31 May 2019

High court bans Birmingham school protests against LGBT lessons

Demonstrators protesting against primary school children being taught that people of all genders and sexualities should be treated equally have been served with a high court injunction.

Birmingham city council made the application following several weeks of protests outside Anderton Park primary school in the city.

Citing “increasing fears for the safety and wellbeing of the staff, children and parents”, the council said it pursued legal action after the situation had become “too serious to tolerate”.

The interim injunction covers the streets immediately surrounding the school and prevents protesters printing or distributing leaflets, inviting others to protest and encouraging people to congregate at the entrance. The protesters will have a chance to make their case to a judge on 10 June.

According to the order published on the council’s website, it also prohibits social media being used to make offensive or abusive comments about staff members. [The Guardian] Read more

30 May 2019

Bereaved British schoolgirl will be stripped of £500,000 inheritance after Sharia court in Dubai is told that she is a Christian

A British schoolgirl has lost out on a £500,000 inheritance from her father after a Sharia court in Dubai was told she was a Christian, MailOnline can reveal.

It is the latest episode in a vicious spat that saw her mother being held for four weeks in the Arab kingdom last month for branding her love rival a 'horse' on Facebook.

Paris Shahravesh, 14, was in line to inherit money left by her banker father, Pedro Dos Santos, who died of a heart attack in March.

But his second wife, Samah Al Hammadi – who had alerted police when the teenager's mother insulted her on social media – filed papers in the UAE claiming the inheritance.

The court was told that Paris was a Christian. According to the form of Sharia applied in Dubai, non-Muslims are unable to inherit the estate of a Muslim. [Daily Mail] Read more

I still don't feel free in UK, says Christian who fled 'torture' in Pakistan

A Christian threatened with deportation to Pakistan has told of how he still doesn't feel free despite being given leave to remain in the UK.

Azeem Wazir, who now lives in Bristol, came to the UK four years ago after he was accused of dishonouring Islam in his native Pakistan.

The 45-year-old Pakistani Christian fled his home country after he protested against the country's blasphemy laws and a fatwa was issued against him.

His family say if he returns he will be jailed and possibly killed, while he fears he will be murdered for his faith.

His application for asylum in the UK was denied in March, but he has been granted discretionary leave to remain for 30 months, which will be renewable as long as he continues to show good character. [Sky News] Read more

'Cowardly Government' blamed for breakdown of Anderton Park protest peace talks

Lawyer Nazir Afzal has pointed the finger of blame at 'cowardly' Government ministers and outsiders with a 'malicious' agenda after his failed bid to broker peace over LGBTQ equality at Anderton Park School.

In his first press interview since the breakdown of talks, Mr Afzal was not holding back on what, or who, he thinks is responsible for a dispute that is dividing the community.

"The Government has been cowardly," he says.

"They have failed to lead and own this issue (around equality teaching), leaving the burden unfairly on the shoulders of head teachers. It is disgraceful."

And he warned that protests like this could spread to 'dozens' of schools if urgent action is not taken.

He also had a message for the protesters, stating: "Stop this immediately. It is disgraceful.

"You are grown men and a few women standing outside a primary school in a residential street shouting and chanting and screaming. [Birmingham Mail] Read more

Islamic Human Rights Commission: Advocating for the Ayotollahs

A group that Jeremy Corbyn claimed “represents all that’s best in Islam” is permeated “at every level” by “extremism, support for overseas terror groups and extreme anti-Semitism” and should be probed by counter-terror police, according to a think tank report.

A report by the Henry Jackson Society into the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) which was released today, found 10 items of conduct “pertaining to terrorism” that “necessitate criminal investigation” into whether it or those connected to it have committed one of two terrorist offences. The IHRC is the organiser of the infamous annual Al-Quds Day March, due to take place this Sunday.

The conduct highlighted by the report includes allegations that the IHRC has glorified violent resistance, broadcast a video address from a terrorist, invited support for proscribed groups, and that its Chairman has supported terrorism in the Middle East. [The Henry Jackson Society] Read more

Teachers 'in tears' at school gates as row over LGBT classes worsens

Mediation between parents and staff over the issue of relationships education at a Birmingham primary school has stalled.

Nazir Afzal who is in charge of steering talks between the council, parents and teachers, told Sky News that six weeks of discussions have been unsuccessful.

He claimed staff at Anderton Park Primary School are at risk and frequently break down in tears because of hostility at the school gates - with protests taking place against teaching children about same-sex relationships.

Mr Afzal, a former chief prosecutor for North West England, said: "I can't think of any other way to get people round a table again than to speak to you and Sky.

"I've looked at the curriculum, there is nothing in the curriculum that is LGBT specific. There is nothing about gay sex.

"I've seen people walking around outside of that school with stuff that they have downloaded from the internet suggesting this is on the curriculum. [Sky News] Read more

28 May 2019

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: School protest is a show of some Muslims’ bigotry

Does anyone ever learn anything from their own struggles and experiences? Britons of colour know what it is to be denied equality, dignity, agency, the right to be, the right to define ­ourselves. We’ve been fighting for these human rights for centuries.

Today it is us Muslims who suffer the most atrocious discrimination and hatred in the UK and the EU. We feel the burn on our skins.

But some, apparently, can inflict the same pain on those they don’t know, yet detest.

Scores of self-righteous Muslim parents and their cheerleaders have gathered for eight weeks outside the school gates at Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham shouting at and intimidating teachers, children and other parents because the head teacher, Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, has decided to include LGBT content in relevant classes.

Under our equality laws, race, disability, ethnicity and ­sexuality are protected categories.

Hewitt-Clarkson believes teachers have a duty to ­eliminate discrimination, tackle prejudice and foster good relations between different people: “You don’t just sit back and wait until a racist or homophobic thing happens to deal with it – you go out of your way to promote good ­relationships.” [Daily Mirror] Read more

Iran hijab protester freed from jail: lawyer

A woman jailed in Iran for one year for removing her hijab in public to protest against the country's Islamic dress code has been released early, her lawyer said Tuesday.

"Vida Movahedi was summoned by prison authorities on Sunday evening and told that her sentence had been commuted, and combined with some accumulated furlough she was free to go," Payam Derafshan told AFP.

Movahedi, who is in her mid-20s, was arrested in October after removing her hijab from her head at Tehran's Enghelab Square.

She was charged with "encouraging corruption and debauchery" and sentenced by a court in Tehran to 12 months in prison on March 2, Derafshan added.

The lawyer said Movahedi had stated her opposition to the "compulsory hijab" and that she wanted to express her opinion in "a civil protest".

Under the Islamic dress code, women can only show their face, hands and feet in public and are supposed to wear only modest colours. [France24] Read more

Muslim Council demands Tory Islamophobia inquiry

The Muslim Council of Britain has formally asked the UK's human rights watchdog to investigate accusations of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

In a letter to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, the MCB said a problem "runs deep into the party".

The EHRC said in response that it was considering complaints about the party in line with its "usual processes".

In March, party deputy chairman James Cleverly insisted "immediate action" was taken after any racism claims.

The MCB is an umbrella organisation of various UK Muslim bodies, including mosques, schools, and charitable associations. It has called repeatedly for an independent investigation into discrimination claims.

Now, in its letter filing a formal complaint to the EHRC, it accused the Conservatives of not taking action against Islamophobia shown by Tory MPs, and tolerating discrimination towards party members. [BBC] Read more

27 May 2019

Education Secretary on Anderton Primary School LGBT protests: 'Tolerance and respect has broken down'

.... The unacceptable protests that have been taking place in Birmingham have been hugely difficult for the teachers involved, who are just trying to do their jobs.

Noisy demonstrations outside the school gates – which in the worst cases have been hijacked by individuals with a vested interest and no links to the schools – have scared children, intimidated hard-working staff and attracted sensationalised media coverage.

We want every young person growing up and going to school in our country to understand the core principles that have helped our country and society to flourish over the centuries.

The values of democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect for and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs – and those without faith.

It is entirely right that schools should prepare children to thrive in our diverse society, a society that is based on tolerance and respect for others who are different.

We brought our curriculum for relationships up to date precisely so that it more accurately reflects the world that children are growing up in now. [Birmingham Mail] Read more

Senior Saudi cleric slams ‘paranoia’ over segregation between men and women

The former Imam of the Holy Mosque in Makkah, Sheikh Adil Al-Kalbani, has called for men and women not to be separated using a partition during prayers.

In a televised interview with Saudi Broadcasting Corp. (SBC), he said that this type of segregation did not happen during the era of Prophet Muhammad. He stressed the current segregation practices have no roots in Islamic tradition and are a result of unjustified “paranoia” of women, even during prayer.

“Sadly today, we are paranoid — in a mosque — a place of worship. They are completely separated from men, they cannot see them and can only hear them through microphones or speakers. And if the voice has been cut off, they wouldn’t know what is going on (during prayer),” he elaborated. [Arab News] Read more

Petition backing doctor who asked Muslim mum to remove veil has topped 74,000 signatures

A petition to save the career of a doctor who asked a Muslim patient to remove her veil so that he could better hear the details of her daughter’s medical condition has reached more than 74,000 signatures.

Dr Keith Wolverson admitted he was ‘rather fearful of the consequences’ after finding out he had been reported to the General Medical Council (GMC) and would be the subject of a racial discrimination inquiry .

But despite being upset at the inquiry, he described being ‘absolutely bowled over’ by the petition.

He said there was no sign the patient was upset during the consultation at the Royal Stoke University Hospital last June. [StokeonTrentLive] Read more

26 May 2019

‘We can’t give in’: the Birmingham school on the frontline of anti-LGBT protests

Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson is crying. The headteacher at Anderton Park primary school in Birmingham has suffered eight weeks of protests outside her school gates over her decision to teach LGBT-inclusive content to her young pupils, the vast majority of whom are Muslim.

After repeatedly putting on a brave face when I ask her how she is feeling, she finally admits: “I am in despair”, and then breaks down. She is struggling for control as she continues: “I know one of the phrases that’s associated with domestic abuse is the crushing of the spirit of a woman. And that’s what I feel is happening. We can’t give in.”

Her voice trembles with emotion. She has been having sleepless nights, she says, worrying about the impact of the protests on her staff and pupils, and has received threatening messages telling her to “watch her back”. [The Guardian] Read more

Letters to the Editor: Islam must not be put above criticism

Camilla Long is correct to stand up for the right to speak freely about those aspects of Islam that some find misogynistic (“I’ll always see the veil as a form of misogyny and it’s not Islamophobic to say as much”, Comment, last week).

The adoption of the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims’ vague definition of Islamophobia, under which anyone who criticises “expressions of Muslimness” could be accused of a form of racism, would have a chilling effect on free expression.

Anti-Muslim bigotry must be taken seriously, and British Muslims are as entitled as anyone to live their lives free from harm and abuse. But this definition shields Islamic beliefs and practices from criticism.

Its adoption would drive important debates underground and accelerate the normalisation of blasphemy taboos, harming social cohesion in the process. The government is right to reject it. [The Times (£)] Read more

25 May 2019

Take pupils out of classes, urges teacher

A teacher is behind a national campaign to challenge sex education in schools, which he claims can expose children to adultery, The Times can reveal.

Aziz Torofdar, 45, head of IT at Ralph Allen School, an academy in Bath, has launched Islamic relationships and sex education (RSE), which encourages parents to secure a place on the board of governors to influence teaching and to withdraw children from classes.

He has been touring the country giving talks on the issue and has spoken to parents at mosques and schools in Birmingham, Bristol, London and Essex.

Mr Torofdar’s campaign comes amid a growing row in Birmingham, where parents have been protesting outside Anderton Park Primary School which was forced to shut early yesterday. [The Times (£)] Read more

Proposed definition for Islamophobia rejected in Lancashire County Council debate

A proposed definition of Islamophobia has been rejected in a debate at Lancashire County Council.

Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali had called for the authority to adopt the wording put forward last year by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on British Muslims, as well as the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism.

But members of the ruling Conservative group expressed concern over the lack of 'clarity' over the Islamophobia definition, which was also rejected by the government earlier this month after claims that it conflated race and religion.

The APPG drew up its definition after a wide-ranging consultation and concluded that: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.” [LancsLive] Read more

24 May 2019

Minister accused of failing to back teachers over equality lessons

The education secretary has been accused of “passing the buck” by leaving head teachers to fend for themselves in dealing with protests against lessons on same-sex marriage.

A former Ofsted chief is among experts calling on Damian Hinds to make clear that same-sex relationships are part of society and that opposition should be directed at government and politicians.

There have been regular protests by Muslim parents and others outside Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham. The school is to shut at noon today amid fears about a big protest.

The demonstrations echo actions by mostly Muslim parents at nearby primaries in the city this year. Those schools paused lessons covering same-sex relationships. From September next year, however, all primaries will be required by law to teach about relationships, including LGBT equality. [The Times (£)] Read more

Iran police arrest 30 at private yoga class

Thirty people taking part in a yoga session have been arrested during a private class in Iran, reports suggest, causing a buzz across the country's social media.

They were detained at a private residence in the northern city of Gorgan, where they were apparently taking part in a mixed class.

Local justice department official Massoud Soleimani said the instructor, who was also arrested, had no licence to run the class and had advertised the event on Instagram.

He also said that those taking part were wearing "inappropriate outfits" and had "behaved inappropriately", the Tasnim news agency reports.

The Islamic establishment in Iran does not allow any mixed-gender sports activities.

Professional-level yoga teaching is also banned in the country. [BBC] Read more

23 May 2019

Pakistan Christians beaten by mob after mosque accuses them of blasphemy: report

A small Christian community in Pakistan is living in fear after they were reportedly attacked last week by a mob of enraged radicals because a nearby mosque accused its members of committing blasphemy following an altercation with a Muslim man.

The London-based charity British Pakistani Christian Association reports that two Christian families in the Arif Wala Tehsil district of Punjab province were forced to flee from their homes after the attack last Wednesday by a mob of about 40 Muslim men and children with weapons.

According to BPCA, which is providing financial assistance to the community, the mob was incited by a local mosque that claimed over its loudspeakers that the Christians had insulted Islam.

The mosque allegedly called for Muslim believers to bond together to force the minority Christian community of about seven families out of the village. [Christian Post] Read more

22 May 2019

Fight against terror could be undermined by new Islamophobia definition, warns police chief

He said a small minority of “very vocal” Muslims would use the definition to thwart stop and search and Prevent, the Government’s anti-radicalisation programme, by claiming they were Islamophobic and racist.

It could lead to communities turning against police, even stopping officers from promoting Prevent, which he described as “the most important pillar in this country’s counter-terrorism strategy.”

"The people I deal with - extremists or even terrorists - would be able to use that definition to frustrate some of the powers of my officers," said Mr Basu, a senior national co-ordinator for counter-terrorism and Deputy Assistant Commissioner with the Met Police.

.... It states: “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.”

Mr Basu said it conflated race and religion and was so broad that anybody who criticised, insulted, or satirised Islam would be called out for Islamophobia and racism.

Mr Basu, who is of Indian heritage, said: "This is a definition that was designed to protect people like me. I've spent 51 years dealing with racism and the vast amount of racism I've had in my life has been the perception that I might be Muslim - and I'm not...I feel kind-of personally conflicted. [The Telegraph] Read more

Saudi Arabia: Moderate Islamic scholars 'to be executed'

Sheikh Salman al Odah, Sunni preacher Awad al-Qarni, and broadcaster Ali al-Omari, will be killed after Ramadan, reports say.

Saudi Arabia is reportedly preparing to execute three moderate Islamic scholars despite the international outrage that followed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Sheikh Salman al Odah, a Muslim preacher with a 14 million strong social media following, will be killed after the holy month of Ramadan say reports.

Sunni preacher and academic Awad al-Qarni and broadcaster Ali al-Omari, will also be executed say sources quoted in MiddleEastEye.net.

Amnesty International says more than 100 people have been executed this year, some beheaded and some crucified, including some younger than 18 when they were arrested.

Many of them have been Shia Muslims. The three named as next in line for execution are all Sunni. [Sky News] Read more

21 May 2019

NHS watchdog releases statement on investigation into Royal Stoke GP who asked Muslim mum to remove veil

An NHS watchdog has revealed a GP who asked a Muslim mum to remove her veil has no 'restrictions on his record'.

Dr Keith Wolverson is being investigated by the General Medical Council (GMC) after he asked the woman to lift her niqab during a consultation at the Royal Stoke University Hospital.

The 52-year-old claims he was struggling to hear the mother explain what was wrong with her young daughter and 'politely' asked her to take off the garment.

Dr Wolverson revealed he was 'deeply' upset at being accused of racial discrimination and has vowed to leave the medical profession after 23 years due to the 'injustice' of the investigation. [StokeonTrentLive] Read more

We need to be able to criticise Islam – any definition of Islamophobia must recognise that

.... For several months now, Muslim parents have been demonstrating outside Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, judged outstanding by Ofsted. These parents demand equality and respect but apparently do not want their kids to have lessons on LGBT equality and respect. Police are now investigating threatening messages sent to Sarah Hewitt Clarkson. the head teacher of Anderton Park primary, where there have also been protests.

Andrew Moffat, MBE, the gay teacher leading the “No Outsiders” programme at Parkfield, was shortlisted for the world’s best teacher prize this year. He says he has been getting serious threats, too. He left his previous teaching post after fundamentalist Christian and Muslim parents objected to his inclusive lessons.

At first, all went well at Parkfield – the “No Outsiders” programme, based on the Equality Act 2010, has been in place for several years and Moffat has met with parents and invited them in to see the educational materials used. It is only in the past few months that obscurantists have taken charge. [inews.co.uk] Read more

1 in 4 Canadians say it’s becoming ‘more acceptable’ to be prejudiced against Muslims: Ipsos poll

More than a quarter of Canadians believe that over the past five years, it’s become “more acceptable” to be prejudiced against Muslims, according to an exclusive poll by Ipsos for Global News.

The polling seems to correlate with an increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims living in the country.

All of the Ipsos poll data is available online.

In 2017, hate crimes targeting Muslims jumped 151 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. The biggest increases were seen in Ontario and Quebec — police-reported hate crimes increased by 207 per cent in Ontario and 185 per cent in Quebec.

So what, exactly, is causing a spark in discrimination towards Muslims? [Global News] Read more

20 May 2019

LGBT protest: '600 pupils' taken out of primary

Police have been called out to LGBT protests outside a Birmingham primary school amid claims that 600 children have been taken out of lessons.

Education secretary Damian Hinds has called for more dialogue between schools and parents after protesters took their children out of Anderton Park Primary, as part of a campaign against the way pupils are taught about LGBT.

Birmingham Council leader Ian Ward has today condemned the protests as "intolerant" and said he wanted to use legal powers to stop the demonstrations taking place.

Anderton Park Primary has been the focal point for protests for more than five weeks.

Campaigners opposed to the way children learn about LGBT at the school claimed that around 600 pupils had been kept away from lessons today as part of the ongoing protest.

Anderton Park Primary’s Ofsted report last year said it had 749 pupils on its roll. [Tes] Read more

Birmingham LGBT lessons: Head teacher threatened

A head teacher at a primary school giving lessons on LGBT equality has received threatening emails and phone calls.

Police are investigating messages sent to Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson at Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham.

There have been seven weeks of protests outside the site from which "hundreds" of pupils were kept away on Monday.

Birmingham MP Jess Phillips has called for an exclusion zone at the school to limit where people can demonstrate.

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson has branded the protests aggressive.

The city council is looking into Ms Phillips' request, with the authority's leader saying some outside the school are "peddling hatred".

The complaints at Anderton Park, mainly from Muslim protesters, focus on lessons for which pupils have been given books featuring cross-dressing children and gay families. [BBC] Read more

19 May 2019

Doctor who faces inquiry for asking a Muslim to lift her veil says he will quit after 23 years as a GP due to the 'major injustice' of the investigation

A GP has revealed he is planning to quit medicine over an investigation by the doctors watchdog into claims he ‘discriminated’ against a Muslim woman for asking her to remove her veil.

Dr Keith Wolverson said he ‘politely’ asked the woman to take off the garment for patient safety reasons during a consultation last year because he was unable to hear her explain her sick daughter’s symptoms.

He was then ‘deeply upset’ when last week he received a letter from the General Medical Council, the professional regulator, informing him that he was subject to an inquiry over allegations of racial discrimination which could result in him being struck off. [Daily Mail] Read more

18 May 2019

Fear and free speech: why defining Islamophobia could do more harm than good

This past week an open letter was sent to the Home Secretary expressing concern regarding the new mooted definition of Islamophobia.

The proposed definition by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Muslims suggested the following be adopted by the Government: "Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness."

What is most interesting about the open letter is the variety of people who have signed - Muslims, experts on Muslim history, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, human rights activists, humanists and famed atheist Richard Dawkins.

I don't think that any letter of this type has ever before been signed by so many disparate people, which in itself says a great deal. What has united them is their shared concern about this very ill-thought-out definition of illegal hostility towards a particular religion. [Christian Today] Read more

‘Islamophobia’ definition poses a threat to free speech in the UK

THERE are ‘surprising levels’ of agreement among many Christians and secularists that the proposed adoption by the government of a new definition of Islamophobia will do nothing to eradicate anti-Muslim prejudice. Instead it will have ‘a chilling effect on freedom of speech’ and could be used to ‘shield extremists from criticism.’

.... "England and Wales’s blasphemy law was scrapped in 2008, but formalising this definition will result in it being employed effectively as something of a backdoor blasphemy law.

The phrase ‘expressions of Muslimness’ within the definition can easily be translated to mean Islamic practices. And the inclusion of the phrase ‘perceived Muslimness’ will have a worrying impact on reformist and feminist Muslims, as well as ex-Muslims and minorities – such as the estimated 30,000 Ahmadiyya Muslims in Britain." [The Freethinker] Read more

Midlands GP investigated after 'asking Muslim mum to remove niqab' during appointment

A GP in the Midlands is being investigated by the General Medical Council after asking a Muslim mum to take off her niqab during an appointment.

Dr Keith Wolverson reportedly asked the mother to remove the veil covering her face because he was struggling to hear what she was saying about her child during the appointment at Royal Stoke University Hospital, in Stoke-on-Trent.

The 52-year-old claimed he politely asked her to take it off and that the woman allegedly "willingly agreed to the request" as the three of them sat alone in a consulting room.

But half an hour later her husband arrived and she complained to NHS bosses about the incident. [Birmingham Mail] Read more

17 May 2019

'No social backlash to anyone that holds Islamophobic views'

In March, a French woman wearing the hijab applied for a job at a lingerie shop, Etam, in the southern city of Montpellier.

The woman, Oumaima, claimed her application was rejected because the manager told her veiled women would not be accepted.

In a video posted on Twitter that has been viewed more than 240,000 times, Oumaima said she was a victim of racism and called for a boycott of the brand as she explained "how difficult it is to live, study, and work with a hijab in France".

Etam reacted quickly, issuing a statement on the same day saying the incident "does not reflect its values".

The manager was sacked and Etam called Oumaima to apologise.

The incident highlighted a frequent debate in French politics and society: Can French Muslims ever be just French?

Following the 2015 attacks in Paris, in which the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant armed group (ISIL or ISIS) killed 130 people in three incidents, Islamophobic sentiment has increased, said Nadiya Lazzouni, a freelance journalist who is behind the Speak Up Channel.

"The belief that Islam cannot be a part of France's Republic or that the French Muslim is a disguised enemy from within the country has definitely spread across the country," she told Al Jazeera. [Al Jazeera English] Read more

German inter-faith scheme criticised for using beermats to explain Islam

A scheme to promote better understanding of Islam in Germany has run into controversy — after Muslim groups objected to the use of beer mats to provide information.

Under the scheme, beer mats are provided to pubs and restaurants with questions about Islam. On the reverse is an internet link to the answers.

Rather than using formal German, the beer mats are printed in regional dialect for each city, complete with local slang.

Typical questions include “Mohammed, what was he like?” and “What is it with Muslims and pork?”

The scheme has run in a number of German cities since it was first launched in 2016, and the beer mats have been translated into three dialects.

But a bid to introduce it in the small central German town of Maintal, close to Frankfurt, has run into opposition from local Muslims, who say beer mats are an inappropriate way to educate people about a religion that forbids alcohol.

“They could have used postcards, or adverts on the side of a bus. Why did it have to be the pub?” Salih Tasdirek, the head of the local foreigners' advisory council, told Spiegel magazine. [The Telegraph] Read more

Islam can’t be the only faith above criticism

.... They’re of course right that informed and polite discussion of the truths or falsities of different faiths would not be “Islamophobic” in the APPG’s sense. But in religion, as in much else, rational argument is not the only way a belief can be cut down to size.

Mockery has always played a big part in knocking priesthoods off their pedestals. Religion rules, at least in part, by inspiring awe and fear. Satire, ridicule, even abuse are potent in smashing the mystique. Read Voltaire’s Candide — or indeed listen to Anna Soubry saying that Nigel Farage’s facial expressions made him look like “somebody has put their finger up his bottom and he really rather likes it”.

We already have laws against race hatred, and we have courts to sniff it out, even when disguised as religious commentary. But if Islam is to be cut down to size — as, being a rationalist atheist, I think it should be — then free, fierce, even contemptuous dissent from faith-based orthodoxies must never be stifled.

MPs were right to abolish the crime of blasphemy against Christianity in 2008. They should be on guard against the return of this thinking, clad in the robes of another faith. [The Times (£)] Read more

Angry protests continue over Birmingham school's 'okay to be gay' lessons

Daily demonstrations have been taking place outside Anderton Park Primary School in Birmingham but Friday's was the largest - and angriest - so far.

Flyers had been sent around the local community encouraging people to join protests against the school "brainwashing" children that "it's okay to be gay".

One man told Sky News he had joined the crowd because "homosexuality is a heinous, horrible thing". Another said homosexuality is "not acceptable for us lot".

But the protesters held banners that read "we are not homophobic people". They chanted for the headteacher to quit.

The demonstrations are organised by Shakeel Afsar, who does not have children at the school. [Sky News] Read more

16 May 2019

MPs rail against plan to define Islamophobia in law that would 'divide the country' after the government rejected it and experts warned it would limit free speech

England's first Muslim MP today agreed that the Government was right to refuse to enshrine a definition of Islamophobia in law.

Labour's Khalid Mahmood, who represents Birmingham Perry Barr, said the move would only divide the country more and lead to increased segregation of Muslim communities.

He told the Commons during a debate on the issue: 'I am for equality for all - but I oppose this. We as Muslims should be proud of who we are and try to move away from a victim mentality'.

Supporters of the idea including the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims say that formalising the term will help to counter hostility toward Muslims.

But Mr Mahmood said: 'I have been the victim of hate mail and actions from the far right and the Islamist community as well. I am proud to be a British Pakistani Muslim MP - the first Muslim to be elected in this Parliament from England. I will take no lessons from anyone who says I'm an Islamophobe or too much or a Muslim'. [Daily Mail] Read more

Defining Islamophobia

Good news on the government's rejection of the proposed Islamophobia definition.

A couple of letters in the Times today (£) sum up the problem:

Sir, The police are rightly concerned about the proposed definition of Islamophobia, which states that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness” (“Terror police warn against new rules on Islamophobia”, May 15).

Although Islamophobia can be an expression of racism, it is not racism per se because neither Islam nor Muslims are a race. Muslims include people from many races. Moreover, Muslimness is undefined. Muslims who oppose women’s and LGBT rights claim that they are expressing their Muslimness. Is criticism of them Islamophobic and wrong?

The word Islamophobia is problematic. Islam is an idea, and like all ideas it should be open to critique. Yet criticisms of Islam and tyrannical Islamic regimes are often denounced as Islamophobic. I urge parliamentarians to amend the proposed definition to guarantee free speech and to replace the term Islamophobia with anti-Muslim prejudice, which focuses on protecting people rather than ideas. [Mick Hartley] Read more

Austria bans Muslim headscarf in primary schools

Austria's parliament has passed a law intended to ban Muslim girls from wearing the headscarf in primary schools, a measure that is likely to be challenged as discriminatory in the constitutional court.

The bill passed with the support of the governing center-right People's Party (ÖVP) and the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ). Almost all of the opposition voted against it.

To avoid the impression that it targets Muslims, the text refers to any "ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head."

The government said late Wednesday that the patka head covering worn by Sikh boys or the Jewish yarmulke would not be affected because the law refers to head garments that "cover all of the hair or large parts of it." Exceptions are made for head coverings for medical reasons or protection against rain or snow. [Deutsche Welle] Read more

Government REJECTS proposals for an official definition of Islamophobia after experts warned Sajid Javid it could be a 'backdoor blasphemy law' and limit free speech

Proposals for an official definition of Islamophobia were rejected by the Government yesterday.

Supporters of the idea say that formalising the term will help to counter hostility toward Muslims.

But Downing Street said the suggested definition had not been broadly accepted, adding: 'This is a matter that will need further careful consideration.'

Ministers are expected to appoint two independent advisers to draw up a 'less legally problematic' definition, the Times reported.

More than 40 religious leaders and experts wrote to Sajid Javid yesterday, telling the Home Secretary that the definition could be a 'backdoor blasphemy law' and limit free speech.

Police warned it could undermine counter-terrorism operations.

MPs and peers on the all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims want the Government to define Islamaphobia as 'rooted in racism or a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness'. [Daily Mail] Read more

Faith school in Tooting slammed for illegally segregating boys and girls

School inspectors have heavily criticised a private faith school in Tooting for keeping boys and girls illegally segregated.

But Al Risalah School says it plans to formally separate into two schools - one for boys and the other for girls - rather than educate both genders together.

Ofsted inspected the school in March and in the report released this month (May) rated the school as 'requires improvement' because of the segregation, and said it is breaching the Equalities Act 2010 by keeping pupils separate.

The report reads: "The school’s work to promote pupils’ personal development and welfare requires improvement.

"The school’s otherwise effective work in this area is undermined by the unlawful segregation by sex. [MyLondon] Read more

15 May 2019

The Tories are right to reject the flawed definition of ‘Islamophobia’

.... There is clearly a problem of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Britain, but how can the shutdown of open societies and freedom of debate through the political correct byword ‘Islamophobia’ address these violent attacks? Individuals in this great country are already protected from being treated less than favourably on the basis of their religion under the 2010 Equality Act.

The 2006 Racial and Religious Hatred act makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred against someone one the basis of their religion but crucially states, in Part 3A, clause 29J, that the Act does not prohibit ‘discussion, criticism, or expressions of antipathy’ towards particular religions or their adherents.

What has changed since 2006? Why do some members of parliament feel the need to implement the idea of this new ‘phobia’ in a way that will empower the ideological bullies of Islamism, and limit our rights to discussion and criticism, the hallmarks of a liberal society? [The Spectator] Read more

We must have the right to mock Muslimness

Here’s one of the weirdest things about 21st-century Britain: we have a real problem with radical Islam and yet politicians want to make it harder for us to talk openly about Islam.

Islamist extremism is on the rise. A minority of Muslim Brits have embraced a super-intolerant version of their religion. It is not uncommon to see groups of shouty young men and veiled young women marching in the streets and claiming Islam will one day conquer the UK. And how does the political class respond? By clamping down on critical discussion about Islam. By essentially ringfencing Islam from the rough and tumble of everyday debate, dissent and plain old mick-taking.

It’s crazy. Imagine if in the 1970s and 1980s, when bombs were going off in London, Birmingham and Guildford, the government forbade critical discussion of Irish republicanism. The equivalent of that is happening now. The very religion that many extremists claim to be inspired by – however cynical those claims might be – is being shielded from free, frank debate. [Spiked] Read more

Islamophobia definition creates a backdoor blasphemy law: it will be used to outlaw all criticism of Islam

.... The accusation of Islamophobia has already been used against those opposing religious and gender segregation in education, the hijab, halal slaughter on the grounds of animal welfare, LGBT rights campaigners opposing Muslim views on homosexuality, ex-Muslims and feminists opposing Islamic views and practices relating to women, as well as those concerned about the issue of grooming gangs.

It has been used against journalists who investigate Islamism, Muslims working in counter-extremism, schools and Ofsted for resisting conservative religious pressure and enforcing gender equality.

Evidently abuse, harmful practices, or the activities of groups and individuals which promote ideas contrary to British values are far more likely to go unreported as a result of fear of being called Islamophobic. This will only increase if the APPG definition is formally adopted in law.

.... If this definition is adopted the government will likely turn to self-appointed ‘representatives of the community’ to define ‘Muslimness’. This is clearly open to abuse. The APPG already entirely overlooked Muslims who are often considered to be “insufficiently Muslim” by other Muslims, moderates, liberals, reformers and the Ahmadiyyah, who often suffer persecution and violence at the hands of other Muslims.

For all these reasons, the APPG definition of Islamophobia is deeply problematic and unfit for

purpose. Acceptance of this definition will only serve to aggravate community tensions and to inhibit free speech about matters of fundamental importance. We urge the government, political parties, local councils and other organisations to reject this flawed proposed definition. [Archbishop Cranmer] Read more

Yes, Islamophobia is a type of racism. Here’s why

.... The all-party parliamentary group on British Muslims, which I lead with Anna Soubry, is determined to meet this challenge. That’s why we have produced a report establishing, for the first time, a working definition of Islamophobia. It was clear from the evidence we gathered, including powerful testimony from the victims of Islamophobia, that what we’re up against goes wider than anti-Muslim hatred. It is structural, often unconscious, bias.

So we argue that “Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”. We’ve produce a series of examples, modelled on the IHRA definition of antisemitism, to help people understand how this manifests. [Guardian Cif] Read more

Pakistan opponents of death row Christian's blasphemy acquittal get bail

A Pakistani court on Tuesday granted bail to the leader of a ultra-right Islamist group arrested last year after his supporters shut down cities and threatened judges following the acquittal of a Christian woman accused of blasphemy.

The leader of the Tehreek-e-Labbaik (TLP) party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, and his deputy, Pir Afzal Qadri, were arrested last year and charged with inciting terrorism and sedition after protesting against the acquittal of Asia Bibi who had spent eight years on death row on blasphemy charges.

“Today, the Lahore High Court has granted bail to Rizvi and Qadri in the cases of terrorism, sedition and inciting for violence,” TLP lawyer Muhammad Arif Awan told Reuters. [Reuters] Read more

Asia Bibi's lawyer to defend couple on death row over blasphemy

Pakistani Christian man and wife sentenced to death for text messages sent to Muslim. The case of a Christian couple on death row in Pakistan after being convicted of blasphemy has reportedly been taken up by the lawyer who defended Asia Bibi.

Shagufta Kousar and Shafqat Masih were accused of sending blasphemous text messages to a Muslim man. They were sentenced to death, but have appealed to the high court in Lahore.

Lawyer Saiful Malook, who briefly fled Pakistan after receiving death threats when Bibi’s conviction for blasphemy was overturned last October, is to appeal against the couple’s 2014 conviction under the same law. [The Guardian] Read more

The Times view of Islamophobia: Defining Hate

Hatred of Muslims is a vile social ill wholly equivalent to other forms of racism and bigotry. Britain is blessed with a large and thriving Muslim population, mainstream Muslim politicians, sporting heroes and entertainers. No quarter must be given to those who regard Muslims with suspicion because of their faith. The massacre at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March stands as a reminder that hate acts against Muslims must be noted, taken seriously, and fought.

.... Another leaked memo shows that the Government Equalities Office fears that the definition of Islamophobia as racial rather than religious hatred makes little sense, and will lead to legal tensions between the act and the definition.

Policy Exchange suggests that the word “Islamophobia” itself has a “deeply problematic history” and notes that its use has been promoted by groups that seek laws against blasphemy. There has been no such law in England or Wales since 2008. It would be deeply regressive if one were now to arrive, focused only on one religion. A clearer definition is indeed needed, but not this one. [The Times (£)] Read more

Police chief warns May not to bow to pressure by adopting official definition of Islamophobia that 'could hit terror investigations' by stopping the UK shutting down extremist groups

Adopting an official definition of Islamophobia could hinder British counter-terror efforts, a police chief has claimed.

Martin Hewitt said the proposed wording could 'undermine many elements of counter-terrorism powers and policies'.

In a letter to Theresa May he said it could prevent authorities from shutting down extremist groups or conducting searches at ports.

Advocates of an official definition believe it could help Muslims report crime against them and improve relations between Islamic communities and the government.

But critics say it could restrict legitimate debate about Islam and confuses criticism of the religion with hatred of individual Muslims. [Daily Mail] Read more

13 May 2019

Asia Bibi's escape to Canada shines light on Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws

Asia Bibi held the unfortunate distinction of being the first Pakistani woman sentenced to death for insulting Islam under that country's blasphemy laws.

She spent eight years on death row before her conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in October 2018.

Last week, as Bibi began to settle into her new life in Canada, after arriving on Wednesday, her lawyer turned his focus to his next court battle against Pakistan's blasphemy laws.

Speaking from his home in Lahore, Pakistan, Saiful Malook said he knows that even acting as a lawyer for someone accused of blasphemy in Pakistan could be a death sentence for himself.

"When you start this type of case, you better start developing a close relationship to God because you can go to God at any given moment with 100 to 50 bullets," he said.

Malook's new case involves a dispute over a text message a man received that allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.

Like Bibi, Malook's new client, Shagufta Kausar, is Christian. The text allegedly came from a SIM card issued to Kausar. Despite the fact that she doesn't read or write, Kausar and her husband were sentenced to death for the message in 2014. [CBC/Radio-Canada] Read more

Another district told to 'cease & desist' promoting Islam

The second public school district in Washington state in less than a week was warned that it must “cease and desist” its promotion of Islam through its Ramadan policy that gives Muslim students special privileges.

.... “The school district’s so-called Ramadan ‘accommodations’ run roughshod over the First Amendment and are a blatant insult to students of other faiths,” Piedra argued in a statement on FCDF’s website. “Under the mantle of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusion,’ school officials have exalted Islam as thestate-sponsored religion. Teachers and parents are outraged, and they should be.”

NSD’s “Diversity & Equity Department” issued school officials its directive to make Muslim students feel comfortable as they receive special privileges not extended to students of other faiths.

“The policy is designed to ensure Muslim students have the right accommodations and support from teachers and their peers during the Ramadan period,” district the department explained, calling schools to go out of their way to let students conduct their month-long Islamic rituals during Ramadan – which started last week.

.... “Administrators and teachers must never be placed in the position of monitoring a child’s compliance with a particular religious requirement, such as prayer, dietary restrictions or wearing a head covering,” FCDF’s cease-and-desist leader argues, noting that under these circumstances, the First Amendment requires neutrality on religion.

The letter also makes it clear that public school officials are prohibited from favoring a particular religion at school. [OneNewsNow] Read more

12 May 2019

Germany mulls 'mosque tax' to cut out foreign funding

Support is growing in Germany for a "mosque tax" to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or "radical" foreign funding sources, a media report said on Sunday.

The federal government sees it as "a possible path", according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany's 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany's voluntary Christian "church tax", the newspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country's estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany. [The Local] Read more

‘An enemy plot’: Iran launches crackdown after videos emerge of schoolgirls dancing

Iranian authorities have launched an investigation into “disturbing” social media videos of schoolgirls dancing to a pop song.

Education minister Mohammad Bathaei said a team of specialists had been appointed to trace the source of the videos, featuring the music of US-Iranian rapper Sasy.

“The enemy is trying different ways to create anxiety among the people including by spreading these disturbing videos,” he said.

“I’m certain there’s some kind of political plot behind the publication of these devious clips in schools.”

The videos show groups of children – and even some teachers – taking part in an online dance challenge to the song “Gentleman”, according to the Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Several clips of dancing children were also posted by the singer on his own Instagram page in defiance of the criticism from hardline conservatives in parliament. [The Independent] Read more

Germany debates 'mosque tax' to replace foreign funding

Support is growing in Germany for a "mosque tax" to make Islamic institutions less dependent on potentially anti-democratic or "radical" foreign funding sources, a media report said Sunday.

The federal government sees it as "a possible path", according to an answer to a parliamentary query, the Welt am Sonntag newspaper reported.

Several of Germany's 16 states had also signalled support in principle for the idea which would mirror Germany's voluntary Christian "church tax", the rnewspaper said.

Concern has grown in Germany about the influence of foreign funding sources on mosques for the country's estimated five million Muslims, who hail mostly from Turkey and Arab countries.

Some 900 mosques in Germany are run by the Turkish-Islamic Union of the Institute for Religion (Ditib), under the authority of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's government.

Its imams are paid by the Turkish state, and the group has come under scrutiny with some of its members suspected of spying on Turkish dissidents living in Germany. [AFP] Read more

11 May 2019

Men ordered not to look at women during Ramadan in Iran as hardliners tighten control amid nuclear deal row

Men in Iran have been ordered not to look at women during Ramadan as part of a round of draconian restrictions imposed by the increasingly isolated regime.

In a sign of frustration with growing civil discontent and economic pain caused by US sanctions, hardliners in Iran's government are forcing through unusually strict social diktats to bring people into line.

The country's judiciary has announced that those eating in public during the fasting period are also in breach of laws and will be prosecuted.

“My personal advice to women is to respect the hijab even more than before and gentlemen must avoid looking directly at female passersby," Gholam- Hossein Esmaili, a judiciary spokesperson said.

"Anyone ignoring these instructions during the Ramadan will be committing an offence and should expect some punishment from the law enforcement units." [The Telegraph] Read more

10 May 2019

Brunei LGBT community living in fear despite sultan's death penalty reprieve

When the Sultan of Brunei last week announced a moratorium on the much-condemned death penalty for gay sex, some hailed the move as a major advance. But inside the tiny South-East Asian nation, members of the LGBT community says there is little reason to celebrate - and much still to fear.

In an interview with the Telegraph, one gay man, who asked to be identified only as 'M', warned that the apparent turnaround would only be temporary. The moratorium declared following an international backlash was "for appearances only," he said, a "performative" reprieve adopted in part due to Ramadan.

Once the religious season was over, M said, he expected the death penalty would be reinstated. And even if it was not, he said, "it's a living hell here either way."

The sultan drew global condemnation over the Shariah penal code, which mandates punishments including death by stoning for sex outside marriage and anal sex; amputation of limbs for theft; and 40 lashes for lesbian sex. After protests led by celebrities such as George Clooney and Elton John and calls to boycott his luxury hotels, the authoritarian leader said a moratorium on the death penalty observed by Brunei for two decades would also be applied to the new laws. [The Telegraph] Read more

Second Christian woman and her disabled husband fighting death row conviction for committing 'blasphemy' in Pakistan

Christian woman Asia Bibi may have finally safely exited Pakistan after years on death row after being falsely held on blasphemy charges, but the fight for justice is far from over.

Bibi’s very prison cell is now home to another impoverished Christian woman, and the same Lahore-based attorney, Saif-ul Malook, is representing both the woman and her Christian husband. The pair have been sentenced to death under a questionable conviction of insulting Islam.

“They did not get a fair trial,” Malook told Fox News. “They are innocent.”

Shafqat Emmanuel and Shagufta Kauser – who are still waiting for their appeal to be heard by the Lahore High Court (LHC) – were tried and put on death row in April 2014. Shagufta is the second woman after Bibi to be ordered capital punishment.

The couple, believed to be in their late 30’s, hail from the city of Gojra in the Punjab province in Pakistan’s east, and were living with their four young children in a church compound. Shagufta was tasked with making ends meet, working as a cleaner and servant at the church school. Her husband is paralyzed from the waist down, having fractured his spine in a 2004 accident. [FOX News] Read more

Belgian Islamist politician gets suspended jail term and fine for gender discrimination

The co-founder of Belgium's Islam Party has been given a suspended six-month jail term for gender discrimination.

Redouane Ahrouch appeared on Belgian television channel RTL-TVI for a political debate but allegedly refused to make eye contact with journalist Emmanuelle Praet. Ahrouch also reportedly refused to shake hands with Praet because she was a woman and would not let a female make-up artist prepare him before the show.

Praet filed a criminal complaint against him. A Brussels court ruled his behaviour constituted gender discrimination and ordered him to pay €5,000 in compensation to the TV journalist. He was also given a six-month suspended jail term.

Ahrouch, 49, told Euronews the case had turned his life into a nightmare.

“They took my job, I was a bus driver for 25 years," he said. "They took my political life. It's a conspiracy against me. They are doing everything to ensure I don't get into politics again. They said I don't follow 'Belgian democratic values'. I couldn't find any lawyer who wanted to defend me at the tribunal. Even my family lawyer left me alone. [euronews] Read more

Scottish Labour in new racism row as Facebook account blames Islam for terror attacks

Scottish Labour was last night embroiled in a fresh racism scandal after a Facebook account linked to the party suggested “there is no such thing as Islamophobia”.

The Argyll and Bute Labour account also claimed Islam is “responsible for more terror attacks than any other” and treats women as “second class citizens”.

The hateful post came just days after a high-profile Muslim MSP questioned his party’s commitment to tackling prejudice.

Former deputy leader Anas Sarwar hit out after a Labour councillor was cleared of making racist comments towards him after a 15-month investigation.

The racist message was posted on Tuesday afternoon, alongside the question: “Any disagreement with this meme?” [Daily Record] Read more

Germany: Citizenship for Polygamous Migrants?

Critics say that the bill, as it currently stands, would not only create a legal backdoor for polygamous migrants to become German citizens, but would effectively legalize the practice for Muslim immigrants. The changes would, consequently, enshrine into German law two parallel legal systems, one based on German Civil Law and another based on Islamic Sharia law.

In May 2013, RTL, one of Germany's leading media companies, aired a documentary about how Muslims in Germany use polygamy to commit welfare fraud. Muslim men residing in Germany routinely bring two, three or four women from across the Muslim world to Germany, and then marry them in the presence of a Muslim cleric. Once in Germany, the women request social welfare benefits, including the cost of a separate home for themselves and for their children, on the claim of being a "single parent with children." [Gatestone Institute] Read more

09 May 2019

Muslim Protesters In Indonesia Threaten Jihad If Plan To Construct Hindu Temple Is Not Scrapped

Protesters in the small village of Sukahurip falling under Indonesia’s Sukatani district have threatened Jihad unless the planned construction of a Hindu village is stopped, Jakarta Post has reported.

The village which falls under Bekasi regency, West Java shows protesters holding green flags and banners which read, “Be careful! If you insist on building the temple, we are ready to carry out jihad as you are the one who started this”.

This protest was also confirmed by Bekasi Police chief Candra Sukma Kumara who blamed individuals from outside the village for the same.

He said that the plan to construct the Hindu temple was going on smoothly since 2017 without any backlash and it is only recently that such protests have begun.

At present, around 6,000 to 7,000 Hindus who live in the area have to travel quite a distance to Pura Agung Tirta Bhuana in neighboring Bekasi municipality. Thus the Hindu community decided to constitute a committee to full all the requirements to build the temple. [Swarajya] Read more

Pakistan: where the daily slaughter of women barely makes the news

You can find the news about Pakistan’s war on women buried deep inside the metro pages of Urdu newspapers. I stumbled upon it a few years ago. I noticed that I could pick up my newspaper and almost every day find news about a murdered woman.

I thought maybe it’s a coincidence, maybe Karachi is a huge city, these things happen. But it went on and on. It became so routine that I could pick up the paper, open the exact same pages, just like you can bet that you’ll find a crossword or letters to the editor, and it was always there.

.... There are many ways a woman can bring shame to the family. In past years, they have been killed for singing at a wedding, texting a boy, refusing to marry someone and sometimes for taking a selfie.

Pakistan torn as women’s day march sparks wave of ‘masculine anxiety’

Given these dreadful numbers and Pakistan’s rating as the sixth most unsafe country for women in the world, you would think there would be an urgent debate on the issue. You would expect parliamentary committees, thinktanks trying to figure out why are we killing so many women. But sadly, it’s not on the national agenda. [Guardian Cif] Read more

08 May 2019

Asia Bibi: Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy is now in Canada

A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row in Pakistan has landed in Canada to be reunited with her daughters, her lawyer has said.

Saiful Malook told Sky News on then phone that Ms Bibi arrived in Ottawa yesterday.

She was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with a fellow farm worker.

The mother-of-five spent eight years on death row until the Supreme Court overturned her conviction in October.

She has since been in protective custody. [Sky News] Read more

07 May 2019

Iran summons Christians to explain why they converted from Islam

Iran's intelligence minister, Mahmoud Mahmoud Alavi, openly expressed concern last weekend about the spread of Christianity in the Islamic republic and said that some converts to Christianity were "summoned" to explain why they have converted.

The 65-year-old Alavi gave a speech before Shia clerics on Saturday, the day before the beginning of Ramadan.

According to the International Shia News Association, Alavi blamed "evangelical propaganda" for the increase in Iranian Muslims converting to Christianity in certain areas of the country.

Despite Christianity being criminalized in a country where the government is entangled with hardline Islam, the nation is experiencing one of the fastest evolving underground church movements in the world.

According to Radio Farda, Alavi told the clerics that the Intelligence Ministry and Qom Seminary, the country's largest Islamic seminary, have dispatched individuals and institutions that are active in "countering the advocates of Christianity" to areas where Muslims are being converted. [Christian Today] Read more

06 May 2019

We must have the right to blaspheme against Islam

Thou shalt not insult Islam. Bizarrely, terrifyingly, this has become the creed of 21st-century Britain. Consider the Saatchi Gallery’s decision to cover up two paintings after Muslim visitors complained they were offensive.

In a blow to the ideal of artistic freedom, the supposedly edgy gallery in west London draped grey sheets over two new paintings that infuse verses from the shahada, one of the five pillars of Islam, with images of naked women and the US flag. The Saatchi is behaving like Saudi Arabia, hiding from public view artworks that blaspheme against Islam. Perhaps the artist responsible will now get 50 lashes for effrontery to the religion of peace.

The works are by the pseudonymous artist SKU. The aim of the paintings was to explore how individuals become subjected to ‘wider cultural, economic, moral and political forces’. But visitors were denied the ability to judge how successfully the paintings did this because they were covered up by Islam-respecting modesty sheets in response to complaints that they were ‘blasphemous’.

.... This is really worrying stuff. It is bad for artistic freedom, bad for public discussion, and bad for freedom of thought. The right to blaspheme is a hard-won liberty. We should have the freedom to mock all gods, prophets, beliefs and ideas. [spiked] Read more

Brunei says it won't enforce death penalty for gay sex

Brunei has backtracked on enforcing laws introduced last month that would have made sex between men and adultery punishable by stoning to death.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah on Sunday extended a moratorium on the death penalty to cover the new legislation.

The rethink follows global outcry over the laws, including boycotts and celebrity protests.

While still on the statute books for some crimes, no executions have been carried out in Brunei since 1957.

Last month Brunei rolled out a strict new interpretation of Islamic laws, or Sharia.

In a speech, the sultan said he was aware there had been "many questions and misperceptions" regarding the implementation of the legislation, called Syariah Penal Code Order (SPCO). [BBC] Read more

Muslim Women Are Abandoning Surgery Career Dreams Over Fears Of Breaking NHS Dress Code

Some Muslim women claim they are being denied the chance of pursuing their dream of a career in surgery as they are torn between their religious beliefs and NHS dress code policies.

A study looking at the experiences of Muslim women with NHS policies such as ‘Bare Below the Elbows’ and those concerning head coverings in surgical theatres suggests some are experiencing bullying and harassment as a result of their religious observance.

Some women have even revealed they have abandoned their dream of working in surgery or a hospital setting as a result of a lack of clarity and feeling uncomfortable by NHS dress codes.

The research carried out by the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) and The Bridge Institute, an organisation which aims to build inclusive societies, questioned Muslim women from around the UK working in healthcare and discovered barriers when it came to dress. It was co-authored by a microbiologist and expert in infection care. [The Huffington Post UK] Read more

05 May 2019

Muslim American Society investigating ‘oversight’ following controversial video at Philly Islamic center; event organizer ‘dismissed’

A national Muslim group says it will conduct an investigation into an event at a Philadelphia Islamic center last month during which a group of youngsters sang songs it said were not “properly vetted,” calling that “an unintended mistake and an oversight.”

Youngsters at the Muslim American Society Islamic Center in North Philadelphia are shown in video footage speaking in Arabic during a celebration of “Ummah Day,” said the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), a Middle East monitoring organization. One girl says "we will chop off their heads” to “liberate the sorrowful and exalted Al-Aqsa Mosque” in Jerusalem, according to the MEMRI. [Philly.com] Read more

Acclaimed novel, branded ‘Islamophobic’ and ‘racist’, is withdrawn

.... Today, in his daytime slot on London’s LBC radio, Nawaz, a staunch opponent of censorship, expressed his outrage that the book, a parody, had been pulled by its independent publisher, Dzanc Books after “Twitteridiots” castigated the publication’s “Islamophobia” and “racism”.

When the book was published last month, Stephen King said it was “scarier” than anything he ever wrote, but also that:

An irrepressible sense of humor runs through it … it’s stuff like the cross-dressing pilot (my favorite character) and any number of deliciously absurd situations (the pink jets). It’s the inevitable result of an eye that sees the funny side, even in horror. So few writers have that. This novel will cause talk and controversy. Most of all, it will be read. [The Freethinker] Read more

Swedish Muslims Look to Foreign Funding to Build Mega Mosque

The Muslim community in the Swedish municipality of Växjö has increased so dramatically, according to local leaders, that they are now planning to build a giant mosque to hold at least 1,000 people, possibly with the help of foreign backers in the Middle East.

Local imam Ismail Abuhelal said that the current mosque, the Växjö Muslim Foundation which was founded around 15 years ago, is simply not big enough to house the growing number of worshippers in the area, Lokaltidningen reports.

“When we celebrate that Ramadan is over and in connection with the trip to Mecca there can be up to 2,000 people who come to the mosque, then we have had to use the old Folkets park or be outdoors,” Abuhelal said.

The imam added that the new mosque would be a mix of traditional and modern architecture and would feature a prominent minaret, as well.

Last year the Muslim community was able to get permission from local authorities to broadcast the call to prayer publicly, despite opposition from the populist Sweden Democrats who voiced their concerns saying, “Prayer announcements in public places and in foreign languages are not part of Swedish society.” [Breitbart London] Read more

Secret Government report warns over 48 British Islamic schools are teaching intolerance and misogyny to future imams

Young imams are being trained in a network of Islamic schools across the UK that have been accused of promoting intolerance and misogyny, a secret Government report has warned.

The report claims preachers emerging from some of the dozens of Darul Uloom madrasas scattered across Britain have views as extreme as those held by radical clerics who move to the UK from Islamic countries – and may spread them to worshippers.

The Mail on Sunday has identified 48 Darul Ulooms – which can be translated as House of Knowledge – that follow a strict syllabus called Dars-E-Nizami.

It espouses the literal following of the Koran and is used by the hardline Islamic movement Deobandism, whose training schools produced the Taliban in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

At least four Darul Ulooms have previously been criticised by the education regulator Ofsted. Inspectors found students being taught that music and dancing comes from the devil and that women do not have the right to refuse sex to their husbands.

Last night, a source familiar with the report said: ‘UK-based training provided by Darul Ulooms results in the development of extremist views because the institutions are highly conservative and often fail to address the challenge facing Muslims in modern Britain. It means imams trained in Britain will be no better equipped than foreign-born imams in providing satisfactory support to British Muslims.’

Haras Rafiq, an anti-extremism expert at the Quilliam think tank, said: ‘British-trained imams are not any better than the ones trained in the Indian subcontinent because both are taught the same Dars-E-Nizami syllabus. The Darul Ulooms have a problem with extremism.’ [Daily Mail] Read more

Iran's 'Terror Factory' Targeting Christians

"In Iran, any practice that contradicts Islam is regarded as a national security threat, punished severely by the court system." — International Christian Concern, 2019.

"Revolutionary courts were created to guard against all threats to Islam. These courts have evolved into a well-oiled machine of oppres­sion that operates with impunity under state protection. The courts are closely intertwined with the Intelligence Ministry. Judges have at their disposal Revolutionary Guards (secret police) and a network of prisons used to torture and interrogate Christians." — International Christian Concern.

"If you recant and repent, you'll go to jail. And if you don't, you'll be killed." — Dr. Mike Ansari from Heart4Iran, an Iranian Christian minister, reported by International Christian Concern.

"Christians may be looking at large fines, detention, lengthy prison sentences, or even execution under Islamic Sharia law. The sentences of Christian converts are left up to the interpretation of the judge and may be founded on anything -- the judge's mood that day, what he had for breakfast, his interpretation of Sharia law, or his level of hatred toward Christianity." — International Christian Concern. [Gatestone Institute] Read more

This is Saudi reform: women tortured in jail

Lina Alhathloul was at home in Brussels a year ago when she heard that her sister, Loujain, had been arrested by the Saudi government. It was only a few weeks before the ban on women being allowed to drive was due to be lifted and the eyes of the world were on the changes taking place in Saudi Arabia.

Loujain, 29, raised in wealthy circles in France and Saudi, was also a well-known women’s rights activist.

Her family thought she would be released after the driving ban was lifted and did not think the Saudi authorities, with their strict conservative views, would hurt a female prisoner.

They were wrong. Months later Loujain told her parents that she had been held in solitary confinement, beaten, taunted and sexually abused by captors including an aide to Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MBS). [The Times (£)] Read more

Saatchi Gallery covers up SKU artworks after complaints by Muslims

A top art gallery was forced to cover two paintings last week after complaints from Muslims that they were “blasphemous”. One expert described them as “The Satanic Verses all over again”.

Exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery by an artist known as SKU, the works overlaid Arabic script on nude images, and were meant to represent the conflict between America and Islamic extremists.

However, the inclusion of the Islamic declaration of faith, known as the shahada, in the painting prompted complaints from Muslim visitors, who asked for them to be removed from the west London gallery’s exhibition, Rainbow Scenes, which finished on Friday.

Usama Hasan, head of Islamic studies at the think tank Quilliam, said the paintings were not only offensive but blasphemous and sacrilegious. “They are really dangerous,” he said. “It’s The Satanic Verses all over again.” [The Times (£)] Read more

04 May 2019

Stoke-on-Trent charity 'encouraged support for IS'

A charity that ran a mosque was used to encourage support for the Islamic State, an investigation has found.

The Charity Commission launched an investigation into Fazal Ellahi Charitable Trust in Stoke-on-Trent after imam Kamran Hussain was jailed in 2017 for supporting IS and encouraging terrorism.

It said a failure by trustees to manage resources properly led to its use for "terrorist purposes".

The charity has now been dissolved.

The commission said in 2009, the charity had been removed from the register because the commission believed it no longer existed.

But despite the removal, the charity continued to operate, it said.

The probe, launched in April last year, saw checks carried out, including an unannounced visit to the charity's premises and analysis of its bank statements.

The commission also received documents which had been seized by police at the premises.

Investigators found "serious mismanagement and misconduct" by trustees at the charity, and said they failed to maintain and preserve records relating to the charity's income and expenditure. [BBC] Read more

03 May 2019

Birmingham-based President of UK's Pakistani Youth Council once said he would 'salute' Hitler

THE Birmingham-based president of the British Pakistani Youth Council once said he would ‘salute’ Adolf Hitler if he killed more Jews than Muslims.

Kamran Ishtiaq, 37, famously hosted David Cameron when the then Tory leader wanted to ‘experience life outside of Westminster’.

On his LinkedIn profile he says he is President of the Council, which was set up to “focus on issues affecting our lives as British young people”. He adds that he has worked for the body from January 2009 to the present.

But a Facebook post from 2014, and the comments he made at the time, show he said of the Nazi dictator: “I would salute him still if he killed 90 Muslims and 92 Jews.”

When quizzed by BirminghamLive this week, he said: “If it’s on my Facebook, I said it.”

After a picture of Hitler appeared on his Facebook page, he was admonished by another poster who pointed out that the Nazi leader was a racist.

Mr Ishtiaq had replied: “I know that and to be honest he would have killed Muslims too if he got a chance.

“But you know what, I would salute him still if he killed 90 Muslims and 92 Jews.” [Birmingham Mail] Read more

Christian persecution 'at near genocide levels'

The persecution of Christians in parts of the world is at near "genocide" levels, according to a report ordered by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

The review, led by the Bishop of Truro the Right Reverend Philip Mounstephen, estimated that one in three people suffer from religious persecution.

Christians were the most persecuted religious group, it found.

Mr Hunt said he felt that "political correctness" had played a part in the issue not being confronted.

The interim report said the main impact of "genocidal acts against Christians is exodus" and that Christianity faced being "wiped out" from parts of the Middle East.

It warned the religion "is at risk of disappearing" in some parts of the world, pointing to figures which claimed Christians in Palestine represent less than 1.5% of the population, while in Iraq they had fallen from 1.5 million before 2003 to less than 120,000.

"Evidence shows not only the geographic spread of anti-Christian persecution, but also its increasing severity," the Bishop wrote. [BBC] Read more

Australians accepting of migrants but negative towards Islam, poll finds

Australia is a country that accepts gay couples, hates the big banks, considers second-generation migrants “Australian”, but the majority feel negatively towards Islam.

New wide-ranging data released by YouGov has revealed fascinating insights into the Australian identity, its place in the world, and its many contradictions.

Australians were the second-highest out of 23 countries surveyed in not considering where someone’s parents come from as relevant to identifying as Australian, but in our personal lives, 47% admitted to having “very few” or no close friends of a different ethnic background. And 80% of us believe women still suffer discrimination, but a third also think the women’s rights movement has gone too far.

Older Australians, perhaps surprisingly, are just as supportive of gender equality as their younger counterparts. In some cases, more so. But generational fault lines opened up over same-sex relationships (those under 45 vs over 45) and the acceptance of transgender Australians (under 35 and over 35). [The Guardian] Read more

02 May 2019

German conference on Islamic veil sparks controversy

Islamic veils and headscarves remain the subject of heated public debate in Germany. Some view them as part and parcel of religious freedom; others as a symbol of women's oppression in Islam.

The German court system has already taken up the issue of whether school teachers should be banned from wearing a partial headscarf or full veil — or any other openly religious symbols — in class. To complicate matters further, not all of Germany's 16 states see eye-to-eye on the matter, which is gaining in visibility due to the country's changing demographics.

Germany's Muslim population, which has rapidly increased in recent years due to immigration from Muslim-majority countries, was estimated at between 4.4 and 4.7 million people or approximately 5.5% of the country's total population in 2015, according to the Federal Statistical Office. The number is doubtless higher now, according to the agency, but there are no updated official figures.

With these demographic changes come societal debates — one of which, that of the Islamic veil, has been a continual source of discussion. The latest veil controversy, which made headlines all across Germany, has occurred over a planned academic conference — something that even its organizer did not expect. [Deutsche Welle] Read more

Persecution of Christians 'coming close to genocide' in Middle East – report

Pervasive persecution of Christians, sometimes amounting to genocide, is ongoing in parts of the Middle East, and has prompted an exodus in the past two decades, according to a report commissioned by the British foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt.

Millions of Christians in the region have been uprooted from their homes, and many have been killed, kidnapped, imprisoned and discriminated against, the report finds. It also highlights discrimination across south-east Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and in east Asia – often driven by state authoritarianism.

“The inconvenient truth,” the report finds, is “that the overwhelming majority (80%) of persecuted religious believers are Christians”.

Some of the report’s findings will make difficult reading for leaders across the Middle East who are accused of either tolerating or instigating persecution. The Justice and Development (AK) party of the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for instance, is highlighted for denigrating Christians. [The Guardian] Read more

Kerala Muslim educational body prohibits female students from wearing face veil

At a time when there is an international debate about the relevance of face coverings, a prominent Muslim educational body in Kerala has released a circular prohibiting girl students from wearing face veils.

The April 17 circular by the Muslim Educational Society (MES), which runs a wide array of schools and professional institutions including engineering and medical colleges in the state, makes it clear that it is difficult to accept a clothing style, be it in the name of modernity or religious traditions.

From the 2019-20 academic year, heads of institutions and local managements must ensure that female students do not come to attend classes with their faces covered, the MES circular attested.

The educational body underlined that along with academic and extra-curricular achievements, students must maintain decorum in their clothing style. “We must discourage all undesirable tendencies in campuses,” the circular, signed by Dr PA Fazal Gafoor, said. [The Indian Express] Read more

01 May 2019

'We've bought into the lie that is tolerance and diversity': Inside radical Muslim group Hizb ut-Tahrir's Sydney conference - where gender segregated members heard children should not sing the national anthem

A radical Muslim group held a conference on Saturday afternoon discouraging members and their children from singing the Australian national anthem – while refusing to condemn ISIS.

Global Islamist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is campaigning for Sharia law, hired a community hall at Campsie, in Sydney's south-west, for the event.

Yellow taped lines were placed on the carpet segregating men at the front from women at the back, with Daily Mail Australia witnessing ushers directing men to sit at the front of the auditorium.

This was despite a 2016 New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruling which found Hizb ut-Tahrir's gender segregation policies at public events were a form of unlawful sex discrimination. [Daily Mail Australia] Read more

Survey finds young Arabs want less religion

.... This picture is reinforced by some other large numbers in the 2019 report. It says 79% think "the Arab world needs to reform its religious institutions", while roughly half say "religious values are holding the Arab world back" and see religion losing its influence on the Arab world.

Although there's reason to quibble about the precise figures, the broad picture is of widespread (and growing) discontent with religion among young Arabs. That might seem a welcome development considering all the damage caused by religious fanaticism but in some countries it's treated as a social problem, like promiscuity or drug-taking.

In Saudi Arabia and Egypt, where atheism is said to be on the rise, several initiatives have been launched to try to draw young people back to religion – most recently by al-Azhar. [al-bab.com] Read more