Tuesday 30 June 2009

Taliban and Girls Education Problem

Taliban has been busy destroying girls schools as they probably consider girls getting educated highly unislamic. Not sure where their knowledge come from but I would have thought that with so many problems around at the moment they would focus their energy on something else.

Last month in Afghanistan, many girls schools were poisoned by Gas and in one instance around 90 children became critically ill.

Now this month, the same is happening in Pakistan around Peshawar.

Allah says in the Qur'an, "The Believing men and Believing women are protective friends to each other. They command what is good and forbid what is evil…" (At-Tawbah 9: 71).

The attitude of the Qur'an and the early Muslims bear witness to the fact that woman is, at least, as vital to life as man himself, and that she is not inferior to him nor is she one of the lower species. Had it not been for the impact of foreign cultures and alien influences, this question would have never arisen among the Muslims. The status of woman was taken for granted to be equal to that of man. It was, of course, a matter of fact, and no one, then, considered it as a problem at all.

Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, states:

Every Muslim, whether male or female, is obligated in Islam to seek at least the basic education in religion.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Seeking knowledge is a duty of every Muslim.” If women had been excluded from this exhortation, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) would have certainly said so. In fact, in another version of the same hadith, it is said, “…on every Muslim, male and female”. Allah tells us in the Qur’an: (Ask those who know, if you have no knowledge.) (An-Nahl 16: 43)

Based on many such proofs in the Qur’an and Sunnah, Muslim scholars have ruled that seeking essential knowledge of the beliefs and practices of Islam is an obligatory duty of every Muslim, regardless of gender.

It is common knowledge that as Muslims we must practice Islam in order to gain salvation. Scholars tell us that our practice of religion is not valid or acceptable unless it is based on sound knowledge. It follows from this that seeking knowledge about the essentials of religion is an obligation on both males and females.

Religious education aside, Muslim women must also strive to acquire essential life-skills that would make them self-reliant. If we take into account the volatile nature of social circumstances in this daytime and age, it would be suicidal for Muslim women to ignore such training; Allah warns us against dragging ourselves into perdition.

Still another factor to consider: In Islam, women’s roles in rearing future generations of Muslims are far more crucial than that of men. It goes without saying that we cannot rear intellectually and physically healthy children unless mothers are educated and can, therefore, educate children. Based on this fact, it is not at all amazing when we see that all of the great scholars of Islam had educated mothers who planted the first intellectual seeds of greatness in their lives.

I would like to understand these people who are killing innocent children in the name of Islam, where they are getting their spiritual knowledge from. Do they think they will ever go to Jannah after commiting such heinous crimes?

Lets not forget the Kharijites as their behaviour has become like them.

Monday 29 June 2009

The great French Niqab Debate

Since we last last discussed, President Sarkozy has been speaking publicly against the Burqa. There seems to be a lot of confusion on what is being banned. Well, France wants to outlaw anything that covers the face (not the head). So the Burqa or Niqab would be banned. On a personal level I do not think Niqab is required by Islam but people are free to make their own choices.

How would it feel if we start banning Goths? Even though they have a weired dress sense which serves no real purpose, there would be an outcry if someone tries to ban that. Or how about banning catwalk on the fashion arena? Ex-president Chirac said that "Hijab was a sign of Agression" so not to be outdone, Sarkozy said "Burqa is not welcome here".

There have been lots of reactions worldwide about this French debate and here is a selection.


At my health club on the campus of a Chicago university, I recently watched a young Muslim woman covered in head-to-toe religious garb -- head scarf, long-sleeve tunic and long pants -- as she played basketball with her boyfriend, a tall, black-haired youth dressed in jeans and a striped button-down shirt. All around them, shapely women in skimpy shorts and tight tank tops cavorted on treadmills and Stairmasters, but the black-haired youth had eyes only for his head scarf sweetie. Pretty and slender, the girl moved with the grace of a natural athlete. When her boyfriend missed a shot, she caught the ball on the short bounce, then, planting her sneaker clad feet firmly on the court, launched it toward the basket, where it whooshed easily through the net. Her boyfriend gave her a high five, and she grinned proudly.

Though loose fitting, the girl's clothes were far from frumpy. With delicate embroidery on the front of her tunic and a floaty elegance to the soft trousers, the outfit recalled the kind of casual, boyish chic pioneered in the Jazz Age by Coco Chanel. Her hair and flesh were hidden completely, but hints of her lovely, willowy form were suggested in the contours of her clothing. What's more, she seemed as confident in her attractiveness and as comfortable with her body as the half naked, pony-tailed coeds sweating around her.

As I watched the girl leave the club, her boyfriend trailing behind her carrying his backpack and hers, I had a startling thought. Hijab ("modest wear") doesn't have to mean female subservience and sexual repression.


Westerners who tsk, tsk over hajib clad women, convinced that religious dress always reflects repressive, sexist attitudes, should consider their own history. In the west, fashion has often seemed like a torture foisted on women by misogynistic men. It was a male doctor in France, after all, who during the Napoleonic Wars invented the laced, S-shaped corset that allowed generations of women to cinch themselves to near suffocation. Couturier Charles Frederick Worth followed with filth collecting skirts, seat cushion bustles and catering tray hats laden with frou- frou and dead birds. Now we have Marc Jacobs's mini-skirt rompers that look like something your toddler wears, and Christian Louboutin's disaster-in-waiting eight inch high heels.

High Fashion, Oscar Wilde once said, "is a form of ugliness so unbearable that we are compelled to alter it every six months."

Western women are slaves of fashion. Muslims, meanwhile, answer first to God

Here 10 British women explain to Andrew Johnson why – to varying degrees – they choose to cover up

Saleha Islam

45, from London. Head of the NSPCC's Asian Child Protection Helpline. Wears the hijab – usually a headscarf to cover the hair and shoulders – and Western clothes

"I started wearing hijab properly about 15 years ago. I've worked in social work for over 20 years and have worked with all types of people and I've learnt what's oppression and what isn't. I'm not an oppressed woman. I head a large service in the NSPCC; I'm one of the few women trustees of a mosque. Wearing the hijab is just saying 'I'm a Muslim'. It's part of my identity. I like looking smart, I like looking good. But it's modest. I'm not going to say there aren't any problems in Muslim families. I lead the Asian Child Protection Helpline in the UK and we suffer the same sorts of issues as anybody else. It took a lot of guts for me to wear the hijab. There were few Muslims who were wearing it at the time, so I had a lot of questions from my own community."

Sarah Joseph

38, from London. Editor of Emel, the Muslim lifestyle magazine. Wears the hijab

"I wear straightforward Western clothes with it. It was very much a feminist standpoint for me. It's saying I reject beauty fascism and aspiring to bodily perfection. I was brought up in the fashion industry, where looks were predominant and I didn't want that. I became a Muslim 21 years ago. The hijab is also religious obligation and part of a spiritual journey. You try and wear clothes which are part and parcel of your spiritual life."

Sanja Bilic

33, from York. PhD student. Wears the hijab with Western clothing

"I'm European: I'm from Bosnia, but I'm British. I came to England for a two-week holiday when I was 16 in 1992. The war broke out and we couldn't go home. It was a very traumatic time. When I first put on the scarf, it was commented on for about five minutes as if I'd changed my hair. I wouldn't wear the niqab as I don't believe it is justifiable for me, but I'm not going to condone it or condemn it."


In the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, with its busy market, fast-food joints and bargain clothes shops, Angelica Winterstein only goes out once a week – and only if she really has to.

"I feel like I'm being judged walking down the street. People tut or spit. In a smart area west of Paris, one man stopped his car and shouted: 'Why don't you go back to where you came from?' But I'm French, I couldn't be more French," said the 23-year-old, who was born and raised in bourgeois Versailles.

Once a fervent Catholic, Winterstein converted to Islam at 18. Six months ago she began wearing a loose, floor-length black jilbab, showing only her expertly made-up face from eyebrows to chin. She now wants to add the final piece, and wear full niqab, covering her face and leaving just her eyes visible.


Human rights groups warned this week that the row over niqabs risks exacerbating the growing problem of discrimination against women wearing standard Muslim headscarves. Five years on from the heated national debate over France's 2004 law banning headscarves and all conspicuous religious symbols from state schools, there has been an increase in general discrimination against adult women who cover their heads.

"Women in standard headscarves have been refused access to voting booths, driving lessons, barred from their own wedding ceremonies at town halls, ejected from university classes and in one case, a woman in a bank was not allowed to withdraw cash from her own account at the counter. This is clear discrimination by people who wrongly use the school law to claim that France is a secular state that doesn't allow headscarves in public places. It's utterly illegal and the courts rule in our favour," said Renee Le Mignot, co-president of the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples. "Our fear is that the current niqab debate is going to make this general discrimination worse."

Samy Debah, a history teacher who heads France's Collective against Islamophobia, said 80% of discrimination cases reported to his group involved women wearing standard headscarves.

He had rarely seen any instances of women wearing niqabs, even in the ethnically mixed north Paris suburb where he lives. "From our figures, the biggest discriminator against Muslim women is the state and state officials," he said. "What people have to understand is that the concept of French secularism is not anti-religion per se, it is supposed to be about respecting all religions."

The current initiative against full Islamic veils began in Venissieux, a leftwing area on the industrial outskirts of Lyon. Its communist mayor, André Gerin, led proposals for a clampdown, saying he saw increasing numbers of full veils in his constituency.

"I call them walking prisons, phantoms that go past us, it's that visual aspect that's an issue," Gerin said. "There's a malaise in the general population faced with the proliferation of these garments. I sense that on the part of Muslims, too."

Gerin said women in niqab posed "concrete problems" in daily life. "We had an issue in a school where a headteacher at the end of the school day didn't want to hand back two children to a phantom," he said. Gerin has refused to conduct the town-hall wedding of a woman wearing niqab. Another woman wearing a full veil was refused social housing by a landlord in the area. The mayor said that when women haven't removed their face covering, it has resulted in conflict with public officials who often felt insulted or under attack. But he denied stigmatising the wider Muslim population.

"The current situation [where women wear niqabs] is stigmatising Muslims," he said. His aim was to "establish a debate with the Muslim community, integrate Islam properly into French life" and expose fundamentalist practices.

Two previous calls for a law restricting full veils have been left to gather dust. This time, the debate is gathering force. There are divisions in the government itself – the feminist Muslim junior minister, Fadela Amara, supports a niqab ban while the immigration minister, Eric Besson, warns it would create unnecessary tension.

Horia Demiati, 30, a French financier who wears a standard headscarf with her business suits, said: "I really fear an increase in hatred." She recently won a discrimination case after she and her family, including a six-month baby, were refused access to a rural holiday apartment they had booked in the Vosges. The woman who refused them argued that she was a secular feminist and didn't want to see the headscarf, "an instrument of women's submission and oppression", in her establishment.

Demiati said: "This niqab debate is such a marginal issue, yet it risks detracting from the real issues in France."


Increasingly, veiled young women chose to look inwards, withdraw from society and benefit from the networks of solidarity offered by salafism, rather than fighting for their choice in the political sphere. The choice to wear the niqab is often linked to the breakdown of the French social model of integration, rather than religious radicalisation stemming from disadvantaged neighbourhoods under the control of extremist or terrorist movements – which is the alarmist argument of Ni Putes Ni Soumises, the group founded by Fadela Amara, who joined the government when Sarkozy created his cabinet and whose street credibility is greater among politicians than it is in the banlieues.

The terms of the debate have changed since 2004. The feminist movements and the left, in particular, now say they reject the ghettoisation effect a ban on the burka would have on women wearing it. France's official position appears isolated when Denmark and Belgium are welcoming their first veiled elected politicians and Obama is reminding the world, in his Cairo speech, that western countries should not tell Muslim women what to wear. France's European neighbours debate the burka with more caution. In those countries, it is not the cultural or religious values of the burka that are being discussed, but legislation around security issues and identification.

What the burka crisis underlines is that the debate on Muslim women's empowerment is crucial. But it has to be conducted with the participation of those who are primarily concerned and also be useful to citizens as a whole, rather than simply reinforcing the political class and its electoral objectives.

There are several points of contention with the arguments of those who see the banning of the burka as a desirable move.

Firstly, there is the assumption that women wear the burka because they are “forced” into it. The article mentions that if a pending government inquiry into the matter found that the burka was “forced” it would “contradict republican principles”.

In phrasing the issue as such, it creates a false dichotomy: either you are free or you are oppressed, in which republicanism is associated with unbridled liberty and social and religious practices are reduced to a stifling fundamentalism. And there is no middle ground. We are encouraged to think that the mater is completely black and white, devoid of any murky shades of grey reflect the complexities of layered identities and social expectations. Which, as any vaguely perceptive person can comprehend, is not an accurate reflection of social reality.
No individual identity comes into existence in a vacuum.

We are all products of our environments: of value systems, institutions, expectations, cultures and traditions that precede us. Through our families, we are constructed in this world through series of interactions (family, friends, authorities). Therefore, because of the fact that we are socially constructed, the notion of a completely pure choice can only ever be a fictional idea because it denies the social forces that surround us. We, as fundamentally social individuals, will always bear an element of our environment in our behaviours, decision and desires. These factors need to be borne in mind in any discussion of choice vs. imposition

Secondly, the article mentions that “Many see the burka as an infringement on women’s rights and is being increasingly imposed by fundamentalists”. It echoes the argument that says that the burka, and even the less encompassing hijab (veil) are de facto examples of gender oppression and patriarchy. It leaves no room for arguments about why the burka can be desired by women, for example in that it conveys an culturally-contingent image of an ideal femininity, one based on humility and faith.
By the same token, it also encourages us to forget about the ways in which patriarchy manifests itself in different yet comparable ways in Western secular societies. For example, the practice of cosmetic surgery, which pushes women, often young girls, to adhere to a sexualised feminine ideal that is unnatural, often ethnocentric. Or other societal and family pressures, such as the institution of marriage or heterosexuality.

No society is completely devoid of sexism, racism, homophobia or other prejudices; to pretend so is delusional. There are many examples in our own cultures of how gender values still form, even weigh upon, women. Therefore, when faced with the demonisation of Islamic forms of dress, I am compelled to ask: Why is it that western women feel more affronted by a woman who is humbly covered than one who is exposed? Why do we not repel in disgust at the way the sexualised female body is used shamelessly to sell anything: from fabric softener to metro tabloids (The Sun’s page 3 anyone?).

By signaling out the ways in which a cultural Other is perhaps experiencing injustice, we suspend criticism of the ways in which our own societies perpetuate similar injustices, but in different ways.

Thirdly, ‘cultures’ are never insular, self-contained boxes. Since the ancient days of the Silk Road trading through to European colonialism and then ultra-modern technologies, people have been in contact with different value systems and living, which in turn impact on the form that cultural manifestations take.

Accordingly, it might be useful to ask how the social, economic and political tides of our own times have impacted on the notion of identity of, say, migrant communities in Europe. Or how decades of increasing Euro-western xenophobia, including Islamaphobia, impact on the way that new generations choose to express and articulate their ethnic/religious identities.

The burka, as a type of dress and a SYMBOL like all others, has no meaning in itself. It only comes to acquire meaning when in a given context, and that meaning can change over time as context changes. A classic example is the wearing of the hijab in 20th century Iran: during the rule of the Shah, it was publicly banned. Consequently, women who were opposed to the Shah’s ruthless dictatorship deliberately chose to wear the hijab as a means of expressing their discontent with the regime, of revolting against the established order. To them, wearing the hijab was an act of resistance. Fast forward ten years: after the 1979 revolution and the hijab was forcefully imposed on women, it became the means through which a paranoid conservative government pushed the population into submission. Therefore, it became a symbol of oppression. So within 20 years, the same piece of fabric worn over the head came to mean completely different things to the people wearing it.

By conceiving of the issue in this way, we open ourselves to explanations for Islamic dress that exceed the liberated West vs. oppressed East paradigm. We can come to realise that wearing traditional Islamic dress is not necessarily the manifestation of some age-old archaic tradition of backward desert-dwellers that has no place in today’s society, but a glimpse into deeper issues about forging one’s identity in an ever-changing world. It can, for example, be conceived of as a phenomenon of 2nd or 3rd generation immigrants from ex-French colonies in reaction to their interaction with a hostile, often racist and supremacist, European culture. The burka can also be a means of rejecting what many see as the hyper-sexualisation of women in western cultures, propagated by rampant consumer capitalism, in which the body is just another item used to sell or to be sold.

Fourthly, there is a multiplicity of reasons why a woman could chose to wear the hijab or the burka. Inevitably, will also be cases where women will be encouraged to do so by family members, most often because it conveys the values of ideal femininity and womenhood in some Muslim circles: piety, humility, integrity. By the same token, there are numerous reasons why a woman can chose to diet and to undergo cosmetic surgery, because she is succumbing to western societies’ ideas about ideal femininity, in which one who controls her body, according to certain superficial, even pathological, ethnocentric beauty norms, is also in control of her life. Both are incidents of behaviours that can come about as a result of family/social pressure, and are therefore both problematic, and need do be dealt with sensitively and intelligently so as not to patronize those women involved.

Banning the burka to combat integration problems is as senseless and unproductive as banning collagen lip implants to combat gender oppression.

The most productive tactic is engagement, encouraging public debate, to try to reveal the complex community dynamics and processes of identity construction that affect us all. That cannot be acheived by prohibition. Banning things, whether types of dress, or books or music, constitutes a types of censorship in which something is deemed unacceptable, illigitimate. By doing so, it denies a voice to people who are involved in such practices for complex reasons.
Banning the burka would also marginalize people, push them to the fringes of society which will invariably lead to increased isolation, alienation and bitterness. Instead of solving problems posed in the name of ‘integration’, it will backfire heavily, and, in the heated international climate of stigma surrounding all things Muslim, make the women and families involved feel like they are being discriminated against because of their beliefs and ways of life.

Within today’s extremely fragile geoplolitical situation, to ban the wearing of the burka or the hijab in the name of secular individualism is to accentuate the injustice perpetuated by religion. In doing so, we fool ourselves into thinking that those injustices committed within liberal secular societies are somewhat less serious, less in need of public critique and ban. To ban the burka in France is to perpetuate a myth about the superiority of a secular French identity when faced with religious social paradigms.

To ban anything is to deny people the opportunity to inhabit, explore and discuss all the myriad types of identity that exist beyond narrow tropes defined by fictional, and often politically-loaded, dichotomies.

I want to live in a land called Paradise

When you cruise the streets of the metro Detroit area you are more likely to hear rap or Arabic music (click for two of my fave artists) coming from car stereos rather than country music. But that doesn't mean Detroit doesn't have her avid country fans.

Ironically, the first Muslim music video that received nation wide press and coverage was for a country song! In December 2007, over 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they wished they could say to the world. Their responses were then documented and many were displayed creatively on youtube for the world to see. Many non-Muslim Americans don't realize how similar Muslims are to themselves; they don't realize that we are normal human beings with aspirations and needs just like theirs. The video exhibits that fact in a clever and wholesome manner.

Sister Lena Khan, a graduate of UCLA, decided to make a video regarding American Muslims in which viewers would be simultaneously eductated and entertained. Around the same time Brother Kareem Salama had released his first album which featured a beautiful song entitled A Land Called Paradise. The song became the background music for Lena's video which features a plethora of American Muslim types holding up signs with personal statements on them. The statements are serious, funny, informative, and surprisingly, they're exactly what you might expect to hear from any given American person off the street.

Learn more about what Music in Islam here.

Sunday 28 June 2009

Qatar Innovation TV show final

Arab scientists discovered coffee, developed the numbering system and made many breakthroughs in maths, physics and mechanics.

But now, many Arab countries import scientists and business people from abroad and struggle to find young people with the right skills at home.

For example in Jordan, 63 per cent of new jobs went to expatriate workers between 2001 and 2007. In the UAE, 81 per cent of unemployed are young people.

In Egypt, more than 80 per cent of all unemployed citizens are between ages 15 and 29.

In an attempt to change the lack of entrepeneurship and innovation among the Arab world's youth, pan-Arab innovation contest has been set up in the form of a reality TV show called Stars of Science.

After two years of planning, six months of global auditions and the broadcast of daily shows across 15 Arab countries, the live finale of a competition to find the Arab world’s future Stars of Science opened in Doha last night.

Before the challenge began, the show travelled to Doha, Tunis, Alexandria and Beirut. A total of 5,600 applicants were narrowed down to 100, and eventually to just 16.

The 16 contestants, aged between 21 and 31 and hailing from 11 countries, each pitched an original idea to the judges and spent one month in Qatar in a custom-built workshop at Qatar Science & Technology Park.

Here they used tools and received coaching to expand upon their ideas.

Each week they faced challenges in the fields of engineering, design, business and marketing.

Instead of eliminating contests, as is often done in television reality series, each week losers joined up with the winners to create teams.

During the final episode, broadcast live from Aspire Sports Academy in Doha on June 26, there were two teams led by the two best contestants to win the $300,000 prize.

Bassam Jalgha, a 22-year-old robotics reseacher from Lebanon who was declared the winner, invented an automatic tuner for string instruments.

Mohamed Orsod, a 26-year-old university professor from Sudan, built a device to test the quality of cooking oil and its safety.

Much like many similar live shows in the Arab world, the audience decided the winner by sending text messages or emails with their vote.

Aside from the novelty of the event, the participants each gained valuable skills and international recognition for their ideas.

Still, in the Middle East, around 25 per cent of people under 25 are out of work, and they too need opportunities of their own.

The show's creators aimed to provide a showcase for young innovative Arabs in an attempt to promote and encourage scientific careers in the region.

Although production has ended, Jean Rouilly, the executive producer of Stars of Science, said that he hopes the show's success will inspire millions of young Arabs who have yet to get such an opportunity.

"This programme is a start, obviously it can't reach everyone, but we hope to show what people can do," Rouilly said.

Indian Military Continues Killing and Raping Kashmiri Women

Immediately after the bodies of two young Muslim women, Nilofer Shakeel and Asiya Jan, were found here on May 30, locals suspected the involvement of security forces from nearby bases.

Anger rippled through the state when, only days after the incident, the state's chief minister, Omar Abdullah, said medical tests indicated the women had been neither raped nor murdered. Later forensic tests showed that they had, and Mr. Abdullah ordered a high level judicial inquiry into the crimes.

But by then the murders had triggered statewide protests. At least two people were killed and hundreds wounded. In Shopian this week, the protests continue.

This week, authorities said they would follow the recommendations of an interim report from the inquiry and suspend four police officers for destroying evidence and "dereliction of duty." The final report is due at the end of the month.

In Shopian, people say they will continue to protest until the culprits are locked up. "So far, the authorities have done nothing to help us at all," says Shakeel Ahmed, Ms. Shakeel's wretched-looking husband as he sits at home. Nearby, village children have gathered to play with the couple's toddler.

In recent years the Kashmir Valley – once described by former United States President Bill Clinton as the most dangerous place on earth – has been relatively peaceful. The calm came largely due to renewed peace talks between India and Pakistan, which both rule portions of Kashmir but claim it in its entirety, as well as the adoption by many separatist groups of nonviolent means of agitation.

But most people in the state still yearn for freedom from Indian rule. Last year, a government plan to transfer land to a Hindu shrine in the state sparked the biggest pro-independence protests since the early 1990s.

Any crime that is suspected to involve security forces – an omnipresent reminder of Indian rule – tends to be seized upon by separatist groups. Despite the relative calm, some 600,000 security forces remain stationed in Kashmir. Their presence is bitterly resented.

"After the transition from violence to nonviolence in the separatist movement there is no need for the deployment of so many security forces in the villages," says Yaseen Malik, a separatist leader and former fighter. "Why should they be deployed in civilian areas when there is no need of them now?"

Thirty protesters were hurt Tuesday when police fired shots in the air and teargas during fresh protests in Indian Kashmir over the alleged rape and murder of two Muslim women, police said.

The injuries were reported in southern Pulwama district where riot police used force to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing students "to maintain law and order," a police officer said.

"Three of the injured are in critical condition," he said.

However, residents reached by telephone said the demonstrators were peaceful when police blocked them and chased them away by firing shots in the air and scores of teargas shells.

Residents, mostly parents of students, later attacked the district's main police station with rocks, rods and bricks, witnesses said.

Earlier in the day hundreds of Muslim students marched through the streets of Indian Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar.

Chanting "We want freedom" and "punish the killers", they later dispersed without violence.

Similar peaceful demonstrations were held in other towns in the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley, witnesses said.

Anger over the deaths last month of a 17-year-old girl and her 22-year-old sister-in-law has effectively shut down much of Kashmir valley, including Srinagar, for nearly two weeks.

Indian officials had insisted the two women had drowned, but their families accused security forces of abducting, raping and killing them.

On Sunday, police said forensic tests showed they had been raped, sparking more protests.

In most of the region, schools, shops and banks opened Tuesday after separatists called for an end to their eight-day long general strike, but the women's hometown of Shopian remained shut up.

Separatists have urged students to continue daytime protest marches.

Authorities have issued a ban on demonstrations in an attempt to curb the daily protests, which have so far claimed one life and left nearly 400 injured.

Saturday 27 June 2009

Hadith: Everyone who dies will repent

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Everyone who dies will repent." He was asked the nature of their repentance and he replied, "If someone did good (in their lifetime) they will repent of not having done more, and if anyone did evil they will repent of not having restrained themselves."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1457

Friday 26 June 2009

Iraqi Wedding costs unbearable

Mind-boggling wedding costs, including wedding dress, hairdresser, reception salon, band, food, drinks, and pre-wedding gifts, are becoming a burden for many Iraqi couples.

Haydar Barak, 32, was forced to postpone his marriage for the second time because of the huge increase in wedding costs.

His fiancé Nur Abdel-Fareed, 25, has been waiting for more than two years to realize her adolescence dreams.

"Any woman has a dream to marry in a white dress, have an impeccable party and share this special moment with her relatives," she told IOL.

"Sometimes, however, we have to choose between a long happy life and a festivity that might take all the resources of the couple."

She told Haydar they we can marry without an expensive wedding ceremony.

"But my family is keen to have everything and as a tradition in Iraq, if the man wants to marry a girl, he has to accept all requests from her family," she noted.

In Iraq, like in many Arab countries, the groom’s family is responsible for all wedding expenses.

This includes paying for food, drinks, wedding dress, band, reception salon, hairdresser, decoration, clothes that are given as gift previous the wedding and a honeymoon trip.

"I know how hard it is for my fiancé today," says Nur.

According to the United Nations and NGOs, nearly 28 percent of Iraqis aged between 15 and 29 are unemployed.

Government sources, however, estimate the unemployment rate at 40 percent.

But many other couples have crossed this line and are now trying to pay for the accumulated wedding-related debits.

"I got married three months ago but to do that my family had to sell one of our properties to help me buy the gold and pay the costs for the party requested by in-laws," Jamal Younis al-Azza, a 31-year-old Baghdad teacher, told IOL.

He notes that in conservative Iraq men are under social pressures to get married by a certain age.

"When you are over 30, you are considered very old and have to get a wife as soon as possible.

"I made so many offers to her family trying to spend little money with the festivities but they insisted and asked for a large amount of stuff," al-Azza recalled bitterly.

"I had to struggle to pay for all that and have debits because of the marriage that will be part of my life for many months to come."

Khalid Khafaja al-Din, a 29-year-old government employee, is ready to take the risk to realize his marriage dream.

"We awaited three years to get married and now we are spending what we have to make it come true," he told IOL.

"Until now I have spent all my savings to finally have my wife and raise a family," he added.

"I get about US $500 salary per month but hope that will be enough for both of us, though I already have US $4500 debits because of the weeding."


Reads about Marriage Extravagance in Islam here.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Islam Bashers want to distribute literature at our events

A federal judge today denied an evangelical Christian group's request for permission to hand out literature on sidewalks at an Arab festival in the heart of the Detroit area's Middle Eastern community.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Edmunds denied Anaheim, Calif.-based Arabic Christian Perspective's request for a temporary restraining order.

The group describes itself in its court filing as "a national ministry established for the purpose of proclaiming the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ to Muslims ... (that) travels around the country attending and distributing Christian literature at Muslim festivals and mosques."

A lawyer for the group said it would seek a permanent injunction against the city of Dearborn.

"It's not over," said Robert J. Muise of the Thomas More Law Center, an Ann Arbor-based Christian rights advocacy group.

Another lawyer on the case said the Dearborn officials action could be part of what he described as a broader Muslim legal attack on critics of Islam in our "Judeo-Christian nation."

"Muslims are using the courts in this country to stop our free speech rights," said William J. Becker Jr., a Los Angeles attorney who has represented a number of prominent critics of Islam.

The 14th annual Dearborn Arab International Festival is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors Friday through Sunday to the city that has the Detroit area's greatest concentration of Arab-Americans.

Festival organizer Fay Beydoun said the evangelical group was being offered a good spot in an area with a number of other religious, nonprofit and political groups.

"You have to pass right in front of it to get anywhere," said Beydoun, executive director of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce.

Southeastern Michigan has about 300,000 people with roots in the Arab world. It includes large numbers of both Muslims and Christians.

The group sued Dearborn after police told the Rev. George Saieg members would need to restrict literature distribution to a designated table-and-booth section of the festival site.

The city said safely accommodating the 150,000 daily festival-goers requires limits on where people can leaflet. It said other Christian and Muslim groups already have tables and booths for distributing material at the festival.

City officials say anyone is free to have conversations — but not leaflet — on sidewalks within the festival's barricades.

"It appears to be a legitimate governmental interest for crowd control and safety," Edmunds said in denying the request. "The festival area is more akin to a fair than a normal city street."

Becker said the case is similar to one he handled in Los Angeles, in which Jews for Jesus member Cyril Gordon won about $250,000 after being arrested for trespassing in 2006 outside an Israel Independence Day event in a park.

"This is a case where your right, my right and anybody's right to walk down the street and express their views is being disrupted by a police action," he said.

An official of the Council of American-Islamic Relations said Arabic Christian Perspective was asking for special treatment.

"They should abide by the rules and purchase a booth like the other religious groups," said Dawud Walid, executive director of the group's Michigan chapter. "Christians can talk about Christianity and Muslims can promote Islam. This is the right we have as Americans."

The following is from a blog here:

I thought I recognized the name Arab Christian Perspectives when I read this Orange County Register story about how the group recently filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking access to proselytize outside an Arab festival in Dearborn, Michigan. In 2004, I did a story about Christians who tried to convince Muslims outside the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove to leave their faith and join Christ. Among the groups? The Arabic Christian Education Center in Anaheim, which hosted seminars under Arabic Christian Perspectives preaching the evils of Islam.

Shortly after doing the story, I received an angry call from someone with the group because I pointed out some of its members were former Muslims-turned-Christians. He claimed that such a revelation put his life in danger, because Muslims are required to kill those who leave the faith. Five years later, and I've yet to hear about any Muslim massacres of Christians in Orange County.

But the real reason why this group is loony is because of their repeated association with Robert Morey, the former Irvine pastor who memorably flamed out due to hubris and tried to build an empire on Islam-bashing. Arabic Christian Perspectives founder George Saieg has featured Morey at conferences to trash Muslims. As for Saieg's thoughts on Islam? It features "deceptive teachings"--yeah, because the book of Leviticus is SO truthful...

Oh, and Saieg ain't a fan of Catholics, either--he's an ordained Calvary Chapel pastor.

Iraqi Crusaders still trying to spread the word

Ever since former president George W. Bushreferred to the war on terror as a “crusade” in the days after the September 11 attacks, many have charged that the United States was conducting a holy war, pitting a Christian America against the Muslim world. That perception grew as prominent military leaders such as Lt. Gen. William Boykin described the wars in evangelical terms, casting the U.S. military as the "army of God." Although President Obama addressed the Muslim world this month in an attempt to undo the Bush administration's legacy of militant Christian rhetoric that often antagonized Muslim countries, several recent stories have framed the issue as a wider problem of an evangelical military culture that sees spreading Christianity as part of its mission.

A May article in Harper’s by Jeff Sharlet illustrated a military engaged in an internal battle over religious practice. Then came news about former Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Scripture-themed briefings to President Bush that paired war scenes with Bible verses. (In an e-mail published on Politico, Rumsfeld aide Keith Urbahn denied that the former Defense secretary had created or even seen many of the briefings.) Later in May, Al-Jazeera broadcast clips filmed in 2008 showing stacks of Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari at the U.S. air base in Bagram and featuring the chief of U.S. military chaplains in Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Gary Hensley, telling soldiers to “hunt people for Jesus.”

In the aftermath of that report, the Pentagon responded that it had confiscated and destroyed the Bibles and said there was no effort to convert Afghans. But while the military dismissed the Bagram Bibles as an isolated incident, a civil-rights watchdog group, Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), says this is not the case. According to the group's president, Mikey Weinstein, a cadre of 40 U.S. chaplains took part in a 2003 project to distribute 2.4 million Arabic-language Bibles in Iraq. This would be a serious violation of U.S. military Central Command's General Order Number One forbidding active-duty troops from trying to convert people to any religion. A Defense Department spokeswoman, in an e-mail to NEWSWEEK, denies any knowledge of this project.

The Bible initiative was handled by former Army chaplain Jim Ammerman, the 83-year-old founder of the Chaplaincy of Full Gospel Churches (CFGC), an organization in charge of endorsing 270 chaplains and chaplain candidates for the armed services. Ammerman worked with an evangelical group based in Arkansas, the International Missions Network Center, to distribute the Bibles through the efforts of his 40 active-duty chaplains in Iraq. A 2003 newsletter for the group said of the effort, "The goal is to establish a wedge for the kingdom of God in the Middle East, directly affecting the Islamic world."

J. E. Wadkins, vice president of student life at Ecclesia College who oversees the International Missions Network Center, says they have worked with Ammerman for 20 years and reached out to him as part of their "Bibles for the Nations" mission. He estimates that in the end, between 100,000 and 500,000 Arabic Bibles were distributed in under one year, beginning not long after Saddam Hussein's ouster. "It was a really early effort there," says Wadkins, "when things first opened up."

The effort is an example of what critics call a growing culture of militarized Christianity in the armed forces. It is influenced in part by changes in outlook among the various branches' 2,900 chaplains, who are sworn to serve all soldiers, regardless of religion, with a respectful, religiously pluralistic approach. However, with an estimated two thirds of all current chaplains affiliated with evangelical and Pentecostal denominations, which often prioritize conversion and evangelizing, and a marked decline in chaplains from Catholic and mainstream Protestant churches, this ideal is suffering. Historian Anne C. Loveland attributes the shift to the Vietnam War, when many liberal churches opposed to the war supplied fewer chaplains, creating a vacuum filled by conservative churches. This imbalance was exacerbated by regulation revisions in the 1980s that helped create hundreds of new "endorsing agencies" that brought a flood of evangelical chaplains into the military and by the simple fact that evangelical and Pentecostal churches are the fastest-growing in the U.S.

The chaplains minister to flocks that are, on the whole, slightly less religious than the general population and slightly less evangelical. According to a 2008 Department of Defense survey, 22 percent of active-duty members of the military described themselves as evangelical or Pentecostal (although the actual number of evangelical-minded believers is likely higher when encompassing personnel who follow more evangelical expressions of mainline Protestant denominations, as well as a sizable percentage of the additional 20 percent that describe themselves simply as "Christian").

Among the "endorsing agencies" is CFGC, which represents a conglomeration of independent Pentecostal churches outside established denominations. The group was accepted as a chaplain-endorsing agency by the Department of Defense in 1984, two years after it first applied. Since 1984, MRFF charges, Ammerman's agency has violated numerous codes that govern chaplaincies, including a constant denigration of other religions, particularly Islam, Judaism, mainline Protestantism and Catholicism, but also non-Pentecostal evangelical churches. In a 2008 sermon, Ammerman described a CFGC chaplain at Fort Riley, Kans., who demanded the 42 chaplains below him "speak up for Jesus" or leave his outfit. In a video for an organization called the Prophesy Club, CFGC chaplain Maj. James Linzey called mainstream Protestant churches "demonic, dastardly creatures from the pit of hell," that should be "[stomped] out." But the primary target of CFGC's ire is Islam. A 2001 CFGC newsletter asserted that the real enemy of the U.S. wasn't Osama bin Laden, but Allah, whom the newsletter called "Lucifer." A 2006 issue argued that all Muslim-Americans should be treated with suspicion, as they "obviously can't be good Americans." In a 2008 sermon, Ammerman called Islam "a killer religion" and Muslims "the devil."

Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says it's "counterproductive to the interests of our military to have officers or servicepeople proselytizing. It should be addressed at the highest levels of the military." Hooper says that while he can't say whether events such as these constitute a systematic problem in the military, "we've certainly seen enough incidents for it to be a concern."

Continue reading the article here.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

Large Blue Butterfly and Allah's creation

Allah shows us different miracles in our everyday life. Read this story and see how complex his creation is:


It flutters across a hillside in Somerset – the lovely blue butterfly that came back from the dead. And the man who brought it back is watching, celebrating 25 years of its resurrection.

The return of the large blue, which went extinct in Britain in 1979, is one of the great conservation success stories, and the 25th anniversary of its reintroduction is being celebrated today at Montacute House, the Somerset stately home in the heart of large blue country, by Britain's leading conservationists, headed by Sir David Attenborough.

What they will be celebrating, in fact, is the work of Jeremy Thomas, Britain's leading butterfly expert, who discovered the way to bring back a creature which has the most astonishing life cycle of any British insect – it spends most of its life as a caterpillar inside an ants' nest, and without the ants, it cannot turn into a butterfly.

As a young researcher, Professor Thomas, as he now is, discovered which species of red ant has this relationship with the large blue (and there is only one) and then worked out how to keep the ant colonies flourishing. It was a question of having the grassland where they lived grazed very short, so it would remain warmed by the sun. If the grass was only a few centimetres too long, the ants would disappear, and with it, the butterflies.

Historically, rabbits had kept the grass short, but in the mid-1950s rabbit populations were suddenly devastated by the plague-like disease myxomatosis. On many large blue sites, the turf grew too long and the butterfly began rapidly to die out – although no one had any idea why.

It took Jeremy Thomas six summers of work on the very last of the large blue sites, on the edge of Dartmoor, from 1972 to 1977, to unravel the chain of events which was leading to the rapid demise of one of Britain's most beautiful wildlife species.

He was just too late to save it. But the knowledge to bring it back and keep it was now in place; and in 1983, working with another butterfly conservationist, David Simcox, he brought large blue caterpillars from Sweden and released them on the Dartmoor site; they emerged as adult insects the following summer.


In one of the first revealed verses of the Qur’an, God drew the attention of the Arabs to the camel, a part of their everyday lives:

[Have they not looked at the camel-how it was created?
And at the sky-how it was raised up?
And at the mountains-how they were embedded?
And at the earth-how it is spread out?
So remind them! You are only a reminder.] (Al-Ghashiyah 88:17-21)

In many other verses of the Qur’an, people are instructed to examine nature and learn from it because people can know God only by examining His creations. Because of this, in one verse of the Qur’an Muslims are defined as people who think about the creation of the heavens and the earth:

[Those who remember God, standing, sitting and lying on their sides, and reflect on the creation of the heavens and the earth (saying): “Our Lord, You have not created this for nothing. Glory be to You! So safeguard us from the punishment of the Fire.”] (Aal `Imran 3:191)

As a result of this, for a Muslim, taking an interest in science is a very important form of worship. In many verses of the Qur'an, God instructs Muslims to investigate the heavens, the earth, living things or their own existence and think about them. When we look at the verses, we find indications of all the main branches of science in the Qur’an.

For example, in the Qur’an, God encourages the science of astronomy:

[He who created the seven heavens in layers. You will not find any flaw in the creation of the All-Merciful. Look again-do you see any gaps?] (Al-Mulk 67:3)

In another verse of the Qur’an, God encourages the investigation of astronomy and the composition of the earth that is the science of geology:

[Do they not look at the sky above them? How We have made it and adorned it, and there are no flaws in it? And the earth, We have spread it out, and set thereon mountains standing firm, and produced therein every kind of beautiful growth (in pairs), To be observed and commemorated by every devotee turning (to God).] (Qaf 50:6-8)

[It is He Who sends down water from the sky from which We bring forth growth of every kind, and from that We bring forth the green shoots and from them We bring forth close-packed seeds, and from the spathes of the date palm date clusters hanging down, and gardens of grapes and olives and pomegranates, both similar and dissimilar. Look at their fruits as they bear fruit and ripen. There are Signs in that for people who believe.] (Al-An`am 6:99)

In another verse of the Qur’an, God draws attention to zoology:

[You have a lesson in livestock...] (An-Nahl 16:66)

Here is a Qur’anic verse about the sciences of archaeology and anthropology:

[Have they not traveled in the earth and seen the final fate of those before them?] (Ar-Rum 30:9)

In another verse of the Qur’an, God draws attention to the proof of God in a person's own body and spirit:

[There are certainly Signs in the earth for people with certainty; and in yourselves as well. Do you not then see?] (Adh-Dhariyat 51:20-21)

Pirate Kings of Puntland, Somalia

This post is sort of continuation of earlier post on Somali pirates and history of Somalia.

This one is from Al Jazeera:

They don't wear eye-patches or peg legs and you won't find any parrots perched on their shoulders, but they are no less pirates for that.

Twenty-first century piracy Somali style is a far cry from the swashbuckling, sea dogs of old but, in recent months, they have captured both the headlines and the public's imagination.

Their high seas hijackings have also forced the media to focus on Somalia, arguably the globe's most neglected tragedy.

But who are these men and what drives them to carry out such audacious attacks?

I set off to Puntland, the semi-autonomous region in Somalia's north-eastern corner, to find out.

Puntland is one of the poorest parts of war-torn Somalia and it is home to most of Somalia's dreaded pirates.

The pirate's ranks have been swollen by many of the region's youths - drawn by the potentially huge profits of one of Somalia's most successful, if unconventional, business enterprises.

Faced with limited options and even less optimism for the country's future, the young pirates care little about the risks they will run at sea.

In Garowe, the capital of Puntland, I met a well-known pirate; Abdirashid Ahmed - nicknamed Juqraafi or "geography" - still flush from a recent hijacking.

Ransom negotiations

Abdirashid and his colleagues had just taken receipt of a ransom payment of $1.3m after capturing the Greek ship MV Saldanha in February.

Smartly dressed and driving a Toyota four-wheel drive, he cut the perfect figure of prosperous young Somali.

"It took us three months of negotiations with the boat's owner before we came to an agreement over the ransom money.

"We initially asked for $17m but compromised and accepted $1.3m when we realised it will take a long time to get more out of the shipping company," he tells me.

However, it was desperation, not greed, he claims, that pushed him to throw in his lot with the pirates.

"We are driven by hunger, just look at our country and how destroyed it is. We are people with no hope and opportunities, that is what is forcing us into piracy," he says.

Successful ventures like Juqraafi's have turned piracy in Somalia into a self-financing local industry. Pirate cells operate in well-organised groups, drawing in members of extended family networks.

"Those who have been paid a ransom sponsor the other pirates. For example, if a group is holding a ship and they're paid ransom and then another ship is captured, the first group will fund the second one till they too get ransom payment," says Juqraafi.

The piracy industry is controlled by criminal gangs who recruit local youths and take the lion's share of the profits. They are also well-armed with weapons ranging from Kalashnikovs to rocket launchers.

Sharing the spoils

And every pirate cell, says Juqraafi, has clear policies and guidelines for everything it does - including sharing the ransom.

"The financier is usually a businessman who sponsors the pirates and gets 30 per cent of the ransom. The pirates get 50 per cent," he explains.

"The remaining 20 per cent is given to the poor and all those who, in one way or another, help the pirates on shore and this includes local government officials who expect bribes from every successful venture."

In their search for ships, Somali pirates have spread themselves across thousands of square miles of water, from the Gulf of Aden at the narrow doorway to the Red Sea, to the Kenyan border along the Indian Ocean.

When they started out, Somalia's pirates cast themselves as the "Robin Hoods of the sea" - defenders of the nation's fisheries.

The country's tuna-rich waters were repeatedly plundered by commercial fishing fleets soon after the country's last fully-functioning government collapsed in 1991.

Somali fishermen turned armed vigilantes, confronting fishing boats and demanding that they pay a tax.

But what began as a deterrent to illegal fishing has today become a free for all.

"These youths are capable of anything," Dr Ahmed Abdirahman, a university professor in Puntland, says.

"If the world does not come up with a solution to piracy, its going to take a far worse turn," he warns.

In 2008 alone, more than 120 pirate attacks occurred in the Gulf of Aden, far more than in any other year in recent memory.

Pirates 'net $80m'

Experts say the Somali pirates netted more than $80m, an astronomical sum for a war-ravaged country whose economy is in tatters.

At least a dozen vessels and crews are currently being held hostage off the coast of Somalia.

As on every issue in Somalia, public opinion on piracy is sharply divided. To some within the community, the pirates are amoral thugs bringing yet more trouble to their shores.

But to others and, arguably, they are in the majority, these modern-day buccaneers are heroes who are robbing the rich to feed the poor.

Nowhere is the support for piracy greater than in the town of Eyl, Somalia's modern-day pirate capital.

Hidden between rocky hills, isolated and lacking good roads, Eyl is the perfect pirate hideout.

Contrary to our expectation of prosperity in Eyl, we were confronted not with palaces but a few crumbling houses - a clear indication that the millions of dollars earned from the lucrative business of hijacking passing ships are not invested in the town.

Public support

Despite this, Said Elmi Mohamud, a 55-year-old Eyl resident, began to defend the pirates to us even before we had stepped foot out of our vehicle.

"I know you are here looking for our heroes," he declared.

"I don't call them pirates – they are our marines. They are protecting our resources from those looting them. They are not criminals."

Pirates moor their captive ships off Eyl's beaches and use the town to supply both them and their hostages with food, water and other necessary provisions.

While in Eyl ourselves, we watch from afar as the Dutch-owned MV Marathon was held by pirates a little further out to sea.

Rows of battered boats lie scattered along the beach. They are used by the pirates to shuttle between the port and the ships at sea.

And whenever word spreads that another ship has been hijacked, activity in Eyl moves up a gear.

There is a lot of money to be made and nearly everybody in the town is anxious for a cut. Elders stream into the town to arbitrate disputes between their young clansmen as gold-digging women flock to Eyl from far and near to get themselves a pirate.

But not everyone in Eyl is happy about piracy.

"We hate the pirates but can do nothing about them. They are more powerful than us," Mohammed Khalif, one of the town's Islamic leaders, says.

"Even the international naval powers with all their warships and weapons have not been able to control them."

'Lots of killings'

He also laments the negative impact piracy has had on the town.

"They have troubled us a lot. They have brought us alcohol, commercial sex workers and massive inflation. Lots of killings also take place here," Khalif says.

As piracy in Puntland has become an international issue, so pressure is increasing from within to take action.

Abdirahman Mohamed Mahmoud, Puntland's regional president, took office in January on an anti-piracy platform. He says fighting the pirates is high on his agenda.

He sends his fledgling coastguard to sea and, at night, soldiers mount roadblocks in all of Puntland's major cities.

But Mahmoud says he needs more help to tackle what is now an international problem.

He is critical of the international community's approach to combating piracy, saying they will never successfully defeat the pirates without collaborating with local forces like his own on land as well as at sea.

About 15 international naval vessels, including three American navy ships, patrol Somalia's pirate-infested waters, many under an American-led anti-piracy task force.
Most of the patrol vessels are concentrated in the Gulf of Aden and, as a result, the pirates have adapted, simply moving further into open seas.

"We need just a small fraction of the money the naval fleets are wasting now to effectively combat piracy. I think they are not interested in fighting piracy," Mahmoud says.

Religious leaders from all over Puntland have also embarked on a mission to battle the buccaneers. And what better place to try to reform pirates than in Eyl.

At the town square they hold an assembly. Their sermons focus on the vices the pirates have introduced with the money they earn.

But not far from where they are preaching, business is brisk.

At Eyl's restaurants, women eagerly serve the pirates, their accountants, middlemen and negotiators. Their four-wheel drive vehicles are never far away.

They are, undoubtedly, the kings of Puntland.

See Video:

Part 1

Part 2

Monday 22 June 2009

Muslims in Czech Republic

Not so long ago the words Czech and Muslim were two polar opposites and it would be almost unthinkable to use them together. But now, two decades after the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia, Muslims are increasing in numbers, becoming more active and founding new organisations to represent them.

"About 300 come to the main mosque and at least 200 come to the prayer hall in the centre," Vladimir (Umar) Sanka, one of the managers of the main mosque and prayer hall in Prague, told IslamOnline.net.

He said the numbers of Muslims are slowly but surely growing in the Czech Republic.

"The prayer hall is so overcrowded every Friday that we have been forced to have two Friday prayers and lectures so that all the Muslims can even fit."

The mosque had to hire a sports hall for `Eid Al-Adha, one of the two main religious festivals on the Islamic calendar which was celebrated in December, to accommodate the record-breaking number of 1,500 Muslims who showed up.

The increase of Muslims is linked to the growing number of Czechs embracing the Muslim faith.

"In our mosque in Prague we are honoured and happy to witness a new conversion almost every week," says Sanka.

The last recorded number of Muslims was around 12,000 in 2007, but the latest estimate is around 20,000, including 400 converts.

The first official Muslim organisation, the Islamic Foundation, was established in 1991.

In 1998 it opened its first mosque in Brno and then one year later in Prague.

There were also attempts to build mosques in smaller cities, mainly Spa towns which are popular with Arab clients, but these plans were met with resistance from both the public and churches.

Islam itself was not legally accepted as a religion by the Czech state until 2004.

New Representatives

Until recently, the mosques in the cities of Brno and Prague were the only official bodies representing Muslims in the Czech Republic.

But now new organisations are appearing to meet the needs of the growing and increasingly diverse Muslim community.

Mohamed Abbas is a well-known media figure and publisher of Islamic literature, including the Qur’an and a translation of Riyad us Saaliheen, the only book of hadith so far published in the Czech language.

Abbas is now also one of the founders of a new organisation called the Islamic Community, whose aim is to provide more activities for Muslims.

Currently the Islamic Community is in the process of securing 300 signatures needed to become officially recognised, which will make it the second Muslim body in the Czech Republic eligible for state funding.

"At the moment organizations here represent only a marginal number of Muslims in the country and do not include everybody," Abbas told IOL.

"We want to change this and create an organization for all, and one that is truly democratic and transparent."

Abbas is optimistic about garnering the needed 300 signatures.

"The number of Muslims here is definitely increasing, especially after Czech Republic joined the EU, and they are interested in seeing an active organization serving them."

State registration will give the organization a wider scope.

It will be able to rent, build and manage Islamic centers, establish Islamic schools and after 10 years it can ask for other special rights like taking care of the spiritual needs of Muslims in the army and jails as well as support of state for Islamic marriages in mosques.

Facebook Islam

Another completely new organization, which is quite different from the ones already being set-up, is a new Facebook Group called Muslims from Czech Republic, created by 21-year-old fresh convert Jitka Cervinkova.

When Jitka first embraced Islam in September of last year she searched Facebook for a group of Muslims in her country.

When she didn’t find any, she decided to create one.

Since its creation in November 2008, the group has grown rapidly and now has over 300 members.

"I think Facebook is great for meeting other Muslims as I don’t really go to the mosque here in Prague because it is too far for me and it seems that women there are mainly mums with children," she told IOL.

"I didn’t meet any young girls of my age when I visited."

Now Jitka, along with other administrators of the group, are faced with the great responsibility of becoming leaders of the fastest growing, and perhaps most influential, Muslim group in the country.

"I feel the Muslim community in the Czech Republic is growing at great speed, although I don’t know any statistics I feel I meet more and more young Muslims here every day."

The Facebook group has attracted mainly a young generation of people and consists of both Czech converts and Muslims from other countries, such as the Arab world or Bosnia, who are living or studying in the Czech Republic as well as non-Muslims who are interested in Islam.

Jitka, who is usually busy studying for a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic, now also finds time to organise events and post topics to the group.

So far the group has hosted social events for its members and has also organised a film viewing for the general public.

Volunteers from the group translated a film about Islam from English and answered questions about Islam to the non-Muslim audience.

"We have ideas for many projects and events," said Jitka, citing the need for funding and sponsors who could be able to help.

"We are hoping to organise an exhibition about Islam, as well as set up information stalls with leaflets and information," she said enthusiastically.

"We want to hold more lectures and generally host events which portray Islam in a positive light to the public."

Sunday 21 June 2009

Independent Kosova: One year on

The issue of Kosova and the international recognition of its statehood these days are obviously far from media attention, with the Middle East permanently boiling, North Korea showing off its nuclear power, and the global economic crisis rightly stealing most of the headlines and prime time minutes.

But, this absence from news bulletins does not mean that there is dust over Kosova, or for that matter, the wider Balkan region has finally and permanently been settled.

More than a year after proclaiming independence from Serbia, Kosova has been recognized by 60 countries, including the United States of America, most of Europe's largest states, and some very important Muslim countries, like Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Malaysia.

Still, on June 15, when Kosovars will mark the first anniversary of the entry into force of their constitution, the shadow of a great number of states hesitating to endorse its statehood will certainly bring some rainy clouds above the celebration.

In addition, the one single question that is bound to "spoil" the celebration is going to be the unclear future regarding Serbs living in Kosova and the neighboring state of Serbia.

Serbia is still persistent in its stubborn refusal to accept the reality of an independent Kosova.

It does an incredible job to keep many countries — including too many Muslim ones — from recognizing the newest Balkan republic. Furthermore, the whole international community is highly reluctant to engage with Kosova in a meaningful way.

So, the just, multiethnic concept of the internationally supervised state does not break down — again — in the whirlpool of ethnic divisions and the renewal of conflict.

Hence, today, Kosova's success is measured not by what it did, but by what it did not do, or to put it even more accurately, it is what it could not do.

Read complete article here.

Agent provocateur?

From Haaretz:

The first time Kathleen Baines saw Maksud was on Wednesday, May 20. Like everyone else, she knew the well-to-do Pakistani by his first name only. He had started appearing here the previous September, wandering around outside Masjid al-Ikhlas (the "mosque of devotion") in town, meeting people in a popular local restaurant, paying for their meals and offering financial help.

Frequenters of the mosque, some of them immigrants from East Asia and others African Americans, could not help but notice that Maksud had five vehicles, including a Mercedes, a BMW and an ATV.

On that Wednesday in May, Maksud arrived in the neighborhood in one of his cars at about 4 P.M. and stopped at Baines' house. He has a narrow face, she recalls now, and peroxided hair. He would wear sunglasses and expensive shoes. Whenever he came to look for her partner, James Cromitie, in recent months, he would remain outside, and this time was no different.

"Where is the brother?" he asked, and she answered from the window: "James is on his motorbike with my son." Maksud asked her what his cellular phone number was. The question sounded strange to Baines since he was the one who had given James the phone.

When Cromitie returned with her son on the motorbike, he gave her a kiss and went over to Maksud's car. She saw on the seat of the car that three cellular telephones had been placed alongside one another and this also seemed strange.

"Where are you going?" she asked and James replied, "We're going to eat." "When will you get back?" she asked and Maksud answered, "about 8 P.M."

At around 8 P.M. she called her partner, but there was no reply. She was not surprised. "Maksud would always force him to turn off his phone when they met. He always tried to persuade James to leave me. He called me the 'boss-woman.' He would ask: Where is the bitch?" she said when we met last week in Newburgh.

Cromitie did his best to avoid Maksud, Baines says. They were relieved when he said he was leaving for Pakistan in November 2008, but in January 2009 he returned.

"I'm taking the brother to the mosque," Maksud would tell her. He paid for Baines' rent several times, gave Cromitie money and promised to bring them gifts. "Listen, sister," she remembers him saying, "if the brother wants $10,000, I'll give it to him." Maksud would add that this was in the spirit of Islam.

Baines is 42 and has two grown daughters, a 6-year-old son from a different man and a 2-year-old grandson.

"James treated all of us like his family," she says. She met him in a hostel for men, where she worked, four years ago. Cromitie, 53, was born in Brooklyn and spent 12 years in jail for various drug offenses. In 2005, a few months after he was released, he moved to Newburgh. "He is a gentleman. One doesn't find men like that today. He asked me to stop working. He converted to Islam in jail and from that I understood that Islam must be good because he treated me well."

On that day in May when she tried to reach him by phone, Baines did not know that Maksud, Cromitie and three of their friends were on their way to Riverdale in the Bronx, to carry out what Assistant U.S. Attorney Eric Snyder described later as an unimaginable, blood-curdling plot: planting bombs in parked cars next to a Riverdale synagogue and Jewish cultural center, and shooting missiles at a helicopter at Newburgh's Air National Guard base.

The lethal plot was foiled, however. One of the five men put the bombs in place while three others kept watch. But no one was aware that the bombs had been defused earlier by the Federal Bureau of Investigation - and that FBI officers, members of the New York Police Department and a joint anti-terror force were lying in wait for them.

When the men returned to the car, they were arrested at the height of an "painstaking operation," as one source said to The New York Times. According to official reports, the investigation started in June 2008. The FBI received a tip-off then that the men were planning to attack targets in the United States. Four of the men are converts to Islam; three were born in the U.S. and the fourth (said to have psychiatric problems) is from Haiti. They were all jailed in the past for drug offenses.

In a press conference held outside the Jewish center in the Bronx on May 21, the commissioner of the New York City Police Department, Raymond Kelly, said the four had been overheard saying they wanted to carry out a jihad because so many Muslims were being killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Democratic Party Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who represents the Bronx in the state assembly, said in an interview with the Times that people are sometimes motivated by religious hatred and hatred of Jews, but it was fortunate that the FBI and police had uncovered this plot at an early stage.

On that fateful Wednesday evening, Baines still knew nothing - even when FBI agents carried out a search of her house and detained her for five hours. The following day, when it was reported that the driver of the car had cooperated with the FBI, Baines realized that this was Maksud - "the man who destroyed my life."

Salahuddin Muhammad, the imam of the local mosque, was not surprised. "We thought he was an informer," he told both journalists and the children who study in the mosque. The children saw all the media buzz and were disturbed that the name of their mosque had come up in connection with the plot. "We wondered what to do," the imam explained to the youngsters. "How should we tell the authorities that we suspected him? But it was the authorities who had sent him."

Maksud, it later transpired, is a Pakistani immigrant who was arrested in 2002 for selling fake driving licenses to immigrants. In order to avoid serving a jail sentence and being exiled, he agreed to work for the FBI. An on-the-ball journalist from The New York Post realized this was the same federal informer who had worked five years earlier in Albany, New York, in a similar fashion. He had appeared near a local mosque there, presented himself as religious and rich, and had become friendly with Musharaff Hussein, an immigrant from Bangladesh who owned a pizzeria and was having money troubles. According to the official version, the informer eventually helped to thwart a dangerous terror plot planned by the pizzeria owner and the mosque's imam, Yassin Arif, originally from Kurdistan. They were plotting to kill a Pakistani diplomat and to finance the murder by selling weapons. In Albany, Maksud used a different name.

An FBI spokesman in New York refused to confirm or deny that this was the same informer, but said, in a telephone conversation, that the prosecution had to prove the guilt of the four men while the defense had to prove that they had fallen into a trap.

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France to bring in Burqa/Niqab ban in public

The French government appeared divided Friday, June 19, over a proposal to ban the donning the burka, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.

"If it were determined that wearing the burka is a submissive act, and that it is contrary to republican principles, well naturally parliament would have to drawn the necessary conclusions," Government Spokesman Luc Chatel said, reported Agence France Presse (AFP).

Chatel, who welcomed the proposal, has not rule out the possibility of passing a law in this regard.

"Why not," he wondered.

Communist MP Andre Gerin is spearheading the drive to set up a parliamentary commission to look into what he described as a growing number of women donning the burka in France.

His proposal is backed by some 58 MPs, many of whom are from President Nicolas Sarkozy's ruling Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party.

The lawmakers are calling for a special inquiry into whether women who wear the burka or the niqab undermine French secularism and women's rights.

It is expected to come up for a vote in the National Assembly soon.

If the lower house agrees to set up the commission, it would draft a report to be released no later than November 30.

Muslim community leaders say that burka remains a rare exception among France's nearly seven million Muslims, the biggest Muslim minority in Europe.

According to AFP, there are no figures on the number of women who wear the full-body covering in France -- and whether it is on the rise.

In past, they have indirectly discriminated against women wearing Niqab by rejecting their citizenship.

Its been over 5 years now since they brought in Anti-Hijab law. Just makes me wonder what they will be doing next.

If you read history, the catholic church (backed by France ofcourse) used to pass all strange laws like Missionary position was the only permitted way to consummate relationship between couples. All other positions were considered sinful. Special permission was required in case of exceptions.

Maybe in near future they might say that when its summer women cant dress modestly, they need to dress like tarts.