Mall Rats

November 12, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

wallgarden The Middle East is world-renowned for hosting some of the tallest buildings in the world. However, the region is also home to some of the largest and most luxurious shopping malls in the world. As a result of almost year-round scorching temperatures and excess oil wealth that flows out of banks just as quickly as the bubbling crude can be exhumed from the earth, shopping is the new national pastime for most Middle East nations.

It’s primarily the elite and wealthy denizens of the Gulf region, in countries like Kuwait, Dubai and Oman, that can afford to shop til they drop in the most prestigious designer boutiques and stores from the global arena. And since the wealthy clearly outnumber the less fortunate in the Gulf region, malls go up at a record pace, each bearing a signature style to lure customers and ring up sales.

Built across 12 million square feet, the largest mall in the Middle East can be found in the United Arab Emirates.  With more than 1,200 stores ready and open for business the Dubai Mall attracts approximately 750,000 visitors each week. The mall is part of the Burj Dubai Project, which is the tallest building in the world. Some of the features that make the mall unique include the biggest gold market in the world with more than 220 jewelry stores. It also has more than 70 stores that carry exclusive haute couture designer clothing. And as for entertainment, the mall is home to the first SEGA indoor theme park in the Middle East and a 22-screen movie theater.

However, the undisputed crown of the region’s largest mall is set to topple by next year’s end. Just a hop, skip and a jump away from Dubai, the leading contender for the most lavish and gargantuan mall in the Middle East can be found in Kuwait. ‘The Avenues’ mall lives up to its name. This monster of capitalism and sheer consumerism is as big as it gets with several hundred stores and plans to house a European-styled ‘Grand Mall’. The mall has already opened despite the fact that only two out of the proposed three phases have been complete. Security is also very tight as the mall features its very own police department with a force of 350 ‘mall cops’ that work around the clock to ensure public safety. The command center of the police department receives live feed from over 350 security cameras situated all over the interior and exterior of the mall.

Size, however, does not always matter. There seems to be a mall on every corner in the biggest cities of the Gulf region with most of the smaller malls mimicking each other and offering little more than a rehashing of the one prior. However, there is one mall that while small is standing out as a veritable gem in the crown of all things commercial. The ‘360 Mall’ of Kuwait was built in a perfect circle and is an architectural feat of sheer minimalism and art. The most attractive features of this mall are not a giant store or an enormous entertainment center. What makes the 360 Mall unique is that it houses two very unique and permanent art installations. The first is the largest vertical garden in the world, which was grown by French botanist Patric Blanc and is the size of four tennis courts in length. The second are two glass sculptures, made to look like the moon and the sun, by renowned American glass artist Dale Chihuly.

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World’s First Arab Robot

November 7, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

facebot-ibn-sina-robot Known more for its architectural feats and infrastructure genius, the UAE is charting new waters in Artificial Intelligence with the creation of the Arab world’s very first Arabic-speaking robot. Named after the famous 11th century Islamic scientist and philosopher Ibn Sina, or Avicenna in English, the robot appears extremely life like and bears quite a resemblance to his namesake while also speaking in classical Arabic. Ibn Sina wears traditional Arab clothes complete with a flowing gilded robe and headdress. A series of motors in his face help him to move just like his human counterparts.

The robot is the first humanoid robot that can carry on a conversation and articulate human gestures as well as facial expressions in the Middle East. Ibn Sina can also ‘see’ and is programmed with software that helps him recognize objects, remember faces, understand dialogue and respond verbally. A team of students at the UAE University with the guidance of Assistant Professor of Computer Science, Nikolaos Mavridis, designed Ibn Sina.  Hailing from Greece, Mavridis spearheaded the project alongside 12 international students, which also included several local UAE citizens.

Ibn Sina can fulfill a number of tasks including answering specific questions, connecting to the Internet and providing other information. According to Mavridis, Ibn Sina is destined to be cloned and will go into public service as a shopping mall information clerk. The prototype Ibn Sina already serves a full day at the help desk at the local Al Ain Mall where he also directs shoppers to stores carrying items that they are looking for. However, Mavridis estimates that it will take another six months and a team of five students to perfect Ibn Sina so that he is more useful and delivers a flawless performance.

Funding for the project was made by the ruler of the UAE himself with an investment of almost $200,000. Ibn Sina is also used for other projects in the university laboratory as students are more than eager to use him as an, albeit robotic, guinea pig.

A gentle buzz has slowly started forming around the world’s first Arabic robot with several companies reaching out to Mavridis and his team to learn more about Ibn Sina. In a recent interview Mavridis revealed his own hopes and dreams for the future of technology in the tiny Gulf kingdom, “Given all the growth that is happening right here at this moment, it’s important that apart from building the largest tower in the world and all of these beautiful buildings, to try to do something that has to do with scientific and intellectual achievements. For that reason we chose Ibn Sina as the character from which our robot was inspired in order to bring back his values to our students. He brings together a lot of traditions, ancient and more recent traditions.”

Ibn Sina is also becoming an old hand at social networking. He has his very own Facebook account. Ibn Sina can ask someone new their name, look them up on Facebook and become friends with them online. And with over 115 friends on his profile page, Ibn Sina looks well on his way to becoming a social networking guru in no time at all. Bots and humans forming social connections online is just the tip of the iceberg in artificial intelligence, at least in the UAE. The UAE University plans to further develop its robotics department and laboratory. Recent research conducted by the Information Data Corporation projects that IT development and projects will grow by over 12% over the next five years in the UAE at an estimated cost of almost $2 billion dollars.

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Skilled Labor?

October 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service Middle East correspondent (MMNS)

hand-holding-diploma The economic boom and unprecedented growth of the Middle East over the past several years has made it a lucrative venue for employment seekers. Barely scathed by the global economic turndown, that has brought the rest of the world to its’ knees, most Middle Eastern countries continue to ride a wave of economic independence and expansion.

As a result of the sheer speed of growth, an increased demand for skilled workers has evolved. Doctors, nurses, teachers, IT professionals, architects and engineers are just a few of the careers that are in high demand in the Middle East region. However, not everyone seeking a job has the proper credentials and, unfortunately, many people who have already acquired high paying jobs in specialized fields have done so with fake university degrees.

Within the past few months, the extensive reliance of unqualified persons utilizing the services of fake degree mills has come to light. The Spokesman newspaper in Washington State recently published a list of more than 10,000 names of people who have already purchased fake university degrees or were in the process of doing so. The majority of persons on the list were Arab Americans who now face possible criminal charges from the US Department of Justice.

What is most surprising is that the majority of the wealthier Middle Eastern countries like Kuwait, the UAE and Bahrain offer free university education for their nationals. So, it is not necessarily a matter of someone being denied access to higher education but actually it is often about someone lacking the initiative to attend university for the required number of years to earn full accreditation.

With the problem in the international spotlight, some Middle Eastern countries are taking swift action to punish anyone attempting to utilize a bogus university degree to get employment. The United Arab Emirates has launched a stellar campaign to crackdown on anyone currently employed or seeking employment by presenting a fake university degree. Violators face a lifetime ban from working or even entering the UAE and face up to 24 years in prison. In the State of Kuwait, the Public prosecution has received several complaints from employers regarding job seekers presenting phony academic certificates. Most recently, this past week, 19 potential teachers were ordered held for prosecution as their educational certification was proven to be counterfeit by the Ministry of Education.

Obtaining a fake university degree is not difficult. A short trip to Southeast Asia or even Hungary can help someone achieve a PHD or CPA without spending a lot of time or money in school and for a fraction of the cost of a long stint in college. However, the odds are against such persons once they are on the job and cannot fulfill the work that their forged certification claims that they can do. Such was the case recently in Kuwait when a man went to the Ministry of Education seeking a job as a teacher. His forged university degree came from Hungary. However, he could not speak Hungarian or even English and simply claimed that he studied with the aid of a translator.

Unscrupulous degree dealers can be found all over the Gulf region offering a variety of degrees for under $1000 and in less than a month. A local reporter in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia recently exposed one such degree dealer. The dealer advertised on the Internet and communicated exclusively by email or mobile phones to elude detection from Saudi authorities. He promised the reporter “you name it and we provide it”. The degrees for sale bore the name of “Buxton University” in the UK and could be made to order immediately.

The real losers in this scam are the people who hold authentic university certification and now find themselves having to prove that their degree is worth the paper that it is printed on. Degree cheaters have forced most Mideast governments to cast out an overly wide net to root degree violators out, unfortunately authentic degree holders are getting caught up in it as well.

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Official: Iran to “Blow up Heart” of Israel if Attacked

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran would “blow up the heart” of Israel if it was attacked by the Jewish state or the United States, a Revolutionary Guards official was quoted Friday as saying.

“Even if one American or Zionist missile hits our country, before the dust settles, Iranian missiles will blow up the heart of Israel,” Mojtaba Zolnour said, according to IRNA news agency.

Zolnour is a deputy representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the elite Guards force. Iranian officials have previously said Tehran would retaliate in event of an Israeli or U.S. attack.

Earlier this year, a senior commander said Iranian missiles could reach Israeli nuclear sites. Israel is believed to be the only nuclear-armed Middle East state.

Israel has not ruled out military action if diplomacy fails to end a dispute over Iran’s nuclear ambitions, echoing U.S. policy, although Washington is engaged in a drive to resolve the issue through direct talks with Tehran.

The West suspects the Islamic state is covertly seeking to develop nuclear weapons, which Iran denies.

“The Zionist regime and the United States cannot risk attacking Iran,” Zolnour said in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom on Thursday, citing Iranian military and technological advances, IRNA reported. Iran refers to Israel as the “Zionist regime.”

At talks in Geneva on October 1, Iran agreed with six world powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — to give U.N. experts access to a newly-disclosed uranium enrichment plant south of Tehran.

Iran and Western powers described talks as constructive and a step forward. However, underlying tension was highlighted before the meeting when Iran test-fired missiles with ranges that could put Israel and regional U.S. bases within reach.

The Geneva talks are expected to win Iran a reprieve from tougher U.N. sanctions, although Western powers are likely to be wary of any attempt by Tehran to buy time to develop its nuclear program.

Senior cleric Ahmad Khatami, leading Friday prayers in Tehran, said the meeting represented a “victory” for Iran.

“The Geneva conference was a very successful one and amounted to a victory for the Islamic Republic,” he told worshippers.

“Up until the conference they were constantly talking about sanctions and suspension, but when the conference was held there was no talk of either sanctions or suspension,” he said.

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Israeli’s Bid to Buy Al-Jazeera from Qatar

October 15, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

PressTV

al-jazeera An Israeli media tycoon has offered to buy the pan-Arab Al-Jazeera satellite television network from the government of Qatar.

Haim Saban, has submitted an offer to the Qatari government in a bid to purchase half of the Doha -based Al-Jazeera satellite network.

The Egyptian newspaper al-Mesryoon reported Wednesday that the Israeli billionaire is currently engaged in negotiations with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, over the partial purchase of the media outlet. The talks are said to be conducted through an Egyptian mediator.

The account comes amid reports that the largest and most controversial Arab news channel in the Middle East is grappling with a terrible financial crisis at present. Saban had previously made an offer to purchase al-Jazeera in 2004, but it was turned down.

The Israeli-American magnate has supposedly made an offer of $5 billion for the popular Arabic-language news channel, in an attempt to get a hold of it and to broadcast a pro-Israeli message so as to influence the Arab opinion in favor of Tel Aviv’s hawkish regime.

Al-Jazeera spawned a media revolution in the Arab world after it was founded in 1996. The network is reliant on state financial largesse, estimated at over $70 million a year, but does not broadcast shows critical of the Qatari government. Al-Jazeera, however, does air programs leveling criticism at all other Arab governments.

Seban made his fortune by buying the rights to market the Japanese kids show, “The Power Rangers,” in America. He is a prominent supporter of Israel and the right-wing Netanyahu government. In addition, the Egyptian-born Jewish businessman is well known for his under-the-table dealings.

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Saudi to Launch Elite Science, Tech University

October 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tarek El-Tablawy

Capture9-30-2009-12.20.22 PM Cairo–Saudi Arabia has dug into its oil-fueled coffers to set up a new research university, a multibillion dollar coed venture built on the promise of scientific freedom in a region where a conservative interpretation of Islam has often been blamed for stifling innovation.

The King Abdullah Science and Technology University — complete with state-of-the-art labs, the world’s 14th fastest supercomputer and one of the biggest endowments worldwide — is poised to officially open its doors Wednesday on a sprawling campus nestled along the Red Sea coast about 80 kilometers (50 miles) north of the commercial center of Jeddah.

Saudi officials have envisaged the postgraduate institution as a key part of the kingdom’s plans to transform itself into a global scientific hub — the latest effort in the oil-rich Gulf region to diversify its economic base.

But KAUST, whether its founders intend it or not, has the potential to represent one of the clearest fault lines in a battle between conservatives and modernizers in the kingdom.

Saudi Arabia is the most religiously strict country in the Middle East with total segregation of the sexes and practices Wahhabi Islam — a byword for conservatism around the region. But the new university will not require women to wear veils or cover their faces, and they will be able to mix freely with men.

They will also be allowed to drive, a taboo in a country where women must literally take a back seat to their male drivers.

With KAUST’s inauguration, “we see the beginning of a community that is unique” in Saudi Arabia, the university’s president, Choon Fong Shih told The Associated Press in a telephone interview Tuesday.

“We recruit the very best in the world …. and we give them the freedom to pursue their scientific interests,” said Shih, a mechanical engineer by training who headed the National University of Singapore for nine years.

While it takes decades to develop world class institutions like what KAUST hopes to become, the university’s breakneck inception in many ways reflects Saudi Arabia’s rise to wealth and power in the global political and economic arena.

The inaugural ceremony is to be headed by its namesake, the Saudi monarch, as well as several world leaders, dignitaries and officials who will stand on what three years ago was just a sweeping acreage of sand, but is now a 36 square kilometer (13.9 square mile) campus with its beach on the Red Sea.

In a region where Internet access can often be lackluster, KAUSTS boasts Shaheen, a 222 teraflops supercomputer which officials says is the fastest in the Middle East and 14th fastest in the world. The computer is named after the Arab Peregrine falcon, believed to be the fastest animal on earth.

It also boasts a fully immersive, six-sided virtual reality facility called CORNEA that officials say, for example, can allow researchers to visualize earthquakes on a planetary scale.

Among the other equipment and facilities are 10 advanced nuclear magnetic resonance spectrometers, a coastal and marine resources laboratory and bioengineering facilities with labs needs to study cell molecules for DNA sequencing.

The English curriculum is focused on the sciences, with masters and doctoral degrees offered in nine fields including computer science, bioscience and various engineering specialties. The university is also focused on collaborative work with the private sector, as well as other research institutions.

KAUST has enrolled 817 students representing 61 different countries, of whom 314 begin classes this month while the rest are scheduled to enroll in the beginning of 2010. The aim is to expand to 2,000 students within eight to 10 years.

Of that total, 15 percent are Saudi, say university officials.

With research institutions, cash is king, and KAUST, thanks to Saudi’s oil wealth, has plenty.

It has tossed generous salary packages to prospective hires from around the world, an offer made more tempting by a multibillion dollar endowment that Shih says is “one of the biggest in the world.”

The 71 faculty members include 14 from the U.S., seven from Germany and six from Canada.

Shih did not provide a specific figure, but the funding allows all the students to receive full scholarships covering their tuition plus a stipend.

He says without that aid, students would have to pay about $60,000 to $70,000 per year — roughly comparable to the cost of attending elite U.S. schools like California’s Stanford University or the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The university is being launched at a time when the OPEC powerhouse has been upping its push to focus on education and development programs aimed at boosting economic growth.

Saudi officials have said they are committed to spending $400 billion over the next five years on various development and infrastructure projects, and the kingdom set a 2009 budget that ran a deficit for the first time in years specifically to sustain spending on such ventures.

But more than a projected research juggernaut in a region where other oil-rich nations are also embracing similar initiatives — albeit on a much smaller scale — KAUST may indirectly challenge the brand of conservatism that critics say has stifled progress in the Muslim world.

“We do not restrict how they wish to work among themselves,” Shih said, referring to whether men and women can freely intermingle on campus. “It’s a research environment …. driven by scientific agenda.”

In many ways, the campus is similar to other Western-style compounds in Saudi where residents are often allowed more flexibility in embracing liberal Western values shunned outside the confines of their community in the kingdom.

But the university also could also be seen as a return to Islam’s golden age — an era centuries ago when Muslim scholars took up the mantle of the Greeks and were pioneers in the fields of medicine, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, among others.

This tolerant and inquiring period was snuffed out under pressure from invasions by Crusaders, Mongols and nomadic desert hordes in the Middle Ages and was replaced by an age where faith superseded reason amid unstable times.

In the modern era, bureaucratic bungling, a lack funds, and a general stifling of freedoms has left much of the Arab Middle East in a state of academic and scientific atrophy.

Officials say KAUST’s embrace of scientific freedom marks Saudi Arabia’s determination to not be left behind as technology increasingly drives global development.

“In a way, we are paving the way,” said Shih, referring to the university’s focus on pure science. But if “KAUST is leading the way, it has to meet global standards of excellence, otherwise how else can we be a global player.”

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kaust graphic

House of Mirrors

October 1, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

plant For many people a broken mirror is steeped in the superstitious belief that the injurious deed will be followed by seven years of bad luck. However, for Lidia Al-Qattan, a renowned Italian artist in Kuwait, a broken mirror would be the inspiration to set her upon the journey of a lifetime. As the wife of the famous Kuwaiti artist Khalifa Al-Qatten, Lidia was often inspired to create her own works of art to impress her husband after he returned from trips exhibiting his artwork in various locations around on the world.

On one such occasion back in the Sixties, Lidia’s husband was away in the USA as part of a collective art exhibition in Washington, D.C. Prior to his departure her husband had completed a wooden cabinet that he created with his own hands. All that was left to be done was a couple of coats of paint. However, after Lidia was unable to procure some paint she came up with a brilliant idea to really make the cabinet shine. “I then remembered I had some pieces of a large mirror somewhere in the house where my three year old daughter, Jalila, had broken sometime ago which I decided to keep.” Lidia set to work affixing the broken shards of mirror to the cabinet with some heated wood glue. However, the edges of the glass were still very sharp and dangerous with a child in the home. After completing her design, Lidia mixed together some plaster cement and water to fill in the gaps and make the edges of the jagged mirror smooth. Once dry, Lidia further filed down any remaining rough edges. The result was very pleasing to her eyes. However, the real judge would be her husband as he was set to return home.

house Fortunately, Lidia’s husband was very impressed with her work. And so began her transformation as she evolved into an artist into her own right and used her very own home as her canvas. Over the course of several years Lidia has painstakingly ‘bedazzled’ every inch of her home with broken mirror pieces in every shade of the rainbow. Today it is a popular tourist destination and museum with visitors taking guided tours every day.

The tour begins in the kitchen, which is called ‘My World Hall’ and features designs relevant to the mystery of science followed by a walk through ‘Planet Earth Hall’, or the living room, which is designed along the lines of our Earth and nature. Next, visitors are led to ‘Zodiac Hall’, which is Lidia’s now grown daughter Jalila’s bedroom, and it is covered with sparkling galaxies, planets and all the signs of the Zodiac. Visitors walk through a hallway with a dual theme. Known as both ‘Shark Hall’ and ‘Corridor of Nations’, the journey of shimmering reflected light goes on to enthrall guests with sharks and other wonders of our world. The tour climaxes with breathtaking designs featured in ‘Sea World Hall’, ‘Universe Hall’ and ‘Knowledge Hall’, which also serve as a bathroom, bedroom and library.

The tour begins to wind down once guests reach the ‘Stairs to Inspiration’. The staircase, which features gilded birds in flight, leads to the first floor that houses separate art galleries for both Lidia’s and her late husband Khalifa’s work. Many people in Kuwait call her home the ‘House of Mirrors’ But for Lidia her home holds greater meaning, “I call it the fulfillment of a dream.”

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Shoot Israeli Jets?

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Zbig Brzezinski

Obama Administration Should Tell Israel U.S. Will Attack Israeli Jets if They Try to Attack Iran

The national security adviser for former President Jimmy Carter, Zbigniew Brzezinski, gave an interview to The Daily Beast in which he suggested President Obama should make it clear to Israel that if they attempt to attack Iran’s nuclear weapons sites the U.S. Air Force will stop them.

“We are not exactly impotent little babies,” Brzezinski said. “They have to fly over our airspace in Iraq. Are we just going to sit there and watch? … We have to be serious about denying them that right. That means a denial where you aren’t just saying it. If they fly over, you go up and confront them. They have the choice of turning back or not. No one wishes for this but it could be a ‘Liberty’ in reverse.”

The USS Liberty was a U.S. Navy technical research ship that the Israeli Air Force mistakenly attacked during the Six Day War in 1967.

Brzezinski endorsed then-Sen. Obama’s presidential campaign in August 2007, which at the time was portrayed in the media as a boost to Obama’s foreign policy cred. The Washington Post reported: “Barack Obama, combating the perception that he is too young and inexperienced to handle a dangerous world, got a boost yesterday from a paragon of foreign policy eminence, Zbigniew Brzezinski.”

Brzezinski was never an official campaign adviser, but Republicans jumped on the endorsement to push the meme that Obama wouldn’t be a friend to Israel, as Brzezinski’s views of Israel attracted criticism from some quarters in the American Jewish community.

“Brzezinski is not an adviser to the campaign,” former Ambassador Dennis Ross, then a senior adviser on Middle East affairs to the Obama campaign, said at the time. “There is a lot of disinformation that is being pushed, but he is not an adviser to the campaign. Brzezinski came out and supported Obama early because of the war in Iraq. A year or so ago they talked a couple of times. That’s the extent of it, and Sen. Obama has made it clear that on other Middle Eastern issues, Brzezinski is not who he looks to. They don’t have the same views.”

Brzezinski plays no role in the Obama administration; the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Brzezinski’s comments come within the same week that the White House distanced itself from comments made by former President Carter, who said he thinks “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man.”

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The Shoe Thrown ‘Round the World

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

shoes1 In one single gesture, Iraqi journalist Muntazer al-Zaidi summed up the sentiments that had been swelling in the hearts of Iraqi’s and Muslims from all over the world ever since former President George W. Bush indulged in his own ‘Axis of Evil’ and went to war with Iraq. With the throw of a pair of size 10 loafers, al-Zaidi unleashed a wave of discontent that Iraqi’s had grappled with ever since their country was unlawfully invaded.

Many Muslims from all over the world cheered, as scenes of adults and children alike rejoicing in the streets of Baghdad waving their own shoes in the air played out on TV. Copycat shoe throwers also emerged in the days following the incident, most notably in India and China where at least two diplomats found themselves also dodging footwear.

However, news about the man behind the shoes was hard to come by. Following the incident, he was rushed away by Iraqi security personnel and imprisoned. Family members later revealed that al-Zaidi was severely beaten and tortured in prison. He was originally sentenced to spend three years in prison, but served only nine months of that sentence as he was recently released.

Finally, al-Zaidi is able to speak for himself and tell the world the reasons behind his actions. In a column recently appearing in the British-based ‘The Guardian’ newspaper, al-Zaidi writes, “When I threw the shoe in the face of the criminal, George Bush, I wanted to express my rejection of his lies, his occupation of my country, my rejection of his killing my people. My rejection of his plundering the wealth of my country, and destroying its infrastructure. And casting out its sons into a diasporas.”

Further al-Zaidi denies that he is a hero and writes, “It humiliated me to see my country humiliated; and to see my Baghdad burned, my people killed. Thousands of tragic pictures remained in my head, pushing me towards the path of confrontation. The scandal of Abu Ghraib, the massacres of Falluja, Najaf, Haditha, Sadr City, Basra, Diyala, Mosul, Tal Afar, and every inch of our wounded land. I traveled through my burning land and saw with my own eyes the pain of the victims, and heard with my own ears the screams of the orphans and the bereaved. And a feeling of shame haunted me like an ugly name because I was powerless.”

After his release, al-Zaidi was reunited with his family in a tearful and long-awaited reunion. According to his employer Al-Baghdadia TV, al-Zaidi has left Iraq and will travel to Syria and later Greece to receive medical care. Al-Zaidi suffered greatly at the hands of Iraqi security personnel who beat him with melt bars, electrocuted him with live wires and engaged in ‘water boarding’ to make him feel like he was drowning. The state of al-Zaidi’s health is unknown at the present time.

In a recent development, al-Zaidi also revealed his future plans in a TV interview conducted by TSR television. He hopes to rally Iraqis together to lodge a complaint against former President Bush and put him on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity. “I really want to go to Switzerland because it is a neutral country and because it is a country that did not support the occupation of Iraq,” al-Zaidi said, “Switzerland hosts many international organizations, including some that fight for children, and Switzerland is a country that has a great democratic tradition. It is an example for the world,”

While the man himself may resist being touted as a hero for his actions. At least one artist has forever immortalized the shoes that were ‘thrown’ around the world. Based in London, artist P Waniewski has created a pair of size 10 shoes identical to the ones al-Zaidi threw, since U.S. security personnel purportedly destroyed the original pair following the incident. So named, ‘Proud Shoes’ the tribute is made of 21 kilograms of bronze and dipped in 24 KT. gold. The artist recently revealed in an interview his reasons for creating the tribute to al-Zaidi, “When I heard this story I was moved by the passion and fearlessness of Mr al-Zaidi’s actions. The shoe that he threw was destroyed by the US authorities, so I felt it was a fitting way of marking this emotive event.”

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All-American

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–September 10th–The “Season” has begun and authors are trampling through Northern California – Muslims and non-Muslims, knowledgeable about the Ummah and its people – hawking their books.  Jonathan Curriel, author of Al’America:  Travels Through Arab and Islamic America visited my city the week after Labor Day.  Curiel is no scholar, but was trained as a journalist.  Although employed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was partially educated in and reported from the Middle East.

The book under discussion was published by The New Press in November of 2008, and details the historic influence of Arab and Muslim culture on America — from the time of Columbus to 9/11 — with the ramifications of the latter event.  This is a book that concentrates on the historical and Pop Cultural aspects of Islamic influence upon America, but it does a great service by exposing the underpinning of Islam at the Grassroots of North American culture.  The author too often degenerates into uncomfortable insensitivity to your reviewers’ target audience. 

Reading the press release composed for his tour, I notice a “slickness” that makes your reporter feel ill at ease. His publishers are not presenting J. Curriel humbly forcing his readers to concentrate on his credentials rather than his work!  Still, that did not prevent the book from translation into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers, the Beirut print house that, also, has exposed several important European and American writers to an Arabic-speaking audience.

In 2005, his Newspaper was honored by Columbia University (the dominant) U.S. J-School (of Journalism) in New York City for Jonathan Curiel’s exceptional articles on race and ethnicity!  Your Observer commentator — does not know about bragging rights — but he should be proud of this!  This is something that he attempts to bring to this study, but he is honest enough to note where he fails.

For him – even after September 11th 2001 – denying Islamic civilization is not being part of the American fabric is wrong.  “Muslims not only belong…but are part of [the American] culture in so many ways!”

In fact, Christopher Columbus reached out to the Muslim “Moors.”  The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was substantially influenced by the Arabs to the point he could not have reached the New World in 1492 without his North African designed sails.  While Arab culture was waning in Southwestern Europe by the late 16th Century (CE), Columbus’ voyages notably brought subtle Arab influences to the Spanish colonies and later the Portuguese colony in the Americas – including those parts in the United States that Washington (D.C.) seized in the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American War plus the Louisiana Purchase!

Although Madrid prohibited Muslims from the Americas, the Alamo now in Texas is a classic example of Arabic Architecture!  New Orleans was a city shunted back and forth between the Iberians and the French.  Finally, President Thomas Jefferson bought it from the Emperor Napoleon.  When the Spanish possessed that famous city, they imported Islamic ironwork for which the Metropolis near mouth of the Mississippi — plus the renowned Muslim-styled courtyards within the Big Easy — migrated from the Middle East via the Iberian Peninsula.   

The date palm was brought to the Western Hemisphere — including the California of yours truly — from the Middle East, also, via Hispania. 

In the United States, a Muslim slave actually wrote a book in Arabic while being held in South Carolina.  Until the Twentieth Century most American Muslims came from West Africa (since they were victims of that ugly Slave Trade).  Jonathan Curriel, as well as a few eminent musicologists, believe that the American “Blues” musical sub-structure comes from Islam’s call to prayer.  

No less than the extremely important American thinker of the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was profoundly influenced by Muslim culture.  Many important American intellectuals have been influenced by Islam, too, throughout the history of the American Republic (and even before –Thomas Jefferson, of course, comes to your reporter’s mind most quickly) up into the contemporary period.  There has been a long-standing cultural interaction between the Potomac and the Islamic nations according to Curriel. 

Of course, some of this interaction was not fully comprehensible to the Americans; and, thereby, can be considered in bad taste.  The Shriners and the Masons adopted pseudo-clothing accoutrement and symbols of the Muslims.  At its most forgiving was mere mimicry, but at its worst was insulting and in bad taste.  (Your scribe must point out that Jonathan Curriel did make these issues transparent, and did not cringe from describing it for what it was.)  Yet, since the immigration reforms under the late President Lyndon Johnson, highly prominent Muslim immigrants have been attracted to, and have joined the aforementioned organizations.  They have pressured these groups to give a form of Zakat and to make them even more service-oriented. 

The iconic Los Angeles rock(-n-roll) band of the 1960s, the Doors, were highly influenced by Arab music while the ultimate Rock star (of the 1950s), Elvis Presley, was a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, a Christian Lebanese immigrant to America.  His best known work was a sequence of inspirational essays, The Prophet.  They were pitifully greeted by the critics when they were published in 1923.  It definitely belongs to the opus of Arabic-language literature, but not Islamic literature.  Having read the book as a young man, when it was still a best-selling “underground” rage, your reviewer considered it to be  overly simplistic.  How much of it might be based on Mohammed (PUBH) is hard to say because of the elevated ambiguity of its poetic language.

Curriel maintained Presley somehow turned this book into his Bible.  Also, along religious lines, the Christian Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II had instructed that his casket placed on a Persian Carpet to demonstrate the unity of all religions.

Back to Pop Culture, the movie cycle and “cult” television series, Stars Wars borrowed motifs respectfully from the religion from Mecca.  Jonathan Curriel concluded, “Cultures go back and forth, and always borrow from each other,” continuing, “Muslims have contributed from the inception of the American nations,” and they are still highly visible and contributing members of our society.  Their contributions are no longer seen as insignificant within North American society.  

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Community News (V11-I40)

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adnan Zulfiqar hired as UPenn Interfaith fellow

adnan zulfiqar

The University of Pennsylvania has hired a Muslim scholar as its interfaith fellow.Adnan Zulfiqar – a 2008 graduate of Penn Law and a “brilliant scholar,” according to University Chaplain Chaz Howard – will serve as an Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim community.

“The concept was that our office wanted to provide a fellowship where the campus religious groups who do not have full-time dedicated staff could have that,” Howard told the Daily Pennsylvanian.

So far, Zulfiqar has received a warm welcome.

“Adnan is fantastic not only because he’s very knowledgeable about everything that has to do with Islam, but also because he has tried everything you would want to do after finishing your undergraduate degree,” said Muslim Student Association communications chairwoman and College junior Roxana Moussavian.

Originally from Alexandria, Va., Zulfiqar is currently completing a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages. He also holds a Bachelor of Arts in Religion and Anthropology from Emory University and a Masters from Georgetown University.

His research focuses primarily on Islamic law and history, politics and governance in the Middle East and South Asia, and law in the developing world.  He previously helped draft the Penal Code of the Maldives, serving as a Team Leader helping to synthesis multiplelegal systems into one comprehensive code.  Zulfiqar also served as a legislative staffer and personal aide to U.S. Senator Max Cleland(D-GA) advising him on immigration, education and foreign policy matters.  In addition, he has been an associate at the Legal Resources Center in Pretoria, South Africa, a visiting scholar at the Center for Excellence in Public Law and Human Rights in Tehran, Iran and a presidential fellow at the Salzburg Global Seminar. 

Zulfiqar  serves as an Adjunct Professor at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College and Arcadia University.  He received his B.A. in Religion and Anthropology from Emory University, M.L.S. in International Affairs (thesispending) from Georgetown University and Juris Doctor (J.D.) from theUniversity of Pennsylvania Law School.  Zulfiqar has spent over 11 years residing inthe Middle East, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and is proficient in 5 languages including Arabic, Urdu and Farsi.

Class, June 2009

MD Muslims celebrate ‘Eid at Six Flags

ICNA organized a national Muslim day at amusement parks, participated in by several thousand Muslims at six different parks, with halal food, prayer tents, and naats broadcast over the PA speakers. Following is the account of one such event:

UPPER MARLBRO, MD–For the first time, Maryland Muslims were able to reserve the Six Flags in Upper Marlbro for exclusive use. To make the experience even more interesting the day coincided with Eid ul Fitr.

The day, designated Muslim Family Day 2009, featured a bazaar with local vendors and a prayer pavilion and halal food.

“The purpose is to gather Muslims in one place for some good, clean, Islamic fun,” said volunteer organizer Salman Sheikh. “It will bring communities together and you usually you don’t get that chance, so it’s great for the kids.”

New York: Halal food vendor fight

NEW YORK–Halal food business is a lucrative one and the competition can be cut throat. The demand being not only limited to Muslim consumers but also to people of other faith. While the opportunities are vast so is the potential for the competition to get ugly.

The New York Post reported last week that a dispute over sharing territory between two halal hot dog vendors in New York resulted in a slashing of a arm. The story as reported by NBC goes like this”

Walid Osman sold hot dogs out of his cart outside Kings County Hospital until sometime in August; then he thought it would be wise to add chicken to his offerings, reports The New York Post.

Mohamed Hanafi and Abdelrao Akl Hamdy, who had always sold poultry out of the cart on the same corner – Clarkson and E. 37th Street – were miffed that Osman, 32, was luring away their customers with the scent of succulent chicken.

So they did what any New Yorker would do – they relocated their cart right next to Osman’s and slashed their prices in half, reports the Post.

The simmering food fight boiled over on Wednesday, when Hamdy and one of his workers, Farajat Yehiak, allegedly took a butcher knife to Osman’s arm, reports the Post.

The two foodies were charged with assault, menacing and criminal possession of a weapon, and were released without bail after arraignment in Brooklyn court, according to the paper.

Osman, an Egyptian immigrant with two daughters, was treated at the scene for non life-threatening injuries, reports the Post. But that may not be the last he hears from Hanafi.

“He said, ‘If you don’t move your cart to another area, I will kill you,’” Osman told the Post. “He wants to kill my business. I have kids and a family.”

The alleged menacing won’t keep Osman from doing what he has to do to provide for his family, however; he plans to be back at his cart today, reports the Post.

Hanafi argues that Osman is to blame for the feud. The vendor says Osman used to work for him and signed a non-compete agreement of sorts – promising not to manage a chicken cart – and alleged Osman slashed himself and he had nothing to do with it, reports the Post.

The above incident is unfortunate. There is enough room for all to grow in the Halal market. Instead of feuding over territories the halal vendors of New York should venture out for new areas. They should also honor their contracts and respect the rights of others.

Buffalo Muslim women to hold seminar on domestic violence

BUFFALO, NY–Muslim women leaders of Buffalo area are holding a seminar to provide a deeper understanding of the roles and rights of Muslim women.

The event to be held on Sunday September 27, will feature presentations by some of the most accomplished Muslim women in the United States.

The first annual seminar, “Wives of the Prophet Muhammad (s),” will be held on Sunday, September 27, from 1:00 PM until 4:00 PM at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga. It’s free, but reservations are requested. To register or for more information contact Tahmina Rehman by email at tahminarehman@yahoo.com

NHK Labs, Inc. Recertified ISO 9001

NHK Laboratories, Inc. announced that it has been recertified ISO 9001:2008 by NSF International Strategic Registrations. The ISO 9001:2008 standard is an internationally recognized quality management system. The certification process required a multi-day independent audit of the company’s facilities, personnel, and procedures.

M. Amirul Karim, Chief Executive Officer of NHK Laboratories, Inc. said, “Our continued compliance with the ISO 9000 guidelines is a testament to our commitment to an internationally recognized quality management system.”  Mr. Karim added, “Our private label clients can be rest assured that we have super-adequate procedures and protocols in place designed to manufacture quality into the product, instead of solely relying on post-production testing.”

NHK Laboratories, Inc. is an NPA/NSF/FDA CGMP, ISO 9001:2008, CCOF & QAI Organic, and ISNA Halal certified custom formulator, contract manufacturer, and contract packager of private label dietary supplements, functional foods, and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals.  Established in 1987, the company operates two state-of-the-art facilities in Santa Fe Springs, California on more than 90,000 square-fee and also has an office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I40)

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Astounding ‘Eid-ul-Fitr Celebrations as ISGH Organized Eid Prayers at GRBCC

Picture Q As per last week’s prediction by Pakistan Publications Inc., hundreds and thousands of Muslims thronged George R. Brown Convention Center (GRBCC). According to an estimate, more than 30,000 Muslims of all faces and facets of life responded this last Sunday, September 20, 2009, to the call of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) and attended ‘Eid-ul-Fitr prayers at the GRBCC. The prayer hall overflowed, and thousands had to stay outside due to fire-code regulations’ and were accommodated in a subsequent prayer.

Pakistan Publications Inc. extends Heartiest Congratulations and Kudos to the ISGH for organizing such a mammoth gathering in the most efficient and effective manner.

The Special Supplications and Presence Slogans (called the Takbeerats of Eid-ul-Fitr Prayers) by the attendees thundered in the hall since before 8:00am., while thousands of impressively dressed people in traditional dresses of almost the whole world, like the Far-East Australasia; South Asia India – Bangladesh – Sri Lanka – Pakistan; Middle East; Africa; Europe; and the Americas; made their ways through every door and into the Hall.

The meaning of these is Takbeerats is as follows : “Allah is Great, Allah is Great: There is no one worthy of prayer but Allah, and Allah is Great; Allah is Great, All praise be to Allah, It is He Who Guides.”

These Takbeerats continued for about one-hour, when around 9:00am. Shaikh Omar Inshanally, Imam at the ISGH Main Center Masjid, stood up to lead the prayers, which includes Seven Extra Calls of Allah is Great (Allahu-Akbar in Arabic) during the First Phase (called Rakat) and Five Extra Calls of Allah is Great (Allahu-Akbar in Arabic) during the Second Phase (called Rakat) of the Prayers.

During these Two Phased Eid-ul-Fitr Prayers, Shaikh Omar Inshanally recited from the passages of Quran that convey Allah’s unfathomable love for believers; remind believers of the inevitability of an end of everyone’s earthly life & the ultimate destination in front of Allah; and that Allah forgives all sins of those who sincerely repent and uplift their morality. Without exception, those interviewed after the prayer said that they felt deeply moved, and complimented the Imam’s Recitation (called Qiraa’at in Arabic) – The choice of passages, fluency, voice control, and mellifluousness.

After the prayers, ISGH President Dr. Aziz Ahmad Siddiqi provided in a positive fashion the State of Affairs of ISGH and the Muslim Community in the Greater Houston Region. He cited several major developments that whoever will seek, will benefit many, regardless of ethnic background or country of origin. President also mentioned that this year the ISGH membership has experienced an unprecedented growth of more than 25 percent. It was nice that Dr. Siddiqi’s presentation was not long and contained linguistic beauty.

Houston Mayor Bill White also addressed the audience, noting the size and importance of the local Muslim community. Mr. White is seeking higher state office, and a positive impression on him could be to the advantage of Muslims. The Chairman of the ISGH ‘Ulema Committee, Shaikh Abdul ‘Aziz of the Brand Lane Masjid also graced the occasion.

After the prayers and addresses the crowd filled the air with mutual bright smiles, cordial ‘Eid greetings, and warm expressions of love and unity. This all made for a truly awe-inspiring ‘Eid-ul-Fitr celebration organized by the ISGH. For more information, one can visit www.isgh.org.

Farouk Shami to Run For Texas Governor

Picture R He is the famous Houston hair-care millionaire Farouk Shami (originally from Palestine), seriously considering a run for Governor as a Democrat. He has already appointed a Treasurer, but has not yet filed papers.

At his Annual Ramadan Dinner at the Arab Cultural Center (ACC) Houston, the 66 year old Shami asked hundreds gathered if he should run or not and he got a tremendous “Yes,” with everyone standing and clapping.

One may recall that Farouk Shami first got some attention in the political arena during 2006 governor’s race, when as his business partner; he supported the independent gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman.

Farouk Shami got much appreciation last month for his decision to move 5,000 jobs from Asian manufacturing plants in China to Texas over the next five years to manufacture his famous hair-care products of BioSilk and CHI brands. He invented ammonia-free hair color products, was the official hair care sponsor of the Miss Universe, Miss USA and Miss Teen USA pageants and has sales that top $1 billion a year.

Farouk Shami in an inspiring speech said that Texas needs a change and he through his entrepreneurial spirit will bring fresh ideas to increase the tax base, create new jobs of the future, brings dignified healthcare for all, and make Texas the best place to live in the USA.

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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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How to Connect with Qur`an

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor in Chief

The whole town was abuzz with the news that the best reciter of the Qur`an from the Middle East was coming to lead taraweeh prayers.

very one was talking about his voice, the magic of his recitation, the way his reading rises and falls and the way the melody of his recitation mesmerized everyone.

Especially in Ramadan this ritual is played out in Muslim communities around the world.

Although listening to a beautiful recitation of the Qur`an is captivating, but let us revive the essence of what the month of the Qur`an is meant to be.

In a population of over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, some 50 percent are illiterate. Acquisition of knowledge is one of the obligations upon every Muslim. Nearly 83 per cent are totally ignorant of the book that is the foundation of their faith. Some may read the Arabic text but do not know what they read in their prayers.

The Qur`an describes itself as a message for people who reflect and think. Muslims all over the world have begun to place emphasis on learning. Muslim families are genuinely concerned to ensure that their children learn biology, mathematics, chemistry, social sciences from the best schools with full honors.

Where the Qur`an is being taught it is limited to reading and memorization. To learn and excel in various fields of knowledge is essential but at the same time to learn and excel in the understanding of the Qur`an cannot be neglected.

A patient cannot memorize and just listen to the doctors prescription and believe that he will be cured. Once a prescription is written, the patient immediately picks up the medicine from a pharmacy and starts using it.

But the divine prescription for curing human ills is neglected in a manner that is unexplainable. To memorize the Qur`an is an honorable deed that God will bless but it is better to learn also the meaning of the Qur`an.

When a child is raised up in an environment where the Qur`an is seen as a book to be recited only on certain occasions without the need to understand it, his relation with the Qur`an will be superficial unless there is some dramatic change in his or her attitude toward the divine book.

The Qur`an is the most read yet most neglected book in our recent and distant history. Millions of people have memorized parts or the whole of the Qur`an yet we do not see the practice of the Qur`an in our societies. If the purpose of this book was to be recited and read without understanding the Qur`an would not claim to be a guidance for humanity.

Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil). Who believe in the unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them; And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.

Baqara:1-5

The Qur`an was meant to be a book of guidance in every aspect of life. The recitation with understanding was recommended primarily to highlight the importance of its message in every day life. Yet we should also spend time reflecting on its message and looking for its application in our own lives, using it as a guidance in every aspect of life.

The month of Ramadan gives us a unique opportunity to restore our understanding of the Qur`an and learn its message. Yet most of the time and in most of the places, we fail to avail ourselves of the opportunity to further our understanding of the Qur`an beyond the surface level.

Modern technology gives us tools to capture the best voice and repeat it at our will. But this is not the only purpose of the revelation. It is meant to be understood, followed and implemented in one’s life. Reading Qur`an is good no matter what.  But if we are not living according to its guidance, perhaps we have not fully devoted ourselves to the Qur`an despite our reading.

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Takfir

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–There was an impressive panel held here on Islamicist politics with Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Mohammed Hafez of the (U.S.) Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey.  This was a rich late afternoon; thus, I am going to break the encounter into two separate articles.  I would like to investigate Hafez’ presentation on Islamic excommunication takfir, and the internal debates within Islamic culture itself on Muslim upon Muslim violence.

First, though a few comments from the moderator, Scott Field, who is an Australian.  Unknowing to the mainstream American public, Islamicism has a considerable history.  With the Global spread of the dominance of “democracies,” the “knee jerk” reaction by most Islamicists has been to reject it as a workable form of governance within the various chronological traditions within Islam.  Thus, here has been a tendency for these Muslims to engage much of the modern world with distrust.  Yet, Islamicist groups are not monolithic. A case in point is one which I have writing a lot on lately, Hamas, who chose to contest an election, and won, but they were totally rejected by those governments encouraging electoral politics in the Middle East because the people’s choice was not to their predilection.  What Mohammed Hafez spoke about were those groups who took up arms against other Muslim whom they deemed hostile to their values. 

Most of the victims of Jihadi and other violence have been fellow Muslims.  This has caused a backlash even amongst the radicals themselves.  Certain Muslims call other Muslims “kafirs”, and considered them as excommunicated from the body of believers.  Islamicists are grounded in Islamicist principles.  (Pretty self-evident.)  Many suicide bombers break the laws of their “classical” religion, but Jihadist work rather on the exceptions to traditional injunctions.

Customarily, the regulations that permit Muslims to struggle against other Muslims are 1.Tyrannical regimes; 2, Apostates 3. Heretics (unfortunately for the Sunni it too often means the Shia); 4. If any of situations rises to “legalize” resistance, True Believers should be spared, but, if it happens accidently it is unfortunate but forgivable.

We have to work on a case-by-case basis, but most of the War-like struggles in the contemporary Islamic World are being waged by Jihadist Movements.  “What convince them [to action] are the exceptions within [normative] Islam rather than the rule.”  That is exceptions to the Law argued over generations by Islamic jurisprudence scholars.

Currently, the violent Jihadis consider themselves to be in a defensive Jihad rather than in an offensive (i.e., conquest, etc.) mode.  This turns the tenets around for them.  There is the moral problem of (Muslim) human shields that the so-called Salafi (imitators of the pious patristic period of)Islam has employed.  Their reasoning is that it is alright to endanger innocent believers for the greater good; that is, to prevent the fall of dar al-Islam. 

Mohammed Hafez believes that Islam is neither a religion of hostilities or concord, but “…is a religion of [both] war and peace” (like every other creed on this globe)! 

Yet, in the Muslim world the United States and her allies are seen as a “Neo-Colonial force.”  

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Did Hitler Want War?

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patrick J. Buchanan

poland 1933 polemap
   
Poland, 1930 German map of Poland, 1942

 

On Sept. 1, 1939, 70 years ago, the German Army crossed the Polish frontier. On Sept. 3, Britain declared war.

Six years later, 50 million Christians and Jews had perished. Britain was broken and bankrupt, Germany a smoldering ruin. Europe had served as the site of the most murderous combat known to man, and civilians had suffered worse horrors than the soldiers.

By May 1945, Red Army hordes occupied all the great capitals of Central Europe: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Berlin. A hundred million Christians were under the heel of the most barbarous tyranny in history: the Bolshevik regime of the greatest terrorist of them all, Joseph Stalin.

What cause could justify such sacrifices?

The German-Polish war had come out of a quarrel over a town the size of Ocean City, Md., in summer. Danzig, 95 percent German, had been severed from Germany at Versailles in violation of Woodrow Wilson’s principle of self-determination. Even British leaders thought Danzig should be returned.

Why did Warsaw not negotiate with Berlin, which was hinting at an offer of compensatory territory in Slovakia? Because the Poles had a war guarantee from Britain that, should Germany attack, Britain and her empire would come to Poland’s rescue.

But why would Britain hand an unsolicited war guarantee to a junta of Polish colonels, giving them the power to drag Britain into a second war with the most powerful nation in Europe?

Was Danzig worth a war? Unlike the 7 million Hong Kongese whom the British surrendered to Beijing, who didn’t want to go, the Danzigers were clamoring to return to Germany.

Comes the response: The war guarantee was not about Danzig, or even about Poland. It was about the moral and strategic imperative “to stop Hitler” after he showed, by tearing up the Munich pact and Czechoslovakia with it, that he was out to conquer the world. And this Nazi beast could not be allowed to do that.

If true, a fair point. Americans, after all, were prepared to use atom bombs to keep the Red Army from the Channel. But where is the evidence that Adolf Hitler, whose victims as of March 1939 were a fraction of Gen. Pinochet’s, or Fidel Castro’s, was out to conquer the world?

After Munich in 1938, Czechoslovakia did indeed crumble and come apart. Yet consider what became of its parts.

The Sudeten Germans were returned to German rule, as they wished. Poland had annexed the tiny disputed region of Teschen, where thousands of Poles lived. Hungary’s ancestral lands in the south of Slovakia had been returned to her. The Slovaks had their full independence guaranteed by Germany. As for the Czechs, they came to Berlin for the same deal as the Slovaks, but Hitler insisted they accept a protectorate.

Now one may despise what was done, but how did this partition of Czechoslovakia manifest a Hitlerian drive for world conquest?

Comes the reply: If Britain had not given the war guarantee and gone to war, after Czechoslovakia would have come Poland’s turn, then Russia’s, then France’s, then Britain’s, then the United States.

We would all be speaking German now.

But if Hitler was out to conquer the world — Britain, Africa, the Middle East, the United States, Canada, South America, India, Asia, Australia — why did he spend three years building that hugely expensive Siegfried Line to protect Germany from France? Why did he start the war with no surface fleet, no troop transports and only 29 oceangoing submarines? How do you conquer the world with a navy that can’t get out of the Baltic Sea?

If Hitler wanted the world, why did he not build strategic bombers, instead of two-engine Dorniers and Heinkels that could not even reach Britain from Germany?

Why did he let the British army go at Dunkirk?

Why did he offer the British peace, twice, after Poland fell, and again after France fell?

Why, when Paris fell, did Hitler not demand the French fleet, as the Allies demanded and got the Kaiser’s fleet? Why did he not demand bases in French-controlled Syria to attack Suez? Why did he beg Benito Mussolini not to attack Greece?

Because Hitler wanted to end the war in 1940, almost two years before the trains began to roll to the camps.

Hitler had never wanted war with Poland, but an alliance with Poland such as he had with Francisco Franco’s Spain, Mussolini’s Italy, Miklos Horthy’s Hungary and Father Jozef Tiso’s Slovakia.

Indeed, why would he want war when, by 1939, he was surrounded by allied, friendly or neutral neighbors, save France. And he had written off Alsace, because reconquering Alsace meant war with France, and that meant war with Britain, whose empire he admired and whom he had always sought as an ally.

As of March 1939, Hitler did not even have a border with Russia. How then could he invade Russia?

Winston Churchill was right when he called it “The Unnecessary War” — the war that may yet prove the mortal blow to our civilization.

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For the Birds

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

racing pigeon

The hobby of pigeon raising in the Middle East goes back several years. Enthusiasts spend a great deal of time and money acquiring rare and beautiful birds. The supplies for housing pigeons are also very expensive. Pigeon owners often build elaborate cages on their rooftops or in their gardens. Each cage typically holds around thirty birds. A devout pigeon master often pays more attention to his birds than he does to his own children, because one sick bird can destroy the entire lot. For many enthusiasts, they have turned a mere hobby into an exact science.

There are so many rare varieties of pigeons, each varying in color, sheen and ability. The most popular in the Gulf region include the Sherazi, Sudani and Baljiki. However, the favorite pigeon amongst enthusiasts is known as the ‘flipper’. The reason it is so popular is because of its mid-flight aerobics that it performs at great heights, flipping full circle without losing speed. Exquisite and unique pigeons are much sought after by wealthy hobbyists who are often willing to pay thousands of dollars to acquire a prized bird for their collection. It is not uncommon for buyers to trade their expensive luxury cars and watches for a single bird. Most of the time, however, a lump of cash is enough to seal the deal.

Pigeon raising is also a lucrative sport. Enthusiasts gather to race their pigeons in competition with other birds. Most competitors will select their top five pigeons to perform in endurance races against the wind. The competitions are primarily held during the months of September and October when winds in the open desert often exceed 60 kilometers per hour. Each bird’s flight is measured in terms of resistance.

Come March, prize-winning pigeons are tucked away into their cages with equally alluring mates. The offspring of award winning pigeons can fetch even more money than the ‘contender’ bird himself. Newly hatched birds are also very easy to train for an optimum life span of racing and bringing joy to his master’s eyes. 

In Saudi Arabia, where pigeon raising is a part of local traditions, there is a special pigeon market held every Friday in the city of Medina. The market opens right after the dawn prayers and bustles for several hours to around mid-morning when the heat of the desert sun becomes unbearable. Bidding wars are common during the auctions held for the most sought-after birds and often get heated as the passion for pigeon rearing usually defies all reason.

However, not everyone has the bankroll to fund an elaborate pigeon pen plus fill it with expensive birds, then feed and pay for the medicines often needed to keep the birds healthy. In the state of Kuwait, the love for pigeons is a public affair. Right in the center of Kuwait City is what has come to be known as ‘Pigeon Square’.  Hundreds of pigeons descend upon the square around the clock, often mingling with shoppers and spectators alike. The area is lined with small grocery stores and meat shops.

It has long been a Kuwaiti tradition during the Holy Month of Ramadan to take the children of the family to visit the pigeons of Pigeon Square right before the Iftar meal. The grocery stores often see a rise in business as visitors often buy bread to feed the pigeons. In return, the pigeons ‘dot’ the landscape with their droppings, which the very same shop owners must clean up. Many locals have longed for the square to be turned into a tourist destination complete with refurbished structures, restaurants and cafes.

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Community News (V11-I38)

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslims least likely to report discrimination

NEW YORK– Despite fears that Muslims in the United States may be unfairly targeted or harassed because fears about terrorism, a new survey by Public Agenda finds Muslim immigrants are less likely than other immigrant populations to say there’s discrimination against immigrants in the United States, no more likely to encounter it personally, and overwhelmingly more likely to say the United States will be their permanent home.

The report released this week  by the nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, Public Agenda, follows up on a groundbreaking 2002 survey and tracks immigrants’ shifting attitudes during a tumultuous period.  Conducted in May 2009, and funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, “A Place to Call Home: What Immigrants Say Now About Their Life in America,” utilized landline and cellular telephones along with oversamples to provide the widest perspective possible from more than 1,100 foreign-born adults overall, and including over 100 Muslims.  Of those surveyed, 3 out of 4 Muslims immigrated in 2000 or before.

Some 63 percent of Muslim immigrants say there is no (or only a little) discrimination against immigrants in general in the United States, compared with 32 percent of other immigrants. In addition, Muslim immigrants report encountering discrimination personally at about the same rate as other immigrants, with 27 percent saying they’ve experienced “some” or a “great deal” of discrimination personally compared with 26 percent of all other immigrants.

An overwhelming 92 percent of Muslims say the United States will be their permanent home, (compared with 69 percent among other immigrants).  Sixty-one percent of Muslims report that they’re “extremely happy” in the United States (compared with only 33 percent of other immigrants).  Muslims are more likely to give the U.S. better ratings than their birth country on key questions, such as having a free and independent media (79 percent say the United States does a better job, compared with 54 percent of other immigrants).

Salim Ejaz running for NYC Comptroller

Pakistani-American accounting professional Salim Ejaz is contesting the NYC Democratic Primary on Sept 15 to become eligible to run for the Office of Comptroller.

Salim Ejaz is the only Democrat candidate for the Comptroller’s position who is a professional Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who has worked for more than a decade with the State of New York as Director Audit.

With 40 years of financial expertise, including 12 years as Director of Audit of Nassau County in the State of New York, a multi-billion dollar governmental entity, his performance record is stellar, having exposed waste and losses generating savings which exceed $ 500 million through his audit reports and recommendations.

The NYC Comptroller oversees a budget of $ 60 billion and is also responsible for pension funds of $ 120 billion. In these financial turbulent times, it is imperative that the Comptroller, the City’s fiscal watchdog, has the right professional qualification and experience and a demonstrated record of achievement, says his press release.

His agenda is what every taxpayer wants: eliminate wasteful spending, lower taxes and achieve job growth, the PR adds.

OCU celebrates diversity with Islam Day

EDMOND,OK–Oklahoma City University hosted Islam Day Sept. 10 to encourage cultural diversity with various campus activities, including a charity fundraiser called “iFast.”

Political science professor and Middle East expert Mohamed Daadaoui organized a list of activities for students and faculty in order to foster cross-cultural dialogue and to spread awareness about the world’s second largest religion.

Daadaoui established iFast, an aspect of Islam Day when students, faculty and staff are encouraged to donate money to the Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma.

“Instead of spending money on lunch, donors will be contributing toward meals for the hungry,” he said, noting that Muslim followers are encouraged to donate to charitable causes during Ramadan.

“There are many misconceptions and stereotypical views about Islam,” Daadaoui said. “If we can show students and the OCU community what it means to be a Muslim, hopefully it will be a step in the direction of furthering goodwill and understanding.”

Community organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Institute of Interfaith Dialogue and the Governor’s Ethnic American Advisory Council have partnered with OCU for some of the activities.

Daadaoui organized lectures and interfaith panel discussions with community leaders including Razi Hashmi of the Oklahoma Council on American-Islamic Relations; Imad Enchassi, Imam of the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City and Rabbi Abbey Jacobson of the Emanuel Synagogue in Oklahoma City.

“Islam Day is about people of all faiths communicating and learning about the cultures of others,” he said.

Free halal meals at Wayne State U.

DETROIT–The Pakistani Student Association is offering all Wayne State University is offering free halal meals as part of the observance for the month of Ramadan. The ‘cultural dinner’ is intended to create awareness about Islamic beliefs and practices.

PSA President Harris Khan told the South End News, ‘We are hoping to create a bridge between the PSA and other Wayne State students.’

The event has been called “From Fast to Feast’” and took a month of planning to organize.

Interfaith vigil supports Obama plan

BINGHAMPTON, NY–An interfaith vigil was held in Binghampton supporting President Obama’s healthcare reforms. It was attended by people of all faiths.

“It’s not for one group or another group.

This is for all of us, all together, the children of God on the face of the Earth,” said Muslim Speaker Kasim Kopuz.

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Chris Hedges & Laila Alrian–Collateral Damage

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Camp Meeker (Calif.)–A few months ago your writer caught the award-wining combat journalist and his co-author Laila Alrian, the daughter of the much maligned, Sami Alrian, on a book stop for their Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.

In this new book, the two journalists present the voices of fifty American combat veterans of the Iraq War and their understanding of the U.S. occupation and why Iraqis are so opposed to it.

Hedges began with the statement that the strife in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan are unequivocally intertwined.  Hedges, further, maintained he had covered every American War of the past twenty years in order to bestow his words authority.  The rules of engagement of the American Military were set up to protect our soldiers.  He judged “This type of racism to be intrinsic,” for there was no accountability. (Your columnist’s viewpoint is that  what America was dealing is not racism but rather Sectarianism.)  Further, “We [the American Army] never found anything [of military significance]…” after the invasion.  This was never covered by our (American) media.  “When we sent them [our soldiers] on two or three tours, they would go crazy,” too.

Laila noted that the term our GIs utilized against us was “hajji” which in the context that it was applied- became blatantly bigoted.  Iraq was/is not Afghanistan.  There was/is a high rate of suicide in both theaters, though.  None of the fifty veterans that were interviewed could relate to their experiences.

An occupation is culturally and linguistically malevolent.  The Occupiers lash out at the innocent.  “These forms of wars are organized,” though!  The foreign media have picked up our book, but we have largely have been ignored in the US because we (Washington) have destroyed Iraq, and, thereby, have become a state terrorist, (and they exposed that.)  “I can’t stop the Iraq conflict…it is a freight train of death!…I am disillusioned with the Obama Administration’s acceptance of pre-emptive War, also.”  (An allegation with which your correspondent does not agree.)

Hedges states that “To increase troop levels in Afghanistan” is foolish.  Then, following illogically from his previous contention, Chris Hedges asserts that as a news reporter, he could not comment on policy.  Still, the Iraq War for him derived from a Utopian project – literarily in the mode of the 16th Century English philosopher and (Christian) Martyr, Thomas Moore.

“In Palestine, Israeli policy…has created eighty enclaves…”Arian emphasized that “Politics is always the game of pressure…” Therefore, funds to Israel must be blocked – especially while  Gazans are under the pressure of War crimes.

“Our Imperial projects in the Middle East are eating up our wealth!..Permanent War is a part of our economy!”  Resuming,“[Our] Empire’s expansion is causing its collapse.”

The journalist Hedges is most concerned about a war with the Pushtoons.

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The Ramadan Soaps

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) Middle East Correspondent

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The Holy Month of Ramadan heralds in a veritable wave of traditions, which are quite often tied to heritage and culture. This can be in the clothes worn during the month, or the food that graces the Iftar table. While most traditions in Ramadan are religious in nature, others are not.

Even before the crescent moon of Ramadan was sighted in Saudi Arabia, advertising placards for the newest Arabic soap operas began sprouting up in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Lebanon and several other Middle Eastern countries. For many Muslim viewers, it simply would not be Ramadan without having a salacious soap opera to watch during and after the daily fast is broken. And for corporations who payroll the soap operas, Ramadan is a golden opportunity to generate some much needed revenue.

Make no mistake, the Arabic soap operas have nothing to do with the principles of Islam, such as prayer or fasting, but rather focus on the evils of society that are perpetrated by misguided souls. In one recent drama that aired in Kuwait this past week, a wealthy businessman chases his single secretary at work all day professing his love for her and asking for her hand in marriage. Meanwhile, his wife is at home tending to the housework and stumbles upon a diamond bracelet he has purchased for his secretary. The drama switches to another married couple that seems happy enough. However, a male suitor promises to win the heart of the wife and if she won’t agree he vows to destroy her life, which he does in the next scene. He places a call to her husband who in turn throws her out of the home, to her despair.

The prevalence of Arabic soap operas during Ramadan have had a detrimental effect on worship. Increased acts of worship and welcoming guests in the nights or visiting the homes of others take a backseat to catching the next installment of the serial. Last year alone it was estimated that at least 64 new soap operas appeared on Saudi television, around the clock during Ramadan. The soaps were stacked upon the hour so that viewers could tune in at any time of the day. Coveted ad space was stuck in between each plot as it developed–with commercials hawking everything from soap to cooking oil. In fact, it is the ad space that fuels the soaps, as viewers view each commercial as they wait for the plot to thicken.

Before, most Muslims in the Middle East would gather in the nights of Ramadan to worship or to discuss matters related to the deen. After all, the region is the cradle of Islam and the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad (s). However, these days many Muslims gather to watch soap operas together, gossip about what happened in the current installment or speculate what will happen in the one to come.

It is encouraging to note that not all Middle Eastern countries streamline a barrage of juicy soap operas during the Holy Month. In Turkey, the television programming is geared towards Islamic history, living the deen of Islam and Q&A shows where callers can call in to have their questions about Islam answered live on air by a reputable sheikh. Locally produced and aired music channels in Turkey also pull their programming during Ramadan in favor of airing Islamic nasheeds.

Storytelling is an age-old tradition. However, Ramadan is a golden gift that should be seized by every Muslim that is willing and able to receive the blessings that come with it. Being glued to the TV and rapturously eating up all the human folly portrayed there definitely tarnishes the reality of  what Ramadan is all about.

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