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Jerusalem and Religions Who’s minding the mosque?

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  • Paul
    Jerusalem and Religions Who’s minding the mosque? http://www.jerusalem-religions.net/spip.php?article3457 New freedoms, differing standards amid the Arab
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 1, 2011
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      Jerusalem and Religions
      Who’s minding the mosque?


      New freedoms, differing standards amid the Arab Spring complicates the
      job of government censors monitoring mosque sermons.

      Whether as a conduit for government policy or the headquarters for
      insurgencies, mosques have always played an important political role in
      political events. But the Arab Spring is playing havoc with the simple
      rules that once prevailed and complicating the jobs of government

      On Sunday, the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan reported that preachers who speak
      out against Syrian President Bashar Assad are bring arrested, whereas
      sermons targeting the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi are permitted and
      even encouraged. "This is a political decision," an unnamed source in
      Kuwait’s Ministry of Religious Endowments told the daily. "The
      Endowments Ministry receives its orders from the Foreign Ministry."

      Friday sermons are the linchpin of the weekly service, when Muslims
      gather in the mosque for communal prayer. The preacher, or khatib, is
      often a government appointee – subject to censorship or pushed to
      self-censorship. The outbreak of the Arab Spring has upset the system,
      enabling preachers to speak freely in some countries while in others
      upsetting the messages governments want the faithful to hear.

      Although mosques have often taken a backseat to Facebook and other
      social media in many countries this year, for many in the Arab world the
      Internet isn’t accessible and politics is governed by religions. For
      activists in Syria, where the government has shut down communications,
      the mosques have taken on their traditional role.

      But the government, which is struggling to quell widening protests
      across the country against the regime, still tries to keep sermons on
      message. When US Ambassador Robert Ford angered Damascus by visiting the
      rebel stronghold of Hama earlier this month, Syria’s preachers were
      ready with a response.

      They denounced the ambassador’s visit without prior permission, calling
      it interference in Syria’s internal affairs, according to the
      state-controlled Syrian Arab News Agency. In his Friday sermon at
      Damascus’ historic Umayyad Mosque, Sheikh Mohammad Said Ramadan Al-Bouti
      warned against foreign interference in the events witnessed in Syria,
      stressing that the Koran warns against making mistakes during such
      critical times. Some ignore these warnings, he was reported to have said.

      In Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as a bulwark against the change
      taking place in the Arab world, government-appointed clerics have
      condemned Arab demonstrations as un-Islamic acts of rebellion against
      leaders. But even that has changed this year to some extent.

      "Preachers follow the government line," Abdullah Jaber, a Saudi
      political cartoonist, told The Media Line. "I don’t remember Arab
      revolutions ever mentioned in Friday sermons."

      The Saudi government has remained silent on demonstrations in Syria and
      Bahrain, Jaber added, and as a consequence mosque preachers have
      remained silent as well. The exception to that rule, he said, is Libya.

      "During the Tunisian revolution no one spoke, nor during the Egyptian
      revolution. But when Libya revolted, the Imam began speaking about the
      citizens of Misrata and the oppression applied against the protesters."

      In Jordan, where King Abdullah has faced increasing vociferous protests
      against corruption and the absence of democracy, preachers must be
      authorized by Jordan’s General Intelligence Directorate (GID), and the
      text of Friday’s sermon must be sent to the Ministry of Endowments ahead
      of time. So far, the government hasn’t relaxed its stricture.

      "Generally speaking, political sermons are banned in Jordan," Fatima
      Al-Smadi, a Jordanian media professor and columnist for the daily
      Al-Arab Al-Yawm, told The Media Line. "The Ministry of Endowments, which
      controls the mosques, won’t allow it."

      Jordan didn’t always exercise such tight control over sermons, Smadi
      said. That began to change after the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade
      Center created worries about Islamic fundamentalists. She said that
      historically Muslim Brotherhood preachers dominated mosque pulpits, but
      today they are almost completely absent. The clampdown has intensified
      over the past five years, but Smadi said it has done little to affect
      public opinion.

      "Most Jordanians supported the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia, but the
      Friday sermons opposed them, arguing they caused fitna (social chaos),"
      she said. "What is said on the pulpit does not represent the majority of

      Kuwait, an oil-rich Gulf emirate so far unscathed by social unrest
      experienced in other Arab countries, controls mosque sermons through its
      Ministry of Religious Endowments and Islamic Affairs. In 2009, the
      government published a "Mosque Charter" outlining the role of the mosque
      in society, and that of its leader, the imam.

      "The imam must maintain an atmosphere of submission, calm and peace in
      the mosque. He must not allow any activity that arouses disunity or
      confusion, corrupting the spirit of submission. He should not discuss
      matters he does not understand," the charter reads.

      Nabil Al-Awadi, a well known Kuwaiti preacher, was recently expelled
      from the pulpit for four months after criticizing the Syrian president
      in violation of the Mosque Charter, local media reported this week.

      But in Egypt, where popular demonstrations succeeded in toppling former
      president Husni Mubarak last February, preachers have found new
      freedoms, Ali Khafagy, a youth leader in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood,
      told The Media Line.

      "In the past, sermons in Egypt used to be purely religious, with no one
      but the Muslim Brotherhood talking about politics," he said. "Today,
      politics is the rule in mosques rather than the exception."

      Khafagy said every large mosque in Egypt used to have "supervisors" who
      would inform the government of the content of Friday sermons, with
      erring imams subject to arrest and torture.

      "Today everyone can say anything about any leader," he added. "The
      revolution has changed a lot, especially in terms of freedom of speech."

      Source : By DAVID E. MILLER, THE MEDIA LINE, July 26, /2011
      Wednesday 27 July 2011
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