Exclusive: Petronas in Talks with Oil Majors for Petchem Tie-up

December 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Niluksi Koswanage and Liau Y-Sing

2011-12-23T044657Z_1_BTRE7BM0DAB00_RTROPTP_3_BUSINESS-US-PETRONAS

Petronas advertising boards are seen near the grandstand ahead of the Malaysian F1 Grand Prix at the Sepang circuit outside Kuala Lumpur April 7, 2011.

REUTERS/Tim Chong

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Petronas is in talks with several global oil majors including Shell <RDSa.L> and Exxon Mobil <XOM.N> to develop petrochemical plants within its $20 billion refinery complex in southern Malaysia, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.

Malaysia’s national oil company is also talking to Japanese firms Itochu Corp <8001.T> and Mitsubishi Corp <8058.T> as well as to Dow Chemical Co <DOW.N> — the largest U.S. chemical maker — as it seeks to tap surging Asian demand and diversify its earnings, the sources told Reuters.

Petronas <PETR.UL> is expected to make a decision on the partnerships by mid-2012, which signals it is quickly moving beyond the feasibility stage of the project.

“Petronas is getting a lot of interest for the joint venture undertakings,” said one source who declined to be identified as the talks are ongoing.

“They have moved to the basic engineering and design stage and after this the tendering process for building the complex will start,” the source added.

Petronas, Shell and Mitsubishi officials in Malaysia declined to comment. Itochu, Dow Chemical and Exxon Mobil were not immediately available to comment.

Petronas first unveiled the Refinery and Petrochemicals Integrated Development (RAPID) project in May and has said the complex will be commissioned by end-2016, which both sources said was on track.

The $20 billion complex is to be built in southern Johor state which borders Singapore — the largest oil trading hub in Asia.

The project is key to Petronas’ plan to join the likes of India’s Reliance Industries <RELI.NS> in grabbing a larger share in the $395 billion global market for specialty chemicals — high value raw materials used in products from diapers to higher performance tires and LCD televisions.

“In terms of markets for petrochemicals coming from RAPID, Petronas is aiming for Myanmar, Bangladesh and parts of the subcontinent,” said a second source.

“The potential is there as these are huge markets or in the case of Myanmar, just opening up.”

RAPID REACH

The RAPID project will include a 300,000 barrel-per-day refinery that produces naphtha, gasoline, jet fuel, diesel and fuel oil. The first source said the crude feedstock would come mostly from Petronas’ equity projects in Sudan, Chad and eventually Venezuela instead of Malaysia’s own higher quality and expensive crude, domestic production of which is slowing.

The crude feedstock from Petronas equity projects will also be channeled into the petrochemicals and polymer complex, including a 3 million ton-per-year (tpy) naphtha cracker and petrochemical derivatives facility focusing on synthetic rubber.

“Over 1 million tons will be for ethylene and propylene and the rest for high grade specialty chemicals,” said the first source.

“Synthetic rubber is a big thing. Nearly 90 percent of a tire is made of synthetic rubber because natural rubber production is declining in Asia, so there is an opportunity for Petronas,” the source added.

STRUGGLE OR SURVIVE

The RAPID project gives Petronas’ downstream operations a better chance of staying afloat in times of economic downturns and poor margins as it allows Malaysia’s only Fortune 500 company to tap into its global feedstock sources, analysts say.

“From a Petronas perspective, there is vertical integration opportunity,” said Andrew Wong, lead analyst covering Petronas at Standard & Poor’s in Singapore.

“I think the expectation for a recovery in the petrochemical sector in 2011 did not quite happen due to the external factors and there is concern whether the project will come on-stream at a good point in time of the global economic cycle,” he added.

Industry players have said Malaysia and Petronas’ ramp-up of oil infrastructure in the southernmost tip of the country will create a “Greater Singapore” trading hub that allows the region to keep up with competitors like China.

Petronas is counting on interest from Japanese firms which are looking to relocate their plants or re-invest outside their home base after the March tsunami and earthquake triggered uncertainty over future energy supply, the second source said.

“The interest has particularly been strong from the usual Japanese players in the petrochemical market. This project has started at the right time,” the source added.

(Editing by Himani Sarkar)

14-1

$640b Halal Industry Needs to Align with $1tr Islamic Finance Sector

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Gulf News

I wanted to take a sukuk break, as the last few months seem to be only about sukuk default, restructuring, conferences/seminars, etc. Islamic finance is not sukuk, its much bigger than an instrument. I wanted to look at an area that Islamic finance (IF) has not been linked to: the $640 billion (Dh2.3 trillion) halal industry (HI). There is a link, but it’s associated with IF ignoring HI!

The halal industry believes that Islamic finance has long ignored its little ‘halal-half’ brother, because it either does not understand the business model or its financing needs.

Islamic finance continues to have expected ‘challenges’ with standardisation, and the halal industry, the issue of certification and certifying bodies appears to be even more nascent. In IF, we have generally accepted guidelines on accounting (AAOIFI and Malaysia), prudential regulations (IFSB), ratings (IIRA), hedging (IIFM), but what and where are the leading HI standard bodies; Malaysia (Jakim), Brunei (Brunei halal), but there are more ‘bodies’ in OECD than OIC countries. Query: is the certification process accepted outside the home country?

The GCC countries are major importers of billions of dollars in foods/products, projected to touch $53 billion in 2020. Now, what if large importers like Saudi Arabia or the UAE impose ‘their’ halal certification criteria for exports from these countries, including G20 countries like Australia (red meat) and Brazil (chickens)? Because of the GCC’s volume of imports, could there be a risk of back-door certification via the GCC? However, if GCC countries do not have certifications or it’s not yet harmonized, then halal exporters still have time to establish certification before externally imposed.

In Islamic (equity) investing, we have Sharia-compliant screening from the five index providers plus AAOIFI and Malaysia, however, what criteria, if any, for investing in listed halal companies. Meat or poultry [and food] companies should have their products according to Quranic guidelines, “O mankind! Eat of that which is on earth, lawful and good…” 2:168.

Global market

Although a Sharia-compliant food-only index may not yet exist, S&P has, as of March 30, 15 Sharia-compliant food companies in the GCC (15 Saudi and one in each Oman and the UAE) and 123 global Sharia-compliant food companies from China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, Mexico, the US and others.

Is it correct to assume that GCC public listed food or meat or poultry companies’ offerings are halal, because large local populations and percentages of the expatriate communities are Muslims in these Islamic countries? Assuming correctly, then the Halal Index is possible with ensuing Halal Funds/ETFs off of such indexes.

Thus, two sets of indexes: Sharia-compliant and Halal index, but what about Sharia-compliant Halal Food Index? Would this be a ‘low-debt non-financial social-ethical counter-cyclical halal index? This could benefit ‘investors of conscience and appetite.’

The reality is the halal industry needs to establish an initial screening methodology for publicly listed companies in the halal industry globally, as the Sharia-compliant screens may not capture them. The present awkward situation is: one can consume the food or products of listed halal companies, yet cannot invest in them because they may fail the present Sharia screening!

Islamic banks (in the GCC) have traditionally financed the chain of ‘borrowers’ associated in real estate industry, commercial and residential, as they allegedly better understand the business model, risk, and recourse. The banks have stayed away from halal companies, possibly ex-Al Islami, hence, the latter has relied on the ‘friends and family finance’ (upstarts) and traditional interest based loans (established companies).

There are halal funds set up, but they are more for acquisition than financing. It would seem the fragmented global halal industry, in OIC and G20 countries, would be ripe for a consolidation strategy, hence, no different than the often heard quest for a big balance sheet Islamic mega bank created via consolidation.

Thus, financing of viable halal companies via roll-up acquisition strategy? Surely, more must be done, otherwise we may continue to consume halal products or meats financed with Riba-based finance companies!

The halal industry needs to get (1) its act together on process, auditing, and certification, and get into the face of Islamic banks and better explain the (2) inter-relatedness of the sectors, (3) better explain the business model, risk and its mitigation, (4) better explain that it establishes the foundation for diversified lending, and increased investor options for Islamic banks’ customers, and (5) allow Islamic finance to talk the talk of a $2-trillion ‘niche’ market in the making!

The writer is the Global Head of Islamic Finance, Thomson Reuters. Views expressed in this column are of the writer.

12-16

US Hopes Obama Trip Will Boost Trade with Indonesia

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Doug Palmer

2010-03-16T103621Z_11355208_GM1E63G1FMP01_RTRMADP_3_INDONESIA

Barack Obama’s impersonator Ilham Anas of Indonesia poses in front of an image of U.S. President Barack Obama after being interviewed by Reuters TV in Obama’s former school, State Elementary School 01 Menteng, in Jakarta March 16, 2010. Obama is scheduled later this month to visit the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where he is a popular figure. Obama studied at State Elementary School 01 Menteng from 1970-1971.

REUTERS/Dadang Tri

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States hopes President Barack Obama’s visit next week to Indonesia will help spur reforms that boost trade with Southeast Asia’s largest economy and the world’s fourth most populous nation.

“Economic nationalism, regulatory uncertainty and unresolved investment disputes give pause to American companies seeking to do business in Indonesia,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in a speech on Wednesday.

To increase trade, “it’s incumbent upon Indonesia to make market-oriented reforms that will make it a more attractive market, not just for U.S. companies but companies all around the world,” Locke said.

“Growing trade with Indonesia is a piece of the president’s broader plan to create jobs here at home by growing market access overseas.”

Obama is returning to the country where he spent part of his youth for talks in Jakarta with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and a stop in Bali to meet civil society groups and urge further progress on democracy.

Indonesia — a majority Muslim nation of 230 million people — and the United States are expected to sign a “comprehensive partnership” agreement, which Locke said would be a “blueprint for cooperation on a whole host of issues.”

Two-way trade between the United States and Indonesia was just $18 billion last year, a tiny chunk of the $788 billion in trade the United States did with all Pacific Rim countries in 2009.

“In fact, Indonesia does less trade with the United States than some of its smaller, less populous ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) neighbors like Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand,” said Locke, who will be leading a clean energy trade mission to Indonesia in May.

The United States exported $5.1 billion of goods last year to Indonesia, led by civilian aircraft and farm goods such as soybeans, animal feeds and cotton.

U.S. imports from Indonesia were just $12.9 billion last year, included clothing and textile goods, furniture, electronics, computer accessories and coffee.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will visit Indonesia just weeks after Obama but Locke downplayed the idea that the back-to-back trips were a demonstration of Washington and Beijing vying for influence.

“I don’t think these visits in any way were set up to compete against each other,” Locke said.

But Ernie Bower, director for Southeast Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said he did see a healthy competition between the United States and China for “hearts, minds and markets” in Southeast Asia.

China “really picked up its game” in Indonesia with help it provided during the Asian financial crisis in the late 1990s and Obama’s trip helps set the stage for more U.S. involvement in a strategically important region, Bower said.

But Indonesia has a long way to go before it is ready to join a proposed regional free trade agreement with the United States, said Mark Orgill, manager for Indonesia at the U.S.-ASEAN Business Council.

A much less ambitious trade deal between ASEAN and China already has raised concerns among Indonesia’s manufacturers, Orgill said.

The United States began talks this week on the proposed Transpacific Partnership pact with Australia, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Peru, Vietnam and Brunei. Two other ASEAN countries, Malaysia and Thailand, have expressed interest in joining the talks.

“Indonesia fights battles at home” over moves to open its market, Orgill said.

Editing by John O’Callaghan

12-12

Islamic Pluralistic Democracy In Southeast Asia

March 11, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Anwar Ibrahim (b. 1947), leader of the Opposition in the Malaysian parliament and Former Deputy Prime Minister (1993-1998) of Malaysia came here to give an important speech last Fall. Early in his career, he was mentored by the then Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohamad, but he became one of the most prominent critics of Mahathir’s administration; and, thus, ran afoul of his mentor, and was convicted of corruption in 1999 (this is ironic with Mahathir’s Administration’s infamy for the deceit of his Administration).  During 2004 this judgment was reversed by a Federal Court, but later the Deputy PM (Prime Minister) was arrested for sodomy.  (“My high hopes were betrayed…,” for homosexuality is a most serious charge under Islamic law), but, because of an international hue, this charge was, also, abandoned.  During 2008, he was recharged under that accusation, but won a Ryding (a representative seat) to Parliament, nonetheless, by a 15,000 plurality in the same month as the second accusation.  This made him the head of the opposition in government as leader of the Permtang Paug Party.

Although Malaysia does not have the population or the square miles of China or India, it is one of Asia’s tigers by its economic growth and achievement since its Independence from Colonialism.  During 1942-1945, it was occupied by the Japanese.  In 1948, the Federation of Malaysia was formed while still a dependent of London.  It included a third of Borneo and Sabah (counter-claimed by Indonesia) the Malay Peninsula, the contested oil-rich Spratly Islands and, at the time of founding, Singapore which, after Independence (1957), seceded from the union.  The Philippines claimed the entire of the new nation’s territory at inception, too! 

The CIA (the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency) describes the constitutional monarchy of Malaysia as a middle income multi-sector country with a bicameral legislature, — with an upper House, the Dawn Negara (Senate) and a lower House of Representatives.  Succinctly the Malays have adopted the English West Minister form of democracy with an adaption of the British legal system. 

Economically, electronics exports are leading the way although its GDP (Gross National Product) has been hit hard by the worldwide recession.  Yet, circa 88% literacy gives hope for even expanding development in the future when negative global pressures subside.  Further the Peninsula of the Malays is rich in natural resources.  Yet, this and industrial development has produced a pollution problem that has to be addressed for the health of their residents.  What are weak in the Monarchy’s future are the demographics of the population:  The age balance between the young and old and middle age is weak.

The Federation is diverse with the majority Islamic Malays being approximately slightly over 50%, but there are Chinese (24%), Indigenous (11%), Indians (7%) and various others (8%).  The national religious and linguistic divisions are just as varied.  Besides Muslims, Buddhists, Taoists, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and even Shamanism co-exist within the same sphere with a population of about 24 million.

Malaysia dominates most of the Malay Isthmus and is located on the strategic Straits of Malacca.  It is roughly the size of the Western American state of New Mexico – 329,750 sq. km. to be exact, but with a tropical-based agriculture that has allowed for an expediently larger and a more diverse populace and development.

There is a high literacy rate within the amalgamated hereditary States and Territories (the latter is appointed by the Central Government) which can counter the imbalance in demographics.   It is important to remember that the super city of Kuala Lampur is not the capital of this new Muslim-dominated country, but a much smaller traditional aristocratic nucleus holds the honor of the political hub.  In this way it can be compared to Karachi and Islamabad.

Although Anwar was incarcerated for seven years in total, he still holds that “Islam and democracy are not incompatible!”  He declared that, although he was in solitary confinement for most of that period, he was able to read; and, thereby, was able to extend his education into new areas.

Although there is a rising tide of Islamaphobia, and the fear of a Muslim totalitarianism, “Sharia embodies the freedom underlying Islamic law.”  The Islamic entrance into Southeast Asia was peaceful.  “It included the seeds of pluralism” as we have seen above. Ibrahim perceives that Malaysian democracy is domiciled peacefully within Modernism.  “The citizens have [utterly] rejected radicalism” through the ballot box!

The abuse of human rights leads to terrorism!  “With free societies, we learn to cope with terrorism.”  He asserted that there were three major parties in Islam, but he failed to elaborate on his statement.  Emphatically, “We should address poverty,” though!

“The Judiciary often mimics their political masters.”  The ruling elite hinder politics.

Talking about America, “[Bush] insisted [that] security [must be] a betrayal [of his international friends].  Cowboy diplomacy has given way to [a more free] consistency.”  Your previous Presidency lacked democracy!

Therefore, optimism will [must] succeed!

12-11

The Muslim Community in Chile

March 4, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

By  Salma Elhamalawy, The Society of Muslim Union of Chile

omar-ali-saifuddin-mosque the-new-abu-dhabi-mosque
Views of Al Salam mosque in Santiago, Chile  

The origins of Islam in Chile are not very clear. It is known that in 1854 two “Turks” resided in the country, a situation that was repeated in the censuses of 1865 and 1875. Their country of origin is not known, just that they were natives of some territory of the immense Ottoman Empire.

According to the 1885 census, the number of “Turks” had risen to 29, but there is no precise information on their origin and their faith, since religion was not included in that census. However, the census of 1895 registered the presence of 76 “Turks”, 58 of them Muslims. They lived mainly in the north of Chile in Tarapacá, Atacama, Valparaiso, and Santiago.

In the census of 1907, the Muslims had risen to 1,498 people, all of them foreigners. They were 1,183 men and 315 women, representing only 0.04 percent of the population. This is the highest percentage of Muslims in Chile’s history.

In 1920 a new census showed that the number of Muslims had decreased to 402, with 343 men and 59 women. The greatest numbers were in Santiago and Antofagasta, with 76 in each province.

In Santiago, the first Islamic institution of Chile, the Society of Muslim Union of Chile, was founded on 25 September 1926. Later, on 16 October 1927, the Society of Mutual Aids and Islamic Charity was established.

With the 1952 census, the number of Muslims had risen again to 956. The majority lived in Santiago, with others in the provinces of Antofagasta, Coquimbo, Valparaíso, O’Higgins, Concepción, Malleco, Cautín and Valdivia, without much organization among them.

Their numbers decreased again, so that by 1960 there were only 522, with the majority of 209 living in Santiago. A decade later, the number of Muslims had increased to 1,431. However, the census did not indicate whether they were men or women, nationals or foreigners. Nevertheless, they were spread throughout the country.

Through the 1970s and ‘80s, there were no religious leaders or centers for praying. Muslims who maintained the faith met in the residence of Taufik Rumie’ Dalu, a trader of Syrian origin.

In 1990 the construction of the Al-Salam Mosque began, the first of the country. In 1995 another mosque was inaugurated in Temuco, and 1998 a new one in Iquique. Sources of the Islamic community indicate that at the moment, in Chile, there are 3,000 Muslims. Many of those are Chileans who, as a result of their conversion, have even changed their names. In spite of the small number of believers, they are not a homogenous community. The majority are Sunnis, and the rest are Shiites. Sufi groups have also arisen, but their members are mainly of non-Arab origin.

“I’ll never forget that day,” says the imam of Al-Salam Mosque, Sami Elmushtawi. “The day of the mosque’s inauguration was a day where the dreams of the Muslim community became true.” The Egyptian imam says further, “For us this was a unique opportunity, because not every day we are visited by kings, nor mosques are inaugurated either.” Apart from the fact that the King of Malaysia inaugurated the mosque on 1 October 1995, the mosque is considered one of the three best ones of Latin America, after those of Venezuela and Brazil.

The mosque, built to welcome 500 people, consists of three floors. The first has reading rooms, multipurpose hall, baths and cafeteria. The second contains the prayer hall, and the third has the office of the imam and rooms for guests.

“There are some people who come to pray during the day, but due to work the majority come to the mosque in the evening,” indicated Sami Elmushtawi.

However, Santiago is not the only place where Muslims can practice their faith. The Islamic Chilean Corporation of Temuco, founded in October 2001 in the city of Temuco, has the mission of spreading the Islamic culture and traditions. In addition, today it tries to open more channels to spread the moral values of Islam, overcoming the prejudices after 11 September 2001.

Muslim women pray at the mosque and in their houses. Chileans converted to Islam describe how they live as Muslims in a country which is dominantly Catholic, and how they are perceived. The attack of 11 September generated insults and practical jokes against them.

Karima Alberto, a 35-year-old housewife married to a Syrian merchant, has two children. She met her husband in his store. “He was the reason I converted to Islam, he told me marvelous things about Islam so I began to go to the mosque and learned more about Islam. It was like self-discovery,” she says.

Karima says that some people started treating them differently because of the 11 September attack. Although she is yearning to go to Makkah, she has already met her husband’s relatives in Damascus. “It was not difficult to stop eating pork or drink alcohol. It’s God’s will, and it’s stated in the Qur’an. Although some people think it’s a big sacrifice, I don’t look at it that way at all. Islam has given me a new vision.”

Carla Olivari, an 18-year-old student in a mixed school, says, “Now I do not feel pressured to drink alcohol at parties or to lose my virginity.”

At the age of 16, she used to pass by the mosque until one day she decided to enter. She left the mosque as a Muslim. “I feel that Allah chose me.” Her parents, who are Catholic, did not oppose, but her brother did. “When he sees me praying in my room, he calls me a lunatic.” However, she not only fasts during Ramadan, but on other days as well. “Above all, I pray for the victims in Palestine and Iraq.”

Carla wants to marry a Muslim. “My husband has to be a Muslim. I want my children to grow up in a Muslim family that teaches them important family values. Then I will get veiled permanently, not like now, when I only use it in the mosque.”

Habiba Abdullah, 40 years old, is a doctor at Roberto Del Río Hospital. She emphasizes that she carries the surname of her father, “Because Islam permits us to conserve our surname and not to be Mrs. Somebody.”

A member of a family of six brothers, she has a single son who is 18 years old. All her family is Muslim. “I was born a Muslim, and I’m proud of it. I remember my father taking us every weekend to the mosque. We would learn the Qur’an, and we would study Arabic. Although it was difficult when I first wore my veil at work, but little by little people started accepting me. Now people are not very surprised to see me with veil.”

Still, these women are a minority in Chile. “There are always people coming to the mosque out of curiosity,” states Imam Sami Elmushtawi. “Nevertheless, it is very satisfactory when I see their faces after leaving the mosque, or when they return again. Some people come to learn Arabic, and some come to learn more about Islam. But definitely it gives me greater joy that the Muslim community is increasing in Chile.”

Salma Elhamalawy contacted at: salma_elhamalawy@yahoo.com.

12-10

US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

Once More to Gaza

February 11, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

Readers of The Muslim Observer are familiar with the Free Gaza Movement which in August of 2008 sailed two ships from Cyprus to Gaza breaking a decades long blockade by Israel. Four more missions followed successfully. The sixth voyage resulted in an attack by Israeli Naval forces that severely damaged the ship putting the lives of all aboard in jeopardy. The captain was able to bring the ship safely to a port in Lebanon; during the seventh attempt Israeli threats to the safety of the passengers along with terrible weather forced the ship to return to port.The eighth vessel was hijacked by the Israeli Navy, resulting in the confiscation of the vessel and the imprisonment of its passengers and crew in Israel. Despite repeated requests from Free Gaza attorneys, the ship has not yet been returned.
This courageous undertaking was the inspiration for other subsequent movements to aid the beleaguered people of Gaza.

Those who believed that the mission was over, that the dream had ended, did not reckon correctly with the dedication and courage of the people of the Free Gaza Movement. This spring a flotilla of six to ten boats will again sail to Gaza. Of these, five have been funded by IHH from Turkey, and a third, a cargo ship, has been funded by donations from the people of Malaysia. This time the Israeli Navy will be faced with a small navy, a navy of freedom fighters.

The ships will carry reconstruction material essential to the rebuilding of Gaza yet forbidden to them by the Israelis.

Fundraising is essential as is maximum publicity. Returning members of Viva Palestina and the Gaza Freedom March make excellent speakers for fundraising events. Since the Israeli occupiers do not permit the importation of paper or paper products, the Free Gaza Movement has launched a campaign which it has titled: The Right to Read. Books that are desperately needed are listed on the group’s web site: <www.freegaza.org>. If reconstruction material is to be donated, please contact friends@freegaza.org.

Three leaders and founders of the Free Gaza Movement were recently honored by the San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Greta Berlin, Paul Larudee and Kathy Sheets were each given a Gertrude Welch Peace and Justice Award.

The California organization established the award to honor those who made an outstanding contribution to social justice and peace both locally and globally.
Those who support the goals of the Free Gaza Movement but are not able to make the trip are urged to work in an auxiliary capacity.

In addition to fundraising and publicity supporters can urge their members of congress or parliament to join the voyagers. The Movement already has Members of Parliament from South Africa, Turkey, Malaysia, Europe, and South America on board.

Members of a land crew, support crew and media are also needed for the coming journey.

Suggestions, volunteering and contributions may be made at the above cited web site.

12-7

Iraq Cabinet Ratifies Four Major Oilfield Deals

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Missy Ryan

2010-01-06T133509Z_2082907_GM1E6161NUB01_RTRMADP_3_IRAQ

Iraq’s President Jalal Talabani (Center L) and Defence Minister Abdel Qader Jassim (Center R) salute as they review troops during the Iraqi Army Day’s 89th anniversary celebration, in Baghdad January 6, 2010.

REUTERS/Stringer

BAGHDAD, Jan 5 (Reuters) – Iraq’s cabinet has ratified contracts with foreign firms to develop four oilfields, pushing Iraq a step closer toward finalising deals that may make it a leading world oil producer, the government said on Tuesday.

“The cabinet has ratified four oilfields: Majnoon, Gharaf, and in Nineveh province Qayara and al-Najmah,” government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.

Last month, the Iraqi Oil Ministry initialled service contracts with seven foreign consortia to develop fields including supergiant Majnoon, which was awarded to Royal Dutch Shell and Malaysia’s Petronas in a December energy auction.

The firms, part of a long-awaited wave of foreign investment in Iraq’s promising oil sector, must now sign final deals before they can begin work.

The deals represent a mainstay of Iraq’s ambitions to transform its underperforming oil sector and bring output capacity to 12 million barrels per day (bpd), a huge increase from output now of around 2.5 million bpd.

The deals ratified on Tuesday were offered to foreign firms at a Dec. 11-12 energy auction, Iraq’s second this year.

Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, and Petronas won the rights to Majnoon, a major field near the southern oil hub of Basra.

Majnoon, whose reserves of 12.6 billion barrels make it one of the world’s largest untapped fields, was one of the prizes on the block in that auction.

Major Success

After a more tepid showing in an initial auction in June, Iraqi oil officials hailed the December auction as a major success. Gharaf, a smaller oilfield with 900 million in reserves, went to Petronas and the Japan Petroleum Exploration Co (Japex).

Qayara and Najmah, located in Iraq’s restive north, were both won by Angolan state oil firm Sonangol.

The 800-million-barrel Qayara field is south of Nineveh province’s capital Mosul, while nearby Najmah has around 900 million barrels.

There are three deals from Iraq’s second bidding round that must still be ratified, including Halfaya, which was won by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC), Total and Petronas. Halfaya, in southern Iraq, has estimated reserves of 4.1 billion barrels.

Badrah, a 100 million barrel reservoir, is another. Badrah went to Russia’s Gazprom, Turkey’s TPAO, Kogas and Petronas.

Last but not least is West Qurna Phase Two, which was won by Russia’s Lukoil and Norway’s Statoil. The supergiant field has reserves of 12.9 billion barrel.

After the deals were initialled, the government said it was seeking a number of technical or operational amendments to the contracts.

“Sonangol was the first company to accept the proposed amendments followed by the other companies whose contracts were approved today by the cabinet,” said Sabah Abdul Kadhim, head of the legal and commercial section of the Petroleum Contracts and Licensing Directorate.

He said responses from the other companies were expected by Thursday. (Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; editing by James Jukwey)

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Malaysian Polygamy Club Draws Criticism

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Liz Gooch, New York Times

articleLarge
Mohamad Ikram Ashaari and his four wives and children at his home in Kuala Lumpur.      Palani Mohan for International Herald Tributne.

KUALA LUMPUR — Rohaya Mohamad, 44, is an articulate, bespectacled medical doctor who studied at a university in Wales. Juhaidah Yusof, 41, is a shy Islamic studies teacher and mother of eight. Kartini Maarof, 41, is a divorce lawyer and Rubaizah Rejab, a youthful-looking 30-year-old woman, teaches Arabic at a private college.

The lives of these four women are closely entwined — they take care of each others’ children, cook for each other and share a home on weekends.

They also share a husband.

The man at the center of this matrimonial arrangement is Mohamad Ikram Ashaari, the 43-year-old stepson of Hatijah Aam, 54, a Malaysian woman who in August established a club to promote polygamy.

“Men are by nature polygamous,” said Dr. Rohaya, Mr. Ikram’s third wife, flanked by the other three women and Mr. Ikram for an interview on a recent morning. The women were dressed in ankle-length skirts, their hair covered by tudungs, the Malaysian term for headscarf. “We hear of many men having the ‘other woman,’ affairs and prostitution because for men, one woman is not enough. Polygamy is a way to overcome social ills such as this.”

The Ikhwan Polygamy Club is managed by Global Ikhwan, a company whose businesses include bread and noodle factories, a chicken-processing plant, pharmacies, cafes and supermarkets. Mr. Ikram is a director of the company.

While polygamy is legal in predominantly Muslim Malaysia, the club has come under fire from the government and religious leaders, who suspect it may be an attempt to revive Al-Arqam, a defunct Islamic movement headed by Mrs. Hatijah’s husband, Mr. Ashaari Mohamad, who is the founder and owner of Global Ikhwan. Al-Arqam was banned in 1994 for “deviant” religious teachings.

The club denies allegations that it is trying to revive Al-Arqam, and says that the aim of the club is to help single mothers and women past “marrying age” find husbands.

The Ikhwan Polygamy Club says it has 1,000 members across Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, Singapore, Thailand, the Middle East and Europe. It recently started a branch in Bandung, Indonesia, and plans to open another one in Jakarta. Most of the members are employees of Global Ikwan or former members of Al-Arqam.

Members get together regularly for meetings and relationship counseling, which is given by senior members of the group.

Under Malaysian law, it is legal for Muslim men to marry as many as four wives, although they must obtain permission from an Islamic, or shariah, court to marry more than one. Women’s groups say it has become easier for men to obtain permission to take multiple wives in recent years, a development they say coincides with a rise in Islamic conservatism in Malaysia.

While some states require men to obtain the consent of their existing wives before seeking court permission to marry another wife, Sa’adiah Din, a family lawyer who practices in the shariah courts, said other states no longer required the wives’ consent.

In 2008, 1,791 men applied to the shariah courts, which apply only to the country’s Muslim population, for permission to take another wife, up from 1,694 in 2007. The government could not provide figures on the total number of polygamous marriages, but researchers including Norani Othman, a sociologist at the National University of Malaysia, said the number could be as high as 5 percent of all marriages.
Despite the growing number of polygamous marriages, the club’s effort to promote the practice has put it in the sights of the authorities.

The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia, a government department that is responsible for the promotion and administration of Islam, is investigating the activities of the Ikhwan Polygamy Club and says it believes Mr. Ashaari and his family may be promoting teachings contrary to Islam. A spokeswoman would not provide further details, saying the investigation was continuing.

Al-Arqam had asserted that Mr. Ashaari had the power to forgive the sins of Muslims, an act Muslims believe can be done only by God. Some reports have suggested that the movement had as many as 10,000 members when it was banned.

A leading religious official, Harussani Bin Haji Zakaria, the mufti of Perak State, said followers of Al-Arqam had claimed that Mr. Ashaari had the power to send people to heaven or hell.

Mr. Harussani said he believed the polygamy club could be a front to resurrect Al-Arqam. “I think because they have been banned they want to attract people to come to him again,” he said, referring to Mr. Ashaari.

The club has also been criticized by women’s groups like Sisters in Islam, a nongovernmental organization based in Malaysia.

Ms. Norani, the sociologist, who is the lead researcher in a Sisters in Islam project investigating polygamy, said the practice could be harmful to women and children, particularly those born to first wives.

She and her fellow researchers have interviewed 2,000 men, women and adult children who have experienced polygamous marriage.

Although she stressed that her comments were based on preliminary observations, Ms. Norani said many of the first wives interviewed reported feelings of resentment and depression after their husbands took a second wife, and “a significant number” had considered divorce.

She said she knew some well-educated, financially independent women in Kuala Lumpur, including business executives and lawyers, who had chosen to become second or third wives.

“Usually they marry late, they do a second or third degree, they put off marriage until later and they find it difficult to find an unmarried man,” she said. “One of them said ‘all the good men are either married or gay.”’

With 17 children among them, ages 6 to 21, Mr. Ikram’s four wives all have their own homes near their workplaces, but on weekends they gather at the family’s five-bedroom house on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur.

Most of the older children are at boarding school or university, but the children of primary-school age stay at the family house, where they are usually cared for by the first wife, Juhaidah, during the week.

Mr. Ikram takes turns spending nights with each of his four wives. “It’s like one, two, three, four,” said Dr. Rohaya, pointing to each of the wives.

The wives usually meet Mr. Ikram at the family house but they say there is no strict arrangement, and Mr. Ikram sometimes comes to their individual homes during the week.

On weekends, at the family house, the women take turns doing the cooking.

“We share clothes,” Dr. Rohaya said. “We’re like sisters, really.”

None of the women grew up in polygamous families, and although they admit to having had some initial reservations, they all said they were happy and would recommend polygamous marriage to their daughters.

Mr. Ikram rejected suggestions from the women’s groups that polygamous marriages may benefit men while causing hardship for women.

“Actually, in a polygamous marriage it’s more of a burden to a man than to a woman because the husband has to face four different women, and that’s not easy,” he said, prompting laughter from his wives.

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As the Academic Year Opens in Israel:

November 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ayman Quader, www.peaceforgaza.blogspot.com

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 – Once again, following the start of the academic year at many institutions of higher education around the world, some 838 Palestinian students are still waiting to leave Gaza to study abroad. The students cannot leave due to the Israeli-imposed closure of the Gaza Strip and the rigid criteria for exit via the Erez and Rafah border crossings.

According to figures provided to Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement – by the Palestinian Interior Ministry in Gaza, 1,983 students who have been accepted into educational institutions abroad have registered for permits to exit via the Rafah crossing since the start of the year, but only 1,145 students have managed to pass through the crossing. 69 additional students have left via Erez crossing.

Overseas travel is no simple matter for Palestinian students because passage through Israel is extremely limited in accordance with a long list of criteria determined by Israel, which include the possession of a “recognized” academic scholarship and enrollment to study in a country which has a diplomatic presence in Israel. In addition, since June 2008 Israel has made the exit of students from Gaza to study abroad conditional on a physical diplomatic escort (see Gisha’s report: “Obstacle Course: Students Denied Exit From Gaza”). The students also have difficulty leaving through Egypt via Rafah crossing due to the fact that it is closed most of the time. The rare openings of Rafah Crossing permit travel for only about 12% of people wishing to pass.

As a result, 838 students are still waiting in Gaza for permission to leave. An additional unknown number of students were not even eligible to register for a Rafah exit permit since they were unable to attend a visa interview in Jerusalem or the West Bank – a prerequisite for passing through the Rafah crossing. Below are three examples of students harmed by the infrequent opening of the Rafah crossing and the strict exit criteria set by Israel:

Mohammed AbuHajar, 29, was accepted into an MA program in Information Technology and Communications at the Center for Information Technologies in Athens in July 2009, and was even awarded a full scholarship by the Center. Since Israel does not consider this to be a “recognized university” or a “recognized scholarship,” and despite requests by Greek officials on his behalf, all of AbuHajar’s attempts to leave Gaza have so far led nowhere. He only just managed to register with the Palestinian Interior Ministry, but it is not known when the next opening of the Rafah crossing will take place or whether AbuHajar will be able to get through the crossing at all.

Ihab Naser, 38, who holds a graduate degree in Biochemistry, was accepted into doctoral studies in Community Nutrition at a Malaysian university in May 2009, but he has not yet managed to leave Gaza. Since Malaysia has no diplomatic ties with the State of Israel, so long as Israel continues to insist on the diplomatic escort requirement, Naser has no chance of getting out of Gaza via Israel to study abroad. Despite the fact that Naser has been on the list of students with a permit to exit via the Rafah crossing for a long time already, due to the huge crowd of hopeful travelers that converges on the crossing every time it opens, his exit has been delayed time and again.

Wesam Kuhail, 28, who holds a BA in Business Administration, was accepted into an MBA program in the USA, but has been forced this year – for the third time – to renew his application for the program. This is because Kuhail has not yet managed to get an exit permit from Gaza in order to attend a visa interview at the US Consulate in Jerusalem: “I don’t know if I’ll ever make it to the consulate under these circumstances. This wait has prevented me from making important life decisions… All I am doing is waiting for my entry permit to be approved by the Israelis.”

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Halal Make-Up

September 17, 2009 by · 8 Comments 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

skin_240809 What started out as a quest to find halal make-up for her own skin, has now taken Layla Mandi on the journey of a lifetime. As a Canadian convert to Islam and with an extensive background as a make-up artist, Mandi was unsatisfied with the quality of the beauty products available to her as a Muslim. “There are pork derivatives and alcohol in most cosmetic products,” Mandi said in a recent interview. She has performed extensive research into many beauty products currently on the market and her findings are pretty alarming.

Many shampoos, moisturizers and lipsticks contain pig by-products such as placenta, blood, urine fat and gelatin obtained from boiling pig skin, bones and hooves. PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have long been protesting against the use of animal byproducts in the cosmetic industry, which is a multibillion-dollar industry in America alone. For this reason Mandi moved to Morocco in 2006 to both enrich her Islamic faith and obtain halal beauty products to use for herself. The only trouble was that there were not any halal products available. “I assumed, just as in the food sector, there would be plenty of halal cosmetics for Muslim women. But I suddenly realized there were none,” she said recently, “In fact, people either didn’t know or didn’t care that the cream they were putting on their face had pig and other animal derivatives in it. I decided to try to make my own.”

It took her three years and another move to Gulf powerhouse Dubai, while also enlisting the aid of a chemist and dermatologist from Canada, to create her very own brand of halal make up called, One Pure. Dressed in a flowing black abaya and with blond strands of a perfectly coifed hairstyle peeking out from her hijab, Mandi is slowly making a name for herself in Dubai and the rest of the Middle East. Her products are guaranteed to be free from pork derivatives and come packaged in sparkling luxury wrappers to appeal to even the most refined tastes. Her first clients were Saudi Airlines and Souk Al-Bahar, which is located in the World’s tallest building, Burj Dubai. Mandi has also been selling her halal beauty products online.

The One Pure cosmetic line also has religious backing in the form of halal certification from Malaysia and recent comments from at least one religious scholar in Dubai who has confirmed that Muslims are forbidden to touch the pig let alone allow its bodily fluids and parts to penetrate the skin. For the time being, the line is primarily being released in the Middle East with Mandi already turning her attention to a men’s line.

As with anything new that hits the market, critics of One Pure have already started weighing on in on the whole concept of halal beauty products for women. Some say that it is just a clever marketing ploy to make Muslim women buy the products so that they feel they are better Muslims. Others insist that One Pure is not the first halal make-up to be sold, the secularly marketed ‘The Body Shop’ has been in business for years and all of their products are free from animal derivatives and are not tested on animals either.

Only time will tell if One Pure will become a sensation, with Mandi declared the reigning queen of the halal beauty scene. There is nothing new about halal cosmetics in the Gulf region with an estimated $150 million worth of products being filtered through the tiny UAE alone per annum. However, these products rarely find the hands of consumers. For Mandi, her top priority is fulfilling the halal beauty needs of the everyday Muslim woman so that they can put their best face forward.

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Southeast Michigan (V11-I36)

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Bloomfield Unity Montessori and Daycare

Farmington–August 25–Ms. Ayesha Ali, co-principal of the Bloomfield Unity Montessori and Daycare took some time to talk with TMO about her school this week.
This Montessori school is in fact not a direct competitor with most of the other Islamic day schools that TMO has interviewed in the past years, as it is a preschool–in fact it is a feeder for the other Islamic schools, like Huda and others.

The Bloomfield Montessori school has about 30 students, and is based inside the BMUC mosque.  The Montessori program focuses on children up to six years old, and has accepted children as young as 8 weeks.

Inspired by the success of the Tawheed Center’s hifz program, which has really become the gold standard for local mosque’s religious instruction, Ms. Ali explained to TMO that the Bloomfield Montessori preschool will offer a hifz program patterned on Tawheed’s–with reliance on Calvert’s home school curriculum, and reliance on Shaykh Ahmad, a trained qari–to instruct the children in tajweed and memorization.

The hifz program at Bloomfield will be for 1st and 2nd grade students.  Ms. Ali explained that “three or four” students have enrolled in the hifz program so far, and that the class will be capped at ten.  The hifz program will cost $600 per month.  The regular Montessori program is $700 per month.  Preschool is $550 per month, and the school is available to parents for the entire year if they want.

Local Mosques and Ramadan

Farmington–August 26–FCNA calculations this year coincided with the Saudi ruling regarding the beginning of Ramadan, leaving most Southeast Michigan Sunni mosques on the same note with regard to the beginning and perhaps also the ending of Ramadan.

FCNA, the Fiqh Council of North America, which calculates based on the physical visibility of the moon in Mecca, determined that the Ramadan moon, which entered early Thursday morning, would not be visible after sunset in Saudi on Thursday therefore the Ramadan month was said to begin Saturday.

The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia in somewhat of a surprise announcement on Thursday said also that fasting would begin Saturday.

Other nations fasting Saturday included Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei–the majority of Sunni nations.  Four nations however began fasting Friday, including Turkey, Albania, Bosnia, and Libya. 

Shi’a followers of the Lebanese marja Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah also began fasting Friday, relying also on calculations.  However, followers of other Shi’a maraja began fasting Saturday.

Local Michigan mosques mainly began fasting Saturday, however with varying reasoning.  The Tawheed Center of Farmington, the Muslim Center of Detroit, and Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center all began Saturday based on following the recommendations of FCNA.

The Flint Islamic Center, MCA of Ann Arbor, and the Grand Blanc Islamic Center began Saturday as well, but for the reason that Saudi Arabia had announced it would begin fasting on Saturday.

MCWS, the Canton mosque, also following FCNA.  ‘Isha and tarawih at MCWS will begin at 10 for the first 10 days, then 9:45 for the second 10 days, and 9:30 for the final 10 days.

Dr. Saleem of the Flint Islamic Center on Corunna explained that ‘Eid will also be based on the Saudi ‘Eid.  ‘Isha and tarawih at FIC will be at 10pm for the first 2 weeks and at 9:30pm for the final 2 weeks.

Flint is having a community dinner every Saturday night, with about 500 people, Dr. Saleem explained to TMO. 

After Ramadan many of the local mosques likely including Flint, intend to participate in the mass ‘Eid celebration at the Rock Financial Showplace, continuing last year’s beginning of the tradition.

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World’s Youth Leaders Gather to Address the Challenges of Militarization, Nuclear Weapons and the Misuse of Religion

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Kathmandu_street
File:  A busy street in Kathmandu.

(Kathmandu, July 10, 2009)  The International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, in Kathmandu on 10 July 2009.  Organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, the Summit brought together approximately 100 Nepali and 50 international religious and civil society leaders from 25 countries.[1]   Other prominent participants in the Summit included Mr. Kul C. Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; Mr. Taijiro Kimura, Director, UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General, the World Conference of Religions for Peace; and Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network.

Globally nearly 1,000 people a day die from various kinds of weapons.  Military spending in 2008 reached a new high of $1.464 trillion, even as the global economy faltered and the majority of the world’s population continued to live in extreme poverty.   Four billion dollars worth of small arms are traded legally each year, while another $1 billion is traded illegally.  The world is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions, landmines and other conventional weapons, rising military expenditures at the expense of development, and the misuse of religion in support of violence and war.

His Excellency Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the President of Nepal, stated that “We need to harness the power of the world’s religions to counter violence with the message of peace, love and compassion, especially among the youth of our nations. I want to compliment the Religion and Peace Academy of Nepal (RAPAN) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) for convening a very timely ‘International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security’ in Kathmandu.”

Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and president of Mayors for Peace, a global coalition of mayors from 2,926 cities in 134 countries and regions, stated in his message that “The possibility of proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are growing, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is on the verge of collapse.  Mayors for Peace welcomes the possibility of working with the world’s religious communities and young people through the Religions for Peace global network to promote our 2020 Vision, a program to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Mr. Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF noted that “Youth are the soul of the society.  They are essential to transform culture of violence we are seeing at present to culture of peace, which is an intrinsic and inherent part of Nepali culture.  Based on my long association with Religions for Peace, I am confident that this conference will help advance a powerful campaign for peace and non-violence through multi-religious cooperation in Nepal and around the world.” He urged the World Conference of Religions for Peace to support a massive campaign to rollback violence in Nepal as a direct follow-up of this conference in Nepal, and consider similar campaigns in other post-conflict countries in the world.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, “This Summit intends to further unleash the positive socially transformative power of religion, underline the crucial role of young people in shaping our world, and highlight the added value of multi-religious cooperation and multi-stakeholder approach to disarmament for shared security, development and peace.”

Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network said, “This Summit is a great opportunity for religious youth leaders to discuss major challenges to shared security and develop action plans.  Based upon these, Religions for Peace youth leaders from national, regional and global networks will launch a campaign on reducing military expenditures to advance shared security.”

[1] Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the US.  

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The American Empire Is Bankrupt

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Hedges

This week marks the end of the dollar’s reign as the world’s reserve currency. It marks the start of a terrible period of economic and political decline in the United States. And it signals the last gasp of the American imperium. That’s over. It is not coming back. And what is to come will be very, very painful.

Barack Obama, and the criminal class on Wall Street, aided by a corporate media that continues to peddle fatuous gossip and trash talk as news while we endure the greatest economic crisis in our history, may have fooled us, but the rest of the world knows we are bankrupt. And these nations are damned if they are going to continue to prop up an inflated dollar and sustain the massive federal budget deficits, swollen to over $2 trillion, which fund America’s imperial expansion in Eurasia and our system of casino capitalism. They have us by the throat. They are about to squeeze.

There are meetings being held Monday and Tuesday in Yekaterinburg, Russia, (formerly Sverdlovsk) among Chinese President Hu Jintao, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other top officials of the six-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization. The United States, which asked to attend, was denied admittance. Watch what happens there carefully. The gathering is, in the words of economist Michael Hudson, “the most important meeting of the 21st century so far.”

It is the first formal step by our major trading partners to replace the dollar as the world’s reserve currency. If they succeed, the dollar will dramatically plummet in value, the cost of imports, including oil, will skyrocket, interest rates will climb and jobs will hemorrhage at a rate that will make the last few months look like boom times. State and federal services will be reduced or shut down for lack of funds. The United States will begin to resemble the Weimar Republic or Zimbabwe. Obama, endowed by many with the qualities of a savior, will suddenly look pitiful, inept and weak. And the rage that has kindled a handful of shootings and hate crimes in the past few weeks will engulf vast segments of a disenfranchised and bewildered working and middle class. The people of this class will demand vengeance, radical change, order and moral renewal, which an array of proto-fascists, from the Christian right to the goons who disseminate hate talk on Fox News, will assure the country they will impose.

I called Hudson, who has an article in Monday’s Financial Times called The Yekaterinburg Turning Point: De-Dollarization and the Ending of America’s Financial-Military Hegemony. “Yekaterinburg,” Hudson writes, “may become known not only as the death place of the czars but of the American empire as well.” His article is worth reading, along with John Lanchester’s disturbing exposé of the world’s banking system, titled “It’s Finished,” which appeared in the May 28 issue of the London Review of Books.

“This means the end of the dollar,” Hudson told me. “It means China, Russia, India, Pakistan, Iran are forming an official financial and military area to get America out of Eurasia. The balance-of-payments deficit is mainly military in nature. Half of America’s discretionary spending is military. The deficit ends up in the hands of foreign banks, central banks. They don’t have any choice but to recycle the money to buy U.S. government debt. The Asian countries have been financing their own military encirclement. They have been forced to accept dollars that have no chance of being repaid. They are paying for America’s military aggression against them. They want to get rid of this.”

China, as Hudson points out, has already struck bilateral trade deals with Brazil and Malaysia to denominate their trade in China’s yuan rather than the dollar, pound or euro. Russia promises to begin trading in the ruble and local currencies. The governor of China’s central bank has openly called for the abandonment of the dollar as reserve currency, suggesting in its place the use of the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. What the new system will be remains unclear, but the flight from the dollar has clearly begun. The goal, in the words of the Russian president, is to build a “multipolar world order” which will break the economic and, by extension, military domination by the United States. China is frantically spending its dollar reserves to buy factories and property around the globe so it can unload its U.S. currency. This is why Aluminum Corp. of China made so many major concessions in the failed attempt to salvage its $19.5 billion alliance with the Rio Tinto mining concern in Australia. It desperately needs to shed its dollars.

“China is trying to get rid of all the dollars they can in a trash-for-resource deal,” Hudson said. “They will give the dollars to countries willing to sell off their resources since America refuses to sell any of its high-tech industries, even Unocal, to the yellow peril. It realizes these dollars are going to be worthless pretty quickly.”

The architects of this new global exchange realize that if they break the dollar they also break America’s military domination. Our military spending cannot be sustained without this cycle of heavy borrowing. The official U.S. defense budget for fiscal year 2008 is $623 billion, before we add on things like nuclear research. The next closest national military budget is China’s, at $65 billion, according to the Central Intelligence Agency.

There are three categories of the balance-of-payment deficits. America imports more than it exports. This is trade. Wall Street and American corporations buy up foreign companies. This is capital movement. The third and most important balance-of-payment deficit for the past 50 years has been Pentagon spending abroad. It is primarily military spending that has been responsible for the balance-of-payments deficit for the last five decades. Look at table five in the Balance of Payments Report, published in the Survey of Current Business quarterly, and check under military spending. There you can see the deficit.

To fund our permanent war economy, we have been flooding the world with dollars. The foreign recipients turn the dollars over to their central banks for local currency. The central banks then have a problem. If a central bank does not spend the money in the United States then the exchange rate against the dollar will go up. This will penalize exporters. This has allowed America to print money without restraint to buy imports and foreign companies, fund our military expansion and ensure that foreign nations like China continue to buy our treasury bonds. This cycle appears now to be over. Once the dollar cannot flood central banks and no one buys our treasury bonds, our empire collapses. The profligate spending on the military, some $1 trillion when everything is counted, will be unsustainable.

“We will have to finance our own military spending,” Hudson warned, “and the only way to do this will be to sharply cut back wage rates. The class war is back in business. Wall Street understands that. This is why it had Bush and Obama give it $10 trillion in a huge rip-off so it can have enough money to survive.”

The desperate effort to borrow our way out of financial collapse has promoted a level of state intervention unseen since World War II. It has also led us into uncharted territory.

“We have in effect had to declare war to get us out of the hole created by our economic system,” Lanchester wrote in the London Review of Books. “There is no model or precedent for this, and no way to argue that it’s all right really, because under such-and-such a model of capitalism … there is no such model. It isn’t supposed to work like this, and there is no road-map for what’s happened.”

The cost of daily living, from buying food to getting medical care, will become difficult for all but a few as the dollar plunges. States and cities will see their pension funds drained and finally shut down. The government will be forced to sell off infrastructure, including roads and transport, to private corporations. We will be increasingly charged by privatized utilities—think Enron—for what was once regulated and subsidized. Commercial and private real estate will be worth less than half its current value. The negative equity that already plagues 25 percent of American homes will expand to include nearly all property owners. It will be difficult to borrow and impossible to sell real estate unless we accept massive losses. There will be block after block of empty stores and boarded-up houses. Foreclosures will be epidemic. There will be long lines at soup kitchens and many, many homeless. Our corporate-controlled media, already banal and trivial, will work overtime to anesthetize us with useless gossip, spectacles, sex, gratuitous violence, fear and tawdry junk politics. America will be composed of a large dispossessed underclass and a tiny empowered oligarchy that will run a ruthless and brutal system of neo-feudalism from secure compounds. Those who resist will be silenced, many by force. We will pay a terrible price, and we will pay this price soon, for the gross malfeasance of our power elite. 

11-27

TM Launches IP Node To Position Malaysia As Internet Hub

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Samantha Tan Chiew Tieng, Bernama (Malaysian National News Agency)

SINGAPORE, June 16–The newly-launched Internet Protocol (IP) node called Platinum IP Transit will position Malaysia as an Internet hub for the Asia Pacific region, according to Telekom Malaysia Bhd (TM).

The IP node was jointly launched Tuesday by TM and US-based Verizon Business, a unit of Verizon Communications Inc.

“The IP node will enable TM to offer high-end network services at competitive price, which will enhance its ability to offer high-quality IP-based services to local service providers and hence companies with operations in Malaysia,” TM group chief executive officer Datuk Zamzamzairani Mohd Isa told reporters at CommunicAsia 2009 here today.

CommunicAsia 2009 is a regional information and communications technology (ICT) exhibition and a global platform set to address current and emerging issues in the ICT and digital convergence landscape.

The IP node launch came just four months after TM and Verizon signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to develop the Internet hub in Cyberjaya.

Among the benefits cited for the hub are faster connections among local ISPs (Internet service providers), lower broadband costs, and more reliable international connections.

“The IP node will support the delivery of advanced data services to Malaysian-headquartered companies as well as multinational companies with operations in Malaysia and throughout the region,” said Zamzamzairani.

He said that customers will gain cost savings on international connectivity, as Internet queries and traffic needed to go outside the region and then back again.
“The Platinum IP Transit service is a product poised to benefit Asian ISPs, cellular broadband providers, content and application providers as well as enterprises,” he added.

Zamzamzairani said the collaboration will benefit customers with multinational operations, enabling them to gain seamless access to Verizon Business’ expansive global network and solutions.

“Verizon customers with operations in the Malaysian market will likewise be able to benefit from our extensive local market expertise,” he said.

“This collaboration will provide an impetus for Malaysia to become a regional transit hub for global Internet service providers’ routing traffic,” he added.

Besides cost savings for businesses, end-users will also benefit from the new IP node as Web surfers can expect faster connections and quicker page loads as part of the Internet traffic is now routed within the country, TM said.

– BERNAMA

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Canada: Sharia ETF Poised for Launch

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Proposed ETF from Islamic firm UM Financial and Jovian Capital could be a Canadian first

By Shirley Won, Funds Reporter, Globe and Mail

Islamic financial services company UM Financial Inc. has teamed up with Jovian Capital Corp. JOV-T in a bid to list Canada’s first sharia-compliant exchange-traded fund (ETF).

On Wednesday, Standard & Poor’s launched the S&P/TSX 60 Shariah Index. In compliance with Islamic law, the index avoids firms involved in financial services, alcohol, gambling and pork products.

The proposed product from UM and Jovian would be based on the S&P/TSX 60 Shariah Index so the two firms are in discussions with Standard & Poor’s to get a licence for the new index to start the Islamic ETF later this year. Eventually, “the goal is to launch a family of ETFs,” UM chief executive officer Omar Kalair said yesterday.

The sharia ETF would target Canada’s Muslim population (which numbers about one million), as well as foreign investors, Mr. Kalair said in an interview.

Jovian’s BetaPro Management unit is a provider of leveraged and other ETFs, while its AphaPro Management unit has actively managed ETFs. “Any product launched would come from BetaPro,” Mr. Kalair said.

In recent years, sharia-compliant ETFs have popped up in various countries including Britain, India, Singapore, Dubai, Malaysia and South Africa. In March, a sharia gold ETF was launched in Dubai.

Barclays Canada, which administers the iShares ETFs and is the largest ETF provider in the country, “has no plans to go down this route,” said Oliver McMahon, its director of product development. “It’s not in our existing product pipeline.”

Jasmit Bhandal, a spokeswoman for Standard & Poor’s in Canada, said there have been talks with ETF, mutual fund and structured products providers for use of the S&P/TSX 60 Shariah Index, but nothing is final. But a licence with an ETF provider is typically an exclusive one, she said.

A couple of sharia-compliant mutual funds are sold in Canada, but both have less than $2-million in assets.

A Toronto-based investment firm, frontierAlt Management Ltd., launched Canada’s first sharia-compliant mutual fund, frontierAlt Oasis Canada, in 2007. The firm also later started sharia-compliant funds frontierAlt Oasis World and frontierAlt Global Income funds, but these were closed last fall because it was no longer cost effective to run them, said Taras Hucal, president of frontierAlt Management.

The two Oasis stock funds invested in firms in the Dow Jones Islamic Market Indexes. The income fund invested in sukuk, which is similar to conventional bonds, but pays out a share of revenue from a designated pool of assets or services rather than interest. Islamic principles prohibit receiving interest income.

A problem with selling the Oasis funds is the fact they are no-load funds; they do not pay financial advisers a commission, but rather a 1-per-cent annual trailer fee as long as investors hold them, Mr. Hucal said.

“There has also been a lack of awareness” about products in this niche, and the steep market collapse didn’t help sales, he said.

The frontierAlt Oasis Canada Fund suffered a 42-per-cent loss for the year ended April 30, and an average annual loss of 23 per cent over two years. Funds need a solid three-year return number to attract inflows of money, Mr. Hucal said.

In March, Global Prosperata Funds Inc. launched the sharia-compliant Global Prosperata Iman, a global stock fund that is sold with front- and back-end load commissions. It now has $1.5-million in assets.

“We are expecting another $1-million to $2-million from a number of different investors in the next 30 to 60 days,” said Glenn Moore, vice-president of Toronto-based Prosperata Funds. “There is a lot of pent-up demand.”

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Minister: Indonesia, Egypt to Boost Trade Cooperation

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda said the visit of Mohamed Elzorkany, Egypt`s assistant foreign affairs minister for Asia, was aimed at boosting bilateral trade cooperation between the two countries.

The bilateral relations between Egypt and Indonesia was limited to the political field so far, and therefore the ties would be expanded to include economic, social and cultural fields.

“The close political relations between Indonesia and Egypt will be intensified and translated into cooperation in other fields, including trade,” Wirajuda said.
Elzorkany visited Jakarta as parts of his Asian tour which included China, Mongolia, and Malaysia.

During his two-day visit in Indonesia, the Egyptian official held meetings with Foreign Affairs Minister Hassan Wirajuda, Trade Minister Marie Elka Pangestu, and National Education Minister Bambang Sudibyo.

Elzorkany at a dinner reception hosted by the Egyptian ambassador to Indonesia, here on Monday evening, said that Egypt and Indonesia had big potential to intensify the bilateral cooperation in the trade and investment fields.

Indonesia and Egypt had close bilateral relations and both nations had set up a joint commission to improve cooperation in various fields, especially trade and investment, he said.

Egypt which recorded an economic growth at 7.1 percent last year, was a gate to Africa, Europe and other Arab countries, he said, hoping that Indonesia could use his country`s potential to penetrate those regional markets.

The bilateral trade value of the two countries reached US$1.1 billion, with Indonesia enjoyed a surplus of US$900 million.

Egypt`s exports to Indonesia include phosphates, cotton, fruits, and carpets, while its imports from Indonesia are among other things crude palm oil (CPO), rubber, paper, and tires.

Elzorkany believed that the two nations had huge potentials to achieve progress in the future.

Indonesia and Egypt as developing countries also supported each other in various international forum including in G-15, he said.

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Thailand Accused of Mistreating Muslim Refugees

January 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Simon Montlake, The Christian Science Monitor

2008-05-06-Rohingya_1
The Rohingya Muslim people, subject to horrible state persecution  in Burma, have sought refuge in Bangladesh; recently hundreds were refused entry into Thailand.

BANGKOK, THAILAND – Hundreds of Muslim refugees from Burma (Myanmar) are feared missing or dead after Thai troops forced them onto boats without engines and cut them adrift in international waters, according to human rights activists and authorities in India who rescued survivors. The revelations have shone a spotlight on the Thai military’s expulsion policy toward Muslims it sees as a security threat.

Nearly 1,000 refugees were detained on a remote island in December before being towed out to sea in two batches and abandoned with little food or water, according to a tally by a migrant-rights group based on survivors’ accounts and media reports. The detainees, mostly members of Burma’s oppressed Rohingya minority, then drifted for weeks. One group was rescued by Indonesia’s Navy, and two others made landfall in India’s Andaman Islands.

Photos of refugees on a Thai island show rows of bedraggled men stripped to the waist as soldiers stand guard. In a separate incident, foreign tourists snapped pictures of detainees trussed on a beach. Thailand’s Andaman coastline, where the abuses took place, is a popular vacation spot.

PM Abhisit Vejjajiva has launched an investigation. Military officials have denied any ill treatment of refugees, while offering conflicting accounts of how they ended up lost at sea. The military has accused the Rohingya, who often travel via Thailand to Malaysia to work or seek asylum, of assisting a Muslim-led insurgency in southern Thailand.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is pressing Thailand for access to 126 Rohingya that it says are in Thai custody. These include 46 boat people reportedly detained on Jan. 16 and handed over to military custody. It said a second group of 80 Rohingya, which reportedly had previously been pushed out to sea and drifted back, had been transferred to the tiny detention island.

There was no sign Thursday of any detainees there, said a Western source in the area. Villagers said boat people had been held there by local guards under military command, before being towed out to sea by fishing vessels. Rickety vessels said to have carried the refugees were beached on the island, the source said.

Amid accusations of a military cover-up, the Thai government has promised a full accounting. “The military has agreed to a fact-finding investigation … [but] we’re not dependent on their input alone,” says Panitan Wattanyagorn, a spokesman.

That probe will expose Mr. Abhisit’s weak command of the military, which sees the Rohingya and other undocumented Muslims as a threat, says Paul Quaglia, director of PSA Asia, a security consultancy in Bangkok. He says there’s no evidence that the Rohingya, who speak a Bengali dialect, have joined insurgents in the Malay-speaking south, where more than 3,500 people have died since 2004.

“Abhisit is … beholden to the military for getting his job – and keeping his job,” he says.

Thailand has long been a magnet for millions of economic migrants as well as refugees escaping persecution in Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Human traffickers often play a role moving both groups, exposing those on the run to egregious abuses. Thailand has a mixed record on hosting refugees.

Most Rohingya, who are denied legal rights in Burma, begin their journey in Bangladesh, where more than 200,000 live in unofficial camps. A further 28,000 are registered with the UNHCR. From there, men pay smugglers for passage across the Indian Ocean to Thailand, usually as a transit stop to reach Malaysia, a Muslim country with a sizable Rohingya population. Some Bangladeshis also travel there.

In recent years, boats crossing during winter months have increased. Between 2004 and 2008, the number of Rohingya detained by police rose to 4,866, up from 2,763, says Kraisak Choonhavan, a government lawmaker.

Some of these Rohingya have been repatriated to Burma. Others have paid smugglers to complete their journey to Malaysia, or become victims of traffickers, say rights activists. That appears to have changed as the military has got involved.

In security briefings, military officials repeatedly draw a link between Rohingya refugees and separatist violence in the south, says Sunai Pasuk, with Human Rights Watch, which has received reports of sea “pushbacks” since 2007. “This is not just an isolated incident. There must be a policy behind it,” he says.

Mr. Kraisak, a deputy leader of the ruling Democrat party, criticized the violation of human rights. But he said the outflow of refugees from Burma was a problem that Thailand can’t handle alone. “We have to confer on the international stage. Thais have been too tolerant,” he says.

In interviews with Indian security officials, survivors said uniformed Thai personnel shot four refugees and tossed another into the sea before forcing their group to board a wooden barge. Some 400 crowded onto the barge, which was towed to sea for about 18 hours with armed soldiers aboard. They shared two bags of rice and two gallons of water, according to a transcript in the South China Post.

The barge drifted for more than a week. Of 300 people who tried to swim to shore, only 11 survived. An additional 88 were rescued by the Coast Guard.

The Rohingya people are very oppressed in Burma.  The people, from western Burma’s Arakan State, are forbidden from marrying or travelling without permission and have no legal right to own land or property.

Not only that but even though groups of them have been living in Burma for hundreds of years, they are also denied citizenship by the country’s military government.

For decades this Muslim group of ethnic-Indo origins have been considered the lowest of the low in this mainly Buddhist country. In 1992, 250,000 Rohingyas, a third of their population, fled over Burma’s border into Bangladesh to escape the persecution. Years later more than 20,000 of them are still in the same refugee camps and around 100,000 more are living illegally in the surrounding area.

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Malaysia’s Anwar to Be Prosecuted for Sodomy

August 7, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

2008-08-06T104220Z_01_BAZ04_RTRMDNP_3_MALAYSIA-ANWAR

Malaysia’s opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim and wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail pose after a news conference in Petaling Jaya outside Kuala Lumpur August 6, 2008. Anwar is to be charged Thursday and his lawyers said he would be prosecuted under the country’s sodomy laws, potentially derailing his return to parliament.

REUTERS/Stringer

By David Chance and Jalil Hamid

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s best known opposition politician Anwar Ibrahim is to be charged with sodomy on Thursday, potentially derailing his return to parliament and his plans to push the government out of office.

Anwar, who had hoped to win a parliamentary seat at a by-election on August 26, denies allegations he had sex with a male aide and says they are aimed at derailing his political comeback in which he has promised economic reforms.

Malaysian police said in a statement issued on Wednesday that prosecutors had decided to prosecute Anwar for “carnal intercourse against the order of nature.”

A 23-year-old man has said that Anwar, 60, had sex with him on several occasions, something which is illegal in Malaysia. If found guilty, Anwar could spend up to 20 years in jail, effectively ending his political ambitions.

“I will be charged with sodomy,” Anwar told Reuters.

“This is a lie,” he told a press conference after the summons was issued. “The government’s institutions are being used and clearly the decision was made under the personal directive of the prime minister.”

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, however, rejected Anwar’s accusations.

“How could I insist that he be charged. If there is no evidence, the police are not stupid to charge. It is up to them to decide,” he told reporters.

News of the court appearance came just an hour after Malaysia’s Election Commission set a date for a by-election in a parliamentary constituency vacated by Anwar’s wife.

Anwar, who was once deputy prime minister, has only been allowed to seek elected office since April after he was barred from parliament in 1999 following convictions for corruption and sodomy.

The latter conviction was overturned, but he served a jail term until 2004 on the corruption charge.

Anwar said that regardless of the prosecution he would stand in the by-election, which would be a step towards leading the opposition coalition in a parliamentary vote in which he is seeking to oust the UMNO-led government by Sept 16.

“Whether I am denied bail or not, the campaign will continue,” Anwar said.

Anwar won the seat, Permatang Pauh seat in the northern state of Penang, in 1995 with a 20,000 majority when he stood as a government candidate.

“At this moment, Anwar has the upper hand in the campaign as everyone expects him to win,” said James Chin, professor of political science at Monash University Malaysia Campus. “But the Barisan (ruling coalition) strategy is to throw as much dirt as possible during the campaign, so that even if he wins, he will win with some tainted allegations.”

In elections in March, the opposition alliance won power in five of Malaysia’s 13 states and deprived the government of its traditional two-thirds majority in parliament, due in part to popular anger over rising prices.

Anwar has said he is sure he can get 30 MPs from the ruling party to support his move to become prime minister in a confidence vote he wants to force next month.

“We believe that a transition of sorts has begun (in Malaysia), but it is unclear how quickly things will change, or even the degree of change that will take place,” said James McCormack of Fitch Ratings in an emailed response to a question.

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Community News (V9-I39)

September 20, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

Faith communities urged to shine the light on post-911 discrimination

CHICAGO, IL—Two leading faith-based publishers – one Muslim, one Christian – urged that faith communities “shine the light” on a disturbing pattern of discrimination across America in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

“We live in a xenophobic country,” said the Rev. John Buchanan, editor and publisher of The Christian Century magazine. “We thought we had [even] taken care of anti-Semitism and that has been popping up here and there. One of the things we must do is name it [xenophobia] and keep shining a light on it.”

Buchanan, who is also pastor of Fourth Presbyterian Church here, was responding to a presentation from Imam Malik Mujahid, president of the largest Islamic publishing house in the U.S., who had offered some alarming statistics about what he called “the unreported domestic war on terror.”

Since September 11, 2001, Mujahid said, 500,000 Muslims have been interviewed by the FBI. Mujahid estimated 24% of Muslim American households have had a visit from the FBI. He estimated 28,000 have been detained or deported. Mujahid said special prisons for Muslim prisoners have been established since 9/11 and “Halliburton has a government contract to build more.”

Mujahid, who is imam to three mosques and chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, said he constantly hears critics claim that Muslim leaders do not condemn terrorism. Muslim leaders have been doing that all along, he said, pointing to a unanimous resolution of the U.S. Senate praising Muslim leaders for speaking out. That resolution got virtually no media attention, he noted.

Both religious leaders shared their thoughts on “The Legacy of 9/11 on Media, Faith and Society.” The interfaith dialogue, held on the sixth anniversary of the 2001 terrorism events, was hosted by the Communication Commission of the National Council of Churches USA (NCC) meeting near the national headquarters of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, one of the NCC’s 35 member communions.

Mujahid had many examples of what he says Muslims call “Islamophobia” but he particularly pointed to the swearing in of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to the U.S. Congress. Last December Rep. Virgil Goode (R.-Va.) had made anti-Muslim remarks regarding Ellison’s use of the Koran in the private ceremony in taking his oath of office.

“There was no statement from the Republican Party” objecting to Rep. Goode’s remarks, he said. “There was no statement from President Bush.”

Buchanan acknowledged the National Council of Church’s role in speaking up on behalf of those who are being scapegoated in our country but said, “the evangelicals have just ‘out-mediaed’ us in the past few years.” He urged moderate mainline churches to speak out more loudly on behalf of “our Muslim brothers and sisters” and protest Islamaphobia when it is seen.

“We must say no to the late D. James Kennedy’s notion that this is a Christian nation and we must do all we can to elect Christians to office to keep it that way,” Buchanan said. “We must say no to Franklin Graham’s statements…[that disparage] Muslims.”

Buchanan said, we must concentrate on the “inclusive and tolerant tradition” that is in all of our sacred texts. He read from Isaiah 19 as an example of “the inclusive view of God?that’s worth knowing about and talking about.”

“What are you going to do with information like that?” asked the Rev. Michael Livingston, NCC president, who was moderator of the discussion. “The level of ignorance and lack of awareness in the religious community, this war, this is part of our legacy,” Livingston told the church communicators. He challenged his audience to “move this legacy in a different direction.”

The National Council of Churches USA is the ecumenical voice of 35 of America’s Protestant, Anglican, Orthodox, historic African American and traditional peace churches. Those member communions represent 45 million faithful Christians in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states.

Chicago cabbies get tickets while praying

CHICAGO, IL–Muslim taxi drivers in Chicago have alleged that as many as 500 of them have been ticketed for parking vehicles in access lanes near O’Hare Airport while pray at a nearby prayer trailer. The trailer has been set up by the city for making it convenient for observant drivers to pray. Cab drivers claim that despite providing them with the location, the city punishes them with hefty fines for using it.

The tickets ranging from $50 to $80 can cut a driver’s daily profits into half.

“The financial impact, at least from a revenue standpoint, is huge,” says Wolfgang J. Weiss, one of the managing directors of the Chicago Professional Taxicab Drivers Association. “We just want them to back off.”

Aviation Department spokesman Greg Cunningham said authorities do not want to interrupt Muslims and their prayer habits, according to Chicago Suntimes. But he contends that cabbies must follow the rules at a facility that needs to be clear of traffic in order for operations to run smoothly and safely.

“It’s a temporary parking and holding area,” Cunningham said. “If a vehicle blocks off other vehicles from leaving the facility, it becomes a problem.”

Malaysian Fulbright scholar to visit Montgomery County

Rosnani Hashim, professor of education at the International Islamic University in Malaysia, will be at Montgomery County Community College from Oct. 18 until Nov. 11.

During her stay, Hashim will engage in scholarly activities both at the college and in the community.

In Malaysia, Hashim has taught educational philosophy, history and sociology from the Islamic perspective since 1987 at the International Islamic University.

She has written extensively on Islamic education and its roles and position in a multi-racial, multi-cultural and multi-faith society like Malaysia, and she has lectured abroad on the issues of Muslim worldview, education, curriculum and women.

Hashim holds a doctor of philosophy (PhD) degree in education from the University of Florida, a master of science degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Wisconsin and a bachelor’s in mathematics from Northern Illinois University.

She has served as the vice president of Women’s Affairs for the Muslim Youth Movement of Malaysia, and she has published six books and has written more than 30 articles, book chapters and papers.

“It’s tremendously prestigious that our students will have the opportunity to interact with another Fulbright scholar,” said Aaron Shatzman, dean of social science and writer of the Fulbright scholar application.

“We are among a very elite group of institutions to be awarded a visiting specialist under this program. Dr. Hashim will afford both the college and community at large a valuable perspective into higher education from a Muslim point of view.”

“The presence of a Fulbright scholar on our campuses is yet another demonstration of the high quality and excellence of the education and cultural outreach that we provide to our students and the community,” said Karen A. Stout, president of Montgomery County Community College. “We are deeply honored to welcome a scholar of Dr. Hashim’s stature to our institution.”

The Fulbright Visiting Specialist program “Direct Access to the Muslim World” is sponsored by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Department of State and administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars (CIES) in Washington, D.C.

Interfaith support for Jewish temple

FAYETTEVILLE, AK–When a Jewish congregation was facing opposition from the community over its plans to construct a synagogue in the Butterfly House neighborhood, help came from an unexpected quarter. Fadil Bayyari, a practicing Muslim, approached the congregation and offered to provide contracting services at cost.

Bayyari was aware of similar opposition faced by Muslims across the nation and wanted to help.

“ Having that partnership with a practicing Muslim and Palestinian Arab, we really feel that spirit will cross religious boundaries and attract people from all walks of life, ” said Ralph Nesson, a member of the fundraising committee.

Mosque proposed in Manchester

MANCHESTER, CT–The Connecticut town may get its first mosque soon, if the plans of a group of local Muslims are approved.

The Association of Muslim Community is requesting a special exception to allow a place of worship in a residential zone. The group hopes to renovate a small, single-family house at 232 Woodland St. and convert it into a mosque, Association of Muslim Community Treasurer Tarek Ambia said.

Ambia said the group consists of about 25 to 30 Muslims, most of them Manchester residents, who now travel to East Hartford, Hartford, and Windsor to worship and who would like to establish a mosque closer to their homes.

“They feel like they should have something here locally,” Ambia said.

Town regulations allow places of worship in residential zones as long as they meet several requirements in areas such as parking and screening between the place of worship and nearby homes.

Plan to build first Mosque in Hawaii questioned

A Muslim group in Hawaii is soliciting donations to build what would be the Island’s first mosque. The “Masjid Al-Baqi Project” plans to acquire a house in the Kona Highlands subdivision and convert it into a mosque.

But the plan has already attracted media scrutiny after the seller of the house and her listing agent say that the house is in escrow but not for Syed Kamal Majid, the only person named in the documents connected with the Mosque project.

The listing agent says the buyers are “a Hawaiian family” and have noting to do with any mosque plan.

MAS Freedom Launches ‘Faith over Fear and Justice for All’ Campaign in Texas

KATY, TX—The Muslim American Society has launched a campaign to fight attempts to slander and intimidate the Muslim community of Katy, Texas. The Muslim community is facing stiff opposition for its plans to build an Islamic center.

Opponents of the center, who own property adjacent to the site of the proposed Islamic Center of Katy, have initiated an Anti-Muslim campaign, which includes the use of a misleading internet website address that continues to post extremely derogatory and inflammatory propaganda directed against the Muslim community and Prophet Muhammad (s).

The purpose of the Faith Over Fear and Justice for All Initiative, according to MAS Freedom Executive Director Mahdi Bray, is to “encourage and build a positive interfaith atmosphere that affirms the right of all people of faith to live in freedom from intimidation and hatred, and that builds bridges of real understanding and mutual respect for the good of the entire community.”

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