Sunday, August 17, 2008

islam and judaism

It hurts too much to lie on his back, so the 7-year-old has spent the past month stretched out on his stomach. His two grandmothers sit on the hospital bed beside him, fanning the pink flesh left exposed by his teacher's whip.

The Quranic teacher who did this to him is behind bars.

But what is most significant is that the boy's father — a poor farmer who sold part of his harvest to pay for the bus fare to the hospital — filed the charges against the teacher himself. In doing so, this man with cracked lips and bloodshot eyes braved the wrath of his entire village, including his own father, who considers all teachers in Senegal's Islamic schools to be holy .Even hospitals have become wary of treating beaten talibe, or Quranic students, for fear of retaliation from the religious community.

In hundreds of these schools in the mostly Muslim West African country, children are made to beg in the streets and are beaten if they don't bring back enough money. One 10-year-old was beaten to death with his hands tied behind his back and his mouth stuffed with rocks. Despite laws passed to protect children, the courts have convicted only a handful of Quranic teachers and quickly cave in the face of powerful clerics. The respect for Islamic schools comes from a centuries-old tradition of families sending their sons to study the Quran and till fields in exchange for food. In the 1970s, as drought devastated West Africa, schools moved to the cities and Islamic teachers sent children out to beg in the streets. These days, boys as young as 3 are beaten not for failing to master the Quran, but for failing to bring back enough money — a change families often are unaware of.

The boy also had to beg for food. Some days all he got was a discarded fish head, or a spoonful of rice.By the second week, he was hungry all the time. On July 2, he begged until dark and got the 50 cents, but spent part of it on biscuits. When the marabout found out, the boy says, he got whipped until the skin on his back fell off. Hospital officials believe the whip was laced with metal.With around 30 children in his care, the marabout was netting $430 a month, three times the salary of an average citizen and as much as a government official.

"Ask yourself, what is this money used for? The kids are not fed, so it's not for food. They wear rags, so it's not for clothes. They don't have mattresses, so it's not for their beds," says Paul Ndiaye, of the Swiss aid group Sentinelles, who has spent the last 10 years trying to get courts to take action against abusive marabouts. "This is a sham on a grand scale under the cover of religion."

In Senegal that the word for "to educate" — "yaar" is the same as the word for the stick to discipline students.

Meanwhile , Israel's Law of Return guarantees citizenship for any Jew in need, and these days the country is especially concerned about boosting its Jewish population to compete with the Arabs. But the Ethiopians have proved the hardest immigrant group to absorb, and the Falash Mura, some critics feel, is pushing the limits. As a whole they are poor, plagued by crime, violence and substance abuse, feeling shut out of a world very different from rural Africa. But despite all the preparations, most Ethiopian immigrants over age 35 go straight onto welfare after reaching Israel, according to the Jewish Agency.

That's no reason for shutting out the Falash Mura, says Mazor Bahyna, an Ethiopian in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament.

"I think Israel has an obligation to prove that it is not a racist state," he says. "If everyone was blond-haired and had blue eyes, they would bring them."

"There is no end to reunification," said the Jewish Agency's Konforti.

Israel has struggled for years to figure out which Ethiopians should be allowed in. Each time it has attempted to end the immigration by emptying the Gondar camps and airlifting their inhabitants to Israel, thousands more have flooded into the camps, scrambling to prove their Jewishness.The argument now seems to have come down to numbers: Israel says the last of the Falasha Mura who qualify for immigration arrived in Israel earlier this month, while the American groups say some 8,700 have been left behind.

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has upheld the Israeli list, effectively marking the end

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