End in Sight to Lebanon’s Crippling Internet Problem

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Oliver Holmes

2011-10-05T172718Z_162890397_GM1E7A6045E01_RTRMADP_3_LEBANON-INTERNET

An engineer is seen working on Microwave seamless connectivity equipment, at the rooftop of TerraNet heaquarters, an Internet Service Provider (ISP), in Beirut October 5, 2011. On Saturday, the Ministry of Telecommunications introduced a new, high-speed and cheaper Internet plan for private Internet Service Providers (ISP) to sell on to customers. The plan aims to reduce end-user prices for digital subscriber lines (DSL) by 80 percent, while raising speeds up to eight times. 

REUTERS/Jamal Saidi

BEIRUT, Oct 5 (Reuters) – For Sara Darwiche, it has been more than problematic running her fast-paced Internet company out of Lebanon, a country with Internet access that is among the worst in the world.

The “invite only” website ChouChic.com gives its members the opportunity to buy surplus stocks of fashionable clothes at discounted prices. It works on the idea that the scarcity of the clothes coupled with the time limit on sales — 48 hours to a week — will nurture impulse buying and push up sales. The strategy is called flash selling.

But for ChouChic’s main customers, who are Lebanese, there is nothing flashy about buying online here.

“Sometimes the website cuts and people think the sale is over. It really affects the quality,” she told Reuters. “We open our sales everyday at noon and for some reason the Internet usually cuts out then for five minutes.”

For a company aiming to sell the majority of stock in the first ten minutes of a sale opening, connectivity issues can be devastating.

“We needed a lot of modifications to compensate for the slow Internet,” she said, adding that the website was now hosted in the United States. “For luxury fashion, it needs to look like the goods are in front of you so the resolution of the photos needs to be high. But we had to lower the resolution as upload speeds were too slow.”

Lebanon is regarded as a fortress of Arab entrepreneurship, with a vibrant services sector and a business community that is famed for its unyielding tenacity even during the depths of war. But sluggish and expensive Internet has been an embarrassing blot on the economy, and Internet-based companies such as ChouChic are rare.

On Saturday, the Ministry of Telecommunications introduced a new, high-speed and cheaper Internet plan for private Internet Service Providers (ISP) to sell on to customers. The plan aims to reduce end-user prices for digital subscriber lines (DSL) by 80 percent, while raising speeds up to eight times.

If it is implemented smoothly, the plan will provide relief to hundreds of thousands of Lebanese Internet users and could boost economic growth. But for years to come, the economy may bear the scars of the political bickering, vested financial interests and negligence that kept Lebanon in the slow lanes of the information superhighway.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

“While other countries in the region have capitalised on (the Internet), we have missed it,” said Nassib Ghobril, chief economist of the Byblos Bank Group.

“They have moved ahead of us and now have a comparative advantage. A lot of companies that rely on the Internet look elsewhere to base themselves.”

Ookla, a company that tests Internet speeds around the world, has often ranked Lebanon last on its global Net Index, and the country has generally been lower down than many less developed nations such as Afghanistan and Burkina Faso.

“Lebanon is a services economy and society. Not having Internet is like not having foreign languages,” Khaldoun Farhat, CEO of private ISP provider Terranet, said at his offices opposite Beirut’s port.

Farhat has repeatedly tried to bypass what he calls a “narrow view” of the Internet by the Ministry of Telecommunications. He bought Internet capacity from satellites, made failed requests to buy bandwidth from nearby Cyprus, and tried to import his own Internet equipment which got stuck at customs, he says, for over a year.

“When I wake up, the first thing I think about is, will we get increased capacity today?” he said.

Businessman Mark Daou spent the last few months campaigning for faster internet through a Facebook group titled “Lebanese Want Fast Internet”, which has almost 50,000 supporters.

“Slow speeds affect me in the advertising business as all our resources are on the Internet. Especially now as many of our clients are asking for a lot of online advertising,” he said.

“I have to wait for Saturday night, when Internet usage is low, to upload files to Saudi and Dubai.”

Lebanon has long had the physical capacity to supply cheap, high-speed Internet; in December 2010 a 13,000 km (8,000 mile) submarine fiber optic cable linking the country to India, the Middle East and Western Europe began operating. But access to the cable was delayed until July by bickering between the Ministry of Telecommunications and Ogero, the government’s land-line provider, over usage rights.

The dispute was considered politically motivated as the ministry and Ogero are controlled by opposing sides of Lebanon’s political spectrum, which is deeply divided by religion, sect and economic ideology.

“In the telecoms sector, everyone wants a piece of the pie. It’s a cash cow,” Daou said. “The sector is almost completely controlled by the government. It has 80 percent of the market and the private sector cannot buy fixed licences. Private companies have to renew their Internet licence every year.”

A lack of revenue sources in other economic sectors, Daou said, has made the government see the Internet as an important source of funds. “The government was the only supplier. They needed the money to finance the treasury. It was generating money and nobody was complaining,” he said.

Lebanese Minister of Telecommunications Nicolas Sehnawi told Reuters that successive governments were unable to push through laws to cheapen and speed up connectivity.

“Other (fiber optic) cables in the region were connected before. In those countries, the internal governments have more manoeuverability. We have had big periods of paralysis.”

Last week, a 1 megabit per second (Mbps) connection, the second-fastest option at the time, cost around $76 per month. Under the new pricing plan, a 1 Mbps connection will be the slowest option available and cost around $16.

Economists and business leaders say the economic benefits could be considerable. They quote a 2008 report commissioned by the Ministry of Finance which estimated 10 percent growth in broadband penetration would increase gross domestic product by as much as 1.5 percent.

ChouChic’s Darwiche said she was looking forward to upgrading her website. “We are going to add many functions and the images are going to be a lot clearer.”

Two major ISPs which rely on Ogero for bandwidth supply, Terranet and IDM, have already upgraded their Internet services to comply with the new plan.

Even now, however, there is still concern among some private ISPs that Ogero, which controls around 80 percent of Lebanon’s Internet cables, will delay further in providing the upgraded service.

“There is not a single person in the country that can obstruct the decision. It will be implemented in a matter of hours and days,” Sehnawi said on Saturday in response to such allegations.

But a poll conducted by the “Lebanese Want Fast Internet” Facebook group found only 11 percent of the 1,631 people who replied said they had their DSL packages upgraded to higher speeds over the weekend.

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Community News (V13-I16)

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Khawja Shamsuddin Receives Outstanding Volunteer Service Award

Khwaja-ShamsuddinOLYMPIA, WA — Bellevue Police Volunteer Khawja “Shams” Shamsuddin received the Governor’s 2011 Outstanding Volunteer Service Award at a reception on April 11. This award, in its seventh year, is presented by Governor Gregoire on behalf of the Washington Commission for National and Community Service to citizens who “effect real change in their communities through volunteer service.”
The award is presented to coincide with the start of National Volunteer Week.

Shamsuddin has been a Bellevue Police volunteer for more than 12 years. To date he has served in excess of 2,600 hours, primarily at the Factoria substation. Throughout the years he has participated on several entry-level officer oral boards and is a member of Chief Linda Pillo’s Diversity Focus Group, which helps the department understand and respond to the needs and concerns of the city’s various ethnic communities.

When not volunteering at the police department, Shamsuddin is a mediator, interpreter, community relations advisor and fundraiser in the local Bangladeshi, Pakistani, Arab and Indian communities. He also is a sought-after speaker with the Islamic Speakers Bureau and an organizer for the Eastside Interfaith Group.

As Police Volunteer Coordinator Marjorie Trachtman wrote in his award nomination, “Being of service to others is as instinctive to Shams as breathing. (He) embodies the values this award seeks to recognize.”

“We are so fortunate to have such dedicated citizens volunteering with our Department. Their efforts are part of the reason we’re able to provide such a high level of service to the community,” says Chief Linda Pillo.

Ahmed Zewail received top chemistry honor

AhmedZewailNobel laureate Ahmed Zewail has another top feather in his already dazzling cap.  The Linus Pauling Professor of Chemistry & Professor of Physics at the California Institute of Technology and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, was recently  honored with the 2011 Priestley Medal for developing “ultrafast-motion” imaging.

The prestigious award was presented to Zewail by the American Chemical Society (ACS) in recognition of “his development of revolutionary methods for the study of ultrafast processes in chemistry, biology, and materials science.”

Zewail’s pioneering work in femtochemistry—the study of chemical processes on the femtosecond (10–15 second) timescale—established methodology for following the intricacies of chemical transformations as reactants evolve into products by way of fleeting reaction intermediates. His laser-driven “pump-probe” techniques, which were demonstrated initially on gas-phase reactions, captured “snapshots” of intermediates that existed for barely more than the femtosecond period of a molecular vibration.

It may also be noted here that Zewail’s name was also mentioned as the possible president of Egypt as that is his country of birth. However, he had rejected such speculations saying that while he supports democracy he is not interested in that job.

Islamic Studies program to reopen at UCLA

LOS ANGELES,CA–The Islamic Studies graduate program at UCLA has reopened after being suspended in 2007. According to the Daily Bruin the suspension was due to the concerns of the Graduate Council over the lack of faculty commitment to students. Because the program utilizes professors from many departments, students often felt marginalized or ignored because they did not have full-time faculty to guide them, said program chair Khaled Abou El Fadl.

Islamic Studies has significantly changed its policies since its suspension. It is better organized and administered, and professors who want to be involved with the program now have to sign a contract that states they will give students appropriate attention, Abou El Fadl said.

Consequently, one of the most important admissions criteria is a good match between a student and an interested professor.

Colorado State University to Host Lecture on Impact of Muslim-Based Media April 20

Nabil Echchaibi

As unrest grows in the Middle East, what impacts are new Muslim-based media and social media having on revolutions in the region?

To address these and other topics, Colorado State University will host a lecture by Nabil Echchaibi, assistant professor of journalism and media studies at the University of Colorado-Boulder. The lecture, “Formations of the Muslim Modern: Media, Islam, and Alternative Modernity,” will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, in CSU’s Clark Building, Room A202.

The lecture will focus on the rise of new media in the Muslim world and the impact media has on Muslim culture and identity, especially among young people.

Echchaibi has a forthcoming book of the same title. In his research on this topic, he analyzed case studies of Muslim media in six cities around the world. He examined how satellite television and digital media have created a new platform for discussion of what it means to be a modern Muslim.

A native of Morocco, Echchaibi also serves as associate director of the Center for Media, Religion, and Culture at CU. He specializes in identity politics among young Muslims in the Arab world.

He also is currently directing a project funded by the Social Science Research Council, which will compile a cultural history of Muslims in the mountain west region of the United States. The project will produce a web resource and a documentary film.

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Houstonian Corner (V12-I5)

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Picture AQ Picture 11
   
Above left:  METRO Bus…; Above right: TCF Primary School in Pakistan…
 

Houston Energy Corridor Has METRO Service

Houston, Texas: Energy Corridor District of Houston has partnered with METRO to launch the Route 75 Energy Corridor Connector, starting this past Monday 01-25-2010. The new service will run along Eldridge between the Katy Freeway and Westheimer. This will provide employees and residents who live and work in the Energy Corridor District a quick, convenient ride to stores, restaurants and businesses along the route, according to Metro officials.

Energy Corridor District employees who live in the downtown and Midtown areas can connect to the 75 Energy Corridor Connector by riding the 228 Addicks and 229 Kingsland/Addicks from the Central Business District to the Addicks Park & Ride. The Connector also links with popular routes like the 82 Westheimer and the 131 Memorial.

Service will run every 15 minutes, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. It will also run every 10 minutes from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

TCF: Beacon of Hope in Pakistan

“Problems in Pakistan are many: Poverty, Health, Education, and so on. As conscientious persons, founders of the Citizens Foundation (TCF) reached the conclusion after much deliberations that eradicating illiteracy and bringing real high standard schooling to the children of Pakistan is the solution to all problems: These were the words of Dr. Ahson Rabbani, Vice-President of TCF, who came for a special brunch event organized by Houston Community Activist Abdullah Jafari & his wife Anjum at the Crown Plaza Hotel Kirby. Also present on the occasion was Danial Noorani, CEO of TCF-USA, a non-profit entity in USA, which helps the educational services of TCF in Pakistan and gives chance to American donors to invest their hard earned money in a worthwhile cause and get tax deduction benefits at the same time.

TCF, established in 1995, is a unique foundation providing formal education for the less privileged children of Pakistan. The model on which it works is that education for the poor will not be poor (not substandard). Purposeful primary and secondary school buildings each accommodating 180 students and have art room, library, computer lab and toilets: Taking students off the streets and into schools: Maintain self-esteem of children by asking them to pay minimum Rs. 10/Month: TCF Schools are not limited to certain communities; they are present across Pakistan and constantly growing in number: TCF is a professionally managed by a team of highly dedicated leaders and staff employed on a full-time basis – Currently, there are 6000 full time employees, which includes 4150 qualified teachers: Comprehensive & dynamic curriculum as officially prescribed syllabus by the government, which is not taught at government schools, but here with TCF with the help of an army retired officer all schools are checked through secret visits that they are functioning.

As of 2009, TCH has 600 School Units (459 Primary School Units / 141 Secondary School Units); a network of 600 purpose-built operational school units nationwide; an enrollment of 80,000 students; a balanced gender ratio, which is close to 50% female students; has created 6,026 jobs of which 4,150 are female faculty positions.

“Although we have tried to apply for grants through USAid and other worldwide agencies and corporations, but we have not yet been very successful in getting such assistance: We believe that is not a problem, since this issue of eradicating illiteracy and making Pakistani citizens well educated and skilled is our own challenge and we should be at the forefront of resolving these issues with our monetary as well as moral support of all Pakistani: Added Danial Noorani.

For more information, once can always call Abdullah Jafari at 713.907.7786.

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Houstonian Corner V12-I3

January 14, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Bereavement for the Khan Family

We announce with immense pain and sorrow that Yasmeen Khan (Parro), wife of President of the American Federation of Muslims of Indian Origin (AFMI) Shaukat Khan and sister of former City of Houston Councilperson Masrur Javed Khan, passed away after bravely battling with cancer for almost two years. Her funeral prayers were held at Hamza Masjid.

A special program of prayers was held for her on Saturday, January 16th, 2010 at 12:30pm. at the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) Main Center located at 3110 East Side Street, Houston, Texas 77098. For more information, one can call 832-867-2522 / 713-398-4829.

Staff members and their families of our media institute would like to extend our heartiest condolences’ to the whole Khan Family, pray for the departed soul to enter into the highest paradise and that God gives strength to the whole family to bear this immense loss (Aameen).

Public Service Does Not Need Any Portfolio: M. J. Khan

Picture AO

Picture AN

Friends of Former City of Houston District “F” Councilperson M. J. Khan arranged a dinner to recognize and appreciate the services rendered by termed-out Councilman. Special congressional recognition was given by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on this occasion. Also present and who gave tremendous tributes to M. J. included Congressman AL Green, Former Mayor of Houston Bill White, City of Houston Councilperson District “A” Brenda Stardig; Harris County Judge Candidate Gordon Quan, Azam Akhtar; Ghulam Chisti; Ghulam Bombaywala, Ali Riza Candir (Turkish Community); Dr. Asaf Qadeer; Shamshad Wali; Haroon Shaikh; Dr. Yaqoob Sheikh; Attorney Nomi Hussain; Ahmad El-Yaseen; Mohammad Zaheer; Attorney Neiyyar Izfar; and others. Everyone said that people will soon see M. J. Khan at a high public service post.

M. J. Khan with heavy heart informed everybody that doctors have given up hope for his sister to recover from cancer, which she had been daringly fighting for 2 years and then proudly informed that God has given him a grandson Yousuf only two weeks ago. He said these are real life struggles and then joyous stories: Winning or losing elections have no meaning in front of the real life.

He said he never ever imagined that a stadium full of people like 70,000 would ever vote for him in his life. Masrur Khan informed about a saying of Gordon Quan: “A stadium full of people voted for me. But just as information, my opponent also got a stadium full of voters balloting in his favor.”

He said although he did not win City Controller Elections, it does not mean he has lost or he will sit on the sidelines. “One does not need a portfolio to serve fellow human being,” added M.J.

Talking generally to the Muslim Community, M. J. Khan said history is a proof that wherever Muslims went, they left beautiful legacy of human service and that is what the community needs to do in USA: We need to serve everyone without any discrimination.

M.J. mentioned about one internal challenge the Muslim Community is facing and that is the Youth in the community need good guidance and should not fall to misinformation of the extremists, who have capability of sending their message inside USA using various new technology and media. “Muslim Youth need to follow the middle path specified by God and His Messenger Mohammad and avoid any extremist inclinations. Allah SWT in Quran clearly has stipulated that if someone saves a life, it is as if he or she has saved the whole humanity; while if someone kills one innocent person, it is as if he or she has killed the whole humanity.”

At the same time, M. J. Khan mentioned that one of the biggest external challenges the Muslim Community has to face is the false propaganda of few that wrongly attribute violence with Islam. “If Muslim Community is openly involved in what Islam has asked us to do and that is we have to be at the forefront of the public service, we can take care of this tirade of propaganda. We may be students in schools & colleges; entrepreneurs; professionals; politicians; and so on: Our main task in life is to serve the humanity,” said M. J. Khan.

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Military Muslims: What Now?

November 12, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin, MMNS

2009-11-08T171028Z_192441419_GM1E5B902TX01_RTRMADP_3_TEXAS-SHOOTING When Major Nidal Hasan went on a murderous rampage in Ft. Hood, Texas, the entire nation snapped to rapt attention and said, “Here we go again.  Those crazy Muslims are at it again.”

Immediately after the story hit the airways the usual apologies from Muslim organizations and individuals started pouring in.  “We Muslims do not condone the actions of Major Hasan.  “This is not Islam.”  “Islam means peace,” etc etc etc.

I don’t mean to sound callous or uncaring about the grief being felt by the family and other loved ones of the slain.  Of course, we abhor the actions of any deranged person who without warning, and seemingly without any justification or provocation, takes innocent human lives.  This person was obviously not in a rational state of mind, and plainly his actions had absolutely nothing to do with his religion, or lack of it.  I believe the world knows this but the anti-Islamic fever sweeping the world, fed by the other media, will keep people’s rational thoughts from surfacing.

Some news accounts make reference to the Islamic signs that major Hasan had on some of his property.   The news media interviewed some people who made statements like “I heard him speaking Muslim talk.” (He could have been saying as-salaam-alaikum).  It is an obvious attempt to discredit anything with any ties to Islam.  And by making note of his artifacts, they are saying that having these things in his possession automatically makes him a dangerous “Islamic Radical.”

But actually it is no stranger than a Catholic crazy man having a rosary, or a Buddhist crazy man with his statue of Buddha, or a Jewish crazy man with copy of the Torah and a yarmulke on his head.  It does not matter what his religion is.  If you’re crazy, you’re just crazy.

But on the other hand there are numerous Muslim soldiers and veterans who have annual observances to mark Veterans Day in this country.  But for the most part, they are not reported.  I realize that good, positive events that enhance humanity are not as sensational as a shooting rampage by a crazy person. But they are nevertheless so very important because with the automatic sensational reporting of negative events getting all the attention, it takes extra effort to put some balance in the reporting.

For several months the Dawah Team at Masjid Wali Muhammad in Detroit, Michigan, under the leadership of the late Imam Warith Deen Mohammed, has been planning a salute to all veterans from any branch of service and any dates of service.  The event will be a luncheon held at Masjid Wali Muhammad from 11AM – 1PM.

Brother Lawrence Ziyad, a veteran of the Viet Nam war and one of the coordinators of the event, says the program will be one heavy with reverence for ALLAH, and patriotism for the United States government.  It will begin with prayer followed by the National Anthem and Lift Every Voice and Sing, popularly known as the Black National Anthem.  Also, as part of the opening and closing of the luncheon, they will salute the American flag.

These Muslim brothers, maybe more than many other people, are keenly aware of the ills of this country.  Most are descendants of slaves that suffered what is arguably the worst treatment of any human beings in the history of mankind.  Still they recognize the beauty and importance, and the privilege of being Americans, and are grateful for being so. This picture of Muslim patriotism is rarely seen in the media.

Another group, the Muslim American Veterans Association (MAVA) is a nationwide service organization comprised of former members of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.  The group is officially recognized by the United States government along with other veteran groups such as the veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), American Legions, Polish American Veterans, Jewish Veterans, Italian Veterans and other Veteran organizations.  The Muslim-American group is made up primarily of Muslims of African American descent since most Muslims that immigrated here from other countries, came here past military age.  The group, comprised of five posts in various cities is headed by National Commander Saleem G. Abdul-Mateen.

What major media cared to report that the MAVA Commanders recently met on Capitol Hill in Washington to meet with Muslim American Congressman Andre Carson to present ways to help assist young veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.  What media (other than the Muslim Observer) cared to report that the MAVA Post #1 received a community service award from CAMP (Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionalism for its untiring efforts in making life better for those who sacrificed and served this country unselfishly.

Congressman Carson was so impressed with the group that he invited them to establish a forum for dealing with veteran affairs and open up a dialogue for addressing these issues.  MAVA has already created programs to assist returning servicemen and women.  “Our aim is is to interact locally and nationally with organizations and institutions that have exhibited care and concern for these service members,” said member Saleem Abdul Mateen.

Another fine example of Muslim American patriotism is in the person of Chaplain Lt. Colonel Abdul-Rasheed Muhammad.  Chaplain Muhammad is another Muslim American in the community of Imam Warith Denn Mohammed.  I have personally watched his rise in the military and admired his character, and balanced approach to different situations.

These fine Muslims are just a few examples of the great majority of Muslims in this country.  They love their religion, they love their country, and they love being fine and caring representatives of both.

Let us remember the victims, and their families in our prayers.  And let us strive to be good Muslims and good Americans.  Ameen.   

As Salaam alaikum
Al Hajj Imam Abdullah El-Amin

Eid Mubarak from Pres. Obama

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The President released the following statement to mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr:

“As Muslims in the United States and around the world complete the month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, Michelle and I would like to extend our personal greetings on this joyous occasion. Eid is a time to celebrate the completion of 30 days and nights of devotion. But even on this festive occasion, Muslims remember those less fortunate, including those impacted by poverty, hunger, conflict, and disease. Throughout the month, Muslim communities collect and distribute zakat-ul-fitr so that all Muslims are able to participate in this day of celebration. As I said in Cairo, my Administration is working to ensure that Muslims are able to fulfill their charitable obligations not just during Ramadan, but throughout the year. On behalf of the American people, we congratulate Muslims in the United States and around the world on this blessed day. Eid Mubarak.” 

Over the past month, the President and several government Agencies participated in events to mark Ramadan – the President continued the tradition of hosting an Iftar here at the White House while the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the first in their history. The Corporation for National and Community Service spearheaded “Interfaith Service Week” as part of the President and First Lady’s Summer of Service initiative and many other groups and individuals came together to make this month a time of giving and reaching out to our neighbors in need.

The President and the First Lady extend their personal greetings on this special day. May you be well throughout the year.

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Community News (V11-I39)

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

World’s tallest man honored for honesty and service

tallest man MIAMI, FL–Aurangzeb Khan, the world’s tallest man alive, has been honored by the Miami-Dade County Services Department for his quality service as a cab driver. He was recently given the Chauffer of the Quarter Prize for his efforts to help his passenger. In one stance he even drove long distance to return a purse full of credit cards, cash, and medicines left behind by an Australian tourist.

`It is actions like this that restores faith in human nature, and as a regular traveler to America, it leaves me with a great feeling about traveling in your country,’’ the Australian tourist wrote ina commendation which was later used by the county in its press release announcing the award.

The Pakistan born Khan is 8 feet tall and now stands taller than Shaquille O’Neal.  He has been living in US since 1981 and now drives a cab after stints with circuses around the country.

But Khan is a towering figure not only in his physical height but also his honesty and kindness.

In 1992, he returned a bag with $10,000 a passenger forgot in the cab.

“Mr. Khan represents the kind of attitude that all chauffeurs should have when providing services to visitors and residents of this community,’’ said Sonya Perez, of the Miami-Dade Consumer Service Department. “By doing a kind deed, Mr. Khan gave this tourist a positive experience as well as a positive view of our county.’’

Hillary Clinton hosts Iftar at State Department

WASHINGTON D.C.–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an Iftar on Sept.15 at the State Department. She said that the White House is committed to improving relations with the Muslim world.

In her speech to the guests she said, “Now, this time of self-reflection and clarity reminds us that the principles that are the hallmark of Ramadan – charity, sacrifice, and compassion – are also values we cherish as Americans. They guide us towards good stewardship of our families, our communities, our country, and our world. It is, as one of my wonderful young aides who Farah has already referenced – Huma Abedin – summed up in the words of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, that we need to be inspired by our leaders to fight poverty, injustice and hate with, “the weapon of the Prophet—patience and righteousness.” Well, that, to me, sums up much of what we celebrate tonight as we break fast.

Now, we recognize that the relationship between the United States and Muslim communities has at times suffered from misunderstanding and misperception. But we are committed to learning and listening; to creating bridges of understanding and respect; and building stronger bonds of cooperation. We believe that there is more that unites people of all faiths than divides us.

The Obama Administration will work to ensure that our communication, our partnerships, and our policies reflect that core belief. Because whatever God you pray to—or even whether you believe at all—we all need to work for the same goals: a world where our children can live together in peace and prosperity, and fulfill their own God-given potentials.”

Sultana Ali promoted at Massey Communications

ORLANDO, FL–Massey Communications, Orlando, has promoted Sultana Ali to account executive, business development.

Ali is a former national board member of the United Nations Association-USA (UNA-USA) where she represented the Young Professionals for International Cooperation. Currently, she serves on the board of directors locally for the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center, FHSMUN (Florida High Schools Model UN) and Harbor House of Central Florida, where she serves on its executive committee as Second Vice-President.

She  has been honored with a Global Young Advocate Award from UNA-USA, the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center Junior Summit Award, the Girl Scout Council of Central Florida’s Young Woman of Distinction and was named one of Central Florida’s “13 Shining Stars” by Central Florida News 13 and the American Red Cross. She also received the agency’s Todd Persons Award. Recently, she was named as a Finalist for the eWomenNetwork Foundation’s Emerging Leader of the Year Award.

A Walt Disney Scholar and Florida Academic Scholar, Sultana graduated from University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business Marketing and a minor in Political Science where she was recognized with the J.C. Aspley award and scholarship.

Muslim students at Lehigh U. fight hunger

BETHLEHEM, PA–Muslim students at Lehigh University have joined the national push against hunger by volunteering at the Trinity Beth Episcopal Church’s soup kitchen.

The students are part of a national organization called Muslims Against Hunger, an organization that partners with soup kitchens and food pantries to provide volunteers and food, the student newspaper reported.

Taha Haque, contacted Zamir Hassan, the founder and head of Muslims Against Hunger, and expressed interest in bringing the organization to Lehigh. Haque said the chapter will be the first in Pennsylvania.

About 15 students helped serve a lunch of Hassan’s special chicken, rice and green beans to the people gathered at Trinity Beth. Haque said the participating students were from all different campus groups, including ROTC, Hillel Society and Hindu students.

Sierra Foundation hosts Iftar

sierra RENO, NV– The Sierra Foundation,a Reno based nonprofit intercultural and interfaith dialogue foundation, hosted three Iftar dinners in the past two weeks. The events were attended by a large number of non-Muslims.

Apart from the dinners the participants were treated to lectures on Islamic practices and a  cultural presentation on the poetry of Rumi.

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OIC Visits TMO

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

OIC-3 Farmington–August 7–A delegation from the Organization of Islamic Countries recently visited the TMO offices in Farmington, Michigan.

The eight representatives of OIC were brought to the US on a US State Department sponsored visit to American Muslim institutions, a part of a program to foster mutual understanding and goodwill. 

The OIC officers are civil service officers paid by the international organization OIC, and are based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The OIC is the “Organisation of the Islamic Conference,” an organization of 57 nation states across four continents.  Member states pay annual dues to pay for the functioning of the OIC, and maintain foreign service officers who represent them to the OIC.  The OIC thereby maintains a budget and is able to support its own paid staff.

The OIC was founded after a summit in Morocco in September of 1969, after arson was committed against the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  In 1970 the first meeting of the OIC was held in Jeddah. 

The organization sponsors a once-per-three-years meeting of heads of state of Muslim countries, an annual meeting of foreign ministers, and a full-time general secretariat to implement the decisions of the other two bodies.

In fact, the member states of the OIC are known sometimes more for their distance from Islam than from their adherence to it, and so it is intrinsically ironic that a body known as Islamic is at the same time in reality of a divided heart as to issues related to Islam.  Perhaps the common ground of these nation states is a desire for increased trade, and in fact the OIC delegates, when pressed on the accomplishments of the OIC in the past 40 years, point to nearly tripled trade (from 4% to 16%) between member states in that time.

The OIC professionals asked pointed questions about TMO, and encouraged TMO to form partnerships with other Muslim news organizations.

Dr. AS Nakadar, the CEO of TMO, in turn encouraged the OIC to build educational institutions like universities in Muslim nations, saying this would contribute much to solving the problems of the Muslim world.

For more information about the OIC, you can visit www.oic-oci.org to see their website.

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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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US Envoy Writes of Israeli Threats

April 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Barbara Crossette

john_gunther_dean In the wake of the accusation by Chas Freeman that his nomination to lead the National Intelligence Council was derailed by an “Israeli lobby,” a forthcoming memoir by another distinguished ambassador adds stunning new charges to the debate. The ambassador, John Gunther Dean, writes that over the years he not only came under pressure from pro-Israeli groups and officials in Washington but also was the target of an Israeli-inspired assassination attempt in 1980 in Lebanon, where he had opened links to the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Dean’s suspicions that Israeli agents may have also been involved in the mysterious plane crash in 1988 that killed Pakistan’s president, General Mohammed Zia ul Haq, led finally to a decision in Washington to declare him mentally unfit, which forced his resignation from the foreign service after a thirty-year career. After he left public service, he was rehabilitated by the State Department, given a distinguished service medal and eventually encouraged to write his memoirs. Now 82, Dean sees the subsequent positive attention he has received as proof that the insanity charge (he calls it Stalinist) was phony, a supposition later confirmed by a former head of the department’s medical service.

Dean, whose memoir is titled Danger Zones: A Diplomat’s Fight for America’s Interests, was American ambassador in Lebanon in August 1980 when a three-car convoy carrying him and his family was attacked near Beirut.

“I was the target of an assassination attempt by terrorists using automatic rifles and antitank weapons that had been made in the United States and shipped to Israel,” he wrote. “Weapons financed and given by the United States to Israel were used in an attempt to kill an American diplomat!” After the event, conspiracy theories abounded in the Middle East about who could have planned the attack, and why. Lebanon was a dangerously factionalized country.

The State Department investigated, Dean said, but he was never told what the conclusion was. He wrote that he “worked the telephone for three weeks” and met only official silence in Washington. By then Dean had learned from weapons experts in the United States and Lebanon that the guns and ammunition used in the attack had been given by Israelis to a Christian militia allied with them.

“I know as surely as I know anything that Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency, was somehow involved in the attack,” Dean wrote, describing how he had been under sharp criticism from Israeli politicians and media for his contacts with Palestinians. “Undoubtedly using a proxy, our ally Israel had tried to kill me.”

Dean’s memoir, to be published in May for the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training Memoir Series by New Academia Publishing under its Vellum imprint, has been read and approved for publication by the State Department with only very minor changes, none affecting Dean’s major points. Its underlying theme is that American diplomacy should be pursued in American interests, not those of another country, however friendly. A Jew whose family fled the Holocaust, Dean resented what he saw as an assumption, including by some in Congress, that he would promote Israel’s interests in his ambassadorial work.

Dean, a fluent French speaker who began his long diplomatic career opening American missions in newly independent West African nations in the early 1960s, served later in Vietnam (where he described himself as a “loyal dissenter”) and was ambassador in Cambodia (where he carried out the American flag as the Khmer Rouge advanced), Denmark, Lebanon, Thailand (where Chas Freeman was his deputy) and India. He takes credit for averting bloodshed in Laos in the 1970s by negotiating a coalition government shared by communist and noncommunist parties.

He was sometimes a disputatious diplomat not afraid to contradict superiors, and he often took–and still holds–contrarian views. He always believed, for example, that the United States should have attempted to negotiate with the Khmer Rouge rather than let the country be overrun by their brutal horror.

As ambassador in India in the 1980s he supported then-Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s policy of seeking some kind of neutral coalition in Afghanistan that would keep the American- and Pakistani-armed mujahedeen from establishing a fundamentalist Islamic state. For several years after the Soviet withdrawal, India continued to back Najibullah, a thuggish communist security chief whom the retreating Soviet troops left behind. After the mujahedeen moved toward Kabul, Najibullah refused a United Nations offer of safe passage to India. He was slaughtered and left hanging on a lamppost.

It was in the midst of this Soviet endgame in Afghanistan that Dean fell afoul of the State Department for the last time. After the death of General Zia in August 1988, in a plane crash that also killed the American ambassador in Pakistan, Arnold Raphel, Dean was told in New Delhi by high-ranking officials that Mossad was a possible instigator of the accident, in which the plane’s pilot and co-pilot were apparently disabled or otherwise lost control. There was also some suspicion that elements of India’s Research and Analysis Wing, its equivalent of the CIA, may have played a part. India and Israel were alarmed by Pakistan’s work on a nuclear weapon–the “Islamic bomb.”

Dean was so concerned about these reports, and the attempt by the State Department to block a full FBI investigation of the crash in Pakistan, that he decided to return to Washington for direct consultations. Instead of the meetings he was promised, he was told his service in India was over. He was sent into virtual house arrest in Switzerland at a home belonging to the family of his French wife, Martine Duphenieux. Six weeks later, he was allowed to return to New Delhi to pack his belongings and return to Washington, where he resigned.

Suddenly his health record was cleared and his security clearance restored. He was presented with the Distinguished Service Award and received a warm letter of praise from Secretary of State George Shultz. “Years later,” he wrote in his memoir, “I learned who had ordered the bogus diagnosis of mental incapacity against me. It was the same man who had so effusively praised me once I was gone–George Shultz.”

Asked in a telephone conversation last week from his home in Paris why Shultz had done this to him, Dean would say only, “He was forced to.”

Barbara Crossette, United Nations correspondent for The Nation, is a former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief in Asia and at the UN.

She is the author of So Close to Heaven: The Vanishing Buddhist Kingdoms of the Himalayas, published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1995 and in paperback by Random House/Vintage Destinations in 1996, and a collection of travel essays about colonial resort towns that are still attracting visitors more than a century after their creation, The Great Hill Stations of Asia, published by Westview Press in 1998 and in paperback by Basic Books in 1999. In 2000, she wrote a survey of India and Indian-American relations, India: Old Civilization in a New World, for the Foreign Policy Association in New York. She is also the author of India Facing the 21st Century, published by Indiana University Press in 1993.

The Bachelor City

December 11, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan- MMNS Middle East Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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Wary serenity in Berlin mosques

January 4, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Submitted to TMO by independent journalist Frank Payne

Bombings in Madrid and London, riots in Paris. At issue are geopolitics, class and ethnicity. In Germany, it is not terror attacks but alleged plots, police raids, and continuing suspicion. For young Muslims in Berlin, the response to such scrutiny is to be at once welcoming but hyper-vigilant of outsiders.

Neukölln

Scattered groups of Muslim men and women make their way toward Nür Mosque, their faces aglow in the orange light of the setting sun. I watch them through the window of a coffee shop, where American hip hop and R&B music are the soundtrack to an afternoon’s end. The friendly owner of the place is Nayaf, a Palestinian in his mid-thirties who jokes with customers in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English.

This is Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood in Southeast Berlin, populated by Turkish and Arab immigrants sometimes down to the third generation. Finished with my coffee, I too make way toward the mosque. The exterior of Nür Mosque is painted a clean white but like nearly all places of worship for Muslims in Germany is otherwise nondescript. The interior, however, fits the classic image of a mosque: a light green, ornate oriental rug covering the entire floor and wide pillars supporting the roof and walls. There is a store, a small library, and an upstairs kitchen and eatery where one finds traditional foods like baklava and falafel.

In the mosque’s washroom, the lights are off, but rays from a single large window illuminate the room and balance calm shadows. Cool water flows from a row of aluminum faucets while Zaher, a North African, demonstrates the Muslim purification ritual to me. I mimic his motions as he bathes his hands, arms, face, insides of his nose, and feet. Curious onlookers, also washing, ask Zaher about me with friendly smiles.

I take a seat on the floor among dozens of young men, or brothers, as the mosque fills up. All but a few appear to be under the age of 30. The majority appear to be in their teens. Each wears his own style of dress: traditional robes, shirts pressed and tucked, leather jackets, or sports jerseys hanging over baggy jeans a la hip hop style. Flowing beards and shaven heads mix with gelled, slicked-back and spiked hair.

What the individuals of such a varied group have in common, though, is a commitment to their faith, and at this moment, absolute attention to the words of the imam, Abdul-Adhim or Abu Abderrahman. This bond, so communal that exterior differences become seemingly null and void; shows one of the central beauties of Islam, and what some non-Muslims may fear so much about the religion. These are all obviously very different men. Yet, inside these walls, within the context of Islam, they are not disparate individuals. They seem to be indisputably one.

Today Abu Abderrahman, a small, Tunisian-born man between thirty-two and thirty-eight years of age, is speaking about the corruption of Muslim youth. In German, he sermons into a microphone from his own seated position at the front of the congregation. An animated speaker, Abu Abderrahman waves his hands and punctuates every sentence with a wide, jolly grin. His jokes often elicit laughs from the crowd.

I tightly frame the face of a bearded young man in the viewfinder of my camera. My finger on the shutter button, he turns and makes eye contact with me through the lens. In the exact same instant, the imam shouted in a sharp voice over the microphone “halo, no photograph in here!” Dozens of heads turn and hundreds of eyes focus in my direction. Abu Abderrahman is shaking his head in disapproval. I nod and quickly stow the camera away.

During a break in the service, several clerics dressed in white robes approach me one by one. With warm smiles, each says hello and offers a handshake. One man, a native German with chestnut-colored hair and full beard sits down. “There is no danger”, he insists. He talks on, asking questions about the U.S. and proudly admits that he was once a break dancer.

There has only been a misunderstanding. I had taken the imam’s invitation to Nür Mosque as approval to take also photographs. But approval from officials even higher than the imam were necessary in order to do so. “Kein problem”, or “no big deal”, Abu Abderraham insists.

Wedding

It is Easter Monday, and I am meeting the English-speaking Amr at Osloer Strasse U-bahn station for a youth prayer group in the predominantly Arab and South Asian neighborhood known as Wedding. Walking together, Amr tells me the story of Bilal, the namesake of the mosque that we are about to enter. Bilal, an Assyrian slave, converted to Islam then refused to repent even under torture. Moved by his devotion, another follower of the Prophet Muhammad (s) purchased Bilal’s freedom. “Racism existed hundreds of years ago too”, Amr says, but the Prophet Muhammad (s) preached that all men should be accepted into the faith.

In Bilal Mosque, I sit shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, within a circle of twenty men and boys. Amr consults with a leader of the prayer group about my presence and taking my photographs. A small man, with a light beard and gentle voice, he turns and responds in perfect English “let’s see, maybe after (the service), because I know that some brothers will have a problem with this.”

This evenings prayers and discussion is being led by another lightly bearded, married but altogether youthful looking man. Like the imam of Nür Mosque, he has notable abilities as a speaker. He makes eye contact around the circle and punctuates statements with a smile, as if to ask “You understand, yes? You do believe, right?”

After the service I snack on potato chips and soda, chatting with a couple of brothers on either side of me. Amr then calls me over to the main room to sit down on the carpet with him and two others. Their decision is no to photographs. They are seriously worried about negative media attention, specifically about alleged links between German mosques and terrorist activity. One of them mentions that state subsidies for the youth programs are at risk. Likewise, some well-meaning parents might keep their children from attending the mosque if they got the impression that extremism was being taught.

Later, I am struck by one of the men’s positive perception of Muslim life in the United States, based on anecdotes from friends and relatives in the country. Freedom of worship in the United States, he says, means fewer problems for women who wear veils than in Europe.

Burying a Brother

The Turkish Sehitlik Camii Mosque near Platz Luftbrücke is the only Berlin mosque with a dome, minarets, and other traditional Islamic décor. It used to be the Turkish embassy to Germany. Now, it serves a predominantly Turk-German congregation. I meet Amr, my host once again, this time for a funeral. Shorly on arrival, he interrupts our interview to say that we must be silent for the next few minutes. With a friend, he then distances himself physically to pray. He is two rows ahead as other figures gather. In total, we are six rows of about 120 total men. It is noon as the sun peaks from behind high, white clouds. Lying before us is the coffin, draped in black cloth with gold letters in Arabic.


The Sehtilik Mosque

The funeral is for a German convert to Islam. Remarkably, most of those attending did not know him personally. Amr claims to not have known him at all, neither what he looked like, nor how he died. He asks others and gets much of the same response. Yet, all have come en mass to pay their respects to a member of the community.

At the burial grounds, the graves are separated into Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sections. Only yards away from where the young man will be buried is a large headstone for Kaiser Wilheim II inside a small, fenced plot. The funeral continues, with preaching in Arabic. A man of Black African origins then summarizes what has been said in German. Amr translates for me, speaking softly. “The sermon was a reminder that we are all visitors on this earth. And a visitor must always leave the place that he visits. We came from nothing, dirt, dust, and will return to nothing: taking only our deeds with us as we go back to the Creator.”

The only sounds afterward are light street traffic, and occasional cries from the man’s wife. Her deceased husband’s parents comfort her. Then, the thumping of mounds of dirt against the coffin, as worshippers with shovels take turns filling in the grave. Muslims are generally buried in shrouds, but German law mandates the use of coffins.

The Fundamentalist

Amr and I sit down for an interview and a kosher Muslim lunch of roast hen, french fries, salad, and Coke. His beard has grown significantly since I first met him a couple of weeks ago. “By the way, you’re looking at a fundamentalist” he says from across the table. Amr says this with a keenness of how much the term fundamentalist is a watch word for terrorist in Western media and popular culture. However, he brushes off my attempts to distinguish it from the alternate, perhaps more politically correct fundamentalist extremist. These days, most legal authorities, media, and the general public do not bother to make the distinction anyway, he says.

Amr was raised in a devout Islamic household. He is familiar though, with the ways of the Western world from his education in an English-speaking school in Germany and his travels abroad. He speaks four languages – English, German, Arabic, and French – and is well-versed in the nuances of United States society. “I am a Muslim fundamentalist by choice”, he explains, a man who finds genuine insight and intellectual stimulation from the Koran and religious observance. One surmises from talking to him that he gets as much stimulation from Islam as he does from academia and his worldly appreciation of foreign cultures.

So how is Amr, a young fundamentalist Muslim treated by Western society? Echoing the others I spoke with, he feels generally respected by other Germans, but within an undercurrent of fear. On Berlin’s streets, trains, buses, and shops, Amr senses in others a wariness of his Arabic features and traditional, Islamic beard. He is particularly wary of trying to visit the United States for fear of being entered on a terrorist watch list; of being mistakenly detained and interrogated by authorities. Like so many other Arabic and Turkish men in Berlin that I spoke to, he asks that his true name and other specifics about his identity be omitted from this article.

“Islam is peace. If only people would dig deeper, they would find that”. On this point, Amr is most emphatic, stressing that this is what he wants me to leave with. He leans forward, holding his hand eloquently to the side of his face, expressing himself as a professor or an imam would. His large brown eyes hold steadily and benevolently.

Before lunch, Amr and I climb the white marble steps into the dome of Sehitlik Camii Mosque. Inside, an imam in a black, gold-colored rimmed robe and white cap is speaking in Turkish. Rows of adult men sit or kneel in front of him. A few elderly men sit on chairs or on steps at the back. Amr joins the men toward the front to listen and pray.

I absorb the view of the courtyard outside through large windows with wooden doors and the expansive interior. The dominant colors of the mosque are white, green, and gold on the high dome ceiling, marble columns, and wall to wall oriental carpet. The decor is intricate and inspired. Many spiritual people, religious or agnostic, would be moved by such a mosque’s beauty; it’s physical manifestation of man’s quest for spirituality and tranquility.

Amr returns from the front sits on the floor nearby, watching me as I observe everything else. From the nearest window, a white column of light shone down, illuminating his face and everything around him. The other figures closest are partially lit or remain in shadows.

Sitting down too, I see white prayer beads strewn beside a neatly coiled microphone on the rug next to one of the marble columns. It is time for everyone to pray as one. The imam sings the call from the front of the mosque. Then, a teenage boy with black-rimmed glasses, a white Muslim cap covering the black hair on his head, and a moustache and beard sprouting from his face stands directly beside me. He picks up the microphone beside the prayer beads and sings alternatively with the imam. Making neat rows, our feet adjoined, we all pray together, lifting our hands and bowing our heads in rhythm. For the moment, there is no tension with the outside world: only serenity among ourselves and God.

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