Flashes from the Muslim World

AFGHANISTAN

UN Launches USD550 Million Aid

The United Nations has launched a USD550 million humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan, where about a third of the population is in need of assistance. Around 9.3 million people will be in need of help this year, a 13% jump from last year, according to the UN. According to the UN, more than half a million Afghans were internally displaced by the conflict last year and more than 600,000 Afghan refugees were forced to return to the country from neighbouring Pakistan and Iran, draining local resources.

MYANMAR

End Violence, Nobel Laureates Urge

More than a dozen Nobel laureates –including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Malala Yosufzai– urged the United Nations Security Council to end ‘ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity’ in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State. At least 86 people have been killed in a military crackdown in Rakhine State. The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has blamed Muslim Rohingyas supported by foreign militants for the coordinated attacks which killed nine police officers. More than 30,000 people have fled to Bangladesh. Malaysia has been an outspoken critic of the Myanmar government’s handling of a violent crackdown in Rakhine which has killed scores of people and displaced 30,000 Rohingya, amid allegations of abuses by security forces.

MALAYSIA

OIC Meeting on Rohingya Crisis

Foreign Ministers from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) met to discuss the Rohingya crisis in Kuala Lumpur. 56 OIC representatives attended the meeting which was led by Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak, who recently called on Myanmar to stop the genocide of Rohingyas. Buddhist majority Myanmar refuses to recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic minorities, instead describing them as Bengalis – or illegal immigrants – from neighbouring Bangladesh.

BAHRAIN

Islamic Finance Training

Bringing conventional banking and Islamic finance training together has already shown improvement, according to some institutes that offer training and education to those interested in Islamic finance. The interest is not limited to those who come from a Muslim background. It includes those from countries that have included Islamic finance and banking in their economic development plans. Bahrain is one of the main hubs in the region when it comes to Islamic finance education and training. The Bahrain institute of Banking and Finance (BIBF) is one of the not-for-profit organizations that offer training in Islamic finance in Manama. The education is customized according to the needs of employees.

SAUDI ARABIA

Move to Increase Haj Numbers

Saudi Arabia’s move to increase Haj quotas this year has been welcomed, after the number of pilgrims hit a ten-year low in 2016. King Salman approved a proposal to increase the number of pilgrims from inside and outside the Kingdom during this year’s season, which starts in late summer. Mohammed ShahidAlam, Consul of Haj and Deputy Consul General at the Indian Consulate in Jeddah, said restoring the quotas is good news for pilgrims. Last year, around 136,000 Indian pilgrims came to perform Haj, down from 170,000 in 2012 after the government reduced the quota by 20%. The figure for this year is set to be declared after a ministerial meeting to be held later this month. More than 2.4 million Muslim performed the Haj pilgrimage in 2007, according to reports.

Haramain Train to be Fully Operational by End of 2017

The Haramain high speed train will start operating gradually in six months with the first trip departing from Makkah to Madinah via Jeddah and King Abdullah Economic city in Rabigh, a 450 km trip. Haramain High Rail Project Director, Bassam bin Ahmed Ghulman, said  that the project is the largest transportation project in the Middle East and one of the largest public transportation project in the world, with an estimated 120 year  life span for all expandable projects. It is estimated to cost about SR 62 billion and involved erecting 15,000 power pylons and demolition of some high mountains. The cost of the six central plants to generate power reached about SR2 billion.

Ancient Mountain Inscriptions

Some ancient mountain inscriptions in Saudi Arabia’s Al Qassim region are proving a source of fascination for some. The area is home to a 1,254 meter high mountain known as Mount Sawaj, and various other names. It contains many inscriptions dating back to the ancient Thamud area. The sketches that can been seen on the northwestern side of the mountain include drawings of a number of animals, such as camels and cows, and writings that can be translated by specialists. In other areas, the mountain includes a set of lines and drawings, colored in blue, red and orange.

OIC Information Ministers Conference

Information ministers from 57 Muslim countries praised the efforts and strategy of Saudi Arabia in combating Islamophobia, and terrorism in Syria, Iraq and other countries. On the side lines of the 11th session of the Islamic Conference of Information Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah, Numan Kurtulmus, Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, thanked the Secretary General of the OIC and Adel Al-Toraifi, Saudi Minister of Culture and Information, for organizing the important session, and said everyone should follow up on the decisions made by the Ministry and the OIC.

Islamic Figures Hail King’s Efforts

Scholars, preachers, and Islamic figures have praised the efforts of King Salman to unify Muslims and advocate their causes. They commended the large expansion carried out in the Two Holy Mosques to increase pilgrims comfort during Haj and Umrah. The approval of the increase in the number of pilgrims for this year by 20% from previous years has become a cause for rejoicing formillions of Muslims in various parts of the globe.

King Faisal International Prize

King Salman was pronounced winner of the King Faisal International Prize (KFIP) for his service to Islam at an event in Riyadh. Makkah governor, Prince Khalid Al Faisal, adviser to the king, CEO of the King Faisal Foundation and Chairman of the KFIP Commission, made the opening speech to announce the winners at a press briefing at Al Khozama Center. Prince Khalid said that King Salman’s award was in recognition of his commitment to serving the two Holy Mosques and their visitors and pilgrims. The Prize for Islamic Studies was awarded to Ridwan Al-Sayyid, a Professor at the University of Lebanon for his research and studies of Arabic-Islamic jurisprudential and political heritage.

Arab Peace Initiative

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) officials said at the Paris international conference that the Arab peace initiative remains a realistic opportunity in the Middle East. OIC Secretary General, Dr. Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen, said the participation of OIC member states at the conference indicated their commitment to supporting the Palestinian people’s rights. He reaffirmed that East Jerusalem is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories, and the capital of the State of Palestine. He referred to the religious and spiritual centrality of the city, and the affiliation of Muslims worldwide to Al-Aqsa Mosque. He further said that this asserts the need to respect and ensure the unquestionable right of Muslims to practice their religious rights there.

Framework for Digital Qur’an

A joint team from the Center of Excellence in Information Assurance (CoEIA) at the King Saud University (KSU) and Noor IT Research Center for the Holy Qur’an at the Taibah University, Madinah is working on a project funded by the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) to secure framework for digital Qur’an. The research teams from the CoEIA and the Noor IT Research Center are exploring methods to protect the integrity of the Holy Qur’an contents available in digital formats on smart phones and web applications. The team members added that there should be an authority to monitor apps for authentication, and issue certificate to that readers know that this app has been certified.

KENYA

Targets OneMillion Digital Jobs

Kenya has started a digital skills training program to enable one million young people to secure freelance online work in the next year, in a bid to tackle the country’s acute youth employment problem. Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa, the World Bank said. Neighbouring Tanzania and Uganda have comparable rates of 5.5% and 6.8% respectively. Kenya has sought to promote itself as a tech hub for Africa. Kenya’s Internet penetration rate is about 85.3% according to the regulator Communications Authority of Kenya.

MOROCCO

Bans Full Face Veil

Morocco has banned the production and sale of full face Muslim veils, apparently for security reasons, media reports said recently. It is said that the measure appeared to be motivated by security concerns, since bandits have repeatedly used this garment to perpetrate their crimes. Most women in Morocco, whose King Mohammed favors moderation, prefer the head scarf that does not cover the face. The High Council of Ulema, the country’s top religious authority has yet to comment on the issue.

31,000 to Perform Haj this Year

A senior Moroccan official has praised Saudi Arabia’s Haj and Umrah Ministry, and the Mutawif Association for Pilgrims of Arab countries, for measures being taken to ensure the comfort and safety of pilgrims. Ahmed Al-Qastas, President of the Morocco Pilgrims Affairs Bureau, also said 31,000 Moroccans would arrive in Saudi Arabia to perform Haj this year.

Islamic Foreign Ministers Meet

Foreign Ministers of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held an emergency meeting in Makkah. They discussed the launching of the ballistic missile against the holy city of Makkah on 27thOctober by the Houthis and the forces of the defunct Yemeni President, Ali Abdullah Saleh. This is a flagrant aggression against the sanctity of the sacred places in the country of the Two Holy Mosques, the committee said. It considered the launching of the missile a provocation to the feelings and sentiments of Muslims all over the world.

Grand Mufti Backs Conscription

Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh supports the idea of mandatory conscription that would see Saudi youths participate in military service. The grand Mufti also wants legislation enacted requiring youths to be drafted into compulsory military training programs for a certain period of time. “The demand for conscription has been made for the first time by such a senior religious scholar in Saudi Arabia,” Al-Asheikh said. “The Islamic world should cooperate, be prepared, and seek means of strength through training and imposing compulsory conscription on youths, so that they would be capable of defending their country from enemies.”

370,000 Umrah Visas Issued

The Ministry of Haj and Umrah has issued 370,000 Umrah visas since the start of the current season on 1stNovember (Safar 1), according to a senior ministry official. Isa Rowas, undersecretary for Umrah affairs at the Ministry said this figure posts an increase of 30,000 compared with the same period last year. Rowas attributed the increase in the number of pilgrims mainly to the excellent facilities and services being extended in the two holy cities. The ministry unveiled an ambitious plan to receive about eight million Umrah pilgrims in the new Umrah season.

NIGER

IDB Pledges Support

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) pledged support for Niger during a meeting between IDB President, Bandar Hajjar, and Niger President, Mahamadou Issoufou. IDB affirmed its commitment to supporting the Niger government in ensuring food security and the development of the country’s energy and transport sectors. Since 1974, when Niger joined the IDB, the latter has provided USD760 million worth of financing to the country. Niger is ready to provide a platform for the development of Islamic finance in sub-Saharan Africa.

AUSTRIA

Planning Headscarf Ban

Austria’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Integration, Sebastian Kurz, said that he wanted to ban public servants, including school teachers from wearing the headscarf. If passed by Parliament, the nationwide ban would be stricter than laws in France, where only the full body is illegal, or Germany where the highest court in 2015 restricted lawmakers’ scope to ban teachers from wearing the headscarf. Kurz is revamping Austria’s integration laws and would also like to include a ban on full body veils and restrictions on the distribution of the Qur’an, Kurz spokesman said.

SWITZERLAND

Girls Must Take Swimming Classes

Muslim parents in Switzerland cannot refuse to send their daughters to school-run swimming lessons with boys, Europe’s top rights court said, dismissing a challenge by a Turkish Swiss couple claiming the rule violated their beliefs. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) accepted that the refusal by Swiss authorities to exempt the couple’s two daughters from the compulsory lessons interfered with their freedom of religion. School has become the focal point in several high profile battles between Swiss authorities and Muslim families who say their religion prevents their children from participating in some mixed activities. Several parents in Switzerland have incurred fines in recent years for keeping their daughters home from obligatory swimming lessons.

GERMANY

Wants to Expel Preachers of Hatred

Mosques in Germany run by ultra conservatives must be banned, their communities broken up and their preachers expelled, German Vice Chancellor, Sigmar Gabriel, told Der Spiegel magazine. “On this question, I am for zero tolerance,” he said. Germany has seen sharp increases in the number of radicals in recent years. The domestic intelligence agency told Reuters that the organization estimated there were about 40,000 hardliners in Germany, including 9,200 followers of a strict version of religion.

UNITED STATES

NYPD Allowed to Grow Beard

Muslim New York City Police officers say that a new policy allowing them to grow their beards up to a half inch long on religious grounds is a step in the right direction, but improvements in the regulations are still needed. Police Lt.Adeel Rana, President of the Muslim Officers Society of the New York Police Department, told Arab News that his members are excited about the policy change. “The policy change doesn’t fully resolve the issue, but it is a great step toward that full achievement,” Rana said. Female Muslim New York police officers have been allowed to wear the Hijab for many years. There are about 1,000 Muslims in New York City Police force.