Flashes from the Muslim World

INDIA

Islam not a negative force

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader warned recently not to generalize Islam as a negative force and called on believers of different faiths to reach out to one another. On a lecture tour of the United States, the world’s best known Buddhist monk said that every religion including his own had “mischievous” people and that he has made efforts to reach out to Muslims since the September 11, 2001 attacks. “We need more faiths to reach out to other faiths, he said at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. Historically, in most cases of conflict in the name of religion, the real reason is not religious faith, but economic reasons of power struggles,” he added. He voiced admiration for the ability of different religious communities to live together in India. “I think, really, a thousand years religious harmony is already there. So I think the rest of the world should learn from India’s experience,” he said.

MALAYSIA

Haj mission values Saudi efforts

The representative of the Malaysian Haj mission has said that he is proud of Saudi government’s efforts in serving pilgrims in general and Malaysian in particular. The services of all sectors operating during Haj resulted in all adequate atmosphere for pilgrims to perform their rituals in ease and comfort. This year’s Haj plan was based on a more realistic method after the office studied the mistakes over the past years. The study resulted in the development of several sections and departments including ones for reception guidance and transportation in a way that combines a smoother introduction of services with quality and sufficiency. The office uses highly qualified employees such as university professors and experienced agents.

CHINA

Largest ever number of Chinese pilgrims

This year an estimated 13,800 Chinese pilgrims from 26 different provinces in China have performed Haj this year. It is the largest number of Chinese pilgrims to perform Haj, said the head of the Chinese delegation in a press conference. China has a population of more than 20 million Muslims with almost 35,000 mosques and 40,000 imams. Chinese pilgrims enjoy the full support of their government, which helps various Islamic associations in the country to organize Haj. The country’s basic policy of Haj is in the interest of the unity of the Muslim masses. The Islamic organizations are helping the government to implement the policy of freedom of religion and have made many efforts for the development of Islam in China.

PHILIPPINES

Muslim peace plan within days

The Philippine government said that a historical road map to end a decades-long insurgency that has left more than 150,000 people dead could be signed within days. The government issued the upbeat forecast as the latest round of peace talks with the 120,000-strong Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) began in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur. The government and the militants said ahead of the talks there was a strong spirit of cooperation following months of intense diplomacy. But they also conceded many of the issues that derailed previous peace efforts had still not been agreed upon.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Islamic Euro Nostro Account

Standard Chartered Bank (StanChart) announced the launch of the industry’s first Islamic Euro Nostro Account in the UAE. Bank Alfalah is the first bank to sign up for this product. Islamic banks across the world will now be able to earn Shariah-compliant profits on their account balances at Standard–Chartered Bank Germany Branch in Frankfurt. Bank Alfalah Ltd, one of the leading banks in Pakistan, is the first to sign an agreement with Standard Chartered Bank for Islamic Euro Nostro Account at the recently concluded Bankers conference, which was concluded in Istanbul, Turkey.

SULTANATE OF OMAN

Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque

Squeezing itself between the mountains and the ocean, Muscat offers some picturesque vistas of urban scenes with rugged mountains in the backdrop. The contrast is eye-catching and pretty awesome if you are into photography. Muscat is a growing modern city still donning the traditional Arabian attire. Oman plays a pivotal role in promoting the art scene in the region. A trip to Muscat cannot be deemed complete without visiting Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque. One of the world’s largest mosques, the Sultan Qaboos Grand Mosque can accommodate up to 20,000 worshippers. It features the world’s second largest hand woven carpet weighing some 21 tones and containing some 1,700,000 knots. The carpet, which covers the main prayer hall, measures 70 x 60 meters.

SAUDI ARABIA

Sadin, Ka’aba key-keeper keeping tradition alive

Since Prophet Muhammad (saws) handed over the key to the Ka’aba to Othman bin Talha, the Prophet’s companion’s lineage sons have been inheriting it, and the title Sadin of the Ka’aba, until today. The Sadin is the keeper of the Ka’aba’s key. “Sadins” are originally members of the al-Shaibi family whose history can be traced to pre-Islamic period. The family’s history in key-keeping goes back to the days of Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him. Usually the key is with the senior Sadin who is currently Sheikh Abdul Qader al-Shaibi. The key is used twice a year, once in the month of Muharram and, the second, is in the first day of the month of Sha’ban. The Ka’aba is opened only twice a year for washing it and this would be done in an Islamic ceremony and in the presence of a large number of officials and Islamic countries ambassadors and consuls and guests of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques. The Ka’aba is washed with Zamzam and rose waters and Oud.

Kiswa handed to Sheikh al-Shaibi

The General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques Affairs handed in the new Kiswa (Ka’aba’s cover) to the senior gate-keeper of the Ka’aba in Makkah. The Ka’aba will be covered with the new Kiswa on the 9th of Dul Hijja (Oct 25) as is the annual custom. The Shaiba family has been the custodian of the Ka’aba key for over fifteen centuries. They are responsible for the maintenance of the Ka’aba, including opening and closing its doors, cleaning, the annual draping and the reception of visitors inside the Ka’aba. The Kiswa is made of pure natural silk dyed in black. It is fourteen meters high. It consists of sixteen pieces and surrounds the Kiswa from all sides. The belt is embroidered with silver threads covered with gold.

King launches largest expansion of Prophet’s Mosque

Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques laid the foundation stone for the largest expansion of the Prophet’s Mosque. The new project will increase the mosque’s capacity to more than two million worshippers. A number of hotels and buildings in the area would be demolished to create enough space for implementing the huge expansion project. The total amount to be paid to property owners in compensation is expected to be SR 25 billion.

300,000 more Hajis at Haram

More than 300,000 worshippers were able to pray during Haj on the ground floor of the newly expanded area in the Grand Mosque. The expansion of the Grand Mosque and its plazas to the north and northwest is the largest work undertaken in the history of the holy house. The total expansion of 400,000 square meters will double the capacity of the mosque to cope with the ever growing number of Haj and Umrah pilgrims. The total cost of the expansion is estimated at SR 80 billion including the price of the properties acquired for the project. King Fahd ordered the acquisition of 30,000 square meters of land for new expansion works to the western side with full air conditioning. During his time, fourteen new gates were added to make the total number of gates 112.

Speculation about Zamzam water decried

Chairman of the United Zamzam Office has dismissed rumors appearing on some social networking sites about the genuineness of Zamzam water distributed to Haj pilgrims. “The speculation about the genuineness of Zamzam water supplied by Zamzam Office is not true and unfortunate,” he said, attributing doubts to ignorance of religious knowledge, because Zamzam is a river in paradise that will never dry up. He further said that his office has planned to supply 32 million liters of Zamzam water to pilgrims in the current Haj season.

World Bank and IDB sign Islamic finance deal

The World Bank and Islamic Development Bank have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to set out a framework for collaboration between the two parties and lend support to global, regional and national efforts in the development of Islamic Finance. The core tenet of Islamic finance is a system which promotes risk-sharing and the avoidance of interest and leverage. Islamic finance could account for a substantial share of financial services in many countries in the coming years. Through the MoU, the World Bank and Islamic Development Bank will explore Islamic finance as a potential tool supporting the efforts of countries to reach their development goals.

At the historic Miqat Mosque

The Miqat Mosque, also called Aaba Ali, is one of the most noticeable spots in Madinah. It is the station for pilgrims from the Prophet’s city and pilgrims passing through it. At this place, they wear ihram, the two pieces of white cloth that each male pilgrim must wear prior to performing Haj or Umrah,and make Niyyah, the intention of performing Haj or Umrah in Makkah. This mosque has many names, such as Miqat, Aaba Ali, al-Shajarah Mosque (Tree Mosque) and al-Mu’ris Mosque. The mosque is located within the blessed Aqeeq Valley and is fourteen kilometers away from the Prophet’s Mosque. The mosque was built by the Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz when he was prince of Madinah and renewed during the Abbasid and Ottoman eras. It was very small, then built with mud and stones, until late King Abdul Aziz ordered it to be expanded and renewed. With the increasing number of pilgrims every year, the mosque became a large station for pilgrims. It is built now on 6,000 square meters and consists of two groups of corridors separated by a wide, open space. It can accommodate up to 5,000 persons.

LIBYA

Reserves Haj slots for relatives of martyrs

A quarter of the 7,000 places for Libyan pilgrims to Makkah this year had been reserved for the martyrs families of Libyan revolutionaries. A diplomat at the Libyan Embassy in Riyadh, who requested anonymity, confirmed that the Libyan government will cover expenses of pilgrims from the martyrs’ families. Saudi Arabia allocates a number of Haj places to each country based on its population. In the case of Libya, this year’s Haj quota is on the generous side.

HAITI

Islam makes inroads after the earthquake

Islam has won a growing number of followers in this impoverished country, especially after the earthquake catastrophe two years ago that killed some 300,000 people and left millions more homeless. A capital where church attendance is so prevalent that the streets echo with Christian hymns on Sundays now has at least five mosques, a Muslim parliament member and nightly local television program devoted to Islam. The disaster drew in aid groups from around the world, including Islamic Relief USA, which built 200 shelters and a secondary school with 20 classrooms. There are no firm statistics on the number of Muslims in Haiti. A 2009 study by the Pew Research Center on the world’s Muslim population estimated that Haiti had about 2,000 devotees. Islamic leaders in the country insist the figure is much higher and growing.

RUSSIA

Anti-Islam film declared illegal

A court in Russia’s region of Chechnya has banned the anti Islamic film that sparked deadly protests across the Muslim world, a ruling that in theory should be observed across Russia. The US-produced Innocence of Muslims, a film about the life of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), has led to massive demonstrations across the Muslim world although, so far, there have been no major demonstrations in Russia which is home to millions of Muslims. A court in the Chechen capital, Grozny, declared the film extremist in response to a request from the regional ministry for national policies, media and information to ban the anti-Islam film, a ministry official told AFP. Chechnya, in the Northern Caucasus, is predominantly Muslim and the role of Islam in daily life has become more prominent under the rule of strongman local leader, Ramzan Kadyrov.

GEORGIA

Tracing Islamic Heritage in Tbilisi

Perched on both sides of the Kura River is Tbilisi, the Georgian capital. Today, the country is predominantly Christian. Once upon a time, as the center of the Emirate of Tbilisi, Muslims ruled here. Though Georgia first came under Muslim rule in 645 during the reign of Caliph Omar bin al-Khattab, the Emirate of Tbilisi was not established before 736. Its center, Tbilisi grew into a prosperous city thriving on commerce. Arabs were the first Muslims to rule over much of Georgia and the greater Caucasus, until the balance of power shifted towards the Turks. Muslim rule over the Emirate of Tbilisi came to an end in 1122, when a year earlier Turks lost a battle to the Georgian King, David IV. There are still traces of Islamic heritage in the city today, one of which is Tbilisi’s sole functioning mosque. Dating back to 1895 the mosque miraculously survived the communist era with all its notorious purges. The mosque comes with a brick made exterior, which gives it its distinctive red color, and a white minaret tip. The interiors, however blend different Islamic architecture styles, mixing subtly decorated sidewalls with a Mihrab (a niche indicating the direction of Makkah) that is heavily decorated with blue toned calligraphy and floral designs.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Muslim leaders challenge President’s speech

Muslim leaders demanded international action to stop religious insults in a challenge to US President’s defense of freedom of expression at the UN General Assembly. The President made a strong condemnation of violence and intolerance in his speech at the UN headquarters. He said world leaders had a duty to speak out against the deadly attacks on Americans in the past two weeks caused by an anti-Islam film made in the United States.  But Muslim kings and presidents and other heads of state said Western nations must clamp down on “Islamophobia” following the storm over the anti-Islam film. The President of Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, said the film was another ugly face of religious defamation. He called for an international instrument to effectively prevent incitement to hostility or violence based on religions or beliefs.