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26/11 Mumbai attacks: One year on

Tearful memorials, soul-searching mark 26/11 anniversary

RAWALPINDI: Seven indicted for planning, aiding Mumbai attack

Meet Muslims Who Fight Anti-Semitism

Saudi Liberal: The Muslims' Sense of Moral Superiority Is Unfounded

KUWAIT: Islam 'a religion, not a state; a message, not a govt'

Shia majority Iraqi asks Sunni Saudi Arabia, to “cease funding terrorists”

Yogyakarta-based Muhammadiyah schools, 100 years on

A century of Muhammadiyah and modern Indonesia

Bangladesh prepares to celebrate Saturday's grand Eid-ul-Azha festival

Timing of Eid celebration poses difficult choice for Muslims

Islam in the Land of the Rising Sun

Israel eases restrictions on West Bank for holiday

Slowdown in Muslim population growth rate

Occupiers, root of terrorism

RI fertile land for terrorists: Ex-BIN chief

Storms Threaten Hajj Pilgrims’ Safety; Indonesia Plans Fast-Track for Elderly

Muslims pilgrims get respite from rain at Arafat

India should focus on the Middle East

CAIR to Release Report on U.S. Muslim Civil Rights

Leader urges Muslims to vent anger on Enemies

US Attorney General Eric Holder Addresses Detroit Community, Arabs, Muslims

The Jew From Kuwait: ‘My Muslim Background Left Me Unprepared For This Shocking Discovery’

Fighting Afghan Taliban with Islamic credit unions

What difference does Babri report make?

Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India, Pakistan to brink of war

Obama to announce Afghan war strategy from a military academy Gunmen kill six in Iraq

US sought 'smoking gun' in Iraq

Kashmiris, Sikhs protest outside White House

Iraqi boy thankful for Michigan soldier who cared

Muslim Americans: the Next Generation

Nizami ranks among top Muslim influentials

Can Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Directorate System be Saved?      

Violent Muslim mobs attack Coptic Christians in Egypt

Muslims back Geoana after Basescu Muslim christening claim

U.S. Seeks 10,000 Troops From Its Allies in Afghanistan

Omar shrugs aside Karzai call for talks

Taliban leader rejects peace offer from Afghanistan president

Germany's top soldier quits over Afghanistan raid

Pakistan will give evidence of India's role in Balochistan unrest: PM Gilani

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

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26/11 Mumbai attacks: One year on’

26 November 2009

Ceremonies are being held in Mumbai (Bombay) to mark the first anniversary of a series of devastating attacks on the Indian city by militants.

Police have paraded in the city, a memorial has been inaugurated and a candle-lit prayer service held.

The attacks, which began on 26 November 2008 and lasted nearly three days, left 174 people dead, including nine gunmen.

The only surviving attacker, Pakistani Mohammad Ajmal Qasab, is currently on trial in India.

On Wednesday, a court in Pakistan charged seven people in connection with the attacks, including alleged mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi - head of the banned militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

The Mumbai gunmen staged co-ordinated attacks at a number of sites, including the CST railway station, two luxury hotels and the Nariman House Jewish community centre.

Security forces criticised

On Thursday, a candle-lit prayer service was held at the Gateway of India monument, near the Taj Mahal Hotel.

Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram unveiled a new memorial, which he dedicated to the memories of "those who laid down their lives to save Mumbai... and the idea of India as a secular, plural, tolerant, democratic republic".

A police band played as several officers and the families of their dead colleagues gathered around, reports the BBC's Prachi Pinglay in the city.

Earlier on Thursday, Mumbai's policemen and commandos marched in a parade and displayed the force's newly acquired equipment, including amphibious patrol boats and "rapid intervention" vehicles.

The equipment has been purchased under a $26m (£16m) modernisation plan to strengthen resources.

The security forces were criticised for their handling of the attacks, and have been using the anniversary to demonstrate their improvements - including the launch of an anti-terrorism commando unit.

Memorial services were also held at other sites of attacks, including the CST railway station and Nariman House.

People have also been lighting candles in front of the Oberoi-Trident hotel and a popular cafe, both of which were targeted during the attack.

"We just wanted to show our support and show that we care," said Subir Kumar Singh, who left a written message outside the Leopold Cafe.

'Points of light'

In southern Mumbai, diplomats and local religious leaders attended a service at a synagogue, where candles were lit for the victims.

Police parade through the streets of Mumbai on the first anniversary of the attacks on the city

Six people were killed in the attack on the Jewish Chabad Lubavitch community centre, including its rabbi, Gavriel Holtzberg, and his pregnant wife, Rivki.

Rabbi Avraham Berkowitz, head of a relief fund for the victims at the centre, spoke of the community's resolve.

"We will turn the horrific memories of a year ago into thousands of points of light and we will continue with faith in God that he will protect us," he said.

Dozens of people painted slogans on a wall in southern Mumbai, where the attacks were concentrated.

One read: "We want to make sure 26/11 is not just forgotten."

On Wednesday, a small group of people who were gathered for a vigil outside the Taj Mahal Hotel - one of the attackers' targets - called for more police reform.

The attacks led India to suspend peace talks with Pakistan. In July Indian PM Manmohan Singh said talks would not restart until the Mumbai attacks suspects had been brought to justice.

Following Pakistan's announcement on Wednesday of charges, he said he welcomed "every step" by Pakistan to rein in militants.

Are you in Mumbai? What are your reflections a year after the attacks? You can send us your views using the form below.


Tearful memorials, soul-searching mark 26/11 anniversary

26 November 2009,

MUMBAI: Mumbai and cities across the country paused in homage to the victims of the terror attack here on its first anniversary marked by

26/11 anniversary

Mumbaikars pay tribute to victims of the 26/11 attacks outside the Trident hotel.  candlelight vigils, prayer meetings and reassuring display of security by city police.

Bearing its sorrow with fortitude, Mumbai remembered its dead as the country stood united behind it in grief and resolve to vanquish terror a year after 10 gunmen arrived here from Pakistan with their weapons blazing to snuff out the lives of 166 people during a bloody 60-hour siege. One gunman Ajmal Kasab was captured alive.

Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminal, teeming with ordinary people, Cama hospital tending to the sick and dying, India's icons of hospitality -- Taj Mahal Palace and Tower, Oberoi and Trident, or the modest Jewish centre in Nariman House, all silently remembered the unprecedented attack on the country's financial capital as the terrorists scripted a gory tale in blood with bullets.

From Shahrukh Khan who turned painter for the occasion to Amitabh Bachchan joining a chorus of singers, India's film fraternity also paid tribute to the heroes and victims of the 26/11 terror attacks.

Black-clad commandos rappelled down tall buildings, as prayers and vigils were held across Mumbai and silent tributes were held in Parliament and before India's cricket Test match with Sri Lanka in Kanpur.

Showing solidarity with the people of Mumbai, Union Home Minister P Chidambaram unveiled a martyrs' memorial for 18 security personnel including policemen killed during the terror attacks.

Onlookers waved Indian flags and banners with slogans such as "End The Violence" as police commandos with new weapons and armoured cars tracked the route taken by the 10 gunmen who staged the attack.

At the Trident hotel, chefs and laundry boys gathered to remember the attacks. Outside, a black granite column read: "In memory of our guests and our staff". A wreath of white lilies lay next to a glass case with burning candles. "We just wanted to show our support and show that we care," said Subir Kumar Singh, who left a message on a banner outside the Leopold cafe, a tourist spot still pocked with bullet marks.

The police march sought to show better preparedness. Many policemen, some armed with sticks or old rifles, were reported to have fled the attackers who used grenades and automatic rifles. While there has been some improvement in security, most Indians feel it may not be enough, and a similar attack could shake what has so far proved to be a resilient economy. Nine militants were killed by police in the attacks.

Many foreigners, including US, British and Canadian nationals were killed. Some residents shouted "Hang Kasab" as they walked past the seafront Taj Mahal Hotel, where the militants, guided by handlers in Pakistan by telephone, battled commandos in plush corridors.

"The first thing I did today was go to the temple and pray because my life was saved," said Mukesh Agrawal, who was wounded at the city's main train station. "(I) pray that something like this will not happen in my city. I am going back to the station tonight to see the place. It's been a year, but I remember everything."

As the attacks prompted India to break off peace talks with Pakistan, New Delhi has sought to bring international pressure on Islamabad to act against militants operating from its soil, including the Pak-based group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) blamed for masterminding the raids.

"The government of Pakistan could do more to bring to book people who are still roaming around the country freely, to dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and I can only hope that there will be progress in that area," Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said this week in Washington.

In a move seen as trying to appease that frustration and deflect US pressure, a Pakistani court indicted on Wednesday seven Pakistani suspects on terror charges in connection with the attacks. In Mumbai, police officers said their show of strength was a message of confidence for the city residents.

"We wanted to tell the people that Mumbai is safer," Rakesh Maria, chief investigator in the attacks, said. At Nariman House, a Jewish centre in a south Mumbai alley, dozens of people gathered under a white marquee holding candles for a musical tribute to six Jews killed by the militants. The centre has since been shuttered, its windows draped with plastic sheets, its walls and tiles pockmarked and shattered.


Seven indicted for planning, aiding Mumbai attack

By Mudassir Raja

Thursday, 26 Nov, 2009

RAWALPINDI, Nov 25: Seven men accused of being involved in the Mumbai terrorist attack pleaded not guilty on Wednesday when the trial court formally indicted them for planning and helping the execution of the bloodbath on Nov 26 last year.

Anti-terrorism court judge Malik Mohammad Akram Awan charged Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi, Abdul Wajid alias Zarar Shah, Mazhar Iqbal alias Abu Al-Qama, Hammad Amin Sadiq, Shahid Jameel Riaz, Jamil Ahmed and Younas Anjum with planning, arranging weapons and providing training to the attackers.

The accused, in the presence of their lawyers, denied the charges and pleaded not guilty. They said they would contest the allegations.

The court adjourned the proceedings till Dec 5 and asked the prosecution to produce their witnesses at the next hearing.

The court decided to take up the case of Ajmal Kasab, the lone surviving ‘terrorist’ being tried in India, separately under section 540-A of the criminal procedure code after a prosecution lawyer said that Kasab had neither been declared a proclaimed offender nor was the government considering to seek his extradition in the case registered with Federal Investigation Agency.

The court did not accept an application moved by defence counsel objecting to the use of uncertified copies of confessional statement of Kasab to prosecute the accused.

The applicant maintained that the prosecution had no witnesses and documentary evidences, other than the unattested confessional statement of Kasab.

Defence counsel Khawaja Sultan Ahmed told Dawn that they would challenge the indictment based on uncertified copies and separation of Kasab’s trial in the Lahore High Court.

He said that under section 540-A, trial of only those accused could be held who could not appear before the court and were represented by a pleader. But in the case of Ajmal Kasab, the prosecution had not tried to bring the accused to the court, he added.


Meet Muslims Who Fight Anti-Semitism

November 27, 2009

Menachem Z. Rosensaft

At a time when Judaeophobia – a more accurate term than anti-Semitism in the context of Israeli-Arab or Jewish-Muslim relations – is on a stark upswing in the Arab street, it is important for us to pay tribute to the efforts of the handful of Jewish and Muslim leaders who are fighting against hatred and extremism on both sides of the chasm that separates the respective descendants of Isaac and Ishmael.

Hardliners have long dismissed as naïve and utopian those Israelis and Palestinians who try to find common ground against the ongoing cycle of suicide bombings and rocket attacks followed by military reprisals.

They have a point. The shrill, hate-filled voices of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his ilk continue to dominate the airwaves and shape the debate. Each time Ahmadinejad repeats his canard that the Holocaust is a “lie” and a “myth” purportedly invented by western leaders to justify the creation of the State of Israel, we retreat to our ideological bunkers and reconcile ourselves to the disquieting probability that any perceived light at the end of the tunnel may well be a freight train heading straight at us.

Still, a consensus appears to be growing that dialogue with Israel ‘s sworn enemies may be inevitable. Shaul Mofaz, the former Chief of Staff of the Israel Armed Forces and Likud Defense Minister (now the second-in-command of the centrist Kadima Party) has not only presented an accelerated plan for Palestinian statehood but is prepared to negotiate with Hamas “if Hamas chooses and wants to sit at the negotiating table.”

In this charged environment, those among us who remain committed to a political two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must recognize those individuals and organizations dedicated to bringing Jews and Muslims closer together, to shattering stereotypes and creating at least the beginning of a spirit of understanding and trust.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, a Vice President of the World Jewish Congress, believes that “Muslim leaders have an obligation to help prevent the toxic spreading of anti-Semitism among the Muslim masses ... In the same spirit, I believe that more Jewish leaders must speak out against Islamophobia, making clear that it is wrong to demonize an entire religion because of the hateful actions of a relative few.”

Rabbi Schneier’s Foundation for Ethnic Understanding has “twinned” American and European mosques and synagogues, and is endeavoring to bridge the Jewish-Muslim divide by forging a dialogue Imams and Rabbis from the United States , Canada , Belgium , France , Germany , Italy , the Netherlands , Norway , Russia , Switzerland and the United Kingdom . The London-based Sheikh Dr. Muhammad al-Hussaini is taking part in this process because “it’s absolutely critical at this juncture that there are Muslim voices that are willing to stand firmly and practice in opposition to Islamic-inspired anti-Semitism.”

In France, the Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah is sponsoring Project Aladdin whose purpose is to spread awareness of the Holocaust in the Muslim world. Project Aladdin translated the Diary of Anne Frank into Arabic and Farsi. When Al-Manar, the television station of the Iranian-sponsored militant Hezbollah, called on Lebanese judicial authorities to prosecute those responsible for “distribution and import” of the classic work, Project Aladdin ( publicly condemned “this campaign of vilification and intimidation” and reiterated its conviction that reading the Diary “is a way towards the rejection of hatred, anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia. Reading the Diary must be one of the basic rights of every human being in any society.”

Project Aladdin’s Web site features Arab and other Muslim personalities who have written and spoken out about the importance of teaching the history of the Holocaust. Among them is Iraqi political analyst Bassem Mohammad Habib who denounced Holocaust denial as the result of “irrational doubt, promoted by certain parties under the guise of scientific inquiry.”

Lebanese journalist Hazem Saghiya wrote in the daily pan-Arab newspaper Al-Hayat that Holocaust denial “is no longer tackled or discussed, except in intellectually retarded and educationally deficient circles. When the denial is being uttered by Arabs and Muslims, this adds another dimension, which is the inability to achieve any progress in reality, and then proceed to contest history with myth.”

Abdulrrahman Wahid, the former President of Indonesia, and former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, jointly declared Holocaust denial to be “the most visible symptom of an underlying disease—partly political, partly psychological, but mainly spiritual—which is the inability (or unwillingness) to recognize the humanity of others. In fighting this disease, religious leaders have an essential role to play. Armed with the knowledge that God created religion to serve as rahmatan lil ‘alamin, or a blessing for all creation, we must guard against efforts to demonize or belittle followers of other faiths.”

There are precious few positive developments these days in the Arab-Israeli conflict. If we condemn Ahmadinejad and other patrons of terrorism, we must, with equal force, commend those Muslim intellectuals and religious leaders who have the courage to speak out publicly against the continued fomentation of Holocaust denial and other manifestations of Judaeophobia in their midst. They may yet prove to be one of the most significant factors in the elusive search for peace in the Middle East.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School , Vice President of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, and a former National President of the Labor Zionist Alliance.


Saudi Liberal: The Muslims' Sense of Moral Superiority Is Unfounded

November 27, 2009

In a recent article in the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyassa, Saudi liberal Muhammad Jamil Kutbi wrote that the Arabs and Muslims are unjustified in regarding themselves as morally superior to the West. He argued that although Islam champions values such as equality, justice and charity, the West actually surpasses the Muslim world at implementing these values.

Following are excerpts from the article. [1]

"We Falsely Accuse the Westerners... of Being Liars, Forgers, and Criminals"

"...We Arabs and Muslims see the Jews and Christians as people who do not acknowledge or fear Allah, and are not ashamed before Him. We also falsely accuse the Westerners, the Christians, and the Jews of being liars, forgers, criminals, and money lenders who charge usurious interest rates.

"But when we look reality in the face and follow the developments [in the world], when we examine the facts as they are and investigate the Muslim and Arab reality in which we live - including all the exaggerations, [empty] statements, faults, flaws and problems - we discover that, though we are called Muslims, we do not truly embody the qualities, values and principles of Islam...

"We claim that the Westerners love money and material things, while we Muslims are better than they are: we are ascetic, pious and charitable. As an example, we present one of the Prophet's companions, 'Abd Al-Rahman bin 'Awf, who was known to possess great wealth but donated half of it to the cause of jihad for the sake of Allah. We Muslims take great pride in his example.

"But today there is a Westerner named Bill Gates, owner of the world's richest and most powerful computer company, who gave away all his wealth, leaving only $3 billion for himself. [The rest] he donated to the poor and the needy, and to social organizations. Now, in the Arab and Muslim world there are hundreds of wealthy people like him, who appear on the list of the world's billionaires. But we never heard of them performing a humanitarian act like that of Bill Gates. Where are these wealthy Muslims [when it comes to performing] human, Islamic and civilized acts of this kind?

"The Arabs accuse the West of loving the [pleasures] of this world and of pursuing power, but that is not true. It is we Arabs who love and sanctify power. It is we who invented the concept of hereditary rule. Mu'awiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan, the first Caliph of the Ummayad Dynasty, was the first who created and shaped [this concept]. This Arab greed [for power] is insatiable and is the cause of internal conflicts, wars and problems.

"Let me point out incidentally that [in 1945,] the British people did not [reelect] their famous leader [Winston Churchill], who was prime minister during World War II, even though he had brought them victory [in that war]."

The Arab and Muslim Judiciary System [That] Regards Itself as the Purest, Noblest and Best in the World - [Is] Nothing But Deception and Fraud, and Is Controlled by the Regimes and Their Associates"

"We Arabs claim to be a nation that does not cheat, lie or deceive, but the Arab leadership, which regards itself as a model for emulation, [certainly] lies and deceives. [The late Egyptian] president Gamal Abdel Nasser was the first Arab leader to invent the concept of forging elections, giving himself 99.9% [of the votes]...

"The Arab and Muslim judiciary system regards itself as the purest, noblest and best in the world. But in reality it is just the opposite. [This system] is nothing but deception and fraud, and it is controlled by the regimes and their associates.

"The Western judiciary system is better. A Paris court [recently] rejected a lawsuit by French President [Nicolas] Sarkozy, and [the latter], despite his authority and clout as president, was not able to force the court to rule in his favor and according to his will.

"The Prophet Muhammad said, 'By Allah, if [my own daughter] Fatima bint Muhammad had stolen, I would have cut off her hand.' This is the nature of a just and equal society according to Islam, and these are the values and principles of Muslim rule."

The Jews... Are Better Than We Arabs and Muslims" in Implementing Justice And Equality

"But the Muslim nation does not implement these values and principles of justice and equality between the rulers and the ruled. [In today's Muslim world,] the ruler does whatever he pleases, however he pleases, and whenever he pleases.

"The Jews, on the other hand, are better than we Arabs and Muslims [in this respect]. [Former] Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert was indicted and tried for accepting bribes and for abusing his political office, and was forced to resign from his party and from his post as prime minister, in a political scandal that ended his career. This is the lexicon of justice and equality."

"We Are a Nation Without an Identity or Future, and Without Essence, Power, Opinion, Morality, Values or Principles"

"What would have happened in our Arab and Muslim countries if some leaders were brought to trial? Think about it, and don't be too angry when you realize the answer. You will eventually arrive at the realization that we are a nation without an identity or future, and without essence, power, opinion, morality, values or principles..."


Islam 'a religion, not a state; a message, not a govt'

November 26, 2009

By Nawara Fattahova

KUWAIT: The American University of Kuwait (AUK) hosted a lecture titled 'Islam and Secularism' on Tuesday. Dr Souad Ali, a US Fulbright Scholar at the AUK was the keynote speaker during the event. She has written a book analyzing Abd Al-Raziq's book which was published in 1925. The book titled 'Islam and the Foundations of Rule: Research on the Caliphate and Government in Islam' (Al-Islam Wa Usul Al-Hukm: Bahth Fil Khilafah Wal-Hukmah Fil Islam) by the Egyptian reformist scholar, Ali Abd Al-Raziq (d. 196

6), caused an uproar in Egypt that continues to this day.

Dr. Souad Ali provided a background about the author. "Abd Al-Raziq was the first Azhar-educated scholar who was ranked as the AIim (Muslim scholar with expertise in Islamic Jurisprudence) to declare that "Islam is a religion, not a state; a message, not a government." More than eighty years after its publication, 'Abd Al-Raziq's book continues to draw wide attention and his controversial ideas are increasingly debated upon between intellectual, religious, and political circles," she said.

She then spoke about her analysis of the book, "This study examines Abd Al-Raziq's book in light of the continuing political upheaval in the contemporary Islamic world and attempts to evaluate the importance of the book as a modern and moderate development in Islamic thought. The urgency of such an investigation becomes particularly significant in the midst of the current resurgence of Islamic 'fundamentalism,' or lslamist ideologies with reference to political Islam," noted Dr. Ali.

The Islamist view, held by such figures as Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) stands in direct contrast to 'Abd AI-Raziq's advocacy of political secularism and his separation of Islam and government. Interestingly, 'Abd Al-Raziq presented his arguments through traditional Islamic methods, utilizing the Quran, Sunna, Ijma (consensus) and Qiyas (reasoning by way of analogy), in his contention that Islam is 'a religion, not a state," she further said.

The Book

My new book 'A Religion, Not A State: Au 'Abd Al-Raziq's Islamic Justification of Political Secularism' explores, and is situated within the history of Muslim thought, Sheikh 'Abd Al-Razlq's Islamic argument for declaring the notion of universal Islamic polity where one individual bears the title of Caliph is invalid; not advocated by the religion," pointed out Dr. Ali.

The argument is described as 'Islamic' because it employs a traditional Islamic conceptual framework. "On the other hand, when placed within the context of previous concept of a Caliphate, Abd Al-Raziq's argument is unique in the sense that he does not just declare the end of the Caliphate. Rather, he declares the caliphate, considered an Islamic institution based on an ideology that was supposedly founded by the Prophet himself, to be a human innovation rather than a religious imperative," she explained

Dr. Ali then shortly spoke about the historical background of the juristic theories of the Caliphate and the Caliphate in the Colonial Era. Then she mentioned three important events: "In the year or so after abolition of the Caliphate in Turkey three important events occurred:(1) the British-supported 1-Hashimite ruler of the Hijaz, Sharif Hussein, who became the self- proclaimed Caliph, only to be ousted by the Saudi forces; (2) The ruler of Egypt, King Fpuad, expressed interest in the elevated post of Caliph of all Muslims, placing Egypt with its famed center of Muslim learning (Azhar) as a worthier seat of the Caliphate than Istanbul (or Ankara) and (3) Abd Al-Raziq published his book, affirming the non-validity of the very concept of Caliph," she said.

The lecture also included information about Sheikh Au 'Abd Al-Raziq's Intellectual Formation and the place he occupies among Disciples of Sheikh Muhammad Abduh (d. 1905). Then Dr. Ali explained the system of governance practiced during the time of the Prophet and the critiques of 'Abd Al-Raziq's position. Dr. Ali then concluded by detailing the implications that 'Abd Al-Razlq's study has on the debate over Islam and politics.


Shia majority Iraqi asks Sunni Saudi Arabia, to “cease funding terrorists”

November 26, 2009

G Parthasarathy

Just as the hapless people of Iraq emerged from the trauma of the American invasion and the consequent ethnic and sectarian violence that engulfed their country, the fledgling democratic Government was confronted with new challenges. On August 21 the Shia majority Iraqi Parliament called on its Sunni dominated neighbour, Saudi Arabia, to “cease funding anti-Government terrorists in Iraq”. A senior official of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s ruling Dawa Party, Mr Haidar al-Ibadi noted on August 20 that “there are regional powers that pay billions of dollars to push for the failure of Iraq’s democracy”. He criticised a “multi-billion-dollar plan by Saudi Arabia and other states” to launch terrorist attacks across the country and to undermine public confidence in the elected Government. Another leading Iraqi MP, who is a member of Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, Mr Sami al Askari, averred: “Saudi Arabia is not happy that Shias lead this country.” The Iraqis note that three Sunni Arab countries — Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt — are yet to establish diplomatic missions in Baghdad.

While Iraq accuses Saudi Arabia of meddling in its internal affairs, Saudi Arabia and Yemen accuse Shia-dominated Iran of promoting unrest in their Shia minorities. In September, Yemen claimed it seized a vessel carrying weapons from Iran for rebels of its minority Zaidi Shia sect and detained its Iranian crew. As internal tensions in Yemen spilled across its borders into neighbouring Saudi Arabia, the Saudi Air Force strafed rebel bases along the Yemen-Saudi border. On November 11, Saudi Arabia imposed a naval blockade of the Red Sea coast of northern Yemen. The Saudi Army is now operating against Shia rebels along its borders with Yemen. Saudi Arabia fears Iranian instigation of its Shia population in its oil-rich eastern provinces. Responding to Saudi actions, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned: “Regional and neighbouring countries should not interfere in Yemen’s internal affairs,” adding, “Those who choose to fan the flames of conflict must know that the fire will reach them.”

Iran asserts that neighbouring Pakistan is joining Saudi Arabia, with American encouragement, to promote terrorist violence in its Sunni majority border Province of Sistan Balochistan. Iran accuses Pakistan of arming and supporting a shadowy Wahaabi-oriented Balochi group, Jundallah, to destabilise Sistan Balochistan. On May 28, the Jundallah struck at the provincial capital Zahidan during ceremonies by the Shia community to mark the death of the daughter of Prophet Mohammed. This terrorist attack left 25 worshippers dead and 125 injured. On October 18 the Jundallah again struck at a meeting convened by the Deputy Commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, killing 42 people, including the Deputy Commander. An outraged President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused “certain officials” in Pakistan of cooperating with the Jundallah and providing shelter and support to its leader Abdelmalek Rigi. Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting a proxy war in Pakistan and Afghanistan. While Saudi Arabia has backed the Taliban in Afghanistan and Wahaabi-oriented groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammed and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Pakistan, Iran has responded by aiding the Shia minority and anti-Taliban groups along its borders with Afghanistan and sectarian Shia groups in Pakistan.

Superimposed on the rivalries, conflicts and prejudices that have characterised Persian-Arab relations for centuries, matters have been further complicated by the roles of the US and Israel, which significantly influence developments in the region. While Jews and Persians have historically been allies, Iran’s Revolutionary Government has adopted a policy of hostility towards Israel and the US. The Israelis, in turn, have covert links with Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Israel has stridently opposed Iran’s nuclear programme, claiming that Tehran has ambitions to make nuclear weapons. The Obama Administration is trying to find a solution that permits Iran to enrich uranium, while ensuring that it neither qualitatively not quantitatively possesses enough highly enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons. Israel, however, continues to warn that if Iran, which has threatened to “wipe Israel off the map”, is not stopped, it will strike militarily at Iranian nuclear facilities. Any such action could well lead to Iran seeking to cut off access to two-thirds of the world’s oil supplies coming from the Persian Gulf, sparking a global economic crisis.

India has a vital stake in the stability of the region, extending from Pakistan and Afghanistan, across the Straits of Hormuz. An estimated four million Indians now live in the six Arab Gulf kingdoms — Oman, UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. India gets around 75 per cent of its oil supplies from these countries. Indians living in these countries remit the bulk of the $ 55 billion that India gets as remittances. Tensions and conflicts in this region could send global oil prices skyrocketing. This will adversely affect our balance of payments and send our foreign exchange reserves spiralling downwards, as we already have an adverse balance of trade of around $ 120 billion. Apart from India’s increasing dependence on the Gulf Arab states for its oil supplies, there is now a growing demand for natural gas, for which an agreement was signed with Qatar. While Qatar has fulfilled the terms of the agreement signed with India, Iran has proved to be an unreliable supplier, unilaterally repudiating a contract signed with India in 2005 for supply of an estimated $ 40 billion of natural gas over 25 years. Iran, however, remains an important source of natural gas. Given the political situation within Pakistan and growing regional tensions, India will have to secure foolproof guarantees of assured supplies before inking any deal on a gas pipeline from Iran, which traverses through not only the violence prone Sistan Balochistan province of Iran, but also through volatile Pakistani Balochistan.

Given the complexities of the emerging situation in its western neighbourhood, India will have to steer clear of getting involved in Persian-Arab rivalries. But, at the same time, given its close relations with Iran, Israel and the US and as a member of the Board of Governors of the IAEA, India should play a more active role in resolving the stand-off resulting from Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Samuel Huntington had prophesised a “clash of civilisations” between the Christian and the Muslim worlds. What we are witnessing in our neighbourhood is a clash between Persian and Arab cultures, superimposed on a sectarian Shia-Sunni divide.


Yogyakarta-based Muhammadiyah schools, 100 years on

November 26, 2009

When Ahmad Dahlan founded Muhammadiyah in 1912, he shocked his compatriots with the “Western” style of his organization. Focusing primarily on education, the early Yogyakarta-based Muhammadiyah schools adopted the Dutch boy-scout club and Western-attired teachers.

It was a grassroots movement that diligently filled a vacuum in the education sector vital for a country that was yet to be born. Its contribution to the nation’s independence has since been invaluable.

As Muhammadiyah celebrates its 100th anniversary on Nov. 25, based on the Islamic calendar, the venerated Muslim scholar has every reason to be proud. Today, the organization has thousands of branches throughout the country and 18 branches overseas. It manages thousands of schools, 167 universities, hundreds of orphanages and thousands of charity activities.

The country’s second-biggest Islamic organization, Muhammadiyah has produced numerous luminaries including the revered freedom fighter Sudirman and the respected Muslim scholar Buya Hamka, down to more recent leaders such as A.R. Fachruddin, Amien Rais, Ahmad Syafii Ma’arif and today’s chairman, Din Syamsuddin.

A gathering was held in Jakarta on Wednesday attended by top officials and politicians, including Constitutional Court chief Mahfud M.D. and Justice and Human Rights Minister Patrialis Akbar.

In a veiled reference to the legal controversy surrounding the National Police and the Attorney General’s Office, Din called on the elite to fight graft and to take firm measures against corrupt officials.

“Don’t be trapped by legal formalities that may offer a chance for a ‘court mafia’, case brokers and corruptors to exploit legal loopholes,” he said.

We second his call on those in power to become more sensitive to the sense of justice of the people and to put the interests of the nation and the people above all others.

Muhammadiyah has made lots of contributions to the nation and is capable of making a lot more, particularly in helping the government fight corruption, which is the nation’s most conspicuous social illness, in battling the rising tendency to reject pluralism and embrace religious intolerance, and in stemming the rise of Islam radicalism.

It has the capacity to prevent the country becoming a radical movement hub and to lift the people out of poverty. For a century it has helped build the image of our country as a moderate and a tolerant one.

Recently, its leaders have repeatedly called on its more than 40 million members to uphold honesty. If followed through, it will have a significant improvement on the nation.

Ahmad Sjafii Ma’arif has tirelessly said that our biggest problem is the wide divide between words and deeds, that we have to rid the nation from becoming a pool of hypocrites. Muhammadiyah is well placed to remedy this situation. Failing that, our numerous problems will persist.


A century of Muhammadiyah and modern Indonesia

M. Hilaly Basya


Based on the Hijriyah (Islamic) calendar, on 8 Dzulhijjah 1430 (Nov. 26, 2009), Muhammadiyah will mark the one hundredth anniversary of its existence. Muhammadiyah was established by Kyai Haji Ahmad Dahlan in 1330 Hijriyah, or Nov. 18, 1912.

As is well known, from the beginning of its movement Muhammadiyah paid great attention to the modernization of the nation. Modern Indonesia, more and less, has been influenced by Muhammadiyah figures.

Of course as a big organization in which many people are involved, Muhammadiyah has experienced dynamic development.

In general, the Muhammadiyah movement is based on modern principles. It is characterized by many modern institutions such as hospitals, schools, universities and banks developed and maintained by Muhammadiyah.

On the other hand, as explained by prominent Muslim scholar Azyumardi Azra (1999), Muhammadiyah is less responsive on contemporary issues related to modern social and political problems. Routine activities in maintaining its modern institutions may be one of the factors behind the problems.

Muhammadiyah’s concern in ritual issues is also another factor in waning Muhammadiyah interest in sociopolitical issues. It is indicated from the edicts issued by the Majelis Tarjih (law-making council) Muhammadiyah board that most of the edicts are related to bid’ah (heretic worship).

Many believe that conservatism on the part of Muhammadiyah regarding contemporary Islamic thought is caused by its emphasis on the purification agenda. In fact, as explained by Syamsul Anwar (the law-making council chairman), Muhammadiyah has two agendas: purification and dynamization, or reformation.

In the Ahmad Dahlan era, Muhammadiyah was more responsive to social problems such as in education and the economy.

In the early time of the movement, Muhammadiyah also highlighted reformation. However, in its later development, Muhammadiyah paid more attention to purification issues.

This later tendency cannot be separated from transnational Islamic movements, such as Wahhabism, that have penetrated into Indonesia. The Wahhabi movement has attracted Muhammadiyah activists.

In general, Wahhabism has similar concerns with other salafi movements, which Muhammadiyah is part of. The group has called on Muslims to return to Koran and the Sunnah (the Prophet’s traditions).

In addition, Wahhabis are not tolerant to diversity.

Wahhabism intends to purify Islam from local customs. That is why in certain periods, Muhammadiyah showed a more puritan face seeking to establish pure Islam rather than a progressive face.

Regardless of its dynamic fluctuations, Muhammadiyah still greatly contributes and supports the modern nation-state. Muhammadiyah has no intention of establishing an Islamic state. It is a modernist movement, since the first time Muhammadiyah eagerly provided education for Muslims.

It means that cultural movement is seen by Muhammadiyah as the basic requirement for modern Indonesia. In addition, the nature of Muhammadiyah is shown by its vision and mission mentioned in the Muhammadiyah constitution.

At its 33rd congress in 1956, three leaders of Muhammadiyah – K.H. Fakih Usman, Prof. K.H.M. Faried Ma’ruf and Dr. Hamka – presented the concept of Masyarakat Islam yang sebenar-benarnya (Truly Muslim society).

This concept was accepted as Muhammadiyah’s vision. This concept emphasized social education, not political orientation.

In other words, the concept does not mean establishing an Islamic state. As far as Muhammadiyah is concerned, education is the basic necessity to improve Indonesian dignity.

Furthermore, Muhammadiyah has a strong commitment to supporting secular political government as shown by Ahmad Syafii Ma’arif, the organization’s chairman from 1999 to 2005, who stated at a Muhammadiyah congress that democracy was the best political system to establish human rights and Islamic society.

This commitment has been proved since the early time of Indonesian independence.

Ki Bagus Hadikusumo, the representative of Muhammadiyah in the Pantia Persiapan Kemerdekaan Indonesia (Preparation Committee of Indonesian Independence) agreed that the sentence mentioning the implementation of sharia law for Indonesian Muslims be eliminated from the Pancasila (national ideology) and the 1945 Constitution.

This decision was difficult, since most Indonesian Muslim leaders at that time demanded the state implement sharia law for Muslims.

Hadikusumo, with other committee members, discussed the relation between the state and religion. He realized that Indonesia was a diverse country, so it would be wise to make Indonesia a home for all people.

He convinced Indonesian Muslim leaders that the Constitution, which separated state from religion, was compatible with Islam.

In addition, Muhammadiyah developed modern educational institutions attempting to support the modernization policy developed by the governments of Sukarno and Soeharto.

This fact is the cultural capital of Muhammadiyah scholars and activists. Although in the middle of its movement this organization tended to be puritan, in general Muhammadiyah is still committed to modern values.

In the late 1990s, Muhammadiyah showed its progressive face. Social and political conditions as the impact of democratic transition also triggered this progressive wing to be involved in guiding the transitional period.

Radical Islamic movements colorizing the democratic transition in the post-Soeharto regime have attracted Muhammadiyah scholars’ attention, including that of Amien Rais, Syafii Ma’arif, Din Syamsuddin, Munir Mulkhan, Amin Abdullah, Dawam Rahardjo and Moeslim Abdurrahman.

They have played an important role in countering radical Islamic ideas. The position of these scholars on the Muhammadiyah board gave them the chance to articulate progressive ideas related to Islam and democracy. They criticized the conservative and radical Islamic thought brought by radical Islamic organizations.

Ahmad Syafii Ma’arif, for instance, said radical Islamic ideas had no future in Indonesia since they would disrupt the concept of a modern nation-state that accommodated diversity.

The idea of an Islamic caliphate, for example, would destroy Indonesia as a nation, and democracy as well. Their role in guiding democratic transition to become established or consolidated democracy is significant. It is important to note that the role of Muhammadiyah and similar organizations in Indonesia will influence the future of modern Indonesia.

Hence, Muhammadiyah activists need to always re-evaluate and reform their position in order to be able to support the nation.

The writer is a lecturer at Muhammadiyah University Jakarta (UMJ) and a student at Leiden University, the Netherlands.


Bangladesh prepares to celebrate Saturday's grand Eid-ul-Azha festival


    DHAKA, Nov. 26 (Xinhua) -- With only one day remaining for holy Eid-ul-Azha, the Bangladeshi government is gearing up preparations to support people in the Muslim-majority country to celebrate the Saturday's second biggest festival exquisitely in the company of their kith and kin.

    Thousands of dwellers in Bangladesh capital Dhaka have started leaving the city to celebrate Eid-ul-Azha also known as the Eid of animal sacrifice, celebrated by Muslims worldwide to commemorate the willingness of Prophet Ibrahim (SW) to sacrifice his son Prophet Ismael (SW) as an act of obedience to Allah.

    Eid-ul-Azha annually falls on the 10th day of the month of Zul-Hajja of the lunar Islamic calendar. It occurs the day after the pilgrims conducting Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia by Muslims worldwide, descend from mount Arafat. The festival happens to be approximately 70 days after the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

    To ensure smooth and peaceful celebration of the holy Eid-ul-Azha on Nov. 28 this year, the South country's government has already deployed a total of 7,000 members of the Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) including 2,000 in capital Dhaka.

    The hustling and bustling Bangladesh's Dhaka metropolis is showing signs of tranquility in the coming days as people with or even without seat-ensuring tickets are gathering at the city's launch terminals, railway and bus stations to join relatives in their village homes.

    The city streets saw less traffic Thursday, but approach roads to shopping malls and terminals were clogged by vehicles.

    The pace of people leaving Dhaka gained momentum Thursday, the last working day before three-day Eid vacation starting from Friday, although a number of passengers have already left amid clamor for seats of trains, buses and launches.

    State-owned Bangladesh Road Transport Corporation said it has started special Eid services from Wednesday, which would continue for the next three days, to ply on different inter-district routes in addition to the regular services considering the demands of the home bound city-dwellers.

    Officials at the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority said special ferry services have also been introduced on various routes on the occasion of the festival.

    Meanwhile, Bangladesh Railway had earlier said seven special trains, including four to and from the capital, would run from Wednesday for the country's different destinations much to the relief of home-bound passengers.

    RAB chief Hasan Mahmud Khandakar Tuesday at a press briefing said tight security measures have also been taken at the bus stands, railway stations, lunch terminals and highways to ensure security for the homebound people.

    Along with the regular force, he said the members of the intelligence wing of RAB will also be in the filed including cattle markets in civil dress to ensure security so that people can buy sacrificial animals without any hassle.

    According to Bangladesh Tanners Association, more than five million animals, mostly cows and goats, were sacrificed during the last year's Eid occasion which helped its members to procure more than 40 percent of their annual raw and hides collections in this season.

    The association expects that people will sacrifice more animals this year also as the government has already given festival bonus with this month's salaries to public servants while urged private sector industry owners to pay all arrears due up to October, and half month's salary for November and festival bonus before the Eid-ul-Azha.

    Any industry owner failing to comply with the directive would be legally dealt with, warned the country's labour minister Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain on Sunday.

    However, the Dhaka City Corporation authority has almost completed ground work to prepare the main Eid congregation in Dhaka where the country's president, many ministers and senior government officials will say Eid prayer with mass people.

    The corporation authority has also been working hard to hold around 360 Eid congregations in 90 wards of the city.

    The national flag of the country will be hoisted atop government and non-government offices on the Eid day while most of the streets and road islands are being decorated with flags reading Eid Mubarak in Bangla and Arabic.

    Special diets reportedly will be served in hospitals, jails, government-owned welfare centers and shelter homes for children, socially handicapped people and the destitute.

    Officials said additional forces will be deployed at all strategic points including commercial hubs and main eid congregation grounds in major cities to shore up security on the day of Eid-ul-Azha, the biggest religious festival of the Muslims after Eid-ul-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.


Timing of Eid celebration poses difficult choice for Muslims

By Madhu Krishnamurthy


Fasting on Thanksgiving and not shopping on Black Friday may be retailers' worst nightmare and seem almost sacrilegious to some Americans.

Yet, it's a decision millions of Muslims in the United States face this year as they juggle the holiday period most noted for gorging and splurging with a somber observance today for the Day of Arafah - the final day of Hajj or annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca - and Eid al-Adha, the celebration marking its end Friday.

Some see the coincidence as an opportunity to blend the two holiday traditions together.

"It's a great opportunity to show how there's no dichotomy and how a person can be an American and a Muslim at the same time," said Kiran Ansari of Roselle, interim executive director of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago.

Muslim Americans have adopted Thanksgiving traditions and customized them. "Zabiha halal" turkeys - those slaughtered in the Islamic way - will be prepared in many households today. But believers who are fasting would consume the traditional meal after breaking the fast at sundown.

Since the days are shorter now, it's not such a hardship to resist devouring pumpkin pies until sunset about 4:30 p.m., said Khalid Abdus Sami of Roselle, an executive board member of the Clergy Association of Schaumburg and Hoffman Estates.

Eid al-Adha, or "festival of the sacrifice," commemorates the Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael at God's command, according to Muslim belief. The holiday is celebrated with prayers, gifts for children, distribution of meat to the needy and social gatherings.

While shopping on Eid is not forbidden, Sami said many of his friends have pledged not to go hunting for deals.

"Eid is more important than shopping," Sami said. "People who usually do not pray around the year, they make it a point to pray on Eid. It is part of the culture. If you do not pray, you are looked down (upon) as something not accepted in society."

Attending communal prayers on Eid is a big deal. Area Muslims usually have mass gatherings for prayers in shifts starting as early as 7 a.m. Muslims also are encouraged to participate in Friday afternoon prayers at mosques.

Some say it's a no-brainer choosing between staking out Best Buy at 4 a.m. for a chance to snag a $197 laptop and preparing for Eid prayers.

"I'm going to go to the prayer," said 40-year-old Jihad Shoshara, a Naperville pediatrician who lives in LaGrange. "I think the stores will be busy and crazy all day. I'm willing to put the buying frenzy on hold to be able to celebrate Eid properly. I do plan to go out with my family and kids afterward. We're going to let (the kids) choose their Eid gifts."

Yet retailers like Best Buy, which came out with a Black Friday advertisement with the message "Happy Eid al-Adha," are likely counting on Muslims to do some of their Eid shopping in stores.

"The die-hard shoppers are still going to be lining up at 4 or 5 a.m., as they do," Ansari said. "Eid is not going to stop them. The procrastinators who haven't bought their Eid gifts may be getting their last-minute shopping done."


Islam in the Land of the Rising Sun

November 26, 2009

In a series of special programmes, Al Jazeera follows Muslims from around the world as they embark on the Hajj pilgrimage.

The road to Hajj in the Land of the Rising Sun begins with the little known fact that there are ethnic Japanese Muslims.

Every day the call to prayer is made in different corners of the predominantly Buddhist country - unobtrusively within the confines of its 50 or so mosques and approximately 100 musollas or communal prayer rooms.

Twenty-six-year-old Kubo-san prays at a small musolla in the agricultural district of Saitama, about two hours outside the capital, Tokyo.

Built 15 years ago by Bangladeshi workers, Kubo is the only ethnic Japanese in the congregation.

"I was born into a very ordinary Japanese family," he says. "We did not have a strong sense of religion."

Kubo's upbringing mirrors that of many Japanese - their attitudes and philosophy towards life shaped by the ancient religion of Shinto.

An ancient polytheistic faith, Shinto involves the worship of nature and is unique to Japan.

While divination and shamanism is used to gain insights into the unknown, there are no formal scriptures or texts, nor a legacy of priesthood that structures the religion.

After the Second World War, Shinto suffered a huge setback when the emperor was forced to denounce his status as a 'living god'.

While many historians would claim that the Japanese people lost their faith after this, recent surveys suggest that at least 85 per cent still profess their belief in both Shintoism and Buddhism.

'Special meaning'

"The first I knew about Islam was in my school days," Kubo says.

"The schools in Japan usually teach history. I knew about Islam in such history classes. Although I knew only a little bit, it shook my soul strongly."

His interest in Islam developed as he read more about it, but it was only when he began to meet expatriate Muslims in Japan that he considered converting.

Now, he is preparing to go on Hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, for the first time.

"We Muslims pray five times a day towards Mecca. And pray 'peace be upon Prophet Muhammad'. He was born in this town and started Islam in Mecca. So for Muslims, it has a special meaning to go to Mecca. I feel honoured that I have this opportunity to go there."

'First step'

But just five years ago, Kubo's pilgrimage would not have been possible.

Reda Kenawy is Egyptian but he moved to Japan when he was in his twenties. He worked for a travel agency and decided to branch out to form his own agency specialising in organising Hajj pilgrimages for Japanese Muslims.

"All my staff said I was crazy when I wanted to plan the Hajj trip," Kenawy says. "In terms of business aspects, there must be a demand in the market to cover the costs. It would not work if there are no Muslims going."

"So I told them someone has to start, someone has to take the first step, then others could take it from there."

But, it was an uphill task, particularly when dealing with the Saudi Arabian authorities.

Kenawy says they told him: "We've never heard of Japanese Muslims and we've never heard of Hajj trips organised from Japan."

"So I told them there were Muslims in Japan and I was there as a Japanese. I have the Japanese nationality and I was representing Japan and wanted to bring Japanese pilgrims for Hajj.

"They said I couldn't and that my passport was forged and I looked Egyptian."

'Honour and happiness'

Kenawy persisted in his quest to take Muslim pilgrims from Japan to Mecca and five years on, his travel agency is one of only two registered companies that have been sanctioned by the Saudi government to organise Hajj pilgrimages for Japanese Muslims.

The number of pilgrims using Kenawy's agency has grown year on year, but for him the most encouraging development is the increase in ethnic Japanese Muslims.

"Right now, we have 90 per cent foreigners and 10 per cent [ethnic Japanese]. My dream is to have the opposite - to have 90 per cent Japanese or maybe 99 per cent original Japanese and only one per cent foreigners."

Abdullah Taki is a 36-year-old former body-piercer who converted to Islam in 2006. He made his Hajj pilgrimage in 2007.

"For me, the meaning of visiting the Kaabah is not to see a building but to visit God's home, to meet God," he says.

"At first, when we reached the country by airplane, we entered Madina before entering the city of Mecca. Although I could not see the area because I was in the airplane, when I heard the announcement that we [were there], I shed tears unconsciously.

"I felt an indescribable sense of honour and happiness. I was very deeply touched."


Like Kubo, Taki's contact with Muslims in Japan started mainly with the expatriate community.

Every Friday, Muslims from Turkey, the Middle East, Central Asia, China, India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Japan pray together in Tokyo's Cami Mosque, which is modeled on Turkey's beautiful Blue Mosque.

There are no official records of the number of ethnic Japanese Muslims but some estimates put it at 10,000 - about a tenth of the country's total Muslim population.

The community of Japanese Muslims is so small that when they meet new faces for the first time, a sense of camaraderie is immediately established.

Higouch-san is 73 years old and has been a Muslim for more than 45 years. Mahmuda Saito is 63 and converted more than 30 years ago. Both know how difficult it can be to practice Islam in Japan.

When Higouch and Saito became Muslims there were only two mosques in the whole of Japan.

"It was very difficult. We Japanese have our own culture and traditions so it is quite difficult to carry out five prayers a day and fasting for a month," Higouch says.

'Planting seeds'

Saito is preparing to go on Hajj for the first time. As for many other Japanese Muslims, this involves a lot of self-study.

"It is not a normal holiday so I try to start from the preparation of my heart," she says.

"To learn how to prepare my mind to carry out the Hajj rituals, I read the books regarding the Hajj everyday at home. I would like to absorb the knowledge of the Hajj as much possible before the trip.

"It could be my last Hajj ... [so] I visit this holy city to try to feel the life of the Prophet and his companions of a long time ago."

Kenawy will be leaving Japan with 120 pilgrims - seven of whom are ethnic Japanese and going on Hajj for the first time and he is hopeful that this number will continue to grow.

"Like when you plant a seed and watch it grow, it can easily die or grow to be a big tree with many branches which cover everything. But it's not a tree yet. It's very easy to be broken now," he says.

"But with all the people's support, I think 10 or 20 years from now, maybe I'm not here, I can see there will be an organisation like a ministry for Hajis like in Singapore or Indonesia."


Israel eases restrictions on West Bank for holiday

November 26, 2009

JERUSALEM (JTA) -- Israel has eased restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank in honor of a Muslim holiday.

The easing of restrictions will take place during the four days of the Eid Al-Adha holiday, which begins Thursday. The decision to ease the restrictions in order to improve the quality of life of the Palestinians was made by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, according to a news release from the IDF spokesperson.

Some of the policies to be implemented during the holiday include: allowing Palestinians to enter Israel in order to visit immediate family, permanently removing more than 50 road blocks in the West Bank, and temporarily removing roadblocks near Hebron, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm.

In addition, the Israel Defense Forces will reduce its activity in central Palestinian cities, and the operational hours of the Palestinian Police in those cities will be expanded.

Also, married men age 45 and over, and women age 45 and over, will be allowed entry with special authorization into the Temple Mount for prayer, and men over 50 will be allowed entry without special authorization.


Slowdown in Muslim population growth rate


Figures published by Central Bureau of Statistics ahead of Eid al-Adha holiday show birthrate among Muslim women in Israel higher than among women in Arab countries

The growth rate of the Muslim population in Israel is recording a steady decline in recent years, according to figures published Thursday by the Central Bureau of Statistics ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, which begins Friday.

According to the data, the growth rate of the Muslim population in Israel stood at 2.8% in 2008, compared to 3.8% in the year 2000. Nonetheless, the growth rate of Muslims is the highest in Israel compared to other religions in the country.

The Druze population recorded a growth rate of 1.8% last year, Christians saw a 1.3% growth, and among Jews the growth rate stood at 1.6%.

At the end of last year, the Muslim population in Israel totaled 1.24 million people – 34,000 more residents than in late 2007. More than half of the Muslims live in northern Israel, while 21.4% live in the Jerusalem area. The rest reside in central (11.3%) and southern Israel (13.8%), and only 1.2% live in the Tel Aviv district.

About 20.6% of Muslims, some 256,000 people, live in the city of Jerusalem, constituting one-third of the capital's residents. Jerusalem is followed by Nazareth, which has 46,000 Muslims – 69.4% of the city's residents. Umm al-Fahm and Rahat also have a large Muslim population.

Only 3% of Muslim older than 65

The CBS data also reveal that the Muslim population is considered a "young population", with a high percentage of children and a low percentage of elderly people. Some 41.2% of Muslims in Israel are children under the age of 14 (about 510,000 people), while only 3% of Muslims are older than 65 (about 37,000). According to CBS officials, this is the result of the high fertility rate among Muslim women.

However, the fertility rate among Muslim women in Israel has dropped in recent years from 4.7 children in the year 2000 to 3.8 in 2008. It should be noted that Muslim women's fertility rate is still higher than that of other religious groups in the country.

A Jewish woman gives birth to an average of 2.9 children, a Druze woman gives birth to 2.5 children, and a Christian woman gives birth to 2.1 children. The birthrate of women in Arab countries is also lower than that of Muslim women in Israel – 3.1 children for each woman in Syria and Jordan, 2.9 in Egypt, 2.4 in Morocco, 2.4 in Algeria, 2.2 in Lebanon and 1.9 in Tunisia.

In Israel too, the number of children depends on the parents' geographical location. A Muslim woman living in southern Israel gives birth to an average of 6.9 children, while Muslim women living in northern Israel usually settle for three children.

There are about 226,000 households in the Muslim population, constituting about 11% of all households in Israel. The size of an average household is five people, and most households - 96% - are family households which include at least one family.

There are about 225,000 Muslim families in Israel, and in most of them at least one of the children is under the age of 17. Some 7% of the families are comprised of a couple with no children, while 5% are single-parent families in which the youngest child is under the age of 17.,7340,L-3811274,00.html


Leader: Occupiers, root of terrorism

Thu, 26 Nov 2009

In a message to the pilgrims of the holy mosque in Mecca, the Leader of the Islamic Revolution warns of forces that are sponsoring terrorism in the region.

"Occupiers… organize and mastermind violent sectarian terrorism among regional nations," Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in his message.

"The Middle East and North Africa were once colonized and humiliated for more than a century by the Western governments of Britain and France and subsequently by America; their natural reserves were plundered, their free spirit was trodden upon and their nations were taken hostage," the Leader added.

Ayatollah Khamenei pointed out, however, that "Islamic Awakening", national resistance movements, and the re-emergence of martyrdom, as a unique feature of the Islamic Jihad, had stopped the international oppressors short in their tracks.

The Leader said the new trend had forced the occupiers to resort to hypocrisy and replace their old methods of colonialism with new ones.

"Nonetheless, the multi-faced demon of colonialism has now fielded all its capacities to bring Islam to its knees, from military might, an iron fist and flagrant occupation to an evil chain of propagandas and a myriad of lie-spreading and rumor-mongering media centers.”

"From organizing terrorist groups and brutal murders to preparing the ground for corruption, to distributing and promoting drugs, and to destroying the determination, spirits, and morality of the youth; and from all-out political attacks against the centers of resistance to provoking ethnic conceit and sectarian prejudice as well as enmity among brothers."

Ayatollah Khamenei further urged the pilgrims and the Islamic leaders to recognize the urgent duty which they shoulder with regards to gaining proper understanding of the current issues.

Addressing the Islamic preachers, the Leader highlighted the need for them to explain the plots of the enemies of Islam to their congregation and call worshippers to friendship and unity.

Ayatollah Khamenei strongly urged them to avoid whatever arouses mistrust among Muslims and to direct their anger toward the enemies of the Islamic Ummah.


RI fertile land for terrorists: Ex-BIN chief


Former chief of the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), A.M. Hendropriyono, has said in his latest book that Indonesia is one of the world's most strategic countries for the educating and training of new terrorist cells.

During his book launch here Monday, Hendropriyono said hard-line Islamic boarding schools across the country had become breeding grounds for new terrorists.

Hendropriyono said there were hundreds of such schools across the country.

"The schools contain congregations consisting of hard-liners adhering to foreign fundamental ideologies that differ from moderate Islam, which was common to Indonesians," he said

He added that moderate Islam had been widely spread by the country's two largest Muslim organizations: Nahdhatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah.

Nahdhatul Ulama has around 40 million members while Muhammadiyah has around 30 million.

Hendropriyono said there were now other Muslim groups that encouraged followers to die in the name of God by fighting holy wars against those who rejected their teachings.

He added the groups followed two main ideologies: Ikhwanul Muslimun Jihad and Ikhawanul Muslimun Tarbiyah.

"Ikhwanul Muslimin Jihad in Indonesia contains radical practices inspired by the wars in Afghanistan. Osama bin Laden is Jihad's main leader," Hendropriyono said during the launch of his book titled: Terrorism: Christian, Jewish, Islamic Fundamentalists in Jakarta.

He said Ikhwanut Muslimin Jihad was founded in Indonesia in 1971 at the Islamic boarding school, Al-Mu'min, which was established by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Baasyir, former head of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council, in Ngruki, Solo, Central Java.

Sungkar allegedly has connections to Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), while Baasyir is widely regarded to be the groups spiritual leader.

JI is suspected to have masterminded the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, as well as the attacks on the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta in July this year.

Another terrorism expert, Suryadarma Salim, also said Indonesia was highly vulnerable to terrorism.

He warned that other terrorists may keep trying to spread their ideology even though the police had recently killed high-profile terrorist leader, Noordin M. Top.

"They apply different bomb assembly methods to the Indonesian military and the police," he said.

Different from Jihad, Hendropriyono said the Ikhwanul Muslimin Tarbiyah movement was not quite as radical or widely accepted in many countries, including Indonesia.

Tarbiyah's main aim is to establish an Islamic nation by non-violent means and has utilized democracy to achieve its goals.

Hendropriyono said Tarbiyah came to Indonesia in the 1980s through Islamic alumni from the Middle East.

He said the Tarbiyah movement was widespread in many universities through campaigns conducted by senior students.

He added the Tarbiyah now had more than 20,000 members ready for missionary work across Indonesia.

"I recommend that the government and the House of Representatives endorse an anti-violence bill to mitigate the impact of terrorism," he said. (nia)


Storms Threaten Hajj Pilgrims’ Safety; Indonesia Plans Fast-Track for Elderly


Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Braving heavy rains and the swine flu pandemic, 2.5 million Muslims gathered on Wednesday in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for the hajj, the world’s largest annual religious pilgrimage.

Three pilgrims from Asia and one from Africa, all of them already suffering from other health problems, had died of swine flu ahead of the official start of the rites. But proven and suspected infections from the H1N1 flu amid hajj participants numbered only 67, said Dr. Khaled Marghlani, a spokesman from the Saudi Health Ministry.

“Everything is going smoothly, thanks to God,” he said.

Marghlani said the threat of heavy rains on Wednesday could pose greater risks to pilgrims’ health, but authorities had “planned for this possibility.”

Flooding in Mecca could complicate the movement of so many people because drainage systems were limited in the normally parched country. Flooding in the tent city of Mina “would be a catastrophe,” said Karim Saleh, 34, a pilgrim from Qatar.

Meanwhile, the Indonesian government is considering giving elderly applicants for the hajj pilgrimage priority so fewer frail people undertake the strenuous rites, in an effort to reduce the number of people dying during the hajj.

As of Tuesday, 96 Indonesian pilgrims had already died during this year’s hajj, according to state news agency Antara.

Records showed that 446 Indonesian pilgrims died during the hajj last year, said Abdul Ghafur Djawahir, the secretary to the director general of hajj and umroh (minor pilgrimage) management at the Ministry of Religious Affairs. He estimated that 35 percent of this year’s 207,000 Indonesian pilgrims were over the age of 65 or had serious illnesses.

With a relatively small national annual quota of about 200,000, many of the faithful from Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, spend years on the long waiting list before finally being accepted to take part in the pilgrimage.

Ghafur said the proposal to give the elderly priority would soon be forwarded to the House of Representatives’ Commission VIII, which oversees religious affairs.

“To this day, there are about 800,000 names on the hajj waiting list,” he said.

“We haven’t counted how many of them are over 65 years old, but we want to cut the risk of senior citizens getting ill or dying during the pilgrimage.”

Ghafur stressed that the government would not prohibit the elderly or the sick from undertaking the hajj, saying the health of all pilgrims was closely inspected and those with illnesses were provided proper medication.

Sholah Imari, director of environmental health at the Ministry of Health, said most of last year’s casualties died during or shortly after the peak rite, the Wukuf, a series of rituals that takes up to five days and includes having to spend roughly an entire day around Mount Arafah.

Sholah said about two-thirds of last year’s deaths occurred after the Wukuf rituals, with many senior citizens dying simply because of their frailty.

Heart failure and respiratory problems were the main causes of death, he said.


Muslims pilgrims get respite from rain at Arafat

Thu Nov 26, 2009

By Souhail Karam

ARAFAT, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) - Bright weather greeted some two million Muslims who rallied around Mount Arafat, where Prophet Mohammad delivered his last sermon, to beg for God's forgiveness Thursday at the peak of the haj.

The death toll from heavy rainfalls that hit the port city of Jeddah, gateway for pilgrims to Mecca, rose to 48 people, most of whom were swept away by strong currents or drowned.

In Mecca, pilgrims flocked mostly by foot to Arafat to pray until sunset. They set up tents on a plain, squatted on the side of the road in shelters, or stayed at the nearby Namira mosque.

The pilgrims will later move to Muzdalifa to collect pebbles to stone a set of walls. The ritual represents defiance of the devil and commitment to resisting temptation.

"God gave us a reprieve from the rainfalls on the most important day of haj. It shows His immense clemency," Indonesian pilgrim Abdulwadood Asegaf said.

"We are going to avoid going up the mount Arafat this time because it is too muddy," he added.

About 1.6 million pilgrims have come from abroad for the haj, the world's largest regular religious gathering and a duty for all Muslims to perform at least once if possible.

Wednesday's rainfalls, the heaviest the desert country has seen in years, prevented thousands of people from getting to Mecca from Jeddah but caused no deaths among pilgrims, Saudi haj organizers say.

"The rain was a blessing from God. We are now going to pray to beg for God's forgiveness and mercy, for the good of our children and of all Muslims," said Egyptian pilgrim Nasser Abu Ahmed.

Nigerian businessman Mustafa Abu Bakr said Muslims from different parts of the world and of different walks of life renew their allegiance to God in Arafat.

"We will pray for world peace," he said.

The haj marks sites that Islamic tradition says Prophet Ibrahim -- biblical patriarch Abraham -- visited in Mecca and that Prophet Mohammad established as a pilgrim route 14 centuries ago after he removing pagan idols from Mecca.

Islam is now embraced by a quarter of the world's population.

Apart from floods in Jeddah, authorities have reported none of the problems or disasters that have marred the haj in previous years such as fires, hotel collapses, police clashes with protesters and deadly stampedes caused by overcrowding.

Saudi authorities have made renovations over the past year to ease the flow of pilgrims inside the Grand Mosque and the disaster-prone Jamarat Bridge. In January 2006, 362 people were crushed to death in the worst haj tragedy in 16 years.


India should focus on the Middle East

P R Kumaraswamy

26 Nov 2009

Despite less popular nomenclature, the Middle East developments have more far-reaching implications for India than commonly recognised. The region normally is noticed for all wrong reasons or only for wrong reasons; terrorism in Israel, Iraq and Algeria; Islamic upsurges in Egypt, Yemen; threats emanating from the Somali pirates to oil supplies from the Persian Gulf; political instability in Lebanon; or the nagging and seemingly endless nuclear controversy over Iran. Occasionally elections get attention in the Indian media.

Yes, the Middle East has its share of problems but it also offers a number of challenges and opportunities. Since the end of the Cold War the world has become complex and New Delhi is still learning to maintain close and friendly ties with countries, which are at competition, if not war, with one another. This is especially true for the Middle East.

No country would be able to remain indifferent to the impending fallout of the eventual American withdrawal from Iraq. Likewise, New Delhi would not be able to pursue closer ties with Tehran without worrying about the US factor. Its newly found bonhomie with Israel would have to factor in the cold winds from Cairo. Its overall energy security calculations would have to consider the growing Chinese presence and competition in the oil-rich Gulf region. It is no accident that Iran has been using the China angle to force India’s hands on the never-ending negotiations over the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline. Its closer military ties with the Jewish state have a bearing on India’s ties with as diverse a group as Egypt, Iran, Palestinians and of late Turkey.

Besides the geographic proximity and long political interactions, the region is important for a host of reasons. First, the Middle East is India’s prime trading partner. In 2007-08, it accounted for nearly 25 per cent of India’s total trade. Exports to this region stood at over $30 billion while imports stood at close to $72 billion. While the ongoing recession reduced the quantum of trade, the Middle East’s share in India’s overall foreign trade is unlikely to dwindle.

Second, a better picture of the region emerges in the energy sector. The region accounts of bulk of energy imports. Out of the $86 billion energy imports in 2007-08, as much as $58.8 billion came from the hydrocarbon-rich Middle East, with the Gulf region accounting for the lion’s share. Countries such as Saudi Arabia and UAE meet bulk of India’s energy needs. As India’s energy import dependency is expected to reach close to 90 per cent by 2025, the importance of the Middle East will only increase in the coming years.

Third, one need not overemphasise the role played by the expatriate population. Currently there are over four million Indian labourers in the Gulf and even without the hawala channel they contribute substantially to their families back home as well as to the Indian economy.

Fourth, Islam plays an important role in India’s ties with the Middle East. Even though most of the global Muslim population lives outside the region, the Middle East has become synonymous with the term ‘Islamic world’. The latest report by the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life identifies India as having the third largest community of Muslims after Indonesia and Pakistan. Any upheavals and progress in the Middle East naturally reverberates worldwide. If al-Qaeda has negative implications, the inter-faith dialogues pursued by Qatar and Saudi Arabia for example highlight the growing awareness in the region for better and nuanced understanding of one another. The Middle East mainstream is still moderate and needs to be befriended and encouraged.

Despite these factors, the Middle East does not figure adequately in India’s foreign policy agenda. The high-profiled visit by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia during the Republic Day celebrations in 2006, for example, was not followed up adequately. The reciprocal visit by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Riyadh is plagued by delays. There is also pending invitations from Israel, Iran and other countries of the region. Singh’s visit to Egypt earlier this year, which subsequently became controversial due to the Sharm el-Sheikh statement, was not a state visit as he was attending the Non-Aligned Summit hosted by President Hosni Mubarak.

The South Asian countries are becoming vital primarily because of the negative consequences. As we have seen, domestic instability and violence in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka often spill over into India. The Middle East on the contrary offers a number of incentives, opportunities and challenges.

Let there be no mistake. India’s great power aspirations will be tested in the Middle East. In the coming years, much of the great power rivalry involving the US, Russia, China and Japan will be fought over this region and its energy resources. The region will inevitably figure in India’s simmering discontent with the Obama administration over issues such as non-proliferation. The real implications of its energy cooperation or potential competition with China will be tested in the Gulf region. The maturity of its foreign policy establishment will be measured by how it handles the India-Israel-Iran and India-Iran-US triangles.

The time has thus come for a serious, nuanced and non-partisan understanding of the Middle East and its complexities. Erstwhile platitudes, historic bonhomie and civilisational rhetoric are important but would be insufficient to handle present dynamics and future challenges. The Middle East Institute @ New Delhi is a small step in this direction.


CAIR to Release Report on U.S. Muslim Civil Rights

Annual study looks at Islamophobia, watch lists, surveillance of mosques, profiling

WASHINGTON, Nov. 25 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Thursday, December 3, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) will hold a news conference in the nation's capital to release its 14th annual report, titled "Seeking Full Inclusion," on the status of Muslim civil rights in the United States.

WHAT: CAIR to Release Annual Report on Status of American Muslim Civil Rights

WHEN: Thursday, December 3, 10 a.m. (Eastern)

WHERE: CAIR's Capitol Hill Headquarters, 453 New Jersey Avenue, S.E., Washington, D.C.

CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787 or 202-744-7726, E-Mail:

The Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization's report - the only annual study of its kind - will offer a summary of incidents and experiences of anti-Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment reported to CAIR during the 2008 calendar year.

CAIR's new report will also examine the use of Islamophobic rhetoric in the 2008 presidential election and highlight a number of issues of concern to the American Muslim community, including watch lists, surveillance of mosques and new FBI guidelines that allow religious and ethnic profiling.

The report will offer recommendations for action by the Obama administration, Congress and American Muslim institutions.

CAIR began documenting anti-Muslim incidents following the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, when some commentators initially blamed Muslims for the bombing. Before the real perpetrators were identified, Muslims nationwide were targeted in bias incidents.

Overall, nine states and the District of Columbia accounted for almost 80 percent of all incidents reported to CAIR in 2008. Those states include: California, Illinois, New York, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania.

CAIR is America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.


Leader urges Muslims to vent anger on Enemies

26 Nov 2009

Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday urged Muslim ulema to vent their anger on the enemies of Islam and masterminds of all seditions led by the Zionists and US.

In his message to the Hajj pilgrims, the Leader said nowadays, we clearly see that the hands of the ill-wishers of the world of Islam are busy more than the past driving wedges among Muslims, thus the Islamic Ummah is in need of integrity and unanimity more than ever before.

"Today, the bloodstained claws of enemies are busy unleashing tragic scenes here and there across the Islamic lands," the Leader said adding that "Muslims worldwide would rather stop and think how and where these blind seditions, wars, blasts, assassination bids and massacres which have gripped Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are designed.

Ayatollah Khamenei said that the occupiers, on the one hand, brand any popular resistance movements in Palestine, Lebanon or any other place as terroristic, and on the other hand, are organizing or masterminding a violent sectarian terrorism among the regional nations.

"The Middle East and the North African region was once colonized and humiliated for more than a century by the Western governments of Britain and France and subsequently by America; their natural reserves were plundered, their free spirit was trodden upon and their nations were taken hostage by the greed of the aggressive aliens," the Leader added.

The Leader said the new trend had forced the occupiers to resort to hypocrisy and replace their old methods of colonialism with new ones.

Ayatollah Khamenei also added that if affection, trust and empathy take the place of the enemy-desired mistrust, the conspiracy of the ill-wishers would be defeated in large parts.

He further noted that "The Hajj is one of those precious opportunities for this sublime goal."


US Attorney General Eric Holder Addresses Detroit Community, Arabs, Muslims

Nick Meyer

Nov 24, 2009

DETROIT — It was an event 11 years in the making as the Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust (ALPACT) organization held its first annual awards banquet at the Detroit Marriott Hotel in the Renaissance Center on Thursday, Nov. 19.

Fox 2 News Anchor Huel Perkins served as emcee for ALPACT co-chairmen Nabih Ayad, a Canton civil rights attorney, and Andrew Arena, Detroit FBI Special Agent in Charge.

Arena spoke about the importance of ALPACT, which was founded in 1998 to build bridges between law enforcement and the communities it polices.

"There is no other organization like this anywhere in the U.S. and we're very proud," he said. "We get loud sometimes (discussing the issues) but we respect each others' opinions."

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder served as the keynote speaker and took time to address the various concerns of Arabs and Muslims in metro Detroit in a time of uncertainty.

Left: US Attorney General Eric Holder, giving Keynote address in Detroit, last Thursday. PHOTOS: Nafeh AbuNab

"Recent events have tested the Arab and Muslim communities," he said. "But our resolve must not waver to return to open conversation even when we disagree."

Outside of the Renaissance Center, protestors waved signs in support of Detroit Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who was killed in an FBI raid two weeks ago. The killing, along with recent mosque seizures across the U.S. and the fatal shootings of 13 people by American-born Nidal Malik Hasan, a Muslim of Palestinian descent, at the Fort Hood U.S. military base in Texas, have combined to increase tensions between law enforcement agencies like the FBI and both Arabs and Muslims over issues of discrimination and profiling.

Holder, the first African American to hold the post of attorney general, talked about the current climate.

"While these incidents tend to divide us, I can assure you that the Department of Justice will work to enforce all laws with equal attention," he said.

Holder added that his department has listened to complaints from Arabs and Muslims that they have been denied certain rights and responsibilities of American citizenship.

"This is simply intolerable, and the tension that arises (between the groups and law enforcement) is unacceptable," he said.

Holder also said that his department "stands with the Arab and Muslim communities in condemning the Fort Hood shootings in the strongest terms."

Three awards were presented during the event. Barrie Schwartz received the Excellence in Youth Leadership Award, while FBI Agent Paul Sorce, who died in a car accident while on duty, received the Excellence in Law Enforcement Leadership Award for his work with at-risk youth; his wife Joy Sorce accepted for him. NAACP Detroit branch President Reverend Wendell Anthony also was honored.

After the dinner, Arena spoke about the killing of Imam Abdullah, responding to concerns about improper FBI conduct from local civil rights groups like the ACLU and Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and calls by the groups for an independent investigation.

Arena said that an investigation is currently being conducted by the Inspections Division of the Department of Justice and that the matter will ultimately reach Attorney General Holder's office.

Arena, who made the decision to conduct the raid, said he stands behind his decision and described as "false... misinformation" reports that an FBI dog allegedly shot by Abdullah was flown out for medical attention while Abdullah was not given the same level of attention.

Arena added that both the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and ALPACT have said they plan to wait until the facts of the situation come out, and that he has taken a similar stance regarding the incident.


The Jew From Kuwait: ‘My Muslim Background Left Me Unprepared For This Shocking Discovery’

November 25, 2009

The following is an article from Growing up in Kuwait, I had the best of everything. My father owned a successful construction company, and provided us five children with amenities like piano lessons, swimming, calligraphy and trips all over the world. Although we were Muslims like everyone else, we were totally secular and my father always aimed to shield us from religious people whom he described as crazies.

I grew up being told that Israelis and Jews were the lowest type of creature in existence, put on Earth only to kill us Arabs. In math class the teacher would say, “If one rocket killed X number of Jews, how many would six rockets kill?”

My father was rabidly anti-Israel. He was a product of Nasser’s school of thought: secular from a Muslim point of view, yet deeply dedicated to the idea of pan-Arab unity. Israel, he believed, was an American proxy in the post-colonial Middle East.

My father was a supporter of the PLO since the 1960s when Yasser Arafat (who founded the PLO while living in Kuwait) was raising money from wealthy Palestinians working in Gulf States. As an engineer, my father participated in a program where the engineering association in Kuwait would deduct money from his monthly salary to be sent directly to the PLO. He insisted that war and resistance was the only way to deal with Israel.

In the summer of 1990, when I was 12 years old, our lives changed completely. We were on vacation when Saddam Hussein invaded and annexed Kuwait. My father’s business — along with much of the country — was ravaged. Our savings became worthless pieces of paper. We could not go back to Kuwait, so we immigrated to Canada. My father did manage to sneak back in for a few days to retrieve important business documents that would later be useful in recovering compensation from a United Nations fund.

Praying in the Dark

Of my family, I’m the only one who stayed in Canada. My father never really adjusted to life in the New World, and he had good business contacts back in Jordan, so my parents returned there. All my siblings also moved back to the Middle East. One brother runs a successful company in Jordan, two brothers are studying in Egypt (one dentistry and the other business), and my sister lives in Dubai where she works in the banking industry.

One evening in 2003, I was studying at the university library in London, Ontario, when I happened to notice an older man. From his chassidic garb, he looked like a religious Jew. My curiosity was aroused, so I approached him and asked, “Are you Jewish?”

With a gentle smile on his face, he said, “No, but I like to dress this way.” I didn’t know whether he was joking or not. All the religious people I had come across in the past were pretty scary. Are Jews supposed to be funny?

His name was Dr. Yitzhak Block, a retired professor of philosophy. We exchanged a few words and then he asked about my background. My family history is pretty complex, and I get a headache every time I have to explain it all. So I simply told him that I’m an Arab from Kuwait, and mentioned that my grandmother from my mother’s side is Jewish.

My mother’s parents met in Jerusalem when my grandfather, an Arab from the West Bank, was serving in the Jordanian army fighting the Zionists. He was 18 years old and my grandmother was 16. Her father ran a school in Jerusalem — the same school where she would jump off the wall to meet my handsome, uniformed grandfather. They fell in love, got married, and lived for a number of years in Shechem (Nablus).

After my grandfather was discharged from the Jordanian army, the family moved to Kuwait, where oil profits were fueling huge business and construction projects. That’s where my mother met my father and got married.

Knowing about my grandmother’s Jewish background always made me curious about Jews. Whenever we were on vacation in Amman, Jordan, I used to constantly watch the Israeli channel — when my parents weren’t around. My favorite was the Israeli national anthem, and I would stay up late waiting to hear them play it at the end of the TV transmission.

Standing there in the university library, this religious Jew, Dr. Block, looked at me and said, “In Muslim law, you’re considered Muslim, since the religion goes by the father. But according to Jewish law, you’re Jewish, since Jewish identity is transmitted by the mother.”

My head started to spin and memories of my childhood in Kuwait began to surface. I recalled how my grandmother had a funny name on her documents, Mizrachi, which I never heard before. She also had a small prayer book with Hebrew letters, and she prayed in the dark crying. (I thought the Wailing Wall was so named because crying was a part of prayer.)

Aside from a vague family legend, my grandmother never mentioned anything about being Jewish — but now the pieces were fitting into place. I thanked Dr. Block for the conversation, and ran home to tell my roommate what I heard. He smiled and said, “So you’re a Mus-Jew!” I was not amused.

I went to my room and called my mother. She rebuffed the story, saying, “Don’t listen to people like that. We are Muslims and that’s that.”

I decided to call my grandmother myself and bring up the subject.

I beat around the bush a bit — after all, she’d been denying it for the past 50 years — and then finally blurted out, “Grandma, are you Jewish?”

She didn’t answer the question directly, but she started crying and spoke about the years of Arab-Israeli conflict. She told me how her brother Zaki had been killed in Jerusalem before the rebirth of the State. To me that was sufficient confirmation of her Jewishness and I decided to leave it at that.

Over the next few months, I avoided the whole issue of Judaism, mainly for the sake of not upsetting my mother. Besides, I was just finishing university, and career was my main priority. I was content with telling myself that I belonged to a mixed-faith family.

Streaming Tears

About a year later, I was rollerblading one day in my neighborhood when I took a hard fall and badly sprained my wrist. The road was smooth so I couldn’t figure out why I had fallen. I couldn’t stop thinking that it seemed like a push from Above. These thoughts caught me by surprise, since I wasn’t into spirituality and I never had any religious connection. I was a bodybuilder, had tons of friends, and was on the heels of a successful career as a foreign exchange trader. So why had this happened?

Because my wrist was heavily bandaged, I was forced to take off work for a few days. Dr. Block had mentioned the name of his synagogue, so that Saturday morning, I decided to go check out the scene. I was hesitant at the thought of everyone being from European background and me the only Middle Easterner, but I decided to go anyway.

I called a cab and got dropped off at the synagogue. As I walked in, the first person I saw looked Indian. He shook my hand, said “Shabbat Shalom,” and handed me a kippah. Then I saw a black man which really surprised me. And Dr. Block was there, too.

I was handed a prayer book, shown the proper page, and before I knew it everyone was singing, V’Shamru:

“And the Children of Israel shall keep the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel, it is a sign forever that in six days God made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”

Something hit me and I felt as though I knew this song. I just stood there taking in the sounds, the smells and the sights. Everything felt whole and perfect. It was the opposite of everything I’d ever heard about Jews or Judaism. At this point my tears were streaming in freefall.

After the services finished, I met everyone over Kiddush. I spoke with an Egyptian couple and we shared our personal stories. Jews from all backgrounds were gathered together and I was another piece of this puzzle.

After Kiddush, I accepted Dr. Block’s invitation to join him for lunch. I told him: “I can’t believe I’m here, singing and praying in Hebrew. I could never have imagined it.”

He smiled and said, “It’s not so hard to believe. Every Jew is born with a little Torah and a little Menorah inside.” He then pressed his shoulder up against mine and said, “All it takes is for another Jew to bump into him and light it up.”

Dreams of Peace

My interest grew from there, and I began studying Torah and keeping Shabbat. Last year I spent a month in Israel touring and studying on Aish HaTorah’s Jerusalem Fellowships program. It was a great “homecoming.”

I still keep in close contact with my family and old friends. They’re wonderful people and I love them very much. Yet it’s hard to relate to them on many levels. In the Arab world there are tons of misconceptions and misinformation regarding Israel. So I am working to develop a program to educate Arabs about Jews and Judaism, to dissolve the stereotypes propagated by the Muslim media and schools. I hope that my unique background can help bridge some of that divide.

Another way I hope to achieve this is to help establish economic relations between Israel and Arab countries. That would create trust and shared experience, which could be directed toward the goal of a genuine and lasting peace.

Another issue I’m trying to address is how the Arab world is filled with Holocaust denial. This past summer I went to Auschwitz, and I am working to produce the first-ever Arabic documentary about the Holocaust. I want to explain to Muslims in their own language exactly what happened.

It often seems like the Arab-Israeli conflict is intractable. Yet I believe in today’s world, there is a real opportunity for a breakthrough. Arabs today have a more universal education, which makes them more open and curious. Also they are meeting Israelis and Jews in their travels around the world, which breaks down misconceptions. And as we saw during the recent protests in Iran, many young people in the Muslim world are yearning for reform. On top of all this, they have high-speed Internet access which opens up all kinds of new avenues of communication, and the possibility of forming new friendships unrestricted by borders or political agendas. Perhaps this can be the basis of a grassroots movement to mend relations and hopefully one day achieve peace.

The other issue that needs urgent attention is intermarriage in Israel. Unfortunately, a story like my grandmother’s is not so rare. Many young Jewish women are wooed by Arab men and brought back to live in their villages. The children and grandchildren are never told the truth, especially with political tensions and the emotional unrest this would cause a family. As a result, many Jews are lost to our people. My mother has five sisters, and from there I have a few dozen cousins who are all Jewish — all living as Muslims in the Middle East. I recently met a seventh-generation Israeli, whose cousin married a Palestinian and went to live in Saudi Arabia; her descendents are Jews living in Saudi Arabia.

All my relatives know that I’m practicing Judaism, and for the most part they’re accepting. I can talk to them about Judaism and they’re politely interested. We love and respect each other. My father is resistant, however, given that secularism and war against Israel are the two ideological pillars of his life. When I first became interested in Judaism, I didn’t tell him straight out. We were having a political discussion and I mentioned that I support the State of Israel. That ignited a big clash and I’ve learned to only discuss these matters with him in an indirect way. I always know when I’ve crossed the line; he gets angry and calls me a “Zionist.”

The other big exception — not surprisingly — is my grandmother. I’ve asked her a number of times for more information about her family background, but she refuses to talk about it. Maybe one day I will find the key to opening her up.

Growing up, I was taught that Jews were the source of all evil, descended from monkeys and pigs. On the other hand, I had the image of my grandmother holding her small prayer book with the Hebrew letters, praying with tender devotion. She is the sweetest person I know and there’s no way she came from a bloodthirsty gang of murderers. She gave me a Jewish soul, and in her own way, it was she who kept my Jewish spark alive.


FEATURE-Fighting Afghan Taliban with Islamic credit unions

Nov 25, 2009

By Katrina Manson

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan, Nov 26 (Reuters) - After the Taliban made nine threatening phone calls and fired a Kalashnikov outside his house, Shah Mohammad Mir left his hometown for months before returning with a new car and a new telephone number.

His crime was lending tiny amounts of money to farmers with as few as five sheep or to women who embroider traditional fabric for a few dollars a month.

Mir is director of the Helmand Islamic Investment and Finance Corporation, an Islamic credit union funded by Britain which is part of a larger civilian effort to turn the population in Helmand away from the Taliban and into work.

Patrolled by armed men who guard its Lashkar Gah head office, the corporation already has three branches in Helmand -- one of Afghanistan's most dangerous provinces, where thousands of foreign troops are struggling to turn the tide on a rising insurgency.

Since the end of 2007, the credit union in Helmand has in total lent $1 million to 1,441 people, from farmers to flower sellers, from tailors to tradesmen.

"I'm just competing with the Taliban," said Mir, sporting a long wavy beard and grey turban. "It is our country, our Afghanistan, and we're prepared to work for it. The Taliban intimidated me into leaving my job but I'm not scared - I'm a young man and a young man is never scared at any point."

The loans are given in kind, in keeping with Islamic Sharia law and paid back with a 2 percent "administration charge" rather than interest repayments, which are forbidden under Islam.

The money, usually less than $2,000 each loan, means that farmers who would have grown poppy -- whose inputs are provided by the Taliban and repaid with their harvest -- can grow wheat and other crops independently and sell their own produce.

More than 30 men have abandoned the Taliban as a result, said Mir, who was standing in a pretty courtyard garden landscaped by one of the scheme's beneficiaries -- a gardener whose legs and left arm were blown off in an explosion during the Russian invasion of the 1980s.

In Afghanistan, an estimated 65 percent of young people are unemployed, illegal opium is worth about half the country's GDP, and the informal sector accounts for about 80 percent of the economy, according to a British-led study earlier this year.

Some believe the battle for hearts and minds should really be framed in terms of a battle for stomachs.

"We call unemployment and hunger the underside of the insurgency, but in fact it is the elephant in the room," said Ralph Lopez, co-founder of Jobs for Afghans, a lobby group that believes cash-for-works programmes can end the fighting.

"It is clear that a large-scale jobs programme would slow or reverse the insurgency."

U.S. Army General Stanley McChrystal, commander of all foreign forces in Afghanistan, has urged a shift in strategy which places strong emphasis on the need to protect the population, whom he says make-up 70 percent of the Taliban.

Western military forces hope to improve Afghanistan's economy in an attempt to woo people away from the drug trade and the Taliban who they say pay fighters $10-a-day to pick up arms or place bombs.

"People do want to be in legitimate work," said Kim Kim Yee at USAID, which is funding the country's largest cash-for-work programme with a $250 million budget, employing 100,000 people over the next year in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar.

Afghan workers will clear canals of reeds, build shop stalls for bazaars and undertake maintenance for $5 a day, matching the provincial government's labour day rate.

The UK has also backed an employment scheme, worth $36 million over four years nationwide to create 20,000 jobs and boost incomes by 10 percent for 200,000 people, as well as longer term efforts to boost agricultural processing and farming, on which up to 80 percent of the population relies.

For some, efforts concentrating on job creation rather than fighting can't come soon enough.

"The international troops are in Afghanistan but even they can't bring security," said Mir. "Giving jobs for the people is what's going to make things more positive. If we can get rid of the unemployment that should also bring the security." (Editing by Golnar Motevalli and Megan Goldin) ((; +93 708 871 211; Reuters Messaging: ((If you have a query or comment about this story, send an email to


What difference does Babri report make?

THE way the Liberhan Commission has gone about its job deserves a comment as much as its findings. The latter has no doubt substantiated what has been common knowledge all along: that the Sangh Parivar and its affiliates orchestrated the demolition of the Babri Masjid, with the connivance of the then Uttar Pradesh government led by Kalyan Singh. But questions are being rightly raised about its clean chit to Congress prime ministers Narasimha Rao and Rajiv Gandhi and the indictment of veteran BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who was not even summoned by the Commission for a hearing.

More importantly, Justice Liberhan has displayed a curious disconnect between his conclusions and his recommendations.

While his conclusions are sharp, the recommendations, the most vital part of such reports because the government of the day can take action on their basis, seek no legal measures, neither against any organisation nor any individual. Considering that Justice Liberhan took 17 years to come up with his report — which cost the exchequer Rs 8 crore — he could have certainly done better. More so, since the Babri Masjid’s demolition was a watershed moment in India’s secular history and was followed by riots which accounted for scores of lives.

By not recommending any legal action, Justice Liberhan has also ended up being on the right side of the political parties, with each one of them making use of parts of his report that suit it to show itself in good light. The Congress can draw comfort from the Rao government escaping ensure while the BJP is citing the leakage of the report and Mr Vajpayee’s indictment to deflect attention from its complicity in the Babri Masjid’s demolition. Why Justice Liberhan has chosen to hold forth on a range of issues beyond the express terms of reference — the politician- babu nexus, a media regulator et al — is not clear. We can certainly do with change but it is doubtful whether a single- man commission’s views can be the basis for such change.

The Liberhan Commission experience also tells us that such panels ought to be set a deadline to come up with their reports. Otherwise, they can end up being sinecures. For who will deny that Justice Liberhan has had quite a career since he retired as a judge nearly a decade ago, having enjoyed the perks and privileges of office even as he went about the job at his own pace?

Uncalled for remarks

THE Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor’s statement earlier this week that “ a limited war under a nuclear overhang is still very much a reality in the Indian subcontinent” is an unfortunate example of illtimed military bravado. For a country that aims to be a responsible superpower, it is irresponsible, at the very least, for its Army chief to say or imply that it would go to war with one of its neighbours, and then for good measure, introduce the possibility of a limited nuclear engagement.

This is not the first or the only time that Gen Kapoor has said something that should have been rather left unsaid; at various times he has warned his countrymen that up to 2500 terrorists are waiting to infiltrate into India from across the border to effect terror attacks; that India should be ready for another 26/ 11 type of attack and that asymmetric warfare is a concern for India.

It is not for us to remind the general that in any democracy, it is the Union cabinet’s responsibility to create a policy framework for the nation’s security and indeed its defence in the face of a military attack from its adversaries. By talking about a possible war with its neighbour, Gen Kapoor seems to have overstepped his brief.

Understandably, his statement has given Islamabad a stick to beat India with in international forums. The Pakistan foreign office has already criticised Gen Kapoor’s remarks saying they “ only reaffirm India’s dangerous and offensive nuclear doctrine” and that it “ confirms the hegemonic thrust of India's nuclear doctrine.” As the Army chief of one of the world’s economic and military powerhouses, Gen Kapoor must rise above petty considerations of one- upmanship in the subcontinent.

More important, he must choose his words carefully; and in a manner that suggests that India knows its position in world affairs as a would- be superpower, and not just as a small time regional player.


Jailed militant’s hoax calls drove India, Pakistan to brink of war

By Azaz Syed

Thursday, 26 Nov, 2009

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ISLAMABAD, Nov 25: Omar Saeed Sheikh, a detained Pakistani militant, had made hoax calls to President Asif Ali Zardari and the Chief of Army Staff, Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, in a bid to heighten Pakistan-India tensions after last year’s terrorist attacks on Mumbai, investigators have told Dawn.

“Omar Saeed Sheikh was the hoax caller. It was he who threatened the civilian and military leaderships of Pakistan over telephone. And he did so from inside Hyderabad jail,” investigators said.

The controversy came to light after Dawn broke the story, exactly one year ago, that a hoax caller claiming to be then Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee was making threatening calls to President Zardari.

It was on the night of Nov 26 last year that Saadia Omar, Omar Sheikh’s wife, informed him about the carnage in Mumbai. The sources said that the information was passed on to Omar in Hyderabad jail through his mobile phone, which he was secretly using without the knowledge of the administration.

All but one of the attackers who India alleged were Lashkar-i-Taiba terrorists were shot dead by security personnel.

Saadia kept updating Omar about the massacre through the night and small hours of the morning. On the night of Nov 28, when the authorities had regained control over the better part of the city, Omar Saeed, using a UK-registered mobile SIM, made a phone call to Indian External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee.

He told an operator handling Mr Mukherjee’s calls that he was the President of Pakistan.

Indian officials started verification as part of security precautions and, after some time, the operator informed Omar Saeed (who was posing to be Pakistan’s president) that the foreign minister would get in touch with him soon. Omar now made a call to President Asif Ali Zardari and then the Chief of Army Staff.

He also made an attempt to talk to the US secretary of state, but security checks barred his way.

The presidency swung into action soon after Mr Zardari’s conversation with the adventurous militant.

President Zardari first spoke to Prime Minister Gilani and informed him about the happenings. He also took Interior Minister Rehman Malik into the loop.

In Rawalpindi, Gen Kayani immediately spoke to the chief of the Inter Services Intelligence, Lt- Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha.

According to sources, not only President Asif Zardari was taken in by Omar’s audacity but the COAS was also baffled by his cheekiness.

Gen Kayani, sharing his thoughts with close associates, said he had been bewildered by the caller’s threatening tone.

But Maj Gen Athar Abbas, the military spokesman, finds the report unbelievable. “I am not his (Army chief’s) operator. I don’t know who puts calls through to him, but I think this can’t be true,” said an incredulous Athar Abbas.

Interestingly, when Omar Saeed Sheikh was making these hoax calls, the Lashkar-i-Taiba (LET) chief was also in Karachi, but it is not known whether Omar Saeed was acting under the guidance of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi or on his own.

INVESTIGATIONS: On the other hand, investigators got into the act without wasting time, coming up with their findings within hours.

Their conclusion was that the phone call which came from the Indian external affairs ministry was actually their (Indians’) check.

They said the calls to President Zardari and the army chief were made from a Britain-registered SIM.

Gen (retired) Pervez Musharraf, in his autobiography, had alleged that Omar Saeed was an agent of MI6, the British intelligence agency.

The very next morning, Nov 29, Hyderabad jail was raided by intelligence agencies and over a dozen SIMs were recovered along with two mobile sets. Majid Siddiqui, the jail superintendent, was suspended.

“I don’t know much but it is true that some mobile SIMs and mobile sets were recovered from Omar Saeed Sheikh when he was in Hyderabad jail.

I got him transferred to Karachi jail because that is a far better place for such high-profile terrorists,” Allauddin Abbasi, DIG Prisons, Hyderabad, told Dawn over phone.

The authorities had a word with Saadia Omar too. She was advised to ‘control’ herself. The matter was then placed in the files of secret agencies marked as “secret”.

The Federal Investigation Agency never interrogated Omar Saeed about the Mumbai attacks. Dawn’s efforts for getting the viewpoint of Tariq Khosa , the FIA chief, drew a blank.

HIGH PROFILE: Omar, currently confined in a high security cell of Karachi Jail, has a long record of militancy, from kidnapping foreigners in Mumbai in 1994 to kidnapping Daniel Pearl in Jan 2002.

Omar Saeed Sheikh was freed by India in Dec 1999 as part of a deal that saw New Delhi agreeing to release a number of militant leaders in exchange for the freedom of hostages on board an India plane hijacked to Kabul.

Soon after his release from Indian captivity, Omar Saeed developed close relations with the LET leadership, including Zakiur Rehman Lakhwi.

He was invited to a training camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Azad Kashmir, where he spent a couple of days delivering lectures to recruits.

Sources said Lakhwi wanted Omar to join LET and give the organisation an international face.

In Feb 2002, Omar was arrested for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl.


Obama to announce Afghan war strategy from a military academy Gunmen kill six in Iraq

Thursday, 26 Nov, 2009

WASHINGTON, Nov 25: US President Barack Obama will announce his new strategy for the Pak-Afghan region on Tuesday from the US Military Academy at West Point, the White House said on Wednesday.

Diplomatic observers in Washington say that this is likely to be Mr Obama’s one of the most important foreign policy decisions, which he intends to announce in a prime-time address to his nation.

In the address, the US president is expected to announce a phased deployment of about 30,000 additional combat troops, security force trainers and civilian support personnel.

At the same time, he will emphasise the cost to the nation in blood and treasure, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said. And he will make clear that the US war effort will not be indefinite.

“We are in Year Nine of our efforts with Afghanistan. We’re not going to be there another eight or nine years,” Mr Gibbs told journalists.

Mr Gibbs acknowledged that a troop surge would further strain a military stretched thin by years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq and it would also increase financial burden on a government groaning under record budget deficits. The cost will be $10 billion for each group of 10,000 troops. “It’s very, very, very expensive,” Mr Gibbs said.

In the address, Mr Obama will tell his nation how he intends to withdraw his troops from Afghanistan.


US sought 'smoking gun' in Iraq

November 26, 2009

The military timetable for war in Iraq did not allow UN weapons inspectors the time to conclude their work, a former British ambassador to the US has told a public inquiry.

Christopher Meyer told a hearing in London on Thursday that because contingency military plans had been decided before inspectors went in, "we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun".

"When you looked at the timetable for the inspections, it was impossible to see how [Hans] Blix could bring the process to a conclusion, for better or for worse, by March," when the US invasion began.

He said the result was to turn a UN Security Council resolution, which would have called on Saddam Hussein to comply with disarmament obligations, "on its head".

"And suddenly, because of that, the unforgiving nature of the military timetable, we found ourselves scrabbling for the smoking gun, which was another way of saying 'it's not that Saddam has to prove that he's innocent, we've now bloody well got to try and prove that he's guilty'."

"And we - the Americans, the British - have never really recovered from that because of course there was no smoking gun," he said.

The five-panel inquiry also heard that Condoleeza Rice, former US secretary of state, had raised the issue of Iraq hours after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

"She said there's no doubt this was an al-Qaeda operation, we are just looking to see if there could possibly be any connection with Saddam Hussein," Meyer said.

Asked at what point war with Iraq was inevitable, Meyer said "that is a damn hard question to answer".

"What was inevitable was that the Americans were going to bust a gut to carry out the mandated policy of regime change," he said.


Kashmiris, Sikhs protest outside White House

WASHINGTON—About 200 Kashmiris protested outside the White House on Tuesday, while US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh addressed a joint news conference inside the building.

The rally at the Lafayette Park, which faces the White House, started at noon and ended at 3 pm.

The participants urged Mr Obama to resolve the Kashmir dispute, reminding him that it could trigger a nuclear conflict in one of the world’s most populous regions if left unresolved.

They also chanted slogans that called for a plebiscite in the Indian occupied Kashmir valley and demanded the implementation of UN resolutions on Kashmir.

The Kashmiri American Council, which organised the rally, distributed leaflets that reminded Mr Obama that on Sept 25, 2008, he had pledged to “continue supporting the ongoing Indian Pakistani efforts to resolve the Kashmir problem in order to address the political roots of the arms race between India and Pakistan”.

On Oct 23, 2008, Mr Obama had said he would be “working with Pakistan and India to try to resolve the Kashmir crisis in a serious way”. He noted that “Kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where there is obviously a potential for diplomatically” resolving this issue.

The council also reminded the US president that Kashmir was recognised by the United Nations as a disputed territory.

washington, nov 24: about 200 kashmiris protes- ted outside the white house on tuesday, while us president barack obama and indian prime minister manmohan singh addressed a joint news conference inside the building. the rally at the lafayette park, which faces the white house, started at noon and ended at 3 pm. the participants urged mr obama to resolve the kashmir dispute, reminding him that it could trigger a nu- clear conflict in one of the world’s most populous regions if left unresolved. they also chanted slogans that called for a plebiscite in the indian occupied kashmir valley and demanded the im- plementation of un resolu- tions on kashmir. the kashmiri american council, which organised the rally, distributed leaflets that reminded mr obama that on sept 25, 2008, he had pledged to “continue supporting the ongoing indian pakistani ef- forts to resolve the kashmir problem in order to address the political roots of the arms race between india and pakistan”. on oct 23, 2008, mr obama had said he would be “work- ing with pakistan and india to try to resolve the kashmir cri- sis in a serious way”. he noted that “kashmir in particular is an interesting situation where there is obviously a potential for diplomatically” resolving this issue. the council also reminded the us president that kashmir was recognised by the united nations as a disputed territory.



Iraqi boy thankful for Michigan soldier who cared

November 26, 2009

Kim Kozlowski

He was a young boy living in Iraq when he caught the eye of a major in the Michigan Army National Guard.

The boy's mother took off his cap and exposed his disfigured head.

"Will you save me?" the boy, then 11, said to Maj. David Howell.

Five months later, Howell got Mohammed a visa, a passport and a commitment from surgeons at Michigan State University that they would help the boy. Mohammed has since received thousands of dollars in free medical care, giving him a lot to be thankful for during his first Thanksgiving in America.

His story is one of both the gratefulness of a boy and the remarkable commitment of a Michigan National Guardsman, who went off to fight a war and ended up repaying a debt and freeing a child from wounds of his youth. It is also about a boy who has made others feel blessed to have joined his journey.

"Mohammed asked me in plain English, 'Will you save me?'" said Howell, who lives in Grand Ledge and now works as a physician assistant for Flint cardiologists. "I felt an obligation as an American to do something for this family. If I was going to try to do something (for any family), this was it."

Howell, 55, was on a mission to protect a gathering of Iraqi women and children last November in Ramadi, 70 miles west of Baghdad, when he first saw Mohammed. The women, widows of Iraqi policemen, were collecting government support.

Mohammed's mother plunged into poverty after her husband was killed three years earlier by insurgents because he was an interpreter for American military forces, Howell said. She brought Mohammed to the gathering to show the women his injuries in hopes they would give her money.

Mohammed made eye contact several times with Howell, who was serving as a physician assistant.

Two days later, Howell tracked Mohammed down. That's when Howell said he learned what happened to Mohammed's father and how poor his family had become. He also found out Mohammed never received treatment for disfiguring burns after a house fire when he was an infant. It was an enormous undertaking to get bureaucratic approval and coordinate Mohammed's medical, educational and family care, he said. "It occupied every minute of my spare time," said Howell, who previously served in the Coast Guard for 16 years.

Mohammed struggled a bit to describe his appreciation.

"I feel real happy because I have this nice family and I came here," said Mohammed, now 12. "I've had fun that I have never had before."

Afraid to go back home

Doctors gave Mohammed the last name of "Lansing" to use in medical records. He's known that way locally to protect his identity. The terrorists who killed Mohammed's father in 2005 threatened to kill his mother, five siblings and him if the family had contact with the U.S. military again.

Mohammed is scheduled to return home in April.

"I am excited about seeing my brothers and sisters, but I am not excited about going back to Iraq," said Mohammed, who calls his family weekly to share his progress. "There are terrorists there. I am afraid I am going to get killed in Iraq."

Mohammed remembers the night several men came to his home and took his father. Four days passed before they found him dead in the hospital.

"I was crying," said Mohammed, who was 7 at the time. "It was really hard."

He was a baby when a house fire inflicted burns on about 35 percent of his body, leaving him with a disfigured ear, index finger and head.

Since Mohammed arrived in April, he has received four reconstructive surgeries and at least two more are scheduled. He also has had eight cavities filled and one tooth capped by a Jackson dentist. A Lansing optometrist is getting him glasses. When he goes home, the medical care he will have received is expected to reach about $100,000.

To pay for it, medical professionals caring for Mohammed donated their services, covering about 25 percent of his bills.

"He's a hero of the war, as his dad was," said Edward Lanigan, MSU associate surgery professor. "Mohammed went on a bunch of missions with his dad, as a cover. He and his family have done a lot to try and bring freedom to their people, the kind of freedom we enjoy. I am overjoyed to help him out."

But lab work, X-rays, anesthesia and other hospital procedures are not covered. To help pay those costs, the Michigan Muslim community has worked to raise funds and find private donors. The fundraising has paid for about $40,000 of the costs that have not been donated. But Howell still needs to raise about $20,000 to pay for future surgeries and to get Mohammed home.

He lived life of poverty

The Lansing-area Muslim community enrolled Mohammed at Greater Lansing Islamic School and found him a host family.

"If you think about Mohammed's life, you wouldn't want to be in his place," said 9-year-old Mohammed Naji, whose family is hosting the Iraqi boy. "He's had a hard life."

After Mohammed moved into the East Lansing home, Naji asked him to describe his room in Iraq. Mohammed told the boy he doesn't have his own room. He lived with his mother and five siblings in a two-room dwelling, and they slept together in one room on a dirt floor.

More details of Mohammed's life in Iraq emerged: He didn't own a toothbrush or a pair of shoes. His mother, who can't remarry or work in the culture, begs for money and collects about $700 a year.

That is one of the reasons why Ziena Saeed and her husband, Ritha Naji, decided to host Mohammed in their home.

"Children are really the victims over in Iraq," said Saeed, who was born in Iraq and moved to the United States when she was a year old. "There are an estimated 3 million orphans in Iraq."

It's also been a good experience for their sons, Mohammed and Ali. The boys have learned more about Iraqi culture and to better appreciate their blessings.

"We want our boys to appreciate all that they have," Naji said. "People live here and they don't compare their lives to people who live in other nations."

Saeed gave birth to a third child on Wednesday, a sister for Mohammed and Ali. They are excited about another sibling, but wish Mohammed didn't have to go home.

"I'm going to be really sad when he leaves," said Ali Naji, 8. "It will be just like losing one of your brothers."

Until then, Mohammed is thankful Howell has tried to save him.

But Howell said he is thankful for what Mohammed did -- for expanding his network of friends to include the Muslim community, for being a boy he thinks of as a son and living for a cause he believes in.

"The whole time I have been following a motto," said Howell. "Believe in a cause greater than yourself.""> (313) 222-2024


Muslim Americans: the Next Generation

November 25, 2009

This is a guest post by Willow G. Wilson.

I wonder if there might be an inherent flaw in the trajectory of American Islam/American Muslims as it is envisioned by young muslim leaders and political activists. The airtight integration of 'foreign' religious ideology into American culture has never been done before... in every previous case (Catholics, Jews, minority Protestants, Eastern Orthodox, etc, each one of which had similar, serious issues with assimilation) religion took a back seat so that greater cultural integration could occur. Catholics became moderately Catholic, Jews became moderately Jewish, minority Protestants vanished from all but the smallest and weirdest of southern towns, ad nauseum. Today, religious minorities who strive for the kind of orthodoxy most of us practice are considered fringe elements. (Hassids spring to mind.) Everybody else has pretty much abandoned the application of ritual law on a daily basis and become high holiday-only. That was the solution.

Ironically I think Muslims are at a disadvantage because Islamic law is comparatively easy to practice and apply in isolation. The result is a community with a sustainable level of conservatism (ie, it's not like orthodox Jewish or Catholic doctrine, which are almost impossible to keep up en toto outside a Jewish or a Catholic community with established kashrut/regular access to communion etc). Other communities were forced to give up a great deal of religious life simply because the bells-n-smells necessary to sustain it weren't there. Muslims in America haven't been forced to make compromises. So any compromises they do make come with an almost hilarious level of groaning and moaning, like they are doing everyone a ginormous favor by budging an inch.

Thus, American Muslims/Muslims in America have never gotten to the point where chucking shari'a becomes a matter of social and emotional survival. That is going to make conventional integration very difficult. I think it's important to remember that for a lot of Muslims America was a destination of last resort, not a dream. The desi community is singularly blessed in that the majority came here for professional development... not as economic or political refugees. The Arab community by and large is not like that, the African community certainly isn't like that, nor the Cham community... for a lot of these people, being in America is like having to beg for money from the kid who stole your bike. They are not going to give up anything more than they have to.

I think before the kinds of conversations the new, native generation of muslim Americans want to have about the greater good and public interest can take place, Muslims in the US need a reason to cohere besides despair. They need some kind of incentive that is not propaganda ("Be a part of the greatest nation on earth!" Or as South Park calls it, "America: F$%kYeah!") It is vitally important that more educated, integrated segments of the Muslim population (us) figure out what that might be, otherwise we look like a bunch of posers.

Also important to keep in mind is that there is that the more integrated, educated segments of the Muslim population are guilty of a certain amount of ethical hypocrisy as well--most notably, we consume that which we are unwilling to produce. I'm talking here about mass culture (political culture, pop culture, etc). I run into this dilemma ALL the time as an artist. We'll go to the movies full of extramarital relationships, we'll watch the TV shows full of cursing and drinking, we'll read the books underpinned by an emphatically Christian worldview (lord of the rings, anyone?), but are we willing to produce these things ourselves? This is what the public consumes, love it or hate it. We can pretend to be above it ("Hey Mohammad, did you see the new James Bond movie? The new Bond girl is so hot, istaghfirullah") because we don't *produce* it, but we still consume it. With relish. More isolationist AmeroMuslim communities neither consume mass culture nor produce it, so at least there's a kind of moral symmetry. The moral asymmetry of our culture consumption is very obvious to them, and it makes them suspicious. I've had LOTS of conversations about this in my local community because I do produce mass culture in addition to consuming it. There are scantily clad cursing fornicators in some of my comics...not because I necessarily endorse the behavior, but because it's how real people really act in the really real world. As a writer I have to acknowledge that with some level of humor and honesty. Is it right? I have no idea. Possibly not. The point is, mass culture is difficult to avoid and integral to integration, so if you consume it even when it runs in opposition to Islamic principle, it's a good idea to have a working explanation ready for people who think the whole thing is a bad idea. Simply asking why people don't get it and why they don't like art isn't enough.


Nizami ranks among top Muslim influentials

November 26, 2009

Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami Amir Motiur Rahman Nizami got the 43rd position in the list of 500 most influential Muslim personalities of the world.

The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding of Georgetown University published a 200-page book mentioning Nizami's position.

Internationally reputed Professor John Eposito has edited the book.

The book recognised Nizami's contribution in social and political reforms in Bangladesh as well as spreading Islamic education and preaching of Islam.

He was also praised for his contribution within Jamaat and to democratic practice in Bangladesh.

The book selected 500 personalities among politicians, scholars, preachers of Islam, social work, development and culture.

Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud topped the list followed by Iran's Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Hajj Sayyid Ali Khamenei.

King of Morocco Mohammed VI, King of Jordan Abdullah II bin Al Hussein and Prime Minister of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan got the 3rd, 4th and 5th place in the list.


Can Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Directorate System be Saved?

November 25, 2009

Paul Goble

Russia’s Muslim Spiritual Directorates (MSDs) have frequently been criticized by many Muslims for the lack of any justification for their existence in Islamic doctrine and by others for their corruption, authoritarianism and close ties to the Soviet and now Russian security services.

But now, in a development that may presage a new and broader attack on this system, which traces its roots to 18th century Russia, a member of “the official Muslim clergy” has sharply criticized the MSDs in an interview published today on Russia’s leading Islamic news site (

Summarizing his critique of the MSDs that he offered at the November 14th Saratov conference on “Islamic Education in Russia: History and Prospects, Abdurauf Zabirov, deputy chairman of the Unified MSD of Penza Oblast, said that the directorates must be seriously reformed if they are to continue to exist.

According to Zabirov, “in the eyes of Muslims, many heads of [these] religious organizations are not leaders and spiritual guides but bureaucrats who appear with protocol-style speeches and repots at various official events,” when they should be helping Muslims to deepen their own faith and help bring it to others.

To overcome this situation, he called for “radically changing the work of the MSDs and bringing not only their internal but external arrangements into correspondence with the demands of Islam,” something he strongly implied is a task that Muslims should assume on their own rather than working with anyone else.

First of all, Zabirov said, Muslims must define the status of mufti. “Who is he? Is he a khalif, an emir, an imam, or a person who publishes fetwas?” At present, there are so many people in the Russian Federation calling themselves mufti that neither Muslims nor non-Muslims know what a mufti should be.

Second, he argued, Muslims must ensure a unified system of democratically electing their leaders. At present, every MSD has its own set of rules. Those must be standardized, although Zabirov said he was against creating a single super-MSD to oversee that or anything else, all the more so since Islam does not require one.

Third, Zabirov said, Muslim leaders must devote more time to content rather than to form and be more focused on developing ties with the faithful than on keeping good relations with secular officials. To that end, he said Muslim leaders must be willing to speak out in defense of Islam rather than meekly saying that everything is fine.

This point, he stressed, is especially important. In Penza, Muslims have had problems with officials, but they have overcome most of them because the Muslim leaders know the law and the Constitution and are not afraid to point out when officials have violated either. Because officials now know that the Muslims will do that, they are behaving better.

Fourth, Muslim leaders must root out corruption and ensure that mosques and MSDs do not remain “feeding troughs” for a few families. And fifth, Russia’s Muslim leaders must develop closer ties with Muslims abroad, given that Islam is a world religion and not a national one, even as they defend shariat traditions.

Zabirov’s arguments are important not only in their own terms but also because he represents the next generation of Muslim leaders in the Russian Federation. A Tatar, born in Baku in 1971, he is a graduate of an Ufa medressah and the Kazan Higher Muslim Medrassah and has been working in progressively more senior positions in the Muslim community in Penza.

(Thus, at 38, he is 25 years or more younger than most of the very top leaders of the MSD system, men who often were appointed to their posts by Soviet officials and who have made a name for themselves less as defenders of Islamic principles than by in some cases at least their drinking and corruption.)

Zabirov assumed his current position there in 1998, but since then, in September 2004, he also assumed the post of deputy chairman of the MSD for European Russia where he oversees ties with religious organizations including the MSDs subordinate to that one. Consequently, his words almost certainly reflect the approach he and others on the inside are now promoting.


Violent Muslim mobs attack Coptic Christians in Egypt

Nov 25, 2009

For several days massive mobs of Muslims have been attacking Coptic Christians in the Egyptian town of Farshoot 300 miles south of Cairo. The mobs’ looting, vandalism and arson have caused at least $1 million in damage as Copts hide indoors for fear of their lives.

Many Copts have been attacked and injured, the Coptic American Friendship Association (CAFA) says. Coptic priest Rev. Benjamin Noshi suffered a fractured skull in the attacks and is now hospitalized.

Nearly 3,000 Muslims have been damaging and looting at least 50 Christian-owned shops, including jewelry stores and pharmacies. Most Coptic businesses in Farshoot have been looted or burned and many families have been thrown out of their homes by other Muslim residents.

The attacks were sparked by a claim that a 20-year-old Christian man, who is in custody, had a relationship with a 12-year-old Muslim girl.

Coptic Bishop Kirollos of Farshoot said that the attacks were planned ahead of time. He suggested that the principal of an Islamic institute in the town motivated his students to attack Christians. The bishop also criticized the security forces, who reportedly disappeared without making any arrests despite victims’ demands that they end the attacks.

“It has become clear that the organized violence is spreading out to more villages only to target the Christian lives and businesses while the police continue to watch,” CAFA reports. “The last 90 days witnessed at least seven similar attacks on Christian villages, where at least five Copts were killed, many Coptic girls and women were abducted and forced to embrace Islam with the assistance of the Egyptian authorities.”

CAFA appealed to American and international human rights organizations to demand that the Egyptian government take immediate action to protect Christian lives and properties.

According to CAFA, there are about 18 million Copts in the Middle East.


Muslims back Geoana after Basescu Muslim christening claim

November 25

Romanian Muslims are planning to back Social Democrat Mircea Geoana in the presidential election runoff after rival candidate Traian Basescu claimed the best thing he had ever done was to christen a Muslim child.

The Democratic Union of Tatars in Romania (UDT) said today (Weds) it was outraged by the remark and said Muslims should vote for Geoana.

UDT said christening a child who is unable to make a choice is not a laudable act, and condemned the implication that the child was 'rescued' from life as a Muslim.

Incumbent President Basescu had made the comment last week during an election debate, explaining he had converted the child from Islam to Eastern Orthodox Christianity.


U.S. Seeks 10,000 Troops From Its Allies in Afghanistan

By Eric Schmitt And Steven Erlanger

November 25, 2009

WASHINGTON — The United States is scrambling to coax NATO allies to send 10,000 additional troops to Afghanistan as part of President Obama’s strategy for the region. Those countries appear willing to provide fewer than half that number, American and allied officials said Wednesday.

NATO members and other foreign allies have expressed reluctance to send more soldiers because of the Afghan war’s growing unpopularity in their countries and increasing concerns over corruption in President Hamid Karzai’s government.

The Obama administration views a substantial contribution from its allies as a way to keep the American troop increase lower and blunt domestic political criticism of the Afghan war. It would also allow the administration to come close to the military’s request for 40,000 additional troops without relying totally on the already stretched American armed forces.

After weeks of deliberation, Mr. Obama is to announce his Afghan war policy on Tuesday. Administration officials say that a strong speech explaining Mr. Obama’s strategy for achieving success would provide them with fresh ammunition to galvanize support in foreign capitals.

The administration confronts several hurdles to garnering more allied contributions. In Britain, which has pledged an additional 500 troops, Defense Minister Bob Ainsworth said Tuesday that Mr. Obama had taken too long to decide on a new strategy, harming the British government’s ability to rally public support for the war.

The British government is facing opinion polls showing that around 70 percent of the public favors an early withdrawal. That figure has nearly doubled in the past six months, as the country has sustained its worst casualties — 97 killed so far this year — since it first deployed troops to Afghanistan after the Taliban were toppled in 2001.

Germany and France have balked at committing any more forces to a war that has so little public support that they can barely maintain current troop levels.

The Netherlands and Canada have begun discussing plans to pull out. Canadian defense officials told reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates in Halifax last week that they had no intention of sending troops in the future, and that they remained committed to withdrawing by the end of 2011.

Even if the allies make commitments for 5,000 or more new troops after the president’s address on Tuesday at West Point, NATO officials say, those commitments will include troops already in Afghanistan to provide security for recent elections and trainers for the Afghan Army and the police.

And it remains unclear whether several thousand NATO and other foreign troops are really the equal of a similarly sized American force in terms of military capacity. Some countries may continue to restrict how their forces may be employed. In addition, a force that is cobbled together from too many nations — a few hundred here and a thousand there — might not have the unit cohesion of an American force, military analysts said.

Washington has not yet made formal troop requests to allies, but there have been diplomatic and other conversations seeking commitments in principle, carried out by senior American officials; the NATO secretary general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen; and Prime Minister Gordon Brown of Britain.

Mr. Obama’s aides have signaled that he intends to commit close to 30,000 additional American troops, on top of the 68,000 already there.

The president is likely to ask NATO allies to fill the gap between whatever new American troop contribution he announces and the approximately 40,000 that the NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, favors to carry out his proposed counterinsurgency strategy, according to administration officials. The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity because the policy had not been formally announced.

After Mr. Obama gives his speech and Mr. Rasmussen delivers a statement of support, NATO foreign ministers are to meet in Brussels next Thursday and Friday to discuss Afghanistan. But troop commitments are not likely to be discussed in detail before a so-called force-generation conference on Dec. 7, also in Brussels, American and allied officials said.

Informal commitments of several thousand additional allied troops have already been made, but they include some of the 10,000 more European troops that were sent to Afghanistan by governments last year, as well as troops sent for the recent presidential election, NATO officials said.

While some countries are planning to pull these troops out, “there will be pressure on allies to keep those forces in Afghanistan,” a senior NATO official said.

Mr. Rasmussen spent Wednesday in Rome, for instance, talking to the Italian government about that very topic, and it appeared ready to send more troops, officials said. Mr. Rasmussen has also been to Warsaw, which officials said would contribute more troops.

Mr. Brown said Wednesday that he was “now optimistic,” after canvassing allies, that a number of countries “will indeed make available increased numbers of troops, and more police trainers and civilian support.” He said he hoped the figure would be 5,000 troops.

Other NATO officials said that figure was roughly accurate, even low. With new contributions expected from Poland, Italy and Britain, the major exceptions for the moment are Germany and France, the officials said.

Georgia, which is trying to secure its ties to NATO and its future membership in the group, has agreed to send another company, officials said, and may end 2010 as the largest non-NATO contributor.

France, however, is standing firm on its refusal to consider sending more troops beyond the 3,750 now in Afghanistan. It increased its troops by a battalion of 800 last year, added 200 more this year, and plans to send 150 more gendarmes to help train the Afghan police, said Christophe Prazuck, a spokesman for the French military.

From Nov. 1, France has also redeployed its troops out of Kabul into a new task force with 2,500 troops based east of the capital. But President Nicolas Sarkozy told the newspaper Le Figaro in mid-October, “France will not send a single soldier more.”

The new German government has not committed to more troops, but Defense Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told military leaders in Berlin on Tuesday that “Germany will rethink and adjust, maybe even strengthen its military commitment to make Afghanistan a success.”

The German mandate to keep its troops in Afghanistan is up for approval by Parliament in December. Right now the country has roughly 4,300 soldiers there. Mr. Guttenberg has steadfastly maintained that the government will not review the level of forces until after an international Afghanistan conference at the end of January, though he recently authorized an additional 120 soldiers to help deal with the worsening situation in northern Afghanistan.

Eric Schmitt reported from Washington and Steven Erlanger from Paris. Reporting was contributed by John F. Burns from London, Nicholas Kulish from Hamburg, Germany, and Elisabeth Bumiller and Michael R. Gordon from Washington.


Omar shrugs aside Karzai call for talks

Thursday, 26 Nov, 2009

KABUL, Nov 25: Mullah Mohammad Omar, leader of Afghanistan’s Taliban militia, rejected on Wednesday a call from President Hamid Karzai for peace talks.

Mr Karzai was inaugurated last week after winning a fraud-tainted August poll and used a speech to again call for the Taliban to rejoin the political process in Afghanistan, where about 100,000 US and Nato troops are stationed.

“The people of Afghanistan will not agree to negotiation which prolongs and legitimises the invader’s military presence in our beloved country. Afghanistan is our home,” a Taliban statement quoted Mullah Omar as saying.

The elusive leader of the militia, which were unseated in the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, accused foreign powers of seeking negotiations to “prolong their evil process of colonisation and occupation.”

“The cunning enemy wants to attack people’s crowded places such as mosques and other similar places in order to malign the Mujahideen,” Mullah Omar said.

US President Barack Obama is expected to announce early next week his decision on requests from senior commanders in Afghanistan to boost American troop strength by up to 40,000 in a bid to counter the Taliban resistance.

Mullah Omar called on his fighters to “guard against these activities of the enemy and fully avoid carrying out any similar activity. The well-being and prosperity of the people should be your priority”.

Mullah Omar called on “every believing man to avoid causing casualties among the common people”.

“There is no justification under Sharia law for the murder and injury of common people, nor is there any room for such deed in our sacred religion,” the statement said.—AFP


Taliban leader rejects peace offer from Afghanistan president

By Ben Farmer

25 Nov 2009

Mullah Omar, leader of the Afghan Taliban, has rejected peace overtures from Hamid Karzai, the country's president, and again demanded that foreign troops leave the country.

Mullah Omar: Taliban leader rejects peace offer from Afghanistan president

The fugitive leader of the former Taliban regime said Afghans should reject Mr Karzai's "stooge" government, a criticism implying that Mr Karzai is a puppet of the West.

The call came a week after Mr Karzai used his inauguration speech to propose peace talks for fighters willing to renounce terrorism and recognise the constitution.

Mullah Omar said: "The people of Afghanistan will not agree to negotiation which prolongs and legitimises the invader's military presence in our beloved country." The statement was issued ahead of Eid ul Adha, the Islamic festival of sacrifice. It added: "I hope you will continue your legitimate jihad [holy war] and struggle in the way of realizing your Islamic aspirations ... and break off all relations with the stooge Kabul administration."

Coalition commanders have acknowledged that military might alone will not defeat the stubborn Taliban insurgency and that Kabul must reach a political settlement.

However Mullah Omar has repeatedly rebuffed Mr Karzai's overtures. He said foreign backers were seeking negotiation to prolong an "evil process of colonisation and occupation".

His message came as a report suggested Mullah Omar and the Taliban's ten-man ruling council was consolidating its influence over Afghanistan's other insurgent groups.

The Quetta Shura, or council, is using a shadow state of governors to exert growing control over other insurgents according to Jane's Terrorism and Security Monitor.


Germany's top soldier quits over Afghanistan raid

26 November 2009

Germany's top soldier has resigned over allegations of a cover-up related to a deadly Nato air strike in Afghanistan.

Wolfgang Schneiderhan's move followed reports that key information about the 4 September action was withheld, the defence minister said.

The strike, which was ordered by a German commander, targeted two fuel tankers hijacked by Taliban militants.

But dozens of civilians were also killed in the attack, which happened in the northern province of Kunduz.

Defence Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg told parliament that Gen Schneiderhan had failed to provide proper information about the incident and had "released himself from his duties at his own request".

Another senior Defence Ministry official, Peter Wichert, has also resigned.

The announcement came as Germany's parliament debated whether to extend its military mission in Afghanistan, amid growing domestic opposition to involvement in the conflict.

Taliban fighters had seized the tankers while they were being driven from Tajikistan to supply Nato forces in Kabul.

Reports said that villagers were taking fuel from the tankers when the strike happened.

It is not clear exactly how many civilians died. The independent Afghanistan Rights Monitor group put the number of civilians deaths at 70. The Afghan government later said that at least 100 people died, of whom 30 were civilians.

The resignations were announced hours after a German newspaper, Bild, published a report alleging key information over the incident had been withheld.

Citing a confidential army video and a military report, it said they showed that the German commander who ordered the strike, Col Georg Klein, had not been able to rule out the presence of civilians at the scene before he took action.

The newspaper said the report proved the defence ministry had been told there were clear indications of civilian casualties by the evening of 4 September.

But it said former defence minister Franz Josef Jung continued to state for several days that there was no evidence civilians had been killed.

It is not yet clear whether Mr Jung, who is now labour minister following September's elections, was aware of the report and the video.

Germany has more than 4,000 troops in Afghanistan, the third largest contingent after the US and Britain.


Pakistan will give evidence of India's role in Balochistan unrest: PM Gilani

PTI 26 November 200

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said Pakistan will produce evidence of India's alleged involvement in fomenting unrest in the tribal areas and Balochistan when there is a need to do so.

"We are not silent on the issue. When we talk about such evidence, the timing and forum to make them public have to be determined. When there is a need, we will produce the evidence at that time," Gilani told a news conference at his official residence.

He was responding to a question on when Pakistan would make public the evidence it has of India's alleged interference in Balochistan and the tribal belt bordering Afghanistan.

Gilani did not give details of the evidence that Pakistan has purportedly gathered. Over the past few weeks, Pakistani civil and military officials have claimed that evidence of India's alleged role in fomenting unrest has been found by security forces and intelligence agencies.

Indian leaders, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, have dismissed the charges and said Pakistan has nothing to fear from India.

In response to another question, Gilani said he had taken up the issue of an alleged Indian role in Balochistan during his meeting with Singh in Egypt in July.

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