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Islamic World News ( 4 Nov 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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PAKISTAN: Jirga courts and the murders they commit

Taliban want to establish Islamic State in Afghanistan: report

Indonesia: Madrasas defend religious freedoms and promote Islam as a religion of peace

New York: The Politics of Fear - Muslims and the U.S. Presidential Election

Haredi Judaism expects similar modesty from women as Islam

GAZA: Islamic Jihad leaders heads for talks in Damascus

Brown shakes hands with Al Qaeda men at a centre that 'positively brainwashes' fanatics

Saudi women in the media --from the first pioneers to the present generation of broadcasters and print journalists.

Jerusalem: Who's a Jew? The debate goes to Israel top court

Compiled by Syed Asadullah

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PAKISTAN: Government must crack down hard on its Jirga courts and the extra-judicial murders they commit

Nov 03, 2008

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

PAKISTAN: Government must crack down hard on its Jirga courts and the extra-judicial murders they commit

In March 2008 a 17-year old girl in Sindh province was pressured by her uncle to convince her parents to hand over acres of farm land. On her refusal, the uncle and his accomplices brought in her father and made him watch as the girl was mauled by a pack of dogs and then shot. In May a Jirga was arranged in which the dead girl was posthumously declared ‘Kari’ (involved in an illicit relationship). The murderers were vindicated and a local man was forced to confess to being the illicit lover of the girl, and to pay Rs 400,000 as compensation.

The majority of the more barbaric human rights violations making their way out of Pakistan can be traced to the Jirga, court-like gatherings of tribal men which have been declared illegal by the superior courts in Pakistan. Despite this, over 4,000 people have reportedly died in Jirga-ordered murders over the last six years, two thirds of them women. Many of those involved in implementing Jirgas hold, or will likely go on to hold, places in Pakistan’s parliament.

In order to appreciate the destructive, random nature of the Jirga, its methods must be looked at. In a tribal court, witnesses and hearsay are the main forms of evidence and a verdict often rests on the reputation or power of a witness. Women are considered sexually corrupt, and their testimonies are never given any weight. In fact, in Jirga proceedings women are not allowed to participate. During a session spectators tend to gather, pick a side and heckle, putting pressure on the decision makers. Some spectators head to Jirgas for entertainment and needless to say, the most popular verdict may not always be a just one; it is difficult to reconcile justice with the will of an over-excited mob. In many instances, superstition also comes into play. In certain cases defendants have been told to walk on hot coals; if they feel and show no pain then they are deemed to be innocent. These are not conditions of a humane or rational system, and yet it is one that regularly deals out the death sentence.

The power of the Jirga has increased over the years because of failings in Pakistan’s existing legal system. Judgments can take years, even generations, and Pakistanis with small civil complaints often prefer to take the swifter route through local Jirgas because they have little faith in the system. It is from here that the Jirga’s advent into life and death judgments has grown. The likelihood of justice has become so bad that a Jirga-issued death sentence has become a way to resolve personal and political vendettas and property disputes (particularly by male family members who resent losing property to another family through the marriage of a woman relative).

One of the main problems in combating Jirgas is its defence under the umbrella of custom. When one case of eight women who were buried alive came to light, two Pakistani senators (Israrullah Zehri and Jan Mohammad Jamali) defended the act as an example of Baloch tradition. This word ‘tradition’ conjures up wholesome, age-old, culturally rich practices that are under threat from secular or western values. One obvious question is whether the terms ‘tradition’ or ‘culture’ should apply to arbitrary, extra-judicial killings. Another would be to note that upon Islam’s birth in 7AD the faith was a force against the live burial of female babies - common at that time. The Quran does not support such murders. However, these murders are committed in its name. The justification of such murders in the name of the Quran needs to be questioned and exposed. Actual development of such practices of murder have more to do with property disputes and the very distortion of the tribal practices themselves in order to support injustices and discrimination against women. What takes place as Jirgas today are mob trials, manipulated by the rich, powerful and male elements? At one time Jirgas may have had some very legitimate aspects of tribal dispute settlement. However, what is found today is an aberration of such systems to justify cruelties that would not have been acceptable to tribal people in the earlier stages of history.

To combat extra-judicial crime in Pakistan – especially those committed under the auspices of religion – will be no mean feat, but it will begin with the development of a strong, unified judiciary. Political will is required for curbing this menace; a clear signal should be sent that the constitutional law of Pakistan needs to be respected. There must be a serious and competent crackdown on Jirgas. Those conducting them must be punished and brought before the law, without exception. Those who have killed through Jirgas must be tried for murder because a country should have only one law for murder, without distinctions or impunity.

There are several men now serving in parliament who have at one time been a part of Jirga courts and they may object to the questioning about the Jirga system and its abuse of power. Those who have a public record of having taken part in Jirgas which have authorised cruel acts should be banned from holding public officer. Those who are already in office must be held accountable.

The legal rights of the relatives of murder victims must be recognized and acted on. This includes the right to an investigation and trial. Under Article 2 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), which Pakistan has signed, the state is obliged to protect rights and provide remedy for victims of rights violations. Those who carry out extra-judicial violence must be forced to see that it will no longer be tolerated. Circumstances must be created which will convince the victims that there are viable means to assert their rights within a framework of justice.

To make sure that these steps are taken an independent monitoring body needs to be established, funded and given free reign.

It is a government’s responsibility to educate, and a strong educational network must be created that can work against what has become an entrenched bad practice, particularly in northern tribal areas which remain isolated ideologically from the rest of the country.

About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.



Taliban want to establish Islamic State in Afghanistan: report                 

New York, Nov 3 (PTI) Refusing any peace talk with America, a top-ranking Taliban commander has said that his group has waged war against the US-led forces to create an Islamic State in Afghanistan and to bring Sharia law back to the country, a media report said today.

"There is nothing to talk about. This is not a political campaign for policy change or power sharing or cabinet ministries. We are waging jihad to bring Islamic law back to Afghanistan," Mullah Sabir told Newsweek.

The news magazine said it conducted interview at textile shop on Afghanistan-Pakistan border and identified Sabir as one of the highest ranking commanders but said that he did not want his full name to be used.

The refusal to negotiate comes straight from the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, Sabir was quoted as saying. "The tone of his rejection has been so strong from the first that no one would dare to raise the subject with him." But Newsweek says Sabir hasn't seen Mullah Omar in years, and he doesn't know of anyone who has. Internet posts released in Mullah Omar's name on Muslim holy days are the only hint that the one-eyed leader is still alive. All the same, Sabir says he and thousands of other Taliban won't stop fighting until they're back in power.

Distrust is spreading in the ranks, Newsweek says, adding that off the battlefield, Taliban fighters wonder aloud what has become of Mullah Omar. Some think he may have been put under house arrestor worseby his second in command and brother-in-law Mullah Baradar.

"He may have removed himself, or someone may have removed him," says a former Mullah Omar aide. "For the past two years, no one that I know has any hard evidence of where he is or what he's doing." PTI Source:


Indonesia: Promoting Pluralism- Madrasas defend religious freedoms and promote Islam as a religion of peace

Joanne McMillan

It is a sweaty April afternoon, and the community hall in Cangkol, a fishing community on the outskirts of Cirebon on Java’s north coast, is packed to the gills. People have come to see former first lady, Ibu Sinta Nuriyah Wahid. Ibu Sinta, the wife of former president Abdurrahman Wahid, is touring halls like this around the country ahead of next year’s election, listening to ordinary people talk about the problems they face in their everyday lives.

Today, however, there are some technical difficulties in hearing those voices. The sound system is playing up, and while technicians fiddle, the MC, a popular and charismatic young kyai, KH Maman Imanulhaq Fakieh, keeps the crowd entertained. The captive audience presents a perfect opportunity for him to push his favourite issue of the moment: freedom of religion, a hot topic in Indonesia thanks to recent attacks on Ahmadiyah mosques and calls to outlaw the sect.

‘Is Islam a religion of violence?’ he cries, raising his fist in the air. ‘No!’ The crowd, largely comprised of jilbab-wearing housewives, responds with enthusiasm. ‘Does Islam permit violence by anyone?’ ‘No!’ ‘Towards anyone?’ ‘No!’ ‘On any grounds?’ ‘No!’ ‘Do we want the government to uphold the rights guaranteed in the constitution?’ ‘Yes!

Kyai Maman, 35, is the spiritual leader of Al-Mizan Pesantren in Jatiwangi, West Java. Outside Indonesia, thanks to coverage of terrorism cases, Indonesian pesantren, or Islamic boarding schools, have earned a reputation as extremist havens where young students are indoctrinated in fundamentalist teachings and groomed to become terrorists. While it is true that many pesantren teach conservative, literalist interpretations of Islam, only a tiny number have links with terrorist organisations and in fact the pesantren world is the source of some of the most progressive Muslim voices in Indonesia and indeed the Muslim world.

The best known progressive kyai is former president Abdurrahman Wahid, but surrounding Wahid are a number of increasingly vocal and influential progressive pesantren leaders. Kyai Maman is a protégé of a group of kyai and pesantren alumni in West Java that includes KH Syarief Usman Yahya, head of Kempek Pesantren and KH Husein Muhammad of Dar al-Tauhid Arjawinangun Pesantren. The late KH Fuad Hasyim of Buntet Pesantren and KH Yahya Masduki of Babakan Ciwaringin Pesantren were role models for this group. They preach values of pluralism and encourage their students, or santri, to reread religious texts contextually. The vision of Islam that they promulgate is grounded in the Qur’an, Sunna and classical Islamic texts and advocates justice for all human beings.

Rallying point

Earlier this year, the Ahmadiyah issue became a rallying point for progressive Muslim leaders. While fundamentalist groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), along with many moderates, called for Ahmadiyah to be outlawed, progressive kyai, including Kyai Maman, were organising community events with Ahmadiyah in order to emphasise a message of tolerance and pluralism. When police and local government failed to protect Ahmadiyah from increasing incidents of vandalism and violence, progressive kyai offered NU paramilitaries, known as Banser, to protect Ahmadiyah mosques and homes.

For those like Kyai Maman who defended Ahmadiyah, the issue was never really about Ahmadiyah, but about upholding the rights of citizens, guaranteed in the constitution, to practice their respective religion and beliefs. The issue also had the potential to set a precedent for the religious beliefs of the majority to become the basis of laws that discriminate against other groups. This potential looked set to be realised when in April, a government-appointed body of prosecutors, religious scholars and government officials recommended that the government outlaw the sect, declaring that its members ‘had deviated from Islamic principles’.

    While fundamentalist groups and many moderates called for Ahmadiyah to be outlawed, progressive kyai, including Kyai Maman, were organising community events with Ahmadiyah in order to emphasise a message of tolerance and pluralism

Whether Ahmadiyah members have deviated from Islam is not the point, argues Kyai Maman: ‘I have never defended Ahmadiyah’s teachings,’ he says. ‘What we are defending is their rights as citizens, as set out in the constitution. I would defend FPI if they were being oppressed and terrorised. This issue is not about Ahmadiyah but about people whose rights as human beings, as citizens, have been denied.’

For their defence of Ahmadiyah’s rights, progressives have themselves become targets of violence by extremist groups. The most high profile incident occurred at the National Monument (Monas) in Jakarta on 1 June this year, the anniversary of Sukarno’s famous 1945 speech where he formulated Indonesia’s state ideology, known as pancasila. With the government’s decision regarding the fate of Ahmadiyah due to be handed down any day, dozens of demonstrators, among them Kyai Maman held a peaceful rally in support of religious freedom. ‘We came to Monas for two reasons,’ Kyai Maman explains. ‘One was to celebrate pancasila, our national philosophy, which is all about living in a plural society. The second was to urge the government to uphold the constitution.’

‘We were just about to get started,’ Kyai Maman recalls, ‘when suddenly a group of people wearing white robes and carrying FPI banners arrived, shouting “Allahu akbar!” (God is great).’.The FPI supporters attacked the demonstrators with sharpened bamboo stakes and stones. Nineteen people were injured, some seriously. Kyai Maman was among the most badly hurt. He recalls being beaten on the head with bamboo stakes until he fell to the ground where he was repeatedly kicked and stamped on by at least ten people. He was hospitalised with concussion and head wounds.

The incident shocked many in the Indonesian public. The attack on Kyai Maman in particular was significant in swaying public opinion because FPI had, deliberately or unwittingly, dared to attack a kyai, the moral equivalent in Muslim Indonesia to attacking a priest or a nun. In the days after the incident, calls to disband Ahmadiyah were replaced in the headlines by calls to disband FPI. Fifty-seven members of FPI, including leader Rizieq Shihab, were arrested following the incident, and the group is now seriously weakened.

The government’s eventual decision on the Ahmadiyah case was neither an outright victory for anti-Ahmadiyah campaigners nor a win for pluralism. The joint ministerial resolution, released on 9 June, did not ‘ban’ Ahmadiyah per se but demanded that they stop practising their beliefs and strongly encouraged them to ‘return to mainstream Islam’. Kyai Maman sees the decision as an excessive and ambiguous form of intervention by the government, designed to get them out of a difficult political situation. ‘The government’s job is to guarantee freedom of religion,’ he argues, ‘not to meddle in matters of belief.’

From puritan to progressive

Kyai Maman has not always defended the values of pluralism. There was a time when he supported, rather than opposed, violence in the name of religion. Kyai Maman grew up in a puritanical pesantren where he mixed in narrow circles and studied only traditional religious texts. His understanding of the world, he explains, was black and white, and anyone different from himself was a sinner. Just seeing a church or a Christian cross, he confesses, would make his blood boil. He was involved in militant groups that participated in ‘cleansing’ gambling and prostitution dens in the Majalengka area. In 1998, he stood by while members of his congregation destroyed churches, shops and houses belonging to Chinese Indonesians in Jatiwangi. ‘At that time,’ he says, ‘I thought that there was only one truth: only we were right and everyone else was wrong.’

   But the violent events of 1998 proved a turning point in his life. Witnessing the effects of violence perpetrated by Muslims convinced him that there had been something wrong with his readings of religious texts

But the violent events of 1998 proved a turning point in his life. Witnessing the effects of violence perpetrated by Muslims convinced him that there had been something wrong with his readings of religious texts. The texts, he explains, always refer to Islam as a blessing for the whole universe, not just for Muslims. The goal of Islam, he reasoned, could not be to make people afraid of it.

On this basis, he says, he decided to start listening to the voices of ‘the other’. He began inviting leaders of other religions to his pesantren – priests, pastors and Buddhist monks – for inter-religious dialogue. He also invited them to come along to religious and cultural ceremonies at his pesantren, and even to teach classes to his pupils. It was a move that initially met with disapproval in his community and in his own family. ‘My father didn’t like me associating with non-Muslims,’ says Kyai Maman. ‘They were dirty unbelievers (kafir). But eventually my family began to see that, “Oh, it turns out priests are cool, and Buddhist monks are cool.”’

He also began to read from a variety of sources including philosophy, socialist thought and Christian liberation theology, and mixed with artists, writers and musicians. He dabbled in writing his own poetry. In his view, art has values that are congruous with religious values, such as freedom from contamination by worldly power or earthly desires. ‘From art,’ he says, ‘people can understand how to live a more harmonious life, not just see in black and white.’

Politics and public image

Despite having what he claims is a fundamental disinterest in politics; Kyai Maman has recently become an active member of the National Awakening Party (PKB). ‘I was invited [to join the party] by Gus Dur [Abdurrahman Wahid], so I decided to see whether politics could be made into a tool to fight for pluralism.’ Certain goals, he realises, can only be achieved through parties and through policy: ‘We must take steps that push our friends in the legislative assembly to ensure that pluralist values continue to be upheld and defended.’ The Ahmadiyah case, he says, has reinforced this conviction in him.

However, he continues to see his main work as being at the grassroots level. This is not just a matter of seeding pluralist values, he maintains, but about improving people’s welfare. ‘Who can be influenced or provoked by radical groups?’ he argues. ‘Usually they are people who have trouble making ends meet, so our job is not to oppose those groups with violence but to try to create community prosperity and end poverty.’

The Ahmadiyah case and his own brush with celebrity following the Monas incident have also taught him the power of the media in shaping public opinion. ‘The failure of progressive Muslims, in my opinion,’ he says, ‘is that we don’t dominate the media. Maybe this is a problem with the media itself: you know “bad news is good news”. So it means that if a priest eats in my pesantren, or I break my fast in a church or a monastery, that will never get in the newspaper. But if a priest beats me up, or if I poison a priest’s altar wine, that’s the kind of thing that makes the newspaper.     ii

Joanne McMillan ( works as a translator and editor for Fahmina Institute in West Java and is currently completing a Masters of Applied Anthropology and Participatory Development at the Australian National University.

Credits for photos: courtesy Al-Mizan Pesantren

Inside Indonesia 94: Oct-Dec 2008



The Politics of Fear - Muslims and the U.S. Presidential Election  

Nov. 3, 2008: 

When Jany `Maryam` Leveille walks the streets of Brooklyn, her traditional Muslim headwear attracts attention. But sometimes it’s the type of attention she doesn’t want.

A woman on a bus once told Leveille, secretary of Brooklyn’s Masjid At-Taqwa, that she needs to leave her faith. Another time, a man passing her on a bicycle cursed at her and told her Muslims are creating problems in America.

Such incidents show a residual bias against Muslims in the U.S. - a bias that, some observers say, has been used against Democrat Barack Obama in his bid for president against Republican John McCain.

Rumors on the Internet have accused Obama of being a Muslim plant and have said he would use the Koran and not the Bible to take the oath of office if elected president.

Obama, a Christian, has repeatedly denied such rumors. Still, at a recent McCain rally, a woman told the Republican candidate that she does not trust Obama because he is an `Arab. ` McCain responded by telling her that his opponent is a decent person whom she should not be afraid to have as president.

Muslims don’t believe that McCain supporters, with or without their candidate’s approval, are trying to stir up bias specifically directed at them. `They’re using anything negative,` said Ray Rafeek, a Muslim of Guyanese decent living on Long Island. `Now they’re saying he’s a Socialist.  They use any vehicle to serve their ends.`

They attribute American bias against Muslims to lingering anger over the 2001 terrorist attacks and an overall misunderstanding of Islam exacerbated by incomplete and sometimes biased media coverage. `Actually I think a lot of (members of the media) like to create problems because sometimes they just add things that don’t even exist, ` said Leveille, 25, an Obama supporter of Haitian decent, who said she cannot actually vote for the candidate because she’s not a citizen. `They just create problems. `

Nevertheless, Iehab Sewidan, principal of the Muslim Association of Lehigh Valley’s Islamic Academy near Allentown, Pennsylvania, felt insulted by the entire episode involving the woman who said Obama is an `Arab.` `Like Arabs are not decent? ` He asked, referring to McCain’s response. `Like Arabs are not from decent families? `

Sewidan said he shares the sentiments expressed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell in his endorsement of Obama.  Powell, a Republican, criticized his party for permitting members to make continuing statements that Obama is a Muslim, saying there should be no problem if he is.

Rafeek took aim at both campaigns for another reason: ignoring the Muslim community as voters.

He said Obama was guilty too, recalling a campaign event in Detroit in which Obama campaign volunteers barred two Muslim women dressed in traditional headwear from sitting behind the podium.

Two issues Muslim voters are concerned about are ethnic profiling and immigration, he said.

Syed Ahmad, 27, of Whitehall Township, a suburb of Allentown, said he had heard that representatives of the two campaigns had recently met with Muslims in his area. However, he described the contacts as too little, too late.

`It should be on a frequent basis, not just two weeks before the election,` he said. – By Kirk Jackson/CWNN



Commonalities: Islam and Haredi Judaism  

Haredi Judaism expects similar modesty from women as Islam

03 Nov 2008

As she extended her arm to introduce herself with a handshake, thoughts raced through my mind. "What's the best way to put this?" I thought to myself. I quickly reacted by slightly stepping back with my hand placed across my chest.

"It's a pleasure to meet you! Please excuse me," I said with a smile, "I can't shake your hand because I'm fasting today…" If she had asked me more about the nature of my fast, I would have explained to her that I can't have any physical contact with women I'm not married to… but she didn't.

In any case, the above scenario may resemble something you or someone you know has experienced, especially as a follower of the Qur'an and Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them). In Islam, there are laws which Muslims are required to live by. Living by these laws unleashes the potential for achieving the purpose of human existence.

Also important to realize is that God has always – from the time of Prophet Adam (peace be upon him) to our time – sent the "divine prescription" for physical and metaphysical success. It's not surprising, therefore, to discover that some forms of Judaism have similar rules to those in Islam. It is not difficult to imagine that the original message of Judaism was the divinely revealed message of Islam.

Here's some food for thought. In describing a woman from the Haredi Orthodox Jewish community, BBC's Erica Chernofsky says: "Like all Haredi women, she dresses very modestly, covers her hair with a wig or scarf, and will not allow physical contact of any kind with any man other than her husband."

In Haredi Judaism, there are dress code requirements for both men and women. As in Islam, the underlying concept behind the dress code is modesty. In Haredi communities, men usually wear long pants and long-sleeve shirts, and women wear blouses with sleeves below the elbow and skirts which cover the knees.

Furthermore, men and women are separated during synagogue services and other public religious gatherings. As in many mosques, some Orthodox synagogues fulfill the separation requirement by having a balcony for the women's section.

Interesting, right? The following is an excerpt from the aforementioned article on BBC's website: "If I go on a trip with my family, I can't eat just anything, I can't go mixed swimming, and I'm constantly thinking 'what is the proper thing to do now?' As Haredim we don't just live, but we live with a purpose."

With regards to the eating concerns, Judaism also shares some ritual slaughtering practices with Islam. Take, for example, Shechita, or the ritual slaughter of animals and birds according to Jewish dietary laws. This is performed by cutting the animal's throat by means of a sharp knife and allowing the blood to drain out. Islamic Dhabihah is done in a similar way. As in Islam, Judaism also considers the consumption of pork to be a sin.

States the article in regards to the aforementioned "purpose", "That purpose, as she defines it, is to fulfill the Torah and mitzvoth by bettering herself as well as the world around her, and in so doing striving to become closer to God."

I don't know about you, but I think if you just switch the words "Torah" and "mitzvoth" with the words "Qur'an" and "Ahlul Bayt", you'll get a pretty Islamic-looking statement.

Let's take a look a bit further. In describing a man from the same community, the same BBC author writes: "Mr. Eliahu says Israel and the world need the 'positive energy' that comes from learning Torah. 'This sounds funny to the western ear – what can a man learning in a yeshiva all day possibly give back to the world?' he says. 'Torah learning that we do is the hidden code of the physical existence of all mankind, and if for one single second there is no Torah learning in the air, all the world would go back to chaos.'"

It seems that even this concept has some great resemblance to certain Islamic beliefs. Think of the followers of Ahlul Bayt and the Imams. Our belief in the living Imam – the living Qur'an – is not only one of a political leadership. Rather, we believe that if the Imam did not exist, then the entire system of existence would break down. The Imam is an essential part of the perfect system Allah has created, and if the Imam is not in the picture, then the perfect system ceases to exist. Indeed, it has been narrated that, "If it were not for the Proof (Imam), then the world would melt with its inhabitants (along with it)."

From a legal perspective, Orthodox Judaism shares many commonalities with Islamic jurisprudence. Haredi Jews believe that in addition to the Torah ("Written Law"), there is an "Oral Law" which is relayed by the scholarly and other religious leaders of each generation. Islamic law's reliance upon the Qur'an and the Sunnah (as transmitted through Ahlul Bayt) may parallel this in some respects.

As for circumstances when previous authorities do not provide a religious ruling, a Jewish legal scholar, known as a Posek, may extend a law to new situations. Within Haredi Judaism, each community may look to one Posek as the "Posek of the present Generation." The concepts of Ijtihad and Taqleed in Islam seem to have a similar basis – as an intellectual practice, the laypersons refer to the most qualified of the experts.

If anything, the similarities mentioned above should serve as an awakening to the reality that the commandments of the Prophets sprout from Divine Wisdom, applying to the lives of human beings throughout the ages. A comparison between Islam and Haredi Judaism may not yield interesting results when looking through idle eyes. But a scratch beneath the surface reveals signs from the Almighty to those who ponder.

"And say (unto them): Act! Allah will behold your actions, and (so will) His messenger and the believers, and ye will be brought back to the Knower of the Invisible and the Visible, and He will tell you what ye used to do." (Qur'an 9:105)



Islamic Jihad leaders heads for talks in Damascus

02 Nov 2008

Special report: Palestine-Israel Relations

GAZA, Nov. 2 (Xinhua) -- Leaders of Islamic Jihad (Holy War) movement headed on Sunday to Syria through Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt for talks with other movements leaders in Damascus.

The movement said in a statement sent to reporters that the aim of the talks in Syria is to come up with a united position towards the comprehensive dialogue due to be launched in Cairo next week.

The Jihad delegation was headed by Mohamed al-Hindi who told reporters on his way to Rafah crossing "the aim is to push forward towards a general national reconciliation."

Following severe conflict between rival Fatah and Hamas movements, Gaza Strip became under Hamas rule since June last year, while West Bank remained under President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement's rule.

Egypt is mediating between the two factions to end their ongoing disputes, and called on leaders of 13 factions, including Fatah and Hamas, to come to Cairo for general dialogue on November9 and 10.

Egypt offered leaders of the factions a draft paper that includes its vision of the solution of the Palestinian crisis. Al-Hindi said "we are going to Damascus to discuss the Egyptian paper for Palestinian reconciliation."

"Success of the Palestinian reconciliation is necessary," al-Hindi said, adding that his movement brought back to the Egyptian side its vision concerning the solution of the inter-Palestinian political crisis.

Within the coming a few days, leaders of other factions in Gaza, West Bank and abroad are intending to go to Cairo attending the comprehensive dialogue on November 9.

Al-Hindi called on both Fatah and Hamas "to carry out actions on the ground to make the dialogue success, mainly by releasing all political prisoners that were detained in both Gaza and West Bank in the last few weeks."



Brown shakes hands with Al Qaeda men at centre that 'positively brainwashes' fanatics

By Kirsty Walker, 02nd Nov 2008

Gordon Brown risked controversy yesterday by shaking hands with Al Qaeda terrorists at a Saudi Arabian 'correction' centre.

The Prime Minister came face to face with jihadists who are believed to have been involved in terror plots to attack the Mr Brown spoke to five Muslim extremists - two of whom have spent time in the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba for their Al Qaeda links.Gordon Brown in Saudia Arabia

Juma al-Dossary and Ganim al-Harbi are suspected of acting as 'footmen' for the terror group by organising the supply of mobile phones and delivering trucks and cars.

Al-Dossary was arrested in Afghanistan in January 2002 when the Taliban was in retreat from U.S. forces. He claims he was there to photograph mosques for an imam.

He and al- Harbi, who was arrested in the Middle East, were taken to Guantanamo Bay where they were held for a number of years before being sent to a highsecurity prison in Saudi Arabia. The men were subjected to a thorough interrogation by security services before being allowed to go to the correction centre in Hayar on the outskirts of Riyadh, the Kingdom's capital. Saudi Arabia, where Osama Bin Laden was born, is considered a fertile recruiting ground for international terrorism. Mr Brown, who was flanked by British security agents and dozens of armed Saudi guards, asked the detainees how the centre had changed their view of society. Al-Dossary, 35, said he had been in the 'wrong place at the wrong time' and fell in with extremists. He told the Prime Minister that he is now married, about to become a father, and is hoping to pursue a career in computing.

Al-Harbi, 34, told how he had been 'sold' to the U.S. for £3,000. The men are understood to have been involved with terrorist support networks rather than actually carrying out attacks. The centre, where they have access to swimming pools, football and art, aims to re- engage the extremists into society through religious and psychological education.

When they are thought to be safe, they are let out to return to their families and communities. The men, who are called ' beneficiaries' rather than prisoners, do not have locks or bars on their rooms. They are able to watch television and are cooked three full meals a day by a chef. When they eventually leave the detainees are given a flat, a car and a £20,000 dowry to help them marry. The government gives around £18million-a-year to the programme which is aimed at 'positively brainwashing' Muslim radicals.

One man - who did not give his name - told the Prime Minister the project was the 'best thing that ever happened to me.

It changed my ideology'.

There are a number of similar centres across Saudi Arabia. The centre visited by Mr Brown houses 1,200 detainees and is run by 100 imams, 50 social workers and 30 health specialists. Tory MP Patrick Mercer said: 'Reconciliation is important not just from the humane point of view, but because it's important for intelligence and countering terrorism. But he added: 'The Prime Minister has got to realise that if things go wrong with these individuals, he is going to look very foolish.'

LibDem home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne said: 'The Prime Minister has to be careful that support for reform does not look like support for the individuals who were involved in terrorist acts.'



Saudi women, in their own words

By Rahla Khan Saudi Gazette

THERE’s always a point in the life of women working in the media, where they are asked: What’s a lady like you doing in a field like this?

It’s true that the media represents a huge departure from traditionally acceptable women’s occupations. The erratic work hours and pressures, the feeling of always being on the go, the chase for the next big story may all be exhilarating, but the adrenaline rush definitely takes its toll, socially and personally.

If this is true of more liberal societies, one can only imagine the degree of challenge faced by Saudi women in the media. Amjad M. Reda’s book is an eye-opener in this respect, tracing the journey of Saudi women in the media --from the first pioneers to the present generation of broadcasters and print journalists.

The writer, herself a veteran journalist explains the need for this book in the foreword: “As media practitioners, we admit that the word has a great impact on the mind where it paves the way for global dialogue across cultures or it may lead to culture clashes if it is badly used.

How can the other see us? Can we narrow the gap -- in that context -- with others when showing our true and realistic image or the gap may widen and become deeper when the other expresses doubts and fears?”

In spite of all this, we will continue our efforts and attempts to achieve our goals and ambitions to change the misleading ideas about Muslim women in general and Saudi women in particular.”

The book highlights the strengths and successes of Saudi women in the media, focusing on their current working conditions and exploring prospects for the future. It features the translation of a study conducted on women in the mass media, which is the first such resource made available in English -- a fact which has been applauded by various important literary figures and intellectuals internationally and within the Kingdom.

The author dedicates the book to “everyone who aspires to understand the role of Saudi women in the media”, and is a must-read to all those who want to understand the complex reality of women in Saudi Arabia, in their own idiom.Source:


Who's a Jew? The debate goes to Israel top court

3 Nov 2008,

JERUSALEM: Raised without religion in Maryland, Shannon sought to make a new life for herself as a Jew in Israel.

In a rigorous conversion process, she studied religious law for a year, took a Hebrew name and changed her wardrobe to long skirts and sleeves as dictated by Orthodox Jewish custom. Finally, a panel of rabbis pronounced her Jewish.

But five years later, she and some 40,000 like her have suddenly had their conversions annulled by Israel’s rabbinical high court. The court says Haim Drukman, a respected Orthodox rabbi who heads a government authority set up to oversee conversions and has already overseen tens of thousands of conversions over the years, is too liberal in approving them.

The rabbis based their ruling on their discovery that a Danish woman whom Drukman converted more than a decade ago did not observe the Sabbath.

The issue, now headed to Israel’s Supreme Court, has exposed an intensifying power struggle inside Israel’s religious establishment over the age-old question of "who is a Jew." It also threatens to deepen the wedge between Israel and American Jews, who largely follow more liberal schools of Judaism. Source: