St Matthew’s school in Blackburn shows that a multi-faith approach can pay dividends

April 2, 2014

 

97 per cent of the 265 pupils schooled in the Lancastrian city are from Muslim families. The head teacher, Julian Rogers, believes that the word of God should be spoken and Christian values and morals upheld at the school no matter what background the children are from. Indeed, during assemblies, his biblical stories hold his audience – of excited, intrigued and sometimes confused-looking pupils – captive.

Most are second- or third-generation British Asians, whose parents/grandparents emigrated here from India and Pakistan from the 1960s onwards. But there are also children with families from countries such as Iran, Palestine, Turkey and Nigeria. So: a melting pot of cultures, languages and identities. Some have only just arrived with their families from the turmoil of their home country, and have found being taught about Christianity in English somewhat unexpected.

Maryam Pathan, who was born in India but has lived in England for 10 years and whose daughter is in the reception class. “We think it’s great that they are learning about other religions.” Mr Rogers says that the children are more receptive to the Christian teachings because they already come from a background of belief.

Overall, the school has had great success in maintaining religious and social harmony among the pupils, but there are unlikely to be any Muslim converts to Christianity any time soon. As one Muslim mother, Amina Patel, points out: “It’s good that our kids learn about Christianity, but it’s not going to change their religious faith or the way we teach them at home.”

The Muslim children at St Matthew’s also attend local Islamic schools from 4.30pm to 7pm every day, with a short break at home in between for tea and homework. A large number of them go to the Islamic Educational Society for their additional schooling. This consists of an impressive-looking mosque called Masjide Noorul Islam (place of worship) and the Madressa Noorul Islam in a basic brick building opposite where the children sit in classrooms to learn about Islam.

“Most of these kids were born in Britain and have adapted to the culture here, but it is important they learn about and identify with the religious beliefs of their forefathers” says the school’s leader Mufti Ashraf Sidat. Recitation of the Koran is a vital part of their education, along with learning about Islamic law, history, manners, etiquette, citizenship, languages and spiritual training.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/education/schools/st-matthews-school-in-blackburn-shows-that-a-multifaith-approach-can-pay-dividends-9234081.html

 

Number of Muslims in prison doubles in decade to 12,000

March 23, 2014

 

The number of Muslims in the prison population has more than doubled to nearly 12,000 in a decade, figures from the Ministry of Justice show. The dramatic rise prompted calls for ministers to investigate whether police and the courts are treating Muslims more harshly, with some suggesting the rise is due to Islamophobia. Muslims represent only 4.7 per cent of the population in England and Wales, according to the most recent Census, yet one in seven prisoners (14 per cent) in England and Wales is a Muslim, according to the statistics.

The Muslim prison population has increased from 5,502 (7.7 per cent) in 2002 to 11,729 in 2013 (14 per cent) and is set to continue rising rapidly because of the large numbers of Muslim teenagers in youth jails. Some research suggests around one-third of Muslim inmates are from Caribbean or African backgrounds. The shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who obtained the statistics, said: “It is astonishing and a huge concern that one in seven prisoners is Muslim. This is compared to just one in 20 of the population.

Amal Imad, of the charity Muslim Aid, suggested that poor educational performance, problems finding fulfilling jobs and family breakdown were factors in the increasing numbers of Muslims behind bars. She said: “It may be that they can’t integrate into society, they don’t think they have a positive chance to integrate into society.”

Mizanur Rahman, a spokesman for the organisation Muslim Prisoners, blamed the spike on Islamophobia and racism among police officers.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/number-of-muslims-in-prison-doubles-in-decade-to-12000-9222237.html

Exclusive: Sharp increase in under-18s ‘at risk’ of being radicalised into jihadists

March 23, 2014

 

The number of children and vulnerable adults identified as potential violent extremists by a controversial Government anti-radicalisation initiative has surged by more than 25 per cent in the past year. Since last April at least 940 people have been referred for assessment under the Channel programme because of concerns they are at risk of being drawn into terrorism, according to official figures.

According to the figures, 153 children under 11, another 690 aged 12-15, and 554 aged 16-17 have been referred since 2007. A further 2,196 adults have also been assessed. The total of 940 so far for 2013-14 marks an increase of just over a quarter on 748 cases in 2012-13. The Government’s guide for those tasked with implementing Channel describes it as an early intervention process to safeguard children and adults from being drawn into terrorism-related activity. The programme is co-ordinated by the police but draws on input from across a spectrum of public services, including children’s and adult welfare centres, schools and healthcare providers.

In numbers:

940 people referred to Channel programme as potential violent extremists since last April

467 of those were under 18

153 were under 11

748 cases reported in 2012/2013

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/exclusive-sharp-increase-in-under18s-at-risk-of-being-radicalised-into-jihadists-9211135.html

‘Former Arsenal player’ in Syria jihad video identified as Portuguese

April 16, 2014

 

A masked al-Qaida fighter in Syria described as a former Arsenal footballer has been identified as a Portuguese citizen, it can be disclosed. The man appeared in a video released online two weeks ago urging others to join the jihadists, using a false name and speaking in a heavy accent. The video was posted in an account linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis) which is associated with al-Qaida. The player was using the nickname Abu Isa Andaluzi, and the caption said: “An ex-football player (Arsenal of London), who left everything for jihad.”

They believe the man is an individual called Celso Rodrigues Da Costa who had been living in Leyton, east London with his two brothers. It is unclear whether he had trials for Arsenal or ever had any association with the club. Sources at Arsenal say they do not believe he was a full-time player but he may have attended coaching sessions, when potential players are assessed before signing for the club at the age of 16. A spokesman for the club said: “We do not recognise the individual from the published clips and we don’t have any record of a Mr Celso Rodrigues Da Costa representing the club at any level.”

He is not the first footballer to be killed in Syria with Burak Karan, 26, a player for the under-17 German national squad being killed in October after a bomb was dropped from a Syrian Air Force jet on the village of Azaz, near the Turkish border. In 2003, Nizar Trabelsi, a former professional football player with Fortuna Düsseldorf and Wuppertal in Germany was sentenced to 10 years in jail for his association with al-Qaeda and for plotting to attack US targets including American soldiers stationed at the Belgian airbase Kleine Brogel.

In November, 2001 author Adam Robinson claimed in his biography ‘Bin Laden: Behind The Mask of Terror’ that Osama bin Laden had attended four matches at Arsenal’s ground in Highbury when he visited London in the 1990s. He said that Bin Laden witnessed Arsenal’s run to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in the 1993-1994 season and was so enthralled by George Graham’s side that he bought his eldest son, Abdullah, an Ian Wright replica shirt.

Arsenal enforced an immediate ban saying he wouldn’t be welcome in the future.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/16/former-arsenal-player-syria-jihad-portuguese-da-costa

Revealed: the radical clerics using social media to back British jihadists in Syria

April 15, 2014

 

Two radical Muslim clerics have been identified as influential online cheerleaders for fighters seeking to topple the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, in a pioneering academic study published on Wednesday. Researchers based at King’s College London reveal how social media is being harnessed by a network of radical preachers to inspire and guide British and other western Muslims waging jihad in Syria. By examining tweets and Facebook postings used by certain rebels, people who follow the conflict from abroad and the two clerics, the academics say they have been able to provide a “unique and unfiltered window into the minds” of western and European foreign fighters in Syria.

The information allowed the analysts to identify a “set of new spiritual authorities” who have the largest followings. The report says they are the American-based cleric Ahmad Musa Jibril and the Australian preacher Musa Cerantonio. Both speak English and are based in the west. Although there is no evidence to suggest these individuals are physically involved in facilitating the flow of foreign fighters to Syria, or that they are co-ordinating their activity with jihadist organisations, they are playing the role of cheerleaders. “It is clear that they are important figures whose political, moral and spiritual messages are considered attractive to a number of foreign fighters,” the researchers conclude.

Though they do not openly incite their followers to commit violent acts they do tweet support for the Syrian rebels. Neither of them has a mosque or a traditional constituency in the way that a radical preacher like Abu Hamza used to have who still had a base to operate from, having become virtually borderless as virtual clerics who operate solely more or less through the internet and on popular media, Youtube, and in the case of Cerantonio, through international TV stations as well.

Shiraz Maher, of the ICSR, said the report represented the first empirical analysis of “what’s important for foreign fighters” in the Syrian context. Cerantonio and Jibril represented a new breed of “virtual” preachers, he said. “We never intended to write the report in the way it was written, we just crunched the numbers and these two came out top and the evidence suggests that these two people are very important to people in their 20s who are invested and interested in the Syrian conflict.

 

The Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/apr/15/preachers-spiritual-cheerleaders-social-media-syria-london-university

 

U.S. doesn’t rank high in religious diversity

April 4, 2014

 

The United States has often been described as a religiously diverse country, an image celebrated in forums ranging from scholarly work to a popular bumper sticker and even a recent Coca-Cola commercial during the Super Bowl. But, from a global perspective, the United States really is not all that religiously diverse, according to a new Pew Research Center study. In fact, 95% of the U.S. population is either Christian or religiously unaffiliated, while all other religions combined account for just 5% of Americans. As a result, the U.S. ranks 68th out of 232 countries and territories on our Religious Diversity Index.

The new study treats all Christians as members of the same religion. The U.S. has an enormous variety of Christian denominations, and if diversity within the world’s largest faith were taken into account, the United States likely would rank higher. But the study treats Christianity no differently than Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Judaism – all of which also have a lot of internal diversity, yet are considered as single religions in the study.

The study looks at the share of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups, including the unaffiliated (those who identify as atheist, agnostic or having no particular religion). The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on the 10-point index. By this measure, Singapore is the world’s most religiously diverse country, followed by Taiwan and Vietnam.

Six of the top 12 countries and territories on the Religious Diversity Index are in Asia (Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Hong Kong). Several of them have substantial Buddhist, Christian and unaffiliated populations, as well as many adherents of “folk” religions. At the other end of the scale, among the places with the least religious diversity are Vatican City (more than 99% Christian) and such overwhelmingly Muslim countries as Morocco, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The U.S. is classified as “moderate” in terms of religious diversity. While adherents of many world religions live in the United States – the world’s third most populous country – most of those religions each represent less than 2% of the U.S. population. That includes people who identify their religion in surveys as Judaism (1.8%), Buddhism (1.2%), Islam (0.9%), Hinduism (0.6%) and folk or traditional religions (0.2%).

There’s an important distinction between religious diversity and religious freedom, which this report does not measure. (We’ve studied global restrictions on religion, both in the form of government restrictions and social hostilities, in a separate series of reports.) TheFirst Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, of course, guarantees the right to “free exercise” of religion, which has been celebrated by figures ranging from Alexis de Tocqueville to Norman Rockwell.

But even as Tocqueville (in the late 1830s) wrote that the “sects that exist in the United States are innumerable,” he also observed that all those sects “are comprised within the great unity of Christianity.” The country has certainly changed over the centuries, but it remains a nation with an overwhelming Christian majority.

Pew.com: http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/04/u-s-doesnt-rank-high-in-religious-diversity/

Half of the Most Religiously Diverse Countries are in Asia-Pacific Region

April 4, 2014

 

Several years ago, the Pew Research Center produced estimates of the religious makeup of more than 200 countries and territories, which it published in the 2012 report “The Global Religious Landscape.” The effort was part of the Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures project, which analyzes religious change and its impact on societies around the world. As part of the next phase of this project, Pew Research has produced an index that ranks each country by its level of religious diversity.

Comparing religious diversity across countries presents many challenges, starting with the definition of diversity. Social scientists have conceived of diversity in a variety of ways, including the degree to which a society is split into distinct groups; minority group size (in share and/or absolute number); minority group influence (the degree to which multiple groups are visible and influential in civil society); and group dominance (the degree to which one or more groups dominate society). Each of these approaches can be applied to the study of religious diversity.1

This study, however, takes a relatively straightforward approach to religious diversity. It looks at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to eight major religious groups, as of 2010.2 The closer a country comes to having equal shares of the eight groups, the higher its score on a 10-point Religious Diversity Index.

The choice of which religious groups to include in this study stems from the original research that was done for “The Global Religious Landscape” report. That study was based on a country-by-country analysis of data from more than 2,500 national censuses, large-scale surveys and official population registers that were collected, evaluated and standardized by Pew Research staff and, in the case of European countries, by researchers at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Laxenburg, Austria.

In order to have data that were comparable across many countries, the study focused on five widely recognized world religions – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam and Judaism – that collectively account for roughly three-quarters of the world’s population. The remainder of the global population was consolidated into three additional groups: the religiously unaffiliated (those who say they are atheists, agnostics or nothing in particular); adherents of folk or traditional religions (including members of African traditional religions, Chinese folk religions, Native American religions and Australian aboriginal religions); and adherents of other religions (such as the Baha’i faith, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Taoism, Tenrikyo, Wicca and Zoroastrianism).

How Countries Ranked

Looking at the percentage of each country’s population that belongs to the eight major religious categories included in the study, 12 countries have a very high degree of religious diversity. Six of the 12 are in the Asia-Pacific region (Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Hong Kong); five are in sub-Saharan Africa (Guinea-Bissau, Togo, Ivory Coast, Benin and Mozambique); and one is in Latin America and the Caribbean (Suriname). No countries in Europe, North America or the Middle East-North Africa region have a very high degree of religious diversity as measured in this study.

Of the 232 countries in the study, Singapore – an island nation of more than 5 million people situated at the southern tip of Malaysia – has the highest score on the Religious Diversity Index. About a third of Singapore’s population is Buddhist (34%), while 18% are Christian, 16% are religiously unaffiliated, 14% are Muslim, 5% are Hindu and <1% are Jewish. The remainder of the population belongs to folk or traditional religions (2%) or to other religions considered as a group (10%).

According to the new index, the United States has a moderate level of religious diversity, ranking 68th among the 232 countries and territories included in the study. Counting both adults and children, Christians constitute a sizable majority of the 2010 U.S. population (78%). Of the seven other major religious groups, only the religiously unaffiliated claim a substantial share of the U.S. population (16%).7 All other religious groups combined account for about 5% of Americans. (The U.S. would register as considerably more diverse if subgroups within Christianity were counted.8)

By contrast, France has a high degree of religious diversity, ranking 25th among the 232 countries. Christians make up 63% of France’s 2010 population, and two other groups account for sizable shares: the religiously unaffiliated (28%) and Muslims (8%). Iran, whose population is almost entirely Muslim, falls into the low diversity category.

To see how all 232 countries scored on the Religious Diversity Index, see Appendix 1 (PDF).

Pew.com: http://www.pewforum.org/2014/04/04/global-religious-diversity/

Islam critic: Brandeis turned honor into a shaming

April 8, 2014

 

Brandeis University has transformed an accolade into “a moment of shaming” by withdrawing a plan to give an honorary degree to a Muslim women’s advocate who has made comments critical of Islam, she said Wednesday.

The university decided late Tuesday not to honor Somali-born Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the May 18 commencement after receiving complaints from some students, faculty members and others, including an online petition.

Ali, a member of the Dutch Parliament from 2003 to 2006, has been quoted as making comments critical of Islam. That includes a 2007 interview with Reason Magazine in which she said of the religion: “Once it’s defeated, it can mutate into something peaceful. It’s very difficult to even talk about peace now. They’re not interested in peace. I think that we are at war with Islam. And there’s no middle ground in wars.”

“She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world,” said the university’s statement. “That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values.”

Ali said that her critics selectively pick quotes and that she doubts the university was not aware of them.

Some alumni, students and faculty did voice support for honoring Ali, who was raised in a strict Muslim family but renounced the faith in her 30s after surviving a civil war, genital mutilation, beatings and an arranged marriage.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/brandeis-u-decides-against-honor-for-islam-critic/2014/04/08/b26f8fb8-bf96-11e3-9ee7-02c1e10a03f0_story.html

Jury chosen for US terror trial of Egyptian imam

April 14, 2014

 

A jury was chosen Monday for the federal trial of an Egyptian Islamic preacher extradited from Great Britain on charges he conspired to support al-Qaida, setting the stage for the second major terrorism trial in Manhattan in two months.

Eight men and four women will hear evidence in the government’s case against Mustafa Kamel Mustafa after opening statements Thursday. The trial comes weeks after a jury convicted Osama bin Laden’s son-in-law Sulaiman Abu Ghaith of charges stemming from his role as al-Qaida’s spokesman after the Sept. 11 attacks. He likely faces a life sentence.

The 55-year-old Mustafa also will face a life sentence if he is convicted of conspiring to support al-Qaida by trying in 1999 to set up a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., by arranging for others to attend an al-Qaida training camp in Afghanistan and by ensuring there was satellite phone service for hostage-takers in Yemen in 1998 who abducted two American tourists and 14 others. Four hostages were killed.

The white-haired Mustafa, also known as Abu Hamza al-Masri, turned London’s Finsbury Park Mosque in the 1990s into a training ground for Islamic extremists, attracting men including Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui and shoe bomber Richard Reid.

Jailed since 2004 in Britain on separate charges of inciting racial hatred and encouraging followers to kill non-Muslims, Mustafa was brought to the United States for trial in fall 2012.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/jury-to-be-picked-in-ny-trial-of-egyptian-preacher/2014/04/14/5e07ffd2-c392-11e3-9ee7-02c1e10a03f0_story.html

Shootings at Kansas Jewish Community Centers: a case of domestic terrorism

April 14, 2014

 

As the news of the tragic shooting in the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City and Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community, broke across the nation, here are a few thoughts and prayers that I wanted to share:

1)  Silence, Grief, and prayers.

– See more at: http://omidsafi.religionnews.com/2014/04/14/shootings-kansas-jewish-community-centers-case-domestic-terrorism/#sthash.1nrPtbBA.dpuf As the news of the tragic shooting in the Jewish Community Center in Kansas City and Village Shalom, a Jewish retirement community, broke across the nation, here are a few thoughts and prayers that I wanted to share:

1)  Silence, Grief, and prayers.

2)  This is about all of us.

3)  The shooter is not “mad”, “crazy”, “deranged”.  This is a case of Domestic Terrorism.

Let us resist every attempt to soften the savagery of this attack by calling it the work of a single, isolated, lone madman.    Yes, there are facts that still need to be collected, but there is a trail of evidence that’s hard to ignore.

This is not the work of one solitary crazed man. The SPLC has tracked 939 extremist KKK, white-supremacist, and other hate-groups. We have a lot of work to do.

RNS.com:  http://omidsafi.religionnews.com/2014/04/14/shootings-kansas-jewish-community-centers-case-domestic-terrorism/#sthash.1nrPtbBA.dpuf