Flashes from the Muslim World

AFGHANISTAN

Nearly 29,000 Afghan Killed in Past Decade

Afghanistan’s warring sides were accused of failing to obey international law, after estimates showed that 28,979 civilians had lost their lives in the past decade due to the ongoing war in the country. A report released by Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) shows that more than 80,000 casualties were reported among non-combatants in the past decade alone. Locked in more than four decades of war, involving both regional and international powers, Afghanistan has seen hundreds of thousands of its civilians killed, and several million leave to seek refuge elsewhere.

BANGLADESH

Allows Education for Refugee Children

Rohingya children living in Bangladesh refugee camps will be allowed to receive a formal education after a change of heart by Dhaka in a move welcomed by rights activists. Nearly one million Rohingya live in the squalid and crowded camps near the southeastern border with Myanmar, where many had fled from in 2017, after a brutal military crackdown. The children were previously barred from studying the curricula used in Bangladesh and Myanmar, and instead, received primary education in temporary learning centers set up by the UN Children’s agency, UNICEF.

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.

MALAYSIA

Meeting of Islamic Affairs Minister

Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh, received Malaysia’s Islamic Affairs Minister, Dr. Mujahid Yusof. Al-Asheikh briefed on his Ministry’s efforts to spread Islam according to the approach of moderation and rejection of extremism. Hajj and Umrah Minister, Dr. Mohammed Saleh Bentin, received the Malaysian minister. They discussed Malaysian pilgrims’ affairs and early preparations to serve them. The two sides signed an agreement that organizes the arrival of pilgrims coming from Malaysia, and arranges services to be provided for them during their stay at the holy sites.

Aims for Halal Olympic Gold

A small factory in Malaysia’s capital is preparing thousands of ready-to-eat halal meals, from fried rice to chicken biryani, to be shipped off to Japan for 2020’s biggest sporting event. Food firms from Muslim majority Malaysia are expected to be big winners from a rush of Muslim travelers to Japan for the Olympics and Paralympic Games from late July to September. “It is a huge platform and opportunity for us,” said Ahmad Hussani Hassan, boss of the MyChef Company making the meals in Kuala Lumpur. “Our intention is not to go in and out. We have to go in and stay for the long term.” Malaysia wants to use the Games as a springboard to boost halal exports. It exported halal goods worth USD604 million to Japan in 2018 – 90% of it food and food ingredients. Malaysia is the only country to have reached a halal cooperation deal with Tokyo for the Games.

INDONESIA

Looks to Boost Saudi Trade and Investment

Indonesian Vice President, Ma’ruf Amin, hailed the long-running relationship of his country with Saudi Arabia during an exclusive interview with Arab News, and said he hoped that trade ties could be boosted between the pair. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim majority country. “If Saudi invests in Indonesia, it could help to develop Indonesia and empower the people – which also means empowering Muslims,” Amin said. Another major issue is Indonesia’s Hajj quota. Indonesia has been lobbying Saudi Arabia to set last year’s quota of 231,000 as an official count for Indonesia. The official quota provided by the Saudi government is still 221,000 but, in 2019, Indonesia had an additional quota of 10,000. “We are asking for a bigger Hajj quota because we have a very long waiting list. In some regions, the waiting list for someone to get their turn to go on Hajj could stretch to more than 25 years,” Amin said. “We are really concerned about this and we can reduce it only by having additional quota,” he added.

SRI LANKA

Offer Prayers for Virus Victims

Sri Lanka’s Muslim community offered Friday prayers in solidarity with victims of the global coronavirus outbreak that has already killed nearly 1,400 people, mainly in China. More than 2,000 worshippers gathered at the 19th century Dewatagaha Mosque near Colombo’s Town Hall for prayers that were also attended by Muslim parliamentarian, S.M. Marikar, Colombo Deputy Mayor, Mohammed Iqbal and Chinese diplomat. The Chinese mission’s Cultural Counselor, Liu Dong, expressed gratitude for the move and said that China is overwhelmed by the moral support given by the Muslims of Sri Lanka during the crisis.

SAUDI ARABIA

War on Food Waste

A Saudi student has launched a Silicon Valley startup to tackle the problem of food waste, a global issue that costs USD3.5 billion annually, according to the United Nations. Asrar Damdam, a King Abdullah University of Science and Technology student, set up UVera, a biotech Company that uses innovative technology to increase the shelve life of fresh food. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, leaving millions around the world hungry. UVera’s goal is to help to halve food waste by 2030 by employing technology and innovation.

Jazan’s Coffee Bean Production

Organizers of the seventh Coffee Bean Festival, which concluded recently in Jazan, told reporters that more than 300 tons of coffee beans will be produced and will enter the Saudi market by the end of 2020, due to increased production in the Jazan Mountains. Award-winning coffee farmer, Hussain Hadi Al-Malki, from Al-Dayer governorate, said the Jazan region accounts for 80% of coffee bean production, and that the number of coffee farmers in the region has exceeded 700. Coffee bean trees are planted and cultivated at an altitude of 800-2000 meters above sea level. The higher the altitude, the greater the yield and quality. Coffee bean trees need special care, and take up to five years from the time a seed is planted until production.

Muslims, Jews Make Historic Joint Visit

Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary General, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al-Issa, and American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO, David Harris, led a ground-breaking visit of Muslim and Jewish delegations to Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp. Al-Issa, who is based in Makkah, led a delegation of 62 Muslims, including 25 prominent religious leaders from 28 countries. According to a press statement, the mission is the most senior Islamic leadership delegation to ever visit any Nazi death camp. The visit occurred just ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which, this year, will mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi camp. More than one million Jews were exterminated at Auschwitz, as well as over 100,000 now Jewish inmates, among them principally Polish Catholics, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war. Each member of the Muslim and Jewish delegations carried a memorial candle and placed it at the monument honoring the more than 1.1 million people murdered at the Nazi camp.

OIC Rejects US Middle East Peace Plan

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) rejected the US administration’s peace plan for the Middle East and called on its member-states not to help implement it. “The OIC rejects this US-Israeli plan as it does not meet the minimum aspirations and legitimate rights of the Palestinian people and contradicts the terms of reference of the peace process,” it said in a statement. A meeting of foreign ministers at OIC headquarters, in Jeddah, called on all member-states not to deal with this plan, or cooperate with the US administration efforts to enforce it, in anyway or form. Under the US plan unveiled last week, Israel would retain control of the disputed city of Jerusalem as its undivided capital and annex settlements on Palestinian lands.

Arabic Calligraphy to be Registered at UNESCO

The Saudi Ministry of Culture hosted a workshop and coordination meeting to register Arabic calligraphy on UNESCO’s List of Intangible cultural Heritage in Riyadh. Sixteen Arab countries participated in the five-day meeting in partnership with the Arab League Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (ALESCO). The move will strengthen the presence of Arabic calligraphy in local and international forums and conferences. Registering Arabic calligraphy with UNESCO complements the Minister of Culture’s announcement that 2020 was the year of Arabic calligraphy.

Smart Tech Paves Way for Holistic Hajj

Smart Technology is being adopted to help pilgrims at all stages of their religious journey in Saudi Arabia, according to Marwan Al-Sulaimani, Director General of the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. Technological advances will smooth pilgrims’ progress from the moment they arrive in the Kingdom until they gather at Mount Arafat, he told Arab News. More than 1.8 billion Muslims worldwide dream of experiencing Hajj and Umrah. The Ministry is looking at the Hajj and Umrah experience as a holistic picture because it is an emotional and religious journey. The Ministry said that it hopes to increase the number of pilgrims to fifteen million by 2022 and 30 million by 2030 in line with the Kingdom’s Vision 2030.

Ibrahim Palace

Built almost 500 years ago, Ibrahim Palace in Hofuf is one of Al-Ahsa region’s most significant landmarks. The palace includes several military watch towers. It was said to be have been renamed after Ibrahim bin Afysan, an architectural styles typical of the time. Inside is Al Quba Mosque, which has a single dome resting on top of the entire building, a unique style in Saudi Arabia at the time. The palace, which was built on commercial route with links to the rest of the world, has come to symbolize the wealth of the region. King Abdul Aziz added a new dimension to the palace when he rule Al Ahsa in 1913, fortifying the structure with Islamic domes and huge, military-style, towers, as well as soldiers’ barracks in the palace’s eastern wing.

EGYPT

Medal of Science Awarded

The Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has awarded the ‘Medal of Science and Arts’ of First Class to Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Sheikh Abdullatif bin Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh. Al-Asheikh received the award for his efforts in renewing religious discourse, correcting misconceptions about Islam and his fight against extreme ideology. On behalf of El Sisi, Egyptian Prime Minister, Mustafa Madbouly, provided the medal to the Minister during the inauguration of the Al-Azhar International Conference on the ‘Renewal in Thought and Islamic Sciences.’ The Saudi Minister expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Egyptian President, government and people for their great efforts in serving Islam and Muslims.

Booming Population Officially Hits 100 Million

Egypt’s fast growing population hit 100 million people, the official statistics agency announced, presenting a pressing problem for an already over burdened country with limited resources. The staggering figure is an increase of seven million since the publication of the latest census results in 2017. Egypt’s population has tripled since 1960, with the annual growth rate peaking in 1987 at nearly 2.8%. Most of the country’s population is crammed into urban areas near the Nile. The capital, Cairo, and its twin province of Giza, are home to a combined population of nineteen million.

JORDAN

Call for Greater Understanding

“Countries need to respect the sovereignty and boundaries of their neighbors, while empowering young people, if the region’s political and economic situations are to be improved,” Jordanian Prime Minister, Omar Al Razzaz, said at the second day of the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said that Arab states needed to reflect on the region’s history in the last decade and draw lessons to ensure the upcoming decade was one of prosperity. Al Razzaz emphasized the importance of extending support to host countries of refugees, describing the migrant crisis as a global, and not just a Jordanian, issue, adding they now account for 20% of Jordan’s population. “With well over a million displaced people residing in Jordan, the government’s annual spending on refugees has reached USD2.4 billion,” said Al Razzaz, adding that aid covered only 42% of that.  According to the UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Jordan ranks among the most impacted by the Syrian crisis, hosting the world’s second biggest share of refugees per capita.

PALESTINE

Tensions Run High in Jerusalem

Tensions are running high in Jerusalem following an arson attack on a mosque, anti-Palestinian graffiti and a leading cleric given an extended ban from al-Aqsa, senior figures have told Arab News. Arson was suspected in the torching of a mosque in Beit Safafa and after graffiti had been sprayed on a nearby wall outside the building. Muslim leaders called on worshippers to attend pre-sunrise morning prayers on a recent Friday and at least 50,000 people turned up, causing Israeli authorities to panic. Wasfi Kailani, Executive Director of the Hashemite Fund, said the escalation of the situation has caused people to worry. “Muslims are worried about their mosque and their action reflects their loss of trust in all the attempts to quieten them down,” he told Arab News.

Gaza Farmers Return to their Lands

Returning to his fields for the first time in fourteen years, Palestinian farmer, Naser Abu Isaeed, surveyed the toll taken by conflict on formerly productive soil. “I saw an empty area full of holes and dry weeds,” said Abu Isaeed, who once grew fruit on tracts along Gaza’s volatile border with Israel. He is one of about 600 Palestinian farmers who regained access to their fields along the border to cultivate crops under a project launched by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Citing security concerns, Israel has, for years, designated a 100 meter by 300 meter strip along its 40 km long fence at the frontier, as off-limits to Palestinians in Gaza, an enclave ruled by Hamas. Palestinians say the policy has deprived them of large areas of farmland, cut into livelihoods and reduced the space available to the densely populated strips’s two million residents.

LEBANON

Meets with Grand Mufti

Saudi Ambassador to Lebanon, Walid bin Abdullah Bukhari, has said that his country is very keen on Lebanon’s security, safety and stability. He reiterated the Kingdom’s support for all the Lebanese and their institutions and eagerness to strengthen the relationship between the two brotherly countries in all fields. The Saudi ambassador made the comments after meeting at Dar Al-Fatwa with Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Lebanon’s top Sunni religious authority. Bukhari said that he hoped that the cloud that is ravaging Lebanon will disappear in the coming days and that love, coexistence, prosperity, growth and safety would return to Lebanon.

ETHIOPIA

From Darkness to Light

African leaders recently met in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, for the 33rd African Union (AU) Summit. The annual summit gathers African leaders to discuss their future plans, and is responsible for conflict resolution on the continent. This year’s theme is ‘Silencing the Guns,’ but the two-day summit also focused on gender equality, climate change and human rights. The UN Secretary-General, Antonio Gueterres, who attended the summit, said that “We need fair globalization, so that Africa no longer suffers from unfair trading and financial rules.” The UN and the African Union are working together to help Sudan’s new government keep its commitments, he added.

MAURITIUS

Ambassador Praises Humanitarian Efforts of Kingdom

Mauritius Ambassador to Saudi Arabia,Shaukat Ali Soudhan, held talks with Riyadh Governor, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, on strengthening cooperation between the two countries. The envoy praised King Salman Humanitarian Aid and Relief Center (KSRelief) delivery of aid to crisis affected people around the world, and thanked the Kingdom for its assistance to the people of Mauritius. Saudi Arabia is among the largest global donors of aid. In November 2019, the Kingdom confirmed that it has provided nearly USD18 billion of humanitarian assistance to help refugees.

CROATIA

Conference on Human Fraternity

Promoting the values of human brotherhood is the most important pillar for achieving world peace, the international conference titled Human Fraternity for World Peace and Security heard. Organized by the Muslim World League (MWL) in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, the Conference was held under the patronage of Croatian President, Kolinda Grabar–Kitarovic. The Conference called for the enactment of legislation to criminalize all methods and practices of hatred, racism, marginalization and exclusion as a crime against humanity and the homeland. Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al Issa, the Secretary-General of the MWL, called for a real adoption of the values of the human fraternity that remove negative barriers and close their gaps, build bridges and facilitate dialogue, understanding and cooperation. He stressed that humanity has enough common values for making peace and harmony in the world today.

SWITZERLAND

Youth Protection from Extremist Ideals

Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdulkarim Al Issa, launched initiatives on youth protection from extremist and violent ideas and implementation mechanism, during an international conference organized at the UN headquarters in Geneva. MPs, parliament speakers, UN ambassadors, religious and ideological leaders and academics specialized in the topics of conference were in attendance. Al Issa said the initiatives aim at protecting the youth from violent and extremist ideologies or those inciting violence and shed light on the responsibility of educational institutions in this context. Al Issa stressed the need to filter speeches targeting youth from all that incites conflict, hatred, racism and enmity. He said that it is important to ban the exportation or importation of fatwas and religious ideas, adding that extremism is not acceptable in any circumstance.

NETHERLANDS

Ways to Spread Message of Harmony

Netherlands Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Joost Reintjes, called on Saudi Minister of Islamic Affairs, Call and Guidance Sheikh Abdullatif Al-Asheikh. The two men discussed interfaith dialogue and the best ways to spread a message of peaceful coexistence, among other matters of mutual interest. The Dutch ambassador reportedly expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom’s efforts to enhance dialogue between followers of different religions, cultures and civilizations around the world. Bilateral relations between the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia can be traced as far back as the seventeenth century, but were formalized with the opening of a Dutch consulate in Jeddah.

FRANCE

Crackdown on Foreign Imams

French President, Emmanuel Macron, announced that he will restrict other countries from sending Imams and Islamic teachers to France in what he said is an attempt to counter foreign interference. A new law is also being prepared to ensure transparency over how mosques are financed, the French leader said. The moves are part of a longstanding campaign to have more say over Imams and Islamic teachers sent to France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim community. Macron highlighted the risk of separatism and foreign interference in the way Islam is practiced in the country. He said the French Muslim Council (CFCM) has been instructed to focus on training Imams on French territory, and ensuring they speak French and do not spread radical views. France will receive its last intake of Imams in 2020. France has around 300 Imams from abroad, working across 2,500 places of worship around the country. About 150 Imams are sent from Turkey, 120 from Algeria and 30 from Morocco.

UNITED KINGDOM

Meet the Footballing Diplomat

Britain’s Kashif Siddiqi said that playing for Real Kashmir is proof of his commitment to the game’s wider importance. To what could go down in history as one of the most unorthodox moves in sport, footballer Siddiqi last year moved from England’s Oxford United club to South Asia to play for Real Kashmir on a one-year loan. But Siddiqi is no average sportsman. The 33-year-old has dedicated much to his career to using football as a way to create peace and encourage dialogue across the world. In 2013, he co-founded Football for Peace (FfP) with former Chile international, Elias Figeroa. The organization runs programs worldwide that use the game to address social issues.

Top-Ranked Muslim Schools Wants to Help White Kids

The head of three Muslim schools that are ranked top in England in terms of pupil progression says he wants to help working class white children too. Government data released [recently] revealed that the best three schools for pupil improvement are all Muslim, based in inner cities and run by a not-for-profit Trust called Star Academies. Hamid Patel, its Chief Executive, is responsible for more than 25 other schools across the UK, many of which are aimed at Muslim students. Following his success in inner city locations, such as London and Birmingham, he is turning his attention to schools in deprived coastal areas,where, unlike many of his schools, most of the pupils are white. Star Academies has already begun working to help these schools and their students. In 2016, it took over High Field Leadership Academy in the town of Blackpool and Bay Leadership Academy in the town of Morecambe, when both were performing exceptionally badly.

UNITED STATES

Honors Head of France’s Arab World Institute

Dr. Jack Lang, President of the Institut de Monde Arabe (Arab World Institute) in Paris, received the inaugural Global Cultural Leadership Award from the National Council on US-Arab Relations. The honor was recognition for his achievements in expanding knowledge of the Arab region and promoting cross-cultural understanding. The Institute have done much to showcase Arab contributions to knowledge and understanding that have benefited the world’s civilizations and human kind in general. The Institute, which is located on the banks of the Seine in Paris, opened in 1987 as a Centre dedicated to the promotion of Arab civilization, knowledge and art. It contains unique collections and hosts touring exhibitions.

US Delegation Lauds MWL’s Peace Initiatives

Muslim World League (MWL) Secretary-General, Dr. Mohammed bin Abdul Karim Al-Issa, met with a delegation of the US Congress. The delegates appreciated MWL’s global efforts to fight extremism, violence and terrorism and the initiatives the organization has taken to promote dialogue between people of different cultures and to ensure intercultural harmony for the benefit of all mankind. They also commended MWL’s efforts to promote inter-religious and inter-cultural civilized communication. The meeting also discussed issues of common interest in details.

[COMPILED BY: SYED NEHAL ZAHEER]