Why must Muslim men grow beards?

Hizbul-Islam militants in Somalia ordered men in Mogadishu this week to grow their beards and trim their moustaches. “Anyone found violating this law will face the consequences,” a Hizbul-Islam militant said, announcing the edict.

But, is growing a beard obligatory under Islam?

Professor Muhammad Abdel Haleem, of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, says it is not.

It is up to the individual whether he lets his facial hair grow or not, Mr Abdel Haleem says, attributing this view to most scholars of Islamic law across a majority of Muslim-dominated countries…

The Prophet Muhammad is believed to have had a beard and those who insist that devout Muslims grow beards argue that they are doing no more than asking the faithful to emulate the Prophet’s actions…

Mr Abdel Haleem says the body of Islamic law at the core of manuals of Muslim practice puts it as a recommendation – sitting in the middle between an order and absolute free choice.

But, he adds, it is “a recommendation nonetheless“.

The Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan until they were ousted in 2001, and the Islamists of Somalia, are among a small minority in the Muslim world who demand unconditional observance and threaten penalties for non-compliance, says Mr Abdel Haleem.

Every practising Muslim, he argues – adding that he is one of them – should be free to exercise their choice, without fear of retribution.

Being free to exercise your choice without fear of retribution is characteristic of any society with aspirations to liberty.

Still, there is no shortage of religious communities supposedly dedicated to freeing human spirit, bringing the word of whichever neighborhood in heaven they aspire to – to the average heathen – which automatically skip the part about fear of retribution.

You may be causing no special harm to any other human being; but, if your behavior, hair, speech and sexuality upset the neighborhood Knight Templar – you’re target number one.

World’s largest gold coin sells for $4 million

The largest gold coin in the world has been sold for $4m at an auction in Vienna.

The Maple Leaf coin measures 53cm in diameter, weighs 100kg and is listed in the Guinness Book of Records.

The coin was bought by a Spanish precious metal company on Friday, the auction house Dorotheum said.

The auction had been ordered by the administrator of an Austrian investment group that had gone bankrupt.

The group, AvW Invest, had bought the coin in 2007. It is one of only five Canadian Maple Leaf coins that carry a face value of almost $1million and bears the image of Queen Elizabeth II.

It’s worth more when they melt it down – than the face value.

Why waste time on superstition before meetings?

A Lord Mayor has banned the traditional Christian prayers at the start of council meetings, calling the practice “outdated, unnecessary and intrusive“.

Colin Hall, who has just taken over the mayorship in Leicester, said the “majority” of councillors and city council staff were not practising Christians therefore there was little point in having the prayers…

“I am delighted to confirm that I will be exercising my discretion as Lord Mayor to abolish the outdated, unnecessary and intrusive practice.

“I personally consider that religion, in whatever shape or form, has no role to play at all in the conduct of council business. This particularly applies in Leicester where the majority of council members, myself included, do not regularly attend any particular faith service.”

Mr Hall said he was sure his position would be “positively received” by both council colleagues and the public, but last night he faced criticism from the Leicester Christian Fellowship…

There’s a fracking surprise. Few can whine as frequently or as loud as Christians – from a position of establishment and government support.

Mr Hall declined to comment but the Deputy Lord Mayor, Robert Wann, said he was supportive, adding: “We have many faiths within Leicester and we respect all faiths accordingly.

“Equally we respect people with no faith and on this occasion the Lord Mayor has decided not to have prayers and we will abide by that…”

Can you imagine even suggesting this in Congress? Or East Jeebus, Texas? You’d be lynched.

Rock on, Colin!

Genomic revolution only just starting

The 10-year-old Human Genome Project has only just begun to bring to fruition its promise to transform medicine…

Francis Collins, who led the U.S. component of the project and is now director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, said that although it may seem that the revolution promised with the publication of the first draft in 2000 is slow in coming, many early predictions had been prematurely hyped.

Isn’t that a pundit-based specialty?

Scientists have barely scratched below the surface of the possibilities opened up by having access to the whole human gene map, he said, and when they do, their results will determine the way all people are diagnosed and treated for diseases.

“It’s fair to say that most people have not yet had the experience of having their personal medical care directly affected by the sequencing of the human genome,” Francis told a briefing in London marking the project’s 10-year anniversary.

“So while one might argue that the consequences have not come across in the first 10 years in the most dramatic form that some predictors put forward in the year 2000, I think the predictions … were probably a bit overblown.”

Mike Stratton, another of the project’s founders and now director of Britain’s influential Sanger Institute, pointed to several areas of disease where big medical advances had already come about thanks to the ability to read the map of human life.

Cancer drugs, like so-called BRAF inhibitors for malignant melanoma skin cancers — versions of which are being developed by drugmakers including Switzerland’s Roche and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline — were examples how quickly gene sequencing had given birth to targeted treatments, he said…

The genome founders also noted that scientists had already found more than 800 genetic variants that play a role in risks of common illnesses like heart disease, cancers and diabetes…

“When a truly transformative advance occurs in science, inevitably there will be in the short term an overly optimistic set of predictions,” he said. “But in the long term…the consequences will turn out to have been underestimated. I think that will…be true of the Human Genome Project.

Couldn’t agree more. We always hope for more than just plain good news. In part, let’s face it, because of our mortality.

But, real science requires proofs and testing, peer review and more testing. There is no easy way around sound methods. And, of course, if results aren’t forthcoming quickly enough to satisfy Reality TV and beancounters – whining is the result.

Human foetus feels no pain before 24 weeks

The human foetus feels no pain before 24 weeks, according to a major review of scientific evidence…

The connections in the foetal brain are not fully formed in that time, nor is the foetus conscious, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

The findings of two reports commissioned by the Department of Health strike a blow to those seeking to reduce the upper time limit for having an abortion, currently at 24 weeks.

The studies suggest that late abortions, permitted for serious abnormalities or risks to a woman’s health, do not result in foetal suffering because of increasing evidence that the chemical environment in the uterus induces “a continuous sleep-like unconsciousness or sedation”…

Even after 24 weeks, “it is difficult to say that the foetus experiences pain because this, like all other experiences, develops post-natally along with memory and other learned behaviours”…

Anti-abortion campaigners said the work did not challenge other arguments for a lower limit.

Other than the fact that anti-abortion arguments are limited almost exclusively to anti-scientific, religious humbug. And take no account of a woman’s right to choose to order her own life.

Police defuse Ryanair mutiny with chocolate

Police in Scotland had to buy emergency supplies of chocolate and water for a planeload of Ryanair passengers who were close to mutiny after spending four hours on the tarmac without any food and drink.

Strathclyde police were called to the Ryanair flight at Prestwick airport in Ayrshire yesterday after the plane was held on the runway due to delays caused by an air traffic controllers strike in France.

The flight, to Girona in Spain, had been due to leave at 2pm but by 6pm the flight’s besieged crew called the police.

The 168 passengers, many with children, became increasingly angry after the crew refused to open the refreshment trolleys, saying they were forbidden from doing so until the flight was in the air. Others wanted to get off the plane.

Officers decided to buy Mars bars, Double Deckers and water at the force’s expense and brought the supplies on board. The flight eventually left shortly before 8pm…

Sarah Toom, one of the affected passengers, told BBC Scotland: “It was quite hectic in the aircraft earlier – a lot of parents with young kids were getting quite upset and raising their voices because we weren’t allowed off the aircraft to buy food and drink.

“None was being brought on board and none was being offered by Ryanair staff, whom, I have to say, were doing their best.”

She said a loud cheer went up when the police brought supplies.

The coppers were smarted than the bureaucrats running the airport. No surprise.