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Islamic World News ( 3 Dec 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The world descends on Medina, only to suffer culture shock


Israeli Company Provides Islamic Text on the Go By Stephanie L. Freid

Mosque Proposal Divides Aussie Muslims

Pro, anti-impeach salons debate in Philippines

German Muslims oppose new law which stops them from stating their religion in their certificates

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





The world descends on Medina, only to suffer culture shock


Millions of people travel to Saudi Arabia each year for the hajj. All, myself included, suffer from varying levels of culture shock


Halima Ali


December 1 2008

The old man wobbles as he stands up out of his wheelchair before the reach of his son steadies him. Carefully, he helps his father adjust the ihram – the two pieces of white sheet men are obliged to wear when performing either the hajj itself or the smaller pilgrimage called umrah – which covers his torso. Having seen to his father he moved on to his mother who is also wheelchair-bound, helping her to drink some water and pinning her hijab into place. A peek into his suitcase shows it is full of adult nappies for one of his parents or perhaps both.

If ever there was a moment which encapsulated the hajj, it was this. The pilgrimage undertaken by millions of Muslims every year is one of the five pillars of Islam and something that every Muslim who can afford it and is physically able must perform once in his or her lifetime. Those who make the trip, which takes place once a year, come from ever corner of the world.

The elderly, the young, those who are frail and in poor health, those from tiny villages or huge cities, those from undeveloped nations and those from the western world, man, woman, child, of every race and colour, here they all walk side by side on their way to prayer.

We arrive first in the city of Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad made his home after making the hijrah – his flight from Mecca to escape persecution. The landscape of the city itself has changed drastically since my last visit nine years ago. I recall the Masjid al-Nabawi – the Prophet's mosque – seemed colossal and the centrepiece of the city. In one respect it has not changed, it is still the point toward which everyone gravitates, but it is now almost dwarfed by the hotels and shopping malls surrounding it.

Leaving our hotel just before daybreak to perform fajr – the early   morning prayer – I expected the streets to be mostly empty, but there was a steady stream of people on their way to worship. The only way to secure a praying space for yourself at the mosque at any of the five main prayer times is to be there early. Even at 5.30 am, space is extremely limited.

No sooner do I manage to get into the mosque and place my prayer mat down than the space next to me is filled and handbags are placed all around. My own space rapidly decreases until I'm pinned in on all sides and I can only see a small portion of my mat. In the end, as prayer time approaches I decide to cut my losses, pick up my mat and go to pray outside in the grounds, leaving bewildered stares in my wake, such is the shock at the fact that I had given up a prized spot inside.

Entering the mosque at any time of day, what strikes you most is the sea of colourful clothing representing cultures from around the world. Most people undertake any pilgrimage to Mecca in organised groups, with their travel, accommodation and participation in rites arranged for them. Members of these groups often wear coloured headscarves so that if they are lost they can find each other easily.

Some wear bright green scarves, others purple. One group from Kazakhstan are easily identifiable in sky-blue pinafores, another group wear an artificial red flower pinned to the back of their headscarves. Countless women have their country's flag printed on the back of their headscarves and I have seen lots people checking the back of scarves to satisfy their curiosity. People are also referred to by their nationality. During one particular prayer when several women were blocking a walkway, the steward pleaded with them to move: "Africa please!" she begged, "Please, Turkey" but to no avail.

Escalators always seem to cause a problem, particularly for people from small villages and have never seen such a contraption. They always hesitate, building up courage before taking the first step.

There are so many differences between the millions of people who have made their way to Saudi Arabia at this auspicious time, but the reason we're all here is exactly the same: to perform our hajj rites for the sake of God.



Israeli Company Provides Islamic Text on the Go

By Stephanie L. Freid, December 01, 2008

TELAVIV, Israel — For Muslims who just can't fit the five-times-a-day Salah prayer routine into their busy schedules, an Israeli mobile phone provider has a new solution: Mobile Koran.

Pelephone has begun offering a Koran text service that enables users to tap into verses of choice from the Muslim Holy Book at will. For the modest sum of $1.50 per month, subscribers can download what appears onscreen as an actual book of Koran, and scroll through chapter and verse.

"We are providing something to subscribers who want to be connected to these texts any time and any place," said Pelephone Product Content Director Moti Cohen. "So naturally we are targeting a population that would use this type of service. Our Arab sector customers are very enthusiastic."

News of an Israel-backed Koran-on-demand launch targeting the Arab sector seems rife with irony — particularly as Jews and Arabs clash in the West Bank city of Hebron and rumors float freely of an Israeli re-entry into the Gaza strip, which is controlled by the terrorist group Hamas.

But business is business, and Cohen said Pelephone is happy to take advantage of an uptapped market, as neither of the two Palestinian mobile operators, Jawwal and Wataniya, provides the service.

"This was a natural move for us," he said. "We offer services to Israel's entire population — Arab and Jew — and the Arab sector make up about 15 percent of our client base. In this market almost every person has a mobile phone. Why wouldn't we offer something like this when the Bible service has been so popular?"

The "Bible Service" is Pelephone's Old Testament text-on-demand feature, launched last year to target religious Jewish mobile phone users. As with the Koran application, the service enables clients to download and page through an almost real — yet still virtual — copy of the Old Testament whenever the spirit moves them.

Ironically, the country's ultra-Orthodox Jewish community is barred by religious law from surfing the Web or using data services in general, so that specific sector isn't privy to the advantages a mobile Biblical offering might provide.

Among Muslims, however, those rules don't apply.

"The Arab sector is pretty adherent and many work outside the house and pray five times a day," Cohen explains. "So we expect a high percentage of our Arab customers to opt for this feature."

Nasser Nawasi, a 19-year-old computer sales rep from Faradis Village, signed on to mobile Koran last week, and he's thrilled.

"It's with me at the beach, at work — wherever I go. Whenever I want to be closer to Islam I pull out my mobile phone and turn on the Koran. I don't necessarily pray from it — it's not the same as the genuine book — but if I feel like I need a shot of enlightenment or direction in my day, it's great. It means a lot to me."

Does it bother Nawasi that an Israeli carrier is serving up his daily verse?

"Not at all. We both have our cultures and different messages in each. They get their Bible and we get our Koran. Plus, why shouldn't they do it? It's a very marketable idea," Nawasi said.

The marketability aspect also speaks to Israeli Islam researcher Dr. Mordechai Kedar, who looks forward to tapping into the new service.

"I can see myself going into the Koran via a 3G phone and urgently retrieving a specific verse for a lecture. It's certainly accessible.... And the integration of Muslim ideas born in the 7th century with 21st-century gadgets is a welcome phenomenon."

Cohen said that mobile religion is not a viral phenomenon, even though Pelephone is the sole carrier of chapter and verse in Israel.

In the U.S., AT&T offers a similar My Faith application for customers to get daily Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish and Sikh updates, prayers and verses and offers a social networking Faith Base site for connecting Christians 18 and up.



Mosque Proposal Divides Aussie Muslims

Cairo — Australian Muslims are split over a proposal by the country's Mufti to allow men and women to pray in the same hall, reported The Age on Monday, December 1.

"There's been a huge backlash, even though he is partially right," said Keysar Trad, president of the Islamic Friendship Association.

Mufti Sheikh Fehmi Naji el-Imam has proposed that men, children and women should be allowed to pray in the same hall, though in separate lines.

He insists that his proposal is a return to what used to happen during the days of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him).

El-Imam insists that segregated worship had been introduced long ago, based on cultural rather than religious ground.

"No imams should stop women coming into the mosque to pray, but the practice should be exactly as it was in the Prophet's time, no more, no less."

His proposal, which was announced 10 days ago, has drawn criticism from some Muslims.

Trad argues that women usually had less space in mosques because men had to attend five times a day to pray in congregation and this does not apply to women.

He added that a quartet comprising him, Australian National Imams' Council Chairman Abdul Moez Alnafti and two other senior scholars was formed to confront the proposal.

"I do not agree with him," Dr Saleem Alwan Al Hasani, the mufti of Darul Fatwa (High Islamic Council of Australia), has said about the proposal.

"I believe what Sheikh Fehmi said was his own opinion and not the views of the Ahli Sunnah Wal Jamaah, who adheres to the ways of the Prophet."


Mufti El-Imam blames criticism of his proposal on misunderstanding.

"Some people have misunderstood and talked as if I said women should be side by side with men.

"But that wasn't the practice of the Prophet. Women came to pray, but formed their own line," he clarified.

He regretted that some Muslims have reacted even before getting a full knowledge of his proposal.

"People should not be starting trouble without knowing what has been said and what is going to be done.

"Anyone who wants to know what we intend can ask us, and we will tell them about it."

Ikebal Patel, the president of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, has thrown his weight behind the mufti.

He said the growing Muslim population, estimated to make up 1.5 percent of Australia's 20-million populations, and is facing difficulties in building new mosques over local opposition.

Patel noted that this makes women's accommodation in overcrowded mosques sometimes substandard.



German Muslims oppose new law which stops them from stating their religion in their certificates


Dec 01, 2008

An Islamic group has slammed a new law which stops German Muslims from stating their religion in their birth and marriage certificates.

Aiman Mazyek, general secretary of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (Zentralrat der Muslime in Deutschland, ZMD) criticized the change in the law, stressing that it was "unacceptable".

"The change is opposed to the German constitution that calls for equality between all religions and ethnicities and will lead to racism and division among people," Mazyek told a German news agency on Sunday.

He also added the new law will turn Muslims in Germany into second-class citizens.

Islam is the third largest religion in Germany but the European country has often been accused of hostility towards the faith. Critics accuse the country of imposing discriminative laws on its 3.3 million Muslim citizens, such as the legislation passed in 2006 that banned teachers in schools and universities from wearing a headscarf.



Pro, anti-impeach salons debate in Philippines

Defensor asks colleagues to accept decision

By Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Dec 02, 2008

Manila, Philippines –Bayan Muna partylist Representative Satur Ocampo, interpellating Quezon City Representative Matias Defensor, protested the dismissal of the impeachment complaint contained in the report submitted by the justice committee for deliberation at the House of Representatives.

Ocampo said the charge of human rights violations could not be labelled an old issue because there have been new cases added in this year’s complaint that were not in previous cases.

Makati Representative Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr. said the Memorandum on Agreement on Ancestral Domain between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front should have been included in the charges against the President.

Loscin said the MOA-AD could have easily been the "one viable" charge that could send the President into trial.

A group of bloggers, led by Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist and television host Manuel Quezon III had filed the motion for intervention to include the MOA-AD in the dismissed complaint by Jose de Venecia III.

In his opening statement, Defensor asked his colleagues to accept the decision of the House "without rancour or misgivings" if they fail to get the numbers in the chamber.

Defensor said the Constitution has been "liberal" in requiring only a one-third vote of the total membership of Congress to impeach the President.

"It is but right, therefore, that if the one-third vote of all members of he House is not garnered despite this liberal Constitutional concession, those for impeachment must accept the result without rancour or misgivings," Defensor said in his sponsorship speech of the justice committee report 1551 dismissing complaint for lack of substance.

"Impeachment, as many would say, is a question of numbers. True. Nonetheless, a more relevant question is 'how do you achieve the numbers?' To say that personal and partisan considerations are the bases to achieve the numbers is to simplify the issue beyond recognition.”

Defensor said the complaint failed to prove the grounds of impeachment that would merit a trial for the President. He said the committee has been transparent in determining the sufficiency in form and substance of the complaint.

Committee report 1551 was submitted earlier on Tuesday by the justice committee.

With 172 lawmakers present, a quorum was declared during the session.

Pro- and anti-impeachment groups packed the gallery of the session all to listen to the legislators as they debate on the report that dismissed, with a vote of 42-8, the complaint against Arroyo for lacking in substance.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney was also seen in the crowd, together with US officials. When asked about her presence, Kenney said she was there for a visit to the House and won’t stay for the proceedings.

Defensor has reiterated that he did not see a reversal of the ruling on the plenary.

Pro-impeachment lawmakers need at least 80 votes in the plenary or one-third of the House membership to reverse the ruling of the committee and send the complaint to the Senate for trial.

Aside from its ruling on the complaint filed by businessman Jose “Joey” De Venecia III, the report also contains the junking of three others, which were filed by the group of Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist, blogger, and television host Manuel Quezon III and lawyers Oliver Lozano and Guillermo Sotto.