Friday, 31 July 2009
(Quran 2:256) "There shall be no compulsion in religion: Truth has become distinct from error, and whoever rejects false deities and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold, which never dbreaks. And Allah is Hearing, Knowing."
The placement of this verse in the Quran remarkable. It immediately follows Ayatul Kursi, which is the most read, most widely memorized, and most prolifically displayed verse in the Quran. So, this statement regarding compulsion is imbedded within potent statements on creed. It may be the only verse of its kind, but clearly Allah intended it to be well known... and therefore well understood. The only published explanations of this verse that I can find are concerned entirely with prohibiting forced conversion. This is a reaction formation to attacks against Islam regarding how it spread historically. It is not an actionable interpretation by Muslims for Muslims. They do not discuss the implications of prohibiting coercion in other matters. So, I've done a little processing and I'd like to decompress the issue as I see it.
Allah is not careless with words. This sentence is only four words. La Ikrah fi deen. "No compulsion in religion." Every scholar I've ever heard discuss the word deen says that "religion" is a poor translation, and that deen is a complete and comprehensive way of life. Why would Allah use a word that means a complete way of life to describe a truth that only applies to a very specific instance? Could He not have said, "No compulsion in dawah?Ó"
The verse is a logical syllogism. Statements of evidence that support a premise. The Quran is often constructed in this format, and this appeal to reason is what makes it distinct from other scriptures. Over and over Allah tells us, "Will you not use reason?" and that He despises those who don't. "The worst of creatures in the sight of Allah are the deaf and dumb who do not use their intellect to understand." (Quran 8:22) So, let's break down the syllogism. Given that Allah is omniscient, that tawhid is virtuous, and that Truth is distinct from error, therefore religion must be free from coercion.
Reason dictates that any instance where the evidence is true the conclusion must also be true, and the evidence presented is true in all instances, therefore the premise MUST be true in all instances. It cannot be true for conversion and false for other matters. How can the premise be abrogated when the supporting evidence remains? This is the principle of nonaggression. "Surely, Allah loves not the aggressors" (Quran 2:190) i.e. the initiators of coercion.
Continue reading here.
28 Finalists have been named for the '7 wonders of Nature poll' and it is very interesting to see these Allah's creation. The Grand Canyon and the Great Barrier Reef are competing with 26 other spectacular natural landmarks in the final phase of the global poll to choose the "New 7 Wonders of Nature," organisers said today.
The Amazon rain forest, the Dead Sea, Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa and Ecuador's Galapagos islands are also among the finalists, according to the organization New 7 Wonders led by Swiss adventurer Bernard Weber.
People can vote by Internet or phone. The winners will be announced in 2011 and share in the glory already enjoyed by the seven man-made wonders chosen two years ago.
Y0u can see the photo of all these wonders here.
Thursday, 30 July 2009
A big debate is going on in UK within the Muslim community regarding sex-education lessons to Muslim children. A lot pf people are opposed to their children receiving them. The problem is that there are so many sources of information nowadays that if its restricted from the official sources then they may learn misinformation from unofficial sources.
At the time of the prophet, muslims men and women were never too shy to ask the prophet about all affairs, including such private affairs as sexual life, so as to know the teachings and rulings of their religion concerning them. As Aisha, the wife of the prophet testified, "Blessed are the women of the Ansar (the citizens of Madina). Shyness did not stand in their way seeking knowledge about their religion." (All except Termizi).
The way the ladies asked the prophet-directly or through his wives is a proof that sexual matters were not taboo but were fully acknowldged and respected. "Shyness is part of the faith" as the prophet taught, but he also taught "There is no shyness in matters of religion" even entailing the delicate aspects of sexual life.
It is our firm belief that facts about sex should be taught to children in a way commensurate with their age as they grow up both by the family and the school. We emphasize that this should be done within the total context of Islamic ideology and Islamic teaching, so that the youth-beside getting the correct physiologic knowledge become fully aware on the sanctity of the sexual relation in Islam and the grave sin of blemishing such sanctity whether under Islamic law, or far more important in the sight of God. Provided the Islamic conscience is developed we see no reason to shun sex education (unfortunately the rule in many muslim countries), and we believe it is better to give the correct teaching rather than leave this to chance and to incorrect sources and to the concomitant feeling of guilt by the hush-hush atmosphere in which this is done.
We should not think that our children are far from such discoveries, because even if we have control on what they watch, hear, or say indoors, it is impossible that we control what they get across outdoors. Out there, children meet other children with different backgrounds and cultures. These children can share with them things that we do not like them to hear about, and as parents, we can imagine how messy it can be when sex topics are discussed among kids.
Therefore, we need to teach our children to return to us when they have dubious information or insistent questions that concern them, whether about sex or any other topic. If we make them feel that we are always there for them and that their continuous questions never bother us, they would not hesitate to ask their questions.
But, with the many burdens we face daily, we would never have time to answer all their questions. So, we should make a promise to get back to them when there is more time. In this way, they will not need to look for alternatives, and we can ensure correct and healthy sex education instead of leaving them exposed to misinformation from their siblings, peers, or friends.
It may also be helpful to remember that sex education is not forbidden even at younger ages. The Companions, including women, did not hesitate to learn about sex from Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). For example, the Prophet taught them to lower their gaze.
When a young Muslim asked the Prophet to allow him to commit adultery, the Prophet softly asked him if he accepted that his mother, sister, or aunt commit adultery. And when the man admitted that he did not accept it, the Prophet explained that people also do not accept that their daughters and sisters commit adultery. From the guidance of the Prophet, we can take note of the importance of providing our children and teens with logical answers.
Sheikh Faisal Mawlawi, Deputy Chairman of the European Council for Fatwa and Research, states:
“Sex education means informing a young man and woman about how to satisfy sexual desires innate in them according to the laws established by Almighty Allah.
It is natural that such kind of education must exist in the Muslim societies since it aims, originally, at teaching a Muslim the morals of Islam and its rulings.
Muslim Jurists were keen on disseminating such form of useful knowledge to the extent that they had a common dictum that reads: 'Shyness should not stand in your way to seek knowledge about (sensitive) matters of religion.'
Since the sex education known in the Western societies makes it lawful for any young man and woman to fall in the abyss of adultery, it becomes incumbent on Muslims to inculcate their sons and daughters with the true sex education as shown by Islam and the rulings of Allah regarding such very sensitive and delicate matters.
As we have known that sex education in Islam is a form of imparting religious knowledge to young men or women, for them to be aware of what is required of them in matters of deen and dunya it is not allowed under any pretext to use such sex education to sanction adultery or moral deviation by any means such as naked photos or direct description of sexual practices.
With this in mind, we can say that it is preferable to begin the process of sex education at the age of puberty, for carrying it before this age is not good. As for the Western countries where sex education is normally offered at an earlier age, it is good that the Islamic sex education be offered to children at the age of discretion i.e. about the age of seven.”
Stressing the Islamic stance on sex education and its significance, Sheikh `Abdul-Majeed Subh, a prominent Azharite scholar, states:
“Those who think that sex education is not allowed in Islam are completely wrong. The books of Islamic jurisprudence expose several topics promoting sexual awareness, including discussion of menstruation, childbirth bleeding, pregnancy, delivery, rules of sexual intercourse, rules of marriage, taking a bath (Ghusl) after sexual intercourse, rules related to ejaculation of sperm during intercourse and intercourse without ejaculation, and rules related to the punishment for committing adultery or fornication. All these rulings are dealt with in the books of Islamic jurisprudence in a moral and scientific manner.
In Surat an-Nur, Almighty Allah says, “The adulterer and the adulteress, scourge ye each one of them (with) a hundred stripes. And let not pity for the twain withhold you from obedience to Allah, if ye believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a party of believers witness their punishment.” (An-Nur: 2). Also the Qur’an counts among the attributes of the believer: “And those who preserve their chastity save with their wives and those whom their right hands possess, for thus they are not blameworthy.” (Al-Ma`arij: 29-30) It is natural that in the course of explaining these verses to people, we must explain what is meant by fornication and adultery.
Also at schools, children, males and females, study biology and the topics related to reproduction in plant, animal, and human lives. They even may happen to witness some scenes in which animals reproduce. These are natural phenomenon that is known to all.
Therefore, if we do not give our children proper education in this field, they will be liable to commit mistakes and deviate.
In his book al-Majmu`, Imam an-Nawawi mentions that Imam Ash-Shafi`i is of the opinion that parents are under obligation to give their children such kind of sex education.
As for the age, such kind of sex education is to be given at the age of discretion when a child can distinguish between a male and female. But from psychology we learn to start educating children gradually starting from reproduction in plant life, moving to animal life and finally in human life. Through proper sex education given by parents, they can protect their children against moral deviations and in consequence several fatal diseases.”
Shedding more light on what kind of sex education to be given, we’d like to stress that “Islam is explicit about many aspects of human sexuality. Also, based on the numerous hadith showing the Prophet's willingness to discuss these matters openly, it should be obvious that education about matters related to sex is acceptable. Muslims may disagree about the age at which sex education begins; some don't discuss the subject at all. Explaining anatomy and the changes one's body experiences during puberty are essential for enabling young people to grow up with a healthy self-image. Also, in an age where sexual activity in many countries begins at an early age, Muslim adolescents must be informed to better enable them to deal with peer pressure.
Sex education can be taught in a way that informs young people about sexuality in scientific and moral terms. In countries with very diverse populations, such as the United States, the main limitation in developing sex education curricula, particularly in public schools, is the inability to select a universally acceptable moral position. Therefore, young people are given facts and information, and advised that if they choose to engage in sexual relationships, they should take measures to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The moral and religious aspects of sexuality can be incorporated either in schools of a particular religious denomination or in adjunctive coursework offered by religious institutions. Regardless of the challenges of each society, young people must be adequately informed. Also, in some Muslim communities, individuals are encouraged to marry at young ages. They need to be educated regarding sexuality prior to the marriage such that they know what to expect and can consider their options for birth control prior to consummating the marriage.”
Who killed Yasser Arafat? When the Palestinian leader was declared dead in a French hospital, on November 11, 2004, there was no way of knowing how questions pertaining to his death should be phrased.
Was he killed, or did he die from old age? If he was killed, then who killed him and why? The "mysterious" nature of his symptoms — galvanized a dominant theory that the man was poisoned over a period of time — provided enough evidence that foul play was involved, even indicting some of those closest to him.
Although the man's story has been recorded in the ever-growing chronicle of the Palestinian struggle, and Palestinians have somehow moved on, recent breaking news has blown his story wide open once more, breeding new controversy and stories of conspiracy.
Nearly five years have passed since Arafat died. During those years, a number of high-ranking Palestinian leaders, especially from the Hamas movement were assassinated by Israel in various and consistently gory methods.
Among Palestinians, Arafat is referred to like all those killed by Israel, as a "martyr", an indication of the widespread belief that his death was hardly the result of natural causes.
If Arafat was indeed killed, and since his death was not caused by an Israeli air strike, or an assassin's bullet, a key question has been lingering, giving heed to all sorts of interpretations, who killed Arafat and how?
Israelis made little secret of their desire to see Arafat dead. Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon expressed regret in a newspaper interview on February 1, 2002 that he had not killed Arafat decades ago when he had the chance. Sharon told Israeli newspaper Maariv that he should have "eliminated" Arafat during Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982. "Do you regret it (not killing Arafat)?" he was asked. "Certainly, yes," he replied.
On the day of Arafat's death, BBC news carried comments by then Israeli opposition leader Shimon Peres, saying it is "good that the world got rid of him…The sun is shining in the Middle East."
Held hostage in his bullet-riddled West Bank office for years, Arafat represented an international embarrassment for Israel. He was not "moderate" enough to concede all Palestinian rights, but "moderate" enough to maintain an aura of international attention, and support among Arab, Muslim, European, and other nations.
Still, in the minds of some, Arafat was determined, and often declared to represent an "obstacle". The Palestinian Authority's (PA) truly "moderate" camp disliked him for his tireless compromises aimed at prevented factional infighting, thus blocking their attempts at dominating the Palestinian society.
Israel despised him for numerous reasons, notwithstanding his refusal to "concede" on issues of paramount importance, such as the issues of refugees and Jerusalem. The Bush administration took every opportunity to discredit, discount, and insult him, constantly propping up an "alternative" leadership, namely, Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Dahalan, and others.
Strangely enough, even Abbas and other high-ranking PA officials referred to Arafat as a "martyr", especially whenever they needed to capitalize on his legacy among low-ranking Fatah members and ordinary Palestinians.
However, the story was meant to end here, with Abbas and Dahlan, carrying the torch of Arafat the "martyr" continue with their rhetoric-based "revolution" to liberate Palestine.
That, until the second highest-ranking Fatah member and one of the PLO's most visible leaders Farouk Kaddumi broadcasted a document that contained some unanticipated indictment; that Abbas and Dahlan, along with Sharon, US Undersecretary of State William Burns, and others jointly plotted the assassination of Arafat. Kaddumi's document contained the minutes of that meeting in 2004.
Kaddumi broke the news in a press conference in Amman, Jordan on July 12, 2009, asserting that Arafat had entrusted him with the minutes of that secret meeting involving top Israeli, Palestinian, and American leaders and officials.
The plot, according to Kaddumi included the assassination of other Palestinian leaders, some of them have indeed been assassinated since then, while others are still alive, thanks to the failure of Israeli missiles and car bombs that failed to deliver.
Expectedly, the Ramallah-based Fatah leaders launched fierce verbal attacks against Kaddumi, questioning his objectives, timing, and even his sanity.
Abbas accused Kaddumi of wanting to torpedo the Fatah faction long-delayed congress, scheduled to convene in Bethlehem on August 4. "He (Kaddumi) knows full well that this information is false; he has released it to undermine the convention, but we are continuing with preparations," Abbas said.
Kaddumi had in fact criticized the convention of a supposedly "revolutionary" movement held with Israeli consent, if not support.
The fact is, we may never know the authenticity of Kaddumi's report without an independent investigation or irrefutable evidence. However, similar to Arafat's death, conclusive evidence is not always required for the public to formulate an opinion over such issues.
Considering Israel's threats to Arafat, Palestinians have no reason to believe that Israel did not kill him. Similarly, ordinary Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, have little reason to trust that corrupt Palestinians were not involved in Arafat's death.
A clique of Palestinian elite have made it clear that their personal interests surpass those of the Palestinian people; Dahlan openly advocated the toppling of an elected government in Gaza, as the Ramallah-based "revolutionary" movement is dispatching US-armed and US-trained Palestinian militants to crack down on Israel's enemies in various West Bank towns.
As bizarre as all of this may sound, it is at least enough to explain why Palestinians are willing to believe the recent statements made by Kaddumi, a respected figure among all Palestinian factions.
True, Kaddumi's accusations are yet to be authenticated by an independent investigation, but they are made in a fractious, if not peculiar, political context that makes them most plausible, and in a sense, that is the real tragedy.
Ramzy Baroud (www.ramzybaroud.net) is an author and editor of PalestineChronicle.com. His work has been published in many newspapers, journals, and anthologies around the world. His latest book is, "The Second Palestinian Intifada: A Chronicle of a People's Struggle" (Pluto Press, London), and his forthcoming book is, "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story" (Pluto Press, London).
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
While state media have extensively covered the events of 5 July, when Uighurs launched indiscriminate assaults on Han, they did not report Han revenge attacks on Uighurs two days later.
At least 197 people died in the inter-ethnic conflict – including 137 Han and 46 Uighurs – and 1,700 were injured.
"After the 5 July incident, some people in Urumqi, out of indignation over the crimes committed by rioters or sorrow for the loss of their families, did take to the streets," acknowledged Wu Shimin, vice-minister in charge of the state ethnic affairs commission, when asked about the events of 7 July at a press conference in Beijing.
"I believe all ethnic groups need to go through normal channels and adopt legal means to express their opinions; even opinions on unlawful incidents. All people are equal before the law; all ethnic groups are equal before the law. Anyone who has violated the law should be severely punished."
The government has warned it will execute those who used "cruel means" during the unrest. At least 1,400 people have been detained, of whom the majority are believed to be Uighurs.
With Urumqi under a heavy security presence by 7 July, paramilitary police used repeated bursts of teargas to disperse the Han crowd as it headed for a Uighur neighbourhood.
But witnesses reported attacks on Uighur businesses and Uighurs told the Guardian they believed at least four people had been killed in violence that day and the next.
Wu told reporters that increasing exchanges between ethnic groups with different customs, traditions and religious beliefs meant they "may run into conflicts and disputes from time to time".
He insisted all such problems had been handled "in a proper and timely way".
He said China's ethnic policy was "conducive to unity, equality and harmony" and had nothing to do with the riots, adding: "We know those behind the violence were ... seeking the independence of Xinjiang. To this, I can clearly tell them this will never happen."
Officials have accused Uighur exiles of orchestrating the violence.
Han Chinese armed with iron bars and machetes roamed Urumqi city on Tuesday looking to wreak revenge on Uighurs for bloody ethnic clashes two days earlier which killed 156 and wounded more than 1,000.
Outnumbered riot police used tear gas to try to disperse the thousands of angry protesters who flooded the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang.
In a sign of government anxiety about the unrest, the city's Communist Party boss Li Zhi took to the streets to plead with protesters to return home, and overnight "traffic restrictions" -- originally announced as a curfew -- came into effect to halt the violence, in which many people were injured.
Security forces intervened to stop fighting, breaking up a battle between hundreds of rock-throwing Han and Uighurs and forcing a Han mob to leave a building they stormed in a Uighur area, a Reuters reporter said. There were no reports of deaths.
But riot police stood warily by as crowds vented their anger by throwing rocks at a mosque and smashing restaurants and shops owned by Uighurs, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.
A new wave of violence hit the capital of the Chinese region of Xinjiang today as thousands of angry Han Chinese rampaged through Urumqi, many smashing up Uighur stores and seeking vengeance for Han deaths at the weekend.
The authorities swiftly imposed a curfew on the restive city in an attempt to quell what the government has already described as the worst riots since the foundation of the People's Republic 60 years ago. Police attempted to disperse today's mob with teargas as they headed towards a predominantly Uighur area, but many were still on the streets armed with whatever came to hand: wooden staves, iron bars, metal chains, nunchuks, shovels and axes.
Rioters smashed Uighur restaurants, threw rocks at a mosque and threatened residents of Uighur areas, although moderates in the crowd attempted to restrain them.
To the visitor it may seem picturesque. But when you've spent several hours a day for 20 years vigorously shaking a dead goat's stomach filled with milk to make butter, the novelty has long worn off. In the village of Susiya, not having electricity keeps them in their own dark age.
So for Samia Shineran, 30, who has been making goat's butter by hand since she was 10, the installation of a powered churn in the family tent this spring was an unalloyed delight, giving her that much more time for the many other tasks which fall to this Palestinian mother of 10.
"This is better," she says, beaming. It is easy work now. Women clean the dishes, deal with the sheep and goats, take care of the children. "I can do more things every day now and have social contact with other women." Her horizons now widened, she would ideally like an electric pump to ease the back-breaking task – mainly allotted to women – of bringing buckets up from the cistern holes that are her extended family's only water supply in a community without any of the utilities the Jewish settlers a few hundred metres away take for granted.
Mrs Shineran's wish may yet be fulfilled because Susiya, a beleaguered community in the arid, windswept South Hebron hills, now has electricity thanks to a unique renewable energy project. Pioneered by two physicists who have a strong interest in environmentalism and a close relationship with the villagers, the changes, in the words of 32-year-old farmer Hassan Shineran "have brought us from the Stone Age to modern life". Both Noam Dotan and Elad Orian, who came to help the Palestinian Arabs in this impoverished, conflict-scarred tract of the southern West Bank, happen to be Israeli Jews.
Although Palestinian shepherds and farmers first subsisted here in caves at least 200 years ago, the 14 extended families of Susiya came here as refugees, expelled from their Negev village in the war of 1948. While the 1967 Six-Day War brought their adopted home under Israeli military control, the real troubles of the Susiya families, like many others in the South Hebron hills, really began in the 1980s. That was when Jewish settlers – some notably hard-line – began to establish communities across the area.
Because the new settlements were surrounded by closed military "security buffer zones" – often including Palestinian grazing land and key water sources – the settlers were able to exploit the old Ottoman law that land not worked for three years passed automatically from its previous owners. The problems were compounded by the discovery of the remains of an ancient Jewish town; today it is squeezed between an Israeli settlement, an archaeological park and a military base.
Read complete article here.
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Some people goto Hajj every year. Some do it because they think its their right to do so. Some do it for worldly name and fame, some do it because they have nothing better to do. Very few people do it out of fear of Allah and to gain mercy and forgiveness from him.
The following is an extract from Islam Online Fatwa bank.
Some charities take donations, which they allot to those who have not performed Hajj before. But which is better for donors: to give money to those who want to perform Hajj for the first time, or to give money to the poor, the needy, the insolvent debtors, etc., all over the Islamic world?
In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
There are two aspects in this issue: the money giver and the money receiver for Hajj. One who is asked to accept a certain sum of money from a charity organization that acts on behalf of the donor does not have to take the money, as the Lawgiver (Allah) does not oblige one to do so. The Lawgiver does not ask Muslims to overexert themselves in order to have the means to perform Hajj. Moreover, the obligation to take the money might be considered a favor done for one, in which case one does not have to accept and is not considered financially able to perform Hajj. This is Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal’s opinion. As for Ash-Safi`i, he said, “If one is given what makes one able to perform Hajj, one must perform it, as one is then able to perform it financially without being regarded as accepting a favor of anybody, or being exposed to any harm. So Hajj has become incumbent upon one.”
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May Allah guide you to the straight path, and guide you to that which pleases Him, Amen.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Allah Almighty knows best.
Arab health officials have agreed to restrict certain groups from performing the annual Muslim pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia this year amid growing concerns about the H1N1 flu pandemic.
Those considered high-risk such as the elderly, young children and the chronically ill have been advised to avoid making the hajj or the lesser umrah pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca.
But Abdullah al-Rabeeah, the Saudi health minister, said on Wednesday the kingdom has no plans to restrict the number of visas it issues for pilgrims, though numbers are expected to be lower.
"We did not change the percentage of any country, we changed certain rules," he said after a meeting of Arab health ministers and representatives of the World Health Organisation (WHO).
"It's up to the country to replace [applicants who fall under the restrictions] with" other pilgrims.
The move to keep the vulnerable groups away from the pilgrimage is expected to be ratified by the respective Arab governments.
Hussein Gezairi, the WHO regional director for the Eastern Mediterranean region, said he expected Riyadh to ratify the recommendations, adding there was a "consensus" among the health ministers at the meeting.
"The Saudi government will make [these conditions] a requirement... No one will get their visa unless these requirements are fulfilled."
Gezairi said the Saudi government was well equipped to deal with communicable diseases among the large number of annual pilgrims.
"[Our] government has a very long experience now... because Saudi Arabia every year receives between 25 and 30 cases of cholera and no epidemics are happening."
Around three million Muslim pilgrims from over 160 countries head for the holy city of Mecca in western Saudi Arabia each year in one of the world's biggest religious gatherings.
In June, Saudi Arabia called on elderly, ill and other unfit Muslims - including pregnant women - to postpone their pilgrimages to Mecca because of the threat of H1N1.
Oman issued a similar warning on July 6.
This year the hajj will take place in November, while the umrah can be performed at any time but is popular during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in August.
On Monday Egypt became the latest country to warn vulnerable Muslims against the pilgrimage to Mecca, after an Egyptian woman returning from Saudi Arabia succumbed to H1N1 - the first death in the Middle East and Africa.
Egyptian health officials have said all returning pilgrims will be quarantined.
"We are separating patients who are positive for avian flu in hospitals," said Hatem el-Gabali, the health minister in the most populous Arab country.
In Iran, a health ministry official repeated calls on Tuesday for elderly Iranians and children to avoid travelling to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage as the number of confirmed H1N1 cases in the Islamic republic rose to 16.
Tunisia earlier this month suspended umrah pilgrimages because of the virus, while reserving judgement on whether the main hajj pilgrimage should be undertaken in November.
The airborne H1N1 virus has now been diagnosed in tens of thousands of people worldwide, and has killed more than 430 people, according to the WHO.
A businessman who was held and mistreated in the United Arab Emirates following the London bombings believes he has evidence that British consular officials asked permission from the UK's own security services to visit him while he was detained.
Heavily redacted documents seen by the Guardian appear to indicate that the request to visit Alam Ghafoor was made to an unidentified British intelligence officer and not to officials in the UAE.
Ghafoor is one of several British men who allege there has been British complicity in their detention and torture while abroad. The businessman, who is 38 and from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, was detained and tortured while on a business trip to Dubai following the London bombings in July 2005.
Ghafoor and his business partner, Mohammed Rafiq Siddique, flew to the UAE on 4 July. They were dragged out of a restaurant as they dined on 21 July. The two British Muslims say they were threatened with torture, deprived of sleep, subjected to stress positions and told they would be killed and fed to dogs.
Ghafoor has obtained copies of correspondence from consular officials to the Foreign Office in London while he was in custody that show those officials were asking someone other than the UAE authorities for permission to see him. Who that person is, and who they represented, is unclear, as their name was censored before the copies were handed over. Some of the reports were so heavily redacted by the time Ghafoor received them that the only words not blanked are his name.
In one email, dated 25 July, 2005, a consular official wrote: "Today I phoned [name withheld] trying to get permission to see them. First [...] told me that there was no need because they would be deported soon. I asked if we could see them today or tomorrow. [...] told me that [...] would check with the UAE authorities... and would let me know. I didn't hear from [...] since then. Tomorrow I'll speak to [...] again."
Ghafoor, who was released without charge on 30 July, is convinced that the individual to which consular officials were turning for permission to see him was a British intelligence officer. At the time of his interrogation, Ghafoor was told that British security services had requested his questioning.
MI5 and MI6 officers who question terrorism suspects they know are being tortured, are acting in line with a secret government interrogation policy, drawn up after the 9/11 attacks. The policy states: "we cannot be party to such ill treatment nor can we be seen to condone it" and that "it is important that you do not engage in any activity yourself that involves inhumane or degrading treatment of prisoners." It also advises intelligence officers that if detainees "are not within our custody or control, the law does not require you to intervene" to prevent torture.
According to Philippe Sands, QC, one of the world's leading experts in international human rights law, the policy almost certainly breaches international human rights.
When Ghafoor asked why he had been picked up, he was shown a photograph and told he resembled one of the 7/7 suicide bombers and must be related to him. His business partner, Siddique, who was also detained and tortured, says he was told he must have been involved in the bombings – not only did he share a name with the bombers – but he lived in Dewsbury, the same Yorkshire town.
Ghafoor said his interrogators questioned his sexuality, as he is not married, and insulted him because he was unable to wash, saying he smelled. He was also punched in the groin.
One interrogator said to him: "In the morning you will be thrown into a pit and the dogs will tear you to bits and I will watch it and enjoy it."
Eventually, he agreed to sign a false confession admitting he was a friend of the bombers and had organised the London attacks. "I wrote a false confession and put crazy things in it like 'I have constant contact with Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden'," he said.
He was told he would be shot by a firing squad the following morning.
When Ghafoor returned home, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. His relationship with his partner broke down and he suffered nightmares, anxiety and paranoia.
Ghafoor is furious that there has been no explanation for his treatment, nor an apology. "I would like to know why I was put through this hell and I would like someone to be accountable."
Clive Stafford-Smith, the legal director of Reprieve, a not-for-profit human rights organisation, said: "It is impossible for the victims of torture to move on without truth and reconciliation, yet the British government seems intent on covering up what it has done."
He added: "Until recently, the British security services were told to effectively turn a blind eye to torture."
Monday, 27 July 2009
Interesting 'Comment is free' from the Guardian:
Hannah Clark has certainly earned, both literally and figuratively, the title of the "girl with two hearts" bestowed upon her by the media. When she was just two years old, she had the dubious distinction of becoming the first person in Britain to possess a "piggyback" heart.
For more than a decade, Hannah lived on a potent cocktail of medication designed to stop her body rejecting her second heart. But suppressing her immune system in this way made her susceptible to infections and, by the age of 12, she had developed cancer. During chemotherapy, her body began to reject the donor organ which led doctors to take the dramatic decision to remove it. Through all this, although she lost her second heart, Hannah didn't lose heart. Now, aged 16, she has fully recovered, her doctors said in a recent article in the Lancet.
This is a truly heart-warming testament to the power of modern medicine to turn tragedy into triumph. And I could not help feeling a little rush of pride that the doctor who made all this possible was an Egyptian: Magdi Yacoub, who is actually also a neighbour of sorts, as his Cairo home overlooks my family's. Dishearteningly, and almost inevitably, Yacoub, the son of a surgeon, did not find his success in Egypt but in Britain, where he built up a career as one of the world's most pioneering heart surgeons and researchers. Dubbed the "King of Hearts" by the Royal Society, this naturalised Brit did not usurp the throne but he did receive a knighthood.
And numerous other examples abound of Arab minds – such as the Nobel prize-winner Ahmed Zewail – deserting the Arab science desert and thriving elsewhere. Why is it that a region that was once the world's scientific powerhouse has now become its outhouse? In an article last year, I explored some of the reasons which included: "The dominant patronage culture in academia, the shortage of research funding, the almost complete absence of private research, the difficulty of registering and protecting intellectual property, as well as the rote-based education system."
Some experts observe that Islam's scientific heritage equips Muslims to look positively upon modern science. In fact, many Muslims believe that modern science confirms the Qur'an. "In those countries where fundamentalism has taken hold among the youth in the universities, it is striking to observe that the fundamentalist students are in a majority in the scientific institutions," says Farida Faouzia Charfi, a science professor at the University of Tunis. "[Islamists] want to govern society with ideas of the past and the technical means of modernity."
But this selective interest in science is a double-edged sword because it encourages people to disregard inconvenient scientific truths if they conflict with or contradict their faith. Attitudes aside, another important factor that is often missing from the equation is the simple question of resources. I think it's no coincidence that the start of Europe and the west's golden age and the Arab and Muslim world's gradual decline occurred at about the time when Muslims ceded their grip on global trade to Europeans who also "discovered" a resource-rich "new world" in the process.
But things are looking up, according to Nadia al-Awady, a freelance science journalist based in Cairo. Writing in Nature, she links the surge in science coverage in the Arab media with a related boom in Arab research and development activities. Since 2006, there has even been an Arab Science Journalists Association (ASJA).
"Although the science staff of media organisations in the United States and Europe face cutbacks, a survey of ASJA members in January 2009 indicated that full-time jobs for Arab science journalists have remained relatively stable over the past five years," reports al-Awady.
However, quantity does not always mean quality, as al-Awady herself freely admits. "As I sit at my desk in Cairo, it is easier for me to know what is happening in American universities halfway across the globe than to know what is happening within the walls of Egypt's National Research Centre just across the street… Another problem for science journalism stems from a more general issue. Many media platforms are government-owned and, as a result, many journalists provide uncritical coverage of government announcements."
In addition, for someone whose role is to be a chronicler of science, al-Awady holds some pretty unscientific views. Writing for Islam Online, she goes against the scientific consensus and describes homosexuality not as a natural sexual orientation but as an individual lifestyle choice or a psychological condition that can be "cured".
More tellingly and even less scientifically, she cautions her readers, in case her scientific arguments have failed to persuade them: "Islam is a way of life. It is a system of beliefs based on divine revelation… As a Muslim, one cannot choose to follow parts of Islam and disregard others."
This illustrates well how scientific truth is sacred until it contradicts the holier truth of the Qur'an. During Islam's scientific boom years, such an attitude could just about survive alongside scientific inquiry – although many of Islam's greatest scientists were sceptics, theists or agnostics.
However, in the modern world, science fact increasingly contradicts religious myth and, for the Arab world to advance, it needs not only to invest more in research, it also has to hold universal truths above religious ones.
Up to 12 people have been killed in clashes between government security forces and opposition groups in southern Yemen.
Witnesses said hundreds of security forces opened fire on about 7,000 protesters in the city of Zinjibar in Abyan province on Thursday in an effort to disperse them.
Yemen's north and south were separate countries until they united in 1990, only to dissolve into civil war four years later when the south tried unsuccessfully to secede.
Secessionist sentiment has since been on the rise in the south and regular demonstrations by former army members demanding political reforms have heightened tensions between the two sides.
A doctor at al-Razi government hospital in Zinjibar said ambulances rushed to the scene and brought back 10 dead civilians and at least 12 injured police.
Another doctor at Aden's May 28th hospital said he received eight critically injured civilians, two of whom later died.Read the complete article here.
Sunday, 26 July 2009
It's twilight, the sun has set behind the hills bordering the Milliken Mills Community Centre in Markham. Inside the arena, the echoing clatter of hockey sticks and shouts quickly dies down. The players remove their helmets, lay down their sticks and answer the call to prayer.
"You always have to take into consideration the prayer times," said Safi Habib, commissioner of the Madina Hockey League, a Muslim ball hockey league in east Toronto.
"The best time to play ball hockey is the nighttime, around the sunset or after the sunset," because there are fewer prayers, said Habib, 33, as the players, bowing on a white mat in the corner of the rink, observe the fourth prayer of the day.
There are more than 400 Muslims playing organized ball hockey across Greater Toronto, and interest in the connection between the community and the sport is at a high.
Last month, the Toronto Maple Leafs drafted their first Muslim player, Nazem Kadri.
The 5-foot-11 centre played for the Ontario Hockey League's London Knights and was the seventh overall pick, the highest a Muslim player has ever been drafted.
If he gets called up, Kadri would be the second Muslim player of Middle Eastern descent to play in the National Hockey League: Montreal-born Ramzi Abid played parts of four seasons before moving to Europe a few years ago.
"We are crossing our fingers," said Habib, "we would love to see (Kadri) in a Leafs uniform."
Like most Canadians, said Habib, Muslim youth have grown up loving hockey. They were playing ball hockey in large numbers in the mid-1980s and within a decade were competing on organized teams and in tournaments.
Last weekend marked the fifth annual Salaam Cup, a three-day event in Malton that saw the country's top Muslim players go head to head.
The Greenbirds took the cup.
Members of Canada's Muslim community, said Habib, "are utilizing the skills they have learned from their parents and their home countries," such as Pakistan and India, where cricket and field hockey are the dominant sports, "and using them in a sport Canadians love to play."
"They bring that culture of athleticism from those countries. They want to adapt to what Canadians do and hockey is the first thing that comes to mind."
From a practical perspective the sport is also far less expensive than ice hockey, since it requires minimal equipment, and, although many teams choose to play in arenas, all you need is a patch of concrete or a parking lot.
The Madina league has eight teams, each with about 16 to 18 players. They meet every Friday night in Markham, battling towards the Madina Cup in mid-August.
At the community centre in Markham, the first teams to play are the Hitmen and the Shaolin Monks.
As the game progresses, heat radiates off the players on the bench. The air thickens with the smell of sweat and the slightly rank scent of hockey equipment a few games overdue for a good cleaning.
"We are doing all right, obviously we are killing them," said Monks player Muqtidah Gulam, 29, after his team takes a 5-0 lead.
Players shout encouragement, but there is little to no swearing. The Muslim faith discourages profanity, anger or competitive aggression. Swearing in tournament play will result in a penalty and could mean a suspension, said Habib. "We are trying to teach the religion as much as possible, and that is hard to do if you are allowing bodychecks or fighting."
On the bench for the Hitmen is Zaid Majoo, a burly 23-year-old whose gold-toothed grin is wide and frequent, even as he watches his team go down in smoke.
"Hands down they are just hustling us. Outplaying us every single place, to the boards, to the net, everywhere," said Majoo.
The Monks win 6-0. The two teams shake and clear the rink. Meanwhile, throngs of Muslim boys and young men arrive to watch the next game.
Paying rapt attention is Usamah Bhoola, a 9-year-old centre for Team Corporate, one of 20 teams that make up the Scarborough Muslim Ball Hockey Association.
Bhoola, who plays Sunday mornings in the parking lot of Cornell Junior Public School, likes "passing and shooting."
"Kids love the game of hockey," said league president Saleh Hafejee, 42. "They are exposed to the game and they want to play." The league formed in 2003, out of the Jame Abu Bakr Siddique mosque at Lawrence Ave. E. and Midland Ave. It has 250 players and is growing as new immigrants sign on. "They don't have the skills, but their friends are playing. So they are getting involved."
Saturday, 25 July 2009
"Nothing is worse than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be: one-third for his food, one-third for his liquids, and one-third for his breath." (Tarmazi, ibn Majah and Hakim)
Allah has mentioned in the Quran:
"O children of Adam! Look to your adornment at every place of worship, and eat and drink, but be not prodigals. Lo! He loveth not the prodigals." (Quran 7:31)
Now the research shows that if we eat less, its healthier and we will live longer. See the article on The Independant here.
See also my old blog on How Islam helps control Obesity.
Friday, 24 July 2009
"Harassment has reached very dangerous levels," Sheikh Saad al-Takky, a senior Ministry of Religious Endowments official, told IslamOnline.net.
"There must be some serious action to curb it and our ministry has decided to take this action."
The Ministry, which is responsible for mosques and places of prayer, has distributed a booklet about sexual harassment in what appears to be a new bid to curb sexual harassment which continues to claim new victims on the crowded streets of Egypt.
The 35-page booklet contains important definitions about harassment and an analysis of the reasons why this phenomenon has risen in the largely conservative Egyptian society.
Among many other things, the authors blame unemployment and provoking clothes worn by some women for the increase in the number of harassment cases.
"Clothes are important for man in general, but they are more important for women because they protect them against molestation," it says.
The booklet urges women to wear the headscarf and be fully covered so that stalkers would not be tempted to approach them.
In 2005, officials at the Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights - a local organization that gives legal aid to women - were showered by complaints from women who experienced harassment on the streets.
In one of the studies the center conducted, 83 percent of female interviewees said they undergo harassment every now and then.
Nearly 62 percent of the male respondents said they harassed women more than once.
Center officials say 69 percent of harassment cases happen on the streets, 42 percent on public transport, 22 percent on the beach, while only 6 percent in work places.
A recent crackdown by the government resulted in the arrest of a big number of men who were harassing women on the street.
Mosque imams would start to read out the contents of the new booklet before and after prayers with the aim of warning worshippers against the dangers of harassment.
Some of the imams said they would specify whole sermons for harassment and its consequences, especially before the Friday prayer.
Others said they would discuss the issue on a daily basis so that men stop harassing women.
"Mosques are the most appropriate places for fighting this phenomenon," believes Sheikh Ahmed Hashim, the imam of a small mosque in the crowded residential district of Shubra, west of Cairo.
"Mosque imams have credibility and I’m sure they’ll help a lot to make men stop harassing women."
Acer Yasser, a social researcher and a specialist on sexual harassment, believes mosques will be effective in fighting harassment, but not to a very big extent.
"The problem is that people always draw a strong line of demarcation between religion and their day-to-day dealings," she told IOL.
"I mean those males who pray may sometimes harass females and this is the problem."
Yasser, the social researcher, is yet critical of the booklet's linkage between harassment to how women are dressed.
"The book gives meaningless excuses for harassers," she argues.
"The fact that some women wear un-Islamic attire shouldn’t be excuse that people make her life hard."
Acer had conducted several researches on sexual harassment on the streets of Egypt.
She says that most of the women she met wore the hijab but were sexually harassed none the less.
Wafaa Nabil, a 27-year-old bank accountant, is one of those who is never out on the street without being catcalled at by men.
"It’s becoming so horrible," she laments.
"Men bother me all the time although I cover my hair and my body."
Egypt does not have a law to criminalize sexual harassment.
The Egyptian Centre for Women’s Rights has presented a draft bill to the Parliament so that harassment would be criminalized.
Although centre officials expect the law to take a long time to be approved by Parliament, they are hopeful harassment would disappear one day.
"We need to join hands to bring this ugly practice to an end," says Rasha Hassan, the lead researcher in the center.
"Harassment has very negative consequences. Some of the women who undergo the experience feel afraid to go out."
Nearly two-thirds of Egyptian men admit to having sexually harassed women in the most populous Arab country, and a majority say women themselves are to blame for their maltreatment, a survey showed Thursday.
The forms of harassment reported by Egyptian men, whose country attracts millions of foreign tourists each year, include touching or ogling women, shouting sexually explicit remarks, and exposing their genitals to women. "Sexual harassment has become an overwhelming and very real problem experienced by all women in Egyptian society, often on a daily basis," said the report by the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.
Egyptian women and female visitors frequently complain of persistent sexual harassment on Egyptian streets, despite the socially conservative nature of this traditional Muslim society.
Being an Egyptian woman is to accept sexual harassment as daily routine, according to a recent report from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR). The study outlines, 60 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women are harassed on a daily basis.
Worse, though, is the expectation among both men and some Egyptian women that women are asked to be harassed by their manner of dress. According to the survey, 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women admitted to having been sexually harassed, though less than 3 percent of the harassed Egyptian women ever reported it. And, although it likely goes without saying, most of the Egyptian women who were harassed were wearing headscarves or clothes they deemed modest because, when it comes to street harassment, it isn't ever really about what a woman is wearing, it's always about a man trying to assert himself and intimidate her.Surprisingly, some Egyptian women say that their veils don’t protect against harassment, as the lollipop ads argue, but fuel it. A survey released this summer supports the view.
“These guys are animals. If they saw a female dog, they would harass it,” Hind Sayed, a 20-year-old sidewalk vendor in Cairo’s Mohandisseen district, said, staring coldly at a knot of male vendors who stood grinning a few feet from her.
In accord with her interpretation of Islamic law, which says women should dress modestly, Sayed wore a flowing black robe and black veil. Together, they covered all but her hands and her pale face with its drawn-on, expressive eyebrows. Despite her attire, Sayed said, she daily endures suggestive comments from male customers and fellow vendors.
Mona Eltahawy, a 41-year-old Egyptian social commentator who now lives, unveiled, in the United States, said that as a Muslim woman who wore hijab for nine years and was harassed “countless times” in Egypt, she has concluded that the increase in veiling has somehow contributed to the increase in harassment.
“The more women veil the less men learn to behave as decent and civilized members of society,” Eltahawy wrote in an interview via Facebook. “And the more women are harassed, the more they veil thinking it will ‘protect’ them.”
Thursday, 23 July 2009
Rahima Begum, a young woman in the village of Kaligonj in the northwest of Bangladesh, turned down the romantic advances of a neighbour and paid dearly for it.
In the dead of night, while she was asleep, her neighbour poured acid over her face, leaving her disfigured for life.
"I may be still alive but he took my life away, I have become the shame of my family and of my village. I have no where to go," she says.
According to official figures, there are only around 200 acid-related crimes reported every year in Bangladesh.
However, thousands of acid-attack victims find refuge at the Acid Survivor Foundation (ASF) in Dhaka, the capital, in any given year. Like Rahima, most victims are women who have spurned advances from men.
"The perpetrators have a strong mindset not to kill the person but to put the victim in a position that they suffer for life," Monira Rahman, the ASF's executive director, said.
The effect is to rob a woman of her beauty, thus ensuring that she will never be admired again, she said.
The survivors of these assaults suffer deep burns and most bear irreparable scars for the rest of their lives.
Some disfigurement can be treated through surgery, however.
Dr Ronald Hiles, a retired plastic surgeon from the UK, has spent his last two summers volunteering at the ASF, where he has been operating on victims of acid attacks and training Bangladeshi doctors in reconstructive surgery.
"The devastation that acid causes is really similar to the devastation from electricity, from alkaline, from flames or from hot water. Acid usually burns right through the skin," Hiles said.
The Bangladeshi government takes acid crime very seriously, and in the past decade has enacted many laws aimed at curbing the occurrence of this crime.
In 2002, legislation was enacted to restrict civilian access to the lethal substance.
This is an effective measure, but has not been adequately enforced. Acid is still accessible to the public, and can be purchased by the gallon for less than $3 at shops that sell industrial chemicals.
The Bangladeshi authorities have also stated that all acid related crimes will be tried within six months under a special tribunal.
John Morrisson, the founder of the Acid Survivor Trust International, an advocacy group, welcomed the move made by the government, but warns that a great many cases continue to go unreported.
"We started to collect our figures, and the more we collected, the more serious was the problem. The number of acid attacks started to increase and we could see that by 2002 there were 500 attacks a year and that the numbers were growing," said Morrisson.
Eight-year-old Babli was attacked by her own father when she was only an infant.
He had purchased acid from a local shop and then poured it into his daughter's ears and over her feet.
Her mother Ayeesha explains that he was angry that she had been born a girl.
Despite the government's promises to take these cases seriously, Babli and her mother have little hope of seeing justice done.
An arrest warrant was issued against Babli's father in 2002, but the police have still not taken action.
Ayeesha believes that her husband has been bribing the local police for the last five years in order to ward off arrest.
Rahman of ASF believes that such police inaction shows how deep the culture of impunity is in relation to acid attacks.
"Because of the impunity, the perpetrators are not punished," she said.
"This could encourage other potential perpetrators who have the mindset to do this. It is important to have the education to change the mind set of men."
In May 2008, ASF organised a march for Men Against Acid Attack, the first of its kind in Bangladesh.
Still, acid attacks remain a common crime in Bangladesh.
Until the law is enforced and people's behaviour begins to change, women will continue to be at risk, and cases like Babli's will remain unpunished.
See also: Condemnations Are Not Enough
In a new bid to prevent the opening of a Muslim school in the area, the New South Wales government is seeking to put its hand on a Muslim-owned land, tearing down a two-year dream of having a new school to serve 1200 Australian Muslim pupils.
"I did deliberated long and hard on this decision," Education Minister Verity Firth told ABC on Friday, July 17.
Firth issued a decision to buy back a plot of land owned by Al Amanah College, arguing the land would be used to build a special school for children with disabilities.
The minister threatened that steps would be taken to compulsorily acquire the land if no deal was reached.
"I knew it would be a controversial decision and I also knew how it could be interpreted."
Al Amanah College had bought the land to build a school to serve 1200 Muslim students.
But the school plans were deadlocked over rejection of the Bankstown City councilors to build the Islamic school.
But light appeared at the end of the tunnel after the Land and Environment Court approved the school plans for the second time, ending a two-year legal fight.
But the minister's new decision came to stumble again the plans to build the Islamic school.
Media reports link the decision to a letter sent by the Bankstown council to the Education Minister, asking the government to acquire the plot, either by agreement or compulsorily.
"This decision was made following advice from the Department of Education and Training that a special school was required in the area and that this was the most appropriate site," Firth's spokeswoman told The Sydney Morning Herald.
"It is unrelated to the building of an Islamic school on the site."
Muslim school officials are disappointed at the minister's decision to buy back the land.
"At the moment I have more than 200 enrolments for next year.. already enrolled in this school," Mohamed El Dana, principal of the college, told ABC.
"The parents, the community, it's all supporting this project and where am I going to go with these students?"
Instead of preparing for constructing the school, Muslim leaders are now readying for a new legal battle with the government.
"To know that there is a school that has gone through two lots of hurdles to now want to exercise compulsory land powers," Ikebal Patel, the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, told the Herald.
"It's very disappointing."
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.5 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.
In post 9/11 Australia, Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.
A 2007 poll taken by the Issues Deliberation Australia (IDA) think-tank found that Australians basically see Islam as a threat to the Australian way of life.
In 2008, a governmental report revealed that Muslims are facing deep-seated Islamophobia and race-based treatment like never before.
Planning permission has been granted by councillors in the Liverpool district following a long-running and acrimonious debate that has been stained with allegations of racism and religious bigotry.
The contentious project will see a school for 800 mostly Muslim pupils constructed in Hoxton Park, a working class suburb 38 kilometres west of central Sydney.
Locals have fought a vociferous campaign against the plan, citing a string of grievances relating to increased traffic, pollution and noise, which could, in their opinion, drag down property prices. They have vigorously denied suggestions that their actions are motivated by anti-Muslim sentiment, which has infected discussions about Islamic colleges in other parts of Australia.
“Traffic congestion has become a bit of a euphemism for prejudice and racism,” said Geoff Newcombe, the executive director of the Association of Independent Schools in New South Wales. “You can see an incredible amount of emotion with some of these people who are opposing the development of Islamic schools. You can’t imagine that emotion would be there if, say, a Catholic or an Anglican school wanted to set up in that particular situation.”
“With some people there is just a prejudice against the Islamic faith and that’s a shame,” Mr Newcombe said. “If you go into these schools and realise they are mostly Australian-born children, they go out of their way to emphasise Australian culture and values.” There are 15 Islamic schools in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, which cater to about 8,000 students. Many are located in low socio-economic areas and receive funding from both the federal and state governments, while community leaders have stressed that Australia’s rapidly growing Muslim population needs more faith-based education.
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
In a logic-defying feat that might have appealed to Stalin, engineers have begun pumping water from a network of canals that irrigate cotton fields across the country. It is being channelled into the natural Karashor depression in remote northern Turkmenistan. The aim: to make what has been poetically dubbed Golden Age Lake.
At an opening ceremony on Wednesday, the country's president, Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov, plunged a spade into the earth and released the first water from a tributary canal. Surrounded by shimmering desert, dignitaries and local tribesmen, he declared: "We have brought new life to these once-lifeless sands."
In comments reported by the state-run Neutral Turkmenistan newspaper, he said: "I am convinced that our great deeds will be recalled by glory."
The president then rode off on a jewellery-bedecked horse, climbed into his helicopter and flew back to the capital, Ashgabat.
Experts have expressed dismay at the quixotic Soviet-style project. They point out that much of the water pumped into the searing desert will evaporate, adding that it is likely to be contaminated with toxic pesticides and fertilisers.
Turkmen officials disagree. They insist the lake will attract migratory birds, stimulate biodiversity and make flowers and plants bloom in a country that is 80% desert. Once completed the lake is supposed to cover 770 square miles, reach a depth of around 70 metres and hold more than 130bn cubic metres of water. Filling it could take 15 years and cost up to $4.5bn.
This is not the first project in Turkmenistan to raise eyebrows. The government recently unveiled a new tourist resort on the shores of the Caspian Sea designed to rival Las Vegas. Currently, western tourists have great difficulties obtaining visas for Turkmenistan, and most foreign journalists are banned.
The former Soviet republic's late dictator Saparmurat Niyazov dreamed up the Golden Lake project before his sudden death in 2006. His successor, Berdymukhamedov, buoyed by soaring incomes from gas exports, decided to press ahead with the idea despite fierce objections from environmentalists.
"These canals will serve as a major source of irrigation to turn the Karakum into a blossoming oasis," Berdymukhamedov told a crowd of more than 1,000 people that included top government officials and diplomats.
History suggests that he is making a mistake. For decades, central Asia's environment has suffered from over-ambitious Soviet-era irrigation projects. The Aral Sea, which once lay on the border between the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, was the world's fourth-largest lake. It has since shrunk by almost 90%, devastating fisheries as salinity levels spiked.