Saturday 30 May 2009

Do not Abuse those who Abuse you

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said: "Can't anyone of you be like Abu Damdam?" His companions asked: "Who is Abu Damdam, O Messenger of God?" The Prophet replied: "When he gets up in the morning he says, 'O God, I offer my honor and life to You,' so that he would not abuse those who abused him, nor would he wrong those who wronged him, or hit those who hit him."

Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 4, Number 115

Friday 29 May 2009

Somalia and Somaliland

The arrivals hall of Hargeisa airport is a dust-blown, concrete box on a sweltering plain of scrub desert. Through its broken tinted doors are peeling walls with a few scattered pictures of Mecca. A brass plaque on a beam above them commemorates the opening of the building by Prince Henry, the 1st Duke of Gloucester, in 1958. The tarnished plate looks oddly out of place as a reminder of Britain's forgotten colony.

While the rest of Somalia has forced its way on to the world's news agenda as an anarchic, failed state and the spawning ground for a new age of piracy, the former British protectorate of Somaliland has been quietly pleading for international recognition.

To its south lies the region of Puntland, whose ports have been turned over to the pirate gangs. Beyond that, in Mogadishu, are the remnants of an Italian colony that is now among the most dangerous places on earth. To the west is the repressive and heavily armed Ethiopia. It is what Somaliland's Foreign Minister ruefully calls a "rough neighbourhood".

Sitting beneath a map of his unrecognised state – which is roughly the size of Wales and England combined – Abdillahi Duale cuts a polite, if exasperated, figure. He begins to list Somaliland's accomplishments, such as a functioning government, multi-party elections, a coastguard and a police force: quite mundane in most places in the world but in this neighbourhood, truly remarkable. It is, the minister says, "Africa's best kept secret".

Somaliland has more territory and a bigger population than at least a dozen other African states, he points out. Recognition will not "open Pandora's box in Africa", he says. Neither will it set a precedent – that has been done already in East Timor and Kosovo. "The international community is focused on Somalia, okay. We are saying, 'Keep doing what you're doing in Mogadishu, but for goodness sake help those who help themselves'."

A polished performer, Mr Duale explains the Somalis' divergent paths with a brief history lesson. When both British and Italian Somaliland were granted independence within months of each other in 1960, there was a mistaken unity pact that eventually degenerated into the violent dictatorship of Siad Barre and then into civil war. When Barre's government fell in 1991, the north set up its own government within the former colonial borders while the south descended into warlordism.

Both paths had their origins in the colonial experience, the minister argues. Britain only wanted its protectorate to shore up naval control of the Gulf of Aden and to supply meat to Aden itself, and so left traditional elders largely in place. Italy treated its eastern coastal section of Somalia as a settlers' colony and dismantled equivalent authorities to achieve this. When the shooting briefly stopped in 1991, the north had a starting point, the south didn't.

Despite this, Somaliland's 3.8 million people remain subject to a government in Mogadishu that doesn't exist. It has its own currency, security services, ministries and courts but no place at the United Nations. Without recognition Hargeisa has no access to lenders such as the International Monetary Fund or the World Bank and receives no direct budgetary support. The international donors who met in Brussels last month to pledge €230m in aid for Somalia did not mention Somaliland.

Presiding over this limbo is Dahir Rayale Kahin. "All the criteria are fulfilled but still no one is recognising us," the President says calmly. "We are fighting piracy, we are arresting terrorists. Nobody can deny our regional contribution."

Three groups of pirates have been detained by Somaliland's threadbare coastguard and its jails hold dozens of suspected members of Islamist militias, such as al-Shabaab, who control much of southern Somalia.

A referendum held in 2001 found overwhelming support for an independent Somaliland and an African Union report on recognition for the territory in 2005 found in favour, Mr Rayale points out. "Always they say, 'If someone else recognises you, we will be second'. The problem is who will be first?"

Like many in Somaliland, he hopes the answer could be Britain. The UK recognised Somaliland at independence in 1960 but London would have to upset powerful allies to renew that step. In private, people here know that Egypt remains the major hurdle. Cairo sees a powerful Somalia as a bulwark against Ethiopia in any future conflict over the vital resources of the Nile, and still nurtures those who dream of a greater Somalia. Such a project would unite Somalis in Ethiopia, Kenya and Djibouti, with those in the former British and Italian colonies under the five stars of the Somali flag. President Rayale says that dream "cannot happen" and offers an analogy from across the Gulf of Aden where the Arabs are divided into many countries despite sharing a religion and language. "The Arabs are Arabs and yet they are more than 20 countries. We can be like Arabs," he says.

This month was supposed to have seen the latest act of would-be statehood with the holding of elections, They have now been delayed until September. The government blames the hold-up on the electoral register; the opposition says it is "running away" from a vote it will lose.

The President is obviously comfortable in the office he insists he will vacate if he loses in the ballot. A weighty globe swings on a golden axis on his desk, while the letters "VIP" are stitched into the burgundy silk curtains.

However, Somaliland has its own "unique" set of checks and balances, as Mohamed Rashid Shaik Hassan, a former BBC journalist-turned-opposition politician, explains. The deputy leader of the OCID party says that serious power remains with a council of elders who operate as a second house. It was their intervention last week that saw a definite date of 27 September set for the poll.

Mr Hassan's deeper concerns echo those of opposition and government alike. With little or no formal economy, joblessness is nearly total and time could be running out on Somaliland's democratic experiment, he says, adding: "The British civil service generation is nearly gone and there is nothing to replace it. If democracy doesn't win recognition, people will look elsewhere." Abdurahman Farar, another opposition leader, is appalled that his "de facto country" is ignored while millions of dollars are poured into the power vacuum in Mogadishu. "The UN still wants to put Humpty Dumpty together again," he says dismissively.

The potential costs of a continued limbo were hammered home in deadly fashion last October when a series of co-ordinated suicide attacks left 28 people dead and rocked the comparative stability of Hargeisa. Said Adani played an unwitting role in thwarting one of the attacks. The presidential press secretary's car was parked near the gate when a truck bomber smashed it open as he tried to ram the office building. The small car stopped the truck just short of its target. Mr Adani was lucky enough to be inside the compound, but Abokar Subub, a police commander, was not as fortunate. He lifts his shirt with a wheeze from a smashed rib to reveal a lattice of shrapnel scars. The blast killed 18 people and the same scars mark its trees, tiles and broken walls. Mr Adani says the attack was a "wake-up call" to anyone who takes security for granted in the last stable corner of Somalia.

Mr Duale, the Foreign Minister, hopes "the international community will call a spade a spade and recognise Somaliland". His country is a "prime piece of real estate" which was once used to police the Gulf of Aden – a job which this year's surge in piracy has shown is more critical than ever. "We are not a bunch of wackos running around," he pleads. "We are people you can work with."

3.5 million Estimated population of Somaliland, of a total 9.1 million in Somalia

1991 Year independence was declared

73 Crime-related deaths in Somaliland last year, compared with 7, 574 in the rest of Somalia, according to the Somaliland police

Thursday 28 May 2009

UAE compensates slaved and abused child jockeys

Munna Mia was just five when his family flew to the Middle East to escape the hardships of Bangladesh -- but all that awaited him was a life of danger, pain and hunger as a child camel jockey.

His father, a bricklayer, had been offered a job in the United Arab Emirates by a recruitment agent who told him he could bring his wife and three children if he paid a 4,500-dollar fee.

Grinding poverty and a lack of jobs in Bangladesh drove Mia's father to scrape together some of the money by selling the land he owned and getting loans from family and friends.

The rest he borrowed from the agent, with the promise it would be repaid with money he earned in Dubai.

But the dreams of Mia and his family were shattered when they arrived, and he and his two brothers -- all aged between three and eight -- were forced to ride in camel races for long hours under the desert sun.

"We didn't get much to eat and every morning they would weigh us. If we were even a gram over 20 kilograms we would be beaten with a stick that gave us electric shocks," Mia told AFP.

"My brothers and I were separated from our parents and lived in a hostel with other jockeys.

"For a year, they trained us by just throwing us on top of a camel and I often fell off. I still have lots of problems because of all the injuries."

Mia and his brothers were among thousands of South Asian children used as camel jockeys in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states after being brought in by traffickers or under false pretences with their families.

"The hot sand would burn my feet. We'd come back at night and we were exhausted. Every day I'd wonder if I would die," said Mia, who rode in races until he was nine.

He seldom wore a helmet and his uniform was a cotton pair of shorts and T-shirt.

The UAE this week gave Bangladeshi authorities nearly 1.5 million dollars to compensate almost 900 former child jockeys for the injuries and abuse they suffered.

Bangladesh's deputy home affairs minister, Tanjim Ahmed, whose department is in charge of distributing the funds, said each child would get between 1,000 and 10,000 dollars depending on their circumstances.

The money would pay for their medical treatment and education, he said.

"Using children as camel jockeys was despicable. It stirred the world's conscience," Ahmed said, adding that the UAE government told him that robots were now being used in place of children.

The UAE officially banned child jockeys in 1993 although abuses remained widespread until 2005.

According to the UK-based human rights group, Anti-Slavery International, around 2,000 unaccounted for child camel jockeys have not yet returned to their families from the Gulf states.

Christine Jaulmes, a spokeswoman for the charity Unicef, which has helped track down former child jockeys, including Shameem, says: "We cannot trace all of the children who have been involved in camel racing.

"Also, many children were killed during racing by falling from the camels and so on, so we don't have a record of these children."

Many children will never find their way home. They are unable to identify their families and home communities and often do not speak their native language because they were put to work at such a young age.

Shameem is actually among the lucky ones. Now thirteen, he could receive up to $10,000 in compensation, a fortune for most Bangladeshis, 40 per cent of whom live on less than two dollars a day.

For his family, who are still struggling, this money is an answer to their prayers - finally they can see a path out of poverty.

Tanjim Ahmad, the Bangladeshi state minister who is managing the fund at the home affairs ministry, says he hopes the UAE compensation initiative "will encourage other countries to take the necessary steps to prevent child labour and to invest in anti-trafficking operations".

"We do appreciate the efforts [of] the UAE, once they identified the problem ... we intend to use those funds to rehabilitate those children affected by this horrible episode," he says.

For those children who are under 18 years of age, the government plans to put the money into trust funds that would pay the former jockeys interest until they come of age and can access the money.

In addition, funds will be made available from these accounts for families to pay school fees – an important part of rehabilitation and reintegration.

But, perhaps surprisingly, Shameen's family still dream of a better life back in the UAE.

Abul, now a carpenter, continues his battle against poverty and, although their experience in the UAE was heart-wrenching, he knows he can earn more money if they moved there again.

Perhaps they will eventually use their new found wealth to try anew. If they ever do return, one thing is for certain, Shameem and his brothers intend to stay as far away as possible from the camel track.

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Are we allowed to Abuse Servants?

Every year, millions of women leave their own families in Africa and Asia to look after other people's in the west. But many domestic workers find themselves abused, beaten, raped, even murdered.

The slum mothers of Manila Metro are permanently elsewhere, maids and nannies to the world, with about one in seven Filipino workers abroad at any given time. It's a worldwide phenomenon. About 300m economic migrants from India, sub-Saharan Africa, South and Central America and southeast Asia are scattered across the globe, supporting a population back home that is closer to a billion. Were these international foreign workers to constitute a state, a migration nation if you like, it would rank as the world's third largest. They are an economic powerhouse. Migrants from the developing world sent home an estimated $300bn last year.

Consider the figure. It's nearly three times the world's foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums, or "remittances" as they are known, bring Morocco more money than tourism, Sri Lanka more money than tea and, in the Philippines, this foreign legion of workers is so essential to the government that the economy would collapse without them. More than half the world's migrants are women, many caring for children abroad while leaving their own at home.

More than any other country, though, the Philippines has become synonymous with migrant labour. In Greece, for example, the modern Greek word for a maid is a "Filipineza". The most recent figures show that there are 1.2m Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) registered in Saudi Arabia, closely followed by Japan, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates and Taiwan. And with workers in at least 170 other countries, OFWs are everywhere, including the high seas. About a quarter of the world's seafarers come from the Philippines. But behind the hard-earned dollars sent home, there are many tales of abject exploitation and sorrow, sexual abuse, violence and even murder.

A tattered billboard welcomes drivers on the dusty highway that winds its way towards the down-at-heel town of Alaminos, 170km north of Manila: "May God Praise Our Seafarers and Overseas Foreign Workers". Underneath the sign is the sponsor of the tribute, the town's largest shopping mall, which has sprung up largely on the back of OFW remittances. Just short of her 22nd birthday, Jennifer Perez would have passed the same sign as she left her village home in the northern Luzon province of the Philippines in the summer of 2006.

Like most migrant domestic workers heading for the Middle East, she packed a roll-on bag, stuffed with loose clothing, befitting Jordan, the Muslim country that would become her new home. Fatefully, she also packed her aunt's mobile phone to allow her to text her parents. Clutched in her left hand was the rosary her mother had given her before departure. She was proud of the carefully laminated documents in her luggage: certificates for 12 hours of on-the-job-training in elderly care, first aid, CPR and hospitality services, and the driver's licence she would never get to use.

A college graduate with a degree in physical education and dance, Jennifer had signed up to work for two years in the Jordanian city of Irbid, a dusty, nondescript settlement an hour north of Amman. A few days later, barely 24 hours after arriving in Jordan, Jennifer fell asleep in her small room in her employers' house. She was woken by her female employer (a dentist whose husband was a member of the prominent Obeidat tribe), who stormed into the room with the mobile phone that had been hidden in Jennifer's luggage, and threatened to confiscate it. Like most foreign domestics, Jennifer was banned from having contact with the outside world.

A fight broke out between the two women and, moments later, Jennifer fell four storeys from the kitchen veranda, landing squarely on her back. As the young woman lay in a coma in a Jordanian hospital, her employer claimed it was a suicide attempt. Jennifer's family say their daughter, like hundreds of Filipina workers in the Middle East over the past two decades, was simply thrown off the balcony. The woman was arrested and charged with assault as Jennifer, by now a quadriplegic, fought a losing battle to stay alive. Her employer was released after posting an undisclosed bail.

Speaking two years later from Alaminos, Jennifer's father, Herminiio, himself a former OFW in Saudi Arabia, claims his daughter's death - and those of hundreds of domestic workers abroad - is a tragedy of globalisation.

"It is easier for these girls to go abroad than ever, with agents now paying their airfares and then taking half their salaries," Herminiio says. "My daughter was a slave. She was treated like an animal, a nothing. Every day we read in the newspapers about families who have gone through similar hell: young girls raped, abused, beaten, murdered. A transaction seems to take place when a Filipina domestic helper goes abroad. When she steps over the threshold of her employers' home she gives up her human rights and her freedom. My message to these girls is the money is not important. Poverty is terrible, but it allows its own freedoms from violence and abuse."

What made his daughter's story harder to take was the fact that it took so long for her to die - nine months in total. "We had to fight to get her home," says Herminiio. "We were crippled with medical expenses and had to hold a television appeal to raise funds for her flight. She came home a quadriplegic and died of a broken heart, despite being surrounded by the people she loves and who loved her. Every time a domestic helper returns to the Philippines dead, why is she always ruled to have killed herself? Why are so many of our girls killing themselves, jumping out of windows, off roofs and balconies; are they all insane?"

Migrants have been leaving the Philippines in search of work for decades. The key difference now, however, is where they migrate to. Mired in red tape and post-9/11 paranoia, the US is no longer an attainable promised land. That role has been taken on by the Middle East. The big Arab oil states have small populations but, until recently, grand development ambitions. Only through foreign labour can their lofty aims be achieved, which is why more than 14m migrants, many of them Filipino, are active in the Arabian peninsula alone.

The winter rain is whipping off the Mediterranean sea and pounding the stained glass windows of the 17th-century crypt in the heart of Old Beirut. Inside, the narrow pews are packed with browbeaten women: a league of nations in their Sunday best - maids from India, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Ethiopia and the Philippines. Below, in the catacombs, there is only silence. There, the women who have chosen not to be part of the morning congregation sit and contemplate their lives. In the darkness of the church, they seek sanctuary from their lives as slaves. In the past two years alone, more than 100 maids have died in Beirut in sinister circumstances, victims of abuse by cruel masters and mistresses. Countless more have been beaten, raped and even tortured. The walls of the basement are plastered with "Missing" posters of maids who have fled abusive owners, their whereabouts now unknown.

One unnamed Ethiopian maid, in a government hospital after "falling" from a 12th-floor balcony, says her Lebanese employer pushed her off. The police, as is normally the case, dispute her claim and are hoping to deport her as soon as possible. The 25-year-old's testimony, which has been made public, is chilling: "Madam asked me to hang the clothes. Then she came and pushed me from behind." Too frightened to let her name be published, she said her employer had frequently threatened and abused her. "Madam would tell me, 'I will spill hot oil on you.' She would take a knife and threaten to kill me. She would beat me with shoes, pull my hair to the floor."

Her testimony, along with thousands of others', has been gathered by Human Rights Watch (HRW). The group claims that, every week, one of an estimated 200,000 migrant domestic workers in Lebanon dies. Normally it is recorded as "suicide" or falling while trying to escape their employer. Another major cause of death is untreated illness - hospitals cost money and maids aren't seen as worth the expense. HRW claims that maids in Lebanon, as elsewhere in the Middle East, are increasingly vulnerable to beatings, rape and murder - and there are no laws to protect them from abusive employers.

Indrani Ekanayaka is a 27-year-old Sri Lankan who has lived for the past year in the basement of a Beirut shelter run by the Christian charity group Caritas, after fleeing an abusive employer. She says there are thousands of women like her still suffering in silence. "I was paid for the first year and a half, but then I wasn't paid for the next eight years. When I asked for money, Madam would swear at me and break glasses against the wall. I was only given some bread and rice to eat. Fruit was forbidden. I was not allowed to speak to my parents. They thought I had died," she says, the tears welling up. "I managed to escape. I got a copy of the key they used to lock my door at night and I crept out. I'm certain if they'd caught me they'd have killed me. I filed a police report, but they only told me I would be deported. Now, they have a new maid, a Filipina. They are abusing someone else. I came to Beirut from Lebanon because I had the chance to help build a home for my parents and sisters, but my life is a nightmare."

Indrani, who has four sisters at home and a family torn apart by the country's civil war, believes she has let her family down. "My family expected great things of me, that I would have enough money for a house and a good life, but all I have had is torture and misery and I am left with nothing to show for it. I am penniless. I think I will go back next year and then I will probably have no option but to try another country. I know there is no work for me at home and that's why there are so many young Sri Lankan women all over the world, suffering like me, to send money home."

The majority of abused domestic workers in Beirut, however, are Filipina. One is Mila, 27. "I left Manila for Beirut at 22," she says, "because it was an easy choice to make. Stay and watch my family starve or leave and help to feed and clothe them. My parents were getting elderly and it was me and my sister's jobs to make sure they were secure. I approached an agent in Manila who told me a job in Beirut as a domestic maid, a cleaner, a cook and a babysitter rolled into one would make 10 times as much as I could make in Manila. I accepted on the spot and my parents spent their last few pesos for admission to the airport lounge from where I left. And then I suppose they went home to cry and wait for the money. I wasn't paid for a year and my sister was also struggling abroad, so they had to rely on loan sharks."

When Mila arrived in Beirut she was imprisoned in the basement of a home with only iron bars for a window. "It was damp and it felt like a torture chamber. At times my madam, who told me she was my 'owner', made me do everything. I had to cut her toenails, scrub her feet, wash her clothes, cook and clean. I had to look after her nephews, light her cigarettes. My life was a living hell. Her partner would try and molest me and threatened to tell the mistress I was a prostitute if I didn't comply. I only managed to escape in the end because I got a letter out to a lawyer who turned up at the door and then the mistress simply threw me out on the street. I'm still fighting to get my salary from her. She owes me a year and a half's wages, about $5,000."

Nigerian Agnus Iyo Emeka, 27, is another maid at the Beirut refuge. She came to Lebanon to be a domestic worker, suffered beatings and torture at the hands of her employer and was sexually assaulted by her employer's husband. "Many women who come to the centre talk about how they are treated as sex objects by the Arab men," she says. "It starts off with simple groping, but in most cases ends up in full rape. I was assaulted by my owner's husband. I also had a friend who was raped; she lived in the same apartment block and the man of the house raped her every day for months, until she jumped from a third-floor window and broke her pelvis. So many young women have died in Beirut. I have personally known two who have died - I knew them from church. Praying one day and dead the next."

Another victim of abuse in the Beirut refuge is Ayalnesh Alameraw, a 26-year-old from Ethiopia. "I came from Addis Ababa five years ago. An agent approached my parents and offered to take three of their daughters to 'Europe', but they only took me. My sisters were spared. I thought I was going to London. I had never heard of Beirut until I boarded the plane." Ayalnesh was taken to the agency offices and given her uniform, a pink domestic outfit, but no training. "My first madam was the cruellest woman I have ever met," she says. "I was beaten for staining clothes and fined six months' wages for 'damage'. I was beaten with shoes, belts and even a thin iron bar. I tried to escape five times and each time I was taken back to her by the police. They always caught me and ordered me to return or I would be put in prison. They never listened to any of my stories. They didn't waste a single drop of ink on me until I jumped from a fourth-floor window. Looking over a balcony and being so desperate to escape that you will risk your life is impossible to explain to someone who has never been imprisoned. You may think being imprisoned in a tiny apartment isn't really a prison, but in a city where you have no voice and no rights and nobody hears your screams or cries for help you are in a hell."

When Ayalnesh recovered from her fall she was sent to a detention centre to await deportation. "My madam filed a complaint with the agency and accused me of stealing. I was inside the centre during the 2006 bombing campaign by the Israelis and we thought we would be buried alive in the rubble." The sick went untreated, and almost everyone, eventually, in the stifling summer heat, became ill. "As the war continued we became a hindrance and six of us were taken to Caritas, who still look after me now. I can't go back to Addis. I have a family of seven brothers and sisters and my parents are simple cattle raisers. I have more chance of being a success abroad." Ayalnesh, like many foreign workers, believes her best chance of being treated fairly is now in London, a growing market for domestic workers.

A ragged flock of starlings flies across the roof of the Kalayaan drop-in centre in Holland Park, west London. It's a hard building to find. The narrow entrance blends into the concrete facade rendering it almost as invisible as the women the unit was created for. Only thin writing scratched on the buzzer identifies your location. In the adjacent courtyard, wealthy Londoners sit in the garden of a wine bar. Laughter fills the air. Above them, in a cramped office, domestic workers sit crouched over plates of noodles speaking to each other frantically in broken English.

"The foreign girl next door to you in London never rests," says Gita, a maid from northern India. "She works day and night and is never allowed to leave the apartment. She sleeps in the kitchen with the dog. She does the dirty work. She wipes the bottoms of the young and the old, she gives baths, she washes clothes. She barely eats. That is my story, this is my life even now." And according to Gita, this is the story all over London. "It is happening next door to many of you," she says, "but you just don't realise it. The girl escapes, but her owner finds her in the street and takes her back. I was held prisoner for two years and I wasn't paid a penny for my last year's work. This is the dream your country has to offer."

Around Gita, the other women softly clap their hands in timid solidarity. Few have the confidence to raise their own voices. Britain, and London in particular, is one of the fastest growing markets in the world for recruiting foreign domestic workers. Many of these workers are migrants, serving "cash-rich, time-poor" British families as cleaners, nannies and cooks. Behind closed doors many are exploited and abused. Kalayaan, a campaigning group for migrant domestics, recently conducted a survey which showed that 86% of migrant maids work more than 16 hours a day, 71% have been deprived of food, 32% have had their passports withheld by their employers and 23% have been physically abused. Many of the women who visit the Kalayaan shelter sleep in hallways or in converted cupboards in small London apartments.

Gita, who now works for a new family, also claims, like many of the domestic staff, to have been sexually abused. "I worked for an Indian family in Hampstead. There were bars on the basement window where I slept. At first I only had a duvet cover to sleep on and then later a mattress on the floor. I was up at 5am to prepare roti for the madam and I worked until midnight each night. Sometimes I wasn't given any food and was pushed around by their eldest daughter. Although I shopped for the children's food, the wife never asked me to eat with them. I felt she would notice if I ate their food, so I borrowed money from a neighbour's maid to buy noodles and ate when I could."

The family told Gita they were sending her money home, but they never did. "The husband would come home and make advances on me. After a few months he started raping me. This went on for five months. Many of the maids in the UK are sexually abused, but are too frightened to report it for fear of deportation. Eventually I broke down in tears in front of his wife, but she didn't believe me, and later she was so furious she came at me with a hot iron. I realised she was going to burn my face. I put my arm up when she charged at me and she burnt that instead. Later that night she threw me on the street at 3am and I turned to Kalayaan." Proving what happened to Gita is impossible, she says.The family left Britain earlier this year.

Another London-based worker, Divia, reveals how she was forced to sleep on the stone floor of her madam's kitchen in the West End. She was fed so little her eyesight started to fail and she began to show symptoms of severe malnutrition. Her diet was entirely based on leftovers from the family table. "I was so thin I would faint with hunger. But I have heard stories worse than mine in Kalayaan. When I hear of young girls who work for Arabs in London swallowing acid it makes me depressed. I know that could have been me.

"Sometimes I feel thankful that I had the strength not to try and take me own life. The women I met here are so filled with sadness, they are constantly on the verge of tears at the abuse they receive behind closed doors, but they have no voice and are too terrified of the authorities to trust them. They have seen other women deported for causing a fuss."

According to Kalayaan, stories like Divia's are not uncommon. In the past few weeks a domestic worker in Knightsbridge, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, attempted suicide after years of abuse by her employer. The woman, a Filipina, swallowed acid and is now permanently disabled. Scotland Yard is investigating the case.

Kalayaan spokeswoman Jenny Moss believes the situation is not improving. "There is a saying here which is used by the Filipina workers: 'Kung walang hirap, walang ginhawa', which means 'Without suffering, there can be no ease,'" she says. "Many of these women enter their working relationships here in Britain quite simply expecting to be treated badly. At Kalayaan we register about 350 new domestic workers each year, the majority of whom have been exploited or abused in the UK. Domestic workers are dependent on one employer for their work, their immigration status and their accommodation, and this makes them extremely vulnerable. They often feel they have little choice but to accept their working conditions - no matter how abusive."

It is late in downtown Manila. A young prostitute, no older than 14, stands in a yellow mini-skirt in front of a paunchy Welshman who has, fingers clicking, called her out from a group of around 30 skinny girls. As he heaves himself off a tiny bar stool he flicks up her skirt at the front to inspect her and with a wave of his hand sends her back to the goldfish bowl they stand in. Outside on Burgos Street, one of the most notorious red-light strips in Asia, the dark skies finally open up, breaking the intolerable humidity. Within moments the hot rain runs down the heavily made-up faces of the lowly street girls, the youngest of all the prostitutes, pathetic and ghoulish in their thin clothes and tottering high heels. Sheltering under the awning of a snack bar, Cristiana puts her hands out for a cigarette and shivers.

"The rain is bad for business," says the 15-year-old. As she speaks, she absentmindedly scrawls her number in the menu of the café she is taking shelter in. The menu she is holding is scribbled over with messages: "Hi! Hello! My name is Maria." "I'm Tina. Call for your heart's desire." Inside the café western men bounce tiny Filipina girls on their thighs like babies, the youngsters' infantile appearances exaggerated by their white ankle socks. The younger they look the more money they will make.

"I want to go to Europe, to work abroad as a massage therapist or a nurse. I would be happier there," says Cristiana. "I am working here to pay my way through my entrance exams to become a nurse. That is the dream we all share. To leave these islands for a better life."


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) quoted God as saying: "O My servants, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another." - Hadith Qudsi 17

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Fear the cry of the oppressed, for there is no barrier between it and God." - Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 3, Number 1

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Help the oppressed (sorrowful) and guide those who have lost their way. - Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 2244

Remember, Kindness leads to Paradise:

Narrated Aisha (a wife of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him): "A poor woman came to me along with her daughters. I gave her three dates. She gave a date to each of them and then she took up one date and brought that to her mouth. . .but her daughters expressed desire to eat it. She then divided the date that she intended to eat between them. This (kind) treatment impressed me and I mentioned what she did to (the Prophet Muhammad) He then said: 'Verily God has assured Paradise for her because of (this act of kindness).'"

A man once came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and asked what act of penitence he could perform for a sin he had committed. The Prophet asked the man if he had a mother. When the man replied that his mother had died, the Prophet asked if he had a maternal aunt. When the man replied that he had, the Prophet said: "Then be kind to her." - Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1274

Tuesday 26 May 2009

MI5 to Blackmail Muslims into Submission

Five Muslim community workers have accused MI5 of waging a campaign of blackmail and harassment in an attempt to recruit them as informants.

The men claim they were given a choice of working for the Security Service or face detention and harassment in the UK and overseas.

They have made official complaints to the police, to the body which oversees the work of the Security Service and to their local MP Frank Dobson. Now they have decided to speak publicly about their experiences in the hope that publicity will stop similar tactics being used in the future.

Intelligence gathered by informers is crucial to stopping further terror outrages, but the men's allegations raise concerns about the coercion of young Muslim men by the Security Service and the damage this does to the gathering of information in the future.

Three of the men say they were detained at foreign airports on the orders of MI5 after leaving Britain on family holidays last year.

After they were sent back to the UK, they were interviewed by MI5 officers who, they say, falsely accused them of links to Islamic extremism. On each occasion the agents said they would lift the travel restrictions and threat of detention in return for their co-operation. When the men refused some of them received what they say were intimidating phone calls and threats.

Two other Muslim men say they were approached by MI5 at their homes after police officers posed as postmen. Each of the five men, aged between 19 and 25, was warned that if he did not help the security services he would be considered a terror suspect. A sixth man was held by MI5 for three hours after returning from his honeymoon in Saudi Arabia. He too claims he was threatened with travel restrictions if he tried to leave the UK.

An agent who gave her name as Katherine is alleged to have made direct threats to Adydarus Elmi, a 25-year-old cinema worker from north London. In one telephone call she rang him at 7am to congratulate him on the birth of his baby girl. His wife was still seven months' pregnant and the couple had expressly told the hospital that they did not want to know the sex of their child.

Mr Elmi further alleges: "Katherine tried to threaten me by saying, and it still runs through my mind now: 'Remember, this won't be the last time we ever meet.' And then during our last conversation she explained: 'If you do not want anything to happen to your family you will co-operate.'"

Madhi Hashi, a 19-year-old care worker from Camden, claims he was held for 16 hours in a cell in Djibouti airport on the orders of MI5. He alleges that when he was returned to the UK on 9 April this year he was met by an MI5 agent who told him his terror suspect status would remain until he agreed to work for the Security Service. He alleges that he was to be given the job of informing on his friends by encouraging them to talk about jihad.

Mohamed Nur, 25, a community youth worker from north London, claims he was threatened by the Security Service after an agent gained access to his home accompanied by a police officer posing as a postman.

"The MI5 agent said, 'Mohamed if you do not work for us we will tell any foreign country you try to travel to that you are a suspected terrorist.'"

Mohamed Aden, 25, a community youth worker from Camden, was also approached by someone disguised as a postman in August last year. He alleges an agent told him: "We're going to make your travelling harder for you if you don't co-operate."

None of the six men, who work with disadvantaged youths at the Kentish Town Community Organisation (KTCO), has ever been arrested for terrorism or a terrorism-related offence.

They have repeatedly complained about their treatment to the police and to the Investigatory Powers Tribunal, which oversees the work of the Security Services.

In a letter to Lord Justice Mummery, who heads the tribunal, Sharhabeel Lone, the chairman of the KTCO, said: "The only thing these young people have in common is that they studied Arabic abroad and are of Somali origin. They are not involved in any terrorist activity whatsoever, nor have they ever been, and the security services are well aware of this."

Mr Sharhabeel added: "These incidents smack of racism, Islamophobia and all that undermines social cohesion. Threatening British citizens, harassing them in their own country, alienating young people who have committed no crime other than practising a particular faith and being a different colour is a recipe for disaster.

The Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, was warned nine months ago about MI5's alleged campaign of blackmail and intimidation against a group of young Muslim men, The Independent has learnt. Veteran Labour MP Frank Dobson wrote to Ms Smith in September about concerns raised by a north London community leader who claimed six youth workers had endured an 18-month campaign of threats and coercion in an attempt to recruit them as informants on their friends and neighbours.

Mr Dobson was contacted by Sharhabeel Lone, chairman of the Kentish Town Community Centre, on 29 August last year, who told the former cabinet minister of the alleged harassment and urged him to intervene. The MP for Holborn and St Pancras then wrote to Mr Lone on 3 September saying he had raised the men's complaints with the Home Secretary. But Ms Smith is understood to have written back, declining to intervene.

Hijab and Turbans still a problem in USA

A Sikh civil rights and advocacy group is asking the Pentagon to drop its requirement that Sikh men doff their turbans and cut their beards and hair in order to serve in the military.

The Sikh Coalition is taking on the cause of two commissioned officers who are now in their last year of medical and dental school and slated to enter the Army's Officers' Leadership Basic Course in July.

Capt. Kamaljeet S. Kalsi and 2nd Lt. Tejdeep S. Rattan, the organization says, were told by recruiters they would be able to serve with their articles of faith -- the turban and uncut hair requirements of male Sikhs. Since the men accepted their commissions, the group says, they have continued to maintain their articles of faith throughout their schooling.

Army spokesman Lt. Col. Christopher C. Garver told today that he could not comment on claims by the officers that recruiters told them they could serve wearing turbans and beards. He said that is something that would come up among the officers and their chain of command once they move from Reserve status to active duty.

The most recent correspondence to Gates is a "sign-on" letter that already has garnered the support of dozens of other organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, the Military Law Task Force of the National Lawyers Guild, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to the Sikh Coalition's Web site,

Its surprising that people in the USA still go through these problems. Hadia Mubarak in Newsweek writes:

Last month, as I was watching the news coverage of President Obama's visit to Turkey, I thought back to an awkward experience I had as an undergraduate student applying for a job at my university. When I handed the receptionist at the student union my Social Security card, a required form of identification, she told me she needed my passport as well.

Surprised, I questioned the need for it. She brought over her supervisor, who glanced at my hijab—a headscarf worn by many Muslim women—and asked, "Aren't you an international student?" "No," I said. "I'm an American citizen. I was born in New Jersey." Her mouth dropped open and she stammered, "Oh, you're not a foreigner?"

It was not a new experience for me, as a Muslim growing up in this country. Before people learned my name, saw me run at a track meet or heard me debate an argument, they assumed they knew who I am.

That's why Obama's decision to visit a Muslim country within the first 100 days of his presidency was such a significant moment for me. Hearing his unwavering, unapologetic message to the Turkish Parliament filled me with pride: yes, he told the world, Muslim Americans exist, and our existence has enriched—not impoverished—American culture. His words mirrored what I have long sought to convey to other Americans: that you can be both a devout Muslim and a patriotic American.

I can only hope my fellow citizens get the message. When many Americans see Muslims like me, they tend to define us as something non-American, which forces us to choose between our religion and nationality. As long as Islam is equated with a foreign culture, as opposed to a faith like any other practiced here, then our mosques and our schools and our headscarves will continue to be perceived as a rejection of "American culture." This idea of Muslims as "other" surfaces every time someone like my friend Kathy, a veil-wearing Muslim American, is told to "go back home" when she and her daughter eat at Subway, or when a man plows his truck into a Tallahassee, Fla., mosque to remind Muslims they're not safe in this country.

Of course, Obama is just one man, and one man can't erase years of hard-wired prejudice. But just as African-Americans never thought a black man would be elected president, just as Jews once struggled with the same paradoxes of assimilation as I have, Muslim Americans must realize that acceptance will require patience, optimism and, yes, even a little effort on our part.

I have learned to go out of my way to confront the stereotypes brought to the surface by my headscarf. At times, that has meant speaking out in public forums. At other times, it has meant striking up a conversation with anyone who passes by as I walk my baby through our neighborhood. I have learned through personal experience that interaction and kindness can go a long way toward knocking down barriers.

Obama's gestures make me feel empowered to do more. His words and deeds have given me cause to believe that someday soon, people will look at me and, instead of seeing a woman with a headscarf, they'll see another American, just like them.

Monday 25 May 2009

The best Jihad

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “The best (jihad) in the path of God is (to speak) a word of justice to an oppressive ruler.”

Sunan of Abu-Dawood, Hadith 2040

Cola Warning

Since our Muslim Brothers and Sisters worldwide cant drink Alcohol, they tend to think they have to have a substitute in the form of a Cola. You will see Cola bottles on every dinner table in the Middle East and South Asia. Now experts have issued a warning on Cola and I hope some Muslim brothers and sisters take heed:

The number of cola-lovers suffering health issues is on the rise, they said, adding there had been a food industry push towards an “increase in portion sizes”.

As well as tooth decay, diabetes and “softening” of the bones, doctors have seen patients suffering from hypokalaemia — where potassium levels in the blood drop too low.

This can increase the risk of muscle problems and heart rhythm abnormalities, which could prove fatal in some cases.

“We are consuming more soft drinks than ever before and a number of health issues have already been identified including tooth problems, bone demineralisation and the development of metabolic syndrome and diabetes,” said Dr Moses Elisaf from the University of Ioannina in Greece, who led an academic review of the issue.

“Evidence is increasing to suggest that excessive cola consumption can also lead to hypokalaemia, in which the blood potassium levels fall, causing an adverse effect on vital muscle functions.”

His study, published in the International Journal of Clinical Practice, detailed cases where patients drank two or more litres of cola a day.

In one case a 21-year-old pregnant woman was admitted to the hospital suffering tiredness, loss of appetite and repeated vomiting.

The patient had consumed more than three litres of cola per day for the previous six years and was found to be suffering from severe hypokalaemia and a heart blockage.

Once she was taken off cola and given potassium replacement substances she made a full recovery.

Other case studies of people drinking between two and nine litres of cola a day found they suffered muscle problems ranging from “mild weakness to profound paralysis”.

Dr Elisaf said that caffeine intoxication is thought to play the most important role in the cases.

Sunday 24 May 2009

Greek Muslims punished for asking justice

As protests continued unabated over the desecration of the Noble Qur'an by a Greek policeman, Muslim immigrants are calling for bringing the officer to justice for insulting the Muslim holy book.

"We want to live here in peace," an Egyptian immigrant, who identified himself as Said told Reuters.

"We don't want trouble but we want the policeman to be punished."

Hundreds of Muslim immigrants took to the streets of the capital Athens for the second consecutive day to protest the destruction of the Qur'an by a policeman.

Chanting "Allah is great", the protestors carried banners reading "Hands off immigrants" and holding up copies of the Noble Qur'an.

Clashes erupted between the angry protestors and police, injuring seven immigrants and seven policemen. Police said 46 protesters were arrested.

The protestors were outraged by reports that during police checks at a Syrian-owned coffee shop on Wednesday, an officer took a customer's Qur'an, tore it up, threw it on the floor and stomped on it.

"Immigrants are outraged," Vasso Akrivou, a member of the group Expel Racism, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"The incident on Wednesday was the straw that broke the camel's back."

Clashes have erupted between police and predominantly Muslim protesters in Athens, the Greek capital.

About 1,000 protesters took to the streets on Friday following reports that a police officer tore up a Quran, the Muslim holy book, belonging to an Iraqi immigrant while checking his identity papers.

Greek riot police fired tear gas after scores of the protesters began pelting officers with sticks and stones outside parliament.

"They started throwing rocks and sticks at police guarding parliament and the officers responded with tear gas and percussion bombs," a police official said.

The protest was the second since the alleged incident.

Police said unknown assailants smashed the shop's windows and poured gasoline inside before igniting it.

The attack came a day after clashes between more than 1,000 Muslim protesters and Greek police in central Athens, after the police allegedly desecrated a copy of the Koran.

The Greek police has opened an investigation into the allegations.

Police also used tear gas to disperse protesters who were throwing dustbins and stones on Thursday while a car was damaged during the clashes.

Greece is faced with a daily influx of immigrants from Asia via Turkey, many of whom are trying to reach Western Europe. Rights groups have complained of cases of police brutality against immigrants.

Interior ministry figures for 2008 show that more than 146,000 illegal immigrants were arrested in Greece, of whom 57,000 had arrived from Turkey.

The total number of illegal immigrants living in Greece is estimated to be 250,000, most of them Albanian nationals.

Many Muslims in Athens use abandoned factories and converted coffee shops as makeshift prayer houses. Some Muslim groups have complained of police brutality and poor treatment by officials in the past.

Athens is the only European capital which does not have a proper mosque or cemetery to serve its Muslim population. There are more than 300,000 Muslims living in Athens, mainly from various parts of northern Africa and Pakistan.

At present, the only operating mosques in Greece are in the north-eastern region of Thrace, home to some 100,000 Muslims.

Saturday 23 May 2009

Central Asia's fruit and nut forests dying

Several of the world's fruit and nut trees - wild ancestors of the fruits we eat today - are seriously threatened with extinction, according to a new "red list" released by tree experts from Fauna & Flora International. Many of these species occur in the unique fruit and nut forests of central Asia - an estimated 90% of which have been destroyed in the past 50 years

The "red list" of trees of central Asia identifies 44 tree species in Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan as globally threatened with extinction

According to tree experts from Fauna & Flora International, around 90% of the fruit and nut forests of central Asia have been destroyed over the past 50 years alone

More pictures here.

Thursday 21 May 2009

Eriteria: A giant prison

Eritrea is a small country whose government inflicts extraordinary horror on its people. A report yesterday from Human Rights Watch, describing this 21st-century African form of fascism, deserves quoting at length:

"There is no freedom of speech, no freedom of movement, no freedom of worship, and much of the adult male and female population is conscripted into indefinite national service where they receive a token wage. Dissent is not tolerated. Any criticism or questioning of government policy is ruthlessly punished. Detention, torture and forced labour await anyone who disagrees with the government, anyone who attempts to avoid military service or flee the country without permission, and anyone found practising or suspected of practising faiths the government does not sanction."

This is a tragedy not just for the 4 million people who live in Eritrea (and the many who have fled, because despite its size it is a leading source of refugees) but for everyone who championed the Eritrean cause during its great struggle for freedom. For 30 years Eritreans fought their Ethiopian oppressors - first Haile Selassie and then Mengistu's brutal Communism - at the cost of tens of thousands of lives. Their cause was described movingly by Thomas Keneally in his book, Towards Asmara. When independence came, in 1993, there seemed to be every prospect of success under a democratic constitution and a charismatic president, Isaias Afewerki.

Instead he has led his country into a brutal state of armed readiness, gripped by the possibility of war with Ethiopia. As yesterday's report shows, the regime exploits this border dispute to sustain its terror. It could be settled: a UN commission has proposed a solution. But all dissent in Eritrea has been silenced. Members of the so-called G-15 group inside the ruling party, who called for democratic bodies to return, vanished into the country's network of secret prisons in 2001. Many detainees are kept in the desert, some underground, or in shipping containers. Torture is ubiquitous. Border guards have orders to shoot to kill.

Can the world do anything to end Eritrea's misery? The country has bad relations with all its neighbours, apart from Sudan; like North Korea or Burma, it has turned from the world. International agencies have mostly been expelled. It does not listen to protest. But it depends on money extracted from exiles, a 2% tax demanded from the diaspora, with the threat of collective punishment for families whose members do not pay. In 2003, the report says, the Eritrean embassy in London raised $6.2m. Choking off this supply might force some improvement.

Hundreds of Eritrean refugees forcibly repatriated from countries like Libya, Egypt and Malta face arrest and torture upon their return, says the group.

Religious persecution and forced labour are also rife in Eritrea, says HRW.

HRW says there is no independent civil society and all independent media outlets have been shut down.

People under the age of 50 are rarely granted visas to leave the country and those who try to do so without documentation face imprisonment and torture or being shot at the border, says the group.

Prisoners are often held in underground cells or in shipping containers with dangerously high temperatures, according to the report.

Meanwhile, Christians are being rounded up and tortured on a regular basis, says the group.

The BBC's Pascale Harter spoke to Salamay, a 16-year-old Eritrean refugee in Italy.

She said she fled when police began rounding up youths in her village for national service.

In Sudan, she said a family took her hostage and forced her to work without pay.

In Libya, she was taken to a prison where inmates faced rape every night by the guards.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

Dont ask too many questions about religion

Narrated Al-Mughira bin Shu'ba (Radi Allah Anhu): The Prophet (sal-allahu- alleihi-wasallam ) said:

"Allah has forbidden for you:
(1) to be undutiful to your mothers,
(2) to bury your daughters alive,
(3) to not to pay the rights of the others (e.g. charity, etc.) and
(4) to beg of men (begging).

And Allah has hated for you
(1) vain, useless talk, or that you talk too much about others,
(2) to ask too many questions, (in disputed religious matters) and
(3) to waste the wealth (by extravagance) ."

[Sahih Bukhari: Volume 3, Book 41, Number 591]

Muslim also records the above tradition and gives another version with a different isnad:

It is reported from Abu Hurayrah that he heard God’s Messenger as saying: Avoid what I forbid you to do and do what I command you to do to the best of your capacity. Surely the people before you went to their doom because they had put too many questions to their prophets and then disagreed about them. (Muslim; this hadith has been narrated on the authority of Ibn Shihab with the same chain of transmitters.)

Muslim gives a similar hadith, in which the words of the Prophet are connected with a specific question:

It is reported from Abu Hurayrah: God’s Messenger gave us a sermon, saying, “O people! Hajj has been made obligatory for you, so perform it.” A man asked: “Every year, O Messenger of God.” He kept silent until the man asked him three times. He then said: “Had I said ‘yes’, it would have become obligatory for you and you would not have been do it.” He then added: “Leave me with what I leave you. Surely the people before you went to their doom because they had put too many questions to their prophets and then disagreed about them. So when I command you something, do it to the best of your ability and when I forbid you something, abstain from it.”

The Holy Qur'an 5:101 states: "Believers, ask not questions about things which if made plain to you may cause you trouble when the Qur'an is revealed. Some people before you asked questions, and on that account lost their faith."

Maulana Maududi, in his commentary, The Meaning of the Qur'an, explains: "The Prophet forbade people to ask questions or to pry into such things."

Sunday 17 May 2009

Beautiful Somalia

Some of the rarest and most beautiful and exotic succulents in the world come from Somalia. And two of the absolute rarest plants are found around these two Somali towns and bear their names. The first is Pseudolithos eylensis and the second is Pseudolithos harardheranus. Its name coming from the Greek pseudo, meaning “false,” and lithos, meaning “stone,” for the appearance of the stems, pseudolithos constitute some of the most succulent species among the Stapeliads, with the tessellation of the stem’s surface being a characteristic hallmark of the genus. These plants are also among the most prized of all succulents by collectors worldwide.

Somalia is Africa’s easternmost country. Its terrain consists mainly of “Plateau” plateaus, “Plain” plains and highlands. In the far north, the rugged east-west ranges of the Karkaar Mountains lie at varying distances from the Gulf of Aden coast. The weather is hot throughout the year, except at the higher elevations in the north. Rainfall is sparse, and most of Somalia has a semi-arid to arid environment suitable only for the nomadic pastoralism practiced by well over half the population. Only in limited areas of moderate rainfall in the northwest, and particularly in the southwest, where the country’s two perennial rivers are found, is agriculture practiced to any extent.

In her compilation called Cactus and Succulent Plants, Sara Oldfield discusses Somalia’s flora: “Somalia has about 3,000 flowering plant species of which about 500 are endemic. Highly specialized vegetation types within the country support many endemic xerophytic plant species, suggesting that arid climate conditions have remained unchanged for long periods of time…The northeast of Somalia is particularly rich in succulent plant diversity and is considered to be an internationally important center of plant diversity. Specialized limestone habitats, with outcrops of pure gypsum, harbor many endemic species. Some of these species have been known only from single collections by early naturalist explorers, and many others have only been discovered in the past 15 years.”

Examples of some of these endemic succulent species, found nowhere else in the world, include Pseudolithos cubiformis, Euphorbia columnaris, Euphorbia turbiniformis, Euphorbia sepulta, Pseudolithos caput-viperae, Pseudolithos migiurtinus and Euphorbia phillipsiae. As you can see from the photos, some of these succulents have specialist adaptations to the arid and sometimes inhospitable environment in certain parts of Somalia, notably the various Pseudolithos species.

Many of these plants remain among the very rarest of all succulents and are coveted by collectors worldwide. In part two of “Somalia’s untold beauty,” I will describe more of the fascinating succulents endemic to this country, their state in the wild, conservation efforts being undertaken to insure their future survival, and some tips on cultivating these wonders of Nature.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Important lesson from story of Prophet Yusuf

The other day I learnt an important lesson from Surah Yusuf. Chapter 12, Surah Yusuf (Joseph) tells us of a conversation between Yusuf's (as) brothers with his father Yakoob (Jacob)(as):

11. They said: "O our father! why dost thou not trust us with Joseph,- seeing we are indeed his sincere well-wishers?

12. "Send him with us tomorrow to enjoy himself and play, and we shall take every care of him."

13. (Jacob) said: "Really it saddens me that ye should take him away: I fear lest the wolf should devour him while ye attend not to him."

14. They said: "If the wolf were to devour him while we are (so large) a party, then should we indeed (first) have perished ourselves!"

15. So they did take him away, and they all agreed to throw him down to the bottom of the well: and We put into his heart (this Message): 'Of a surety thou shalt (one day) tell them the truth of this their affair while they know (thee) not'

16. Then they came to their father in the early part of the night, weeping.

17. They said: "O our father! We went racing with one another, and left Joseph with our things; and the wolf devoured him.... But thou wilt never believe us even though we tell the truth."

Now you see that Yakoob (as) told his sons that wolf might attack Yusuf (as) and they came back with the same excuse. Just to emphasise their point they said, "you wont believe us even though we are telling the truth."

This situation is a means for believers to gain valuable insights. When careful attention is paid to the lie the brothers made up about Prophet Yusuf (as), the concern expressed by Prophet Ya'qub (as) is perfectly understandable. His sons had come with excuses, just as he himself had said. Prophet Ya'qub (as) had clearly expressed his concerns in his earlier words, saying that he was afraid of Yusuf (as) being eaten by a wolf. His sons, true to the character of mischief-makers, incorporated that concern into the lie they told to their father after throwing Yusuf (as) down the well. They thought that their father might thus be more likely to believe them. The lesson that believers need to draw from this story is to avoid expressing their sincere doubts or concerns within earshot of mischief-makers. This is because, as we have seen in this example, they might use the believers' sincere words against them.

So remember, if your child comes to you asking for some money to buy sweets, dont put ideas in his/her mind by saying that, dont buy chewing gum or something else. If you put idea in his/her mind then Shaitan will put ideas and he/she will likely end up doing the wrong thing

Wednesday 13 May 2009

Report on European Muslims

Muslims in Europe are more loyal to their countries, have a strong willingness to integrate and have strong confidence in democratic institutions, a new global poll has found.

"European Muslims want to be part of the wider community and contribute even more to society," said Dalia Mogahed, head of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

The "Gallup Coexist Index 2009: A Global Study of Interfaith Relations" poll found Muslims in key European countries identify themselves with their country of residence.

The survey, by Gallup and the Coexist Foundation, found that 52 percent of French Muslims identify themselves with their country, compared to 55 percent of the general public.

In Germany, 40 percent of Muslims identify themselves with the country against 32 percent of the wide public while 77 percent of British Muslims identify themselves with Britain against 75 percent of the public.

The poll said the findings run counter to the prevailing perception that European Muslims are more loyal to their countries of origin.

"Since 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London, mistrust toward European Muslims has become palpable," the poll authors wrote.

"Significant segments of European societies openly express doubt that Muslim fellow nationals are loyal citizens.

"The integration debate has to widen its frame, moving beyond the confines of security and religion, and focus more on the socioeconomic struggles of citizens of all faiths."

The survey, described as the first of its kind, polled at least 500 Muslims in June and July of last year.

At least 1,000 members of the general public in each country were also randomly surveyed to create comparisons on specific issues.

The survey also found that European Muslims have a strong willingness to integrate.

"This research shows that many of the assumptions about Muslims and integration are wide of the mark," said Mogahed, who was the first Muslim woman appointed to a position in US President Barack Obama's administration.

It showed that Muslims in France, Britain and Germany are more willing to integrate into society.

The poll found that 49 percent of French Muslims are tolerant and have a "live-and-let-live attitude toward people of other faiths, and they generally feel that they treat others of different faiths with respect".

It also showed that 22 percent of French Muslims are integrated, who actively seek to know more about and learn from others of different religious traditions.

In Germany, 49 percent of Muslims are tolerant while 13 percent are integrated.

In Britain, the poll found that 45 percent of Muslims are tolerant and 20 percent are integrated.

The poll found strong majorities of British, French, and German Muslims and the general populations in their respective countries believe mastering the national language, having a job, and getting a better education are critical components of integration.

But the survey showed that the pace of Muslim integration in the US and Canada is much faster than in Europe.

"This can be explained by the historical importance of immigration in the development of Canada and the United States as modern nations," said Mogahed.

She added that better access to higher education and work in North America had helped over decades to create more integration and social advancement.

The poll also found that Muslims have strong confidence in democratic institutions.

"Muslims are very likely - often more likely than the general public - to express confidence in democratic institutions and a desire to live in neighborhoods with mixed ethnic and religious backgrounds," it said.

In Germany, the trust placed by Muslims in the state's institutions "proves that strong religious beliefs don't translate into a lack of loyalty."

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Does wearing Hijab makes someone less American

Last month, as I was watching the news coverage of President Obama's visit to Turkey, I thought back to an awkward experience I had as an undergraduate student applying for a job at my university. When I handed the receptionist at the student union my Social Security card, a required form of identification, she told me she needed my passport as well.

Surprised, I questioned the need for it. She brought over her supervisor, who glanced at my hijab—a headscarf worn by many Muslim women—and asked, "Aren't you an international student?" "No," I said. "I'm an American citizen. I was born in New Jersey." Her mouth dropped open and she stammered, "Oh, you're not a foreigner?"

It was not a new experience for me, as a Muslim growing up in this country. Before people learned my name, saw me run at a track meet or heard me debate an argument, they assumed they knew who I am.

That's why Obama's decision to visit a Muslim country within the first 100 days of his presidency was such a significant moment for me. Hearing his unwavering, unapologetic message to the Turkish Parliament filled me with pride: yes, he told the world, Muslim Americans exist, and our existence has enriched—not impoverished—American culture. His words mirrored what I have long sought to convey to other Americans: that you can be both a devout Muslim and a patriotic American.

I can only hope my fellow citizens get the message. When many Americans see Muslims like me, they tend to define us as something non-American, which forces us to choose between our religion and nationality. As long as Islam is equated with a foreign culture, as opposed to a faith like any other practiced here, then our mosques and our schools and our headscarves will continue to be perceived as a rejection of "American culture." This idea of Muslims as "other" surfaces every time someone like my friend Kathy, a veil-wearing Muslim American, is told to "go back home" when she and her daughter eat at Subway, or when a man plows his truck into a Tallahassee, Fla., mosque to remind Muslims they're not safe in this country.

Monday 11 May 2009

Luton Muslims under attack

Few months back, al-Muhajiroun, who are banned in UK, organised a rally against returning British troops from Iraq. 20 people turned up for this protest in a town that has 20,000 muslims. The media rewarded the extremists by giving them extensive coverage. All the papers carried the item saying that Muslims hurled abuse at returning troops from Iraq. Now as a repsonse some far right extremist has bombed an Islamic Centre.

Inayat Bunglawala has written an article in the Guardian on this:

Monday's suspected arson attack on the al-Ghurabaa mosque in Luton follows a number of written threats received at the mosque believed to have been sent by far right groups. The mosque holds daily Arabic/Qur'anic lessons for about 90 children though fortunately the arson attack – the police say they believe an accelerant was used – took place after midnight when the mosque was empty.

Tensions have been running high ever since a tiny group of al-Muhajiroun supporters held a typically offensive demonstration during a homecoming rally in Luton town centre for soldiers from the East Anglian regiment two months ago.

The mosque management went out of its way in a public statement issued following the arson attack to say that it had "strongly condemned the provocative protest by a small group of extremists against the returning British troops" – but it should worry us why it felt the need to do so. Regardless of one's views about the actions of the protesters – and yes, they were moronic and infantile – an arson attack on a place of worship frequented by children and the elderly is completely indefensible and we must hope that the police succeed in bringing the perpetrators to justice.

The mosque management has also said that it now intends to "invest approximately £6,000 on security measures" for the mosque. Such a step seems to be a sensible precaution to take against possible future attacks but I hope it does not go down the same route as the Community Security Trust which helps provide "physical security" in the form of trained guards at Jewish events. A better approach must surely be to work with the police to ensure that they have the necessary support and resources to protect all communities.

I spoke with Farasat Latif, a spokesman for the al-Ghurabaa mosque, this morning and he said they first started receiving written threats about three weeks ago. The messages, he said, were full of profanity and threats of the "how dare you insult our troops – you will pay for this" variety. The messages were passed on to the police by the mosque management.

Farasat said that they began noticing suspicious characters visiting the mosque in the days leading to the attack and believes that they were scouting the mosque. The arson attack destroyed the mosque's library, kitchen and a corridor leading to the main prayer hall. Farasat added that the police had spent a day and a half collecting forensic evidence at the mosque and in his view had been "helpful and thorough".

How had the local community reacted to the attack on their Islamic centre? Farasat said that there was a deep sense of shock but also anger towards the Muhajiroun supporters who they felt had deliberately inflamed tensions in the area.

We have noticed a lot of ill-feeling among non-Muslims since the Muhajiroun protest. The media played a role in massively exaggerating the support that these guys have and not making clear that we had nothing to do with it. At the da'wah (Islamic outreach) stall in the town centre we have had quite a few people be abusive towards us, but when we explain to them that we were just as appalled as they were by the actions of the protesters they visibly changed in their attitude towards us. I don't accept that many of these people are racists, but they have been misled by what they have read and by what they have been shown. We have to be willing to reach out to others and take the time to explain things patiently.

Farasat's evident frustration at the damage wrought by the Muhajiroun attention-seekers and the way they have consistently provided fodder for anti-Muslim bigots is, in my experience, widely shared by UK Muslims. But what is to be done? We cannot – in a free society such as ours – really prevent morons from legally behaving moronically. As long as the Muhajiroun protesters remain within the law, the challenge must really be for all the rest of us to make sure we do not lazily conflate their actions with the mainstream Muslim majority.

Sunday 10 May 2009

Veiled women in Danish Council meeting

“A historical day,” that’s how the Danish media described the day when Asmaa Abd El-Hamid, a 27 Danish Muslim veiled politician of a Palestinian origin, attended a council meeting as a substitute for a member of the Unity List. It was the first time in Odense, the third biggest Danish city where she attended the meeting, and in the whole Danish history that witnesses a veiled woman taking part in a Local Council meeting.

Ms. Abd El-Hamid told (IOL)’s European Muslims Page that she is intending to put forward the social, economical, and international issues in the coming meetings as they are placed at the top of her agenda. By holding this position she is planning to discuss her main issues, such as the social equality between Muslims and Non-Muslims in both education and recruitment, the recognition of the independent Palestinian state, and the rejection of the wars on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Asmaa has a lot of creative social and political ideas which she aspires to work on. Although Ms. Abd El-Hamid regards this step as "unprecedented," she is not only aiming at the veil’s existence in the parliament or in the political field. She also insists that she has been elected for this position "by both Muslims and non Muslims votes."

The non-Muslims' reactions were very considerate, as Mads Graven Larsen, the communication-director of the Mayor of Odense, told IOL that he fully agrees to this step— Asmaa’s substituting, “such a step would enhance the integration process of Muslims in Denmark."

“All the parties of the parliament reacted positively towards Asmaa's replacement including the right-wing parties.”

Meta Fuglsan, a member of the Danish Parliament, also believes that the existence of the veil in the Danish political scene is showing the multicultural aspect of the society and by reflecting the Danish respectful attitudes towards Muslims.

Fuglsan, who also works as the spokesperson of the integration issues in the governmental party Venstre, accepts the presence of the veil and considers it as a step forward towards the integration and coexistence processes.

On the other hand, Ms. Abd El-Hameid thinks that while many non-Muslims are generally supporting her new position, others are not. "Normally, that’s how it goes in most of the cases."

Esma has been in news previously when she was criticised for speaking against the Jyllands-Posten cartoons on prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

Saturday 9 May 2009

Massacre in Farah

A member of Provincial Council Hajji Abdul Basir Khairkhah on Friday put the number of casualties at 147 for the international troops' air strikes in western Afghan province of Farah early this week.

"The list prepared of those killed in air strikes on Garani village of Balablok district contains the names of 147 people, mostly women and children," Hajji Abdul Basir Khairkhah told Xinhua.

He said "the list will be finalized today (Friday)."

During the operation, with NATO's air support, against Taliban insurgents on Monday, over 100 people including Taliban and civilians had been killed, local people said.

Khairkhah, who headed a five-member investigating team, added that a delegation from Kabul visited the affected village on Thursday and all the houses in the village had been completely destroyed.

Meantime, deputy to provincial governor of Farah Mohammad Yunus Rasouli, has urged the central government and aid agencies to help the victims' families.

If the number is finally confirmed, civilian deaths in this incident will reach a record high since the U.S. invasion to Afghanistan in 2001.

Shouting "Death to America" and "Death to the Government", thousands of Afghan villagers hurled stones at police yesterday as they vented their fury at American air strikes that local officials claim killed 147 civilians.

The riot started when people from three villages struck by US bombers in the early hours of Tuesday, brought 15 newly-discovered bodies in a truck to the house of the provincial governor. As the crowd pressed forward in Farah, police opened fire, wounding four protesters. Traders in the rest of Farah city, the capital of the province of the same name where the bombing took place, closed their shops, vowing they would not reopen them until there is an investigation.

A local official Abdul Basir Khan said yesterday that he had collected the names of 147 people who had died, making it the worst such incident since the US intervened in Afghanistan started in 2001. A phone call from the governor of Farah province, Rohul Amin, in which he said that 130 people had died, was played over the loudspeaker in the Afghan parliament in Kabul, sparking demands for more control over US operations.

The protest in Farah City is the latest sign of a strong Afghan reaction against US air attacks in which explosions inflict massive damage on mud-brick houses that provide little protection against bomb blasts. A claim by American officials, which was repeated by the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday in Kabul, that the Taliban might have killed people with grenades because they did not pay an opium tax is not supported by any eyewitnesses and is disproved by pictures of deep bomb craters, one of which is filled with water. Mr Gates expressed regret for the incident but did not go so far as to accept blame.

The US admits that it did conduct an air strike at the time and place, but it is becoming clear, going by the account of survivors, that the air raid was not a brief attack by several aircraft acting on mistaken intelligence, but a sustained bombardment in which three villages were pounded to pieces. Farouq Faizy, an Afghan radio reporter who was one of the first to reach the district of Bala Baluk, says villagers told him that bombs suddenly, "began to fall at 8pm on Monday and went on until 10pm though some believe there were still bombs falling later". A prolonged bombing attack would explain why there are so many dead, but only 14 wounded received at Farah City hospital.

The attack was on three villages – Gerani, Gangabad and Koujaha – just off the main road. It is a poppy growing area of poor farmers and there were several fields of poppies near the villages. The Taliban are traditionally strong here and the police and soldiers waiting around the villages were said by eyewitnesses to be frightened. This would explain why Afghan army commanders might have been eager to call for US airstrikes, though they would have needed the agreement of American special operations officers.