Flashes from the Muslim World

INDONESIA

To Open three Arabic Language Institutes

Saudi Arabia is planning to establish Arabic language institutions in three major Indonesian cities – Makassar, Medan and Surabaya, said Saudi Ambassador, Osama Mohammed Abdullah al-Shuaibi. The envoy said the goal is to help Indonesians improve their Arabic language skills, and the institutions would have no radical influences. They will only deliver Arabic language instructions. There is already the Islamic and Arabic College of Indonesia in Jakarta, which is a branch of the Imam Muhammad bin Saud Islamic University in Riyadh. An Arabic language institution was recently opened on Sumatra Island.

MALAYSIA

King Calls for Unity

King Salman of Saudi Arabia has called on Muslim nations to unify their ranks to solve problems facing Islamic countries in the current volatile situation in regional and international developments. The King spoke in Kuala Lumpur when he met a group of senior Malaysian scholars including Muftis and Islamic workers. On meeting senior Islamic scholars, King Salman said the major challenge facing the Muslim nation is how to protect countries from extremism. The King noted the challenges facing the Muslim world require more cooperation and solidarity among Islamic countries. He emphasized the Kingdom’s willingness to provide everything it can do to serve Islam and communicate with Muslims all over the world.

Global Peace Center

The establishment of a global peace center under the King Salman Center for Global Peace in Malaysia is another of the Kingdom’s contributions to spread the message of Islam and peace, said the Secretary-General of the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND). The KACND Chief said the Center is considered a practical translation of the tolerance of Islam and its permanent call for the spread of peace and coexistence.

KUWAIT

Turns Silk Road into Massive Causeway

Kuwait is building one of the world’s longest causeways to its remote north where it will pump billions into Silk City, aiming to revive the ancient Silk Road trade route. The oil-rich country is eager to inject life into the uninhabited Subbiya region on its northern tip that has been chosen as the location for Silk City. The 36-km bridge, three quarters of it over water, will cut the driving time between Kuwait City and Subbiya to 20-25 minutes from 90 minutes now. Kuwait boasts a USD 600 billion sovereign wealth fund, and is in the middle of a five year development plan stipulating investment worth USD115 billion.

SAUDI ARABIA

Dialogue Needed

The Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia has stressed the need for further dialogue to show the truth of Islam and its usefulness for mankind, according to Ashraq Al-Awsat. Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah Al-Asheikh noted that the current conditions indicate the need for more efforts in this regard, the newspaper reported. During a meeting with the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League, he confirmed that the League needs to carry out more dialogue and intensify its efforts to demonstrate the virtues of the Islamic religion worldwide.

IDB Sets Out Roadmap

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) is developing a roadmap to strengthen Arab-African trade over the next three years, according to Hakim Elwaer, IDB’s official spokesman. The roadmap includes identifying business opportunities and the areas of finance, building logistics platform, supporting trade, credit and insurance, and developing the necessary infrastructure to facilitate trade. IDB’s support for development programs and infrastructure projects in Africa has reached more than USD43 billion, which included funding for projects in infrastructure, according to IDB’s website.

Nike Pro-Hijab Initiative

Nike launched their new Pro-Hijab women empowering initiative to further support Muslim women. Nike’s mission is to bring inspiration and innovation to all athletes, said Megan Saalfeld, Global Nike spokeswoman. She told Arab News that Nike is inspired by the unique beauty and culture of the region, and have hosted several of their design team members in Dubai over the past year to learn more about the Middle East. Muslim consumer spending on clothing is estimated at USD243 billion in 2015, according to the State of Global Islamic Economy’s report. The revenues from modest fashion clothing purchased by Muslim women have been estimated at USD44 billion in 2015. Muslim spending on clothing is expected to reach USD368 billion by 2021.

Exhibition on Madinah

Marking Madinah’s status as the 2017 Capital of Islamic Tourism, crowds and pilgrims flocked to the Madinah, Mazar of Faith exhibition near Quba Mosque in the city. A large number of visitors and pilgrims of different nationalities attend the exhibition daily, with visitors reaching sometimes 1,000 per day. The exhibition presents different aspects that highlight the prominent religious and historical role Madinah has played. The exhibition tells Madinah’s story from different aspects and through the ages, especially during the Prophet’s era. It shows the places where the divine revelation was made, and gives the biography of the Prophet.

Mosques Win Architecture Awards

Three mosques from the Arabian Gulf have won awards for their architecture. Msheireb mosque in Qatar, the Sheikha Salama Mosque in the UAE city of Al-Ain and the Arcapita Mosque in Bahrain were all recognized by the Abdul Latif Al-Fozan Award for Mosque Architecture. The Award Prize of SR 2 million was distributed among the three winners, from the SR 60 million endowment that funds the Award. The next edition of the Awards will be open to mosques from the wider Muslim world.

Technology Meeting

The Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) met recently to review preparations for its summit on science and technology to be held in Astana, Kazakhstan. The General Secretariat, which met at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah, discussed a broad spectrum of issues expected to be taken up during the summit. These include environment, health, education, innovation and science and technology, according to Maha Akeel, OIC Director General for information and media.

Iranian Pilgrims to Perform Hajj

Arrangements for Iranians to participate in the upcoming Hajj pilgrimage have been completed, according to the Saudi Press Agency (SPA). The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah and Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization have taken all the necessary measures to ensure Iranian pilgrims perform Hajj 1438 according to the procedures followed by all Muslim countries, the SPA said. Iran’s Tasnim news agency said that the country would end around 80,000 pilgrims this year. Saudi Arabia oversees more than 2 million Muslims from around the world making the annual pilgrimage to Makkah.

PALESTINE

Moves to Silence Mosques

Israel’s Parliament gave preliminary approval to two controversial measures that would limit Adhan (call to prayers) from mosques, including one prohibiting the use of loudspeakers at all hours, after shouting matches between law makers. The bills – the second of which would ban loudspeakers in urban areas between 11 PM and 7 AM – will eventually have to be reconciled, with three more readings required before they can become law. Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of the Knesset, told Arab News that the law is racist, stressing that it would never succeed in silencing the prayer call. “I said Allahu Akbar from the Knesset’s podium,” he said. “They would never succeed in silencing us,” Tibi said hours after he tore down the bill and was stopped from continuing his speech.

EGYPT

Worst Inflation in a Decade

Egyptians are bearing down under their worst inflation in a decade, cutting spending as much as possible as prices surge on basic food items, transport, housing and even some essential medicines. Nearly a third of Egyptians are living under the UN poverty line of USD 1.9 per day. Inflation reached almost 30% in January, up 5% over the previous month, driven by the floatation of the Egyptian pound and slashing of fuel subsidies enacted by President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi in November. The Egyptian economy has yet to recover from the 2011 Arab Spring uprising that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. Investment and tourism, a pillar of economy, were both gutted by political turmoil and terror attacks.

MOROCCO

Islamic Finance Industry

Morocco’s Central Bank has approved the use of five types of Islamic banking transaction, giving a final regulatory nod for the country to launch an Islamic finance industry. Islamic banks and insurers are setting up in Morocco after new legislation allowed them into the market, and the central bank has set up a central Shariah board, a body of Islamic scholars to oversee the sector. The North African country long rejected Islamic banking because of concern about Islamist movements, but its financial markets lack liquidity and foreign investors, and Islamic finance could attract both of those.

SENEGAL

Discuss Economic Integration

A total of 27 officials from 20 African member countries of the Jeddah based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) attended a workshop in Dakar, Senegal to discuss intra-trade routes. Coordination among the IDB’s African member countries to overcome challenges hindering intra-trade was also discussed. The workshop came in the framework of the IDB program to provide technical assistance to member countries to further progress and secure regional integration into the multilateral trading system. This is in line with the bank’s ten-year strategic program, which aims to enhance regional links while promoting and facilitating trade among member countries.

SOMALIA

OIC Warns of Growing Famine

The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said the group is viewing the spread of famine in Somalia with deep concern. The OIC reports that signs of famine have started to show in Somalia and the Horn of Africa region after a severe drought and shortage of rainfall. The Organization stated that the famine is threatening the lives of more than 17 million people in the Horn of Africa. A drought has started to affect Dijibouti, Eriteria, Ethopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda. Half of Somalia’s population – about six million people – is in need of urgent humanitarian aid. The country suffered from famine between 2010 and 2012, which led to the deaths of 260,000 people. The OIC General Secretariat appealed for help to the international community.

KAZAKHTAN

To Perform Hajj this Year

An estimated 2,500 Kazakh pilgrims will arrive in the Kingdom to perform Hajj this year. Kazakhtan’s Consul General in Jeddah, Madiyar Ismailov, told Arab News. The Kazakh Hajj mission will be the coordinating center for the Hajj organization issues of Kazakhstani pilgrims. He said that the number of pilgrims is smaller this year compared to the 3,000 who performed Hajj in 2016 due to global economic and financial constraints. He noted that pilgrims pay for everything in connection with their Hajj performance including plane tickets, transportation facilities, accommodation and food, among other expenses.

GREECE

Promised Mosque Still Hard to Believe

After seventeen years of delay, construction has finally begun on the first official mosque for Athens, but Muslims in the city are not getting their hopes up just yet. Nasralla Abed, a Greek Palestinian translator had come to pray in a basement in Athens’ Neos Kosmos neighborhood, one of dozens of unofficial mosques around the city which is home to about 300,000 Muslims. Muslims cannot even bury their dead in Athens, as plans for a cemetery are still on hold. Families often have to bury their dead in Thrace in north east Greece, home of a Muslim minority of Turkish descent. Athens is the last capital in the European Union without an official mosque. Muslim leaders are going along with the push for discretion, and highlight the cooperation between nationalities and branches of Islam to be represented at the mosque.

SWITZERLAND

Veiled Attack Foiled

Switzerland’s upper house of Parliament has rejected an initiative championed by a right-wing populist party to ban burqas and niqabs, the face and body-covering garments worn by Muslim women, which has become emblematic of cultural tensions in part of Europe. The Council of State voted 26-9 with four abstentions. The issue strikes at the heart of Europe’s struggle to integrate Muslims and comes amid fears about radicalism in some corners. France and Belgium have enacted similar bans. In Switzerland, about 5% of the population of about 8.2 million people are Muslims.

HAWAII

Travel Ban Puts Muslims in Spotlight

Hawaii has 5,000 or so Muslims – less than one percent of the state’s population – who are finding themselves thrust into an international spotlight after the state’s top lawyer launched a challenge to President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban, saying it contradicts the island’s welcoming culture that values diversity. The first Muslims in Hawaii can be traced back to the 1800s. Today, Hawaii Muslims have ties to 46 countries including Asian and Arabian countries. About 30% are American-born who converted to Islam. About 80 of Hawaii’s Muslim families are originally from the six countries named in the revised travel ban.

UNITED KINGDOM

Grand and Green Cambridge Mosque

An innovative mosque is being built in the British University town of Cambridge and Turkey has played a major role in the development and realization of the project from the very beginning. The mosque meets the demand of the town’s Muslim population approximately 6,000 people. The construction of the British Pound 15 million (USD18 million) mosque commenced on 5th September 2016, with a splash of holy water – or Zamzam being mixed into the cement. The mosque which is set to host up to 1,000 worshippers with 700 men in the main hall and a smaller section for 300 women, is due to open in 2018. Women have played a major role in the development of the mosque. The mosque is also slated to feature an Islamic funeral facility, a café, a Qur’an school for children equipped with digital technology and an Islamic garden open to all local residents, where many of the plants and fruits mentioned in the Holy Qur’an will be grown. The mosque is set to be equipped with several spaces for women, including a sound-proof mother and toddler area and a women’s treatment room for natural therapies. It will have a solar-powered generator, water recycling facility, passive ventilation to stress Islam’s emphasis on preserving natural resources.

UNITED STATES

Active Engagement from the Community

The rise in Islamophobia has prompted more active engagement from the community in US politics. Despite an uptick in hate crimes against US Muslims in the months since Donald Trump won the Presidential election in November, a wave of public solidarity and improved views of both Muslims and Islam signal some good news for the community in the medium and long term. Almost 1,000 participants rallied in New York in solidarity with Muslims. After a mosque in Texas was destroyed in a fire last month, Jews handed Muslims the key to their synagogue. The recently conducted poll shows that Americans views on Islam and Muslims have become more favorable incrementally. The poll shows that attitudes toward Muslims jumped from 53% favorable in November 2015 to 70% in October 2016. Attitudes toward Islam also saw improvement from 37% in November 2015 to 49% in October 2016, reaching the highest favorable level since 9/11.

[Compiled by: Syed Nehal Zaheer]