause of real-world violence.

So how can the “true nature” of Islam, or any other religion, be determined? It might be helpful to divide statements about this into two categories. First, there are value judgments, usually made from inside the boundaries of one’s belief system. This includes statements from religious authority figures such as: “Having studied and reflected on the matter, I believe the real message of our religion’s founder(s) is…” Such messages can have moral force even if they run completely counter to the way in which most followers of a religion have, in practice, acted.

In the second basket are historical or sociological statements, which can be made by any fair-minded observer. These are on the long lines of: “Whatever the prophets and scriptures of this religion may teach, it’s an observable fact that hundreds of millions of followers of this faith behave in certain ways, and that they root this stance in their religious world view.” You might call it a behaviourist approach. In the case of modern Islam, one would have to concede that a not-insignificant number of Muslims are, in some cases, prepared to condone religious violence. But they are far outnumbered by the hundreds of millions of Muslims who live peaceful, law-abiding lives and hope that others will do the same. These are statements which can be debated, investigated, affirmed or falsified in a way that religious statements cannot.

For figures of secular authority, be they American presidents, counter-terrorism officials or even opinion-makers, it is often best to stick to the second kind of statement. The “real” nature of a religion, if such a concept has any meaning at all, is hard for an outsider to determine, and certainly well beyond the remit of a more-or-less secular state.

Source: The never-ending argument over what is “real Islam”

Cimetière musulman: Saint-Apollinaire sous tension | Le Devoir

Hard to understand the nature of the opposition and we will know on Sunday the results of the referendum:

On saura dimanche si le projet de cimetière musulman de Saint-Apollinaire sera accepté ou non par référendum. Plongée malgré elle au coeur du délicat débat identitaire, la petite ville espère maintenant qu’elle n’en sortira pas trop désunie ou étiquetée.

« Dans n’importe quelle petite communauté comme la nôtre, tu aurais eu le même débat », a dit le maire Bernard Ouellet lors d’une rencontre à son bureau mardi. « J’ai reçu des courriels des quatre coins de la province là-dessus. »

Pour lui, le débat qui secoue la petite ville aurait dû se faire à une plus grande échelle. « Que voulez-vous, c’est nous qui sommes au bâton avec ça… »

Saint-Apollinaire se trouve dans la région de Chaudière-Appalaches, à une trentaine de minutes de Québec. La consultation a ceci de particulier que seulement 47 personnes sur 6000 habitants pourront voter, puisque les anciennes règles encadrant les référendums municipaux ne permettent qu’aux voisins immédiats de se prononcer.

Ces dernières semaines, les camps du «Oui» et du «Non» se sont succédé dans le rang de la Prairie-Grillée pour rallier les électeurs. « On est rendus à sept visites, sans compter les fois où on n’était pas là », a raconté un résidant favorable au projet qui a préféré taire son nom. Pourquoi rester anonyme ? « Parce que j’ai des voisins qui se sont prononcés contre, je ne veux pas brasser tout ça. […] Ma plus grande crainte, c’est pour Saint-Apollinaire. C’est une belle municipalité, et j’ai peur qu’on lui accole une étiquette. »

De l’autre côté du rang, un jeune homme nous a carrément envoyés paître. « Je ne veux rien savoir », a-t-il lancé sans préciser s’il ne voulait rien savoir du cimetière… ou des médias.

Rappelons que le projet vise à construire un cimetière musulman à côté d’un site funéraire multiconfessionnel déjà existant près de l’autoroute. Il est piloté par la grande mosquée de Québec, celle-là même qui a été frappée par l’attentat du 31 janvier.

« On se bat contre le racisme », affirme sans ambages le promoteur Sylvain Roy du centre funéraire Harmonia. « Ils sont contre l’implantation d’une culture dans un milieu qu’ils veulent conserver 100 % québécois. »

Photo: Francis Vachon Le DevoirSylvain Roy, du centre funéraire Harmonia, offre le terrain derrière lui pour la réalisation du cimetière musulman espéré depuis longtemps par la grande mosquée de Québec.

« Les gens ont véhiculé toutes sortes de faussetés, déplore-t-il. On a dit que les musulmans enterraient leurs morts sans cercueil, trop près de la surface du sol… Tout ça, c’est faux. »

Le voisin immédiat du complexe funéraire, M. Henri Baril, ne voit quant à lui aucun problème à cette cohabitation éventuelle. « Ça ne devrait déranger personne, on a tous droit à un enterrement respectueux », résume-t-il. « De toute façon, que ce soit des musulmans, des Anglais, des Italiens, des Russes, des catholiques ou des non-catholiques, on meurt tous un jour. »

Que voulez-vous, c’est nous qui sommes au bâton avec ça…

Bernard Ouellet, maire de Saint-Apollinaire

Le « Non » pressenti

Sur place, la plupart des gens s’attendent à une victoire du « Non ». « J’ai bien peur que ça ne passe pas, nous a dit le maire. Je serais agréablement surpris si ça fonctionne. »

Le propriétaire d’Harmonia est du même avis. « Si les gens favorables vont voter, ça risque de passer, mais d’habitude, les gens qui sont contre vont plus voter. »

M. Baril, lui, croit que les opposants ne sont « pas si nombreux », mais se font « plus entendre ». Il a aussi trouvé les partisans du « Non » très insistants lors de leur passage chez lui. « C’était presque du harcèlement. Ça ne finissait plus. »

De son côté, la représentante du comité du « Non », Sunny Létourneau, dit n’avoir aucune idée des résultats auxquels on doit s’attendre. Cette commerçante aussi a hâte qu’on passe à autre chose. « Ça crée un malaise terrible dans la municipalité. Ça crée des divisions, des tensions familiales. »

Si certains membres de son groupe n’ont pas hésité à tenir des propos ouvertement racistes dans le débat, Mme Létourneau se défend bien d’en être.

« On ne dit pas non aux musulmans, on dit non au projet actuel de la mosquée [de Québec]. » « Je ne veux pas qu’on associe le comité du “Non” au racisme, parce qu’il y en a seulement quelques-uns. On dit non à un changement de zonage, ce n’est pas juste pour une question religieuse. »

Elle-même dit qu’il ne faut pas « mettre tous les musulmans dans le même panier ». En entrevue, elle s’interroge sur l’expertise d’Harmonia à faire des enterrements et dit craindre que les gens de la grande mosquée de Québec négligent l’entretien de leur cimetière une fois qu’il sera installé.

La grande mosquée de Québec devrait selon elle s’insérer dans un cimetière multiconfessionnel comme à Saint-Augustin, où des familles ont acquis des lots dans un cimetière catholique. Elle a d’ailleurs pris part à l’inauguration du carré musulman à Saint-Augustin.

Or c’est complètement différent, rétorque M. Roy. « La communauté musulmane veut un cimetière confessionnel, une terre sacrée où ils peuvent déposer leurs morts selon les principes du Coran. » Le porte-parole de la mosquée, Mohammed Kesri, a d’ailleurs été choqué d’entendre que l’initiative de Saint-Augustin constituait un cimetière musulman.

Quand on fait remarquer qu’il aurait pu miser sur un lieu plus habitué à la présence d’immigrants que Saint-Apollinaire, M. Kesri rétorque qu’il n’avait pas le choix. « Ça fait 10 ans, 15 ans qu’on cherche. C’est la seule place où on a eu une offre ! » dit-il.

Les résultats du référendum doivent être dévoilés dimanche vers 20 h. Les terrains de ce genre son si ardus à trouver, assure M. Kesri, que même si le « Non » l’emporte, il est prêt à continuer à défendre le projet à Saint-Apollinaire. « Mais c’est sûr que si le 17 il y a un maire quelque part près de Québec qui nous dit que c’est possible d’établir un cimetière musulman ailleurs, ce sera avec plaisir ! »

Islamic experts work towards national religious school curriculum to apply faith to modern Australian life – ABC News

Interesting and challenging initiative, one that applies to many faith-based schooling:

A new high school curriculum will help young people realise there’s no conflict between following Islam and being raised Australian, despite an atmosphere of Islamaphobia, according to young student Gaida Merei.

Ms Merei was part of the pilot program of what will eventually become a national syllabus for Islamic and Arabic studies.

She said young Muslims often find themselves questioning their identity because they don’t have the answers to questions about their faith that are raised in the news.

“It makes them makes you feel like you’re constantly being attacked,” Ms Merei said.

“It could make them [young Muslims] question their belonging and negatively impact the way they view their role in society and whether their contribution has value.”

She said the pilot program gave her a confidence boost.

“It meant I could embrace my identity a lot more confidently, and confirmed that just because I followed the faith, it didn’t conflict with being raised Australian.”

Experts work toward creating national curriculum

Currently, Australian Islamic schools use approved curriculum for core subjects such as maths, science and English, but there is no cohesive religious studies or Arabic program.

In an attempt to change that, leading experts in Islamic education from around the globe are meeting in South Australia to look at creating a standardised national Islamic studies curriculum that would become the first in the western world.

The two-day conference brings together international experts from New Zealand, Indonesia, North America amongst others to discuss a renewed approach to teaching in Islamic schools.

For the last couple of years several Islamic schools have been in the spotlight for governance concerns.

Centre for Islamic Thought and Education, Professor Mohamad Abdalla, said these issues shed light on the need for Islamic schools to re-evaluate future direction.

As part of the conference agenda academics and policy specialist will look at creating a learning program relevant to a modern-day Australian context.

Professor Abdalla said that’s something current Islamic studies in schools lack.

“Given the [political] climate, young Australians may feel they don’t belong to this country, Islamic studies could empower them to feel confident,” he said.

How to applying faith to modern Australia

Ms Merei said from her experiences of attending an Islamic school, students are missing out on education relevant to their lives in Australia.

“The way the religion is followed and applied in modern Australia will differ to the way it is followed in countries in the Middle East or Europe or Asia,” she said.

“It seems like religious teachers force their understanding of the faith from overseas onto young Australians not understanding the issues and struggles we face are extremely different.”

The course explored often misunderstood topics of sharia, women in Islam, terrorism and identity.

Ms Merei said she missed out on learning about these subjects at the Islamic school she attended and now understands the value of learning about them from a credible source.

“They can properly engage in debate and discussion with people who have different understandings and perspectives.

“They’ll be less frustrated when questioned on these topics because they can actually respond.”

She said in today’s world self-proclaimed scholars are brainwashing young people who have little understanding of their faith.

Ms Merei said having a basic understanding of these topics would empower them to see through their politically motivated propaganda.

Professor Abdalla said an Australian curriculum was expected to be ready in the next two to three years.

Source: Islamic experts work towards national religious school curriculum to apply faith to modern Australian life – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Un premier cimetière musulman dans la région de Québec | Le Devoir

The less controversial cemetery proposal and one that recognizes Canadian (and Quebec) Muslims:

Près de six mois après l’attentat à la grande mosquée de Québec, un premier cimetière musulman a été officiellement inauguré, dimanche, dans la région de la Capitale-Nationale.

Une portion du cimetière Les Jardins Québec appartenant à l’entreprise funéraire Lépine Cloutier Athos, à Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, sera dorénavant réservée aux défunts de confession musulmane.

En entrevue à La Presse canadienne, le président de Lépine Cloutier Athos, Yvan Rodrigue, a indiqué que 500 lots sont maintenant réservés aux citoyens de foi musulmane et qu’il sera possible d’augmenter ce nombre.

« On a commencé avec une section de 500 lots, mais selon les besoins, nous pourrons agrandir », a-t-il indiqué.

Une solution locale

M. Rodrigue a expliqué que son entreprise a instauré le service afin de « répondre à un besoin de plus en plus criant » pour les gens de l’est du Québec qui n’avaient que deux options — soit être rapatriés dans leur pays d’origine ou être enterrés dans un cimetière musulman à Montréal.

« Il y a des gens qui sont ici depuis plusieurs générations et ce n’est pas toutes les familles qui veulent que le corps soit rapatrié au pays d’origine, donc c’est important qu’ils aient une solution locale », a justifié M. Rodrigue.

L’initiative a toutefois été prise sans la participation du Centre culturel islamique de Québec, qui mène un autre projet de cimetière à Saint-Apollinaire.

Le secrétaire du Centre, Mohamed Kesri, a récemment expliqué au journal Le Soleilque cette nouvelle section de cimetière, à Saint-Augustin-de-Desmaures, ne comblait pas les besoins de la communauté. Selon lui, la majorité des gens préfèrent savoir que leurs proches sont enterrés à un endroit possédé par la communauté et où les rites et coutumes sont suivis.

I applaud British Islam’s refusal to bow to the establishment | Giles Fraser | Opinion | The Guardian

I don’t really understand Fraser’s arguments. Is he against integrating into Britain’s civic life? Does it not make sense for religious institutions themselves find ways to integrate into society? Is refusal good for communities and society? Is respectability necessarily a bad thing?

Back in May, at the Roundhouse Poetry Slam, the brilliant Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan took to the stage to denounce the importance of being one of those good Muslims, as opposed to one of the bad ones. I refuse to have to prove my humanity to you by cracking a smile, and saying how “I also cry at the end of Toy Story 3”, she said, her voice shaking with intensity and focus. I won’t try to tell you about “the complex inner worlds of Sumeahs and Aishas.” “No,” she insists, “this will not be a ‘Muslims are like us’ poem. I refuse to be respectable … Because if you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one that’s not human.”

I wholeheartedly applaud this refusal of respectability. I’m not asked to flaunt my moral or emotional credentials in order to be treated decently. I’m not asked to demonstrate that I am not a radical, or prove that I am an asset to society. Yet this is what immigrant communities, especially those that come with some “foreign” religion, are regularly pressed to do

A report out this week, chaired by the MP and QC Dominic Grieve and titled The Missing Muslims, encourages adherents of Islam to greater participation in civil society and public life. It calls for more British-born imams and greater integration of Muslims into British cultural life.

It’s not a bad report, and its intentions are worthy. It recognises that there are problems with the Prevent agenda – which is an understatement – and it wonders out loud if an official definition of Islamophobia, along the lines of that used for antisemitism, should be explored. But, as with so many of the numerous reports about British Muslims, the focus is always on Islam as a problem to be solved and the need to distinguish between good Muslims and bad Muslims.

This good Muslim/bad Muslim distinction has history, of course. It was precisely this distinction that the British colonial authorities used to separate the secular, wine-drinking, western-integrated, moderate Muslims who were prepared to collaborate with British rule and the suspiciously religious, uppity, bearded Muslims who refused to bend the knee to colonial power. As the Oxford professor Tariq Ramadan has rightly pointed out, the good Muslim/bad Muslim distinction is entirely unhelpful, not least because it associates being good and moderate with some diminution of a Muslim’s religiosity. The distinction effectively says: if you are brown and pray more times a day than the local vicar then you should probably expect to have your phone tapped.

There is another problem with establishment bodies calling for Muslim participation within civil society. The British establishment has a longstanding and highly effective strategy when forced to deal with a “foreign” religion they don’t really understand – they seek to transform it into a mini version of the Church of England. This is how it works: first they encourage an organisational coherence, and crucially a hierarchy, and then they draw the newly established leadership into the establishment, with invitations to the Queen’s garden party and possibly a seat in the House of Lords. They did this with Jews in the 19th century. And they are trying to do it to Muslims in the 21st.

Jews called it the Minhag Anglia. The very idea of the chief rabbi, for instance – not a traditionally Jewish institution – was modelled on the office of archbishop of Canterbury, and its office holders took to behaving likewise. Take Hermann Adler, appointed in 1891. Adler styled himself “Very Reverend” and started wearing gaiters. He liked dining in London clubs and was made a CVO, Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. “He gave the Chief Rabbinate a high, unique dignity, ensuring that the Jews would be accorded official representation in national life,” wrote Rabbi Raymond Apple in a 1998 essay. Others saw it differently: he was the “willing captive of the gilded gentry”, wrote one columnist of the time.

This same strategy of drawing Muslims into the establishment has been at work for some time. But it’s a much harder sell because Islam is so much more theologically resistant to hierarchical thinking. It shuns the idea of popes or archbishops and insists that all human beings have equal access to God. This is what I most admire about British Islam. Its bolshy “Protestantism”. Its refusal to be bought off by official trinkets. Its refusal of respectability. 

Source: I applaud British Islam’s refusal to bow to the establishment | Giles Fraser: Loose canon | Opinion | The Guardian

Une controverse religieuse s’invite au Parc Safari [Muslim call to prayer for private event]

The “sugar shack” type controversy of 2017:

Le Parc Safari a lancé un appel au calme, mardi, après avoir été la cible de réactions virulentes sur les réseaux sociaux dans la foulée d’un événement organisé sur place par des musulmans, dimanche.

L’Association musulmane du Canada avait réservé un espace dans le jardin zoologique pour tenir un rassemblement de 900 personnes. En fin d’après-midi, un appel à la prière a été lancé à l’aide d’un mégaphone, ce que certains visiteurs n’ont pas apprécié.

L’événement a été filmé et diffusé sur Youtube.

Après avoir reçu «plusieurs plaintes», le Parc Safari a tenté de calmer le jeu sur sa page Facebook. «Le Parc Safari est désolé que la liberté de religion ait pu offenser des gens, a écrit l’entreprise. En aucun cas, cela n’était l’objectif recherché.»

Au cours d’un entretien téléphonique avec La Presse, mardi, le propriétaire du Parc Safari, Jean-Pierre Ranger, a assuré que le volume sonore du mégaphone respectait les règles et qu’il n’était pas susceptible d’importuner significativement les autres visiteurs.

«La vidéo montre un moment où quelqu’un avec un mégaphone fait un appel à la prière. Bien oui, et puis? Ç’a duré cinq minutes. Ils n’ont pas dérangé 5000 personnes», dit M. Ranger.

Des centaines de personnes ont réagi à la publication du Parc Safari sur Facebook. Certains ont soutenu que l’événement n’avait pas sa place parce que le Parc Safari n’est pas un «lieu de culte» et que la religion «doit se vivre à la maison». D’autres ont salué l’«ouverture» et le «courage» de l’entreprise.

«Il y a un malaise»

Les regroupements et entreprises qui réservent un espace au Parc Safari ne paient pas de frais spéciaux, mais chaque participant doit débourser le tarif d’entrée, qui oscille entre 26 et 39 $, plus taxes. M. Ranger reconnaît qu’il courtise les communautés culturelles, et ce, depuis des années. Les publicités du Parc Safari sont traduites en 20 langues.

«Je ne me mêle pas du contenu éditorial des événements, pourvu que les gens ne se promènent pas tout nus, qu’ils ne font pas d’orgies et qu’ils ne deviennent pas ivres», a énuméré l’homme d’affaires de 73 ans.

«Je ne suis pas heureux de la situation parce que si on pouvait l’éviter, ce serait mieux, mais ça nous permet de constater qu’il y a un malaise», a-t-il poursuivi en faisant référence à l’inconfort que vivent certains Québécois à l’égard des musulmans.

Haroun Bouazzi, coprésident de l’Association des musulmans et des Arabes pour la laïcité au Québec, s’est indigné des commentaires de certains internautes, qu’il a qualifiés de «haineux».

«Ce n’est qu’une preuve de plus qu’il y a des groupes hyperactifs sur les réseaux sociaux qui carburent à la haine des minorités religieuses et principalement des minorités musulmanes», a commenté M. Bouazzi.

«Il est évident que ce non-événement, ça n’a rien à voir avec la laïcité parce que le Parc Safari n’est pas une institution de l’État», a-t-il ajouté.

Source: Une controverse religieuse s’invite au Parc Safari | Sylvain Larocque | Actualités

English version below:

A Quebec safari park that welcomed a Muslim community group Sunday and allowed afternoon prayers to be held on its site has become the target of “racist and hateful” comments after a short video of the gathering was posted online.

In a message posted on its Facebook page, Parc Safari in Hemmingford, Que. denounced the intolerant response and said it was “sorry if freedom of religion had offended some people.”

Park president and owner Jean-Pierre Ranger said Wednesday that the online abuse is coming from a minority of Quebecers who don’t understand what happened at his facility.

“Intolerance is a factor that occurs, but it’s a small percentage,” he said in an interview. “In some way, education will eventually bring the level of understanding a little higher, and there will be less stress in our society.”

The task of inter-cultural education does not usually fall to a zoo, but in Quebec flare-ups of intolerance can occur in unlikely places.

The province’s 2007 debate over reasonable accommodation featured outrage over Muslims being served pork-free meals and given prayer space at a maple sugar shack and Hasidic Jews being provided a kosher refrigerator at a pediatric hospital.

On Sunday, the Centre Communautaire Laurentien, part of the Muslim Association of Canada, organized an outing to the Parc Safari to celebrate the end of Ramadan and Canada’s 150th anniversary. The event had initially been scheduled for July 1 but was postponed because of rain.

About 950 people took part, and they were provided a small roped-off section of the park for a picnic. When the time arrived for afternoon prayers, the group used a loudspeaker.

A user going by the name guindon87 posted a 46-second video to YouTube in which people are seen at a distance gathering for prayer and Arabic words are faintly heard coming over a loudspeaker. The poster, whose YouTube contributions include a video describing Montreal activist Jaggi Singh with a racist slur, wrote that the Hemmingford prayers showed “a serious lack of respect for Quebec and Quebecers.”

The video had attracted 45,000 views Wednesday morning and was picked up by TVA news and other media outlets in the province.

Samer Elniz, manager of the Centre Communautaire Laurentien, said he found the reaction to his group’s visit “ bizarre” and particularly troubling because they were there in part to celebrate Canada.

“Personally, I go into public parks and I see Christians conducting a mass, I see baptisms. That doesn’t bother me, even if I am Muslim,” he said. “I like seeing the diversity, seeing people doing as they wish. There are countries where you don’t have those rights.”

Source: Quebec safari park defends religious freedom following ‘hateful’ response to Muslim visit

ICYMI – Ray Pennings: Don’t overlook the contribution faith has made to Canada’s first 150 years | National Post

More polling data from Angus Reid/Faith in Canada 150:

Beer, beavers, and ketchup chips may be convenient replies to the perennial question “What is Canadian?” but answering with substance takes more than a word. When it comes to Canadian perceptions of the role of faith and faith institutions, new polling conducted by the Angus Reid Institute, in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, exposes unarticulated Canadian values that contradict the one-word answers most might expect on the subject.

Ask Canadians about their own religious perspectives, and 21 per cent fit into the “religiously committed” category with 19 per cent on the “non-believer” end of the spectrum. The majority is somewhere in the mushy middle. When it comes to the most obvious expressions of religion in a local community — physical buildings such as churches, temples, mosques, or synagogues — the response seems to be shrugged shoulders. Sure, 36 per cent see these buildings enhancing the aesthetic of the community (compared to 9 per cent suggesting they detract) but the majority suggests their impact is neutral.

A different story emerges, however, when Canadians are asked about more specific expressions of faith in their neighbourhood. For example, when it comes to the delivery of healthcare, whether through hospitals, homes for the elderly, health clinics or programs for individuals with special needs, between one-third and one-half of Canadians see a positive connection with religious faith compared to less than 10 per cent who see a negative one. Similarly, when it comes to caring for the marginalized and homeless, providing relief in disaster situations, or assisting in the settlement of refugees and immigrants, the proportion of those who express appreciation of faith’s role is anywhere between 31 and 50 per cent higher than those who are skeptical of it. Even non-believers generally affirm these contributions, although they are the most likely to admit ignorance of them in their communities.

As with any poll, there is nuance. It would be misleading to ignore that on most questions approximately one-quarter of the population sees the role of faith communities in Canada as “a mix of good and bad.” Certainly, the interactions of faith communities with Indigenous peoples are widely perceived to be a black mark on the Canadian faith story. At the same time, the most religious respondents are also the most likely (84 per cent) to believe in the importance of reconciliation.

Consistent with the findings of April’s poll conducted by Angus Reid Institute, Canadians seem to respond more negatively when asked about religious institutions or religion in general. However, when it comes to the specifics, their attitudes and behaviours tell a different story. They recognize that faith communities have been an important part of delivering the Canadian social safety net historically, and continue to play that role today. There is a minority negative perspective, dominated by younger males who profess no faith and express hostility to religion. But for more than two-thirds of Canadians who are quite certain that God or a higher power exists, it is clear that faith communities are doing either “very good” or “more good than bad” in their neighbourhoods.

Source: Ray Pennings: Don’t overlook the contribution faith has made to Canada’s first 150 years | National Post