Flashes from the Muslim World

AFGHANISTAN

One Man’s Passion Wins School for Village

The Afghan Education Ministry has said it will build a school in the village of a man who spent seven years travelling by foot or motorbike to take his daughters to a school twelve kilometers away from his home,the Ministry’s spokesman said recently. Mia Khan, an illiterate wage-laborer and heart patient who lives near the city of Sharan, in the southeastern Paktika province, would park his motorcycle outside the school every morning and wait for classes to end so the family could make the long journey back home. Recently, the Afghan Education Ministry invited Khan to Kabul and presented him a medal and pledged to build a high school for girls in his village. Afghan women have made huge strides in the country since they were banned during Taliban rule of 1996 to 2001 from schools, work, politics, and going outside without a male relative.

SRI LANKA

Hajj Pilgrim Quota Raised

Sri Lanka’s Hajj pilgrim quota for next year has been increased to 3,500 after an agreement was signed with Saudi Arabia. The Kingdom’s Hajj and Umrah Deputy Minister, Dr. Abdul Sulaiman Mashat, signed the deal with Sri Lanka’s Mohammed Faleel Marjan Azmi. The island nation’s existing quota is 2,850. Azmi told Arab News that the Ministry had also agreed to consider a supplementary quota for 2,000 pilgrims as a special request from the Sri Lankan delegation. The two sides also discussed matters related to reducing the total cost of the pilgrimage from Sri Lanka. It has been reported that there is increased demand due to the new facilities and services from the government, and that nearly 8,000 applicants were on a waiting list for the next Hajj.

PHILIPPINES

Dueterte Ready to Accept Rohingya from Myanmar

President Rodrigo Duterte has urged Malaysia and Indonesia to accept Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanamr (Burma). Duterte made the call as he expressed anew his solidarity with the persecuted minority group, reiterating his willingness to accept them in the Philippines. “I am prepared, I have communicated my desire that if the Rohingya in Burma want to migrate, I will accept them,” the tough-talking President said in a speech in Cotabato city where he led the distribution of Certificates of Land Ownership Award. In his speech, Duterte pointed out that the Rohingya people are not accepted in Burma because of their religion. Duterte then called on Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim majority countries to do the same. “Let’s share among us, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines,” he said. In February, last year, Duterte also offered Filipino citizenship to the Roghingya refugees.

INDONESIA

Signs Business Deals Worth about USD23 Bn

Indonesia signed eleven business deals with the UAE worth a combined 314.9 trillion rupiah (USD23 billion) covering investment in energy and other sectors, President Joko Widodo said recently in Jakarta. Widodo witnessed the signing of the deals with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed over the weekend during an official visit to Abu Dhabi,the Indonesian President said in aTweet. Widodo, who began his second term in office in October, is keen for an increase in foreign investment to help create jobs and boost growth in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy, economic growth has hovered at around 5% for several years.

MALAYSIA

Compensation for Makkah Crane Collapse

Saudi Arabia has compensated the families of Malaysian pilgrims who were killed or injured while performing Hajj in 2015 when a crane crashed into the Grand Mosque in Makkah, killing a total of 111 pilgrims of various nationalities and injuring hundreds of others. Each family of the seven Malaysians who lost their lives in the accident, received SR 1 million, while each of the three pilgrims injured was compensated with SR500,000. The compensation was paid personally by King Salman. The families also received an additional USD5,000 from Tabung Hajj and USD5,000 from a Takaful protection scheme.

JAPAN

Halal Market Ready for Tokyo 2020

Muslim athletes and tourists attending Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Games need not worry about finding halal food in the capital. Japan is poised to welcome Muslim tourists with halal restaurants in its cities, having been aware of the community’s needs since 2013. According to ‘We Are Tomodachi,’ an official Japanese magazine established by the government to educate the world about the country, by 2013, four companies received halal certifications to serve food. Since then, that number has rapidly increased to 180 halal establishments, including fine dining restaurants, serving traditional Japanese dishes. Muslim students are also being accommodated.

UNITED ARAB EMIRATES

Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival

The 22nd edition of the Sharjah Islamic Arts Festival, which is kicked off this month, is currently underway throughout the Emirate, with thought-provoking exhibition presented in three different locations. The Sharjah Arts Museum, Al Majaz Waterfront and Maraya Art Center. Bringing together exhibitions installations, talks and workshops scattered across the Emirate, the event is not one to miss. The festival is organized under the theme of ‘Prospect,’ and features a mishmash of artworks that celebrate the splendor of Islamic Art by 108 artists from 31 different countries. Established in 1998, the annual Sharjah Islamic Art Festival aims to spotlight the different styles of Islamic art through various mediums.

OMAN

New Maritime Pact Far-reaching

Oman’s ambassador to India said that a bilateral maritime pact would have a far-reaching impact on stability in the Arabian Gulf. The agreement recently signed, enables India to expand its footprint in the western Indian Ocean, the Arabian Gulf and East Africa. India is among Oman’s top trading partners with bilateral trade reaching USD6 billion in 2018-19. It was the second largest importer of crude oil from Oman last year and more than 800,000 Indians live in Oman, sending back over USD3 billion annually in remittances.

SAUDI ARABIA

IDB Marks World Arabic Language Day

The Islamic Development Bank (IDB) organized an event to mark World Arabic Language Day. The event included a display of Arabic and Islamic calligraphy paintings, in addition to a panel discussion and poetry competition in Arabic among IDB staff. The Arabic language is a language of two billion people around the world who are members of the Islamic Ummah, said IDB President, Dr. Bandar Hajjar. It is the official language of IDB, even though the bank also deals in English and French. He said that the bank has provided about USD300 million in support of literacy and education projects in Africa. The IDB allocates grants to teach the Arabic languages, he added.

Rare Edition of King James’ Bible to Go On Show

A first edition of the King James Bible, published in 1611, is set to go on show at the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS) after the rare text was received, on loan, from a private Saudi collector. The leather-bound edition of the Christian text was published by Robert Barker, a printer to King  James I of Britain,in the 17th century and is known as “He” Bible due to a printing error on one of the pages in which the phrase “and he went into the cities” is written, instead of the correct “she went.” Experts say that this tiny error makes the copy more valuable due to its rarity, while the book is also notable for its decorative binding and use of calf leather with brass plates and clasps. The copy of the Bible will go on show at KFCRIS in early 2020 alongside a collection of printed copies of the Qur’an in an exhibition that will explore how early printing technology impacted religious studies.

A Bridge between Cultures

In a world rife with religious intolerance, rampant bigotry, and more divisiveness than ever, many people believe that ‘every man for himself’ has become the motto for survival. But others believe that the key to a better tomorrow lies in standing together, united for a brighter future, one of those people is Naifal-Harbi.  The 26-year-old activist found his calling as a student at Arizona State University, in the US. During his college years, he joined a student group known as SunDABT, an inter-faith organization seeking to create a more peaceful, tolerant and inclusive community at the university. Al-Harbi aims to bring together people of various faiths, races and cultures with his initiative, but also to promote a better understanding of Saudi Arabia in the outside world. Unable to do it all on his own, he took to social media to recruit people to his cause. Since then, he has been propelled into success. Saudis for Peace now boasts 40 members in addition to Al-Harbi himself.

High-tech Bus Stations for Pilgrims

High-tech bus stations to improve pilgrims transport to holy sites in the Kingdom moved a step closer following a workshop carried out by the Hajj and Umrah Ministry. The workshop, organized by the Ministry’s Under secretary for pilgrims’ affairs, explored plans for terminals linked to pilgrims’ residence locations in Makkah. Bus stations will develop timetables and rely on modern technology to improve pilgrims transport as part of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 initiative. The stations will also help ease traffic congestion and overcrowding on buses on the main roads linking Makkah to the holy sites.

30 Historical Mosques Restored

The Mohammed bin Salman Project for Developing Historical Mosques has completed its first phase, renovating 30 mosques in ten Saudi regions at a cost of more than SR 50 million over 423 days. This is part of the crown prince’s directive to renovate 130 historical mosques throughout the Kingdom, using Saudi companies that specialize in heritage building. The government is giving utmost importance to renovating historical mosques that have been closed for more than 40 years. Facilities such as women’s prayer rooms, services for disabled people, air-conditioning, lighting and acoustics are being provided. The 30 renovated mosques have been receiving worshippers since 27 December, 2019, with the aim of preserving Islamic heritage and architecture, and reviving heritage villages and historical city centers. Most elements of the design of historical mosques coincide with the trend toward sustainability and green architecture. The larger Al-Atawilah Mosque can house up to 130 worshippers and covers an area of 327 square meters. It is known for its heritage buildings, such as the forts of Al-Othman, Damas, and Al-Mashika. One of the oldest historical buildings in the region, al-Atawilah also built in Al-Sarat style, was the only mosque in the town where Friday prayers were held.

Prayers for Rain Performed

Muslims across Saudi Arabia performed the Istisqa (rain-seeking) prayer in accordance with the Prophetic Sunnah during drought, praying to Allah Almighty for rainfall. King Salman urged the people throughout the Kingdom to perform the Istisqa prayer. In Makkah, the prayer was performed in the Grand Mosque and attended by Prince Badr bin Sultan, acting governor of Makkah. In Madinah, the prayer was attended by Prince Faisal bin Salman, governor of Madinah. The prayer was also performed in other regions and attended by government and senior officials.

Minister Discusses Pilgrims’ Affairs

Dr. Abdul Fattah Mashat, Deputy Minister of Hajj and Umrah, received the head of the delegation of pilgrim affairs of Kenya and the head of the religious affairs committee in Tajikstan. The meeting was held as part of early preparations for this year’s Hajj season to discuss and coordinate arrangements and services provided for pilgrims. Issues connected to pilgrim affairs and services were discussed, as well as how to help people perform their rituals in a comfortable and safe atmosphere.

King Faisal Prize Winners Announced

The winners of the King Faisal Prize (KFP) were announced in Riyadh. A ceremony marking the occasion was held in the presence of Prince Khaled al-Faisal, governor of Makkah and chairman of the King Faisal International Prize Commission. The Secretary-General of the Award, Dr. Abdul Aziz al-Subayyil, revealed the names of the winners. The prize for service to Islam was given to the Makkah Declaration of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Summit Conference, for being a historic constitution to establish the values of coexistence and peace. The prestigious prize, now in its 42nd year, honors exceptional achievements in five categories, Service to Islam, Islamic Studies, Arabic language, and literature, medicine and Science.

OIC to Hold Family Banks

The General Secretariat of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) will hold a workshop to promote the concept of family banks in the G5 Sahel countries. The two-day Jeddah workshop will be held in partnership with the Islamic Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Agriculture. It will target Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mauritania and Mali. It aims to support G5 Sahel countries in their efforts to empower women entrepreneurs. The main workshop goals include introducing the concept of family banks that was established by the Sudan Micro finance Unit.

JORDAN

Starts Getting Gas from Israel despite Heated Opposition

A controversial Jordan-Israel gas deal went live despite heated public opposition as the first experimental pumping of gas extracted from shores east of Haifa began. The USD10 billion, fifteen-year agreement calls for the import of gas from the Levitan gas-well around 50 kms west of Haifa. Jordan is expected to receive 300 million cubic meters of natural gas daily. The deal is backed by guarantees from the Jordanian and US governments. Jordan has spent JOD11 million, according to its 2018 budget to prepare the infrastructure to receive Israeli gas.

Waqf Welcomes Israeli De-escalation

The Director of Jerusalem’s Islamic Waqf welcomed Israeli moves to de-escalate tensions surrounding Islam’s third holiest mosque, but called for a serious and permanent change of policy by Israel. Sheikh Azzam Khatib, an employee of Jordan’s Waqf in Jerusalem,the Islamic religious trust responsible for the management of the Islamic holy sites around,and including Al Aqsa Mosque, told Arab News that certain moves have lessened tensions but serious decisions are still pending… “We welcome the Israeli decision to bring down the scaffolding that has been up for over two years on the walls of the Al Aqsa,but call for the removal of the remaining scaffolding near the Maghrabi gate, which is five times the size of the removed scaffolding.”Khatib expressed satisfaction at the decision of an Israeli court to reject a request by the pro-settlers right wing NGO Regavim to reassess the Waqf’s rights over Balal-Rahmeh, the Golden Gate.

EGYPT

To Reopen Historic Synagogue

Egypt is set to re-open a historic Jewish synagogue in Alexandria after a three-year process of restoration. The Ministry of Antiquities announced that the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue will be reopened shortly. It is one of the largest Jewish temples in the Middle East and has undergone a series of restorations since 2007. According to the website, it is a symbol of Egypt’s historical pluralism, when diverse national and religious communities lived together in a spirit of coexistence and religious freedom.

PALESTINE

Daily Life in Palestine Worsens

Mother of six, Suad Sultan, cannot hide her fear that the coming year will be all but impossible for her family along with other residents of the Gaza Strip. After years of conflict, and with no political or economic solutions on the horizon, living conditions in the Palestinian enclave are steadily worsening. The social, health and security implications of high demographic growth and overpopulation are among the factors that may make Gaza uninhabitable by 2020, the report said. The Gaza Strip suffers from a scarcity of water resources.  Up to 97% of the groundwater is unsuitable for drinking, forcing the local population to buy supplies from itinerant vendors. A shortage of medical supplies is another pressing problem. High unemployment adds to the enclave’s woes, with up to 60% of young people unable to find work. The electricity is cut off, infrastructure is destroyed, water is not safe to drink, transportation is difficult and agriculture continues to deteriorate.

SYRIA

Another Unhappy New Year

The New Year in Syria has brought no relief from the paralyzing stress of tighter Western sanctions, a fuel crisis that has persisted for eight years and a weak currency that plumbs new depths every month. The Council of European Union announced its decision to extend restrictive measures against the Syrian regime and its allies until 1stJune,2020. Basmah, a Damascus based computer programmer, put it this way:“The EU and America said the sanctions were designed to spare civilians, but what we see on the ground is that only ordinary people are adversely affected by these measures. It is us who are freezing during winter due to fuel shortages, not the government.” The fuel crisis and the sanctions combined with the protests in Lebanon, have contributed to a deterioration in the Syrian currency’s value, which hit a record low earlier in December. Syria’s oil production has suffered significantly since the war began in 2011.

TURKEY

Issues Fatwa Allowing Government Loans

A new Fatwa from Turkey’s top religious authority said that the government was allowed to take out loans with interest for its public housing projects. The Fatwa was issued by the country’s Directorate of Religious Affairs, the Diyanet. It said that taking out loans with interest was a sin except for the government’s public housing projects. However, taking interest loans from the banks for setting up a new business, or buying a car, is a sin, it added. The Fatwa was approved by the Diyanet’s High Council of Religious Affairs, with a majority voting in favor of it. According to the Diyanet, the distinction resides in the government’s aim of providing housing for low,and medium, income house-holds,and the ruling is valid only for public banks. There has been debate about whether the Diyanet has become political following the dismissal of some Imams who failed to follow guidelines set by the religious authority.

NIGER

Meets the Secretary General of the OIC

Mohamed Saidil Moctar, a Minister and Special Adviser to the Niger President, met Dr. Yousef Al Othaimeen, the Secretary-General of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Jeddah. The meeting was part of the ongoing preparations for the 47th session of the Council of OIC Foreign Ministers to be held in April 2020 in Niamey, Niger. Officials at the OIC General Secretariat discussed issues related to the conference including organizational matters and other related arrangements. The Niger official affirmed his country’s resolve to make all necessary efforts to ensure the success of the event.

ALGERIA

Richest Man Walks Free after Eight Months in Prison

Algeria’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, walked free on time served early after a court sentenced him to six months for tax, banking and customs offenses. Prosecutors had sought a one-year prison sentence for the 74 year old head of Algeria’s biggest privately owned conglomerate, Cevital, who was one of several tycoons arrested in April as part of sweeping corruption investigation. The probe followed the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika after weeks of mass protests against his 20-year-rule. Rebrab was fined 1.383 billion dinars more than USD11.6 million. Rebrab had already spent eight months in custody awaiting trial, more than his sentence, so he was released by the court.

CAMBODIA

OIC Chief Praises for Religious Tolerance

The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Yousef Al-Othaimeen received Othaman Hassan, special envoy of the Kingdom of Cambodia, at the OIC headquarters in Jeddah. The Secretary-General and the Cambodian envoy discussed issues of mutual interest and common concern, and exchanged views on promoting inter-religious dialogue and tolerance, education and development, and combating Islamophobia. Hassan emphasized that while Cambodia was a Buddhist majority country, it has made substantial efforts to provide equal opportunities for its Muslim community. The Cambodian government has enacted a legal provision requiring prayer halls in all public hospitals, and Muslim women students are free to wear religious headscarves at school if they choose. He also noted that Muslims were widely represented in the political sphere, with two senators, six members of Parliament, eleven deputy ministers and twenty one undersecretaries of state.

LEBANON

Population Hits 4.8m with 20% Non-Lebanese

Lebanon’s first integrated labour force study and largest family living conditions survey in almost three decades has revealed an estimated population of 4.8 million, 20% of them foreigners. The detailed review also showed the crisis-hit country’s unemployment rate to be running at 11.4%, and the average size of Lebanon families to have decreased. In the absence of recent survey, this survey constitutes a main foundation for planners and national decision-makers to promote Lebanon’s development indicators and contribute to achieving sustainable prosperity for all.

ITALY

MWL, Catholic Sign Cooperation Agreement

Upon his recent invitation to the Universitia Cattolicadel Sacro Cuore (UCSC), the Secretary-General of the Muslim World League (MWL), presented a lecture on friendship between nations and peoples. Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarimal-Issa cited many examples of the positive relationship between the Islamic and Christian worlds, a relationship that has been recently reinforced through increased dialogue between the MWL and the Vatican. He emphasized the importance of cooperation based on mutual values and natural law.  Al-Issa announced the launch of a global initiative that the MWL will be working on to further improve positive relations across religious and national divides. He spoke on the value of friendship, lamenting the various factors that threaten bonds between people, including political and religious extremism.

[COMPILED BY: SYED NEHAL ZAHEER]