Flashes from the Muslim World

INDONESIA

Tiny Jewish Community Lives On

In a remote corner of the Indonesian archipelago, a modest synagogue stands in a tiny Jewish community that has found acceptance despite rising intolerance in the world’s most populous Muslim majority country. The red-roofed building on Sulawesi Island is the only synagogue in the nation of 255 million people. Here, unlike other parts of the country, the Jewish community feels safe to practice its faith openly. “We can wear the Kippah (Jewish skullcap) in the mall or anywhere we want; it’s not a problem,” Yobby Hattie Ensel, a Jewish leader from the nearby city of Manado told AFP. Indonesia has long been praised for its moderate, inclusive brand of Islam – and this enclave of diversity is a testament to that.

MALAYSIA

Hijab No Bar

Muslim women dressed as superheroes, princesses and mighty sword-wielding warriors took part in a Hijab cosplay event in Malaysia, where the role playing craze continues to grow. Around 20 women showcased their love for anime with elaborate make up and costumes while still wearing their traditional Hijab – the headscarf worn by many Muslim women in Malaysia – at the event at a mall on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. A 21-year-old student decked out in a “Power Ranger” outfit, said a Hijab did not hinder her cosplay skills and that there had been a lot of positive reaction. The cosplay fad has swept much of the world and has been popular for over two decades in Malaysia. But Hijab cosplay has only become popular in the last few years in the Southeast Asian nation and has generated much buzz among those in the cosplay scene.

CHINA

Jihadis Rise in Syria

Many do not speak Arabic and their role in Syria is little known to the outside world, but the Chinese fighters of the Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP) in Syria are organized, battle-hardened and have been instrumental in ground offensives against Bashar Assad’s forces in the country’s northern regions. Majority of Chinese fighters are with the TIP in Syria, whose vast majority are Chinese Muslims particularly those from the Turkic-speaking Uighur majority native to Xinjiang in China. Their growing role in Syria has resulted in increased cooperation between Syria and Chinese intelligence agencies. The TIP is the other name for the East Turkistan Islamic Movement that considers China’s Xinjiang to be East Turkistan.

Bans Religious Names

China further tightened restrictions on Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang with a ban on Islamic names for babies in an ongoing crackdown that has already seen Muslim women wearing the Niqab and men having abnormal beards prohibited from using public transportation. Xinjiang is home to about half of China’s 23 million Muslims. This is just the latest in a slew of new regulations restricting religious freedom in the name of countering religious extremism. Names such as Islam, Qur’an, Saddam and Makkah, as well as references to the star and crescent moon symbols, are all unacceptable to the ruling. A full list of names has not yet been published and it is unclear exactly what qualifies as a religious name.

Moves to Expand DNA-Testing in Muslim Region

China appears to be laying the groundwork for the mass collection of DNA samples from residents of a restive, largely Muslim region that has been under a security crackdown, rights observers and independent experts said recently. The move comes after Chinese authorities last year reportedly required Xinjiang residents to submit DNA samples, fingerprints and voice records to obtain passports or travel abroad. Xinjiang borders several unstable Central Asian countries, including Afghanistan. It has experienced numerous bombings and vehicle and knife attacks blamed on ethnic separatists from the native Uighur minority.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Arabic Still Vital

Most young Arabs, especially those in the Gulf, still see the Arabic language as central to their national identity, but also increasingly feel it is losing its value and most now use English in their daily lives, the Arab Youth Survey found. In total, 80% agreed that Arabic was an essential part of their identity, rising to 90% in the Gulf. However, 60% overall said the language was losing its value, with that feeling especially strong in North Africa. In the Gulf, some 68% said they were daily English speakers.

Mike Tyson: Dubai Shows the Best of Middle East, Islam

On his first visit to Dubai, former heavyweight boxing champion, Mike Tyson, recalls getting off the plane wearing a traditional Muslim cap and robes, carrying a Qur’an and expecting to find a society strictly governed by conservative norms. However, he was in for a surprise. Speaking from a penthouse overlooking Dubai’s man-made Palm Jumeirah archipelago, Tyson said he believes a city like Dubai can show people the best of the Middle East, its people and Islam. Tyson converted to Islam while serving prison time in the 1990s. He said he has performed the Haj pilgrimage as well as other trips to holy sites in Saudi Arabia.

QATAR

Urges Political Solution to Refugee Problem

Millions of refugees have fled their countries and homes to escape oppression, persecution and natural disasters in search of a better life, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said at the opening of the 17th Doha Forum. Attendants of the forum, under the theme, Development, Stability, and Refugee Crisis, included Presidents and Heads of States. An increase in conflicts has led to the displacement of millions worldwide, which means millions of stories of suffering that cannot be measured quantitatively, said the Emir. He called for a political solution that achieves justice for the Syrian people.

 

SAUDI ARABIA

To Improve Haj and Umrah system

The Saudi government, and all related authorities and institutes, especially the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques and the Institute for Haj and Umrah Research Center, are keen to improve and develop the Haj and Umrah system and facilities. The government and all relevant authorities joined their human and technical capabilities to develop the plans and programs for safe and secure Haj and Umrah according to the scientific research done by the Center.

Peace Prevails through the Love of Good for Humanity

Secretary-General of the Muslim World League – Mohammed Ibn Abdul Karim al-Issa – said that peace takes a prominent place in Islam, but it cannot be attained through theories and dialogue, but through behavior that helps bring it about, including by doing good for humanity. Al-Issa made this statement in a speech he delivered at the World Peace Conference held by the leading Egyptian Muslim institution, Al-Azhar, in Cairo which brought together around 300 Muslim and Christian clerics, scholars and political figures from around the world. He also stressed that there is no peace in the presence of double-standards or if power is dominated by the logic of materialism alone.

OIC Calls for More Awareness

Yousef bin Ahmed al-Othaimeen, Secretary–General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), has called for more awareness of the increasing dangers of Islamophobia, through the dissemination of principles of peace and harmony between communities. He was speaking at the recently concluded Fourth World Forum on Inter-cultural Dialogue in Baku, Azerbaijan. He confirmed the continuous commitment of the OIC to support innovative ideas to instill the values of tolerance between religions, cultures and civilizations. He added that: “It lays upon all of us the responsibility to promote the culture of tolerance, peaceful coexistence and mutual understanding with continuous work to develop new ways to promote inter-cultural dialogue based on the principle of accepting others.”

IDB, ITC Agree to Work Together

Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the International Trade Center (ITC) have agreed to work together to implement joint projects and strengthen the competitiveness of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in member countries. No institution can address development challenges by itself alone. Cooperation is very important. IDB is interested in promoting cooperation with other developmental institutions. “Our approach is to transform from a development bank to a developer institution. Financing alone will not solve development challenges. We have to support the citizens of our member-countries and teach them how to conduct business,” the IDB said on its website.

Must Respect Law on Veils

A Muslim World League (MWL) official has reiterated the position of its Secretary-General, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, that Muslims abroad must respect the laws of the land they live in. The official told Arab News, in light of what he described as recently published inaccurate reports by a number of media outlets, that Al-Issa’s position on wearing the hijab in non-Muslim countries has always been clear and has been repeated and published several times. Muslims must respect the constitutions and laws and culture of the countries in which they live in, the official said. Muslim residents have the option either to abide by the state’s regulations or leave the country.

17th Scientific Forum for Haj Inaugurated

The 17th Scientific Forum for Haj, Umrah and Research was inaugurated at Taibah University by Crown Prince Mohammad bin Naif, Chairman of the Higher Supervisory Committee of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Haj and Umrah Research. The Institute, at Umm al-Qura University, is proud to take on the task of developing and improving the Haj, Umrah and visitor-environment by refining the services provided to the guests through scientific research and specialized studies, said the dean. The participants urged the media to convey the true endeavors to offer services and secure the safety of pilgrims. The media was asked to highlight Saudi efforts in serving pilgrims, counter anti Kingdom campaigns.

OIC, France Cooperate in Heritage

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), in partnership with France, organized its first joint colloquium on the preservation of cultural heritage in OIC member-countries. The meeting was opened by Hesham Youssef, OIC Assistant Secretary-General, who said it will shed light on the need to protect cultural treasures in the Islamic world, and will call for developing cultural and educational programs to achieve this. He added that the OIC is keen to play a more pro-active role in protecting and preserving Islamic cultural heritage.

Better Understanding of Religion can thwart Terror

The Imam and preacher of Quba Mosque in Madinah has stressed that understanding religion in the right way thwarts terrorist groups and their ideology. Sheikh Saleh al-Maghamsi said during a panel discussion at the Tweeps 2017 Forum in Riyadh that the “wise should not deprive people of their goodness, but must initiate and deliver his message in the correct ways.” He was speaking on a panel titled Islam: Its Impact on Civilizations and its Presence on Social Media, which was moderated by Faisal J. Abbas, Editor-in-Chief of Arab News. The participants also reviewed the role of social networking sites in spreading the values of moderate Islam.

JORDAN

Donates 400 Tons of Dates

A team from the King Salman Center for Relief and Humanitarians Aid (K S Relief) has delivered 400 tons of dates to the UN World Food Program (WFP) in Jordan recently, the Saudi Press Agency said. The K S Relief’s offer is considered part of Saudi Arabia’s donations to the WFP, which will undertake its distribution in Jordan.

USD100M Fund Launched for Education

A USD100 million fund has been launched to change the Palestinian education system through a radically new approach to teaching and learning method, in an initiative that could ultimately be expanded across the entire Arab world. The Palestinian Education Trust (PET), a not-for-profit organization set up by philanthropist businessmen with the blessing of the authorities in the occupied parts of the territories, was unveiled at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Middle East meeting in the Dead Sea resort of Jordan. The initiative will initially focus on Palestinian education system with the slogan, Educate a Child, Liberate a Country.

YEMEN

Needs USD 70BN for Reconstruction Development

Yemen requires USD70 billion for reconstruction and development in the country, Abdul Raqib Saif Fatah, Minister of Local Administration and Chairman of the Higher Committee on Relief in Yemen told Al-Eqtisadiah Newspaper. Fatah made his remarks following the publication of an International Bank study. “It is a preliminary study that records losses caused by the war,” he said, adding that more than 80% of Yemen is under control of the legitimate government.

EGYPT

Dialogue Center Calls for Religious Cooperation

Followers of different faiths should cooperate against calls for violence under religious pretexts and bring back the values of peace, mercy and cohabitation, the Under-Secretary of the King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz International Dialogue Center (KAICIID) said at Al-Azhar International Conference for Peace in Cairo. Peace is a human requirement that was called for by all Prophets, whose messages were “built on kinship and brotherhood between mankind,” said Faisal bin Abdulrahman, adding that human beings take their moral values and principles from religion. KAICIID is an international organization established upon the Kingdom’s initiative in 2012 to express the wish of more than 1.6 billion Muslims to have dialogue, cohabitate and build peace.

Al-Azhar Head Replaced

The head of Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, one of the world’s leading Islamic seats of learning, has been replaced after labeling a controversial Muslim reformer an apostate, the institution said. The development came as Al-Azhar is pressured by critics who say the venerable Sunni authority has not done enough to counter extremism. Ahmed Hosni Taha, the acting University President, had been forced to apologize after saying reformer, Islam al-Behairy, was an ‘apostate’ for attacking some of the founding scholars of Islamic law. Taha had made the remarks about Al-Behairy during a television interview.

UGANDA

OIC Wraps Up Workshop

A five-day workshop initiated by the Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) for Non–Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to respond effectively to humanitarian crisis ended in Kampala, Uganda.  Maha Akeel, Director of the OIC Communication Department said the NGOs are expected to coordinate within the international humanitarian system. Participants representing NGOs operating in Uganda, Somalia and Sudan were given the opportunity to better understand the global setting to familiarize themselves with key actors in the humanitarian world. A similar workshop would be held shortly in Tunisia for the benefit of NGO partners from Yemen, Libya, Jordan and Lebanon.

SOMALIA

More Global Aid to Somalia

Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Secretary-General, Yousef al-Othaimeen, has called on the international community to increase assistance to hunger stricken Somalia. He urged UN agencies and civil society organization to help address the dire humanitarian situation in Somalia. He urged the international community to invest in agriculture, livestock, and fisheries in Somalia, help advance its energy infrastructure, forgo the country’s debts and assist in restructuring it security services. In Somalia, more than six million – about half of the population – are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.

Envoy Donates USD10 Million

Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, who heads the Saudi delegation to the International Conference in Support of Somalia, recently announced the donation of USD10 million for relief operations, bringing to more than USD1.2 billion, Saudi assistance offered to Somalia. In a keynote speech at the opening ceremony of the conference, Prince Mohammad, who is Saudi ambassador to the UK, paid tribute to the reconciliatory steps taken to bring peace and stability to Somalia.

TURKEY

Muslims in Europe

It is estimated that 20 million Muslims reside in Europe mostly as a result of immigration due to war, oppression or economic misery. Muslim migrants have become part of everyday life in European cities. In contrast to their parents, the young generation of Muslims does not see Islam as an obstacle to living in Western societies. But the visibility of Islam in public life engenders increasing feeling of resentment and rejection in European countries.

The question of Islam in Europe has been on the political agenda for the last twenty five years, along with the return to national identity, the affirmation of the specificity of European cultural values, the necessity to defend the superiority of Western civilization. The majority of the Muslims, between the ages of 19 and 45, belong to the middle classes. They practice their faith by following religious tenets in their daily lives and, thus, give Islam visibility in the public sphere. Their demands for the construction of mosques, wearing the veil or consuming halaal food show that they are not only politically active but also familiar with judicial and administrative skills. Shariah recommendations – like the veil – is also often misunderstood in Europe.

ROMANIA

Hidden Muslim Heritage

The Esmahan Sultan Mosque – a small whitewashed mosque with a terracotta roof and a single pencil thin minaret – was built in the 16th century by the Ottoman Princess, Esma, daughter of Sultan Selim II and wife of the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Pasha. It also says that the region of Dobrogea was once a very tolerant place. Romania’s Muslim heritage stretches all the way back to the 11th century when Muslims arrived with the semi-nomadic Pecheneg Turks, who briefly ruled parts of Wallachia – the historic name for much of modern Romania. After that, the influence was Tatar and Ottoman as the country became first part of the Golden Horde Khanate and then the Ottoman Empire during the Middle Ages. The Grand Mosque of Constanta was built on the site of the earlier 19th century Mahmudiyye Mosque. The modern Romano-Byzantine styled building with Egyptian architectural influence was commissioned by King Carol I in 1910 and is now the seat of the Grand Mufti, Murat Yusuf, who is the leader of Romania’s 65,000 Muslims (mainly ethnic Turks and Tatars). The mosque is also home to one of Romania’s most beautiful Muslim artifacts. Beside the main hall, is a 164-foot minaret, which offers awesome views over Constanta’s historic old town, making the Grand Mosque extremely popular with local tourists.

AZERBAIJAN

Sports – One Way of Uniting Muslims

The 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, or the Olympics of the Muslim world, just concluded in Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan. It was a spectacular show that mixed the past and the present. The show followed a theme of togetherness in the Islamic world. The Secretary-General of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) stated that the magnificent games will contribute to the promotion of sports in the OIC countries and support youth in the Islamic world. Athletes from 54 countries participated in the Games. It was nice to see athletes from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Yemen participating. The Muslim world has an image problem and it needs to organize more events like the Islamic Solidarity Games.

FRANCE

Sign of Hope for French Muslims

The Arab world and Muslims living inside France heaved a collective sigh of relief with the news that Emmanuel Macron had defeated Marine Le pen to become President. “I feel like I have been holding my breath for the past few weeks but can now breathe at last,” said Mounia, a 32-year-old housewife living in Paris. “France has not betrayed us.” Her view has been echoed by many of the five million or so Muslims living in France, from the banlieues of Paris to the high-rise apartments in Marseille. It is a clear sign of hope for French Muslims that they can live in harmony and respect of French values, said a spokesman for La Grande Mosquee de Paris.

GERMANY

MPs Approve Partial Burqa Ban

German lawmakers have approved a partial ban on the full-face burqa veil and a package of security measures aimed at preventing extremist attacks. The new law on facial covering falls short of a total ban in public places demanded by right wing parties, like that in effect in France since 2011. The prohibition will apply to public servants – including election officials, military and judicial staff – performing their duties. Germany has, since 2015, taken in more than one million migrants and refugees.

Airport Offers Prayer Booth in 65 Languages

Feeling nervous before your flight? Travelers at one German airport can now receive spiritual solace by entering a booth and listening to a prayer of their choice before boarding the plane. The prayer booth at Stuttgart Airport’s Terminal-3 features 300 prayers form various religions in 65 different languages, airport spokesman Johannes Schumm said recently. Designed by Berlin artist, Oliver Sturm, the former photo-booth offers a vast variety of prayers including the Christian Lord’s Prayer, the Jewish Shma Israel and the Islamic Muezzin’s call to prayer. The Hindu Hare Krishna chant, Tibetan monk chants, Buddhist Sutras, prayers of  Shamans from New Guinea or Mali, even  American TV preachers are also available on the  touch screen display. The booth is free and will be available for three months at Stuttgart Airport’s boarding area next to Gate 310.

MEXICO

Beef Exporters Look to Muslim Markets

Mexico’s growing beef industry is targeting Muslim consumers in the Middle East for its prime cuts as it seeks to reduce dependence on buyers in the US. The potential for a US–Mexico trade war under President Donald Trump has accelerated efforts by Mexician beef producers to explore alternative foreign markets to the US, which buys 94% of their exports worth nearly USD1.6 billion last year. Mexico is looking to the Middle East, where most meat is imported from non-Muslim countries using animals slaughtered by the halaal method prescribed by Islamic law. Mexico, the world’s sixth biggest beef producer, plans to quadruple exports of halaal beef to 44 million pounds (20,000 tons) by the end of 2018 from 11 million pounds (5,000 tons) this year. The country should have fifteen plants certified to produce halaal meat by the end of next year, up from a current six.

UNITED STATES

Muslim Schools Reach Out to Neighbors

At a Roman Catholic high school in New York’s Long Island suburbs, two dozen visiting Muslim students knelt and prayed while teens in uniform blazers from the host school looked on. The trip’s agenda was simple: give students whose schools are just sixteen kilometers apart, but culturally worlds away, a chance to get to know each other. It is also part of an ambitious initiative that will be adopted by nearly 80 US Islamic elementary middle and high schools starting in the fall, to give Americans a better picture of US Muslims at a time when many feel targeted by the President administration. Sometimes, Muslims in today’s society are afraid of other people judging them. Americans are more likely to view Muslims, who make up about 2% of the US population, as extremists, if they do not know one personally, according to a February poll by the Pew Research Center. “People in this country – they want to know about Muslims; they want to know what’s going on inside Islamic schools,” said CISNA Director, Sufia Azmat. The move comes at a time when Muslims are under intense scrutiny, largely the result of extremist attacks carried out in the name of Islam in the US and abroad.

[Compiled by: Syed Nehal Zaheer]

UNITED KINGDOM

Tolerance in Islam Conference

Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), participated at the League’s “Tolerance in Islam” conference and stated that moderation underlines the texts of Shariah and the Prophet’s teachings, and that those moderate values are incompatible with extremism and inciting violence. Al-Issa spoke at the conference held at the University of London with senior leaders from the Muslim community in Europe, and Western politicians from the United Kingdom and abroad. Al-Issa said in a speech that the League is eager to promote a culture of peace and tolerance, and constructive dialogue of understanding among different groups. Participants condemned the phenomenon of “Islamophobia,” citing it as the result of lack of knowledge of the reality of Islam.