Flashes from the Muslim World

INDIA

Excellent Relationships Augur Well for Hajj and Umrah Pilgrims

Prominent Muslims in India have told Arab News that the just concluded visit of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has redefined their relationships with Riyadh. Muslims make up 14% of India’s population. Last year, a record 175,000 of them traveled to Makkah for Hajj. Zafarul Islam Khan, the Chairman of the Delhi Minority Commission said he hoped stronger bilateral ties would be an advantage for Muslims. The Hajj quota for Indian pilgrims was increased by the crown prince to 200,000. It has been reported that Saudi Arabia will invest USD100bn amount in various fields and there are 2.7 million number of Indians in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Together, We Build Our Future

Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, signed a declaration of fraternity that pledges the religious leaders to work together in perpetuity and to reject violence and radicalism. “Fraternity is established here at the roots of our common humanity, as a vacation contained in God’s plan of creation,” the head of the Catholic Church told an audience in Abu Dhabi on the first day of his historic visit to the just concluded Arabian Peninsula. His address centered on the themes of fraternity, education, justice, and human development built on inclusion. There is no alternative, he said. “We either build the future together, or there will be no future.” Al Tayeb said, “The document is historic and it calls for policymakers to stop bloodshed and conflict. Muslims must protect their Christian brothers. I will work with my brother and friend Pope Francis to protect all communities.” He further said that “Muslims in Western countries must follow and respect the rules and regulations of the countries in which they reside.” The Pope held out the promise of further visits to Islamic countries.

Combat Hate by Teaching Children Inclusivity

“The growing level of intolerance in the world needs to be combatted by teaching children to be more inclusive,” Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, said recently. Speaking at the Human Fraternity Conference in the UAE capital, Abu Dhabi, Aboul Gheit said the conference was happening in the right place at the right time. He added: “There is no more important value today than tolerance, as sectarianism and racism rear their ugly heads all over the world.” Extremism and hatred are expressed mostly through religion and politics, resulting in wars that have nothing to do with religion, he said. The Human Fraternity Conference marks the start of the UAE’s ‘Year of Tolerance,’ which is aimed at promoting dialogue between nations and faiths.

The Biggest Carpet on the Planet

No surprise that the world’s largest carpet was created in Iran – Persian rugs are widely regarded as the global benchmark for excellence. No surprise either that it’s installed at the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in the UAE – a country with a hunger for breaking world’s biggest records that is probably a record in itself. The big rugs dominant color is green (Sheikh Zayed’s favorite), apparently and handily – the color generally associated with Islam. It consists of 2.2 billion hand tied knots and 38 tons of cotton and wool, and was constructed by a team of 3000 workers.

OIC Foreign Ministers Met to Discuss Development

The foreign ministers of Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states met in Abu Dhabi to discuss the OIC’s role in promoting development in member states. Secretary-General, Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen, said reaching higher levels of development and prosperity for member states and strengthening economic and trade relations between them, are among the most important pillars of the OIC’s economic program. To improve economic and social cooperation between member states, Al-Othaimeen called for the implementation of joint programs to mobilize resources and maximize opportunities.

BAHRAIN

Looks to Cut Costs

Bahrain will focus on “stringent” cost controls to help cut its budget deficit, according to the country’s Finance Minister. Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa, Minister of Finance and National Economy, told Bloomberg Television that Bahrain will also use investment to stimulate growth. Bahrain reduced its deficit by 35% last year and plans to balance its books by 2022. Cutting the deficit is one requirement of a USD10 billion aid package pledged by neighbors, including Saudi Arabia and UAE. Like other regional economies, Bahrain has been hit hard by plummeting oil prices.

BRUNEI

Asian Capital of Islamic Culture

As this year’s Asian capital of Islamic culture, Brunei is considered the longest standing Malay state since its embraces of Islam more than six centuries ago. The small nation has played a central role in reinforcing the Islamic faith in the region. Activities celebrating the declaration of Bandar Seri Begawan as a culture capital were started recently. Islamic teachings are rooted in the country’s political culture and history as well as in daily practices, said Maj. Gen. Dato Paduka Abidin, Brunei’s culture minister.

SINGAPORE

Minister Visit’s MWL Head Office

Dr. Mohammed Maliki bin Osman, Singapore’s senior Minister of State for Defense and Foreign Affairs, was received by the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, in Riyadh. During the meeting they discussed issues of common concern. Al-Issa also received a delegation from Taipei, led by its cultural and economic representative, ambassador Ibrahim Ting Seng Peng. Earlier, the MWL Chief underscored his eagerness to build bridges with all countries, so as to achieve better global cooperation and communication. The Supreme Council of the MWL also praised the Kingdom’s pioneering role in the Muslim world, its religious importance, its history of supporting international security and peace efforts, and its fight against extremism and terrorism.

MALAYSIA

To Boost Halal Exports

Malaysia is targeting the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo as an opportunity to increase its exports of halal food to the global market. Recently, a three-day exhibition titled “Malaysia to Japan for 2020 Olympics” was launched in Kuala Lumpur to secure contracts worth up to USD300 million supplying halal products for the games next year. International demand for halal produce has grown exponentially in recent years, due not only to increasing demand from expanding Muslim populations, but also non-Muslim consumers of high quality products, reassured by the standards halal goods must meet. Though the Muslim population in Japan is small, the Tokyo Olympics could see five million Muslim tourists visit the country.

PHILIPPINES

MWL Condemns Twin Bombings

Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, has condemned the twin bombings that targeted a mosque and a cathedral in the Philippines. In a statement issued by the MWL, Al-Issa said, “These acts go against Islamic, human and international principles and values. Terrorism is a lost cause because such barbaric behaviors will only consolidate religious, national and human unity. The aim of this act was to destabilize and undermine national unity. It should be faced with solidarity, so the terrorists do not achieve their goal.” He said the MWL has always highlighted the importance of raising awareness about the dangers of terrorism and the means of fighting it.

SAUDI ARABIA

More than 3.2m Umrah Visas Issued So Far

The number of Umrah visas issued this year has reached 3,270,164 , according to data provided by the Hajj and Umrah Ministry. The largest number of pilgrims is from Pakistan, followed by Indonesia, India, Yemen, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, and Bangladesh. Developing Hajj and Umrah organizations and services in the Kingdom is among the top priorities of the Saudi government. The Vision 2030 reform plan aims to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims, and provide them with excellent services and an outstanding experience.

A Crime against All Humanity

Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL) told Arab News that Muslims must unite to entrench the memory of the Holocaust’s victims. He denounced those who deny the Holocaust saying this serves to drive new hate-fueled ideologies and anti-semitism. The MWL, and the Islamic peoples under it, denounce all the killings of innocents and the violation of the inviolability of the Holocaust, he said. The followers of the Jewish religion have a distinctive position in Islam with the Christians. “We and they are descendants of Abraham and believe in one God,” he added. Al-Issa, who is also the President of the Makkah-based International Organizations of Muslim Scholars spoke to Arab News following a widely circulated article in the Washington Post. He has urged all Muslims to learn the history of the Holocaust and to teach its lessons to their children.

OIC Chief Receives Envoys

The Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen, received the Pakistani Consul General as part of a farewell tour to mark the end of the latter’s duties. During the meeting, which took place at the OIC’s headquarters in Jeddah, al-Othaimeen praised the initiatives and proposals submitted by Pakistan in all OIC meetings. Al-Othaimeen also received Ramazan Abdulatipov, who submitted his credentials to serve as Russia’s permanent representative to the OIC.

Conflict Begins When Talking Ends

Saudi Arabia, like the rest of the world, could benefit from a modified education system, said Irina Bokova, Honorary President of the Alliance for Hope International and former Director-General of UNESCO. “Like any other country, I think Saudi Arabia could benefit from implementing knowledge about religions, history in general and other cultures into their curriculums,” she told Arab News. Bokova’s speech at the Human Fraternity Conference in Abu Dhabi focused on protecting humanity against extremism and the role education plays in creating interfaith dialogues and mutual respect. In a conference hall with religious figures from around the world, she said, “It is through dialogue and creating connections that we can prove that diversity is our strength. Conflict begins when dialogue ceases.”

OIC Urges World to Ensure Safety of Palestinians

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) condemned Israeli decision to suspend operations of an international observer force in the city of Hebron, after 20 years. The OIC declared the Israeli action a blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions and the international law. The organization called on the international community to ensure the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) stayed in the city to protect the Palestinian people. The OIC also urged the world to take measures to put an end to the ongoing violations and abuses committed by Israeli settlers and the Israeli occupying forces.

KSA, Egypt, Safety Valve of Arab, Islamic Nations

Dr. Osama al-Azhari, the Egyptian President’s adviser on religious affairs, visited the Saudi pavilion at the Cairo International Book Fair. “Egypt and Saudi Arabia are the safety valves of the Arab and Islamic nation,” he said. “Egypt is the country of Al Azhar Mosque, and the Kingdom is the land of the Two Holy Mosques. The combined efforts of the two countries are a pillar of safety for the entire nation.” One corner of the pavilion is allocated to the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The corner has distributed more than 10,000 copies of the Holy Qur’an, and the Ministry’s publications. This initiative is part of the Ministry’s efforts to serve Islam and Muslims worldwide, promote the religion and highlight its positive impacts on its followers. Supervisors said the Ministry’s corner has attracted many visitors of different ages.

Symposium Urges Institutions

In a symposium held on the sidelines of the first Organization of Islamic Cooperation festival in Egypt, experts called on official Islamic institutions from around the world – both religious and educational – to work together to confront Islamophobia. The symposium – Face of Hatred, Terrorism and Islamophobia: Towards a Structural Understanding of the Two Extremes of the Relationship between the West and Islam – was presented by the OIC’s Director-General for cultural, social and family affairs, Mahla Ahmed. The participants praised the OIC’s role in combating extremism and promoting the true values of Islam.

New Exhibition Illuminates the History of Islamic Manuscripts

Wahj: Adornment of the Page, an exhibition of illustrated and miniature Islamic manuscripts featuring some rare and ancient examples has opened at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCIRS) in Riyadh. The center is rich with a number of priceless historical manuscripts that cannot be found anywhere in the world except at the KFCIRS. The 60 exhibits include illustrated manuscripts embellished with gold and featuring different forms of calligraphy from across the centuries and dynasties. The art of decorating and gilding manuscripts flourished in the Islamic world in the Middle Ages. The King Faisal Center aims to highlight Islamic heritage and Arab art, along with the contributions of Islamic civilization to science, culture and the arts.

Holy Qur’an Memorization Winners Announced

The winners of a prestigious Holy Qur’an memorization competition for children with disabilities were announced. Under the patronage of Princess Hussa bint Salman bin Abdul Aziz, the Prince Sultan bin Salman Contest for Memorization of the Holy Qur’an concluded its 23rd session at the Disabled Children’s Association (DCA) headquarters. A total of 2,384 youngsters from throughout the Kingdom and GCC countries took part in the competition. Princess Hussa praised the mothers of the children for encouraging their participation in educational activities that help with their integration into society. She also congratulated teachers and parents for their contribution to the process.

Hajj–Umrah Hi-tech Boot Camp

King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) hosted a boot camp to develop pilgrim services during Hajj and Umrah. Up to 80 people took part in the event. This year’s theme is the futuristic transformation of cities in the Makkah region to facilitate Hajj and Umrah. Proposed start-up ideas fall under two tracks – innovation and entrepreneurship – and prototype funding will be given to the 20 best projects. The six winning projects – three from each track – will receive funding of SR 40,000 (USD10,665).

Distributed 240,989 Copies of the Qur’an

The King Fahd Complex for Printing the Holy Qur’an in Madinah distributed 240,989 copies of the Qur’an during the month of January 2019. The copies were of various sizes and in multiple translations. The complex also distributed religious books on a range of other subjects to a number of government departments. According to a report issued by the complex, its total distribution of books since its establishment in 1984 currently stands at 315,230,633 copies of various publications.

MWL Aims to Bridge Gap

The Muslim World League (MWL) aims to foster cooperation between Muslims and followers of other faiths and to clarify concepts of Islam to non-Muslims through dialogue, said MWL Secretary-General, Dr. Mohammed al-Issa. He expressed these views during events hosted by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) during a visit to Washington D.C. Al Issa also said the MWL wants to enable relief and development work in impoverished or devastated parts of the world. He sought to allay confusion in the West about certain concepts at both meetings, including distinction between doctrinal strictness and intellectual extremism.

Terror Funding has a New Face

The changing dynamics of terror financing and money laundering posed a growing problem for countries and organizations seeking to halt their spread, a regional conference in Cairo was warned. Saudi Arabia’s Attorney General, Sheikh Saud bin Abdullah Al-Mua’jab told the first Middle East and North Africa conference on countering terrorism that new forms of transnational terror-funding and money-laundering demanded greater cooperation between states and organizations. He said that money-laundering and terror-financing are at the forefront of global criminal phenomena and often complemented each other. Saudi Arabia has spared no effort in combating these two crimes, Al-Mua’jab said.

EGYPT

Macron Calls for Dialogue

French President, Emmanuel Macron, held a surprise second meeting with his Egyptian counterpart, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, after talks with the country’s top clerics. A diplomatic source said the French capital would host a forum on religious minorities in the Middle East, but without giving a date. He also met in Cairo with Ahmed al-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, the most prestigious seat of Sunni Islamic learning in Egypt. Their talks centered on the training of Imams in France and the fight against the misguided vision of religion, the French Presidency said.

OIC’s First Festival Concluded

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) concluded its first festival week in Cairo. The event ran in Egypt under the theme, ‘One Nation, A Diversity of Cultures, Palestine in the Heart.’ The festival’s opening ceremony took place at Cairo Opera House and honored a number of eminent Islamic figures who have made an impact on the Islamic world. The General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques took part in the festival focusing on the development of holy sites in the Kingdom, while the King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center staged a symposium to highlight its work at home and abroad, as well as an exhibition.

Ministry Updates Online Portal

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah launched a package of updates for their Maqam e-Portal, in a move to simplify pilgrimages for Muslim’s traveling from outside the Kingdom. The Maqam portal is an online platform, designed so that Muslims from around the world can apply for an Umrah package digitally. It also compares the prices of competing service providers, checks the status of flights, and makes electronic visa applications, without the need to travel to an embassy. Deputy Hajj Minister, Dr. Abdul Fattah bin Sulaiman Mushat, said the updates would simplify pilgrimages for the 30 million people visiting the Kingdom every year.

Osama Sayyid Al-Azhari

Dr. Osama Sayyid Al-Azhari has been the Egyptian President’s adviser on religious affairs since October 2014. Al-Azhari is a scholar, preacher, academic, and a senior fellow at the Kalam Research and Media think-tank. He is also a lecturer at the Faculty of the Fundamentals of Religion at Al-Azhar University, Cairo. He has been a lecturer at several universities, including Zagazig University. He was assigned by Egypt’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Ali Juma to deliver the Friday sermon at the Sultan Hassan Mosque, one of the largest historical mosques in the world. Al Azhari served in that position between 2005 and 2009. He also gave a weekly lecture at the mosque on public topics related to Islamic sciences.

PALESTINE

Tensions Ease as Al-Aqsa Mosque Gate Open

Muslims in Jerusalem celebrated the reopening of a gate inside Al-Aqsa Mosque following four days of confrontations. Israeli security officials had closed the Bab al-Rahmeh metal gate (also known as the Golden Gate) that leads to one of the prayer halls within the Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount) in Jerusalem. However, tensions eased after the status quo that existed before the closure was restored. Sheikh Azzamal-Khatib, the General-Director of the Jerusalem endowment and Al-Aqsa Mosque affairs department, said that Jordan’s efforts during the past few days to remove the chains and locks from the gate had paid off.

TURKEY

To Close Internment Camps for Uighurs

Turkey called on China to close its internment camps for Muslims saying the camps which reportedly hold a million ethnic Uighur people are a great shame for humanity. Last week, rights activists urged European and Muslim nations to take the lead in establishing a UN investigation into China’s detention and forced indoctrination of up to one million Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language and other Muslims in Xinjiang province.

TAJIKISTAN

Efforts in Spreading Moderation Lauded

Chairman of the Hajj Committee of Tajikistan, Abdul Ghafoor Yusuf, has hailed the efforts of Saudi Arabia in the service of pilgrims. Recently, a meeting was held in Dushanbe to discuss bilateral cooperation in different fields and especially the promotion of moderation and rejection of extremism and terrorism. The Ministry’s Under-Secretary, Dr. Abdullah al-Samel, said that the Kingdom is the custodian of peace and security, and it rejects all forms of extremism, hatred and terrorism.

CAMEROON

Islamic Center Inaugurated

The opening of the largest expansion of the Islamic Center of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques took place in the capital of Cameroon. Under the directives of King Salman, Adviser at the Royal Court, Sheikh Dr. Saadal-Shathri, inaugurated the expansion in the city of Yaounde. Al-Shathri noted the Saudi government’s numerous charity projects aimed at serving Islam and Muslims around the world. He said that the Center played a major and pioneering role in Cameroon and neighboring countries in spreading moderation and rejecting extremism.

ETHIOPIA

Reach Deal to Build Pipeline

Land locked Ethiopia said it had concluded a deal with Djibouti to build a 765 Km (475 mile) pipeline to transport its natural gas to ports in the neighboring Horn of Africa nation. There was no mention of cost, nor of when the project will come on stream. Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country with around 100 million people, relies on Djibouti’s ports for exports and imports.

AUSTRIA

Global Forum Promotes Peace, Values of Islam

Witnesses to violent conflict in Syria and Iraq shared their experiences at a global forum organized by the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue in Vienna. The five experts told a dialogue workshop in the Austrian capital that they were able to maintain love and respect for their neighbors despite the horrific events they witnessed, and the violence directed at religious and ethnic communities. The Forum urged people to perform their neighborly duties, practice respect and compassion, build bridges for peaceful communication, and celebrate human values.

UNITED KINGDOM

Understanding the Effect of Language on Islamic Thought

Today, there are over 2.6 million Muslims in the United Kingdom, and 1.8 billion worldwide; yet, the language of the Qur’an, Arabic, is not widely spoken. This fact frames the central theme of British Muslims: New Directions in Islamic Thought, Creativity and Activism that Muslims in Britain and across the world are using the English language to interpret Islam in new ways. Modern Muslim scholars, approaching the Qur’an in languages like English, find, in Islam, a new flexibility that allows them to explain and interpret with greater freedom, while keeping core tenets of the faith intact. British Muslims are redefining their role in life as individuals and as a wider community, projecting a positive image that breaks through entrenched views in their own communities, and tackles established Islamophobia in wider British society.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

New US Lawmaker Criticism of Pressures

The support for a boycott of Israel by the first two Muslim women in the US Congress has opened a breach in the Democratic Party and threatens to create a fissure in the iron-clad US-Israeli alliance. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib made their debut in the House of Representatives in January openly declaring their support for the Palestinian–led boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, or BDS. The movement launched more than a decade ago and modeled on the 1960s movement to pressure South Africa over apartheid, calls for people and groups to sever economic, cultural, and academic ties to Israel, and to support sanctions against the Jewish state. Tlaib has Palestinian roots and represents a district of suburban Detroit, Michigan, that is home to thousands of Muslims. Omar, is the daughter of Somali refugees, who was elected to represent a Minneapolis, Minnesota district with a large Somali population. She accuses Israel of discrimination against Palestinians akin to apartheid, but denies that she is anti-Semitic.

Official Visit to New York

The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul karimal-Issa, met with a number of senior US officials on an official visit for New York. Al-Issa held talks with several prominent politicians, including counter-extremism campaigner and former UN ambassador, Mark D. Wallace, Democrat Senator, Joseph Lieberman, Congressman, Brad Sherman, and Republican Senator, Ted Cruz, on the importance of confronting violent extremism and terrorism, and promoting the values of moderation and coexistence. The US officials praised the many programs developed by the MWL aimed at promoting coexistence and harmony within religiously and ethnically diverse communities across the globe.

Receives World’s Religious Peace Award

The National Council on US-Arab Relations (NCUSAR) has awarded the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, the World’s Religious Peace Award in recognition of his international efforts to promote peace among worshippers. The NCUSAR Founding President, John Duke Anthony, handed the award to the MWL Secretary-General at a ceremony in Washington on the sidelines of his visit to the United States. Al-Issa has carried out many missions to combat extremist ideology and promote the values of fairness and moderation within the framework of enlightened Islamic discourse. This initiative is part of the cultural communication program and the implementation of the values of tolerance and coexistence inefficient practical programs, especially in religious and ethnic pluralistic countries. Since he became MWL Secretary-General, Al-Issa has spread true Islamic values and achieved many successes in the Islamic and international world during his many journeys around the world.

[COMPILED BY: SYED NEHAL ZAHEER]