Why did Vikings have ‘Allah’ embroidered into funeral clothes? – BBC News

Interesting:

Researchers in Sweden have found Arabic characters woven into burial costumes from Viking boat graves. The discovery raises new questions about the influence of Islam in Scandinavia, writes journalist Tharik Hussain.

They were kept in storage for more than 100 years, dismissed as typical examples of Viking Age funeral clothes.

But a new investigation into the garments – found in 9th and 10th Century graves – has thrown up groundbreaking insights into contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds.

Patterns woven with silk and silver thread have been found to spell the words “Allah” and “Ali”.

The breakthrough was made by textile archaeologist Annika Larsson of Uppsala University while re-examining the remnants of burial costumes from male and female boat and chamber graves originally excavated in Birka and Gamla Uppsala in Sweden in the late 19th and mid-20th centuries.

She became interested in the forgotten fragments after realising the material had come from central Asia, Persia and China.

Larsson says the tiny geometric designs – no more than 1.5cm (0.6in) high – resembled nothing she had come across in Scandinavia before.

“I couldn’t quite make sense of them and then I remembered where I had seen similar designs – in Spain, on Moorish textiles.”

Unlocking a puzzle

Larsson then realised she was not looking at Viking patterns at all but ancient Arabic Kufic script.

There were two words that kept recurring. One of them she identified with the help of an Iranian colleague. It was the name “Ali” – the fourth caliph of Islam.

But the word next to Ali was more difficult to decipher.

To unlock the puzzle, she enlarged the letters and examined them from all angles, including from behind.

“I suddenly saw that the word ‘Allah’ [God] had been written in mirrored lettering,” she says.

Larsson has so far found the names on at least 10 of the nearly 100 pieces she is working through, and they always appear together.

The new find now raises fascinating questions about the grave’s occupants.

“The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out,” she says.

“We know from other Viking tomb excavations that DNA analysis has shown some of the people buried in them originated from places like Persia, where Islam was very dominant.

“However, it is more likely these findings show that Viking age burial customs were influenced by Islamic ideas such as eternal life in paradise after death.”

A past exhibit shows what a Viking woman’s boat grave in Gamla Uppsala may have looked like - similar to the tombs the above fragments were found in
Image captionA museum display gives a sense of what the Viking woman’s boat grave in Gamla Uppsala may have looked like – similar to the tombs the fragments were found in

Her team is now working with the university’s department for immunology, genetics and pathology to establish the geographic origins of the bodies dressed in the funeral clothes.

Historic first

Contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds has long been established by historic accounts and the discovery of Islamic coins across the northern hemisphere.

Two years ago, researchers re-examined a silver ring from a female tomb at Birka and found the phrase “for Allah” inscribed on the stone.

Again the text was Kufic, developed in the Iraqi town of Kufah in the 7th Century – one of the first Arabic scripts used to write down the Koran.

What makes Larsson’s discovery so interesting is that it is the first time historic items mentioning Ali have ever been unearthed in Scandinavia.

Source: Why did Vikings have ‘Allah’ embroidered into funeral clothes? – BBC News

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Malaysia’s Slide Toward More Conservative Islam | The Diplomat

Another example of the negative influence of Saudi Arabia on moderates within Muslim majority countries:

Saudi Arabia has long seen Malaysia, along with Indonesia, as regional bastions of Islam, and has consistently tied its investment in both countries to Wahhabism – the brand of conservative Islam initially embraced by Muhammad Ibn Saud in 1744 through a pact with Abd al-Wahhab to expand the former’s empire. The pact resulted in support for Wahhabism gaining legitimacy and followers representing themselves as defenders of the true teaching of Islam. This position today is prevalent in Malaysia and Indonesia as a majority of Muslims in both countries conflate conservative Arab culture and practices with Islam, although historically, Southeast Asia has always been more inclined towards a more moderate version of Islam. A “good” Muslim to many in Malaysia is a person who adheres to Arab culture, and practices the literal version of Islam exported by Saudi Arabia. While Islam has been written into the country’s constitution as the religion of the federation, the constitution’s drafters saw only a ceremonial role for the religion. Shortly after independence, Malaysia’s first prime minister, Rahman, informed parliament that Malaya “is not an Islamic state as it is generally understood.”

The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) has dominated politics in Malaysia since independence in 1957, but has found it increasingly difficult to maintain its stronghold on government during the past two election cycles. Although initially rolled out as a strategy to curb the opposition Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS)’s, influence on young middle class Malays, UMNO has come to rely more and more on political campaigning focused on Islam to attract and retain the Malay vote. Many urbanites today worry that this shift will lead Malaysia down the rabbit hole of a stricter, more literal version of Islam instead of the more moderate and tolerant version upon which the nation was founded. In June 2014 while celebrating the 20th anniversary of one of UMNO’s branches, Party President and Prime Minister Najib Razak called on members to emulate ISIS to ensure the survival of UMNO. Quoting an example where ISIS defeated the Iraqi army despite being outnumbered, the prime minister said, “when someone dares to fight to their death, they can even defeat a much bigger team.” The statement was at odds with his support, made clear at various international fora, of a moderate Islam.

Economic inequalities, the government’s pandering to Muslim hardliners, and its silence on racially divisive politics have created a perfect storm – youths unable to compete in an urban setting find purpose in fundamentalist teachings. In the mid-1980s, radical Indonesian preachers Abu Bakar Bashir and Hambali set up a regional network of extremists in Malaysia. Today, the government invites the likes of Zakir Naik, a hate preacher banned in India, and the UK for talks in Malaysia, while it arrests moderates such as Turkey’s Mustafa Akyol.

The ease with which youths have access to fundamentalist thought is cause for concern. According to the Associated Press in spring 2016, authorities in Malaysia have arrested more than 160 for suspected ties to ISIS over the previous two years. Malaysian intelligence reports that about 60 Malaysian youths have been entrenched in ISIS’ ranks in Syria although former Inspector General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar has stated that about 50 Malaysians are looking to return home. If and when they do return, they will find large swathes of rural Malaysia eager to listen to tales of their jihad. Malaysia will inevitably continue down a less tolerant, more conservative path, unfriendly to unbelievers and suspicious of everyone not conforming to a fundamentalist way of life.

The reliance of successive governments on race-based policies to address the long-standing socio-economic inequalities has resulted in more racial and religious tension, thus rendering conservative Islam an attractive vehicle for change. Many are eager to look to Saudi Arabia for paternalistic assistance without much thought for the strings attached to the assistance. The closer Malaysia inches to the Kingdom, the wider the door opens for conservative values which criticize a gold-medal winning gymnast’s attire, call for a ban on a beer festival, and deny social justice and women’s rights. To contextualize how acute the problem is for Malaysia, Pew Research Center’s Spring 2015 Global Attitudes Survey found that only 26 percent of Malaysians were very concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the country. The same question yielded 48 percent in Pakistan, 67 percent in Lebanon, and 20 percent in Indonesia.

Source: Malaysia’s Slide Toward More Conservative Islam | The Diplomat

‘Fear is the greatest factor:’ Survey finds Canadians worry about rise of racism against Muslims

Not much new here but interesting nevertheless. Comments by Imam Soharwardy of note:

A survey suggests Canadians have a generally positive impression of Muslims but that view doesn’t apply to some of the religion’s leadership and beliefs.

The poll, commissioned by Think for Actions and Insights Matter, found 78 per cent of Canadians agreed Muslims should adopt Canadian customs and values but maintain their religious and cultural practices. Some 88 per cent of those surveyed said Muslims should be treated no differently than any other Canadian.

But 72 per cent of respondents also believed there has been an increasing climate of hatred and fear towards Muslims in Canada and that it will get worse.

Results of the poll — an online survey of 1,048 Canadians done from March 13 to Aug. 12 — were released Saturday at The Unity Conference in Calgary on Islamophobia, discrimination and systemic racism.

“The biggest takeaway is Canadians who are friends with a Muslim or know a Muslim individual have a positive view of Islam and Muslims and are more welcoming to them,” said Mukarram Zaidi, chair of the group that commissioned the survey.

“Fear is the greatest factor. The majority of Canadians believe the issue of racism has increased. They are concerned about the issue of general racism and hate crimes, religious discrimination, homophobia and anti-Semitism.”

Public perception isn’t all positive. The survey found 56 per cent believed that Islam suppresses women’s rights. There was a 54 per cent approval for imams and 35 per cent for Muslim leadership.

“There needs to be work done within the Muslim community and their leadership to understand that the common person does not hold a lot of respect for what they’re doing,” said Zaidi.

“Children born and raised in North America need to become an imam, because when they stand up and speak, they can speak English clearly and they can relate Islam to North American culture.”

Calgary Imam Syed Soharwardy, founder of Muslims Against Terrorism and the Islamic Supreme Council of Canada, understands why Canadians would be suspicious of Muslim leadership. He said many imams discuss only religious teaching and morality when they should speak out against fanaticism, extremism and intolerance.

“Many Muslim leaders do not condemn ISIL, the Taliban, al-Qaida,” said Soharwardy. “A lot of imams are doing it, but not enough.”

Soharwardy, who was born in Pakistan, said imams should be fluent in English or French and have a good understanding of Canadian society.

“I think most of the imams, who come from overseas and outside of Canada, they still live in silos. They still do not help people to integrate in the mainstream Canadian society.”

Soharwardy has personal experience about the need for good language skills when talking to Canadian-born Muslims.

“At our mosque I speak in English and Urdu, like a bilingual sort of thing. My own son says, ‘Papa, when you speak English that is fine, but as soon as you start talking Urdu, you just turn me off’ — and he understands it.”

Indonesia: Widodo’s battle with radical Islam hangs in balance- Nikkei Asian Review

Interesting analysis by Ken Ward of Indonesia’s efforts to combat fundamentalist political Islam:

Radical Muslim organizations alleging blasphemy against Jakarta’s Christian governor Basuki Purnama caught Indonesian President Joko Widodo off guard last year, and seemed for a while to threaten his presidency. Mass rallies over several months helped to inflict electoral defeat on Purnama, who was convicted in court and is now serving two years in prison.

Distancing himself from Purnama, a former political ally, Widodo has now begun to tackle the perceived threat from radical Islam. His approach looks like a two-pronged strategy. The first element is to curtail radical Muslim organizations’ freedom of action. The second is to reinforce the status and prestige of Pancasila, the tolerant and inclusive Indonesian state ideology.

In May, Widodo’s security minister, Wiranto, announced that the government would try to have Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, one of the radical Islamist organizations, banned by the courts. Then, fearing a possibly adverse reaction from Indonesia’s unpredictable justice system, the government changed tack and issued an emergency law (formally ‘a regulation in lieu of a law’) in July. This made a court verdict unnecessary. HTI in consequence lost its legal status, and was banned. The case against HTI was that it was opposed to Pancasila, and posed a threat to national unity. Ministers have warned that other organizations may suffer the same fate.

Some observers have expressed surprise that Widodo picked on HTI first, since it was not the most prominent of the groups that had campaigned against Purnama. But the choice of HTI is understandable. This organization has two characteristics that have usually been anathema to Indonesia’s security authorities. It is linked in a nontransparent way to an international movement, and it operates in some respects as a secret or clandestine organization. For example, it publishes neither membership statistics nor the names of its leading office-holders. A single spokesperson is its interface with the Indonesian public. Gaining access to HTI’s inner circles is very difficult.

Like other branches in the international Hizbut Tahrir network, HTI has as its long-term goal the fusing of the national state into a global Muslim caliphate. How this is to be achieved is enveloped in obscurity. Pancasila would presumably have no function. But whether this utopian project will appear sufficient cause for a ban in the eyes of Indonesia’s Constitutional Court, which is reviewing the edict, is hard to predict. The ban might instead be declared unconstitutional.

The campaign against Purnama was headed by the Islamic Defenders’ Front, known by its Indonesian initials as FPI. An early attempt to ban FPI would have taken few commentators by surprise. But successive Indonesian governments have had ambiguous connections with the group. It has sometimes, for example, conducted raids on private sex parties, either in connivance with the police or independently, but in both cases enjoying immunity from prosecution. Unlike HTI’s shadowy leaders, FPI figures seem to have been open to bribery or to manipulation in other ways. This may have saved the organization from being banned, at least for the time being, despite its frequently criminal and socially disruptive behavior.

Habib Rizieq, the longstanding FPI chair, is in temporary refuge in Saudi Arabia; he has been accused of holding a private sex party of his own in violation of the law against pornography. This involved inciting a female nongovernmental organization official to strip in front of a camera which, the police claim, transmitted the images to Rizieq’s smartphone. The FPI leader is said to have been parked outside the woman’s residence at the time of the alleged incident.

Reinforcing Pancasila

A stalemate has arisen between Rizieq and police officers, who want to have him put on trial. The government seems unable to dislodge him from his Saudi refuge by diplomatic or other means. Rizieq clearly fears being arrested should he return to Indonesia. He has chaired FPI for so long that his personal fate will have considerable impact on the group’s future. The government may decide that it is simply not worth trying to ban FPI, either because of the opposition that such a step would provoke or because it might be less potent without Rizieq in command. Police officers visited Rizieq in his Saudi sanctuary, extending a courtesy to him that Indonesian criminals rarely receive.

Reinforcing Pancasila as the state ideology is an equally important element of Widodo’s strategy. Pancasila includes monotheism as one of five principles, but does not grant special status to any religion. It runs counter, therefore, to the ideal of an Islamic state and to the imposition of Islamic law. It is a code-word for tolerance, not for faith.

Source: Ken Ward: Widodo’s battle with radical Islam hangs in balance- Nikkei Asian Review

ICYMI – After Ahok: Indonesia Grapples with the Rise of Political Islam | The Diplomat

Unfortunate trend:

Five months after its closure, the doors of the Al-Hidayah mosque were sealed with wooden planks and crisscrossed with yellow police tape, as if it some kind of grisly crime had taken place within. Barred from entering their house of worship by official order, four young men held their midday prayer in the heat outside, their bodies bent towards a large sign driven into the concrete by the local authorities. Its message was emblazoned in red: “Activities are banned.”

In February, police converged on this green-tiled mosque in Depok, 15 kilometers south of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, to enforce an order sealing off the building until further notice. The order followed a clamor from Islamic fundamentalists, who held protests calling for the expulsion of this small congregation of Ahmadi Muslims from the district. “We had a permit to build this mosque, so we have no idea why they sealed it,” said Abdul Gofur, 42, the caretaker of the site.

The unpretentious Al-Hidayah mosque, a box-like building lacking the otherworldly dome and minaret of many Muslim houses of worship, has a long history of run-ins with the local authorities. Gofur said the mosque had been “sealed” six times since 2011, and has survived a concerted campaign from hardline vigilante groups, including the notorious Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, which sees Ahmadis as heretics and apostates.

On June 23, two nights before Idul Fitri (as Eid al-Fitr is known in Indonesia), the festival marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, Gofur said that white-robed militants pelted the building with eggs and paint, and strung up spray-painted banners calling for the expulsion of the Ahmadiyah. The 400-strong congregation has erected its own signs reading, “Love for All, Hatred for None.”

The Ahmadi minority numbers around 500,000 people scattered across this island nation of 260 million. The sect is not officially recognized in Indonesia, which acknowledges just six religions: Islam, Protestantism, Catholicism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. While most Ahmadiyah see themselves as Muslims, they cleave to unorthodox tenets: the sect has its own holy text, the Tadzkirah, and does not regard Muhammad as the final prophet – a belief that many Indonesians see as heresy. As a result, they have become both a subject of official discrimination, and a target for religious vigilantes.

Things got particularly bad after 2007, when a leading clerical body declared the Ahmadiyah a deviant sect; the following year, then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono signed a decree banning Ahmadi Muslims from disseminating their faith. Following the decree, mosques were shuttered and burned, and members of the community were subject to violent attacks. In February 2011, west of Jakarta in Banten province, three Ahmadi men were beaten to death by a mob; the perpetrators received only light sentences. According to the Jakarta-based Setara Institute for Democracy and Peace, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, there have been a total of 546 violent incidents against Ahmadi Muslims since 2007.

Source: After Ahok: Indonesia Grapples with the Rise of Political Islam | The Diplomat

ICYMI – Attitudes to Islam in Europe are hardening: The Economist

Good summary of recent European polling and worrisome (and correct) fear of further polarization:

IF integration means doing a bit better in education and the job market, then there are grounds to be optimistic about the status of Muslim communities across western Europe. But when you ask Europeans how they feel about Islam and its adherents, then the picture is much harsher and in some ways getting worse.

Those are the broad impressions left by a raft of recently published surveys on the subject. The authors of a study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, focusing mainly on Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, found some encouraging indicators on schooling and employment but still reported a big income disparity between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Professional progress was “not accompanied by an equal level of…social acceptance,” noted the report, which looked not at refugees but longer-standing Muslim residents. The authors were troubled by the finding that 20% of respondents did not want Muslim neighbours. That number would almost certainly have been higher if the study had looked at countries further south and east. A poll by Pew Research, an American think-tank, found that a majority of people in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Greece and Spain harboured hostile attitudes to Islam while only a minority of northwestern Europeans held similar views.

The Bertelsmann report welcomed the fact that in France, only one in ten Muslims leaves school before turning 17, compared with about a third of Muslim youngsters in Germany. But learning doesn’t seem to guarantee earning. In neither Germany nor Switzerland was there much difference between the employment rate of Muslims and non-Muslims. In France, by contrast, the jobless rate was 14% for Muslims compared with 8% for non-Muslims.

Moreover, there are some clear signs of hardening attitudes. In England, around four people in ten acknowledged that they have become more suspicious of Muslims following terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. That was one of the findings of the latest study published by Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremism lobby group.

Looking at a series of recent data, it concluded that in many ways sentiment in England was gradually becoming more liberal and tolerant of diversity, but Islam and the reactions it inspired were a clear exception. About half the population apparently thought Islam posed a “threat to Western civilisation” while a quarter regarded it as a “dangerous” religion because of its perceived capacity to incite violence. The picture changes depending on how the question is framed. The pool of respondents who opined (50% versus 22%) that the Muslim faith was a civilisational threat also agreed by a clear majority that it was wrong to blame an entire religion for a few extremists.

In Germany, a widely-quoted poll last year found that more than half the population believed that Islam did not belong in their country. But attitudes to Muslim people, as opposed to their religion, can sometimes be much more emollient, albeit varying a lot with the respondent’s political ideology.

Pew found that half the Germans who hewed to the political left thought Muslims were making a good effort to adapt to the country’s way of life, compared with one in five of those who leaned rightwards. The numbers for Britons of right and left were almost exactly the same. Given the many different ways in which progress (or regress) can be measured, the state of Islam in Europe may always be a vessel that some see as half-empty and others see as half-full.

What’s worrying is that almost every terrorist movement aims to polarise feelings in a way that drives people into opposing camps. The terrorist who claims to represent a certain community often hopes that the authorities, and perhaps society as whole, will stigmatise that community and provoke in it a defensive mood, so that violence starts to seem like a reasonable option. Historically, such polarising tactics have often worked.

Although things have not yet reached that point, these poll results suggest something sinister: it’s perfectly conceivable that the murderous van-drivers and knife-wielders who claim to speak for Muslims in Europe could enjoy a similar “success” in polarising sentiment across the continent.

Source: Attitudes to Islam in Europe are hardening

ICYMI – Inheritance rules ‘definative’ in Islam: Al-Azhar grand sheikh – Egypt Independent

Sigh….

Al-Azhar Grand Sheikh, Ahmed al-Tayyeb, stressed that the “inheritance rules” in Islam are clear and “definitive”, rejecting the Tunisian president’s call for equality between men and women in regards to inheritance.

Tayyeb added in a statement Sunday that, inheritance is regulated in the Quran by clear and definitive verses that leave no room for interpretation, unlike other verses that could be interpreted by scholars in more than one way,

He added that such rulings cannot be allowed, as they are not based in the study of Sharia or Islamic scriptures, pointing out that such ideas provoke the Muslim masses and could lead to destabilization in Muslim societies.

Tayyeb stated he firmly rejects political interference with the set rules of Islamic Sharia.

Al-Azhar declared its position on the equality between men and women in inheritance based on the religious responsibility it has held for more than a thousand years, and to make clear the rules of Islamic Sharia to the Islamic nation around the world, Tayyeb said in a statement on Sunday.

The sheikh went on to say that the institution guards the rules of Islam around the world regardless of geographic borders or political orientations.

Source: Inheritance rules ‘definative’ in Islam: Al-Azhar grand sheikh – Egypt Independent

New national council to issue progressive rulings for Britain’s Muslims | The Guardian

Worth noting:

Britain’s most senior Muslim clerics are to set up their first national council to issue progressive religious rulings that “embed Islam in a 21st-century British context”.

Qari Asim, one of Britain’s most prominent imams, said the central religious authority would promote an interpretation of Islam that was in line with British values.

Asim, the chief imam of Makkah mosque in Leeds, said the British Muslim community was crying out for an authoritative and credible voice that could speak out on issues as diverse as terrorism, obesity, organ donation and Islamophobia.

“People are proud and confident of their religious identity as well as their national identity, but at times they’re not getting enough theological or doctrinal guidance on some of their daily issues,” he said.

The national body, to consist of senior imams who will consult experts on issues, would be the first central religious authority for British Muslims. It would deliver religious rulings on topics that attract diverse views across the Muslim community, with the aim of providing clarity to young British Muslims, Asim said.

“This is about providing clarity on some of the sociopolitical issues, whether it be forced marriages, [female genital mutilation], honour killing,” he said. “These practices are not sanctioned by the faith Islam but they are cultural practices that have penetrated the Muslim community of particular backgrounds.

“The attempt is to embed Islam in a 21st-century British context. It’s about contextualising Islam in Britain.”

Asim, 39, was recognised in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2012 for working to build bridges between communities in Leeds since the 7 July 2005 terror attack. He is an adviser to a commons inquiry into sharia councils and has campaigned against forced marriages and domestic violence. The imam is seen as a leading progressive figure in the British Muslim community.

Unlike the Church of England, there is no hierarchical structure to Islam in Britain, with most mosques operating independently. Asim said the new body would make rulings in a similar way to national religious bodies in many Sunni Muslim countries, although here it would be independent of government.

“It would lose credibility if it was state-backed or state-influenced,” Asim said. “The intention isn’t to have a mouthpiece for the government: it’s about providing a credible, authoritative voice for Muslims.”

Asim said: “We see the need for this as Muslims are continually being asked to speak on behalf of other Muslims. It’s a council that will be able to speak on behalf of other Muslims and also challenge the establishment where needed.

“We want to protect our young people from the extremist narrative [of those] who are brainwashing and recruiting them, but at the same time we want them to feel comfortable and confident in their national heritage and uphold the values of democracy, rule of law, justice and compassion.”

Asim, who described Thursday’s terror attack in Spain as depraved, said there would be diverse views on issues including abortion, organ donation or climate change, but that organisation would seek to come to a formal position by a unanimous or majority vote and after hearing expert opinion on those topics.

“There are going to inevitably be diverse views on different issues, but the point is that we have a dialogue and debate about them and reach some form of consensus, whether it be unanimous or a majority, where there is clarity for young British Muslims,” he said.

Malaysia: Group decries govt’s move to ban book promoting ‘moderate’ Islam

Discouraging trend, as in Indonesia:

A PRO-MODERATION group comprising eminent ethnic Malays has questioned the Malaysian government’s move to ban a book it published on “moderate” Islam amid concerns of rising Islamic fundamentalism in the country.

The Home Ministry banned the book authored by the group of predominantly former senior civil servants, who call themselves G25, for being “prejudicial to public order”, reported Malay Mail Online on Thursday.

A notice on the Federal Gazette, dated July 27, listed the prohibition of the book, titled Breaking the Silence: Voices of a Moderation Islam in a Constitutional Democracy under the Printing Presses and Publications (Control of Undesirable Publications) (No 12) Order 2017.

The group’s spokesman Datuk Noor Farida Ariffin said she was shocked by the ban, given the government’s long-standing drive to promote the wassatiyyah (moderation) concept espoused in Islam.

“This is obviously an action intended to suppress free speech. The articles in the book were written by respected academics, lawyers and social activists,” she told Asian Correspondent when contacted.

“They are intellectual articles mainly discussing the place of Islam in the Federal Constitution. None of the articles have criticised Islam or touched on matters of Aqidah ( faith ).”

G25

The G25 group says it will appeal the government’s ban on the book it published. Source: Amazon

Noor Farida, a prominent former judge and diplomat, also suggested the questionable timing of the ban as the book was released back in December 2015.

“This does not make sense as in the nearly two years that the book has been on the market, we have not heard of any of the readers causing public disorder or a public nuisance as a result of reading the book!”

The government, she said, should instead favour the book due to its “moderate” stance. Malaysia promotes an image of moderate Islam internationally, despite the increasing implementation of Syariah law across the country.

The government gazette’s notice stated the printing, importation, production, publishing, sale, issue, circulation, distribution, or possession of the publication is “likely to be prejudicial to public interest”, which led to the nationwide ban.

Noor Farida said the G25 group would seek an explanation from the ministry and appeal the ban.

“We are still discussing this among our group members, but we will appeal and ask the Home Ministry to point out to us what the offending passages prejudicial to public order are,” she was quoted by The Star as saying.

Civil society groups such as the G25 have recently expressed alarm over the northeastern state of Kelantan’s move to amend its religious Islamic laws to allow public caning against “criminals” who breach its strict Syariah code.

At the end of this month, Malaysia’s lower house of Parliament is expected to debate a Bill to amend Act 355 of the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965, also known as the controversial RUU355.

The Bill – commonly known as Hadi’s Bill after the man who proposed it – would increase the Syariah punishment caps in Malaysia to a maximum 30 years’ imprisonment, RM100,000 (US$22,400) fine and 100 lashes of the cane – far harsher sentences than those currently implemented under the civil system.

Noor Farida said the G25 promotes moderation and peace and harmony among our people of various faiths and ethnicities.

“We believe in promoting respect for the beliefs of others. And we firmly believe in upholding our secular Federal Constitution against any attempts by religious bigots to turn Malaysia into an Islamic state.”

Losing our religion: How anti-Muslim sentiment threatens religious freedom | Toronto Star

Asma Maryam Ali and Amira Elghawaby on risks to religious freedom.

While Muslim women should feel safe wearing the hijab, is there not also a broader question of religious edicts requiring head coverings, or the need for edicts permitting their removal?

And yet, news of emerging anti-Muslim militias, the significant rise of hate crimes and hate incidents and apparent lack of consequences, the proliferation of xenophobic, and bigoted groups online, the tacit acceptance of discriminatory policies by some municipalities, and even occasional political rhetoric targeting Muslim communities, threaten to undermine all that is positive.

Some Muslim women in our circles are now seeking religious edicts that deem it acceptable to remove the head scarf in order to feel safe. In a striking parallel, Muslims in 15th century Spain sought a similar edict from the Mufti of Wahran to allow them to alter what many deem an Islamic compulsory act so that they could be less visible.

Canadian Muslims at work and school are also now debating whether to worship at the appointed times or to delay it in order to avoid tension. In June, anti-Muslim protesters gathered to protest in front of a secondary school in Toronto as students were heading home.

A 2016 study out of San Francisco State University highlighted how American Muslim children between the ages of 5 and 9 years old are internalizing this zeitgeist. According to the findings, one in three children did not want to tell anyone they are Muslim, 1-in-2 did not know whether they could be both American and Muslim, and 1-in6 would pretend not to be Muslim.

This process, called “dissimulation” by the late French scholar Jean Baudrillard, is deeply concerning because it signifies a gradual deterioration of cultural and religious identity.

Where does this leave us? With a faith and identity that’s constantly in question, and inevitably in flux. We must collectively address these worrying trends in order to promote healthy, cohesive communities where everyone is encouraged to fulfil their potential and be true to their varied and diverse identities.

Let’s not allow these values to be relegated to Canada’s own history books.

Source: Losing our religion: How anti-Muslim sentiment threatens religious freedom | Toronto Star