Debate On Role Of Islam Divides German Government : The Two-Way : NPR

Merkel has rebuked his comments (Merkel contradicts interior minister, saying ‘Islam belongs to Germany’):

Germany’s new minister of interior, Horst Seehofer, has stirred up debate about the role of Islam in Germany.

In an interview with the German newspaper BILD Seehofer said: “Islam is not a part of Germany. Germany has been influenced by Christianity. This includes free Sundays, church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost and Christmas. However, the Muslims living in Germany obviously do belong to Germany.”

This statement conflicted with the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Merkel said, even though Germany has been influenced mainly by Christianity and Judaism, there are more than four million Muslims in the country, they “belong to Germany and so does their religion.”

Konstantin von Notz, member of the opposition Green party, protests, “The statement of Interior Minister Seehoher is complete nonsense. Germany cannot afford such behavior in the important questions of integration.”

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental right guaranteed to everyone by our constitution,” said Andreas Nick, a member of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. “Individuals should be judged by their behavior which of course needs to comply with the laws of the land — no more, no less.”

Apart from members of Seehofer’s Christian Social Union, only the far-right Alternative for Germany, or the AfD, agreed with his statement. The AfD’s spokesman Jörg Meuthen told NPR that he himself had made similar statements many times before. He maintained that Seehofer was simply not credible on the subject, and the interior minister’s remarks should be viewed as “a populist attempt” by the CSU to take votes from the AfD “ahead of the Bavarian elections in October this year.”

“Islam is definitely part of Germany: millions of Muslims live in Germany and have become citizens of this country,” Mouhanad Khorchide, head of the Center for Islamic Theology at the University of Muenster, told NPR. “We cannot differentiate between Islam and Muslims. According to the German constitution there is no religion without the individual.”

Khorchide expressed concern about the consequences of Seehofer’s interview. “Such statements polarize the German society,” he said. “Instead of talking of a ‘we,’ which would include Muslims, the conversation now distinguishes between Germans and Muslims. For many Muslims this creates a feeling of being unwanted and unwelcomed. Many of them are second or third generation residents, and Germany is their home.”

An expert on Islamic law, Mathias Rohe, believes the whole debate to be meaningless. “Of course Germany has been influenced by Christianity – but no one ever doubted that,” he said. “No Muslim has ever questioned the Christian history of Germany or demanded a change in that understanding.”

It would make more sense, he said, for people to “concentrate on the considerable number of concrete issues” that will need to be addressed in Germany in the coming years.

via Debate On Role Of Islam Divides German Government : The Two-Way : NPR


HASSAN: Enough with the feminists who stay silent on Islam

Some valid points (e.g., on polygamy, FGM), less so with respect to the hijab:

The usual gusto accompanied International Women’s Day on March 8, with enlightened people of both sexes commending the strides we have made. Women debated our roles in this day and age, and how our lot can be further improved.

Needless to say, even after decades of public conversations on women’s rights, their plight in undeveloped nations has not changed much. In fact, in this politically correct era there are some nominal Western feminists who say too little about the suffering of third world women.

As always, developed countries have fared better. The biggest news is the #MeToo movement, which has prompted public conversations on sexual harassment faced by women in various settings, but especially the workplace. Actions bring reactions, however; while the movement has raised awareness on these issues, some employers may now fear to hire women because they anticipate sexual allegations.

There were already issues specific to Canadian women, such as workplace discrimination and lack of comparable wages — an issue our prime minister addressed at Davos. Accounting for missing and murdered aboriginal women is an enduring problem, as are violence and abuse in these communities.

Radical ideologies also turn many Muslim women into victims, even in Canada. This is most offensive to me, as a Muslim woman. Feminist groups, who usually expound a leftist worldview, have often defended discriminatory practices in the name of a “new feminism.”

An opinion piece by Nakita Valerio on the CBC website states that “New feminism is based on the understanding that there is nothing inherently liberating about one expression over another. Rather, the liberation is in a woman’s choice and part of modern gender equality rests on the acceptance of diverse womanhood on her own terms, regardless of one’s background.”

Really? So, by extension, there is nothing inherently constraining in any expression of womanhood. Therefore, a woman who is self-assured, economically independent and capable of making career choices is no more liberated than one who lives her entire life according to the whims of her husband? A woman who “chooses” to let her husband take a second wife because her religion permits it, and then suffers all the consequences of a polygamous union, is as liberated as one who rejects such an arrangement as repugnant?

Let’s extend this argument. Submission to the requirements of one brand of Islam has convinced some women to support the heinous practice of female genital mutilation. Their understanding of religion has brainwashed them into considering this beneficial. Such a procedure subjects them or their daughters to pain and poor health. Are they more liberated because they have defined their femininity in these terms?

Clothing matters less than mutilation. The niqab and hijab may be “mere” pieces of cloth, but the expectation that women will wear them remains an important issue. The requirement is rooted in patriarchy, and it is hard to accept that any woman who “chooses” to wear these garments has somehow defined her womanhood in a liberated way.

The new feminists have regressed if they do not call out such practices with the fervour of #MeToo. Their silence endorses a way of thinking which keeps countless women in permanent submission.

Next International Women’s Day it would be encouraging if the women’s movement redefined some of its goals as universal rather than relative. Culture can never be an excuse.

via HASSAN: Enough with the feminists who stay silent on Islam | Toronto Sun

Christie Blatchford: Depiction of nude on a prayer mat too provocative for Ontario art school

Over reaction by the students and administration:

The “safe space” people have struck again at another Ontario university campus.

Monday night, an untitled, anonymous piece of art hanging in a student show at the Ontario College of Art and Design University in downtown Toronto was quietly removed.

It was a green Islamic prayer mat with the black outline of a nude woman on it.

In its place is a notice, apparently from the curators and jurors of the show, saying that absent knowing “the intent of the work that was previously hanging in this space,” they had decided to “remove it temporarily … until a statement from the artist can accompany it.”

The notice referred to “the concerns of a number of OCAD University student groups” and offered a one-two apology if either the original inclusion of the piece or its removal “has caused anyone harm.”

The formal complaint came from the Muslim Student Association at the school, which over the weekend issued a statement with several demands — the immediate removal of the piece, an investigation into how it was approved and “whether this was done out of ignorance or not” and an official apology from the university “that this piece was approved for display.”

The controversial piece.

“As a Muslim community,” the statement said, “we feel greatly offended, concerned and disappointed.

“This has already provoked Muslims and has caused very upsetting reactions, and several students’ responses and behaviour towards this is extremely alarming and is starting to make some students feel unsafe at OCAD.

“This is serious and we do not take it lightly.”

In a private, members-only Facebook group for OCAD students, the piece was immediately a lightning rod for controversy after the show, titled Festival of the Body, opened last Friday.

It sparked a spirited debate, sharp rebukes (and much apparent after-the-fact deletion of controversial posts) from the group moderators, one of whom snapped at one point, “This group was doing fine until these recently violent posts by some of you.”

Members of the group say dozens upon dozens of comments were arbitrarily deleted if they weren’t supportive of the decision to remove the piece.

Of those that remain, only one could be remotely described as violent, and it comes from a supporter of removing the prayer mat artwork.

He is a student who works part-time as a cab driver and who asked, “why does someone need to disrespect a whole religion and the way of life of billions of people?” He said the “intent” of the artist didn’t matter.

“… The intent does not change the blatant disrespect to our Islamic faith and the objects, places and symbols we hold dear to our heart.

“Picking up customers in my taxi that swear I hate them and want to kill them simply because I am Muslim or having my mother or my sisters followed and abused for wearing the hijab makes me live a certain anxious and protective lifestyle.”

In a phone interview Tuesday, OCAD professor Natalie Majaba Waldburger, a co-curator of the show, appeared to try to distance the university from the short notice that now sits in place of the art.

She said the artist, whom she identified as a Muslim woman and “we understood she was speaking from within her own cultural practices and experiences,” originally had her name by the piece, but then removed it over the weekend.

Several other pieces — the show includes at least one full-frontal nude, of a male — had no artist statement.

“We didn’t feel we could put up the work without any information,” Waldburger told the National Post.

She said the artist wants to provide an artist’s statement — such statements can range from the direct to the hopelessly oblique — and that “we’ve been working with her the last couple of days. We’ve been in discussion.” Waldburger said she hopes it can be re-installed.

Some sort of authorship, whether the artist’s name or statement, is required, she said. “So for her, no name and no statement means the work has to come down.”

Waldburger said she’s aware of the controversy raging around the work, but “that doesn’t mean we’re shutting the dialogue down. The university supports the right to artistic expression.”

Christine Crosbie, OCAD’s media and communications manager, said the school is aware that freedom of speech issues are controversial on campus at the moment.

“We respect the Muslim Student Association has their opinions, and this is an important dialogue around this piece. It’s a matter of looking at both sides.”

Interestingly, one of the mandatory art history courses at the school covers an infamous piece of art called Immersion (Piss Christ).

A 1987 photograph by American photographer Andres Serrano, Piss Christ is a photo of a plastic crucifix submerged in a tank of Serrano’s own urine.

Just about every time it has been exhibited over the past three decades, Christians have denounced, vandalized or threatened the photograph or photographer.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris three years ago, sparked by the satirical magazine republishing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, the Associated Press removed an image of Piss Christ from its editorial archives.

Serrano wrote at that time, “We’ve seen the same impulse for self-censorship in the West before … Given the seriousness of the violence, such self-censorship is understandable; it’s also a step backward at a time when we need to reassert the importance of free expression by artists, activists, journalists and editors alike.”

Amin, as they say in Arabic.

Source: Christie Blatchford: Depiction of nude on a prayer mat too provocative for Ontario art school


In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence: Sheema Khan

Another good column by Sheema Khan:

As the #MeToo move­ment rico­chets through many parts of the world, it has yet to achieve high visi­bil­ity in Muslim cul­tures.

None­the­less, there have been a few laud­able ef­forts to bring sex­ual abuse to the fore­front.

Re­cent­ly, Mona Eltahawy lent her in­flu­en­tial voice to the dis­turbing oc­cur­rence of sex­ual ha­rass­ment at the Kaa­ba, (in Mecca), Islam’s hol­i­est site, through the hashtag #MosqueMeToo. One of the rit­uals of pil­grim­age (both the hajj and umrah) re­quires circ­ling the Kaa­ba sev­en times, while in sol­emn re­mem­brance of God. At times, it can get very crowded. Many women have ex­peri­enced hu­mili­a­tion by men who use the situ­a­tion to grope, poke and fon­dle. Ms. Eltahawy shared her awful ex­peri­ence, when at the age of 15, a guard at the Kaa­ba grabbed her breast. She wrote in sup­port of Sabica Khan, who dis­closed her re­cent hu­mili­a­tion at the Kaa­ba — and en­dured back­lash on so­cial media. Since then, many women have shared their own har­rowing en­coun­ters – for­cing the issue out into the open.

In Pak­istan, fol­lowing the grue­some rape and mur­der of 7-year-old Zainab An­sari, many women came for­ward to tell of their own stor­ies of sex­ual abuse as chil­dren. 73-year-old fash­ion de­sign­er Maheen Khan – a Pak­istani icon – tweeted about sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety by her Koran teach­er her when she was six. A nas­cent #MeToo move­ment is be­gin­ning to make in­roads in con­serv­a­tive Pak­istan, as cour­age­ous women break the chains of shame and si­lence.

There are a num­ber of chal­len­ges fa­cing Muslim women who seek to speak out. These in­clude cul­tur­al and in­sti­tu­tion­al bar­riers (with­in com­mun­ities), and anti-Muslim senti­ment.

Cul­tur­al­ly, pub­lic dis­cus­sion of sex is ta­boo. Yet this is at odds with scrip­tur­al foun­da­tions of the faith. For ex­ample, the Proph­et Mohammed em­pha­sized the right of women to ex­peri­ence sex­ual pleas­ure. In these sources, one finds dis­cus­sion about wet dreams, cli­max and for­bid­dance of inter­course dur­ing men­stru­a­tion and anal sex (at all times). The dis­course is not sal­acious, but in­stead pro­vides guid­ance to the faith­ful. It also builds a frame­work in which sex­ual re­la­tions are seen as nat­ural and a means to cul­ti­vate mercy, love and tranquility be­tween spouses.

Family and clergy are two power­ful in­sti­tu­tions that si­lence women. Rath­er than put­ting shame and re­spon­sibil­ity on sex­ual abus­ers, the onus is placed on the vic­tims to keep quiet, so that the fam­ily’s honour re­mains in­tact. In com­mun­ities in which inter­action be­tween gen­ders is pri­mar­i­ly with­in ex­tended fam­ilies, there are ample op­por­tun­ities for abuse by male rela­tives. When I used to give lec­tures about “women in Islam,” it was de­press­ing­ly com­mon to have a young woman ap­proach me after­ward to con­fide her pain­ful abuse by a cous­in or an uncle dur­ing child­hood. I stopped giv­ing these lec­tures after one young woman broke down about her own fath­er’s in­ces­tu­ous behaviour.

Muslim clergy, schol­ars and Koran teachers gar­ner rev­er­ence for their com­mit­ment to the faith. There­fore, im­pugning sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety against this group is met with stiff re­sist­ance, de­nial and back­lash. Yet, with­out mean­ing­ful ac­count­abil­ity, abuse does hap­pen. Now, women are speak­ing out. In 2016, a prom­in­ent Chicago-based schol­ar, Moham­med Sa­leem, pleaded guilty to sex­ual­ly abus­ing a for­mer stu­dent and an em­ploy­ee at the school he founded. More civil suits are pend­ing. Last year, re­nowned Ko­ran­ic schol­ar Nouman Ali Khan was found to have com­mit­ted spirit­ual abuse and un­ethical behaviour to­ward a num­ber of young women. Last month, Ox­ford University Pro­fes­sor Ta­riq Rama­dan was placed under ar­rest in France, and is awaiting trial against rape char­ges by two women. He de­nies any wrong­doing.

In addi­tion to fa­cing com­mun­ity back­lash for speak­ing out, Muslim women must also con­tend with haters who use their pain to ma­lign an en­tire com­mun­ity.

These hur­dles are not in­sur­mount­able. The time has come to ad­dress sex­ual im­pro­pri­ety head-on.

In Canada, se­cond “se­cret” mar­riages are oc­cur­ring, in which a man takes on a se­cond wife, often un­be­knownst to either wife. This is noth­ing but san­i­ti­za­tion of an extra­mari­tal af­fair. It is a sham, and needs to be called out by the Can­ad­ian Council of Imams.

Last fall, the group Fa­cing Abuse in Community En­viron­ments was launched to hold ac­count­able imams, schol­ars and lead­ers for un­ethical and/or crim­in­al behaviour. A num­ber of in­ves­ti­ga­tions are under way, with ser­ious cases re­ferred to law en­force­ment for pros­ecu­tion.

In the end, we need to em­pow­er women to come forth with­out shame, and put the spot­light on men to take re­spon­sibil­ity for their behaviour.

via In the age of #MeToo, Muslim women are final­ly break­ing the chains of si­lence – The Globe and Mail


Year of the Dog exposes growth of Islamic conservatism in Malaysia – CNN

More on Malaysia and Islamic fundamentalism and the impact on the Chinese minority:

With the Lunar New Year round the corner, Chinese around the world are preparing to welcome the Year of the Dog.

But in Malaysia, where people of ethnic Chinese descent make up almost a quarter of the population, images of the dog have been omitted from Lunar New Year decorations and merchandise for fear of offending the country’s Muslim majority.
The omission has raised hackles in the Chinese community and caused concern among Malaysians of all faiths, who see it as yet another symptom of the country’s growing Islamic conservatism, driven by the government’s flirtation with hardline Islamist policies and a cultural shift by religious students returning from the Middle East.


Sunway Pyramid decided not to display dogs because they wanted to be respectful to what they perceive as Muslim sensitivities, but it suffered for its decision.
Sarah Chew, a communications officer for the mall, said her company has been the target of a backlash on social media for its decision not to display “contentious” cultural emblems, with calls for a boycott of its mall.
Ms Tan, a 40-year-old Malaysian-Chinese shopkeeper in the mall, who declined to give her full name, said: “This is a multiracial country, when they do something like that it shows disrespect to the Chinese race here.”
“If this is the case they should just make this only an Islamic country, but we have Buddhists, Hindus and other… (religions) as well here,” she added.
Several shops selling the customary red and gold new year decorations in Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown have kept those featuring dogs inside rather than on display out front.
Last month, Reuters reported that Pavillion Mall, a shopping mall in the heart of Kuala Lumpur which gets about 3 million monthly visitors, also chose not to depict dogs in its decorations, citing religious and cultural sensitivities as a factor in their decision.
Earlier this year, a hypermarket chain around the country was embroiled in controversy when it emerged that Lunar New Year t-shirts being sold there depicted 10 animals in the Chinese zodiac, but not the dog or the pig.
The 2018 Lunar New Year isn’t the only time that animals considered taboo in Islam have caused public furor. There were outcries when Malaysia in 2016 ordered eateries and fast food chains such as Auntie Anne’s and A&W to change the name of dishes such as ‘Pretzel Dog’ and ‘Coney Dog’ to ‘Pretzel Sausage’ and ‘Beef Coney’ or ‘Chicken Coney’.
The reason? The country’s Islamic department said ‘dog’ would confuse Muslims.
Malaysia’s 30-million population is estimated to be 60% Malay Muslim, with prominent Chinese, Indian and other minorities.
Though Islam is Malaysia’s official religion and the country has Sharia courts for civil cases for Muslims, it is constitutionally secular.

Secularism disappearing

Maria Chin Abdullah, a prominent pro-democracy activist, says what’s happening with the Lunar New Year decorations are “just small signs” of growing Islamic conservatism.
“The secularism in our system that we enjoyed seems to be disappearing.”
As evidence, Chin pointed to the increasing frequency with which Malay women now wear the tudung, (headscarf), the Arabisation of Malay vocabulary — for example the word “Eid” being used for the Islamic religious holiday instead of the Malay “Hari Raya Puasa”, and books being banned for espousing moderate forms of Islam.
Other contentious recent issues include a beer festival in Kuala Lumpur that was canceled last year on security grounds, dress codes being imposed on international performers at pop concerts and Christians being prevented from erecting crosses on buildings.
“Schools have become less multi-racial and things are becoming scary,” said Chin.
“My own son will come back from school and tell me we can’t touch dogs and ask why I’m not wearing a headscarf.”
Other critics have pointed to the presence in Malaysia of hardline Indian Muslim televangelist Zakir Naik. He is banned in the UK and his views have sparked a criminal investigation in his native India.
Last year, Prime Minister Najib Razak’s government confirmed it had given Naik permanent residency, a decision to which activists have mounted a legal challenge.
Najib’s support for more Islamist policies has grown since his ruling coalition lost the popular vote in the 2013 general election – its worst ever electoral performance – as he seeks to strengthen his hold on the ethnic Malay Muslim vote.
Malaysia’s evolution has raised alarm bells at the UN, which has urged the country to protect its tradition of tolerance from the rise of fundamentalism.
“I have heard worrying reports of attempts at Islamization spreading in many areas of society which could lead to cultural engineering,” said UN human rights expert Karima Bennoune last year following a 10-day fact-finding mission to the country.

‘Conservatism is becoming worse’

The government, which is widely expected to win elections due before August, drew criticism last year for allowing the opposition Pan Malaysian Islamic Party to put forward a parliamentary bill calling for harsher punishments — including more flogging – for moral “crimes”.
Malaysia’s nine sultans, the official guardians of Islam in Malaysia, last year issued a call for religious harmony after what they described as excessive actions.
Ahmad Farouk Musa, founder of a moderate think-tank, Islamic Renaissance Front, is yet another who says Islamic conservatism is worsening.
“One of the reasons is that Malaysia sends thousands of students to Saudi Arabia, where they are indoctrinated with hardline intolerant forms of Islam like Salafism and Wahhabism.”
“They bring back intolerant ideas, for example, a hatred of Shias. That never existed in Malaysia before,” he added.
But there’s another fundamental problem that dates back to the birth of the country – its race-based political system.
Parties set up on ethnic lines originated under the country’s former colonial rulers, the British, who imported Chinese and Indian labor to Malaysia, largely keeping Malays in impoverished rural areas.
After Malaysia won independence in 1957, its new leaders granted privileges to Malays, including cheaper land, easier access to tertiary education and preference for civil service jobs, to try to help them reach economic parity with the Chinese community.
This policy was strengthened in 1969 after Malay animosity over increasing Chinese economic and political power boiled over into a race riot in Kuala Lumpur in which scores of people, mostly Chinese, were killed.
Reformists argue the system has made Malays dependent on handouts and has bred demagoguery that thrives on religious and ethnic tension.

via Year of the Dog exposes growth of Islamic conservatism in Malaysia – CNN


How political Islam is gaining ground in Southeast Asia despite the fall of Islamic State | South China Morning Post

More on Southeast Asia and the risks of political Islam:

The religious insurgency in the southern Philippines, which saw the capture of Marawi by fighters aligned to Islamic State last year, revealed the violent power of political religiosity. Given that Southeast Asia is home to a large proportion of the global Muslim population, transregional alliances formed between Southeast Asian terror groups and IS represent the possibility of religious warfare in the Middle East spilling over into Southeast Asia. The battlefield defeat of IS should not lull anyone into complacency. As a guerilla group, its scattered warriors remain a threat to nations, particularly the home states to which they are expected to return.

The growth of political Islam is undermining the very vocabulary of the public sphere in Southeast Asia

What unites the different manifestations of political Islam, ranging from electoral participation and street politics to outright terrorist war, is the idea of the capture of state power and its use to implement religious law. If there is a tussle, it is between the parliamentary and insurrectionary paths to power. However, the political outcome would be similar in both cases: the establishment of confessional states that could be expected to disenfranchise not only non-Muslims but also Muslims who owe national allegiance to secular democratic polities.

Indeed, what is frightening is how the growth of political Islam is undermining the very vocabulary of the public sphere in Southeast Asia. Words such as “liberalism”, “pluralism” and “democracy” have become suspect among even mainstream politicians, to say nothing of “secularism” or “socialism”. Liberals, pluralists and democrats are finding themselves in the defensive position of having to work their way delicately around the discursive space that the religious right has captured.

The rise of political Islam has generated countervailing forces in other religions. The popularity of a Thai Buddhist monk is a case in point. He rose to prominence after urging Buddhists across Thailand to burn down a mosque as punishment for every monk killed in the insurgency in the country’s south. He has made common cause with a monk in Myanmar famous for his anti-Muslim views. Given the violent dispossession of Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya population last year, the potential of religious intolerance to dismantle the known order is immense.

In a far cry from the notion of Southeast Asia being a mosaic of religious identities, the chief threat to the region today comes not from foreign predators or new global ideological wars, but from the agency that religious dissension is gaining as a marker in regional relations.

Religions do not pass, but their violent politicisation can. Southeast Asian Muslims must understand that, while they belong legitimately to the global Islamic community or the ummah, they exist as well among other communities. China to the north and India to the west – both largely non-Muslim-majority countries – constitute a major segment of the world’s population. Europe and the Americas are largely non-Muslim as well. It is only the Middle East, Central Asia and a small part of South Asia which are demographic partners of Muslim Southeast Asia.

That partnership cannot challenge the economic, military and ideational heft of the rest of the world. Even if the non-Muslim sphere were to be riven by conflict between its two foremost players – the United States and China – it would pull together to resist any encroachment into its religio-political identity.
Support for Islamic State? In Indonesia, there’s an app for that

Equally, however, global powers cannot wish political Islam and its extremes away. The ability of terrorist groups to disrupt everyday life reiterates an old truth: it is not superiority of numbers and power that matters but what even a handful of people can do to disrupt peaceful political processes and change. After all, the essentially guerilla tactics employed by al-Qaeda and IS drew out nothing less than the concerted efforts of much more powerful states.

A moment of hiatus has appeared in the tired militarisation of global affairs. That moment will not last long. Political Islam’s Manichean division of the world into the spheres of believers and infidels is being felt keenly in Southeast Asia.

Indonesia, home to the largest number of Muslims on Earth, will be the test case of how that division plays out. A violent showdown will be avoided if most Indonesian Muslims subscribe to the idea that they can be faithful to their religion while owing political allegiance to a non-religious state. If the Indonesian state gives way to the demands of the PKS, the stage will be set for more intensive great-power intervention in Southeast Asia.

Unlike economic systems, which promise salvation in the present, religions do so in a hereafter that can destroy the present on the way to its fulfilment.

Political Islam is a danger.

via How political Islam is gaining ground in Southeast Asia despite the fall of Islamic State | South China Morning Post


ICYMI: How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law – Islam, marriage and the law

Good overview (and good that Ontario rejected Sharia family law courts and along with the family tribunals of other religions:

AS IS reported by The Economist in this week’s print edition, almost everybody can agree that there are acute difficulties at the interface between Islamic family law and the liberal West. Especially for married Muslim women, living in a kind of limbo between the Islamic world and the secular world can be exceptionally tough. So far, so much consensus. What people don’t agree on, however, is how to improve this situation.

Start with England, which presents an extreme case of the pathologies facing Muslim minorities in the West. In no other country have so many “sharia councils” sprung up to adjudicate the affairs of Muslim people, especially women who are trapped in unhappy marriages and want a religious divorce. (Some say these councils should be regulated, others want them abolished.) And in no other country is it so common for young Muslim couples to have religious-only marriages or nikahs which are never registered with the state, so that in the event of a breakdown the financially vulnerable partner, usually female, has few entitlements.

Aina Khan, a London-based lawyer who specialises in family law, is prime mover of a campaign called “Register Our Marriage”, which aspires both to change the law and to make Muslims, especially women, more conscious of the dire consequences of a religious-only rite.

The campaign wants to close the gap between faith-based and civil wedding ceremonies by making it easy, virtually automatic and indeed compulsory for religious nuptials to be registered in the eyes of the state. In other words, all faiths would acquire the status (and the corresponding obligations) long enjoyed by the Anglicans, Jews and Quakers.

As the website puts it:

This Petition is to reform outdated English marriage law, which is no longer “fit for purpose.” We need to reform the Marriage Act 1949 as it is 70 years out of date. Make it compulsory for every faith to register marriages, not just three faiths….100,000s have no legal rights in an unregistered religious marriage and this figure is rising yearly.

A different view is taken by Sadikur Rahman, a London solicitor who is also a supporter of the National Secular Society. He agrees that there is an anomaly in treating Anglicans, Jews and Quakers differently from other faiths. But he wrote in a recent article that according civil status to all Muslim marriages would be “highly problematic” for several reasons. As he argues:

The question of “what is a Muslim marriage” is a vexed one. Muslim marriage encompasses a range of unions which would not be acceptable on the basis that they may be discriminatory or open to abuse. For example polygamous marriages, temporary marriages amongst Shia Muslims and nowadays young Muslims of all sects…[and] marriages between adults and children.

On the other hand, Mr Rahman adds:

If we start debating what is and is not a Muslim marriage and go down the route of…siding with Islamic reformers in not accepting the above types as Muslim marriages at all, then the state would be entering into a religious theological debate which is no position for a secular state to be in. It is not for the state to start defining what is and is not a Muslim marriage.

The best approach, in Mr Rahman’s view, is for the state to be blind to all forms of marriage except the civil sort. That would involve stripping the Anglican, Jewish and Quaker faiths of their current privileged status and insisting that adherents of those faiths must register their nuptials with the state as a separate act if they want any legal status for their union.

Mr Rahman’s view highlights one of the paradoxes of rigorous secularism. If secularism is understood to mean that the state does not interfere in theological matters, then this can leave a large social space in which religions and sub-cultures can act according to their own traditions, which may be pretty conservative.

The Netherlands has, on the face of the things, an approach that is quite secularist but also addresses the problems identified by Ms Khan that occur when civil and religious nuptials drift apart. Dutch law says that a religious wedding cannot take place unless a civil union has also been contracted. But the country still has the problem of “marital captivity”—in other words, the dire situation of women whose husbands will not give them a religious divorce.

Kathalijna Buitenweg, a prominent Green member of the Dutch parliament, is lobbying the government for a change in civil law that would make it easier and more routine for judges to compel reluctant husbands to release their wives from the religious bonds of a dead marriage.

Thanks to the efforts of Shirin Musa, a campaigner, keeping a woman in such “marital captivity” is notionally a criminal offence under Dutch law. But that provision is so draconian that it will hardly be used in practice. A few civil-law cases, including Ms Musa’s own personal case, have been pursued successfully against reluctant husbands. But if Ms Buitenweg gets her way, civil-law cases will become much easier.

But here is a paradox. By the lights of strict secularism, using civil law to bring about religious divorce is problematic. Since religious marriages do not exist in the eyes of a rigorously secular state, it makes no difference to the state whether or not they are terminated. But by the lights of common decency, some would say, a woman caught inside a traditionalist sub-culture who wants to restart her life does needs help and should get it.

via How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law – Islam, marriage and the law


Veiling is compulsory in Islam, debate unacceptable: Al-Azhar – Egypt Independent

Speaks for itself – “any debate on the topic is unacceptable”:

Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world’s main religious institution, asserted on Monday in a fatwa, or religious decree, that it is compulsory for women in Islam to wear the veil, while those who deny this are “extremist” and “abnormal”.

Through a statement released by The International Electronic Center for Fatwas of Al-Azhar, the institution said the veil, or hijab, is an obligatory duty imposed by the teachings of Islam, and any debate on the topic is unacceptable.

“It is not acceptable that anyone from the public or non-specialized people, regardless of their culture, to voice their opinions on the matter. The hijab […] aims to preserve [women’s] feminine nature, ” the statement read.

It went on to say that the fact that the veil is compulsory in Islam helps women to become successful and productive in society while preventing them from just being seen as a body.

It added adding that in different countries around the world such as India, China and Japan women wear clothes similar to Islam’s veil as they are keen to follow the nature’s of their nations.

The statement concluded by calling on all who deny that the veil is compulsory in Islam to stop spreading their opinions or issuing fatwas on the matter as they are not specialized or authorized to speak on the issue.

via Veiling is compulsory in Islam, debate unacceptable: Al-Azhar – Egypt Independent


How Newfoundlanders are taking a remarkable stand against Islamophobia

Interesting vignette:

Islamophobia haunts the nation, slinking into hearts and minds and laws, and some say if we could just learn from the ethnic diversity of Newfoundland—Newfoundland?—we could become more tolerant, too.

“We wanted to present Newfoundland as a role model,” says Mahmoud Haddara, president of the Muslim Association of Newfoundland and Labrador, who feels he lives on an anomalous island of peace. “This is what we wanted to tell, the story of Newfoundland.”

Haddara flew to Ottawa in October to testify before the standing committee on systemic racism and religious discrimination, part of the federal government’s attempt to stem bigotry. While Quebec’s Bill 62 proposes to ban people wearing face coverings from using public services, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have instead stood in solidarity with Muslims who live in villages as remote as Nain. They have become so curious about Islam that the one-mosque province must move its overflowing holiday prayers into a hockey arena. Hate crimes still happen, but when other provinces wonder how to promote interfaith understanding, the answer may be blowing in the brisk, Atlantic wind.

“We don’t want this bubble to be contaminated,” says Ayse Akinturk, a colleague of Haddara. “Our only worry is how long are we going to be able to preserve this beautiful experience, whether [or not] it will be spoiled by the outsider negative experience.”

The 3,000 Muslims in the province say they are the only congregation in North America to include both Sunnis and Shias, the two largest sects of Islam. In 1990, St. John’s simply didn’t have the Muslim population to support two mosques, so they created a uniquely diverse hub on Logy Bay Road, where neighbours include a carpet factory and a liquor store.

“I was reared up by my grandparents pretty good,” Ashley Smith of Norman’s Cove told CBC when the local station did an entire series on Islam in the province. Smith has converted to Islam and wears a hijab; and though she still cooks a traditional Jiggs’ dinner, and fish and brewis, she said after her conversion, “I finally feel at peace.”

Muslim immigrants are some of the best-educated citizens in the province. They serve as much-needed doctors in rural areas, engineers for oil rigs, and teachers. Although some Muslims arrived in the 1960s, immigration increased when Newfoundland ended its denominational school system in 1998, the last province to do so. There are now Muslims in Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador City, Nain—“they are everywhere,” says Haddara. The RCMP in St. John’s has requested Islam 101 sessions from the Muslim association, which also considers itself a friend of the clergy.

On 9/11, Newfoundland refreshed its code of hospitality as the town of Gander hosted about 6,200 airline passengers from around the world. And when six worshippers were shot and killed in Quebec last year, Newfoundlanders created a human shield around their own mosque in solidarity. “We were praying inside, and all these 1,500 Newfoundlanders were surrounding the mosque and waiting until our prayer was over,” recalls Haddara. “We live in complete confidence and harmony with each other.”

However, the mosque recently received $46,000 from the government for requested security equipment, including surveillance cameras, and research by Jennifer Selby*, an associate professor of religious studies at Newfoundland’s Memorial University, has documented hate crimes including graffiti of racist slurs. Islamophobia does exist.

“We see many narratives of positive navigation and negotiation related to religious difference,” says Selby. “At the same time, micro-aggressions are pervasive and we must become more attuned to the institutional and structural Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racisms within daily life” in Newfoundland and Labrador. There is also discrimination in employment in St. John’s, she notes.

The province is still 97 per cent white and 90 per cent Christian. Among the Muslims Selby talked to, one student from Kuwait was referred to as  “Osama,” and said a professor assumed he would be a devout Muslim and arranged a prayer room for him. Another person arrived for dinner at a local’s house and was served bacon bits.

Locals have also complained that Muslim refugees are draining resources, although one refugee, 14-year-old Mohammad Maarouf, reports an unwavering welcome. He spends time with his friend Connor and by the sea: “We catch herring and catfish and sometimes we catch something called sturgeon,” he says.

Muslims in Newfoundland are not excluded from the tradition of getting screeched in. Instead of drinking rum, Haddara explains, they kiss the obligatory fish, paired with a glass of apple or orange juice.

via Macleans


Political typology: Race and discrimination, opinions about immigrants and Islam | Pew Research Center

As always, Pew’s findings, broken down by political leaning, are of interest and highlight just how divided the United States is on these issues:

Views of immigrants and nation’s ‘openness’

When it comes to attitudes about immigration, Democratic-leaning groups hold almost universally positive attitudes toward immigrants and support the idea of America being open to people from all over the world. Virtually all Solid Liberals say that immigrants strengthen the society and that openness is “essential” to America’s identity as a nation (99% each).

The only group on the political left that holds ambivalent views of immigrants is Devout and Diverse, a group that is racially and ethnically diverse and also has the lowest family incomes and levels of educational attainment of any typology group.

The Republican-leaning groups are sharply divided in views of immigrants and the nation’s openness to people from around the world. About three-quarters of Country First Conservatives (76%) say immigrants are a burden on the country – the largest share of any typology group. Country First Conservatives also are most likely to say that the U.S. risks losing its identity as a nation if it is too open to people from around the world (64% say this).

Compared with Country First Conservatives, Core Conservatives and Market Skeptic Republicans have more divided views of immigrants and whether too much openness risks the nation’s identity. New Era Enterprisers have the most positive views among Republican-leaning groups: 70% view immigrants as a strength and 65% say America’s openness is “essential to who we are as a nation.”

Islam and violence

A large majority of Core Conservatives (79%) say Islam is more likely than other religions to encourage violence among its followers.

And roughly the same percentage of Solid Liberals (83%) say Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions.

The views of other typology groups divide along partisan lines, with one exception. As with views of immigration, Devout and Diverse differ from other Democratic-leaning groups in their views of Islam and violence.

Devout and Diverse are divided – 47% say Islam is more likely to encourage violence, 44% say it is not – while sizable majorities in other Democratic groups say Islam does not encourage violence more than other religions.