Traditional Friday jum'ah prayers led by a woman at a mixed-gender service, hailed as an historic first for Islam, were held March 18 at the Synod House of the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, a progressive Episcopal institution in New York City. An angry crowd of protesters across street were restrained by helmeted police armed with automatic rifles. Al-Jazeera TV was on hand with cameras as Muslim scholar Amina Wadud lead the service for some 150 worshippers following a short sermon in which she said: "Men and women are both equally essential in creation, and therefore reciprocally responsible for our relationship with Allah." New York's Newsday pictured a protester outside the event with a sign reading "MAY ALLAH'S CURSE BE UPON AMEENA WADUD." Major Islamic organizations in New York were either silent on the event, or openly opposed to it. The city's most established Muslim women's organization, Women in Islam, came only as observers and did not participate in the prayer. But participants interviewed by Newsday were enthusiastic. Said Nasheet Zaman, 22, a college student who came down from Ithaca, NY, for the event: "I just want to be a part of history, I guess. I fully support the fact that Dr. Wadud, as a woman, in leading the prayer." (Newsday, March 19)
Up to 50 worshippers are dead and twice as many wounded in a bomb blast at a shrine to the 19th century Sufi saint Pir Rakhel Shah at Gandhawa in Pakistan's conflicted province of Baluchistan March 19. The bomb went off as pilgrims at the shirne had lined up for a meal and were being served food. Although the shrine is at a Shi'ite mosque, it is revered by Sunnis as well, complicating a potential sectarian motive.
The world is paying little note, but there is a popular uprising underway following contested elections in Kyrgyzstan, a key US ally in Central Asia. On March 20, protesters rallying against President Askar Akayev burned down police headquarters in the southern city of Jalal-Abad, in response to a pre-dawn action by special police units who briefly took back control of a regional administration office that had been occupied by opposition activists since early March.
At least six were wounded by a car bomb which wrecked the front of a government building in a predominantly Christian suburb of Beirut March 19.
Resorting to the sleazy tactic of burying the measure in a budget package to head off a Democratic fillibuster, Senate Republicans passed a major hurdle in opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil exploitation. By a single vote, the Senate defeated a Democrat-backed measure that would have prevented a vote on ANWR as part of a budget resolution March 17. If the House similarly agrees to this subterfuge, western North America's last great caribou herd faces twilight.
A March 18 report on al-Jazeera noted a cruel irony to OPEC's just-ended conference in Isfahan, where the oil ministers of the 11 member nations agreed to boost production in a bid to bring down global prices. No sooner did the conference close before prices surged to an all-time record high of $57 a barrel.
Over 200 historians at colleges nationwide have sent a petition to C-SPAN to protest its plan to accompany coverage of a lecture by Deborah Lipstadt, a professor of Holocaust studies at Emory University, with a speech by David Irving, the notorious Holocaust revisionist.
The March 17 attempted assassination of Anatoly Chubais, head of Russia's state energy monopoly, Unified Energy Systems (EES), and architect of the highly unpopular post-Soviet crash privatization program, has rocked Russia's political elite.