Flashes from the Muslim World

BANGLADESH

To Move Rohingyas to Island

Bangladesh said that it would start relocating tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from overcrowded camps to a remote island vulnerable to extreme weather, despite the plan attracting considerable controversy. Shelters and floodwalls have been constructed on Bhashan Char, muddy silt islet that only rose from the Bay of Bengal in 2006. The proposal to uproot the refugees remains unpopular among the Rohingya community and critics have raised concerns about the island’s ability to withstand violent storms during the monsoon. But Mozammel Huq, the head of Bangladesh’ Cabinet committee on law and order and a senior government minister, said the relocation would proceed as planned.

PHILIPPINES

Hajj now more Affordable for Muslim Filipinos

The annual Hajj pilgrimage is now “more affordable” for Muslim Filipinos thanks to reforms instituted by the Philippines National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF) and successful talks with Saudi Arabia, said NCMF Secretary SaidamenPangarungan. Steps taken by the Philippine government have resulted in an “unprecedented” reduction in Hajj fees and better accommodation for Filipino pilgrims. Everyone is assured that the past experience of substandard hotel accommodation for Filipinos will never be experienced again said Pangarungan.

Rebel Chiefs become Officials under Peace Deal

Some of the fiercest Muslim rebel commanders in the southern Philippines were sworn as administrators of a new Muslim autonomous region in a delicate milestone to settle one of Asia’s longest raging rebellions.  President Rodrigo Duterte led a ceremony to name Moro Islamic Liberaton Front (MILF) leader Murad Ebrahim and some of his top commanders as among 80 administrators of a transition government for the five province region called Bangsamoro.

MALDIVES

Saudi Delegation Tours Mosque

The ministry of Islamic Affairs in the Maldives, Ahmed Zahir Ali, and Under Secretary of the Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance for Islamic Affairs, Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Samel, visited the construction site of King Salman Mosque – destined to be the biggest mosque in the Maldives. The mosque is located in the capital, Male, and, along with the outdoor squares, will accommodate more than 10,000 worshippers. When complete, the six-storied mosque will cost around SR356 million (USD95.2 million), which will be undertaken by Saudi Arabia. The site will include multi-purpose halls, an international library, a teaching center and conference hall.

MALAYSIA

Malaysian Airlines May be Shut Down, Sold

Malaysian Airlines could be sold or shut down, Malaysia’s leader said, the latest bad news for a carrier that has been in crisis since suffering the loss of two planes. The 71-year-old airline has been on the ropes since 2014 when Flight MH370 disappeared and MH17 was shot down by a Russian-made missile over war-torn Ukraine.  Malaysia’s Prime Minister, 93, said that shutting down, selling off or refinancing the airline are the options.  Prime Minister Mahathir, in his second stint as premier, is seeking to reduce a mammoth national debt inherited from the previous corruption plagued regime.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

OIC Foreign Ministers Meet in Abu Dhabi

Foreign Ministers representing member states of the influential Organization of the Islamic Co-operation (OIC) met in Abu Dhabi to map out a route to prosperity. The 46th session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers hosted by the United Arab Emirates under the title, “50 Years of Islamic Cooperation: Road Map  for Prosperity and Development.” OIC Secretary-General, Dr.Yousef al-Othaimeen, thanked the UAE for hosting the CFM conference and Saudi Arabia, where the OIC is headquartered, for its continued support for the organization’s goals of promoting Islamic solidarity and joint action. The conference addressed the issues of combating terrorism, Islamophobia, and defamation of religions, the status of Muslim groups, and communities in non-OIC countries. The conference also highlighted efforts to promote science and technology in the areas of higher education, health, water, climate change, the environment, and the OIC universities.

Cuts Fees to Attract More Visitors

Abu Dhabi has reduced tourism related fees to help the ailing hospitality sector and attract more visitors as the oil rich emirate looks to diversify its economy. The capital of the United Arab Emirates is investing billions of dollars in industry, infrastructure and tourism to diversify its economy away from oil. Abu Dhabi is home to the Formula One, Etihad Airways, Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the Louvre Abu Dhabi, the Warner Bros, world themed indoor park and other attractions. Two more museums, the Guggenheim and the Zayed National Museum are being built. Neighboring Dubai welcomed a record 15.9 million tourists last year compared with Abu Dhabi 10 million hotel guests in 2018.

SAUDI ARABIA

Steps Taken to Meet Growing Demand of Zamzam Water

The very mention of the word ‘Zamzam’ evokes a feeling of awe in the hearts of the faithful. Zamzam water is considered holy in Islam. It is found in a 30 meter well in the basement of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, about 20 meters east of the Ka’aba. The water is believed to possess healing qualities, and is treated with reverence by all Muslims. The Saudi government takes special measures to ensure there is an uninterrupted supply of the water to the Two Holy Mosques all year around, and to pilgrims during the Hajj and Umrah seasons. Zamzam water is produced by the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Zamzam Water Project which is operated by the National Water Co., and whose new bottling plant can produce up to 30,000 liters per hour. The King Abdullah Zamzam Water Project has officially begun producing five liter Zamzam water bottles. The National Water Company (NWC) pointed out that it aims to ensure the sustainability of the service provided to pilgrims, adding that the change in the size of containers will help to meet all these requirements.

KAUST’s Hajj and Umrah Contest

Twenty teams have been chosen to progress to the next phase of an innovation and entrepreneurship initiative at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), which aims to support and develop projects to deliver smart services for pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during Hajj and Umrah.  They were selected from 40 teams, with 66 participants in total, after a nine-day preliminary program at the University’s campus in Thuwal, Jeddah.  It will culminate with the selection of six winners – three from the innovation and three from the entrepreneurship tracks – each of which will receive SR 40,000 to support their work.

Pledges USD500 Million in New Aid for Yemen

Saudi Arabia pledged USD500 million in humanitarian aid for Yemen as the UN launched a new appeal. Along with a significant contribution from the UAE, the Saudi donation was the largest in a campaign that raised USD2.6 billion toward its target of USD4.2 billion, UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, told a donor conference in Geneva. Saudi Ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed al-Jaber, said that Saudi Arabia was involved in a raft of projects in Yemen in health, education, power, transport, water, agriculture and fisheries, aimed at supporting the economy, establishing stability and providing job opportunities.

OIC, UN Officials Discuss Global Relief Efforts

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has said that the humanitarian assistance provided by its member-states is much larger than what is mentioned in international statistics. The estimates indicate that the total humanitarian contributions made by the OIC’s member-states in 2015 and 2016 exceed USD4.8 billion, said Hesham Youssef, Asst.Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs. “We firmly believe that the humanitarian assistance provided was not reflected in the statistics because the top ten donor countries do not include any of the OIC’s member-states despite their generosity.”

Kingdom’s Position on Palestine Remains Firm

Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Adel al-Jubeir, has said his country is making great progress in championing domestic and international human rights in a speech at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Speaking at the high level segment of the 40th regular session of the Council, the Minister said that enhancing women’s rights and the protection of children, in particular, had been prioritized by the government of King Salman. He also addressed several other contentious issues affecting the wider region, including the current situations in Palestine, Syria and Yemen. He reaffirmed Saudi Arabia’s support for the Palestinian cause. He condemned the systematic violations of human rights committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.

Ranked Ninth Most Powerful Country

A United States study has ranked Saudi Arabia as the ninth most powerful country in the world in political and financial influence. Saudi Arabia was described as a ‘Middle East Giant,’ with the Kingdom having large oil reserves and exports to many countries, and millions of Muslims visiting Makkah throughout the year for pilgrimage. The study, published by the Business Insider magazine, put the US at the top of the list, followed by Russia, China, Germany and Britain.

Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Osman al-Tuwaijiri

Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Osman al-Tuwaijiri has been the Secretary-General of the Islamic, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) since 1991. Al-Tuwaijiri is also the ex-officio Secretary-General of the ISESCO affiliated Federation of the Universities of the Islamic World (FUIW). He has actively contributed to international efforts to foster intercultural dialogue and the alliance of civilizations. Recently, al-Tuwaijiri met Tunisian President, Qaid Baji Essensa, to help prepare a supreme committee to launch Tunis as the Capital of Islamic Culture in 2019.

Saudi Twins take World by Storm at International Arithmetic Competition

When it comes to mental arithmetic, Saudi twins Emad and Muathal-Amoudi have it all worked out. The gifted brothers have just taken the world in beating off more than 9,000 other youngsters to come first and second in a major international mathematics contest. The 7th graders at the Makkah-based Sheikh Abdullah Khayat Intermediate School took part in the 23rd UCMAS Abacus and Mental Arithmetic International Competition held at the International Islamic University in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Emad won the first prize in Level 2 of the competition, while Muath came second in the Level-1 category. Established in October 1993, the UCMAS program developed the mental power of children from an early age with a global network of more than 5,000 centers across 55 countries.

Scientific Forum for Hajj, Umrah

Madinah’s governor, Prince Faisal bin Salman, opened the Scientific Forum of Hajj, Umrah and Visit Research at the Grand Hall of Taibah University. More than 30 governmental, non-governmental and charitable authorities took part in the Forum. Prince Faisal said, “The Hajj, Umrah, and Visit journey is a religious duty in Makkah, a desire in Madinah, and at the same time, a historical and cultural journey. The many sites of Islamic history in Saudi Arabia are a great gift from God.” He noted that according to statistics, 90% of foreign pilgrims wish to visit Madinah, noting that the state was fulfilling its duty by providing comfort and safety to visitors.

Meets EU Counter – Terrorism Coordinator

The Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, held talks with the EU’s counter terrorism coordinator, Gilles de Kerchove, in Riyadh recently. The two discussed cooperation mechanisms to identify and tackle the phenomenon of extremism both in the EU and the Arab world, and de Kerchove praised the efforts of the MWL to spread its message of tolerance, coexistence and peace in troubled regions affected by religious violence. The Muslim World League itself, meanwhile, is responsible for having developed multiple programs aimed at tackling religious extremism across the globe.

March 15 – Annual Day against Islamophobia

The international community was urged to declare March 15th as an International Day for combating Islamophobia, in memory of the Christchurch terror attack. Dr. Abdul Aziz bin Osman al-Tuwaijiri, Director General of the Islamic, Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO), warned against the growth of extremism and hate speech despite efforts over the past three decades in the field of dialogue among cultures. He said Islamophobia had become an international phenomenon with international spin offs and harmful repercussions for the rights, security and safety of Muslim citizens in countries outside the Islamic world.

Confront Terrorism and Hate Speech

Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) praised King Salman for his strong and firm response to the recent Friday terrorist attack on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in which 50 people were killed. He also called on the international community to confront terrorism and hate-speech in all forms against religion and the values of coexistence. Cooperation is essential to determine responsibilities and commitments, to criminalize hate, and to set controls and legislation to prevent extremists from using social media, spreading their destructive ideas, recruiting the weak and filling their hearts and minds with hatred.

Freedom of Speech No Defense for Racism, KSA Says

Saudi Arabia has urged governments throughout the world to reject racism and intolerance, and to employ balanced rhetoric and policies that contribute to the integration of Muslims into their societies. The Kingdom has warned repeatedly of the dangers of racist rhetoric, said Dr. Fahd al-Mutairi, Head of the human rights section at the Permanent Saudi Mission to the UN office in Geneva. Al-Mutairi expressed concern about some racist speeches and policies in certain countries, including Australia, Iceland, New Zealand, Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Britain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. Al-Mutairi expressed the Kingdom’s deep concern about the leniency and favoritism shown to some of those who support the rhetoric of extremism, hatred and violence.

JORDAN

E-Visa Project for Pilgrims

The Saudi Embassy in Jordan gave the go-ahead for new electronic visas to replace stamped versions for Jordanians visiting the Kingdom. The Saudi ambassador to Jordan, Prince Khalid bin Faisal bin Turki, was given a detailed explanation of the online e-visa application procedure to ensure a smooth process for Hajj and Umrah pilgrims. The Vision 2030 reform plan aims to attract more than 30 million Umrah pilgrims and provide them with top class services and an outstanding experience.

Slammed for Banning Top Cleric

Jordan’sWaqf Minister has slammed the Israeli government for barring a top cleric from entering Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site, for 40 days. Jordanian Minister of Waqf, Abdel Naser Abu Basel, described the temporary ban on Sheikh Abdel Hafiz Salhab, Head of the Jerusalem Waqf Council as ‘unacceptable.’ The Israelis have also ordered his deputy, Najeh Bkerat, to stay away from Al Aqsa Mosque for four months. In a strongly worded statement on the Israeli action, Basel said: “Restricting the Head of the Waqf who holds diplomatic status, and others, is aimed at ruining the work of the Jerusalem Waqf. It is aimed at crippling the work of the Jerusalem Waqf, terrorizing members of the Waqf Council which was established recently by the Jordanian Cabinet.”

IRAQ

Doctors Say Vendettas Threaten their Lives

In Iraq, medicine is a matter of life or death – not just for patients, but also for doctors facing threats by vengeful relatives and who are emigrating en masse. Doctors, nurses and other health workers across Iraq say they regularly risk being physically harassed, verbally threatened, and even kidnapped while on the job. They blame this on the long-standing tradition of personal gun ownership in Iraq, a country ravaged by decades of violence. As a result of this violent and chaotic situation, many doctors have opted to leave Iraq for safer hospitals abroad. Of the 348 doctors who graduated in 2009 from medical schools, 285 have already left the country, mainly because of these assaults. “These kinds of attacks are a common occurrence in every Iraqi province,” said Sahar Mawlud, pharmacist and deputy health director in Salaheddin province. “Iraq is left facing a vast shortage of doctors,” said Health Ministry spokesman, Seif Al-Badr. In 2017, there were just nine doctors for every 10,000 people in Iraq, or three times less than in neighboring Kuwait and two times less than conflict-ridden Libya, said the WHO.

PALESTINE

Prayer in Banned Area of Al-Aqsa

For the first time since 2003, Muslim worshippers broke an Israeli ban and offered Friday prayers in the Bab Al-Rahmeh prayer hall, which is part of the Haram al-Shariff/ Al Aqsa Mosque. Hundreds of Palestinian worshippers entered the Bab al-Rahmeh area inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City for the first time since the area was closed to Muslim worship by Israeli authorities. The worshippers, led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammed Hussein, and other religious leaders, forced their way into the area ahead of the weekly Friday prayers, defying the Israeli ban.

SYRIA

International Donors Pledge USD 7bn

International donors pledged nearly USD 7 billion in aid for 2019 for civilians caught up in Syria’s bloody civil war, the European Union said recently, but the total fell short of what the United Nations says is needed. Despite the shortfall, UN Aid Chief, Mark Lowcock, said he was very pleased with the outcome, but stressed that only a political solution could end the misery endured by Syrians. Before the conference, the UN estimated that USD5.5 billion is needed to help the approximately 5.6 million Syrians forced to flee their country, most to Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. Thirteen million people have been affected by the crisis in Syria. Over one million Syrian refugees remain in Lebanon into their ninth year of exile. 70 million people are displaced today, the highest number of our time.

MOROCCO

Fourteenth Session of the Conference of the Union of Councils

The Saudi Shoura Council speaker pledged the Kingdom’s commitment to resolving the Palestinian issue which was vital to securing Middle Eastern and world stability. Dr. Abdullah al-Asheikh told delegates at the Conference of the Union of Councils of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries that Saudi Arabia stood firm in rejecting any call to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Israeli occupation forces.  The conference had only recently concluded in the Moroccan capital, Rabat. Al–Asheikh renewed the Kingdom’s support for Yemen and all efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis there.

SUDAN

Hundreds Teargassed after Protest

Hundreds of protesters chanted anti-government slogans after leaving prayers at a major mosque near Sudan’s capital on a recent Friday, drawing tear gas volleys from police, eyewitnesses said. The demonstration in the city of Omdurman, which started outside Al-Sayed Abd Al-Rahman Al-Mahdi Mosque that has ties to the opposition Umma Party, was the latest in a series of protests against President Omar Al-Bashir. The protests, which started on December 19, have developed into the most persistent challenge to Bashir’s rule since he took power 30 years ago. President Bashir has been lobbying for Sudan to be removed from a list of countries Washington considers state-sponsors of terrorism. Sudan has been rapidly expanding its money supply in an attempt to finance its budget deficit, causing spiraling inflation and a steep decline in the value of its currency.

TUNISIA

Divided Over Equal Inheritance

Despite laws protecting women’s rights to inherit, many women in Tunisia struggle to get their allocated share. According to government figures from 2014 – the latest available – in 85% of cases, women got no land at all when their fathers died. Now, a proposed new law could give women and men an equal share of an inheritance.  The proposal, due to be debated by Parliament, has divided opinion across Tunisia, as well as other parts of North Africa, and the Middle East. National polls show almost 60% of women in Tunisia are against the proposal, however, as it seeks to replace legislation that is based on Islamic law.

TURKEY

Protect Religious Minorities in Xinjiang Region

Turkish Foreign Minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, voiced concerns at China’s alleged mistreatment of Uighurs and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region and called on Beijing to protect freedom of religion and cultural identity.  Western countries are looking to Turkey and other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to spotlight what China calls re-educating and training facilities in Xinjiang. UN experts and activists say the camps hold a million Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, and other Muslims. China has denied accusations of mistreatment and deems criticism with the UN council to be interference in its sovereignty.

MOZAMBIQUE

OIC Receives Ambassador

Mozambique ambassador, Faisal Fakir Qassam, who is also his country’s permanent representative to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), called on OIC-Chief, Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen, at his office in Jeddah. The Mozambique envoy presented his credentials to al-Othaimeen and stressed his country’s commitment to the OIC and its activities. He said his country is interested in working closely with the organization to achieve their common goals.

Tragic Deaths of Many Residents

Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen, Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), expressed profound grief and sorrow at the tragic deaths of many residents in the port city of Beira, Mozambique, as a tropical cyclone, Idai, unleashed widespread damage and destruction, cutting off communications and electricity.

BRAZIL

Gateway to MiddleEast for Brazilian Products

Saudi Arabia can become a commercial gate for Brazilian products coming to the Middle East, according to a speaker at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (JCCI) 75th-anniversary celebration. The session held on the sidelines of the celebrations, highlighted topics related to the role JCCI can play in enhancing the private sector and potential opportunities for local and international investors. The Secretary-General of the Arab-Brazilian Chamber of Commerce, Tamer Mansour, focused on the need to diversify the exchange of trade between Saudi Arabia and Brazil. He said that the Kingdom could serve as a logistics hub for transferring Brazilian products into the Middle East. According to Mansour, the twelve million Arab expatriates in Brazil provided a perfect market for exported goods.

AUSTRALIA

Senator Rapped for Stoking Extremism

An Australian senator has sparked fury for blaming Muslim immigration for the recent terrorist attack that killed 49 people in mosques in New Zealand. The attacks, which involved a white supremacist gunman, drew global condemnation. But Fraser Anning, a senator from Queensland, tweeted, “Does anyone still dispute the link between Muslim immigration and violence?” His statement was immediately condemned both in Australia, New Zealand and around the world. Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, described his comments as ‘disgusting,’ and said that“those views have no place in Australia, let alone the Australian parliament.” UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, accused the senator of stoking extremism.

NEW ZEALAND

Islamic Association of New Zealand

New Zealand last census in 2013 showed there were just over 46,000 Muslims in the country – a mere one percent of the population. The number of people identifying as Muslims rose by 28% between 2006 and 2013, according to Stats New Zealand, and just over a quarter were born in New Zealand. After the Christchurch attacks, Mustafa Farouk, President of the Islamic Associations of New Zealand, said the community had always felt safe in the South Pacific nation. Muslims have been living in New Zealand for over 100 years.

Sports Club Urged to Change Crusaders Name

A rugby club in New Zealand is under pressure to change its name following the mosque terrorist attack in Christchurch. The Canterbury Crusaders have won the international Super Rugby Championship nine times since the competition began in 1996. Christchurch is the major city in the Canterbury region of New Zealand.  To critics, the name carries undertones of religious war and hatred. The Crusades refer to invasions of Muslim lands by Christian forces between 1096 and 1291, and the Crusaders rugby team logo features a sword-wielding knight. Crusaders management said the name was not a religious statement. “We are united with our community in standing against such abhorrent acts as that which occurred in Christchurch, and in standing in support of our Muslim community.”

UNITED KINGDOM

Diversity is Part of Human Nature: Al Issa

The world needs generations raised with an education that teaches them how to think, promotes accepting and respecting others, and instills a belief that diversity is part of human nature, according to Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL). Al Issa’s comments came during an address to the Wilton Park Forum, held for three days in the United Kingdom to discuss “Promoting Inclusive Citizenship,” with the support of the British government and the attendance of a number of religious, political, and intellectual figures. MWL Chief urges steps to promote inclusive citizenship. The MWL Chief said that the most important problem associated with inclusive citizenship has to do with the foundations of the general culture, which requires the employment of effective practical programs that suit the conditions of each society.