Flashes from the Muslim World

BANGLADESH

Agencies Rush to Aid Rohingya Refugees

As Rohingya Muslim refugees continue to flood into Bangladesh to escape persecution in Rakhine, Myanmar, aid workers are warning of an escalation in disease as the weather turns colder. The total number of Rohingya refugees has now reached 607,000, says Mohammed Nikarujjaman, the Commissioner of Ukhia sub-district, in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar, who spoke to Arab News. Reports suggest that as many as 200 Rohingya refugees continue to arrive in Bangladesh every day, more than two months since the influx began on 25th August. And with winter setting in, doctors in the local camps report an increase in cold-borne diseases, particularly in children, among the refugees.  Temperatures have dropped noticeably over the past week and refugees now require blankets at night since they are living in hilly area. Aid agencies are doing their best to meet the refugee crisis.

Working Group Could Help Solve the Crisis

The formation of a joint working group will be an important step in managing the Rohingya refugee crisis, hopes Asaduzzaman Khan, Home Affairs Minister of Bangladesh. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslim ethnic minority groups have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in their home territory of Rakhine state in Myanmar.  Khan met his counterpart, Lt. Gen. Kyaw Swe, and the State Counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, in Myanmar at the end of October. He said in an exclusive interview with Arab News that the repatriation process of Rohingya refugees will be governed by a working group comprising an equal number of representatives from Bangladesh and Myanmar.

SRI LANKA

Saudi Funded Hospital Opens in Colombo

Sri Lankan President, Maithripala Sirisena, opened a 242-bed epilepsy hospital, which is fully funded by the Saudi Fund for Development (SFD), in Colombo. The SR100 million (USD26.7 million), ten-storied hospital consists of a surgical theater, an Intensive Care Unit, a High Dependency Unit, 242 male beds and female wards. The SFD recently financed an additional SR 48 million to buy all necessary equipment. The fund has been supporting Sri Lankan projects for more than three decades.

SINGAPORE

Boom in Travel

Young Muslims worldwide are expected to almost double their spending on travel in the coming years, driving a boom in Islamic tourism that will make the sector worth USD300 billion, a study said recently. Halal travel has grown recently with airports, restaurants and hotels seeking to provide Muslim-friendly facilities and services such as prayer rooms and halal food outlets. Spending on travel during 2016 for young Muslims was around USD55 billion, while the total Muslim travel segment was worth USD156 billion. Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Turkey are the biggest source of young Muslim travelers in the Islamic world. A growing number of young Muslims from Indonesia, which has the world’s biggest Muslim population, Egypt and Kazakhstan are also travelling more frequently.

THAILAND

The Islamic Art, the Bang Rak District

The Bang Rak district is noted not only for its upmarket hotels and old European-style architecture, but also where one of Bangkok’s largest concentration of Muslims live. “Thai people don’t know about Islamic art. We want to use it to promote the beauty of Islam. That is why we are developing our own modern interpretation of a Thai Islamic art style,” said Ywaiyavata, a popular member of this so called Muslim Quarter. The Haroon Mosque is one of many in Bang Rak. There is also the Ban Oou Mosque. Faizane Madina and the brilliantly named, Thai-Pakistan Friendship Mosque.  Thailand’s capital is home to the largest concentration of Muslims in the country and Bang Rak’s community wonderfully reflects the diversity. The ethnic diversity is also reflected in the halal eateries of Bang Rak. In a city famous for its hedonism, Bang Rak presents a refreshing haven for Muslim travelers headed to Thailand’s capital city.

INDONESIA

Jakarta Goes Green with 1,000 Eco-Mosques

Worshippers in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, are set to go green with a new initiative that aims to establish 1,000 eco-mosques by 2020. Launched this week by Indonesian Vice President, Jusuf Kalla, the initiative will help the mosques to source renewable energy, manage their water and food needs sustainably, reduce and recycle water and provide environmental education. Indonesia, with 250 million people, has a mixed environmental record. The eco–mosque initiative is not the first time the Indonesian Ulema Council has taken the lead on the environment. It has also issued edicts, or fatwas, on forest fires and sustainable mining. There are more than 800,000 mosques in Indonesia. An eco-mosque roll-out of this scale is rare. In Dubai, a mosque built in 2014 was the first to meet the US Green Building Council’s guidelines, while Britain, the US, Morocco and Malaysia all have mosques aiming to be more green.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Louvre Abu Dhabi Gears Up

More than a decade in the making, the Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors bringing the famed name to the Arab world for the first time. For the next ten years, thirteen of France’s top museums will lend works to the UAE at their discretion and for a maximum of two years each. The UAE has also spent years quietly building its own permanent collection. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is displaying more than 250 works of art from the Emirati collection. The main focus, however, is on world history and religions. Among the exhibits are a sixth century Qur’an, a gothic Bible and a Yemeni Torah facing each other, open at verses carrying the same message. The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the first of three museums to open its doors to the public on Saadiyat Island.

SAUDI ARABIA

Central Bank Joins Islamic Finance

Saudi Arabia’s Central Bank has joined an international standard setting body for Islamic finance, a move that could help standardize industry practices and ease cross-border transactions in the Kingdom. The Bahrain-based Accounting and Auditing Organization for Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) said in a statement that it had admitted the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) as an institutional member. Islamic products represent around half of banking system assets in the Kingdom, but the regulator doesn’t distinguish between Islamic or conventional banks and applies the same prudential standards to all of them. Last week, the Jeddah-based Islamic Research and Training Institute said it had signed an agreement to develop blockchain technology in the Islamic finance sector.

OIC Seeks Urgent Relief

An expert panel of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has voiced deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in the Central African Republic (CAR). It condemned the recent escalation of violence against civilians in the Central African Republic (CAR) including the attacks at a mosque in Kembe and at Pombolo, where more than 100 people were massacred. The Independent Permanent Human Rights Commission (IPHRC), an expert body with advisory capacity established by the OIC, has highlighted the rising number of violent attacks carried out by the Anti-Balaka militia against innocent civilians across the country, as well as the grave violations of human rights.

Couple Splits Over Real Madrid’s Victory

A young couple in Alkhobar recently divorced after watching the latest Barcelona Vs. Real Madrid game and starting an argument following Real Madrid’s victory. The wife, a fan of Real Madrid, liberally expressed her delight at the end of the match, and joyously cheered the name of Real Madrid’s Portuguese superstar, Christiano Ronaldo, the wife’s friend told Sayidaty magazine. The husband, a Barcelona fanatic, became infuriated by the wife’s reaction. The following morning, she insisted on seeking divorce. For a whole month, the couple’s families and friends attempted to resolve the issue, but the couple had made up their minds and eventually divorced.

To Promote National Heritage

The Islamic University of Madinah plans to establish a history museum to achieve the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 through promoting the heritage of Saudi Arabia, Madinah and the Islamic University. “This museum will contribute to strengthening the country’s cultural identity and promoting its national heritage, in addition to raising awareness of  its value, improving the culture of museums and documenting the university’s history, which spans over half a century,” said the rector of the Islamic University of Madinah, Hatim bin Hassan al-Marzouki.

Al-Sereen – the Pre-Islamic Port of Makkah

The secret history of al-Sereen, one of the most important ports of Makkah from the third to the eighth century, has been revealed by the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH). Al-Sereen refers to two valleys, Al-Arj and Elleib, which are the most famous valleys of Makkah, and the area is fertile agricultural land. But it contains many archaeological treasures about historical periods dating back to the pre-Islamic era. The site of the city is 245 km south of Makkah. It represents the nearest meeting point for important administrative regions in the Kingdom: Makkah, Baha and Asir.

Calls for Recognition of Palestine

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has called on Britain and other countries to fully recognize Palestine as an independent state. The statement was issued to mark the OIC’s displeasure at the British government’s intention to organize a celebration to mark centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which laid the foundation for the state of Israel on Palestinian territory. The OIC’s statement also urged Britain to help the Palestinian people recover their legitimate national rights. The OIC also registered its appreciation of the Palestinian people for their steadfast dedication to their homeland, and their ongoing efforts to defend their land in the face of Israeli aggression.

MWL Chief Lauds KSA

The Secretary–General of the Muslim World League (MWL), Mohammad bin Abdul Karim al-Issa said that Saudi Arabia has established as “an international platform to fight extremist ideas” and that the Kingdom has put into place strong and effective procedures to prevent the funding of terrorism. Al-Issa – who is also the Kingdom’s Minister of Justice was speaking to a high level diplomatic delegation from Belgium headed by Deputy Foreign Minister, Derek Ashton, in the presence of Belgian ambassador to the Kingdom. Al Issa explained that while terrorists and extremists come from different intellectual and religious backgrounds, and some have no link to religion at all, they have unfortunately chosen Islam to be the umbrella for their crimes that have nothing to do with religion. He described the MWL as a global umbrella for Islamic people that promotes the principles and values of peace, forgiveness, co-existence and humanitarian cooperation.

OIC Pledges to Cooperate with UNESCO

The Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC), pledged to cooperate with UNESCO in fighting intentional destruction and illegal trafficking of the cultural heritage in conflict zones. Addressing the 39th UNESCO’s general conference in Paris, OIC Secretary-General, Yousef al-Othaimeen, applauded the UN body’s call to include protection of cultural heritage in the tasks of peace-keeping missions and other global programs. Al-Othaimeen said that combating terrorism and extremist ideology is at the top of his organization’s agenda. In this regard, he said, the OIC has launched “Voice of Wisdom” project, which seeks to spread the concepts of tolerance and moderation.

Top Tourist Destination for Muslim Travelers

Saudi Arabia wants to be the top global destination for Muslim tourists by the end of the decade according to a top official. It comes amid a massive push to develop the Kingdom’s Red Sea coastline and maximize tourism spending among the millions of Muslims who already visit the Kingdom each year as part of Hajj and Umrah. “We want to beat Dubai, Malaysia and Turkey to the top spot,” said a senior official at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCNH) in an interview on the sidelines of the World Travel Market in London. The Kingdom is in the final stages of ratifying its much anticipated tourist visas, which would grant unrestricted leisure travel in the country, the spokesman confirmed.

Scholar Says Muslims May Pray in Churches and Synagogues

Abdullah bin Sulaiman Al-Manea, a member of the Council of Senior Scholars, has said that Islam is a religion of tolerance and mercy, not of violence, intolerance or terrorism. Al Manea stressed that Muslims should spread true Islam and follow the tradition of the Prophet in his tolerant treatment of people from different religions. Al Manea gave a fatwa, reported by Al-Anba Kuwaiti newspaper stating that Muslims may pray in Shite or Sufi mosques, churches, or synagogues. He noted that all lands belong to God, and cited the Prophet’s words, “The earth has been made a place of prostration and a means of purification for me.” Al-Manea said that Islam is a religion of coexistence and not of violence, and noted that Muslims cannot have differences in the basic principles of Aqidah (creed) of Islam, but they may differ in the branches. Al Manea called upon Muslims to be thankful to God for the blessing of faith and warned against rushing into giving fatwas.

Makes Debut in Global Talent Ranking

Saudi Arabia has made its debut in a global “talent ranking” beating almost 30 countries including France, Malaysia and Japan. Saudi Arabia took the 26th spot in the IMD World Talent Rankings, playing to its strengths as an expat destination with low tax benefits, employee security and above average pay. It also scored highly in terms of education investment, which now accounts for 8.8% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) – the highest in the world.

EGYPT

Religious Edicts in Media Broadcasts

Egypt’s Supreme Media Regulatory Council has issued a list of 50 Muslim scholars who are the only ones allowed to issue fatwas via broadcasts. Surprisingly, the list did not include many male and female scholars from Al-Azhar who regularly appear on Egyptian broadcasts and host live programs to discuss religious topics and issue edicts. The move aims to regulate fatwas and protect the public sphere from edicts that had caused outrage and distorted the teachings of Islam.

JORDAN

Queen Demands Justice for Rohingyas

Queen Rania of Jordan visited Rohingya refugee camps in Ukhia and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. As a board member of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and an advocate of the work of UN humanitarian agencies, Queen Rania made the trip to highlight the urgent need for greater and efforts in support of those displaced by violence and persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. Jordan will always stand beside Rohingyas, the queen said.

PALESTINE: GAZA STRIP

First Pineapple Farm Opens in Gaza

Pineapples are being harvested in the Gaza Strip for the first time as part of efforts to help the impoverished Palestinian territory work toward food self-sufficiency. The fruit, for domestic sale, is grown in a 1,000 square meter greenhouse in the southern Gaza Strip town of Khan Yunis as part of a project sponsored by the Dutch government.   The Gaza Strip suffers fundamentally from salty water, which has encouraged the locals to grow pineapples, as they don’t need much water. Gaza suffers from severe water pollution, with more than 95% of its groundwater unclean, leading to increased risk of serious diseases.

ALGERIA

Overhauled Mosque to Re-open

At the foot of the famed UNESCO – listed Casbah district in Algiers, the Ketchaoua Mosque has had a tumultuous past, and at one point, saw itself turned into a cathedral under French rule. Once a symbol of Ottoman influence, it was known for more than a century as the Roman Catholic Saint Philippe Cathedral after France’s conquest of Algeria, only to revert to a mosque when the country claimed independence in 1962, following a bloody struggle.  But much to the delight of local residents, it will soon be up and running again after more than three years of restoration work, funded by the Turkish government. “I can’t wait to return there to pray,” said Salim, a trader working nearby, who declined to give his second name. The date of the first mosque built on the site remains under debate but the earliest references to it can be found in 1612.

SUDAN

1.25 Million Face Starvation

In war-torn South Sudan, 1.25 million people are facing starvation, double the number from the same time last year, according to a report by the UN and the government released recently. This country could once again plunge into famine in 2018, warn humanitarians and the government. The widespread and extreme food consumption gaps should make us all extremely concerned about the worst-case scenario of famine in many locations across South Sudan in 2018, said Katie Rickard, country coordinator for REACH, a humanitarian research initiative that provided data for the report. Humanitarians blame the worsening situation on South Sudan’s continuing conflict, which is nearing its fifth year and has killed more than 50,000 people.

TURKEY

Lucrative Investment Opportunities

Turkey has emerged as a strong regional player with global ambitions to become one of the top ten economies of the world. Today, it is ranked the thirteenth largest economy in the world, up from eighteenth in 2003, having grown robustly thanks to an impressive annual growth rate of nearly 6% over the past fourteen years. The remarkable growth has continued into 2017, with 5.1% in the first half of the year, and Turkey is expected to maintain this growth momentum into the future. Exports have been one of the main drivers of Turkey’s economic growth together with numerous opportunities. Turkey is a prime location to host headquarters for many multinational companies thanks to its excellent connectivity, unique setting and strong bonding with its neighbors.

SWITZERLAND

Geneva Hosts World League Gathering

Prominent thinkers, authors, diplomats and other personalities gathered to see the Muslim World League (MWL) launch the “Role of Religions in the Reinforcement of Global Peace” forum in Geneva. Dr. Mohammad bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, Secretary-General of the MWL, said in his opening speech that his organization, as an umbrella for Muslim nations, works hard to explain true Islam, to fight extremism and terrorism, to enhance religious and intellectual awareness among Muslim communities to promote moderation, tolerance and peace. Al Issa blamed personal ambition and political competition regardless of facts and true conscience for arriving at this situation. The forum concluded its sessions by calling for a new international global motto: Peace for some communities is peace for all communities.

UNITED KINGDOM

Move to Quiz School-girls Wearing Hijab

The Muslim Council of Britain has signaled alarm over a controversial plan to quiz young children in England about why they wear the hijab to school. The Head of the Office for Standards in Education, Children Services and Skills, (Ofsted), which covers schools in England confirmed that inspectors will start asking primary school-girls their motives for wearing the head-covering. It has been reported that many British Muslims who choose to wear the headscarf have done extremely well in education and are breaking glass ceilings. The Sunday Times, which first reported the controversial plan, said that Ofsted’s plan will mark the first time the rise of the classroom hijab,has been officially challenged in English state schools.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

First Hijab-clad Barbie

The maker of Barbie has announced it will sell a doll modelled after Ibtihaj Muhammad, an American fencer who competed in last year’s Olympics while wearing a Hijab. Mattel Inc, said the doll will be available on line next fall. The doll is part of the Barbie “Shero” line that honors women who break boundaries. Muhammad, the first American to compete at the Olympics while wearing a Hijab won a bronze medal in fencing at the 2016 Rio Games.

[Compiled by: Syed Nehal Zaheer]