Flashes from the Muslim World

AFGHANISTAN

Afghans Battle Pollution

Afghanistan is facing a ‘colossal’ battle to cut air-pollution in its capital city which is claiming tens of thousands of lives a year. Figures have revealed that more than 26,000 Afghans died from pollution related illness in 2017 alone, thousands more than were killed in the country’s war in the same year. Kabul is one of the world’s worst polluted cities and the government is faced with a thankless task of trying to educate its citizens about the dangers. The Afghan government has no records on the number of people who die in Kabul every year form air-pollution.

Red Gold Saffron termed World’s Best

In recent years, local farmers in Afghanistan have turned to the cultivation of saffron, a far more lucrative crop that has been recognized as the best globally for eight successive years, officials said recently. The war-ravaged country last year produced more than eight metric tons of the plant, described by some analysts as ‘Red Gold.’ One kilogram of saffron sells locally for at least USD1200 and, in world markets, it can be traded for USD4000. The head of the Saffron Producers Union in Kabul, Mr. Bashir Ahmed Rashidi, said that the  quality and taste of the Afghan saffron were evaluated at an institution in Belgium and the local saffron’s color and taste made it the best worldwide. Iran and India have been among the top producers of saffron.

BANGLADESH

Most Rohingya Children Out of School

More than half of Rohingya children living in the camps of Cox’s Bazar do not have access to formal education, according to a UNICEF report. Out of 450,000 refugees children aged between four and fourteen,only 241,000 are enrolled in learning centers in the southeastern Bangladesh town, which hosts refugees from Myanmar. Currently, UNICEF-affiliated schools at 34 camps in Cox’s Bazar provide primary education through to second grade. UNICEF and partners have established 2,500 learning centers for these refugee children and plan to build 500 more in 2020.

SRI LANKA

Saudi Envoy Vows to Take Relations to New Heights

Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Sri Lanka vowed to take the relations with Colombo to new heights after meeting with the South Asian country’s new President, Gotabaya Rajapaksa. The Kingdom’s Ambassador, Abdul Nasser al-Harthy, said there would be concentrated efforts to boost bilateral ties between the two countries. He pointed out that both countries had economic projects on the go that could be attractive to investors. The envoy pointed out that the two nations had enjoyed friendly bilateral relations for decades.

CHINA

Looks to Muslim World for Security and Development

In today’s world, security is the foundation of development, while development is a pathway to security. China attaches great importance to the security of the Middle East, and recently held the Middle East Security Forum in Beijing. The Forum discussed that terrorism and extremist ideologies are a menace to the entire world. Both China and the Arab world are victims of terrorism. China is a diverse country in which all religions, including Islam, are treated equally and co-exist in harmony. The Chinese government has regularly sent religious students and clerical personnel to colleges and universities in Islamic countries and has established scholarship for them. The establishment of vocational education and training centers in Xinjiang is a concrete step in China’s implementation of the international community’s counter terrorism and de-radicalization initiatives. China is willing to work with Islamic countries to build a world of lasting peace, universal security, and common prosperity, and to realize the peaceful and sustainable development of humanity.

INDONESIA

Kingdom’s Pavilion in Jakarta Forum

Deputy Speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly of Indonesia,HidayatNur Wahid, opened the Saudi Pavilion at the Indonesian Muslim Youth Leaders Conference of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jakarta. Minister of Religious Affairs of Indonesia,FachrulRazi, also attended the event, sponsored by the Saudi Embassy in Indonesia. Saudi ambassador to Indonesia,Essam bin Abedal-Thaqafi, said that the Kingdom’s participation was an opportunity to enhance strategic, educational, diplomatic and cultural cooperation between the two countries. The Institute of Islamic and Arabic Sciences in Jakarta participated in the exhibition and workshops of Arabic calligraphy and Saudi dress, attracting many visitors. Saudi Arabia and Indonesia enjoy historical ties. The Kingdom was among the first countries in the world that acknowledged the Independence of Indonesia.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Top Official Receives Peace Award

The sixth annual forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies, hosted by Abu Dhabi has honored Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General, Sheikh Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarimal-Issa, in recognition of his outstanding efforts in promoting peace and tolerance around the world. Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al-Nahyan, the UAE’s Minister of Tolerance, delivered the 2019 Imam al-Hassan bin Ali Award to al-Issa. He received the award in the presence of Algeria’s Vice President, Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah, the President of the UAE Ifta Council and President of the Forum for Promoting Peace. Organizers of the Forum said al-Issa is a key international figure seeking to spread peace and tolerance around the world. They added that, due to his prominent academic place, al-Issa has led fruitful dialogues with different religious, political, intellectual and rights-based authorities around the world. Al-Issa said he was proud to receive the award, as it carries an important message encouraging more efforts to serve the Islamic and humanitarian values related to peace and tolerance.

SAUDI ARABIA

Madinah Aiming to Join Healthy Cities

Madinah is aiming to become one of the world’s most healthy cities. The holy city is hoping to be included on a World Health Organization (WHO) list by successfully meeting strict assessment standards. According to WHO, a healthy city is one that is continually creating and improving those physical and social environments, and expanding those community resources, which enable people to mutually support each other in performing all the functions of life and developing them to their maximum potentials. The program would reflect on the development of medical, health and social services in the city.

Secretary-General of OIC

Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen has been the Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) since 2016. Al-Othaimeen has served in several positions in the public sector, most notably as the Minister of Labor and Social Development. Al-Othaimeen also had a career in higher education. He was an Assistant Professor at King Saud University in Riyadh. He received his higher education in the US. He obtained his PhD in Political Sociology from the American University and his Master’s degree in Political Sociology from the University of Ohio. Announcing plans for the celebrations of the OIC’s 50th anniversary in Jeddah, al-Othaimeen called for a global crackdown on individuals, or groups, responsible for insulting religions or prophets. Al-Othaimeen told Arab News, “There are laws against anti-semitism and racism. So, we request a law against mocking religions.”

Progress of Madinah Mosque

Madinah Governor, Prince Faisal bin Salman, inspected the progress of work to develop the city’s landmark Masjid al-Qiblatain site and its surroundings. The project, covering an area of 50,200 square meters, is aimed at improving public services for visitors and expanding the site to receive more than 4,000 worshippers.  During his visit to the site, Prince Faisal, who is Chairman of the Madinah Development Authority, listened to   a detailed explanation about headway on the first phase of the scheme which was 15% completed.

Review Bilateral Ties

Kazakhstan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia,BerikAryn, met with Shoura Council Speaker, Dr. Abdullah al-Asheikh, at the Council’s headquarters in Riyadh. The Saudi Press Agency reported that they discussed increasing cooperation, issues of common concern to both countries and ways to enhance bilateral ties in various fields, especially relations between the Shoura Council and Kazakhstan’s Parliament. Earlier this year, Aryn met with Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim al-Issa, Secretary-General of the Muslim World League. They discussed issues of common interest.

Hajj Ministry Launches First Mashair Series

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched the first session of ‘Mashair,’ a series that conveys the feelings of the guests of Allah (swt) and their stories when arriving in Makkah to perform Hajj and Umrah. Ayman bin Mohammed al-Arfaj, General Supervisor of the Media Center at the Ministry, said that ‘Mashair’ aims to highlight the efforts of Saudi Arabia and its citizens in serving the guests of Allah (swt). He added that ‘Mashair’ is an expression of the efforts of the Ministry in improving the quality of services provided to pilgrims and visitors in cooperation with partners and other governmental agencies.

KSA Leads World’s Most Powerful Group

Saudi Arabia assumed the Presidency of the G20,the world’s most economically powerful group of nations. The Kingdom takes over the role from Japan, and will direct the G20’s work for the next year. As Chairman, King Salman will host the group’s 2020 summit in Riyadh over two days next November. For the next year, all eyes will be on Saudi Arabia, political analyst, Dr. Hamdanal-Sheri, told Arab News. “We know Saudi Arabia’s strength in both economic and diplomatic domains, and this will be the time to showcase it to the world,” he said.

Anti-Extremist Center Reaches 54 Million People

The Sawtal-Hikma Center (Voice of Wisdom) at the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has reached 54 million people around the world through social media, distributing messages in three different languages: Arabic, English and French. The Center is considered the intellectual branch of the OIC in its fight against extremist speech. It was established in 2016 at the OIC’s headquarters to work on using media platforms to dismantle extremism, reveal its religious and intellectual concepts, calls for tolerance and co-existence and reflect the true spirit of Islam. Now it has launched a new initiative, the Samahet Din (Tolerance of Religion) contest of short videos, to encourage young men and women to express themselves on camera.

Dialogue Key to Tackling Islamophobia

On the first day of the Saudi Media Forum in Riyadh, the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League stressed the importance of dialogue in tackling Islamophobia. “There are many different far-rights. Many of them have it implanted that they just hate Muslims without a reason. It may be difficult, but discussion is key, and has fruitful outcomes,” said Sheikh Mohammed al-Issa. “As Muslims and Islamic Organizations, we must clarify the true picture of Islam and Muslims.” He said negative campaigns against Islam are being led by the far-right. “We had sessions with people who hated Islam, but now we call them good friends after our transparency and discussions with them. Therefore, discussion is pertinent,”al-Issa added.

OIC Urges Social Integration of Disabled Persons

On the occasion of International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), OIC Secretary-General, Dr. Yousef al-Othaimeen, called on member states ofthe OIC, relevant organizations and institutions, and the elite class to intensify efforts to create awareness of the rights of the disabled and persons with special needs, offer them full access to education training and sports, and consider solutions to facilitate their social integration and full participation in nation-building.

Religious Affairs Minister Join Hajj 2020 Talks

Saudi Hajj and Umrah Minister, Dr. Mohammed Salih Bentin, received the Religious Affairs Minister of Pakistan and Bangladesh, and their accompanying delegation in his office in Makkah. They discussed early preparations for the next Hajj season for pilgrims. Benten said that his Ministry is working to enhance Hajj services for pilgrims.

Arabs Reject Religion’s Role in Politics

Militant groups in the Arab world face a gradual decline and most Arabs oppose the use of religion for political gain, a new Arab News/ YouGov survey suggests. The appeal of extremists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, Hamas, al-Qaeda, Daesh and the Taliban is likely to fade over the next ten years, researchers found. The survey indicates that most Arabs view corruption as the main problem in their home country and the leading cause of conflict in the Arab world. The survey’s findings on political Islam were good news for the region, said Political Science Professor, Dr. Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, “The Middle East has had enough of extremism and Arabs realized that political groups based on religion were taking them nowhere,” he told Arab News.

Reforms in Kingdom benefit all Muslims

“Every Muslim benefits from Saudi Arabia’s sweeping social reforms, a leading analyst and author said recently. These reforms are not just about Saudi Arabia, they affect the whole region. 1.8 billion Muslims look in that direction, several times a day,” Ed Husain, founder of the Quilliam Counter-Extremism think tank in the United Kingdom, told the Arab Strategy Forum in Dubai. “We are looking to the future of Saudi Arabia as it affects all Muslims around the world.”

First on Line Arabic Poetry Encyclopedia

Makkah Governor, Prince Khalid al-Faisal, launched the “first on-line Arabic Poetry Encyclopedia” at the principality head office in Jeddah. The Umm al-Qura University carried out the project. The Makkah governor was briefed about the project, which involved 67 researchers of the Arabic Language Research Center. It contains information about 3,400 poets dating back to the pre-Islamic era. The Encyclopedia aims to create a reference for literary Arabic language and facilitate scientific research with a powerful search engine designed by the University’s Engineering Research Center. It will help researchers interested in acoustic, lexical, linguistic and artistic studies in Arabic poetry.

Model of Moderate Islam

Awwad al-Awwad, President of the Saudi Human Rights Commission, met Thomas Zdechovsky, Vice Chair of the European Parliament Committee on Employment and Social Affairs in Brussels. The Kingdom’s ambassador to the European Union, Saad bin Mohammed al-Arifi, also attended the meeting. They discussed ways to develop cooperation between the Kingdom and the European parliament in social and humanitarian fields. Zdechovsky described Saudi Arabia as a model of moderate Islam, citing its role in combating extremism and the importance of its position in the Islamic world.

EGYPT

Arab League Rejects Decision on Israeli Settlements

Arab League foreign ministers denounced the announcement by the United States that it no longer considers Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank to be a violation of international law. During an emergency meeting in Cairo, Arab League Secretary-General, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, described the decision as unfairly biased and unacceptable. He added that the US had forfeited its role as a neutral arbiter between Israel and Palestinians. Aboul Gheith said that all Arab states should hold extensive discussions with Washington in an attempt to persuade the US administration to reconsider its decision. The Saudi Foreign Minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan, said that resolving Palestinian issue is cornerstone of achieving lasting peace.

For USD 250,000 you, too, can be an Egyptian

Egypt is offering citizenship to foreigners, willing to buy real estate worth at least USD 500,000 or pay USD 250,000 to the state treasury under amendments to the country’s nationality laws. The move is part of Egypt’s bid to boost its finances and draw back foreign investments that fled the country in the wake of its 2011 uprising. The Council’s decision ignited a spate of rumors, with claims that it applied to Israelis, Iranians and Turks, three countries that have tense relations with Egypt. However, a member of the Defense and National Security said that national security requirements will be taken into consideration before nationality is granted to anyone.

TURKEY

Seeks More EU Funds for Refugees’ Upkeep

The European Union should spend more than the USD 6.6 billion already allotted to fund Syrian refugees in Turkey, and speed up the flow of that money, the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s EU point-person said recently.  EU funds support the roughly 3.5 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, after Syria’s more than eight year war killed hundreds of thousands and pushed millions from their homes. In turn, Turkey has agreed to halt further immigration to Europe. Faruk Kaymakci, a deputy Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs said that hosting the refugees cost Turkey some USD 40 billion in total. Europe’s relations with Turkey are strained on several fronts including disagreement over a Turkish military incursion in October against a Kurdish militia in northeast Syria.

NIGERIA

Farmers Hope to Spread Shea Butter Wealth

Shea nuts grow abundantly in Nigeria. Shea butter is consumed worldwide in chocolate, margarine and cooking oil and cosmetic giants are using it more and more as a natural moisturizer. The global shea butter market is expected to be worth USD 3.5 billion by 2028, according to Transparency Market Research. Nigerian authorities are desperate to diversify the country’s oil dependent economy and have made boosting domestic agriculture a priority. Proponents say that tapping into the value of millions of Nigerian shea trees could provide a crucial source of income.

KAZAKHSTAN

OIC Calls for Stronger Ties

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) held a brainstorming meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan, to discuss a proposal put forward by the former President of Kazakhstan, Nursultan Nazarbayev. He had suggested bringing together fifteen leading OIC member states with strong credentials in the field of science, technology and innovation to look at practical measures for helping other member states in their efforts to develop science, technology and innovation under the banner,‘OIC-15 Dialogue Platform.’ OIC places   special emphasis on strengthening cooperation between member states for the promotion of science, technology, innovation, higher education and research.

BELGIUM

Hail Work of Saudi Dialogue Center

A high profile delegation of Belgian government officials reviewed the programs and activities implemented by the King Abdul Aziz Center for National Dialogue (KACND). Officials discussed the importance of communication and dialogue in building bridges of understanding with different cultures and civilizations. The Belgian delegation praised the efforts and dialogue programs offered by the Center, and its constant endeavor to promote communication throughout all sections of society.

UNITED KINGDOM

Muslim Comedians in the UK

From the likes of Billy Connolly and Monty Python in the seventies, through to Ricky Gervals and Michael McIntyre today, Britain has been a rich source of globally popular comedy talent. Lately, a new crop of Arab Muslim stand-up comedians have been taking to stages across the country, representing the UK’s ethnic diversity and offering a fresh alternative on the comedy scene. Fatiha El-Ghorri, Omar Hamdi and Esther Manito were among seven Muslim comedians who toured eleven British cities as part of the Super Muslim Comedy Tour earlier this month. The charity event was organized by Penny Appeal, an international humanitarian organization that works to provide poverty relief in crisis-hit countries worldwide. The proceeds from this year’s tour will help the Forgotten Children campaign, which aims to get young people in places such as Lebanon, Senegal, Pakistan and Bangladesh off the streets and into safer environment. In their acts, the three performers challenge the stigmas and stereotypes associated with how the British public views Muslims and Arabs – and vice versa – drawing on their own experiences as inspiration for their humor.

Fears of Islamophobia even as Nineteen Muslim MPs Elected

There is a palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities, in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election. “We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is oven ready for government. Mr. Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General, Harun Khan, said. The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative party continue to plague it. Muslims are still not proportionally represented in Parliament. Only 3% of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslims, while the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5%.

King Faisal Exhibition Opens in London

Prince Turkial-Faisal inaugurated an exhibition detailing the life of the late Saudi King Faisal. Held at the plush Institute of Directors building on Pall Mall right at the heart of London, the event was organized on the 100th anniversary of King Faisal’s visit to Europe, and his presence at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in his capacity as Saudi Prince. Some of his most important and treasured possessions are on display, including his diary, some manuscripts, letters, paintings and maps that detail a life of leadership and his global footprint.  Another section explores his trip to India, which was a major experience of travel beyond Saudi Arabia before his visit to London. One of the attendees at the exhibition, a young Saudi woman studying for a PhD, at Imperial College, London, told Arab News that she was inspired by King Faisal’s experiences and his work in promoting education for girls and women.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

Muhammad, Aaliyah among Most Popular US Baby Names

As the number of Muslims living in the United States continues to increase, the number of new-born babies named Muhammed and Aaliyah is on the rise. For the first time in America, the two traditionally Arab and Muslim names are now ranked among the top ten baby names according to a study managed every year by the website BabyCenter.com. In 2018, Muhammad ranked as the fourteenth most popular name for newborn American boys, with Aaliyah the 17th most popular name for new born girls. This year, both names tied as the tenth most popular names for 2019. It has been reported that Muhammad is also one of the most popular names in the world, and its popularity has been rising each year. BabyCenter’s top 100 list is based on the names of hundreds of thousands of babies born in 2019 to parents registered on its website.

[COMPILED BY: SYED NEHAL ZAHEER]