The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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The phrase ‘hired help’ takes on an extreme meaning in the Gulf with just about everyone, who is anyone, employing a bevy of service workers to fulfill their every whim. The majority of the workers are males hailing from Southeast Asia who leave their homelands in the hope for a better life in the oil rich region where they earn a meager living, which they send back to their families. They are garbage collectors, office tea boys, stockists, chauffeurs, janitors and are basically ‘jack-of-all-trades’ in every sense. They do the work that no one else wants to do and keep the Gulf nations running smoothly. Without this source of cheap labor, the current construction and economic boom in the region would come to a screeching halt.

However, the side effect of importing laborers from other nations is that there is an abundance of bachelors residing in residential areas, which often causes problems for families and the community as a whole. Nowhere is this more evident than in the State of Kuwait. According to recent research conducted in the tiny Gulf nation, bachelors are responsible for the bulk of crime in the country with theft and sexual assault topping the list of transgressions. It comes as no surprise that the so-called bachelors have turned to crime when they have limited opportunities in Kuwait, zero chance of promotion in their menial jobs and are lucky if they are paid their salary on time or at all. Some have no choice but to dig through the garbage to earn money from recyclables as their ‘payday’ is unreliable.

The issue of the bachelors has long been a sticking point in the Kuwaiti Parliament with MP’s from every district highlighting citizen complaints about the bachelor’s crimes and presence on the streets into all hours of the night. This past week the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor (MSAL) announced plans to construct a ‘bachelor city’ to house the ever-growing number of unattached men in the country. The first complex will be built in Sabhan city. It will cover 60,000 square meters and accommodate an estimated 3,000 laborers. The second complex, still in the planning stage, will cover 1000 square meters and house an estimated 9,000 workers. Both complexes will contain entertainment facilities and basic service businesses, like mini-grocery stores and barber shops. The governmental aim is to relocate all bachelors from the residential areas of Kuwait into their very own city to limit the opportunities for crime and to appease residents.

However, it remains to be seen if the idea will be a success or a failure with many bachelors up in arms for being forced to leave the only homes they have known since they landed in Kuwait. Many are law-abiding citizens whose only crime is that they are labeled as menaces to society simply because of the actions of other bachelors. The bachelors will be bused to and from their places of work in every city of Kuwait each day and return to their own city at night.

When asked about the plan for the bachelor’s city, Muhammad Amin, who is a Pakistani bachelor and day laborer said, “I think it is wrong to blame all bachelors for the problems of the country. The finger-pointing should be directed to the recruiting agencies who hire us from abroad. Moving us all to one city is not going to solve any problems and will cause anger amongst us for being kept away from society as if we are lepers.”

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Sufism in South Asia

December 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

hadithSan Francisco–I am in the midst of the insanity of moving, but I am trying to keep up with my basic compilations early in the morning or late into the night.

I would like to discuss three presentations made last year (Summer of 2007) –in the Asian Art Museum — as part of the bi-annual meeting of the American Council of Southern Asian art in this City here on the Western shores of San Francisco Bay.  I found the talks to be slight in news content; thus, I have previously refrained from composing on them, but because of circumstances, they have become a practicable article, and make an acceptable historical feature on an ancient vital Islamic tradition.  An article on this form of piety stated that Sufism “…is a…mystical dimension of Islam” where meditation plays an integral part.

People talking about Islam usually mention Sunnis and Shi’a; among Sunnis are also Sufis – there is mutual tension between Sufis and Wahhabi/Salafis.  Salafis accuse the Sufis, saying “…[Sufism] has never played a part in normative Islam.” 

A position with which your author extremely disagrees!

First, your journalist acknowledges that his main sources for his background on the Sufis in an historical and contemporary context are an excellent unsigned, thorough yet concise article on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  My second source is a review essay I wrote on a book that is considered the main Western source on Sufism. Unfortunately, I do not have the piece at my fingertips; therefore, I am paraphrasing it ex aqua.

Sufism has gained much of its doctrine through accretion from the mystic environ of religious clusters that Islam absorbed in its Eastward expansion.  Accordingly, to several Western scholars, Sufism arose initially in the Western Mahgreb in a region of present-day Morocco where Christianity had been repressed three hundred years before.  There was a yearning for the type of mysticism found in monasteries of the old religion, but in the Qur`an there is a strong injunction to marry and procreate!  The early “Order” solved this “problem” by creating brotherhoods of married men who followed Muslim law carefully.  As their Society traveled into new lands, they met new converts.  For instance, the Sufic poet, Rumi, who has had a considerable influence over contemporary thought here in the West’s, name derives from the word “Roman” (i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Byzantine) in the local language of Anatolia at that time.  The Turks had held that province from which Rumi wrote for a comparatively short time.  Thus, his family must have been fairly recent converts.  Sufic thought gained much when it crossed into India.  The great poet Kabir, who some scholars claim was a Sufi was not fully Islamized, even though he did accomplished the hajj, for he referred to God both in the Hindu terminology as Ram and, also, as Allah interchangeably in his poetry! Traditionally, in the Sufi-dominated Districts of India, the Hindus revere the Islamic Saints as much as their own.

Yet the traditional Islamic scholarship on the Sufis view their development in quite a different manner.  The Sufic thinkers trace their origins through the Prophet (Blessed be his Name!) himself.  To quote an early Sufi, their teaching “…is a science through which one can know how to travel in the presence of the Divine…”
Their beliefs and persons have been persecuted by more fundamental (and, thereby, less mystically inclined) individuals.  Consequently, their writings and practices took on an esoteric, secretive tone.

In the early centuries, Iman Al Ghazali answered that Sufic doctrine was compatible with Islamic law conclusively.  In fact, “Sufism…is the central organizing principle of many…[other] Islamic groupings.”

With the rise of more strident forms of Islam, Sufism is currently under duress.  In many regions the repression made them illegal, and forced them underground.  For instance, the Turkish government compelled the whirling dervishes into a mere entertainment.  Yet there are areas in the Muslim world where they are still strong.  To understand the attitude for an inquirer, a Sufi master was quoted as saying, “…the seeker must not self-diagnose” the situation.

The Islanicists have no sympathy for the Sufi reverence for saints, and their pilgrimages to the holy tombs for religious merit.  In my following comments, these pilgrimages and the places of devotion and worship will be placed in context.

Persianate culture had a dominant position in the old Hindustan even before the rise of the Mughal Empire.  An Indo-Persian culture dominated from western Persia well into the Subcontinent after the Muslim Empires in India, and Sufism had dominated Persian thinking before it crossed from Southwest into South Asia.  Now, Sindh (presently in Pakistan) had been Islamic since the Ninth Century of the Common Era (i.e., A.D.). Sufism came forward with the Islamic conquest, but not from the top to the bottom.  It burst through at the “grassroots” level (i.e., bottom up), and was greatly embedded in the evolving Indo-Persian Islam.  The “Missionaries” were the humble, holy Pirs, a type of holy men with which the Medieval Indians could easily culturally identify.  Soon, converted Indians adapted Islam and the Persian Worldview of Islam – even though they may not have chosen Shi’a religious views.

An Afshan Bokari pointed out that female devotees upheld the high ideals of religiosity within the Timurid Empire, and were the mainstay of the Mosques during this period which not only included India, but Iran into Mesopotamia – even into Syria — and a good extent of Central Asia.  The Empire, founded by the Sunni military genius Emir Timur (Shakespeare’s Tamerlane) was comparatively short-lived.  Most of the acquisition of territory occurred during the late Fourteenth into the early Fifteenth Centuries (C.E.). This brief Imperial sway not only spread S.W. Asian ideas, but mystical Islam. as well.  This can be termed a Timurid “ideology.”  Mystical Islam centered on feminine participation, also.  This is markedly at odds with the modern Islamicists’ dogma.  A site was shaped into the sacred by an association with a saint or a sacred act, etc.  This confine almost became a “…second Mecca!”

The major contemporary art historian, Catherine Asher, from Minnesota spoke on the “Sufic Shrines of Shahul Hamid in India and Southeast Asia.”  The basic style of the Sufic shrines spread into Peninsular and Insular S.E. Asia forming a consistent Southern Asian approach to sacred space.  On the emigration of the righteous Pirs, it is hard to determine fact from legend.  The Enlightened man often died in his travels.  South Indian Islam, from which Southeast Asian cultural religiousness derived, assumed many traits of traditional Hinduism – in this case the veneration of exceptionally piously devout men, and this practice advanced ever eastward.  Males were encouraged to go to the tombs, besides, for a sort of “darshan,” or, in the Islamic cognizance, a type of religious merit.  Basically, the Sufis’ influence flowed over three different faiths because the Pirs exhibited extraordinary powers to do miracles in their lifetime, and to bequest assistance from the tomb to his devoted believers – whatever the saint’s follower’s religiosity!

Kishwar Rizvi talked about a shrine in the present Pakistani Punjab that was built around circa 1300 (C.E.).   Most of the devoted came from the minority Shia community there.  Further, there are many Sufic elements in the shrine, for it revolves around the casket of a Saint endowing the building as sared space.  Women still retain a great responsibility in sustaining the shrine’s sacredness.  On the other hand, sexual degenerates are attracted to the location because of the laissez faire attitudes of the worshippers which may detract from the great postiveness of the greater Movement to more mainstream Muslims.

In this essay, your scribe has tried to describe a living tradition in Islam in historical and conteporary terms that has been repressed by the main thrust of the religion today, but is still strong among the common people in particular localities all over the World, and, furthermore, has brought many Westerners to the Qur`an, for its mystical saving methodologies.

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Breaking the Gaza Siege

November 13, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ramzi Kysia

2008-11-10T163944Z_01_JER25_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

An international activist waves a Palestinian flag as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed.

REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

GAZA CITY, FREE PALESTINE (29 October 2008) – This morning I walked to the Indian Ocean and made salt in defiance of the British Occupation of India. This morning I marched in Selma, I stood down tanks in Tiananmen Square, and I helped tear down the Berlin Wall. This morning I became a Freedom Rider.

The Freedom Riders of the 21st Century are sailing small boats into the Gaza Strip in open defiance of the Israeli Occupation and blockade. This morning I arrived in Gaza aboard the SS Dignity, part of a Free Gaza Movement delegation of twenty seven doctors, lawyers, teachers, and human rights activists from across the world, including Mairead Maguire – the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

When I close my eyes, I still hear the crash of ocean waves, I still feel the warm sun on my face, and I still taste salt from the sea spray. When I close my eyes, I can still see the Israeli warship that tried to intimidate us when we reached the twenty-mile line outside Gaza, and I can still see a thousand cheering people crowding around our ship when we refused to be intimidated and finally reached port in Gaza City. Today, the proudest boast in the free world is truly, “Nam,  Nehnu Nastatyeh!” – “Yes, We Can!”

Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, sailed aboard the Dignity, along with six other Palestinians from the West Bank, from 1948/inside the Green Line, and from countries in Europe. What should have been a ninety-minute drive from Ramallah to Gaza City became a three day odyssey as he travelled from the West Bank to Jordan, then flew to Cyprus, before finally coming aboard the Dignity for the fifteen hour sea voyage to Gaza.

“We’re challenging Israel in a manner that is unprecedented, “said Dr. Barghouti. “Israel has prevented me from visiting Gaza for more than two years now. I am so pleased that we managed to defy Israel’s injustice so that I can see all the people I love and work with in Gaza. Israel’s measures are meant to divide us, but it is our defiance and resistance which unite us. “

Photos from Gaza:  Hamas sailors watch as a boat carrying European politicians (unseen) leaves Gaza’s seaport November 10, 2008. The boat arrived at Gaza from Cyprus on Saturday after attempts to get to the Palestinian territory via Egypt failed. Other pictures of the boat, and of Palestinians in Gaza.

Reuters

This is a resistance which can and should light the fire of all our imaginations, and bring hope not just to Palestinians, but to peoples suffering the terrible tides of oppression and injustice the world around.

After watching the Dignity’s arrival, Fida Qishta, the local coordinator for the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) in the Gaza Strip, said “If Gaza is free then it’s our right to invite whomsoever we wish to visit us. It’s our land and it’s our sea. Now more groups must come, not only by sea but also the crossings at Erez and Rafah must be opened as well. This second breaking of the siege means a lot, actually. It’s the second time in two months that people have come to Gaza without Israel’s permission, and that tells us that Gaza will be free.”

For over forty years, Israel has occupied the Gaza Strip. Despite the so-called “Disengagement “ in 2005, when they shut down their illegal settlements here, Israel maintains absolute control over Gaza’s borders and airspace, severely limiting the free movement of goods, services, and travel. Israel is still an occupying power.

For over two years, Israel has maintained a brutal blockade of Gaza. Less than twenty percent of the supplies needed (as compared to 2005) are allowed in. This has forced ninety-five percent of local industries to shut down, resulting in massively increased unemployment and poverty rates. Childhood malnutrition has skyrocketed, and eighty percent of families are now dependent on international food aid just to be able to eat. An hour after we arrived, I watched a teenage boy digging through the garbage, looking for something he could use.

Israel’s siege isn’t simply illegal – it’s intolerable.

Renowned human rights activist Caoimhe Butterly also sailed aboard the Dignity, and will remain in Gaza for several weeks as Project Coordinator for the Free Gaza Movement. But, said Butterly, “My feelings are bittersweet. Although we’re overjoyed at reaching Gaza a second time, that joy is tempered by the fact that the conscience of the world has been reduced to a small boat and 27 seasick activists. This mission is a reminder of not only the efficacy of non-violent direct action, but also of the deafening silence of the international community.”

Our first voyage in August, the first voyage of any international ship to Gaza in over forty years, showed that it was possible to freely travel. This second voyage shows that it is repeatable, and this sets a precedent: The Siege of Gaza can be overcome through non-violent resistance and direct action.

Today, the Free Gaza Movement has a simple message for the rest of the world: What are you waiting for?

——-

Ramzi Kysia is an Arab-American writer and activist, and one of the organizers of the Free Gaza Movement. To find out more about Free Gaza and what you can do to help support their work, please visit http://www.FreeGaza.org <http://www.freegaza.org/>

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Muslim Society of Paraná Celebrates 50th Anniversary

August 16, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Established to provide support to the Muslims arriving at the city of Curitiba, the organisation currently promotes various cultural, educational and religious activities, acting as a reference point to those who want to learn about Arab and Islamic culture.

Courtesy Omar Nasser, ANBA News Agency

Curitiba – A solemnity to be held on Friday evening (10th) will mark the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Muslim Beneficent Society of the State of Paraná (SBMPR), in southern Brazil. The event will bring together, at the seat of the organisation in Curitiba (capital of Paraná), immigrants, descendents, and relatives, as well as municipal and state-level officials. The members of the Islamic society who have rendered relevant services to the SBMPR throughout these 50 years will be awarded diplomas of Highest Honour.

The minutes of the organisation’s foundation date from July 28th, 1957. “The objective, at that time, was for the Beneficent Society to provide support to the Arab immigrants who started arriving here, in greater number, after the end of World War Two,” explains Jamil Ibrahim Iskandar, the current president. Being a Lebanese immigrant himself, Iskandar recalls that the pioneers had no relatives to help them and, in many cases, did not even know the Portuguese language.

Presently, SBMPR carries out a series of activities of cultural, educational, and religious nature, such as lectures, conferences, and exhibitions. Operating in the premises is an elementary school– the Brazilian-Arab School of Curitiba – and a nursery school. In the evening, Arabic language classes are held. “One can safely say that the Society is now a reference point, not only to the Muslim community in Curitiba and Paraná, but also to the Brazilians who want to learn about Arab and Islamic culture,” says Iskandar.

Currently living in Curitiba are approximately 1,500 Muslims, including immigrants, descendents, and converted Brazilians. The majority of Arab Muslims living in the city is of Lebanese descent, followed by Palestinians and Syrians. Among the Lebanese, there is s significant presence of people originally from the cities of Hermel and Baalbek, in the Bekaa Valley, as well as from the cities of Khirbat Roha and Jezzini, among others. In a recent trip to Curitiba, the then-resigning Lebanese minister of Labour, Trad Hammadeh, was puzzled by the fact that he found, in the city, the preserved accent of the Hermel region, which no longer exists even in Lebanon.

Early on, SBMPR operated from a leased building, in downtown Curitiba, next to the Tiradentes Square. As immigrants would achieve economic stability, they started having financial conditions to afford a property of their own in which to base the organisation. By 1964, the seat of the SBMPR was already established in a solidly built masonry building, where it remains to date. The building has an ample auditorium, rooms for the teaching of the Quran, offices, and an apartment to accommodate travellers.

In addition to the seat of the SBMPR, the Muslim community in Curitiba counts on a Mosque, which bears the name of Imam Ali ibn Abi Tálib, an homage to the cousin and son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad. In 2007, it will be 35 years since the temple was inaugurated. Another important milestone of Muslim Arab immigration to Curitiba is Cemitério Jardim de Allah (“Garden of Allah Cemetery”). Located in the industrial city of Curitiba, the cemetery occupies a spacious area and has a wake room with bathrooms and a kitchen.

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Effort to Build Large Mosque Rattles Some in Cologne

July 12, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Mark Landler, AFP

COLOGNE: In a city with the greatest Gothic cathedral in Germany, and no fewer than a dozen Romanesque churches, adding a pair of fluted minarets would scarcely alter the skyline. Yet plans for a new mosque are rattling this ancient city to its foundations.

map of Cologne, Germany, close to the Belgian and Dutch borders.

The city’s Muslim population, made up mostly of Turks, is pushing for approval to build what would be one of Germany’s largest mosques, in a working-class district across town from the cathedral’s mighty spires.

Predictably, an extreme-right local political party has waged a noisy, xenophobic protest campaign, drumming up support from its far-right allies in Austria and Belgium.

But the proposal has also drawn fierce criticism from a respected German-Jewish writer, Ralph

Giordano, who said the mosque would be “an expression of the creeping Islamization of our land.” He does not want to see women shrouded in veils on German streets, he said.

Giordano’s charged remarks, first made at a public forum here last month, have catapulted this local dispute into a national debate in Germany over how a secular society, with Christian roots, should accommodate the religious yearnings of its Muslim minority.

Mosques have risen in recent years in Berlin, Mannheim and Duisberg, each time provoking hand-wringing among some residents. But the dispute in Cologne, a city Pope Benedict XVI once called the Rome of the north, seems deeper and more far-reaching.

While Turkey itself is debating the role of Islam in its political life, Germans are starting to ask how – even if – the 2.7 million people of Turkish descent here can square their religious and cultural beliefs with a pluralistic society that enshrines the rights of women.

Giordano, a Holocaust survivor, has been sharply criticized, including by fellow Jews, and has received death threats. But others said he was giving voice to Germans, who for reasons of their past, are reluctant to express misgivings about the rise of Islam in their midst.

“We have a common historical background that makes us overly cautious in dealing with these issues,” said the mayor of Cologne, Fritz Schramma, who supports the mosque but is not without his qualms.

“For me, it is self-evident that the Muslims need to have a prestigious place of worship,” said Schramma, of the center-right Christian Democratic Union. “But it bothers me when people have lived here for 35 years and they don’t speak a single word of German.”

Cologne’s Roman Catholic leader, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, is similarly ambivalent. Asked in a radio interview if he was afraid of the mosque, he said, “I don’t want to say I’m afraid, but I have an uneasy feeling.”

Those statements rankle German-Turkish leaders, who have been working with the city since 2001 to build a mosque on the site of a converted drug factory, which now houses a far smaller mosque, a community center and the offices of the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs.

“The 120,000 Muslims of Cologne don’t have a single place they can point to with pride as the symbol of our faith,” said Bekir Alboga, leader of interreligious dialogue at the union, which is known as Ditib. “Christians have their churches, Jews have their synagogues.”

Alboga, a 44-year-old Turkish imam who immigrated here at 18 and speaks rapid-fire German, said the mosque would be a “crowning moment for religious tolerance.” Given Germany’s dark history, he added, “German politicians need to be careful about what they say.”

Alboga said he was particularly dismayed by Meisner, because the Catholic Church, along with Germany’s Protestant churches, has long supported the mosque. Ditib, he said, is a moderate organization that acts as a “bulwark against radicalism and terrorism.” It plans to finance the project, which will cost more than $20 million, entirely through donations.

The group must obtain a building permit before it can break ground, but Alboga said he was confident the mosque would not be blocked. Ditib has agreed to various stipulations, including a ban on broadcasting the call to prayer over loudspeakers outside the building.

Public opinion about the project seems guardedly supportive, with a majority of residents saying they favor it, although more than a quarter want its size to be reduced. The polls, taken for a local newspaper, use small samples, 500 people, limiting their usefulness as a gauge of popular sentiment in city of one million.

Cologne, with one of the largest Muslim populations of any German city, already has nearly 30 mosques. Most are in converted factories or warehouses, often tucked away in hidden courtyards, which has contributed to a sense that Muslims in Germany can worship only furtively.

The new mosque would put Islam in plain sight – all the more so because the design calls for a domed building with glass walls. Showing off a model, designed by a German architect who specializes in churches, Alboga said, “Our hearts are open, our doors are open, our mosque is open.”

In some ways, the mosque seems calculated to avoid touching nerves. It would not be built near a church or loom over its neighbors, like the new mosque in Duisberg. It would be flanked by multistory office buildings and a giant television tower, which would dwarf its minarets.

Yet the Turkish community has run into fervent and organized opposition. The far-right party, Pro Cologne, which holds five of the 90 seats in the city council, collected 23,000 signatures on a petition demanding the halting of the project. The city said only 15,000 of them were genuine.

On June 16, Pro Cologne mobilized 200 people at a rally to protest the mosque. Among those on hand were the leaders of Austria’s Freedom Party, which was founded by Jörg Haider, and the extremist party Vlaams Belang, or Flemish Interest, from Antwerp. Both advocate the deportation of immigrants.

Cologne’s deputy mayor, Elfi Scho-Antwerpes, a Social Democrat, appeared with Turkish leaders at a counter-demonstration across the street. Schramma, she noted, did not show up.

Giordano, the German-Jewish writer, said Germany needed to face the fact that, after three generations of Turkish immigration, efforts to integrate that minority had failed. Immigrants, he said, sought the privileges of membership in German society but refused to bear the obligations.

Germany’s “false tolerance,” he asserted, enabled the Sept. 11 hijackers to use Hamburg as a haven in which to hatch their terrorist plot. Cologne, too, has struggled with radical Islamic figures, most notably Metin Kaplan, a militant Turkish cleric known as the Caliph of Cologne.

“I don’t want to see women on the street wearing burqas,” Giordano said. “I’m insulted by that – not by the women themselves, but by the people who turned them into human penguins.”

Such blunt language troubles other German Jews, who say a victim of religious persecution should not take a swipe at another religious minority.

Henryk Broder, a Jewish journalist who is a friend of Giordano’s, said he should have avoided the phrase “human penguins.”

But Broder said the underlying message was valid, and that Giordano’s stature as a writer gives him the standing to say it. “A mosque is more than a church or a synagogue,” he said. “It is a political statement.”

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