Saturday, December 29, 2007
Resolutions on the human rights situation in North Korea and Iran also passed, although dozens of countries -- including human rights violators Cuba, Sudan, Syria and Zimbabwe -- voted against the motions.
An annual resolution on "the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination" also passed by an overwhelming margin, with only the United States, Israel, and three small Pacific island nations voting "no." There were four abstentions.
The motion on defamation of religions has been a priority for the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) since 9/11. It took on new impetus following a Danish newspaper's publication in 2005 of cartoons satirizing Mohammed.
Introduced by Pakistan on behalf of the OIC, it passed on Tuesday by a 108-51 margin, with 25 abstentions. As with many of the other votes, the U.S. lined up with democracies in Europe, Asia and elsewhere against developing nations, including repressive regimes.
Although the resolution refers to defamation of "religions," Islam is the only religion named in the text, which also takes a swipe at counter-terrorism security measures.
It expresses alarm about "discrimination" and "laws that stigmatize groups of people belonging to certain religions and faiths under a variety of pretexts relating to security and illegal immigration."
Muslim minorities are subjected to "ethnic and religious profiling ... in the aftermath of the tragic events of 11 September 2001," it says.
The resolution decries "the negative projection of Islam in the media" and voices "deep concern that Islam is frequently and wrongly associated with human rights violations and terrorism."
OIC secretary-general Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu earlier this month addressed an international conference on "Islamophobia," held in Turkey, and told the gathering that freedom of expression was being used as a cover in the West to promote anti-Islam sentiment.
The OIC soon will release its first-ever annual report on "Islamophobia."
Source: CNSNews.com Read it all....
BANNU: A senior Taliban leader warned parties on Thursday against "using religion for electoral gains", saying they would join parties urging boycott of January 8 polls.
“In Shariah, democracy is un-Islamic. Our movement is completely against what you call democracy in which a small majority can decide irrespective of the fact whether what they have done was good or bad,” the Taliban leader, asking not to be named, told Daily Times in an interview here.
He said the Taliban were “against elements who are using Islam for electoral gains”.
The warning comes at a time when Maulana Fazlur Rehman, contesting the National Assembly seat NA-26 in Bannu besides NA-24 (Dera Ismail Khan), is rallying for party candidates to win as many National and provincial assembly seats amidst stiff challenges from rival candidates in southern districts of the Frontier province, the JUI-F heartland.
Severe punishment: “Our members in Bannu district are strictly barred from taking part in the elections and anyone found guilty of violating the directive will be severely punished,” said the senior Taliban leader who did not wish to be identified.
He said there were around 500 Taliban members in Bannu city. “We will join forces trying to convince the people that people’s solution of problems does not rest with democracy,” he said.
Taliban divided: A candidate contesting provincial assembly seat PF-72 said the Taliban were “divided” over their support for the JUI-F in Bannu district, very close to North Waziristan.
“Some of the Taliban support the JUI-F but some of them do not,” private candidate Dr Sahib Zaman told Daily Times. The JUI-F chief, according to the government, is on the “hit-list of terrorists”.
Police sources in Dera Ismail Khan said on Tuesday that a bulletproof jeep was provided to the JUI-F and his security level was upped following a suicide attack on former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao on Eid in Charsadda district.
The JUI-F chief denied that he was target of terrorists but acknowledged that the government did notify him that he was a likely target of terrorists.
No immediate threat: “I do not think there is an immediate threat to my life. Why should I be killed?” the JUI-F chief told Daily Times on Tuesday moments after he addressed local party leaders and vehemently dismissed as “baseless” accusations that he made little efforts to stop military operations in tribal areas.
Source: Pakistan Daily Times
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Dec. 27 - The Pakistani opposition leader was killed in a gun and bomb attack after a rally in the city of Rawalpindi.
The charismatic leader of the Pakistan People's Party died as she was leaving a political rally, surrounded by security.
Police say Bhutto was killed by a suicide bomber firing at her as she left.
He then blew himself up.
Video shot of the incident showed Bhutto moments before the attack and the immediate aftermath.
Bush condemns Bhutto assassination
Dec. 27 - U.S. President George W. Bush had a stern message for those responsible for the assassination of former Pakistan Prime Minister Bhutto.
Bhutto, the former prime minister was assassinated as she left an election rally in the city of Rawalpindi, putting the planned Jan. 8th presidential election in doubt.
Deborah Lutterbeck reports.
Aftermath (No audio)
Dec. 27 - Pakistani opposition leader Benazir Bhutto has been killed in a bomb attack at an election rally in Rawalpindi, according to party officials.
Bhutto was holding the election rally in the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi when the attack occurred.
Initial reports from local police said fifteen people had been killed and first reports came in that Bhutto has been injured - possibly seriously - before a party official said she had died.
Bhutto's party has the largest support in the country as it heads into a general election that has been beset by violence.
Bhutto killed - party breaks news [No translation]
Dec. 27 - Pakistani opposition leader, Benazir Bhutto, has been killed in a gun and bomb attack after an election rally.
Here video shows the president of Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party announcing her death at Rawalpindi Hospital hours after the explosion at an election rally in the city.
Dec. 27 - There are riots in the streets of major cities in the wake of the killing of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.
President Pervez Musharraf is appealing for calm and put the army on red alert. But the streets of Pakistan's major cities are anything but that.
Susan Flory reports.
We know - women are treated with the greatest respect in Islam!
Qalat: A man named Mumtaz in southern Zabul province of Afghanistan first shaved wife, Nazia’s head and then cut off her ears, and nose and damaged her teeth on the first day of Eid ul Adha, an Islamic ritual of sacrifice.
Hospital sources in Qalat, center of Zabul, told this scribe by phone that Nazia, 17, was admitted on Wednesday (First day of Eid) evening and now she was in a critical condition due to the severe beating she has borne.
Provincial Police Chief of Zabul, Gen. Mohammad Yaqub Khan, when contacted, confirmed this brutal incident and confessed that the police were still unable to arrest the man.
‘The police are searching for him, he has disappeared’ Khan added.
Moreover, he told that a brother of the culprit was police officer who is currently under investigation.
According to a resident of the area, the husband and wife were recently moved to Zabul from eastern Paktiya province for unknown reasons.
The abused woman Nazia, lying on her hospital bed and uncertain about her future, told that her husband, twice her age, had suspicions about her behavior. She added 'I swore to him many times that I was faithful to him but he did not believed. He used to beat me. A few days before Eid, he shaved my head and beat me severely. On the first day of the Eid, he cut my ears, then my nose, then damaged my teeth and beat me until my hands and legs were broken.'
'I was second wife of Mumtaz. The first wife was already killed by him' she added with a flow of tears from her eyes.
A report of BBCPashto adds that many women in Zabul province has protested on Saturday against this brutal act and demanded immediate arrest of the beast. 'We condemn this and we declare it the worst violation against the women' said a protester.
Fauzia Younasi, the provincial director of the women department has visited the hospital and shown her concerns over the matter. She ordered the doctors to do their best to save her life. 'She has suffered so much, she is beaten severly, her ears and nose is cut off, her teeth are totally damaged so she cant speak' she told media.
Residents of the area told that Nazia was married to this man one year ago.
The war-torn country is being to lead on a slow pace to democracy and political stability but violations against human rights, especially in the southern and eastern provinces, are still common. ‘Legal reforms designed to protect women are not implemented and women continued to be detained for breaching social mores. There was a rise in cases of “honour” killings of women and self-immolation by women’ says Amnesty International 2007 Report on Afghanistan.
Source: Ground Report
This is the problem when dealing with Islam - we are dealing with rice paddy farmers and goat and camel herders, who believe that their lifestyles are right for everyone on earth. How can we have a rational conversation with this insanity. Allah written in the waves! How about tectonic plates shifting a few miles out - below the ocean - no! Allah written in Arabic in the waves is more convincing to these folks.
The word Allah is inset on the satellite picture. Photo: DigitalGlobe
Colombo - God signed His name in the tsunami that battered Sri Lanka and other countries on December 26, and sent it as punishment because humans have been ignoring His laws, Sri Lankan Muslims say.
Proof, according to Mohamed Faizeen, manager of the Centre for Islamic Studies in Colombo, is a satellite picture taken seconds after the tsunami smashed into Sri Lanka's west coast near the town of Kalutara and as it was receding.
"This clearly spells out the name 'Allah' in Arabic," Faizeen said, pointing to the shape of the waves - a gigantic "E" complete with whorls and sidewaves that do indeed appear to combine to resemble the Arabic script for the name "Allah".
The picture was taken by the DigitalGlobe Quickbird satellite on December 26 at 10:20am local time, shortly after the moment of tsunami impact. It can be viewed at the website "Allah signed His name," Faizeen said. "He sent it as punishment. This comes from ignoring His laws."
He likened the tsunami to the Old Testament account of floods being sent by God in the time of Noah as punishment for those who had drifted from His ways.
He added that he had visited the mainly Muslim Ulvae, near the major town of Batticaloa, and found that a madrassa - an Islamic religious school - had been left untouched while 400 houses around it had been flattened with great loss of life.
The shorelines of many Asian countries hit by the waves had become playgrounds for Westerners and errant Muslims. Vices such as prostitution and drinking were rife, the cleric said.
"Allah first sends small punishments - like loss of business. If we ignore the warning, He sends bigger ones - loss of life. If we still ignore the warnings, the big punishments, like earthquakes and tsunamis will come."
Faizeen said areas of Sri Lanka mainly populated by Muslims were the hardest hit and that the waves were aimed at Muslims in Indonesia and Sri Lanka who he said had strayed from God's ways.
The island is around 70 percent Buddhist, 15 percent Hindu, 7.5 percent Muslim and 7.5 percent Christian.
Another Muslim leader, Muhammed Fawmey of the International Islamic Youth Front, said he too believed the tsunami was sent by God.
"He clearly signed His name in the waves," said Fawmey, who said the Arabic script in the waves had suddenly "appeared to me as in a vision" when he was staring at the satellite picture.
"The Koran says people can be punished through water or through fire," he added, referring to Islam's sacred scripture.
Scientists have a more rational explanation for the December 26 tsunami - an undersea earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale off the west coast of northern Sumatra.
"Near the source of submarine earthquakes, the seafloor is 'permanently' uplifted and down-dropped, pushing the entire water column up and down, the US Geological Survey says on its website.
The Muslim god Allah is not the same as the god in the Bible. The Allah of Islam is the pre-Islamic Allah of the Kaaba religion in Arabia, and had three daughters, Allat, Manat and al-Uzza, who were worshiped as white and black stones between Mecca and Medina. Allat/Allatu or the goddess was worshipped widely in Europe and especially in Ancient Greece where she became Leto the mother of Apollo. It is clear that Allah was worshipped as a Moon God (all due respect), Allat was well known a Moon goddess, although the other daughters were worshipped as the morning and evening star. Muhammad created his one god, but subtracting all others within the Allah god family or pantheon. And ventured out to kill or subjugate anyone who did not accept his vision.
Oh! Get over it!
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: A Malaysian church has sued the government for banning the import of Christian books containing the word "Allah," alleging it was unconstitutional and against freedom of religion, a lawyer said Thursday.
The Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo is also challenging the government for declaring that the word "Allah" — which means God in the Malay language — can only be used exclusively by Muslims, said the church's lawyer Lim Heng Seng.
"The decision to declare 'Allah' as only for Muslims, categorizing this as a security issue, and banning books with the word 'Allah' is unlawful," Lim told The Associated Press.
Religion issues are extremely sensitive in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 27 million people are Malay Muslims. Ethnic Chinese, who follow Christianity and Buddhism, account for 25 percent of the population, while mostly Hindu Indians are 10 percent.
Minorities often complain they don't have full freedom of religion even though the constitution guarantees everybody the right to worship.
In an affidavit made available to The AP, pastor Jerry Dusing said customs officials in August confiscated three boxes of education material for children from a church member who was transiting at the Kuala Lumpur airport.
He said he was informed later the publications were banned because the contained the word "Allah," which could raise confusion and controversy among Muslims. The Internal Security Ministry also told him the issue was sensitive and has been classified as a security issue, he said in the affidavit.
But Dusing said Christians in Sabah on Borneo island have used the word "Allah" for generations when they worship in the Malay language, and the word appears in their Malay Bible.
"The Christian usage of Allah predates Islam. Allah is the name of God in the old Arabic Bible as well as in the modern Arabic Bible," he said, adding Allah was widely used by Christians in Egypt, Lebanon, Iraq, Indonesia and other parts of the world without problem.
Dusing also said the confiscated material was for use only within the church.
The church is asking the court to declare their constitutional right to use the word "Allah" and for the right to import publications with the word in it, he said in the affidavit.
Dusing and internal security officials couldn't be reached immediately for comment.
Earlier this month, a Catholic weekly newspaper was told to drop "Allah" in its Malay-language section if it wants to renew its publishing permit.
Allah refers only to the Muslim God and can be used only by Muslims, government officials have said.
Hardline Muslim extremists who believe it is sinful for women to appear beautiful in public have forced many beauticians to move their trade underground.
Sunni and Shiite militants began blowing up salons roughly two years ago. They killed several stylists and bullied others into putting down their scissors and makeup brushes for good, all in an effort to stamp out what they view as the corrupting spread of Western culture.
Besides beauty salons, militants have also targeted liquor stores, barber shops and Christian churches.
In the past year, most beauty salons in the Shiite-dominated southern city of Basra went underground, as they did in the Sunni-controlled neighborhood of Dora in west Baghdad.
To those outside of Iraq, the prospect of being killed just for frequenting a hair salon might seem a convincing reason not to go. But despite being targeted by militants, stylists say women here still want to look good — and stylish. Refusing to get a haircut or having their makeup done would be giving in to the violence and despair surrounding them.
"See this salon?" said the stylist Kifah, as she deftly lopped off a woman's dark hair into smart layers in her east Baghdad establishment. "It's never been empty, not through the Iraq-Iran war, the Gulf war or this war. Women are women, they always want to look good."
Despite her bravado, Kifah, like all the hairdressers interviewed, asked that her full name not be used because she feared retaliation by extremists.
The latest attack on a salon was Dec. 13, in the city of Mosul northwest of the capital. Gunmen stormed the home of a woman who was running a beauty parlor out of one room. They killed her.
Last year, extremists blew up 42-year-old Umm Doha's beauty parlor in west Baghdad after she did not heed their warnings to close shop.
"They didn't want a ladies salon there," she said. Two other salons were also blown up.
Umm Doha said hardline Muslims were offended by the sight of freshly made-up women leaving her salon, including brides heading to their weddings — even though they were conservatively veiled while outside.
Days after her small shop was destroyed, she converted a room in her home into an underground salon. She said she had no choice: Her husband's low-paying clerk's job does not pay enough to keep food on the table for their three children.
It isn't known how many secret salons exist in Iraq, but many women bullied out of their shops work on customers at home. Such an arrangement cuts into profits because the beauticians will deal only with women they already know.
Umm Doha said she has recently been earning only about $200 a month. The brides are the real salon money-spinners: They must be fully waxed, eyebrows shaped, have a fancy hairstyle and a makeover — all for about $65. Umm Doha now sees just two or three brides a month instead of every week.
While danger is rife for beauticians, those plying their trade in areas that have been secured by Iraqi and U.S. troops, or controlled by Sunni tribal groups opposed to al-Qaida in Iraq, seem to have more latitude to work.
A few roads down from Umm Nour's place, the hairdresser Shams runs a salon in an area protected by a checkpoint separating her part of the neighborhood from the extremists who have forced her colleague into hiding. "I've been here for four years and I've never been threatened," Shams said.
Across town in a Shiite neighborhood in east Baghdad, Kifah's salon sits wedged between a mechanic's shop and a shuttered store.
Inside, a cluster of women wait, wet hair wrapped in towels. One woman leans back on a chair as a beautician applies a white paste to her face. Another sits with a plastic cap on her hair, strands pulled out to be lightened. A table next to the window holds the ubiquitous pot of sweet Iraqi tea.
Many of the customers in Kifah's shop said they were war-weary refugees from Sunni western Baghdad, from Shiite families, or Shiites married into Sunni families who fled into more secure eastern Baghdad.
One of those women lay back in Kifah's chair. She asked not to be named, fearing identification by the extremists her family had fled.
But the woman said the strife made her want to look her best. She said she could not stop the war, but she could boost her morale by looking good.
Iraq's violence, she said, was like a person suffering from a high fever. "The fever will break and Iraq will return to normal. But until then, we want to be stylish and look good," she said.
"Here, we give women hope," Kifah said. "They feel like women, even during the worst tragedy."
Kifah's own niece and nephew have disappeared. Another niece was kidnapped and later found dead, even after Kifah's family paid a ransom, she said.
Still, her salon must stay open.
"If we give some hope here, it helps us carry on," she said, dusting off the salon chair to prepare for her next customer.
Source: AP/Yahoo News
"The man first fired at Bhutto's vehicle. She ducked and then he blew himself up," said police officer Mohammad Shahid.
Earlier, party officials said Bhutto was safe.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
"I want to study, but not in a burqa," said Shah Rukh, a 12-year-old girl enrolled at a primary school at Saidu Sharif in Swat.
"It is our right to get education," one of the girls in the school said.
A parent said his daughter "is constantly told by her teachers to attend school in a head-to-toe veil ever since the principal of the school received a letter of threat".
A letter of threat from peaceful Islam?
The Pakistani gov. lost of control of the SWAT region - in the name of respecting Islam. Even the police station has a pro-Taliban militant posted out front. Where have all the billions to fight terroism gone.
In a country of 79 million people where approximately 90 percent identify themselves or are identified as Muslims and most of the rest as Christians, it is not surprising that a small number of people each year wish to convert from one religion to the other...)
He said I’d committed a sin against God. He asked why I wanted to go back to Christianity. “If you had bad luck with your first husband, you should have found another Muslim man.” He offered me assistance and favors. “I can find you a good Muslim man,” he said. “If it’s financial, we can help you find a job. If you went back to your family for lack of any alternative, we’ll help you find an apartment.” When I insisted on staying a Christian, he said, “Well, we have to start an investigation into the forgery.” – Golsen Sobhi Kamil(..They typically faced no difficulties whatsoever when converting to Islam and acquiring identity documents recognizing their new religion, but attempts to return to Christianity met with official refusal and harassment.
Hmm..how do you convert an atheist to Islam? Build a even larger mosque, making sure to include all the moon trimmings!
The latest Gallup poll and reporter Frank Newport recently analyzed the current percentage of Americans today identify with a Christian religion.
About 82% of Americans in 2007 told Gallup interviewers that they identified with a Christian religion.
Newport breaks it down: "51% who said they were Protestant, 5% who were "other Christian," 23% Roman Catholic, and 3% who named another Christian faith, including 2% Mormon."
Coming in at 11% were those who claimed no religious identity at all, and another 2% didn't answer.
Newport writes that these "results suggest that well more than 9 out of 10 Americans who identify with a religion are Christian in one way or the other."
Time has shown a shift in religious camps. The new Gallup shows that the percentage of Americans who identify with a Christian religion is down some over the decades.
It is due to the higher percentage of Americans today who don't claim a religious identity.
In 1948 - one of the first Gallup polls - 69% claimed to be Protestant and 22% as Roman Catholic, or about 91% Christian.
The latest poll examines the line between those who claim to be a member of a church versus the actively religious.
In the 1937 Gallup Poll, 73% of Americans said they were church members. Today 62% percent of Americans in Gallup's latest poll say they are members of a "church or synagogue."
Gallup noted that statisticians argue over the veracity of self-reported attendance data. Newport notes possible reasons: "Deliberately over-reporting the frequency of their church attendance because it is socially desirable, or generalizing and guessing at the frequency of their church attendance rather than pinning it down specifically."
Gallup notes that now 17% of adult Americans say they never attend church, and more than 8 out of 10 Americans say they attend church or other worship services at least "seldom."
But attending church could also mean attending a wedding, baptism or a funeral.
Gallup's latest shows that one third say they attend once a week, with another 12% saying they attend almost every week. This means that about 44% of Americans can be pegged for "frequent church attendance."
This year, 56% of Americans have said religion is very important. Only 17% say religion is not very important.
Gallup noted that from the 1950s and 1960s over 70% of Americans said religion was very important in their daily lives. That percentage dropped into the 50% range by the 1970s, and since then it has fluctuated somewhat, but has generally been in the 55% to 65% range.
Based on the latest Gallup's poll conducted in December, Newport claims "more than 8 in 10 Americans identify with a religion and 8 out of 10 say that religion is at least fairly important in their daily lives; more than 8 out of 10 say they attend church at least 'seldom'; and again more than 8 out of 10 identify with a Christian religion."
Source: Monsters & Critics
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
"I think it is a silly thing to do," said Betty Clark, about the decision by the choir directors to change the song's lyrics.
Monday, December 24, 2007
The Bible and the Koran have both gone global. In 1900, 80% of the world's Christians lived in Europe and the United States. Today 60% live in the developing world. More Presbyterians go to church in Ghana than in Scotland. In 1900 Islam was concentrated in the Arab world and South-East Asia. Today, there may be as many practising Muslims in England as there are practising Anglicans; though in the 20th century, at least, Islam's expansion has mostly come about through population growth and migration, rather than conversion. Muslim “missionary” activity is aimed more at reinvigorating the faithful, and encouraging them to greater zealotry, than at winning new souls.
This mountain of Holy Books is a giant refutation of the secularisation thesis—the idea that religion recedes as the world modernises. “The book lives on among its people,” Constance Padwick, a scholar of the Koran, has written. “For them these are not mere letters or mere words. They are the twigs of the burning bush, aflame with God.” The same can be said of the Bible.
It also poses a couple of intriguing questions. Why are today's Christians and Muslims proving so successful at getting the Word out? And who is winning the battle of the books? Is either of the world's two great missionary religions gaining an edge when it comes to getting their Holy Books into people's hands and hearts?
The straightforward answer to the first question is that Christians and Muslims are both proving remarkably adept at using the tools of modernity—globalisation, technology and growing wealth—to aid the distribution of their Holy Books. “Give me Scotland or I die,” John Knox once cried. Today's faithful aim for the world.
The combination of globalisation and rising wealth is proving to be a bonanza for both religions. The most prolific producer of Christian missionaries, on a per head basis, is now South Korea. The biggest Bible publishing houses are in Brazil and South Korea. An interlinked global network of 140 national or regional Bible Societies pools resources to reach its collective goal of putting a Bible in the hands of every man, woman and child on the planet. The American Bible Society, the biggest of the lot, has published more than 50m Bibles in atheist China.
Saudi oil wealth is supercharging the distribution of the Koran. The kingdom gives away some 30m Korans a year, under the auspices of either the Muslim World League or individual billionaires, distributing them through a vast network of mosques, Islamic societies and even embassies. Go to FreeKoran.com and you can have a free book in your hands in weeks.
Saudi-funded dissemination of the Koran, along with literature promoting the stern Saudi understanding of Islam, may not have much direct effect on Christians, or the unchurched. But it does increase the relative weight, within Islam, of teachings which tend to sharpen the Christian-Muslim divide. For example, traditional Muslim teaching stresses those passages in the Koran which affirm the Christian Gospel and the Hebrew Torah as valid revelations of God and paths to salvation. But there is a harsher, Saudi-influenced view which insists that since Muhammad delivered the final revelation, Christianity and Judaism have lost their power to save.
The Muslim diaspora and Muslim missionaries are bringing the faith to previously untouched areas. The Tablighi Jamaat (“the group that propagates the faith”) is a global network of part-time preachers who dress like the Prophet, in a white robe and leather sandals, and travel in small groups to spread the Word. Their annual gatherings in India and Pakistan attract hundreds of thousands.
Technology is proving to be a friend of the Holy Books. You can consult them on the internet. You can read them on your “Psalm pilot” or mobile phone. You can listen to them on MP3 players or iPods (“podcasting” has given rise to “Godcasting”). Want to “plug into God without unplugging from life”? Then simply buy a Go Bible MP3 player. Want to memorise the Koran? Then buy an MP3 player that displays the words as you listen. Want to network with like-minded people? Then the eBible allows you to discuss biblical passages with virtual friends.
Several television channels and radio stations do nothing but broadcast the Koran. At the other end of the technological spectrum, the American Bible Society produces an audio device, powered by a battery or hand crank and no bigger than a couple of cigar boxes, that can broadcast the Bible to a crowd of a hundred.
Getty Images A well-thumbed Book
There is a difference, however, between getting and understanding a Holy Book. Here both Christianity and Islam suffer from serious problems. Americans buy more than 20m new Bibles every year to add to the four that the average American has at home. Yet the state of American biblical knowledge is abysmal. A Gallup survey found that less than half of Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis), only a third know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (Billy Graham is a popular answer) and a quarter do not know what is celebrated at Easter (the resurrection, the foundational event of Christianity). Sixty per cent cannot name half the ten commandments; 12% think Noah was married to Joan of Arc. George Gallup, a leading Evangelical as well as a premier pollster, describes America as “a nation of biblical illiterates”.
Muslims greatly prefer to read the Koran in the original Arabic. Yet the archaic language and high-flown verse, while inspiring, can also be difficult to understand even for educated Arabic speakers. And only 20% of Muslims speak Arabic as their first language. Illiteracy rates are high across the Muslim world. Many students of the Holy Book do not understand much of what they are memorising.
This needs to be kept in mind when considering who is winning the battle of the books. For some, the question is an abomination. Can't both sides win by converting the heathen? And aren't Christianity and Islam fellow Abrahamic faiths—different versions of the Truth? Others worry that the question is impossible to answer, since there are no systematic figures on the distribution of the Koran, and the battle's front-line cuts through some of the darkest and most dangerous places on the planet. Muslims would argue that their struggle was aimed more at galvanising their own flock than at converting unbelievers. But Islam's relative introversion doesn't make for peaceful coexistence. In many parts of the world, Islamic authorities have reacted furiously to attempts by Christians to entice Muslims to “apostasise” or renounce their faith; in traditional Islamic law, the penalty for apostasy is death; and encouraging believers to apostasise is also treated as a crime.
In many parts of the world, battle seems to be in progress. The Saudis will not allow the Bible to be distributed on their soil. Many Evangelical Christians are fixated on what they call the 10/40 window—the vast swathe of the Islamic world in Africa and Asia that lies between latitudes 10 and 40 north of the equator. The Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Texas has even created a masters degree to train missionaries in the art of converting Muslims. Some Evangelicals produce counterfeit Korans that are designed to plant doubt in Muslim minds.
And the battle of the books is certainly at the heart of the battle between the two religions. People who get hold of Bibles or Korans may not read them or understand them. Unless they are introduced to the books they will certainly remain heathens. Even an imperfect report on the state of the battle tells us a lot about the world's two great missionary religions.
The Christians entered the 21st century with a big head start. There are 2 billion of them in the world compared with 1.5 billion Muslims. But Islam had a better 20th century than Christianity. The world's Muslim population grew from 200m in 1900 to its current levels. Christianity has shrivelled in Christendom's European heart. Islam is resurgent across the Arab world. Many Christian scholars predict that Islam will overtake Christianity as the world's largest religion by 2050.
More recently, though, Muslims complain that the “war on terror” is making it much more difficult to spread the Koran. Contributions to Muslim charities have fallen since September 11th 2001. Several charities have had their funding disrupted. Missionary organisations such as the Tablighi Jamaat are under investigation by Western intelligence services, on the grounds that they may be way-stations to jihadism. And Muslims confront much bigger long-term problems in the battle of the books.
The first is Christianity's superior marketing skills. Its religious publishing houses are big businesses. Thomas Nelson, which was once owned by a former door-to-door Bible salesman, was bought in 2005 for $473m. And secular publishing houses have also got religion: HarperCollins bought Zondervan, a religious book publisher, in the late 1980s, and now most mainstream publishers are trying to produce their own Bibles. As a result, all the tricks of the publisher's trade are being applied to the Bible.
Consider product proliferation. Thomas Nelson publishes 60 different editions of the Bible every year. The Good Book now comes in all colours, including those of your college. There are Bibles for every sort of person, from “seekers” to cowboys, from brides to barmen. There is a waterproof outdoor Bible and a camouflage Bible for use in war zones. The “100 minute Bible” summarises the Good Book for the time-starved.
Consider user-friendliness. There are prayer books in everyday vernacular or even street slang (“And even though I walk through/The Hood of death/I don't back down/for you have my back”). Or consider innovation. In 2003 Thomas Nelson dreamt up the idea of Bible-zines—crosses between Bibles and teenage magazines. The pioneer was Revolve, which intercuts the New Testament with beauty tips and relationship advice (“are you dating a Godly guy?”). This was quickly followed by Refuel, for boys, and Blossom and Explore, for tweens.
The world's richest and most powerful country contains some 80m Evangelicals
There are toddler-friendly versions of the most famous Bible stories. The “Boy's Bible” promises “gross and gory Bible stuff”. The “Picture Bible” looks like a super-hero comic. “God's Little Princess Devotional Bible” is pink and sparkly.
There are about 900 English translations of the Bible, ranging from the grandiloquent to the colloquial. There are translations into languages, such as Inupiat and Gullah, that are spoken by only handfuls of people. Bob Hudson, of the American Bible Society, wants everybody on the planet to be able to claim that “God speaks my language”. A couple of eccentric geeks have even translated the Bible into Klingon, a language spoken only by scrofulous space aliens on “Star Trek”.
Publishers are producing sophisticated dramatisations of the Bible with famous actors and state-of-the-art sound effects. Zondervan's “The Bible Experience” features every black actor in Hollywood from Denzel Washington to Samuel L. Jackson. Other outfits are making films that dramatise Bible stories as faithfully as possible.
And then there are the spin-offs. A “fully posable” Jesus doll recites famous passages of the Good Book. There are Bible quiz books, stuffed with crosswords and other word puzzles, and Bible bingo games. There are Bible colouring books, sticker books and floor puzzles. There is even a Bible-based juke box that plays your favourite biblical passages.
Muslims have also gone into the Holy Book business, but nowhere near as enthusiastically as Christians. This is partly because their commercial publishing houses are smaller and less sophisticated, but also because Muslims believe that the Koran is the literal word of God—dictated to Muhammad (who was himself illiterate) by the Angel Gabriel and then written down by Muhammad's followers. “The Koran does not document what is other than itself,” one scholar notes. “It is not about the truth. It is the truth.”
This makes Muslims uncomfortable with translations. The Holy Book says sternly that “we have sent no messenger save with the tongue of his people.” Today most Muslims tolerate translations—there are now more than 20 English translations—but do so reluctantly. Most translations are as literal as possible. Pious Muslims are expected to learn God's language.
The second advantage the Christians have is America. The world's richest and most powerful country contains some 80m Evangelicals. It supports more missionaries, more broadcasting organisations and more global publishers than any other country. Despite some countries' oil wealth, the Koran's heartland is relatively poor. The Arab world has one of the highest illiteracy rates in the world, with a fifth of men and two-fifths of women unable to read. It also has one of the lowest rates of internet usage.
Christian Evangelists complain that this creates an uneven playing field: Muslims can build giant mosques in “Christian lands” while Christians are barred from distributing Bibles in Saudi Arabia and Iran. But uneven playing fields tend to weaken the home players. Open competition is a boon to religion: American Evangelism has flourished precisely because America has no official church. And theocracy is ultimately a source of sloth and conservatism. “The Book and the Koran”, by Muhammad Shahrur, which tried to reinterpret the Koran for modern readers, was widely banned in the Islamic world, despite its pious tone and huge popularity.
This state-of-the-battle report comes with a health warning. Predicting the fate of religions is unwise, for they can burn or gutter in unpredictable ways. But two things are certain in the battle of the books. The first is that the urge to spread the Word will spark some of the fiercest conflicts of the 21st century. The area that is being most heavily fought over—sub-Saharan Africa—is a tinder box of failed states and ethnic animosities. The second is that the Bible and the Koran will continue to exercise a dramatic influence over human events, for both good and ill. The twigs of the burning bush are still aflame with the fire of God.
Many other U.S. and European officials ended 2007 less optimistic about the global terrorism situation than they began it.
--The U.S.-led intervention in Afghanistan in 2001 initially hobbled al-Qaida by loosening command-and-control links between its core leadership and dispersed operatives.
--The network may still be less capable of executing attacks of the scale and lethality of the Sept. 11 operation.
--Improved homeland security may have prevented terrorist attacks, notably in the United States.
--The Iraq intervention and occupation may have temporarily drawn some jihadists to Iraq and away from other potential "fields of jihad."
Yet, Islamist terrorism poses a renewed threat in 2008 amid signs of sustained and possibly increasing robustness among al-Qaida and its affiliates and the enduring resonance of its ideology.
As 2007 drew to a close, intensifying instability prevailed across the key fronts of Islamist terrorism. With the United States, the United Kingdom and NATO preoccupied in Iraq and Afghanistan, there have been increased incidents of terrorist activity in multiple regions, often exhibiting cross-pollination of tactics:
--Pakistan. Political fluidity and instability in Pakistan had the effect of relaxing government pressure on the Taliban and on al-Qaida, which has reconstituted a territorial base in Pakistan's tribal areas near the Afghan border.
--Afghanistan. Al-Qaida is opportunistically increasing its activity in Afghanistan and seeking to re-establish a base there as the Taliban regain strength. While some of the backing for this resurgence comes from poppy production, support from foreign sources also appears to have increased. Casualties from suicide bombings, relatively unknown prior to 2006, have spiked in the past two years.
--North Africa. The September 2006 "re-branding" of the Algerian Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat as "Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb" signaled an embrace of trans-national themes by a group whose prior aims were predominantly national in scope. The broadening of target choice to encompass Western interests as well as Algerian state institutions was confirmed in a plot to attack U.K. and U.S. embassies, and a double suicide bombing in Algiers in December that killed 17 U.N. officials.
--Somalia. Since Ethiopia's December 2006 invasion of Somalia, which displaced the Council of Somali Islamic Courts regime in Mogadishu and installed the Transitional Federal Government, a complex insurgency has developed. Carried out by clan and Islamist fighters, its tactics--targeted assassinations, roadside bombings and some suicide attacks against Ethiopian and government forces and facilities--reflect those of the insurgency in Iraq.
--Europe. Early in November, the head of the U.K. Security Service ("MI5") made a speech raising the publicly acknowledged estimate of the number of active terrorist supporters in the country from 1,600 to 2,000. He warned that the problem had not yet peaked and that radical Islamists were methodically grooming and radicalizing individuals as young as 15 for acts of terror.
The one region where better news has emerged is South-east Asia. Efforts by the Indonesian authorities appear to have weakened Jemaah Islamiah, while the Philippines has claimed significant victories against Abu Sayyaf and reported progress in peace talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. A separatist insurgency in the Muslim-majority provinces of southern Thailand has intensified, but there is little evidence that militants there have systematic links to regional or global Islamist movements.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
President Ahmadinejad who had attended the gathering of Iranian Haj pilgrims at the Supreme Leader's Mecca Headquarter focused in his address over the significance of major Haj rituals, the philosophy behind them, and their ultimate objectives.
He said, "If we would delete the ultimate objective of establishing a global system from the Haj rituals, the remainder would be deeds devoid of a soul." Upon President Ahmadinejad's arrival in Mena, he was received by the Emir al-Haaj of the Iranian Haj pilgrims Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Mohammadi Reyshahri and members of the Supreme Leader's Mecca Headquarters.