Flashes from the Muslim World

AFGHANISTAN

Wheelchair Basketball Teams are Thriving

An explosion tore through Nilofar Bayat’s leg when she was just two, but as she spins her wheelchair across a basketball court in Bangkok, the Afghan sportswoman is determined to turn her story from tragedy to triumph. The 23-year-old captain of the Afghan woman’s wheelchair basketball team was in Thailand in a bid to qualify for the Asian Para Games for the first time. “This is a big job. When I come, I represent Afghanistan. I want to show that Afghanistan is not just Taliban.” Her life reflects the squad’s remarkable journey against a backdrop of unrelenting violence.

BANGLADESH

Nobel Laureates Slams Suu Kyi

Three Nobel Peace laureates have called on Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, a fellow laureate, to put an end to the “genocide” against the Rohingya minority. Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen ended a visit to Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. They vowed to bring the perpetrators of crimes to justice via the International Criminal Court (ICC). “If Suu Kyi fails to stop the killings, her choice is clear – resign or be held accountable, along with the army commanders, for the crimes committed,” added Karman of Yemen. The three laureates shared with reporters the experiences of Rohingya women they spoke with at the camps. Ebadi asked, “Where are the Muslims?” She urged them to make a unified effort to stop this crime. The three laureates met with Bangladeshi Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, and thanked her for her generosity toward Rohingya refugees.

SRI LANKA

After Riots, Muslims Pray Under Army Protection

Soldiers and police guarded mosques across Sri Lanka during Friday prayers amid fears of new anti-Muslim attacks after four days of riots that have left at least three dead. Most Muslim-owned businesses in the island nation remained shut in protest at attacks by mainly Buddhist Sinhalese groups concentrated around the central city of Kandy. The riots, which began after a man from the Sinhalese majority died from injuries sustained in an attack by Muslims  have left nearly 200 Muslim businesses and homes destroyed. Eleven mosques were attacked.

TAIWAN

Looks South for Muslim Tourist

From halal fried chicken to hot springs hotels with prayer facilities, Taiwan is adapting its traditional tourist attractions to woo Muslim visitors as Chinese arrivals dwindle. Taiwan is now looking to boost relations with sixteen south and southeast Asian countries as well as Australia and New Zealand – what it calls its “southbound policy” and is seeking more visitors from the region. That has meant a growing number of tourists from Muslim majority countries, such as Malaysia and Indonesia. Taiwan welcomed 30% more visitors from Southeast Asia in 2017. Taoism is the prevalent religion in Taiwan, with Muslims making up less than 2% of the population. Thailand, South Korea and Japan are among Asian nations that have been tapping into the Muslim travel market, which has been fueled by growth in cheap flights and a booming middle class in countries such as Indonesia.

INDONESIA

Concerns Rise Over Attacks on Religious Leaders

Indonesia’s National Police Chief, Gen. Tito Karnavian, has announced the formation of special units to investigate a recent rise in attacks on religious leaders and places of worship across the country, as the  Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) demanded answers on what appears to be a coordinated series of events.  Recently, in East Java, a man attacked a cleric who heads an Islamic boarding school managed by Muhammaddiyah, Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organization. Further, a man tried to vandalize a mosque in Tuban, East Java. Din Syamsuddin, Chairman of the MUI advisory  board, expressed concern that the attacks seemed to be orchestrated.

Not Well-Informed on Peace Conference

Indonesia  presses on with plans to hold a trilateral Ulema conference scheduled to be held in Jakarta later this month, despite a call from the Taliban to boycott the meeting aimed to support peace process in Afghanistan.  Taliban described the peace process as deceptive efforts and that their enemies were going to trick respected Islamic scholars into gathering in Jakarta. Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) which is tasked by the Indonesian government to host the meeting, said the trilateral conference is not aimed to lecture or patronize Ulemas from Afghanistan and Pakistan. Maybe the Taliban is not well-informed and received the wrong information about the conference.

SAUDI ARABIA

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC)

Youssef Al-Othaimeen was appointed Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 2016. Recently, al-Othaimeen told OIC’s member states at the 4th Islamic Conference of Labor ministers in Jeddah that jobs for women and young people will be at the heart of a labor strategy to boost productivity and economic growth. The conference explored programs to reduce the 7.4% unemployment rate among member countries, and create opportunities in educational and occupational training. The OIC is an international organization founded in 1969 and made up of 57 member countries. It has permanent delegations to the US and EU. According to the UNHCR, OIC countries hosted 18 million refugees by the end of 2010. The organization says that it is the collective voice of the Muslim world and works to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony. The official language of the OIC are Arabic, English and French.

Muslim World League

Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary General of the Muslim World League since 2016, spoke at a recent summit of religious and cultural leaders in Vienna on the relationship between diversity and world peace. He was titled Dato Seri, the highest state title, by the Malaysian government in 2017 for his efforts to promote moderation. The Muslim World League is a non-governmental international organization based in Makkah. Since its establishment in 1962, it has worked to improve the educational and social status of Muslims around the world. Saudi Arabia is the leading financial contributor to the organization. The league founded the International Islamic Relief Organization in 1978.

Historic Origins of a Diverse Population

Saudi Arabia’s population is more diverse than many people think. Since the Arabian Peninsula was home to the first Arabs, it is natural that the  vast majority of Saudis are Arab and belong to Arab tribes. However, many Saudi citizens are also ethnic Persians, Turks, Uzbeks and Indians. A large proportion of Saudis of non-Arab origin are from South Asia, particularly India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh. Many are descendants of wealthy merchants and Muslim scholars who stayed in Makkah and Madinah after they performed the Hajj.  These arrivals in Saudi society have given the Western Region – Makkah and Madinah in particular – a rich and diverse culture unmatched elsewhere in Saudi. The languages, identities, and cultural practices were integrated to produce a unique Hijazi culture.

Adel al-Kalbani – Former Imam of Makkah Mosque

The 58-year-old former Imam of Makkah’s holy mosque and a famous Qur’an reciter, al-Kalbani was the first black man to hold the position. Born in Riyadh and taught by many Islamic scholars, he was an Imam in a number of mosques in Riyadh, most famously in King Khalid’s mosque. Al-Kalbani issued a Fatwa on social media rejecting the prohibition on music and singing, and was criticized by other scholars. He has been the Imam at Al-Mohaisen mosque in Riyadh for the past nine years.

ITFC Supports ICDT

The International Islamic Trade Finance  Corporation (ITFC) took part in the 35th board meeting of the Islamic Center for Development of Trade (ICDT) to review all the initiatives that have been implemented in the previous year and to discuss the future plans aimed at developing trade among member states. ITFC’s participation in the event was under the patronage of the  Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Yousef al-Othaimeen. The session was just concluded in the city of Casablanca, Morocco.

First Saudi Tablet

The first tablet in the Kingdom with the Saudi hardware ‘KTAB’ is soon to appear after seven years of research. It is made in blue and produced by King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST).  The idea behind KTAB arose from the passion of creating a platform for smart devices in the Kingdom to be a research and development base for future technology projects. It has all the tools that the student needs before   during and after class, at home and at school. It includes an educational encyclopedia, educational browser and contains dozens of educational sites and application videos with tutorials and explanations. It supports 4G and quad-core processor. Device supports students but will be useful to government departments as well.

Deal with Land Identity Project

The Secretary General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulo Karim al-Issa, signed an agreement with Hiroko Kawahara, President of the Land Identity Project, which calls for harmony, peace and teaching children the value of civilization. He was speaking in Japan, where he met with members of the  diplomatic corps, at the invitation of Waleed Siam, dean of the Arab diplomatic corps. Al-Issa said there are many reasons for the emergence of extremism, including a perceived sense of abuse or marginalization, and lack of  justice. The biggest danger facing the world is the globalization of extremism, which used to be confined geopraphically, he said, adding that extremism  should be faced with  counter ideology.

IRAN

Headscarf Protester Sarks Social Media Storm

A video showing an Iranian policeman shoving a woman protesting against mandatory headscarves off her makeshift podium in a busy Tehran street sparked criticism on social media. Since then, several dozen Iranian women have published photos of themselves in the street or parks, their heads uncovered, waving their scarves in an act of defiance. Since December, around 30 women have been arrested in Tehran for defying a requirement under Iran’s Islamic legal code to wear a headscarf.

Avant Garde Mosque Angers Hardliners

A newly built avant-garde mosque in the heart of Iran’s capital would have hardliners shouting from the minarets – if there were any. The architects behind the Vali-e-Asr mosque dispensed with the traditional rounded domes and towering minarets, opting instead for  a modern design of undulating waves of gray stone and concrete which, they say, complements the surrounding architecture and evokes the austerity of early Islam. The architects of the mosque struggled for months before finally convincing authorities that a traditional mosque would look out of place at the site. The mosque has emerged as the latest battleground in a longstanding culture war between hardliners and Iran’s vibrant artistic community. The structure was nevertheless completed after ten years and at a cost of USD 16 million. It is expected to be opened to the public within the coming months. The spiritual aspect of a mosque is more important than its architecture.

JORDAN

Skatepark Put Smiles on Refugees

The 650 square meter (almost 7000 foot) concrete space was built in December 2014 by skateboard enthusiasts from around the world. The money was raised during a fundraising campaign by a German NGO and a local association that offers free classes for the children of refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq or Sudan. Jordan hosts refugees from more than 40 countries, including over 650,000 people from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, and Palestine. The skatepark’s name was inspired by the topography of Amman, a city built on seven hills. Mohammed Zakaria, one of the park managers said that skateboarding is a difficult sport, which allows you to gain self-confidence and learn that falling is not the end of the world, and that you have to try a second and third time to succeed, he explained.

EGYPT

International Islamic Affairs Conference

Cairo hosted an International Islamic Affairs conference. The two-day event highlighted the dangers of terrorism. Participants from around 40 Muslim countries discussed 100 research papers and took part in three specialized sessions to discuss the roles of youth, media, and women in  countering terrorism.

Trade Deficit Down by 11%

The Egyptian Ministry of Trade and Industry said in a statement that the country’s trade deficit fell by 11% year on year in January. According to the statement, exports increased by 16%, while imports fell by 4%. Building materials, chemicals, ready made garments, food and engineering items topped the list of sectors that saw an increase in exports. Declines in the value of the Egyptian pound against the dollar were said to have boosted  the competitiveness of some products, especially those that do not rely heavily on imported materials.  Exports are one of the main sources of foreign exchange reserves in Egypt, as well as revenue generated from direct investment, tourism, and money sent back by Egyptians working abroad.

TUNISIA

Foreign Exchange Reserves Fall to 4.6bBn

Tunisia’s central bank has said that the country’s foreign exchange reserves fall to 11.3 billion Tunisian dinars (USD4.6 billion). The bank attributed the decline to the country’s need to use foreign exchange funds at the  beginning of each year to provide the necessary stocks of energy, food and industrial raw materials, in addition to servicing foreign debt. Tunisia is also suffering from a worsening trade deficit, which reached a record level of 15.5 billion dinars at the end of last year. The Central Bank of Tunisia expects foreign currency reserves to rise soon due to expected revenues from the sale of olive oil and dates, as well as the steady recovery of the tourism sector.

MOROCCO

First Goodwill Ambassador

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has chosen Morocco’s Princess Lalla Meryem as its first goodwill ambassador. Her role will be to support the OIC’s efforts to empower women and preserve family values and the institution of marriage. OIC Secretary General, Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen, designated her as a goodwill ambassador on the sidelines of International Women’s Day celebrations in Marrakech. UNESCO nominated her as a goodwill ambassador for women and children in 2001. She has been President of the National Union of Moroccan Women since 2003. She has won a number of national and international awards.

VIENNA

Interreligious Dialogue for Peace

The King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Center for Interreligious and Interfaith Dialogue (KAICIID) hosted the second International Interreligious Dialogue for Peace in Vienna. More than 250 religious leaders, policymakers and diplomats  attended the event, this is an extension of the first conference which was held in 2014.

GERMANY

Lack of Solidarity

Muslim groups in Germany are asking for greater solidarity from officials and the general public over a series of attacks against mosques. Several recent attacks on Turkish backed mosques in Germany have been blamed on Kurdish groups angered by Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria. However, far right extremists are suspected in many other attacks, including  a threatening letter containing white powder that prompted the evacuation of the Central Council of Muslim offices. Its Chairman, Aiman Mazyek, told reporters in Berlin that “if mosques in our country burn, then our country burn.” He urged the government to appoint a commissioner to tackle anti-Muslim sentiment like it has for anti-Semitism.

Islam – Is Not Part of Germany

German  Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hard line new interior minister declared that Islam is not part of Germany, in an interview setting off a political storm two days into her fourth term. Islam is not part of Germany. Christianity has shaped Germany including Sunday as a day of rest. Church holidays and rituals such as Easter, Pentecost, and Christman, he said. “The Muslims who live among us are naturally part of Germany. But that, of course, does not mean that we, out of false sense of difference, should sacrifice our traditions and customs. Germany’s Muslim community is estimated to count about 4.5 million members, around 1.8 million of whom are German citizens. Most are descendants of Turkish so called guest workers, invited to Germany in the 1960s and 1970s.

RUSSIA

FIFA to help Muslims at World Cup

With seven majority Muslim countries set to play in this summer’s World Cup, FIFA is considering producing a travel guide for Muslims supporting their teams in Russia that would detail locations of mosques, as well as halal restaurants, prayer times and other important  information. The opening game of the month long tournament sees hosts Russia face Saudi Arabia. It will take place in Moscow on 14th June, which is expected to be the first day of Eid Al-Fitr. Within 24 hours, Egypt, Morocco, and Iran will all have played their opening group stage matches, while Tunisia, Senegal, and Nigeria play over the following days. Fatma Samoura, the Secretary General of FIFA and a Senegalese Muslim told Arab News that football’s governing body is determined to ensure Muslims attending the showpiece will have all the information they need to enjoy the event while still  respecting all aspects of their religion. The World Cup this year will feature seven teams that will have a majority of Muslim players and most of the fans will be fasting during Ramadan, which ends just before the opening game. According to the Central Muslim Spiritual Board of Russia,there are approximately 50,000 mosques across Russia catering for around 30 million Muslims. The Seven Muslim-majority teams set for Russia are: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Nigeria, Tunisia and Senegal.

UNITED KINGDOM

Birmingham Qur’an Manuscript

The Birmingham Qur’an manuscript is one of the  world’s oldest, dating back to the seventh century. Part of the Mingana Collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts at the UK city’s university, the manuscript consist of two leaves containing parts of  Surahs or chapters, 18  to 20. It is written in Hijazi, an early form of Arabic script. The university has said the document may have been created in the Hijaz area, in the west of present day Saudi Arabia, close to Makkah. The parchment, discovered by an academic, was found bound together with pages of a more recent Qur’an manuscript.

Pilgrims’ Progress: The Man Who Paved a Path to Makkah

The maps of Makkah and Mount Arafat are wearing thin at El-Sawy Travel, a Hajj and Umrah tourist agency in St. John’s Wood, northwest London. Faded finger marks show where owner, Hamdy El-Sawy, has traced the journeys made by hundreds of British Muslims he has taken on the sacred pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia over the past four decades. When El-Sawy established his business in 1978, he was the only Hajj group tour operator in the United Kingdom. Today scores of similar businesses take more than 25,000 British citizens and residents to Saudi Arabia each year to fulfil the fifth pillar of Islam. Nevetheless, Britain’s Hajj tourism industry is thriving despite the appreciable price tag on packages. On average, tours cost B. Pounds 5,000/-. British Muslims spend B. Pounds 90 million on pilgrimage each year. Between 2016 and 2017, the number of British residents embarking on the Hajj jumped from 19,000 to more than 25,000, while the number taking the Umrah soared from 75,000 to 100,000 over the same one year period.

London Mosques Given Listed Status

Two London mosques were given special listed status in recognition of their architectural and historic importance, in a move a government minister said celebrated “the rich heritage of Muslim communities in England.” The London Central Mosque and Islamic Cultural Center in Regent’s Park, Central London, and the Fazl Mosque in the southwest of the British capital, were both listed as Grade II buildings by the government’s culture department. The Grade II status is awarded to just 5.8% of about 500,000 listed buildings in England, marking them out as particularly important sites and giving them greater protection. Although there are around 1,500 mosques in Britain, fewer than 20% are purpose-built according to Heritage England, which compiles the listings. The country’s first purpose-built mosque opened in Woking a town southwest of London, in 1889.

[Compiled by: Syed Nehal Zaheer]