Religion News Roundup — Islam: Music, Chess, and Sin

Attempts to define a new policy towards Islam in Britain have been floundering since the autumn of 2006, when the government downgraded existing ties with the Muslim Council of Britain (in which movements close to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists of Pakistan were strongly represented) and tried to find different interlocutors — writes The Economist:

Britain and its Muslims: How the government lost the plot

The Muslim population is in many ways diverging still more from the mainstream. With its large, young families, it is also growing much faster (see chart): there are 2.4m Muslims today, according to the Labour Force Survey; the census of 2001, a rather different measure, put it at 1.6m. The government is under fire from the political centre-right for being too soft on radical or reactionary Muslim groups who stop just short of endorsing violence. It is also attacked from the left (Muslim or otherwise) for using the fight against terrorism as an excuse for a general assault on Muslims and their cultural rights.

… the government’s biggest problem is that it is struggling with two big questions at once. One is the set of problems described under the catch-all term of “cohesion”—narrowing the social, economic and cultural gap between Muslims (especially in some poor urban areas of northern Britain) and the rest of society. The second is countering the threat from groups preparing to commit violence in Britain or elsewhere in the name of Islam.

The government says the two problems are related: poor, frustrated and mainly self-segregated groups are more likely to produce terrorists. Muslims as a group lag behind other Britons in qualifications, employment, housing and income (see chart). But in fact the overlap between exclusion and extremism is messy. And attempts to fight terrorism through tougher policing, which can alienate whole communities, make boosting cohesion harder.

But successful British Muslims as well as poor ones resent the fact that the rest of society often sees them mainly as potential extremists. Sarah Joseph, a convert to Islam who edits the glossy monthly Emel, says Muslims are fed up with being asked if they are against violence; they want people to know what they are for, such as social justice.

– Source: The Economist, UK, Feb. 26, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

We’re all for social justice, but we really need to see ‘moderate’ Muslims speak out more clearly against their extremist fellow believers:

Islamic fundamentalism promoted on websites at some Muslim schools in the UK, think tank finds

Islamic fundamentalism that encourages children to despise British society is being promoted on websites at some Muslim schools in the UK, think tank Civitas has revealed.

A site linked to one primary school said playing Monopoly or chess was forbidden and likened the latter to “one who dips his hands in the blood of swine”.

Another warned children in Britain were being exposed to a culture that was against everything Islam stands for, while a third school’s website had electronic links to alleged extremist sites.

Others had links to other sites or chatrooms that contain fundamental views such as forbidding the playing of cricket or even reading of Harry Potter books.

Many of the messages, sites or links mentioned in the report have since been taken down, but the Department for Children, Schools and Families last night said it would investigate the allegations it contained.

– Source: The Telegraph, UK, Feb. 20, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Civitas, the think tank mentioned above, is the Institute for the Study of Civil Society. Its press release about extremism in some Muslims schools is instructive, as is the full report, Music, Chess and Other SinsPDF file

Meanwhile Geert Wilders, the Dutch politicians who was recently booted out of England when he traveled there despite being told he was not welcome, has managed to screen his short film, Fitna, at the U.S. Capitol Building.

Eboo Patel, founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation, hopes that Wilders will pick up some American values during his visit to the States.

While Mr. Patel’s views are both understandable and laudable, he appears to be unfamiliar with the situation on the ground in much of Western Europe — where many people wish Muslims would pick up some European values — rather than, say, march through the streets in violent demonstrations against cartoons, free speech, and Western values in general.

When it was released, in March, 2008, the Firna film was pretty much a dud — burdened as it is with the same sledgehammer approach that causes lots of people distance themselves from Wilders, even while they may acknowledge that he’s got a point.

Like him or not, his point does appear to hit home:

Wilders’ Freedom Party leads polls

According to a recent opinion poll, if parliamentary elections were held today, the Freedom Party (PVV) headed by right-wing populist leader Geert Wilders would become the largest party in the Netherlands.

It would win 27 seats in the 150-seat parliament, as opposed to the nine it currently has. The Christian Democrats – the largest party in the governing coalition – would win only 26 seats.

Mr Wilders’ popularity has been rising ever since an Amsterdam appeals court decided to try him for anti-Muslim comments six weeks ago.

– Source: Radio Netherlands, Mar. 1, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

As the previous news items show, back in England, a kinder and gentler approach than that proposed by Wilders apparently has not been succesful:

British Muslims ‘providing Taliban with electronic devices for roadside bombs’

Details of how British electronic components have been found in roadside bombs were given to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, when he visited British troops at their military compound at Lashkagar, in Helmand province, earlier this week.

When asked how the components had reached Afghanistan, the officer explained that they had either been sent from Britain, or physically brought to Afghanistan by British Muslims who had flown over.

The disclosure is the latest in a string of suggestions from British commanders about the connections between British Muslims and violence in Afghanistan.

In August, Brigadier Ed Butler, the former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, told the Telegraph that there are “British passport holders” in the Taliban ranks. Other officers believe their soldiers have killed British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban.

– Source: Telkegraph, UK, Feb. 21, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Bernard Dineen says:

My fear that Britain is past point of no return

Why be surprised that more and more young British Muslims are fighting with the Taliban in Afghanistan? What else did we expect?

Ed Husain, a young British Muslim, who is fighting a valiant battle against extremism, says that extremists can be sure of a ready supply of recruits. He says: “Britain’s mosques are run by men who are physically in Britain but psychologically in Pakistan. As long as young Muslims are confused about whether they belong in Britain or elsewhere, we risk handing them over to the extremists.”

As a former member of the extremist Hizb ut-Tahrir, Husain knows what he is talking about. A poll found that 97 per cent of imams were from overseas, and 92 per cent were educated abroad, mostly in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Of the 27 Muslim seminaries in Britain, 25 come from the hardline Deobandi tradition, the preferred school of the Taliban. Husain comments: “So while British soldiers risk their lives in Afghanistan, we allow the teaching of intolerance, unequal treatment of women, religious rigidity, the banning of music and theatre, and an end to free mixing of the sexes.”

Nearly 100 hardline clerics have taken up posts as prison chaplains.

Mosque after mosque has been taken over, with moderate mainstream Muslims driven out.

Is it any wonder they regard Britain with total contempt for its tolerance of their extremism? In my view, we are now beyond the point of no return because there is no sign of the will needed to fight back.

– Source: Yorkshire Post, UK, Mar. 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

A year and a half ago it was reported that almost a quarter of UK-based Muslims reportedly believe the July 7, 2005 terrorist bombings in London were justified.

Forbes reports that France and the U.K. have varying success with the economic, political and social integration of Muslims:

The Integration Of Muslims In Europe

As Muslims are the fastest-growing group in Europe (by 2025, Muslims will make up 10% of Europe’s population, from 4% today), it is important that they are socially, politically and economically integrated. If not, the result will be the human and economic waste of unemployment, bitterness and possibly further radicalization and violence.

Principled approach. The U.K. approach to its Muslims has been accommodationist, bringing senior Muslims into policymaking and passing anti-hate laws on religion. France has been integrationist, maintaining secularism as a principle, banning religious symbols in schools and adopting state-driven consultations with Muslims.

– Source: Frobes, Feb. 23, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The article details some research results provided by Oxford Analytica.

Across the pond the New York Times reports that a Gallup poll of Muslims in the United States has found that they are far more likely than people in Muslim countries to see themselves as thriving:

Poll Finds U.S. Muslims Thriving, but Not Content

In fact, the only countries where Muslims are more likely to see themselves as thriving are Saudi Arabia and Germany, according to the poll.

And yet, within the United States, Muslims are the least content religious group, when compared with Jews, Mormons, Protestants and Roman Catholics.

Gallup researchers say that is because the largest segment of American Muslims are African-Americans (35 percent, including first-generation immigrants), and they generally report lower levels of income, education, employment and well-being than other Americans.

But American Muslims are not one homogeneous group, the study makes clear. Asian-American Muslims (from countries like India and Pakistan) have more income and education and are more likely to be thriving than other American Muslims. In fact, their quality of life indicators are higher than for most other Americans, except for American Jews.

– Source: Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, Mar. 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Christians in Malaysia again to be banned from using the word ‘Allah’

While Malaysia has a secular legal system, the country is ruled by what is referred to as a ‘moderate’ Muslim majority. In October and November of 2006, Malaysia’s Cabinet decided that The Herald, a Catholic magazine, was not allowed to use the word ‘Allah’.

In December, 2007, the publication reported it had once more been allowed to use the word. But just one month later, the Cabinet again decided that the publication could not use the word…

At the time, a government spokesman explained the reason for the restriction was that “it has long been the practice of this country that the world Allah refers to God according to the Muslim faith.”

“The use of the word ‘Allah’ by non-Muslims may arouse sensitivity and create confusion among Muslims in the country,” Abdullah Mohd Zin said. It was only proper for other religions to use the word “God” and not “Allah” when referring to their God in respective beliefs, he said.

Be that as it may, the paper fought the decision and last month the government again said it would be allowed to use the word ‘Allah.’

But of course you already knew that was not the end of the story. Sure enough:

The Malaysian government will issue a new decree restoring a ban on Christian publications using the word “Allah” to refer to God, officials said today.

Home Affairs Minister Syed Hamid Albar said a February 16 decree that let Christian publications use the word as long as they specified the material was not for Muslims was a mistake, the national Bernama news agency reported.

The about-turn came after Islamic groups slammed the government and warned that even conditional use of the word by Christians would anger Muslims in the largely Islamic country.

– Source: Belfast Telegraph, Northern Ireland/UK, Mar. 1, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Nevertheless, the story ain’t over yet:

Malaysia politician: Non-Muslims can again use ‘Allah’

The leader of Malaysia’s Islamic opposition party says non-Muslims should be allowed to use the word “Allah” to refer to God, questioning a government ban that has been criticized by Christians as a blow to freedom of religion.

Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the influential spiritual leader of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, said that a verse in the Quran in which non-Muslims of Mecca call their God “Allah” supported his point.

– Source: AP via the International Herald Tribune, Mar. 2, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

The verse referred to is this one:

And argue not with the People of the Scripture unless it be in (a way) that is better, save with such of them as do wrong; and say: We believe in that which hath been revealed unto us and revealed unto you; our Allah and your Allah is One, and unto Him we surrender.

Not that we agree with that notion. Since the God of Christianity and the Allah of Islam are mutually exclusive, one can not honestly claim that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

Banned? Not Banned? Stay tuned…

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014