Flashes from the Muslim World

BANGLADESH

UN Official Says Not Safe Yet

It is not yet safe for the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims living in refugee camps in Bangladesh to begin returning to Myanmar, a senior UN official said. While many Rohingya want to eventually return to their villages, UNICEF Deputy Executive Director, Justin Forsyth, said that no one he met during visits to Bangladesh’s refugee camps said they would to back now. “This moment is not safe to go back,” he said, “We have to improve the security situation inside Myanmar to send them back.” More than 680,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state beginning in August, after Myanmmar security forces began clearance operations.

Independent Probe on Myanmar Urged

A Reuters investigation into the killing of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar prompted a demand from Washington for  a credible probe into the bloodshed there and calls for the release of two journalists who were arrested while working on the report. The special report, published overnight, lays out events leading up to the killing of ten Rohingya men from Inn Din Village in Rakhine state who were buried in a mass grave after being hacked to death. The United Nations described the details of the Reuters report as alarming and said that it showed the need for a full and thorough investigation into the violence in Rakhine state.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

UAE’s Aid to Angola

Princess Haya bint Hussein’s support for humanitarian causes is widely recognized. The princess – wife of Ruler of Dubai Sheikh, Mohammad bin Rashid Al-Makhtoum and daughter of Jordan’s late King Hussein – is currently drawing attention to the need for aid in Angola. The aid will provide essential equipment and support to those who need it most. The UAE is reportedly ranked as the most charitable country in terms of foreign aid versus national wealth.

BAHRAIN

Aims a New Investment Strategy

Bahrain is ramping up its drive to attract foreign investment, undeterred by the prospect of big global capital flows toward Saudi  Arabia under the Vision 2030 strategy. Khalid Al-Rumaihi, the former investment banker, who heads the Bahrain Economic Development Board said, “The Bahrain story is not well understood. We have the ability to become a hub for growing GCC trade flows. We see ourselves potentially playing the  same role in the Arabian Gulf as Hong Kong does next to China.” Bahrain already has a big tourism industry, with twelve million visitors per year in comparison with its 1.5 million resident population.

OMAN

Minister in Rare Visit to Al Aqsa

An Omani minister made a rare visit by an Arab  official to a Jerusalem holy site after holding talks with Palestinian leaders in the occupied West Bank. Yusuf bin Alawi, minister in charge of foreign affairs, visited Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Israeli annexed East Jerusalem. His visit comes in the wake of the United States President Donald Trumph’s controversial recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital on 6th December, 2017. Oman and Israel do not have official diplomatic relations as is the case with most of the Arab world. Alawi visited the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque at the compound and said: “It is a duty of Arabs to visit the mosque if they can.”

KUWAIT

USD100Bn Needed for Iraq Reconstruction

Iraq will call on international companies to invest in projects to help with USD100 billion reconstruction of the country devasted by the war. About 2300 companies from 70 countries gathered in Kuwait city for a three-day conference pledging to rebuild Iraq. More than 157 strategic projects were launched for investment at the event organized by Baghdad, Kuwait and the International Monetary Fund. This conference was an opportunity to focus on those who paid the heaviest price. About 2.6 million people remain displaced across Iraq. 750,000 children just in Mosul and surrounding areas are struggling to access basic health services. Nearly three million children have had their education interrupted.

SAUDI ARABIA

Islamic Finance Market

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the World Bank are to use the rapidly growing Islamic finance market for infrastructure development projects through public private partnerships (PPP). The IDB recently organized a forum in Washington in partnership with the World Bank on this subject. The IDB, in partnership with the World Bank, will work to unlock the potential of the USD1.9 trillion Islamic finance market to mobilize resources for infrastructure development projects using public private partnership. The World Bank suggested that the Islamic financial market has reached USD1.9 trillion over the past six decades.

Focus on Fighting Radicalism

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has underlined the significance of a workshop titled “The Role of Education in Preventing Extremism and Radicalism,” which was just concluded in Niamey, Niger. The workshop held in cooperation with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Islamic University of Niger. Maha Akheel, Director of the OIC’s communications department, said the importance of the workshop comes in light of widespread terrorism in West Africa and the Sahel-Saharan region. The workshop issued recommendations and mechanisms to combat extremism and radicalization in the Sahel region, whose population is rapidly growing.

Divorce Parties are Now a Trend

Parties to celebrate divorces have become a trend in the Kingdom as divorced women have become accepted by society. The stigma following women in Saudi Arabia whose marriage have ended has been, for the most part, eradicated, and the divorce rate rose marginally in 2017. In the past, divorced women were marginalized, assumed to be barren or unfit for remarriage if divorced. Nowadays, divorced women can walk with their heads held high without having to worry about how society perceives them, and they can easily remarry if they please. In recent years, celebrations have become frequent enough to instigate a trend. Some shunned the idea because they believed no joy could come of the separation of a married couple and their children. Others dismissed the notion as a cry for attention, while many believed it has stemmed from the injustice endured for the duration of the marriage.

Calls for Respecting Cultural and Religious Diversity

The OIC Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC) has called for respect for cultural and religious diversity to protect and promote human rights for sustainable development projects. The IPHRC stressed the need for mutual understanding, cooperation and the need for dialogue among different faiths and religions and respect for diversity in all its forms, to achieve sustainable and equitable development for the creation of peaceful societies. The OIC embraces 57 Muslim nations from three continents with different cultures and social customs including religious minorities from different faiths and religions. The commission is encouraging member states to actively involve women, youth, and Imams in promoting interfaith harmony, which will lead to better understanding and tolerance.

Tackle Religious Issues

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, has met the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa in his office recently. Parolin praised the Muslim World League, which represents Islamic nations and has its headquarters in Makkah. He also praised the efforts of the Secretary-General for enhancing cooperation with the Vatican, especially after the historical meeting last September between the Pope and the Secretary-General, in which they both stressed their commitment to open dialogue between Islam and Christianity. The Secretary-General of the MWL gave the opening speech at a conference on “Ways to Solve the Violence Committed in the Name of Religion,” organized by the Vatican and the British government. He praised the Vatican for its statement that “Islam has nothing to do with terror.”

Hub of Islamic and Historical Sites

Big steps are being taken to attract more visitors to Madinah, one of Saudi Arabia’s most important tourist regions.  It has many Islamic and historical sites, most of them linked with the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). They include historical mosques and the location of battles. Madinah was the capital of Islamic culture in 2013 and the capital of Islamic tourism in 2017, and it witnessed tremendous progress in the  tourism sector. Madinah is considered one of the pillars of the National Transformation Program (NTP) 2020 and Vision 2030.

Long Robes not Necessary Attire

Saudi women need not wear the Abaya – the loose fitting, full length robes symbolic of religious faith – a senior member of the top Muslim clerical body said: another indication of the Kingdom’s efforts toward modernization. On its radio show named Friday Studio aired on Neda Al-Islam radio station, Sheikh Abdullah Al-Mutlaq, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, said Muslim women should dress modestly, but this did not necessitate wearing the Abaya. Friday Studio is a weekly Islamic show that discusses Islamic teachings, answers questions from the audience and issues Fatwas by the show’s permanent guest, Al-Mutlaq. “More than 90% of pious Muslim women in the Muslim world do not wear Abayas,” Sheikh Mutlaq said on Friday, “So we should not force people to wear Abayas.” Saudi women have started wearing more colorful Abayas in recent years, the light blues and pinks in stark contrast with the traditional black. Open Abayas over long skirts or jeans are also becoming more common in some parts of the country.

OIC, Gambia Hold Talks

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) announced that an OIC delegation had a fruitful visit to the Gambia to discuss preparations for the next Islamic Summit in 2019. The OIC delegation was headed by Director General for Political Affairs Tariq Bakheet. The small West African country will host the 14th session of the OIC’s Islamic Summit next year. The OIC delegation conducted site visits to a number of facilities that will be used for the summit, including the International Conference Center, which is under construction.

First Arab Saudi Ambassador to UN Youth Council

A young Saudi student has become the first Arab ambassador to the UN Youth Council on Global Sustainability. The UN has selected Majed Nezar Alqatari as its ambassador, making him the first Arab national to assume this role. Alqatari participated in the UN Youth Summit in New York where he joined in discussions on the achievement of sustainable development goals 2030 and the role of young people in implementing them.

PALESTINE

Crippled by Fuel Shortage

The Palestinian government has cut the electricity supply to six health centers in the Gaza Strip in a desperate effort to combat a chronic fuel shortage facing the occupied territory’s clinic and hospitals. Officials in the coastal enclave have potrayed the move as a last ditch attempt to avert a severe crisis from crippling Gaza’s health system eleven years after Israel imposed a devasting land, air and sea blockade on the area. Approximately 1.9 million people including 1.3 million refugees are estimated to live in Gaza and roughly 80% of the population is dependent on international assistance, according to UN. Gaza remains under the control of Hamas, which took power in 2007 after winning the legislative elections. Gaza is already in the grip of a severe economic crisis that has decimated the private sector.

IRAQ

Women Turn to Handicrafts for Survival

Threading beads onto a  fishing-line to make a sparkling ornament, Lamia Rahim is one of dozens of Iraqi women displaced by violence who have turned to handicrafts to support their families. The mother-of-four is part of a local initiative set up to help families who fled terrorists and settled in a school in the city of Samarra, 100 km north of Baghdad. The International Organization for Migration estimates that some 2.5 million people remain displaced in Iraq, even as more than 3.2 million have returned to their homes. Many were uprooted by the Daesh’s 2014 rampage across the country and the subsequent bloody fight to push it back.

BENIN

Media’s Role in Combating Terrorism

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has participated in the international conference on the role of media in combating terrorism in Contonou, the capital city of Benin, West Africa. The OIC highlighted its efforts in addressing terrorism and Islamophobia, including campaigns on social media, creating a journalists’ guide for covering terrorism and holding seminars on countering Islamophobia in Western media.

TURKEY

Discuss Jerusalem During Historic Visit

Paying the first Vatican visit by a Turkish head of state in 59 years, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Pope Francis to discuss the status of Jerusalem, human rights and refugees while Kurdish and Italian protesters clashed with police a short distance from Vatican City. Pope Francis and Erdogan discussed the Middle East, with particular reference to the status of Jerusalem, highlighting the need to promote peace and stability in the region through dialogue and negotiation, with respect for human rights and international law. Anadolu Agency, a state-run Turkish news agency said that Erdogan and Pope Francis expressed the need to avoid “provocative statements that link Islam with terrorism.” Referring to Jerusalem, Pope Francis emphasized that the city is sacred to followers of Christianity, Judaism and Islam and prayed that no new elements of tension would be added to a world already suffering many conflicts.

TUNISIA

An Economy Drowning in Debt

Tunisia was widely hailed as the only democratic success story to emerge from the Arab Spring uprisings of 2011.  Today, the country is drowning in public and personal debt, and social turmoil. According to official figures from the Finance Ministry, the budget deficit  now stands at USD2.2 billion. State debt now accounts for 71% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) up from 41% in 2010, when the deficit was 650 million dinars (ESD272.5 million). At a time when the global economy is growing faster than it has for a decade, Tunisia’s growth languishes at 2.3%, well below the 5.6% average achieved in the Arab world ten years ago. International Monetary Fund (IMF) Chief, Christine Lagarde, said the reforms are necessary. The IMF understands the frustrations of the Tunisian people. She also urged Arab governments to urgently create jobs. Unemployment in Tunisia among young people is estimated at 30%.

RUSSIA

Holy Sites Impress Guests

Two hundred people from Russia and former Soviet republics visited the King Abdul Aziz Complex for the Ka’aba Kiswa as guests of the King Salman Program for Umrah, the Saudi Press Agency reported. The guests represented the 11th batch of  the program and came from Tajikstan, Kyrgzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and  Belarus. The guests were briefed on the production stages of the Kiswa, its history, raw materials used in the production. Later, they visited the Two Holy Mosques Architecture Exhibition and were briefed on its contents. The guests appreciated the contents of the exhibition. Arshad Karim, member of the Global Economy Society in Azerbaijan, noted the leading role of the Kingdom in serving Islamic causes and Muslims around the globe. He also appreciated the advanced projects in Makkah and the holy places which have allowed pilgrims to perform their rituals easily and confortably.

ITALY

Defeat Twisted Ideologies

Religious programs must focus more on promoting respect for diversity and differences, Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General, Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al Issa, told a global gathering of religious and political leaders in Rome. Addressing the conference, which concluded recently, organized by the British Foreign Office in the Italian capital, Al Issa also highlighted the need to realize the magnitude of the dangers facing the world.  Stressing shared responsibility for extremism, he said that violence committed in the name of religion is not only the responsibility of those who adopt twisted ideologies. Religious institutions and the educational systems must also sometimes take the blame, he added.

FRANCE

Center of Anti-Muslim Backlash

Islamophobia in France is being fueled by state-backed efforts to encourage secularism, according to a new book that puts the country at the heart of a growing intolerance toward Muslims in Western societies. France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim community, with estimates of its size ranging from 2.1 million to about 6 million, out of a total population of 66.9 million. Many of these Muslims can trace their roots back to the country’s colonial rule in North and sub-saharan African during the 19th and 20th centuries. Secularism is one of the guiding principles of the French political and legal systems and questions around immigration and integration have long been a subject of debate in the country. In 2011, even before the recent wave of militant attacks, France became the first European nation to ban women from wearing full face veils in public. President Macron told the French weekly newspaper, Le Journal du Dimanche, that he planned to reorganize the structure of Islam in France to help preserve national cohesion. He provided no details about how he hoped to do this.

UNITED KINGDOM

Netflix for Muslims

A startup video channel is aiming to fill a gap in the market for more positive story-telling about Muslims. There’s a desperate need for positive media content aimed at Muslims about Muslims, said Abdalhamid Evans, the new Chief Operating Officer of startup video channel Alchemiya. In a time of rising hate crime and anti-Muslim sentiments, Evans hopes the channel will become a “voice for Muslim culture.” “No preaching, No teaching and No politics,” he said, “Just artisans at work”: Alchemiya, often dubbed as “Netflix for Muslims,” currently features a small but high brow menu of Muslim-related lifestyle content. British Muslim convert, Evans, said there is currently no middle ground Islamic media narrative between the constant stream of terrorism related news and sectarian religious ideology.

200 UK Mosques to Welcome Non-Muslims

Non-Muslims will be welcomed with tea and biscuits at mosques across the United Kingdom during an annual Open-Day that encourages integration and understanding among people of all faiths. “Visit My Mosque 2018” marks the fourth edition of the annual event, which will see more than 200 mosques run tours and talks covering Islam, prayer practices and daily Muslim life. Under this year’s theme, “Open Doors, Open Mosques, Open Communities,” participating mosques will also outline some of the benefits they bring to their neighbourhoods, including projects for homelessness, hunger and refugee support. Harun Khan, Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which is hoisting the event, emphasized the positive difference mosques make to their local communities. Mosques are part and parcel of the fabric of British society. The event helps to counter misconceptions about Islam and mosques in the UK. It is a way to show that there is nothing sinster or strange about mosques. Mosques are very welcoming places. Mufti Mohammed Amin Pandor of Masjid Ibrahim in Leeds said: “The most important thing for us is the Question and Answer session. We want people to ask any questions, we will  never be offended. We will answer the questions truthfully.”

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Abayas Only: New York Show

Indonesian designer, Vivi Zubedi, made her New York solo runway show debut wowing the crowd with her Abaya Only collection as she hopes to capitalize on the growing market for modest, Muslim fashions. “Very excited!” Zubedi said backstage after being mobbed by friends and family taking selfies with stylish US bloggers who admire her fashion forward Islamic style dressing even if they are not Muslim. “I have lot of clients here actually,” she said.

MWL Chief Calls for Effective Dialogue

The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, has called for an effective dialogue to spread peace and tranquility among all people of the world. Addressing a conference for unity between followers of religions and peace-lovers organized by the Peace Promotion Forum in Washington and attended by 400 figures from different countries, Al Issa said the world suffers from weakness in understanding the importance of co-existence in its capacity as a base for peace. Lack of constructive dialogue and non-investment of common goals, notably those related to values and co-existence have a tangible impact on our reality today, he said. He also stressed that religious and educational programs should be more oriented to cement behavioral and ethical values, respect of others, understanding of Allah’s act on diversity, and enhancement of peace and brotherhood values for all mankind.

Trump Travel Ban Unlawfully Discriminates Against Muslims, US Court Says

United States President Donald Trumpt’s travel ban targeting people from six Muslim-majority countries violates the constitution by discriminating on the basis of religion, a federal appeals court ruled in another legal setback for the policy. The Richmond-based 4th US Circuit Court of Appeals, in a 9-4 vote, became the second Federal appeals court to rule against the ban, finding that the Republician President’s own words demonstrated that bias against Muslims was the basis of the policy.

[COMPILED BY: SYED NEHAL ZAHEER]