February 10, 2005

Religion rundown

In addition to politics and the music of Frank Zappa, I'm advertising some religious info; so today we'll have a non-denominational rundown of recent religious news stories.

First, of course, that "Main Man" of organized religion, the Pope. The Pope is feeling much better. He rode home from the hospital in the popemobile, and waved to onlookers.

In honor of His Holiness's illness, it's been a slow week in Christian news. First, the inhabitants of an Indian Catholic village are being threatened and attacked by Hindu fundamentalists. Some "holy man" stirring up trouble.

The family of a recently deceased American Indian activist wanted to incorporate some Lakota rituals into her funeral service. The American Indian Baptist Church replied, among other things, "drumming brings the demons." There's not much you can say to that.

Closing out Christianity, a feel-good story about evangelicals becoming environmentally aware.
"While evangelicals are open to being good stewards of God's creation, they believe people should only worship God, not creation," Green said. "This may sound like splitting hairs. But evangelicals don't see it that way. Their stereotype of environmentalists would be Druids who worship trees."

In other big news, Saudi Arabia has elections (sort of). I suppose there's something to be said for starting slowly. Half of the people electing half of the assembly certainly seems slow enough.
From the Daily Star in Lebanon comes this editorial.
Now, however, despite high oil prices, Saudi Arabia faces a population explosion, high unemployment - youth unemployment in particular is worrying - an economy dependent on the petroleum sector, and an ongoing tension between the forces of modernization and globalization on the one hand, and the forces of conservative religious beliefs and social mores born of a still very traditional and even tribal society on the other hand. There are other problems, such as a bloated and unproductive public sector. The private sector, however, is much stronger. Here there is a gap to bridge, and it is a gap made wider by a weak work ethic.

I found a good summary of the Shia/Sunni split in Iraq. It all started the day Muhammad died (intestate, as it were). Shia believe that the husband of Muhammad's oldest daughter, Ali, should be in charge. Sunni were more democratic, wanting to popularly elect their leaders. Much like with the Pope, this resulted in a series of compromises. Eventually 3 of Muhammad's other in-laws were chosen. Unfortunately one of them was from Mecca's powerful Umayyid clan. The Umayyids killed Ali, and the Shia still perform self-flagellation at the yearly festival mourning his death.
The Sunni community makes up 80 percent of the Islamic world, and has historically repressed the minority Shiites, except in Iran. The Sunni Ottoman sultan persecuted the Shiites in Mesopotamia, which would become Iraq. And when Iraq was established by the British after World War I, the persecution continued, though Sunnis were a minority in the new nation. The British found it difficult to deal with the Shiite ayatollahs and virtually excluded them from governance.
Saddam Hussein also mistreated the Shiites after he came to power in 1979. Fearing Shiites' numbers and potential power, he killed their leaders and ignored development of impoverished Shiite areas while lavishing money on Sunni cities. He even launched his war against Iran in 1980, after the Iranian revolution, to prevent Shiite influence from dominating Iraq.
Now the Shia can vote and the Sunni are terrified that they're going to end up living in East Iran.

It looks like they might be right to worry. Some Iraqi Shia muslims want to start using sharia law. Everyone knows that sharia is bad for women, but it's not too good for anyone who isn't the right kind of fundamentalist. On the other hand, it would probably end insurgent violence.

Morocco's minister in charge of Moroccans overseas, Nouzha Chekrouni has called upon the country's women living abroad to correct the image of Islam in the West.
Speaking at a conference on globalization and Muslim women, Chekrouni suggested they cooperate with western feminist movements in order to disseminate Islamic civilization values, correct the image of Islam in western media and dissociate the Muslim women from fanaticism and terrorism.

Malaysia is walking a fine line, trying to get rich on trade without becoming "western." The plan is called Islam Hadhari (civilizational Islam) and was outlined by Premier Abdullah Ahmad Badawi as:
Faith and piety in Allah
A just and trustworthy government
A free and independent People
Mastery of knowledge
Balanced and comprehensive economic development
A good quality of life
Protection of the rights of minority groups and women
Cultural and moral integrity
Safeguarding the environment
Strong defenses

Results have been mixed, while the economy grew by 7.2% last year, income disparities and obesity rates remain serious problems. Consumerism is another rising trend.

I couldn't ask for a better lead-in to a story about a delightful celebration of rampant consumerism in the Islamic playground Dubai.
The Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) is reaching its climax with nearly $3 million and 100 kilograms of gold up for grabs, in the Gulf emirate's quest to become a leading tourist destination.
This year's DSF featured $27.1 million worth of prizes, with the daily highlights being raffle draws for three luxury cars and five kilograms of gold.
Jewellers have also pooled together for a grand win of $1.3 million worth of gold for one winner on the closing day, when another lucky person will walk away with 10 cars.
But the ultimate will be the lucky name picked for the $2.7 million cash prize.
A Bahraini tourist has reportedly won three cars in this year's festival alone.

They're giving away pounds of gold.

On the forgotten, dark continent of Africa Islam fuels many deplorable acts. A Somali Islamic militant group "liquidated" a British journalist outside her hotel. At the same time, an Iraqi journalist and his 4 year old son were killed in a separate attack.

There's also a religious element to the conflict in Darfur, Sudan. The government was arming and supporting Islamic tribesmen to control unrest in the tribal communities. Apparently, some of the victims are Islamic, too. Another example of why giving people guns doesn't usually result in peace.

Yemen concludes this look at Islam with an incredibly thoughtful and worthwhile editorial.
Yes, temptation may drive many men to assume some inkling of power or sway over the religious persuasions of the constituencies that surround them or share some or all their views on the best way of siding with the Divine. This in turn gives rise to the corruption of the true values that spiritual instinct would regard as anathema to the real purpose of religion and of course the corruption of free minds that are instinctively able to discern in their sub-conscience the difference between right and wrong and good and bad. So, religion is not at fault for many of the calamitous behavior of mankind as some skeptics about religious belief would like to suggest. It is really men, who have mistakenly set themselves on a spiritual pedestal that allows them to make use of religion to further their own mundane aspirations.
I have to stop there or I'll end up quoting the whole thing. It's really good. Read it.

Who ever said Buddhists aren't superstitious.
The authorities of Burma’s military junta, State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) detained the abbot of Payeik-chimyin who was venerated by the ousted “Prime Minister” General Khin Nyunt, and imposed restrictions on two other renowned abbots.
The ruling generals’ soothsayers advised them that great problems could arise from small religious matters, according a civil servant who doesn’t want to be named.

Buddhism is under increasing opposition from Maoists in a number of countries. Even in India. The inhabitants of Bodhgaya, home of the famous bhodi tree under which the Buddah first found enlightenment, are living in peace so far.

Unlike Sikhs, who are rioting over the supposed elopement of two college-age Sikh girls and their Hindu boyfriends. Police have imposed curfew.

A man told the police that the Hindu goddess Durga had appeared in his dreams and asked him to sacrifice a minor if he wanted his problems to go away. So he found a five year old boy and did the deed. Another man must have had the same dream, because he tried to sacrifice his three year old neice but his neighbors stopped him before he could finish.

Right-wing Hindu activists opposed to Pakistan's cricket tour of India were arrested on Thursday making an unsuccessful attempt to damage the pitch at one of the match venues. That's not very sporting of them.

You've heard of praying for peace. Now hear about praying against it.
Israeli rabbis were planning on Sunday to hold special sessions in 100 synagogues to pray for the failure of this week's summit between prime minister Ariel Sharon and new Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.

And we mustn't forget the followers of traditional religions. This person in Zimbabwe was apparently born with both male and female sex organs and raised female. She paid a traditional healer to remove the male organs and was competing in junior track and field as a woman. She says she still owed the healer some money for the procedure so he has allowed the organs to grow back. Some people you just don't want to owe money to.

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