New Jersey Town Used Zoning to Discriminate Against Islam – The New York Times

Courts worked:

At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.

The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.

“Are both synagogues and mosques considered churches under the definitions that the township operates under?” Judge Shipp asked.

Photo

Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, at the site of the proposed mosque last year. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “Is a mosque considered a church?”

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “So it is different?”

Mr. Mankoff: “Yes, your Honor.”

How so, the judge wanted to know. Mr. Mankoff said that mosques were busy on Friday evenings, rather than on Sundays.

Judge Shipp probed the implications of that answer.

“Is the board, in essence, adopting a policy that expressly applies different standards based on religion?” he asked.

“It’s not based on religion,” Mr. Mankoff said. “It’s based simply on the parking needs of the applicants.”

The judge did not accept that. “Counsel, you just stood there and told me that when you look at a mosque, you’re looking at a Friday worship,” Judge Shipp said. “When you look at Christian churches, you’re looking at a weekend worship.”

A lawyer for the Islamic Society, Adeel A. Mangi of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, pointed out that the township’s synagogues did not have the same severe parking requirements. “They pray on a Friday, too,” Mr. Mangi said.

Over nearly four years, the proposed mosque was the subject of 39 hearings. Beneath the technical land-use discussions in public, a sulfurous tone was captured in emails that the Justice Department uncovered.

“As a religion, Islam owes its size and influence to a tradition from Day 1 of forced conversions through violent means,” wrote John Malay, who served on both the Planning Board and the Township Committee. Members of the two bodies discussed ways to exclude the president of the Islamic Society, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of the township, from a Sept. 11 commemoration. John Carpenter, a member of the Township Committee, wrote of President Obama: “Man child. The product of fools, raised by idiots and coddled by affirmative action. Behold the beast.”

None of these materials were part of Judge Shipp’s decision, which was based entirely on the filings made by the township itself.

Michael Turner, a spokesman for the township, said that many people served their township without compensation. They have the power and responsibility to shape the place where they live. In the case of Bernards Township, Judge Shipp found, it was too much.

“The Parking Ordinance unambiguously provides the Planning Board with unbridled and unconstitutional discretion,” he wrote.

Reyhana Patel: Don’t believe the smears. Here’s what Islamic Relief Canada is really all about

Patel on the work her organization does and the Middle East Forum attacks (see Sam Westrop : A call for Trevor Noah to support tolerance and withdraw from Toronto event):

We’ve done some incredible work in the last ten years helping millions of individuals around the world — including in Canada — regardless of their religion, race, gender or sexuality. We’ve been amazed at the generosity of Canadians — those who are Muslim and those of different faith backgrounds who support our work and are strong advocates for the efforts we undertake. For instance, we raised over $100,000 for the victims of the Fort McMurray wildfire, supported Syrian refugee resettlement programs, worked at empowering disadvantaged youth in the Greater Toronto Area, and launched an appeal for the Quebec mosque attack victims that raised thousands of dollars for the families left without their fathers.

This track record stands in stark contrast to the false image painted of Islamic Relief Canada in a one-sided and unsubstantiated article that was published recently in the National Post.

Sam Westrop, writing on behalf of the Middle East Forum (MEF), labelled Islamic Relief Canada a “terrorist organization which regularly gives platforms to preachers who incite hatred against women, Jews, homosexuals and Muslim minorities.” This defamatory statement was removed after our organization contacted the newspaper, along with community members who were justifiably angered by this casual smear of a reputable and valuable charity. The revised article is now online, but for me, it still represents the dictionary definition of fake news: “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”

In my view, Westrop’s article represents the dictionary definition of fake news: ‘false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.’

Let’s step back for a moment to understand where this is all coming from. The MEF has been named in a well-researched report called Fear Inc. as one of America’s most notorious anti-Muslim think tanks. This is an organization with US$4.6 million in annual revenue that uses some of its resources to paint a negative picture of Islam and Muslims.

The MEF’s piece further reflects the National Post’s unfortunate pattern of allowing Canadian Muslims and their institutions to be unfairly represented as threats to society, rather than highlighting what the vast majority of them truly are: a credit to the community and a positive force for good, working tirelessly to provide a good life not only for their families, but also for many others.

Mr. Westrop is known for inciting fear by using false information. In 2017, he was ordered to pay more than $174,000 in damages to Mohamed Ali Harrath, the CEO of a British Muslim TV Channel, after Westrop wrongfully labelled Harrath a “convicted terrorist.” Westrop also has connections to senior people in the right-wing UK Independence Party. UKIP’s political opponents have condemned some of the party’s policies as “full-throttled Islamophobia.”

The MEF’s president, Daniel Pipes, has publicly supported the internment of the Japanese-American community during the Second World War, an abhorrent act for which the U.S. government under President Ronald Reagan apologized.

It has become the norm for anti-Muslim groups to find any excuse possible to target Muslim institutions.

It is ironic that those who falsely claim that Muslims are all about shutting down freedom of expression do not recognize their hypocrisy of trying to suppress the voices of those who wish to freely discuss religious dogmas. One of the many reasons I love this country is that, at its best, it is a beacon of free speech and diversity, whose people will not tolerate oppression of minorities or attempts to demonize others. Our core common values are of tolerance and inclusion — as long as violence is rejected unequivocally and no one is advocating harm against anyone else.

It has become the norm for anti-Muslim groups to find any excuse possible to target Muslim institutions. Not only do these tactics lead to distrust and alienation but they also undermine valuable work for the most vulnerable communities of this world. Sadly, the National Post still gives the fear-mongers a platform.

Our organization is focused on bringing communities and faith groups together to encourage generous support for the poor and disadvantaged and to promote a message of acceptance and diversity. The publication of harmful innuendo that seeks to undermine this work only proves why events like the one we’re holding with Trevor Noah are so necessary.

Source: Reyhana Patel: Don’t believe the smears. Here’s what Islamic Relief Canada is really all about | National Post

Altruism vs. self-fulfillment: Faithful in Canada are more caring, but compassion has its limits, poll finds | Angus Reid / Cardus poll

Interesting survey in the secondary questions on attitudes and beliefs:

The larger the role faith plays in the lives of Canadians, the more likely they are to say they value altruism over self-fulfillment, a new poll has found.

Religion and politics, it is often said, don’t mix. Just because it’s said doesn’t mean it’s true — and in Canada, it’s not true.

Freshly released poll numbers collected by the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) and Faith in Canada 150, in collaboration with think tank Cardus, suggest faith and religious belief do indeed play a hefty role in our views on politics and the world.

The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, is part of a year-long project gauging Canadians’ beliefs and religious practices. It grouped respondents into four categories ranging from non-believers to religiously committed who attend places of worship regularly.

“Caring for others versus personal fulfillment, those are two very different value constructs,” Angus Reid, the institute’s founder and chairman, said in an interview. “And the relationship between them and religiosity is really significant.”

Asked to choose between two approaches as “the best way to live life,” 53 per cent of respondents picked “achieving our own dreams and happiness” over “being concerned about helping others.”

But when the results were broken down along the spectrum of religiosity, 67 per cent of the religiously committed favoured helping others. For non-believers, 65 per cent chose the pursuit of happiness.

 

The question revealed significant differences across Canadian regions. Quebec had the highest proportion of respondents across the country opting for self-fulfillment, at 65 per cent. Alberta was second at 54 per cent and British Columbia next at 53 per cent. In all other parts of the country, a majority of respondents picked helping others, with Saskatchewan the most altruistic at 59 per cent.

“What this survey proves is that having a faith, being part of a faith community, seems to propel people in the direction of developing higher levels of compassion or caring,” Reid said.

 

But that compassion has its limits. The 2,006 Canadian adults surveyed were asked a series of moral questions. The responses showed that the two groups on the religious end of the spectrum – the religiously committed and privately faithful – were together the most likely to say:

  • Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees;
  • They would be uncomfortable if a child planned to marry someone from a different cultural or religious background;
  • There should not be greater social acceptance of people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer);
  • Preserving life is more important than people’s freedom to choose on issues like abortion and doctor-assisted death.

In another question, the poll asked which statement corresponded most closely to respondents’ personal views:

  • People are fundamentally sinners and in need of salvation; or
  • People are essentially good and sin has been invented to control people.

Two-thirds of those polled sided with the essential goodness of people. But among the religiously committed – who made up about one-fifth of the survey group – 73 per cent said people are fundamentally sinners.

 

Another set of questions sought to gauge positions on moral relativism – whether the concept of right and wrong is absolute or can change depending on the situation. A large majority, 68 per cent, said what is right or wrong “depends on the circumstances.” But nearly the same proportion, 66 per cent, rejected the notion that “answers to moral questions will be different for different cultures.” At 74 per cent, the religiously committed were the most likely to say universal rights and wrongs apply to the whole human race.

Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Christian think tank Cardus, welcomed the poll’s finding that a majority of Canadians say their faith is important to their personal identity (54 per cent) and their day-to-day lives (55 per cent.)

 

“On the one hand, in contrast to the prevalent public narrative that religion is private and it doesn’t matter, it’s quite clear that for the vast majority of Canadians, it does.  Over half say, ‘Religion is actually shaping my identity and my decisions,’ ” Pennings said.

“On the other hand, that engagement is a relatively thin engagement.”

Source: Altruism vs. self-fulfillment: Faithful in Canada are more caring, but compassion has its limits, poll finds | National Post

Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Fasten one’s seatbelts (again):

CNN reports that top White House adviser Stephen Miller is drafting the speech on Islam that President Trump is slated to deliver in Saudi Arabia later this week. As you may recall, Miller was also at the center of crafting and defending the administration’s controversial immigration ban, which has been blocked by the courts because it unconstitutionally bars people from entering the country based on their religion.

Miller’s role perfectly captures the problem with this speech: Trump and his top advisers captivated his base by engaging in the worst Islamophobic rhetoric, perpetuating slurs about Muslims in the United States and around the world. But if Trump uses this speech to make amends for his past statements, he’ll alienate the very base of supporters who were the targets of this anti-Muslim strategy.

The administration is suggesting that he will, in fact, try to make such amends. National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who is also helping to write the speech, told reporters that it will be “an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world.” McMaster further promised that the speech will “unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization” and “demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners.”

But experts I spoke with today warned that this speech is so fraught with pitfalls that they are surprised Trump is even attempting it. They say handling such a nuanced topic as religion is a challenge even for the most learned minds and skilled orators. Yet Trump faces that problem and the additional challenge of striking a balance that is unique to his political situation.

Should Trump deliver the speech McMaster promises, it might briefly please his Muslim audience in Riyadh, but anger his right-wing base at home — something Trump seems unlikely to risk given his current precarious political and legal circumstances. On the other hand, if he were to say something to irk his Muslim audience that might satisfy his domestic base, he could sabotage the purpose of the trip and the speech itself: to solidify cooperative partnerships between the United States and Muslim countries to jointly combat terrorism.

“I would shy away from giving a talk like this in this country, much less in Riyadh,” McCants added.

Trump faces all manner of pitfalls. His first test will be whether he says or does anything to erroneously suggest that Saudi Arabia, a repressive regime that enforces Wahhabism, an extreme version of Islam, is representative of the faith. “Much of what Saudi Arabia encourages as proper Islam is not what many Muslims in the West would accept,” said Daniel Byman, a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and a terrorism expert.

The risks are heightened for Trump not just because of his unpredictability, but also because of his — and his inner circle’s — anti-Muslim track record. It’s hard to imagine that Trump would back away from a posture that earned him so much adoration from his base, or from his defense of his immigration ban, in which he has invested substantial domestic political capital.

“I don’t see President Trump as someone who’s going to walk away from that, “said John Espisito, director of the Bridge Initiative, a project at Georgetown University that studies Islamophobia. “He’s not someone who says ‘I got it wrong.’”

But even if Trump were to try to backpedal from his anti-Muslim rhetoric, it still might not necessarily be credible to his audience in Riyadh. As Espisito pointed out, the Trump team’s Islamophobia runs very deep: His top advisers have claimed that Islam is not a religion, but rather a dangerous political ideology. Trump himself has said, “I think Islam hates us” and that the Koran “teaches some negative vibe.” Top strategist Stephen K. Bannon has compared Islam to Nazism, communism and fascism. Trump adviser Sebastian Gorka has refused to say whether Trump himself thinks Islam is a religion.

Beyond this, Trump would have to actually reverse policy — for example, by dropping his immigration ban— to render any possible conciliatory rhetoric even remotely credible. “If the president extends an olive branch but then doesn’t implement any policy changes,” said Byman, “that’s going to send a louder message than a speech.”

Indeed, the risk is that Trump’s speech could make things worse. Byman warned that if Trump commits an accidental misstep or, perhaps worse, is derogatory— which can hardly be ruled out — his speech could potentially further a widespread perception in the Muslim world that the United States is “hostile to Islam.”

Most crucially, said McCants, Trump’s speech could undermine the United States’ relationship with the countries that have agreed to partner with it in combating terrorism. “He doesn’t have to say happy things about Islam to sell them on the partnership,” said McCants. But if he says anything to alienate Muslims, it could “make it harder for Muslim countries to partner with us.”

And that, in the end, could make it harder to achieve Trump’s own stated goal of defeating what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” than if he had not given a speech on Islam at all.

Source: Trump’s speech on Islam is rife with pitfalls. Experts say there’s little upside to it. – The Washington Post

Official Islam in the Arab World: The Contest for Religious Authority – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Interesting article on the limits that political regimes have on religious authorities:

All Arab states have large, official Muslim religious establishments that give governments a major role in religious life. These establishments have developed differently, according to each state’s historical experience. Through them, the state has a say over religious education, mosques, and religious broadcasting—turning official religious institutions into potent policy tools. However, the complexity of the religious landscape means they are rarely mere regime mouthpieces and it can be difficult to steer them in a particular direction.

Religious Institutions in the Arab World

  • Official religious institutions in the Arab world, though generally loyal to their countries’ regimes, are vast bureaucracies whose size and complexity allow them some autonomy.
  • Arab regimes hold sway over official religious structures. However, their ability to bend these religious institutions to suit their own purposes is mixed.
  • The evolution of official religious establishments is rooted substantially in the process of modern state formation.
  • Official religious institutions play multiple roles. These include involvement in endowments and charity, advice and scriptural interpretation, education, prayer, family law, and broadcasting.
  • Increasingly, the authority of official religious voices has been challenged by unofficial actors. Some of these actors stand wholly outside official structures, but others may find shelter in more autonomous parts of official religious institutions, adding to the complexity of the religious landscape in many countries.
  • International actors would like to see official religious representatives oppose violent extremism. However, religious officials have limited ideological tools to confront radical Islamists, and their priorities are different than those of actors from outside the region.

Regimes’ Relations With Religious Establishments

By acting intrusively in religious affairs and seeking to increase their control, regimes risk making religious officials appear to be mere functionaries, undermining their credibility. They also risk pushing dissidents into underground organizations.

 

By allowing official religious institutions some autonomy, regimes can enhance their monitoring ability and the integrity of religious officials. However, it also means they lose some control and indirectly create spaces for their critics to organize.

 

Western states should know the size and complexity of religious institutions means they are not always effective at fighting extremism as Western actors may wish. The regimes controlling them often have broader agendas than just combating radical groups.

 

For those seeking to defeat radical ideologies, aligning with authoritarian regimes and their religious establishments is attractive. However, by placing unrealistic expectations on what regimes and their establishments can and are willing to deliver, and by replicating an often self-defeating strategy of relying on authoritarian controls to combat nonconformist movements and ideas, this approach may offer only the illusion of a solution.

Source: Official Islam in the Arab World: The Contest for Religious Authority – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

Triple talaq: India top court reviews Islamic instant divorce – BBC News

For those enamoured by the word pluralism, one used often to describe India, this is what it can mean.

Pluralism, like multiculturalism and interculturalism, can either be ‘deep,’ with separate institutions and family law, or ‘shallow,’ where religious and other community rights are balanced against other rights such as gender.

Canadian commentators who jump upon negative foreign commentary on multiculturalism need to understand clearly that multiculturalism in Canada is based upon civic integration, with individual religious rights subject to the other fundamental freedoms and equality.

Will be interesting to see how the Indian Supreme Court rules:

India’s Supreme Court has formally opened hearings into a number of petitions challenging the controversial practice of instant divorce in Islam.

The court said it would examine whether the practice known as “triple talaq” was fundamental to the religion.

India is one of a handful of countries in the world where a Muslim man can divorce his wife in minutes by saying the word talaq (divorce) three times.

But activists say the practice is “discriminatory”.

Many Muslim groups have opposed the court’s intervention in their religious matters, although the move has the backing of the current Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The sensitive issue is being heard by a multi-faith bench made up of five judges – a Hindu, a Sikh, a Christian, a Zoroastrian and one Muslim.

The bench has combined several petitions from Muslim women and rights groups into one to examine the issue.

The opposing sides have been given three days each to argue their cases, with the court saying the hearing will end by 19 May.

A judgement is expected to be delivered in the coming weeks.


The Indian government has told the court that triple talaq is unconstitutional, against gender justice and the dignity of women.

Muslim organisations that support the practice say it’s an issue of faith and personal law, and the courts have no role in reviewing it.

For years now, Muslim women in India have been demanding a ban on a practice they view as reprehensible.

Campaigners say over the years, thousands of women, especially those from poor families, have been discarded by their husbands, many have been rendered destitute with nowhere to go and many have been forced to return to their parental homes or fend for themselves.

Muslims are India’s largest minority community with a population of 155 million and their marriages and divorces are governed by the Muslim personal law, ostensibly based on Sharia, or Islamic law.

The law came into force in 1937 and lays out that, in matters of personal dispute, the state shall not interfere.

Source: Triple talaq: India top court reviews Islamic instant divorce – BBC News

‘Rot at the Core’: Blasphemy Verdict in Indonesia Dismays Legal Experts – The New York Times

More on the arrest and trial of the jailed Christian governor of Jakarta:

Legal experts noted that the verdict seemed to be based more on public reaction to the governor’s comments than what he had actually said, in effect holding him accountable for the mass protests organized against him by hard-line Islamist groups.

“That’s the problem with the blasphemy law,” said Bivitri Susanti, head of the Jakarta chapter of Indonesia’s Association of Constitutional Law Lecturers. “It’s not about the speech itself and whether it’s condemning Islam itself. It’s about whether society believes it’s wrong or annoys them.”

The governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, was convicted on Tuesday for comments he made in September challenging Muslim hard-liners who argued that a verse in the Quran prohibited Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim. Mr. Basuki said those who made that argument were misleading Muslims, a statement interpreted by some as insulting the Quran and Islam.

Mass rallies were organized calling for his arrest, with some zealots demanding that the governor be put to death. Many analysts said that the protests had been orchestrated by his political rivals and that they were a strong factor in his 16-point defeat in last month’s election.

The verdict by the five-judge panel hearing his case repeatedly said that Mr. Basuki, known as Ahok, had caused public unrest and offended the Muslim majority, citing an article in the decades-old blasphemy law banning “words that degrade, harass or insult a religion.”

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said the decision “underscored the rot at the core of the Indonesian legal system” and would further polarize the country.

“It isn’t the first time Indonesian judges showed no concern for evidence in a high-profile case, but it could be one of the most damaging,” Ms. Jones wrote in a commentary for the Lowy Institute. “It instantly sent a signal that non-Muslims are lesser citizens.”

Photo

Police officers outside Cipinang Penitentiary in Jakarta, where Mr. Basuki was first taken and which houses violent criminals. He was transferred to a city police detention facility on Wednesday for security reasons. CreditMast Irham/European Pressphoto Agency

“I believe that the street protests influenced the judges’ ruling,” Ms. Bivitri said. “You can really see in the decision, that instead of using other articles, they are using one about condemning religion.”

Experts also expressed concern about the motive for the seemingly vindictive two-year prison sentence. The prosecutors had asked for two years’ probation on a lesser charge, which would have spared Mr. Basuki prison time.

In explaining the sentence, the judges said they determined that the governor “did not feel guilty” about his comments.

“The judges didn’t think Ahok apologized enough,” said Melissa Crouch, a senior law lecturer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

Mr. Basuki apologized publicly months ago for any offense caused, but he has steadfastly denied that he insulted the Quran or committed blasphemy.

On Wednesday, he was transferred to a city police detention facility for security reasons, officials said.

How the hijab has grown into a fashion industry

Interesting analysis by , University of Texas at Austin, on the Islamic fashion industry:

This growth has had its share of controversies: Many designers use the term “Islamic” for their clothing. Religious conservatives and Muslim scholars have raised questions about what types of apparel would fit that category and whether defining clothing as “Islamic” was even permitted or lawful by Islamic principles – a concept known as “halal.”

In particular, critics have objected to the fashion catwalk presentations, which actually draw the gaze and attention of spectators to the bodies of models, while the purpose of a hijab is to distract and move the gaze away from the body. In Iran, for example, Islamic fashion is viewed by the ulama (religious scholars) as another Western influence and referred to as “Western Hijab.”

Defining clothing as Islamic has been controversial. karmakazesal, CC BY

Nonetheless, the Islamic fashion industry has managed to initiate marketing campaigns that capitalize on the very core of Islamic precepts: Sharia, or the Islamic religious law. A Malaysian apparel company, Kivitz, for example, uses the phrase “Syar’i and Stylish.” In Malay, Syar’i is the same as Sharia.

In establishing a nominally Islamic brand, marketers make every effort to align their products with the core value of Islam. So, even when following the trendy fashionable seasonal colors and materials, clothing styles would include some sort of head covering.

Who are the consumers?

The question still remains: What led to such a rapid growth over a span of just three years?

My research has demonstrated that Muslims are more brand aware than the general population. However, in the past they were largely ignored by the fashion industry, perhaps, due to misconceptions that being a Muslim restricted people’s lifestyle.

And now, with a growing Muslim population, there is an increased demand for modest but also fashionable clothing for the youth, who have significant spending power. At the same time, traditional elite and wealthy Middle Eastern consumers who used to shop for fashionable clothing from European nations now prefer to shop from homegrown Muslim fashion designers.

Indeed, the halal logo on food and other products in addition to modesty in clothing has proved to be an effective strategy in creating a global Islamic identity.

As I have seen in my research, consumerism is changing what is means to be modern and Muslim today. As Vali Nasr, a Middle Eastern scholar, explains,

“The great battle for the soul of the Muslim world will be fought not over religion but over market capitalism.”

Source: How the hijab has grown into a fashion industry

ICYMI: Jakarta’s Christian governor jailed for blasphemy against Islam | Reuters

Not a good sign:

Jakarta’s Christian governor was sentenced to two years in jail for blasphemy against Islam on Tuesday, a harsher than expected ruling that is being seen as a blow to religious tolerance in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

The guilty verdict comes amid concern about the growing influence of Islamist groups, who organized mass demonstrations during a tumultuous election campaign that ended with Basuki Tjahaja Purnama losing his bid for another term as governor.

President Joko Widodo was an ally of Purnama, an ethnic-Chinese Christian who is popularly known as “Ahok”, and the verdict will be a setback for a government that has sought to quell radical groups and soothe investors’ concerns that the country’s secular values were at risk.

As thousands of supporters and opponents waited outside, the head judge of the Jakarta court, Dwiarso Budi Santiarto, said Purnama was “found to have legitimately and convincingly conducted a criminal act of blasphemy, and because of that we have imposed two years of imprisonment”.

Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch described the verdict as “a huge setback” for Indonesia’s record of tolerance and for minorities.

“If someone like Ahok, the governor of the capital, backed by the country’s largest political party, ally of the president, can be jailed on groundless accusations, what will others do?,”

Harsono said.

Source: Jakarta’s Christian governor jailed for blasphemy against Islam | Reuters

ICYMI: In Indonesia, pious punks promote Islam | Reuters

Interesting mix of identities:

“Prophet Mohammad forever,” chant the young Indonesian Muslim musicians. But instead of a mosque, the men are singing at an outdoor concert with a mosh pit full of followers of the country’s first Islamic punk movement.

The movement is the first of its kind in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, and has hundreds of members in three of the country’s biggest cities – Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung.

Sporting mohawks, leather jackets and baggy jeans, members of the “Punk Muslim” group claim that they, like the original British punk rockers, are still defined by rebellion and an anti-establishment ideology. But they express it by singing about Islamic values, freedom for Palestine, and other social issues facing the global Muslim community.

Ahmad Zaki, one of the movement’s founders, believes the genre of punk is often associated with a “tendency towards misbehaviour” but he wants to change that.

“We can redirect ourselves to better, more positive things,” he said.

Many of the group’s members used to be street performers, and say they have changed drastically since joining the movement. They are now encouraged to form their own bands and write their own songs.

Reza Purnama, a member and a former alcoholic, says others like him are slowly quitting alcohol and their lyrics are becoming more positive.

“People aren’t looking down on us anymore,” he said, referring to a stigma against punks in Indonesia’s largely conservative society.

After every concert, the head-banging audience bow their heads in prayer and listen to sermons – something the movement’s founders hope will redirect their fans on to a more pious path.

Muslims make up nearly 90 percent of Indonesia’s 250 million people and the vast majority of them practise a moderate form of Islam.

Source: In Indonesia, pious punks promote Islam | Reuters