January 25, 2014
A British pensioner with a history of severe mental illness has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being found guilty of breaching the country’s blasphemy laws. Muhammad Asghar, 69, from Edinburgh, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is unaware that he is ill following a stroke, was convicted at the end of a trial in Rawalpindi in which it was alleged he claimed to be the prophet Mohammed. During the case, which was heard without a jury, the judge forcibly removed his independent lawyers from the court and appointed a state counsel on the defendant’s behalf.
His treatment has been severely criticised by human rights organisations which have long campaigned against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy legislation which, according to Amnesty International, has created a climate of fear and murderous vigilantism in the devoutly Muslim country where allegations of religious crime are routinely used to persecute minorities.
Mr Asghar’s lawyers and his doctor are desperately concerned for his wellbeing after he attempted suicide following his incarceration in 2010. His condition is getting worse and he requires complex daily medication as well as psychological and social care but is instead sharing a crowded cell with other prisoners. The conviction is now being appealed although it could take five years before it is heard.
Dr Jane McLennan of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh – a leading authority on psychiatric illness in older people – said that to properly analyse his behaviour she would be required to repeat her patient’s claims – potentially running the risk of being considered blasphemous herself. Thus the very nature of the charges in Pakistan makes it difficult for a mental health professional to indulge in a full discussion of the proper diagnosis.”
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We strongly object to the use of the death penalty and will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family during this difficult time. We have continuously made representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Mr Asghar and we will continue to do so. We are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and we are dedicated to doing all we can to prevent the execution of any British national.”
The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/death-sentence-for-british-pensioner-accused-of-blasphemy-in-pakistan-9083235.html
The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10595398/British-schizophrenic-sentenced-to-death-for-blasphemy-in-Pakistan.html
While returning from holiday, Glasgow MSP Humza Yousaf was selected for security checks from among returning passengers at Edinburgh airport. The Scottish Herald reports that checks according to Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act (the so-called “skin color check”) had previously angered Muslims so much that they threatened to boycott Scottish airports in favor of flying from Manchester to avoid what they perceive as harassment.
In Britain’s highly politicized social climate in the aftermath of the 7/7 London bombings, this book provides an in-depth understanding of British Muslim identity. The author conducted ethnographic fieldwork in the form of in-depth, semi-structured interviews of over 200 young Muslims in five British cities: London, Leicester, Bradford, Leeds and Cardiff.
Kabir’s careful analysis of interview responses offers insights into the hopes and aspirations of British Muslims from remarkably diverse ethnicities. By emphasizing the importance of biculturalism, the author conveys a realistic and hopeful vision for their successful integration into British society.
Young British Muslims is available for purchase from Edinburgh University Press.
Nahid Afrose Kabir is a visiting fellow at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard University, USA. She is the author of Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations and Cultural History (London: Routledge 2005).
A Bid is being launched to build the first mosque in East Lothian. Asian community leaders are set to meet council officials to discuss finding a suitable site or building that could be converted. More than 100 Muslim families from across the county currently have to travel to Edinburgh for prayers at least once a week. There are seven mosques in the city, and three in West Lothian, but none in East or Midlothian. East Lothian Ethnic Minority Forum, which has a majority of Muslim members, has put forward the idea. It says a purpose-built mosque could cost £300,000, so an existing building would be the best option in the short term. Jalal Chaudry, the forum’s vice president, said members planned to meet local councillors and officials to discuss the idea. He said: “Almost every council area has its own mosque, but we don’t have any. “We’re supposed to pray five times a day, preferably in a mosque. Even if that’s not possible, we should at least go for Friday prayers. “The problem is, people in East Lothian have to close their shop or leave work for two or three hours and travel to Edinburgh.
“There are also quite a few people who live in Edinburgh, but work in East Lothian. “We also need to teach our children their religious education. Usually children go after school, or on a Saturday, but at the moment they have quite a long journey.”
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Kenny Macaskill, the justice secretary, and senior police officers are to hold talks with Muslim leaders this week amid growing resentment that Asian passengers are allegedly being harassed under terrorist stop-and-search powers. Community leaders say the powers are being over-used by police at airports and railway stations, with people routinely detained for up to two hours and interrogated on their religious beliefs, prayer habits, knowledge of the Koran, political affiliations, hobbies, and their views of the Iraq war. In some cases, “suspects” are later visited at home and questioned about internet sites they have viewed, fuelling fears that they are under surveillance. The British transport police (BTP) have also been accused of heavy-handedness at main stations such as Edinburgh Waverley and Glasgow Central. The issue will be raised at a private meeting at the central mosque in Glasgow attended by MacAskill and senior police officers. MacAskill has already attacked the BTP on the issue. Last year, Tom Harris, the UK rail minister, accused him of being “cynical and irresponsible” for claiming the BTP was harassing ethnic minorities.
An organisation seeking a “new engagement” for Scottish Muslims will be launched in Edinburgh later this month. The event is scheduled to be addressed by First Minister Alex Salmond. The Scottish-Islamic Foundation (SIF) is led by second and third generation Muslims and converts to the faith, and their launch comes just a few days before the anniversary of the Glasgow Airport attack. The Foundation runs a leadership training programme, which aims to teach Muslims how their faith demands they be good citizens. They believe that Scotland can play an important role in bringing civilisations together. Osama Saeed, Chief Executive of SIF, said: “Research has shown Scottish Muslims are very comfortable with their identity, and this is an example our country can take to the rest of Europe. We don’t need to have the same debate about integration we see elsewhere, and it means we can talk about how Muslims can now further deepen their contribution to the country. “In that respect, our five aims are firmly rooted within the Islamic tradition but may surprise some – freedom, respect, education, families and justice.http://themuslimweekly.com/newsdetails/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=CFB31FC451C3E2938055DFA7&MENUID=HOMENEWS&DESCRIPTION=UK%20News
Harun Yahya’s Atlas of Creation, the lavishly illustrated Islamic creationist book that first turned up in Turkey, then France and other European countries and prompted a disapproving resolution by the Council of Europe, is now being mailed to universities in Scotland, the Sunday Herald there reported. The paper reported the following: I find it quite staggering, said Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh. He houses his seven copies in a cupboard in the zoology department’s staff room. Every academic I know says they’ve got one of those… According to Taner Edis, a physicist at Truman State University in the US who has written several books on Islam and science, Oktar is the leader of a small religious sect and an art school drop-out.
A controversial book by an evangelical Muslim – claiming to prove that God created the earth, and calling evolution a “deceit” that was responsible for the Holocaust, communism and the 9/11 attacks – is being sent unsolicited to Scottish universities. Seven copies of the lavishly-produced Atlas Of Creation by Harun Yahya have arrived at the University of Edinburgh, while the University of Glasgow has received two, leading to concerns that they may appear in schools as well. Last year, the book caused uproar in France when it turned up in classrooms, prompting human rights watchdog the Council of Europe to report on Yahya, his writings, and his method of distribution. I find it quite staggering,” said Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh. He houses his seven copies in a cupboard in the zoology department’s staff room. “Every academic I know says they’ve got one of those. And it’s peddling an absolute, downright lie.” He said the appearance of the books and the rise of creationist voices in the UK, within both Christian and Muslim groups, didn’t affect his teaching but that he was “much more worried about primary and secondary school classrooms”. Edd McCracken reports.
The teenage sister of suicide bomb plotter Atif Siddique has started an internet campaign to have her brother released, it was reported. Ayesha Siddique, 17, claims “there is no such thing as justice” on her Bebo page. Ayesha, of Alva, Clackmannanshire, describes her jailed brother, 21, as a “darling” and asks people to back a petition campaigning to free him and support his solicitor, Aamer Anwar. Her brother was jailed for eight years in October at the High Court in Edinburgh for plotting terrorism. [Full-text here.->http://themuslimweekly.com/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=73EF33F075EFC6BC58EA8B53&MENUID=HOMENEWS&DESCRIPTION=UK%20News
By Maev Kennedy For the first time, the oldest and most precious surviving texts of the Jewish, Christian and Islamic faiths have gone on display side by side at the British Library. They include a tattered scrap of a Dead Sea Scroll and a Qur’an commissioned for a 14th-century Mongol ruler of modern Iran who was born a shaman, baptised a Christian, and converted first to Buddhism, then Sunni and finally Shia Islam. The exhibition also has some exotic private loans, including an embroidered 19th-century curtain which once covered the door of the Ka’bah, the shrine which is at the core of the hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, a hand embroidered Jewish bridal canopy – and a gold shalwar kameez worn by Jemima Goldsmith in 1995, when she married the former Pakistan cricket captain Imran Khan. The exhibition, which will be formally opened today by the Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco, was organised over the last three years at a time of acute stress between the three faiths after the Iraq war. The British Library was already considering such a project when it was approached with the proposal by the Moroccan British Society, which became a main sponsor, among others from all three faiths. Graham Shaw, the lead curator, said: “We were determined not to create faith zones, but to show these wonderful manuscripts side by side, and demonstrate how much we share – not least that these are three faiths founded on sacred texts, books of revelation.” Many exhibits are among the oldest of their kind, including a Qur’an made in Arabia within a century of Muhammad’s lifetime. The exhibition also shows how calligraphers and manuscript illuminators shared influences and styles. The microscopically detailed decorated capital letters of the Lindisfarne Gospels are echoed in Islamic and Jewish manuscripts, while Christian and Jewish texts borrowed Islamic-inspired decoration, so that a 14th century Qur’an and a translation of the gospels into Arabic are indistinguishable at a glance, and two 13th-century French texts, one Christian, one Jewish, use virtually identical images of King David. A later psalter owned by Henry VIII outrageously uses his portrait as the great Jewish king – accompanied by Henry’s court jester, William Somer, beside a text which translates as “the fool says in his heart ‘there is no God'”. Dr Shaw’s favourite manuscript in the exhibition is the only surviving evidence of how the four gospels almost became one. Tatian, a second-century Christian, combined the accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John into one narrative, threaded together with his own writing. It became a standard text until, in the fifth century, it was declared heretical, and suppressed so effectively that no copy survives. Tatian’s work would have vanished without trace but for the commentary denouncing it, with quotations, by St Ephraim. It is displayed among Gnostic gospels, which inspired Lord Archer’s latest book the Gospel According to Judas.