Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Religions & Internet in The Secular Sorroundings

(1)-Egypt's Salafists come out of the shadows
The 25 January Revolution opened new spaces of freedom not only for the youth, but also for radical Islamists
Amani Maged, Saturday 12 Mar 2011

Salafis could be defined as puritans or strict fundamentalists. Before the revolution: restrictions, banned from television appearances, banned from giving Friday sermons, their broadcast channels shut down. After the revolution: openness, extended airtime on prominent TV programmes, reactivation of some Salafi channels, a landmark sermon at Al-Nur Mosque (one of Cairo’s largest), the announcement of a new sermon by Sheikh Mohamed Hassaan, the prominent Salafi cleric at Amr Ibn Al-Aas Mosque (one of Cairo’s oldest and prestigious state-owned mosques).

More importantly, calling on Sheikh Hassaan to assist in calming down the situation in Atfeeh where sectarian confrontations are flaring up. This while Al-Azhar steps back in trying to calm tensions between the Copts and Muslims, as Al-Azhar’s Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb left Cairo for his hometown of Luxor for a vacation and sent his representatives to address the problem.

The entire Salafi scene in Egypt needs close attention and raises many questions about the future of the movement at a time when the role of Al-Azhar is weak and recessive, especially after Al-Tayeb was strongly criticised for prohibiting demonstrations after the appointment of Omar Suleiman as vice president. At the same time, many Azhar scholars are demanding that several clerics, including the leader of Al-Azhar, step down.

As much as the Salafiya movement, or the Salafi doctrine as its leaders prefer to call it, has a popular following in Egypt, it also faces strong criticism for focusing on outward expressions, such as long beards for men and the face-covering niqab for women, abstention from public life and only practicing proselytisation not politics.

Critics add that Salafi dogma prevents a Muslim from thinking for himself and that Salafists are linked to Wahhabis who fund them. They say that Salafists assert that God has a hand but unlike that of a human being, and a face which is unlike anything ever seen. In this manner, they have a shallow or literal interpretation of scripture. Other criticism leveled at Salafis includes their apathy, by refusing to run for office or participate in political life. Some even refuse to protest against autocratic rulers.

Key figures in the Salafi movement, which is divided into several sects, include Sheikh Yasser Borhami, a paediatrician in Alexandria, as well as Sheikh Hassaan, Mohamed Hussein Yacoub and others in Cairo.

These leaders advocate that Salafiya is a doctrine which adheres to the sunna (teachings and habits) of the Prophet Mohammad, the sahaba (companions) and tabieen (followers), and constitutes a comprehensive lifestyle. They assert that because of security restrictions in the past they could only preach, but many of these leaders now say that conditions have changed and that participation is essential. It is believed that the Salafis will ally themselves with other forces who adopt similar views.

Accordingly, it was not unusual to find some Salafists taking to the streets. Since the beginning, Sheikh Hassaan joined ranks with revolutionary youth in Tahrir Square although his actions were condemned by other Salafi sects. Other leaders such as Sheikh Yacoub believe that because the Salafis did not engage forcefully in the revolution this contributed to its success; the revolution’s Egyptian character, not Islamic character, guaranteed its success.

Meanwhile, some Azharites went to Tahrir Square but Al-Azhar leadership shunned them. In an official statement it declared, “they are merely employees,” although they wore Azhar robes, and the leading Sunni institution also adopted other anti-revolution positions.

The role of Al-Azhar teetered further in response to events at Atfeeh, although the sheikh of Al-Azhar met with a Church delegation and sent his representatives to the site.

All these developments indicate that after the doors of freedom were flung wide open and the role of Al-Azhar was dimmed, Salafists are on the rise and will have a strong presence on the Egyptian scene. But will the rise of Salafists continue or peak at a certain point? Will they return to pre-25 January posturing? These are unanswered questions only time will resolve.

(2)Is Britain's foreign policy anti-Christian? Not particularly: we just don't care

A Coptic Christian beaten by members of the Muslim Brotherhood

A Coptic Christian beaten by members of the Muslim Brotherhood

Britain’s plans to increase foreign aid to Pakistan while the country turns a blind eye to religious persecution is “tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy”, says Cardinal Keith O’Brien. Needless to say, those words “tantamount to” haven’t made it into many news reports, but they weren’t intended to. He knows how to grab a headline, does +Keith Patrick, unlike his risk-averse opposite number in Westminster.

Still, “tantamount to” is actually right. Britain is not deliberately pursuing an anti-Christian foreign policy. But we don’t waste time worrying about foreign Christians when we’re distributing largesse to Islamic countries that make life hell for non-Muslim minorities.

If you want an insight into the way ambitious Foreign Office staff think about British Christianity, cast your mind back to their plans for the Pope’s visit: they wanted him to launch a range of “Benedict” condoms, open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage. “But we were joking,” they said afterwards. That I can believe: ask their private opinion of the Churches, and in many cases you’ll be greeted with the curled lip of a stand-up comic. As for Christians in the Middle East, I suspect the response might be: “You mean there are Christians in the Middle East?”

DfID isn’t much better. Understandably, it sees Christianity in the Islamic world through the eyes of Christian charities whose focus is on development. Those charities tend to be Left-leaning and work closely with – or even subsidise – Muslim charities. It would be interesting to know how often the subject of the persecution of Christians comes up in conversations between DfID and CAFOD.

As I said in a blog post the other day, the increasingly desperate situation of Christians in Islamic countries commands the full attention of very few British public figures: Lord Alton and Baroness Cox ask endless questions about it in the Lords, but these provoke yawns from their fellow politicians and indifference in Whitehall.

I suppose we should be encouraged that Alistair Burt, the Foreign Office minister responsible for the Middle East, has responded to Lord Alton’s prodding by expressing what seems to be genuine concern about this issue. But we’ll need more than rhetorical acknowledgment of the plight of Christians if – as the increase in attacks on Copts in Egypt suggests – some of the new Arab “democracies” decide to indulge in a little religious cleansing.

3-Internet is world's 'greatest spying machine': Assange

JULIAN Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, says the internet is the "greatest spying machine the world has ever seen" - and an obstacle to free speech.

Speaking to students at Britain's prestigious Cambridge University, the former computer hacker claimed that the internet, particularly social networking sites such as Facebook, gave governments greater scope for snooping.

"There was actually a Facebook revolt in Cairo three or four years ago," Assange explained.

"It was very small ... After it, Facebook was used to round up all the principal participants and they were then beaten, interrogated and incarcerated.

"So while the internet has in some ways an ability to let us know to an unprecedented level what government is doing ... it is also the greatest spying machine the world has ever seen," he added.

The rise of technology was helping tyrannical regimes, said the 39-year-old Australian, who is currently fighting extradition to Sweden over allegations of sex offenses, which he denies.

"It is not a technology that favours freedom of speech," he claimed.

"It is not a technology that favours human rights.

"Rather it is a technology that can be used to set up a totalitarian spying regime, the likes of which we have never seen."

But the activist restated his belief that his website, which has released a string of official documents to the world, had helped trigger the ongoing Arab uprising.

He also said that the release of US diplomatic documents had "changed part of the dynamics" in Tunisia, resulting in eventual regime change.

Assange said he sympathised with imprisoned US soldier Bradley Manning, who is suspected of having leaked the cables.

"Our support for his plight cannot be stated too loudly," he said.


Catitan Sut

Kadang-kadang kita dengar yang agama itu terlalu dipinggir dalam perkiraan dan tindakan pihak berkuasa, kadang-kadang kita dengar yang terlalu banyak elemen agama yang mempengaruhi perkiraan dan tindakan pihak berkuasa. Kadang-kadang pihak berkuasa mahu menunjukkan wajahnya yang 'agamis' ; kadang-kadang pihak berkuasa menafikan faktor agama di dalam sebarang keputusan.

Hanyalah kita lihat yang nota wang Amerika sentiasa tertulis: "In God We Trust", di England pula mereka menyanyikan "God Saves The Queen". Akar keagamaan itu memang terhunjam pada kebanyakan negara barat, hanya ianya kerap kekal sebagai akar semata-mata, ia tidak melintasi paras permukaan tanah yang zahir dilihat.

Lagipun sekiranya pihak di barat ingin kembali menyusun masyarakat mereka berdasarkan ajaran agama, mereka tidak punya references untuk berbuat demikian. Syariah mereka tidak selengkap syariah yang kita warisi. Syariah yang kita warisi bermula dari soal dalaman hati , soal peribadi seperti bersuci dan ibadat, soal rumah tangga dan bermasyarakat, soal pemerentahan dan peperangan. Kita juga punya sejarah ummah yang panjang bagaimana syariah telah membentuk arah dan memberi rupa kepada masyarakat kita.

Sekarang ini kita berada bukan dalam lingkungan infra-structures yang lazim bagi ummah ini, kita kini berada di lapangan yang sama bagi hampir seluruh manusia sezaman tanpa mengenal batasan agama dan peradaban. Kita ternaung di bawah payung sistem yang dipanggil demokrasi.

Sebahagian kita, termasuk pejuang politik Islam, kadang-kadang terlupa yang lapangan ini bukan lapangan idaman kita, tetapi kita semua terperangkap dalam lingkungan lapangan ini. Ada di antara kita yang mengkhayalkan yang dalam lapangan ini, kita akan mencapai apa yang lebih baik secara agamanya sekalipun berbanding daripada di sebahagian zaman silam, seperti zaman Umayyah dan Abasiyyah (contoh kenyataan MAZA dalam Sinar Harian).

Kita bayangkan yang kita mempunyai pilihan untuk menentukan pemimpin yang terbaik, kita bayangkan kita akan mendapat kebebasan bersuara dan berpendapat. Kita bayangkan maruah manusia akan terjaga dan dijulang tinggi. Kita bayangkan nikmat itu dan ini yang ada dalam syurga demokrasi.....

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