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Saudi Schoolbooks: What Does It Take To Recontextualize Islam?

New Age Islam News Bureau

21 February 2021

 

Flag of Saudi Arabia. Photo by Ayman Makki, Wikipedia Commons.

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• Saudi Schoolbooks: What Does It Take To Recontextualize Islam?

• Schools teach about Islam – and are accused of indoctrination

• Mali creates body to open talks with Islamist militants

• Jakim calls for calm, says authorities investigating video of man claiming to have converted his Muslim wife to Hinduism

• Christians, Muslims and Jews to share faith centre in Berlin

• Year After Delhi Violence, Bias Against Muslims Taints Investigation: HRW

• Alvi urges France to avoid discriminatory laws against Muslims

• Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi: We learned jihad against occupation from Martyr al-Sadr

• Russian and Pakistani officials Discuss ‘Afghan Peace Process’

 

India

• Year After Delhi Violence, Bias Against Muslims Taints Investigation: HRW

• Mathura Court Admits Two Pleas Seeking Shifting Of 17th Century Shahi Idgah Mosque

• Hamid Ansari’s Woes: Plight of Pluralism in India

• ‘Tolerance, edu can help Muslims face challenges’

• Assam Assembly election 2021, Mankachar profile: INC's Motiur Rohman Mondal handily beat AIUDF's Md Aminul Islam in 2016

• Release Passports Of Acquitted Foreign Islamic Sect Members: Court To Cops

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Pakistan

• Alvi urges France to avoid discriminatory laws against Muslims

• Lahore Literary Festival 2021: ‘Muslim youth fashioning what social life should be’

• Pak religious scholars to protest against Imran Khan's plans to 'take over' mosques, seminaries

• Pakistan peacekeeper dies in Sudan accident

• Isa hopes SC will stand against constitutional violations

• Fencing to boost border security: interior minister

• PPP’s Nisar Morai, others jailed for seven years in FCS case

• Lawyers’ representatives demand reconstruction of demolished chambers in Islamabad

• PTI Senate candidates use Punjab Governor House for ‘campaign’

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Mideast

• Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi: We learned jihad against occupation from Martyr al-Sadr

• Email to Jewish lawmaker: 'This time, it's the Muslims who will deal with you'

• Crisis talks in Iran over nuclear ultimatum

• Iran to launch direct shipping line to S. Africa, Latin America

• Iran Hosts UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief Ahead Of Sanctions Deadline

• Supreme Leader: Islamic Revolution gives important role to youth

• Stages of rehabilitation of Imam Al-Kadhem gate concluded

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South Asia

• Russian and Pakistani officials Discuss ‘Afghan Peace Process’

• U.S supports permanent ‘ceasefire’ in Afghanistan

• Ghani: Taliban will not see the face of interim government

• Qurankhwani, special prayers held at Baitul Mukarram Mosque

• Security officials arrest MUDL employees over corruption accusation

• Drama over Quader Mirza ‘suspension’

• Red Crescent Volunteers: A vital cog in vaccination

• Language Movement paved path for independence

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Southeast Asia

• Jakim calls for calm, says authorities investigating video of man claiming to have converted his Muslim wife to Hinduism

• Police investigating case of non-Muslim man in apostasy case, says minister

• MCO: National Unity Ministry establishes SOPs for non-Muslim houses of worship, Chap Goh Mei

• UN, US voice concern as Myanmar ships arrive in Malaysia to pick up detainees

• Umno veep: I’m no fan, but Malaysiakini’s right, freedom as news platform should be defended

• Dr Noor Hisham: Malaysians above 60 can volunteer for Chinese Covid-19 vaccine

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Arab world

• Saudi Schoolbooks: What Does It Take To Recontextualize Islam?

• Egypt denies reports on removing Quran verses from school books

• Sharjah Islamic Bank to pay 8% cash dividends as profits rise to Dh405.8 million in 2020

• Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry licensed 11 Quranic Centres in 2020

• On Behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, HRH Crown Prince Patronizes 2nd Edition of Saudi Cup Ceremony

• Iraq trip a chance for pope to build rapport with Shia Muslims

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Europe

• Christians, Muslims and Jews to share faith centre in Berlin

• Political Rally by Islamist Outfit Showing Hindu Nationalist RSS Members in Chains Triggers Outrage

• Muslim leaders should be questioned like anybody else

• Residents found baby left in front of a mosque in Ariha city

• Braintree Imam encourages Muslim community to get Covid-19 vaccine after conspiracy theory fears

• Russian air strikes 'kill 21 Islamic State fighters' in Syrian desert

• Student loans continue to discriminate against Muslim students

• One of Britain's youngest Imams, 26, says 'there isn't a single word' in the Quran to justify 'ramming your car into people' and reveals how he's suffered abuse for being a British Muslim

• All adults in UK to get first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by July 31, says PM Boris Johnson

• Prince Charles returns to Highgrove House after visiting Prince Philip in hospital

• Barcelona rocked by fifth night of unrest over rapper's jailing

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North America

• Schools teach about Islam – and are accused of indoctrination

• Biden’s foreign policy towards Iran, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia

• Family Battles ICE For The Same Reason They Fled Their Home: They’re Muslim

• Oklahoma’s leading pro-gun group endorses ‘Anti-Islam’ former lawmaker for chairman of state’s Republican Party

• Islamic State continues to terrorize Raqqa

• Officials, Experts Say Islamic State’s Economic Spigot Not Dry Yet

• US: Three dead in New Orleans gun store shooting

• United Airlines Boeing 777 lands safely in Denver after engine failure

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Africa

• Mali creates body to open talks with Islamist militants

• Boko Haram militants releases video of seized UNHCR staff

• Insurgency: Boko Haram Hoists Flag In Parts Of Borno As Military Repels Attack

Niger: A history of instability

• Covid-19: Which countries in Africa are administering vaccines?

• Africa in the news: Mining disputes, COVID-19 and Ebola updates, and an increase in foreign troops in CAR and the Sahel

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

URL;https://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/saudi-schoolbooks-take-recontextualize-islam/d/124360

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Saudi Schoolbooks: What Does It Take To Recontextualize Islam?

By James M. Dorsey

February 20, 2021

Two decades of snail pace revisions of Saudi schoolbooks aimed at removing supremacist references to Jews, Christians, and Shiites suggest a willingness to delete offensive language while keeping in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.

In a break with the past, Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported for the first time in two decades of post-9/11 pressure on Saudi Arabia that the kingdom had made significant progress in revising textbooks.

The reports focussed on explicit references to other religions but noted that further revisions were needed to eliminate language that disparages practices associated with religious minorities, particularly Shiite Muslims and Sufis, sects viewed as heretic by ultra-conservatives.

“As long as the texts continue to disparage religious beliefs and practices of minority groups, including those of fellow Saudi citizens, it will contribute to the culture of discrimination that these groups face,” said Michael Page, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director.

“They removed some of the more offensive stuff like pictures of Shiite shrines that were called shirk (polytheistic) and they removed some offensive language, but the kernel is still there… They are trying to make the language less offensive but the whole idea is offensive,” added Human Rights Watch Middle East researcher Adam Coogle.

Implicit in the two reports’ conclusions, but at best only summarily mentioned, was the fact that the ultra-conservative interpretation of basic religious concepts as promoted by Saudi Arabia until the rise of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, remain unaltered in the schoolbooks.

These interpretations relate to the ban on bida’a or religious innovation and shirk or polytheism as well as the rejection of supplication, a thinly veiled reference to the Shia practice of intercession.

Critics, including prominent Muslim scholars, argue that Saudi Arabia’s failure to address problematic concepts of Islam, that constitute the basis for ultra-conservative rejection of religious pluralism and supremacist and intolerant interpretations of the faith, call into question the kingdom’s projection of itself as a paragon of religious moderation and leader of the Islamic world.

The critics assert that the significant progress reported by Human Rights Watch and Impact-se constitutes part of Saudi Arabia’s effort to pre-empt pressure from the Biden administration as it recalibrates its relationship with the kingdom.

They also charge that the progress is designed to make Saudi Arabia, whose image has been tarnished by human rights abuse and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, palatable to foreign direct investors as well as boost pressure on international companies to shift their regional operations from Dubai to the kingdom.

Scholars in Saudi Arabia took issue with the Human Rights Watch report. “I do not know why the world is so busy with us. Although their countries are full of things that need attention, revision, arrangement, and organization,” said political sociologist Widad al-Jarwan, adding that “even their curricula in the West are full of mistakes against” Muslims.

Indonesian Muslim scholars argue that the Saudi interpretation of ibadah, the rules governing worship, constitute an innovation by defining aspects of worship practised by a majority of Muslims in ways that are viewed by ultra-conservatives as beyond the pale.

“What matters is how the Saudis interpret the teachings related to how Muslims should treat anybody of a different sect or faith. The problem is how they believe the other should be treated. It doesn’t matter what they call me. It doesn’t matter if they call me a kafir, an infidel, as long as they truly believe that I should be treated equally. The problem is that the Saudis don’t really want to change their established system of beliefs,” said Yahya Cholil Staquf, a prominent Islamic scholar and secretary-general of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement.

Mr. Staquf was one of the major forces behind Nahdlatul Ulama’s charter of Humanitarian Islam that embraces the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calls for reform of problematic or obsolete religious legal concepts that negate equal rights for all.

Ali al-Ahmad, director of the Washington-based Institute of Gulf Affairs that has long highlighted problems with Saudi textbooks, contended that “when it comes to bida’a and shirk, the Wahhabis are more guilty than other Muslims. Saudi Arabia will not be able to move forward with Wahhabism as its state religion. The concept of a state religion must be abolished before the country can move into the modern age.”

Mr. Al-Ahmed’s comment goes to the core of the debate about religious reform in the Muslim world and whether states like Saudi Arabia without the lead and buy-in of civil society can achieve real and lasting change.

Significant social reforms in recent years were primarily designed to cater to youth aspirations, enable economic diversification, attract foreign direct investment, and shore up the country’s tarnished image while ensuring state-control on the principle of absolute obedience to the ruler. They were not rooted in a recognition that the kingdom’s ultra-conservative mores were problematic in and of themselves.

Discussing the textbook revisions, Mr. Coogle noted that “it’s not like the Saudis looked at their textbooks and saw a problem. Other people didn’t like it and the Saudis are trying to quell those concerns.”

The stepped-up Saudi revision of schoolbooks was in part spurred by a draft bill in the US Congress that would require the Secretary of State to report annually “on religious intolerance in Saudi Arabian educational materials.” The draft was initially introduced in 2017 by a Republican sponsor who has since retired and reintroduced in 2019.

The Human Rights Watch report noted that although the revised schoolbooks no longer contain explicit references to Shia Islam, they still included harsh criticism of Shia practices and traditions, labelling them evidence of polytheism that threatens the existence of Islam.

A schoolbook for 4th-grade nine-year olds advised that adherence to such practices would lead to the cancellation of a person’s good deeds, God’s rejection of their repentance, and eternal damnation.

The practices include praying to saints and visiting tombs and shrines of prominent religious figures that are rejected by Wahhabism as a form of idolatry. They also involve the Shiite supplication to God via intermediaries as well as kneeling to anyone other than God, building mosques and shrines on top of graves, and wailing over the dead.

Saudi Shiites noted that all Muslim students, including Shiites, were required to use these textbooks even if they were perceived as offensive.

“The textbooks are written under the close supervision of leading Wahhabi clerics led by Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan,” one of Saudi Arabia’s most senior ultra-conservative clerics, Mr. Al-Ahmad said.

Mr. Al-Fawzan “views Islam as a Wahhabi-only religion. This vision is what is reflected in Saudi textbooks and other religious literature. This means that Shia Muslims, Sufis, other Sunni Muslims –are polytheists and deviants,” Mr. Al-Ahmad added.

Mr. Page cautioned that “as long as disparaging references to religious minorities remain in the text it will continue to stoke controversy and condemnation.”

By the same token, Saudi Arabia’s failure to address ultra-conservative interpretations of religious concepts that justify a rejection of pluralism and religious tolerance challenge the kingdom’s claim to be a leading voice of moderation – a pillar of the country’s quest to be recognized as a, if not the leader of the Muslim world in a new world order.

https://www.eurasiareview.com/20022021-saudi-schoolbooks-what-does-it-take-to-recontextualize-islam-analysis/

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Schools teach about Islam – and are accused of indoctrination

February 19, 2021

By Deena Mousa

When she immigrated to the United States from Iran as a child, Elika Dadsetan-Foley says she was taunted “at school … for being a terrorist and heard terms … that have to do with having a lot of sand where I came from. I asked my parents, ‘Is there even sand in Iran? What does this mean? Do they know something about my heritage that I don’t know?’”

Eventually, Ms. Dadsetan-Foley converted to Catholicism. “I wanted to shed one more layer of difference,” she says. “I thought to myself, I can try to assimilate this way.”

Currently CEO/executive director of VISIONS Inc., a nonprofit training and consulting organization specializing in diversity and inclusion, Ms. Dadsetan-Foley taught civics at High Tech High School in San Diego in the late 2000s. She says she seriously considered how she taught about other cultures and values. “When I think about values, I think, Are we teaching them through a white, monocultural lens?”

“Our public school system’s historic role was to provide a common set of values,” says Michael Kirst, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and former president of the California State Board of Education. “[Public schools] exist in particular to socialize and provide a values perspective for immigrants.”

But that begs the question of what values should be taught and how. Whenever teachers stand at the head of a classroom, they convey foundational principles – often through the simple ways they relate to their students. “It’s not a question of whether we should teach values; it’s happening [regardless],” Ms. Dadsetan-Foley says.

Debates about values education have gone on for decades – often with considerable tension. Recently, much of the conflict has centered around how educators teach their students about Islam and Islamic values.

Students in Chatham Middle School in New Jersey undertake a World Cultures and Geography class in the seventh grade, including a unit on the Islamic faith in the context of the Middle East and North Africa. In January 2017, Libby Hilsenrath was reviewing her son’s schoolwork when she learned about the Islam-related unit.

Ms. Hilsenrath complained to the school district and appeared on Fox News to discuss her concerns. Following her television appearance, viewers threatened school officials and Board members. “The threats were serious enough to have police at the middle school and the district administration building,” says Melissa Cavallo, whose children attend Chatham Middle School.

A year after her initial complaint, Ms. Hilsenrath filed a law suit against several Chatham school officials, the board of education, and the school district. The Thomas More Law Center represented her pro bono, as part of their mission to defend and promote “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values.” One of their key goals is “confronting the threat of radical Islam,” which, they say, has already “infiltrated” many sectors of society, including the schools.

The suit alleged that the school was promoting the Islamic faith. At the center of the complaint was a five-minute video introduction to Islam that included statements like “Allah is the one God,” The Quran is a “Perfect guide for Humanity,” and “May God help us all find the true faith, Islam.”

Ms. Hilsenrath argued that the school proselytized on behalf of Islam by exposing middle school students to a video that “seeks to convert viewers to Islam and is filled with the religious teachings of Islam.” The suit also complained about a worksheet with a link to a webpage that explains “the ease with which they could convert to become Muslim.”

In November 2020, Ms. Hilsenrath’s case was dismissed with prejudice. “There is, to be sure, a line to be drawn between teaching about religion and teaching religion,” Judge Kevin McNulty wrote in the decision. “On this record, I must conclude that the school did not cross that line.”

Conflict over teaching about Islam is not limited to Chatham. Similar complaints have arisen from coast to coast. These conflicts are not victimless.

On the one hand, when education about different belief systems is stunted, students lack an adequate understanding of other cultures. For those living in homogenous areas, this may be their only opportunity for a different perspective.

“I remember there not being any religious diversity in the town to speak of,” says Guy Citron, an alumnus of Chatham Middle School. “I was one of only a few Jewish kids.” In this case, he says, “The school district was legitimately trying to raise awareness about what other people in other countries have as far as religious tradition goes ... because they weren’t going to learn about Islam from their fellow students.”

Mr. Kirst also notes that there is “some evidence that ethnic studies help students understand others of different ethnic backgrounds or heritage” – and that this understanding may help students “do better in other subjects.” 

On the other hand, if teachers hold that “belief in Judeo-Christian principles is foundational to being an American” – as Richard Thompson, chief counsel and president of the Thomas More Law Center, advocates – Muslim children could find it difficult to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom.

“I think the conflict itself, may have reaffirmed several things to … Muslim students in the school system,” Mr. Citron says, “certainly that Chatham has closemindedness issues.”

https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/2021/0219/Schools-teach-about-Islam-and-are-accused-of-indoctrination

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Mali creates body to open talks with Islamist militants

BY REUTERS

20 February 2021

Mali's government has created a body to open talks with Islamist militants whose insurgency has made vast portions of the country ungovernable, the interim prime minister said on Friday, in the face of objections by France.

A year ago ousted former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said his government was prepared to negotiate with al Qaeda-linked militants. National talks in the aftermath of the August coup that overthrew Keita endorsed that policy.

"Dialogue is not an exclusive solution, but rather an additional means of bringing back into the bosom of the Republic those who left it, often for existential reasons far removed from any fanaticism," said interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.

Former colonial power France, which has 5,000 troops in Mali, has previously signalled opposition to negotiating with Islamist groups that did not sign a 2015 peace deal it considers a framework for restoring peace to northern Mali.

France is searching for an exit strategy after getting bogged down in a counter-insurgency operation in the Sahel which has cost billions and seen 55 French soldiers killed.

Chad will deploy some 1,000 troops to the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali to reinforce national armies, sources said last week.

https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/africa/2021-02-20-mali-creates-body-to-open-talks-with-islamist-militants/

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Jakim calls for calm, says authorities investigating video of man claiming to have converted his Muslim wife to Hinduism

BY EMMANUEL SANTA MARIA CHIN

21 Feb 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has called for calm from all quarters and for the public to refrain from speculating as the relevant authorities investigate allegations of a man converting his Muslim wife to Hinduism.

Jakim’s Director-General Datuk Abdul Aziz Jusoh through a statement today said the department is aware of the viral video where the Hindu man explains how he allegedly apostatised his Muslim wife out if Islam.

“Jakim has been made to understand that the issue is under the attention of the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) after receiving several complaints from several parties.

“Therefore, Jakim urges the public to allow the issue to be handled by the relevant authorities for them to decide on the next course of action,” he said in a statement today.

Abdul Aziz reminded the public that action can be taken against someone apostatising any Muslim person out of their religion under the Control and Restriction Of The Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment, that is enforced in several states in the country.

He said action can also be taken against the Muslim individual looking to convert out of the religion under the Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment.

Abdul Aziz then reminded all Muslims to instead work on strengthening the spiritual understanding and appreciation towards the virtues of Islam.

“Everyone is reminded not to push the blame around when it concerns issues involving Muslims, and to instead work on strengthening the institution of Islamic families, foster the attitude of taking care of each other, and looking out for one another in times of trouble,” he added.

A video of a man narrating how he managed to convert his Muslim wife to Hinduism had recently surfaced on social media, triggering a large part of the Muslim community.

Malaysian Shariah law prohibits Muslims from converting out of the religion while non-Muslims looking to get married to Muslims are required to convert to Islam for the matrimony to be officially recognised. 

A second video later surfaced depicting the man’s wife explaining to the camera how she is a citizen of Indonesia, and that she had gone through the process of converting out of Islam while in Indonesia.

However, several outraged netizens felt compelled to report the incident to authorities, with a few even uploading their police reports on social media.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/21/jakim-calls-for-calm-says-authorities-investigating-video-of-man-claiming-t/1951550

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Christians, Muslims and Jews to share faith centre in Berlin

Harriet Sherwood

21 Feb 2021

On the site of a church torn down by East Germany’s communist rulers, a new place of worship is set to rise that will bring Christians, Jews and Muslims under one roof – and it has already been dubbed a “churmosquagogue”.

The foundation stone of the House of One in Berlin will be laid at a ceremony on 27 May, marking the end of 10 years of planning and the beginning of an estimated four years of construction, and symbolising a new venture in interfaith cooperation and dialogue. The €47m building, designed by Berlin architects Kuehn Malvezzi, will incorporate a church, a mosque and a synagogue linked to a central meeting space. People of other faiths and denominations, and those of no faith, will be invited to events and discussions in the large hall.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Roland Stolte, a Christian theologian who helped start the project. “We wanted to build a house of prayer and learning, where these three religions could co-exist while each retaining their own identity.”

Andreas Nachama, a rabbi who is turning the vision into reality in partnership with a pastor and imam, said: “There are many different ways to God, and each is a good way.” In the House of One, Christians, Muslims and Jews would worship separately, but would visit each other for religious holidays, commemorations and celebrations, he added.

The House of One will be built on the site of St Peter’s church in Petriplatz, which was damaged during the second world war and demolished in 1964 by the GDR authorities. When the foundations of the church were uncovered more than a decade ago, consideration was given to a memorial or a new church on the site. “But we wanted to create a new kind of sacred building that mirrors Berlin today,” said Stolte. “The initiators are acting as placeholders. This is not a club for monotheistic religions – we want others to join us.”

The federal government and the state of Berlin have between them contributed €30m to the cost of the project, with another €9m coming from donations and fundraising. A new drive for contributions, launched in December, is expected to fill the gap of nearly €8m.

The project has been generally supported by faith communities and the public, said Stolte, although “in the first few years there were some fears that we were mixing religions or trying to create a new religion”.

The inclusion in the planning of people of no faith was a very important aspect of the House of One project, he said. “East Berlin is a very secular place. Religious institutions have to find new language and ways to be relevant, and to make connections.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/21/christians-muslims-and-jews-to-share-faith-centre-in-berlin

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Year After Delhi Violence, Bias Against Muslims Taints Investigation: HRW

HRW.org

20 Feb 2021

New York : Authorities in India have adopted laws and policies that systematically discriminate against Muslims and stigmatize critics of the government, Human Rights Watch said today. Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity.

February 23, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the communal violence in Delhi that killed 53 people, 40 of them Muslim. Instead of conducting a credible and impartial investigation, including into allegations that BJP leaders incited violence and police officials were complicit in attacks, the authorities have targeted activists and protest organizers. The authorities have lately responded to another mass protest, this time by farmers, by vilifying minority Sikh protesters and opening investigations into their alleged affiliation with separatist groups.

“The BJP’s embrace of the Hindu majority at the expense of minorities has seeped into government institutions, undermining equal protection of the law without discrimination,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has not only failed to protect Muslims and other minorities from attacks but is providing political patronage and cover for bigotry.”

The February 2020 attacks in Delhi had followed months of peaceful protests by Indians of all faiths against the government’s discriminatory citizenship law and proposed policies. BJP leaders and supporters attempted to discredit protesters, particularly Muslims, by accusing them of conspiring against national interests.

Similarly, after hundreds of thousands of farmers of various faiths began protesting against the government’s new farm laws in November 2020, senior BJP leaders, their supporters on social media, and pro-government media, began blaming the Sikhs, another religious minority. They accuse Sikhs of having a “Khalistani” agenda, a reference to a Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s. On February 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in parliament, describing people participating in various peaceful protests as “parasites,” and calling international criticism of increasing authoritarianism in India a “foreign destructive ideology.”

Following violent clashes on January 26 between the police and protesting farmers who broke through police barricades to enter Delhi, the authorities filed baseless criminal cases against journalists, ordered the internet to be shut down at multiple sites, and ordered Twitter to block nearly 1,200 accounts, including of journalists and news organizations, some of which Twitter later restored. On February 14, the authorities arrested a climate activist, accusing her of sedition and criminal conspiracy for allegedly editing a document providing information on the protests and how to support them on social media, and issued warrants against two others.

The latest arrests come amid increased targeting of activists, academics, and other critics, by the government in recent years. The authorities have especially harassed and prosecuted those protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities. BJP leaders and affiliated groups have long portrayed minority communities, especially Muslims, as a threat to national security and to the Hindu way of life. They have raised the bogey of “love jihad,” claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriages to convert them to Islam, labeled Muslims illegal immigrants or even extremists, and accused them of hurting Hindu sentiment over cow slaughter.

Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, it has taken various legislative and other actions that have legitimized discrimination against religious minorities and enabled violent Hindu nationalism, Human Rights Watch said.

The government passed a citizenship law in December 2019 that discriminates against Muslims, making religion the basis for citizenship for the first time. In August 2019, the government also revoked the constitutional autonomy granted to the only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, and imposed restrictions in violation of people’s basic rights. Since October 2018, Indian authorities have threatened to deport Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security, and have already repatriated over a dozen. States use laws against cow slaughter to prosecute Muslim cattle traders even as BJP-affiliated groups attack Muslims and Dalits on rumors that they killed or traded cows for beef. Most recently, three BJP-ruled states have passed an anti-conversion law, which in practice is used against Muslim men who marry Hindu women.

These actions violate domestic law and India’s obligations under international human rights law that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion, and require the governments to provide residents with equal protection of the law. The Indian government is also obligated to protect religious and other minority populations, and to fully and fairly prosecute those responsible for discrimination and violence against them, Human Rights Watch said.

“The BJP government’s actions have stoked communal hatred, created deep fissures in society, and led to much fear and mistrust of authorities among minority communities,” Ganguly said. “India’s standing as a secular democracy is at serious risk unless the government rolls back discriminatory laws and policies and ensures justice for abuses against minorities.”

https://www.milligazette.com/news/Human-Rights/33810-year-after-delhi-violence-bias-against-muslims-taints-investigation/

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Alvi urges France to avoid discriminatory laws against Muslims

February 21, 2021

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Saturday urged the political leadership of France not to entrench the discriminatory attitudes against Muslim into laws and warned that such steps would lead to serious repercussions in the shape of hatred and conflict.

“You [France] need to bring people together and not to stamp a religion in a certain manner to create disharmony and bias,” he said at an international conference on religious freedom and minorities rights.

The president’s statement came in reference to a bill passed by the French parliament’s lower house on Tuesday with an overwhelming majority that would strengthen oversight of mosques in an act of discrimination against Muslims.

Hosted by the Presidency, the event was attended by Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, Parliamentary Secretary Shunila Ruth and European Union Ambassador to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara. Besides, Member of the US Democratic Central State Committee Ayesha Khan and Implementation of Minority Rights Forum Chairman Samuel Pyara also addressed the moot attended by representatives of the minority communities and international organisations, religious scholars and bishops.

President Alvi said the French legislation was not in line with the United Nations charter and contradicted the spirit of social harmony that Europe previously instilled in its society. Let there not be a retrogressive step for situations which arise out of animosity and for situations which are carried forward by the people who do not know about the real Islam, he said.

Dr Alvi said the damage might not be evident at present but would ultimately end up in a terrible scenario of hatred and hostility. To label the entire religion in a different manner and to start taking precautions against the entire community sparks the fact that if not now, it will have very bad repercussions in the next 10 years, he said.

He said the West was being communicated by the government of Pakistan that blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad in the name of freedom of expression and religion was considered by entire Muslims Ummah an insult to the revered personality.

He said laws existed in the West about protection of certain ideas such as Holocaust, the violation of which created disharmony. Similarly, the laws [about Islam’s Prophet] should make sure that this does not happen, he added. President Alvi said the government believed in an emerging Pakistan with peace and harmony among people with all religions, faiths and colours merged into the ideals of peace and prosperity.

“In Pakistan, we believe today, there is morality behind every decision. At the same time, it is in our self-interest that the people of Pakistan must be together and, in all laws, and everything we do, we must ensure that we will promptly fight incidents raising differences.”

The president said there could be accidents and incidents attempting to create disharmony but the nation would fight those very promptly, adding it was a continuous struggle to maintain peace. Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the country’s religion of majority population and the Constitution guaranteed protection of rights of minorities.

EU Ambassador Androulla Kaminara said the EU would continue to partner with Pakistan in promoting development and religious harmony under the EU-Pak Strategic Engagement 2019.

She said schools and universities could promote religious tolerance, adding EU in Pakistan would collaborate for a positive change in the lives of people.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608466/alvi-urges-france-to-avoid-discriminatory-laws-against-muslims

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Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi: We learned jihad against occupation from Martyr al-Sadr

Source : Nujaba

February 20, 2021

In a message on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Ayatollah al-Sadr by the Ba’athist executioners, Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi described the spiritual figure as a teacher of jihad and resistance against oppression and occupation.

According to the Communication and Media Affairs Centre of al-Nujaba in Iran, Sheikh al-Kaabi, the secretary-general of al-Nujaba Islamic Resistance Movement, issued a statement on the occasion of the anniversary of the martyrdom of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr, saying, “On the anniversary of the martyrdom of this holy guardian of God, we remember all the values he left among us. How can we complement what he founded and offered his pure blood for?”

Sheikh al-Kaabi continued, “On such a day, a resilient figure who was a teacher of endurance and stability passed away, a warrior left us with whom we engaged in jihad and did not surrender, just as he did not surrender.”

Praising the spiritual status of Ayatollah al-Sadr and emphasizing the continuation of the path of that martyred teacher of the resistance, he noted, “We continue to walk in the direction of the ‘no’ he said to oppression, corruption and occupation.”

https://en.abna24.com/news//sheikh-akram-al-kaabi-we-learned-jihad-against-occupation-from-martyr-al-sadr_1116974.html

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Russian and Pakistani officials Discuss ‘Afghan Peace Process’

By Khaama Press

20 Feb 2021

Russian President’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, on Friday met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and exchanged views on the Afghanistan peace process.

Zamir Kabulov, Russian Special Envoy for Afghanistan on Friday met with Pakistani Foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both shared views on the Afghan peace process.

The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan said in a statement that “both Pakistan and Russia have convergence of views on matters of mutual interest including an inclusive political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan”.

Pakistani foreign minister reiterated that his country’s support to the Afghan peace process, Qureshi highlighted “Pakistan’s facilitation of the U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement and subsequent commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations,” the statement said.

Qureshi hoped that peace talks would lead to an acceptable and desired achievement of a “peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan”.

According to the statement, Qureshi stressed on the importance of regional consultations and appreciated the role of Four Party Talks in the facilitation of the Afghan peace negotiations.

Pakistani media reported, that matters of mutual interest, regional security, progress in the Afghan peace process were talked over.

During the meeting that peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan is one of the biggest interests of the region he added, “The visiting dignitary appreciated the positive role being played by Pakistan for Afghan Peace Process and expressed that, Pak-Russia relations will continue to prosper manifolds”

“Both sides reiterated the commitment to enhance the bilateral relationship,” the statement read.

https://www.khaama.com/russian-and-pakistani-officials-discuss-afghan-peace-process-445544/

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India

Year After Delhi Violence, Bias Against Muslims Taints Investigation: HRW

HRW.org

20 Feb 2021

New York : Authorities in India have adopted laws and policies that systematically discriminate against Muslims and stigmatize critics of the government, Human Rights Watch said today. Prejudices embedded in the government of the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have infiltrated independent institutions, such as the police and the courts, empowering nationalist groups to threaten, harass, and attack religious minorities with impunity.

February 23, 2021 marks the one-year anniversary of the communal violence in Delhi that killed 53 people, 40 of them Muslim. Instead of conducting a credible and impartial investigation, including into allegations that BJP leaders incited violence and police officials were complicit in attacks, the authorities have targeted activists and protest organizers. The authorities have lately responded to another mass protest, this time by farmers, by vilifying minority Sikh protesters and opening investigations into their alleged affiliation with separatist groups.

“The BJP’s embrace of the Hindu majority at the expense of minorities has seeped into government institutions, undermining equal protection of the law without discrimination,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government has not only failed to protect Muslims and other minorities from attacks but is providing political patronage and cover for bigotry.”

The February 2020 attacks in Delhi had followed months of peaceful protests by Indians of all faiths against the government’s discriminatory citizenship law and proposed policies. BJP leaders and supporters attempted to discredit protesters, particularly Muslims, by accusing them of conspiring against national interests.

Similarly, after hundreds of thousands of farmers of various faiths began protesting against the government’s new farm laws in November 2020, senior BJP leaders, their supporters on social media, and pro-government media, began blaming the Sikhs, another religious minority. They accuse Sikhs of having a “Khalistani” agenda, a reference to a Sikh separatist insurgency in Punjab in the 1980s and 90s. On February 8, Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke in parliament, describing people participating in various peaceful protests as “parasites,” and calling international criticism of increasing authoritarianism in India a “foreign destructive ideology.”

Following violent clashes on January 26 between the police and protesting farmers who broke through police barricades to enter Delhi, the authorities filed baseless criminal cases against journalists, ordered the internet to be shut down at multiple sites, and ordered Twitter to block nearly 1,200 accounts, including of journalists and news organizations, some of which Twitter later restored. On February 14, the authorities arrested a climate activist, accusing her of sedition and criminal conspiracy for allegedly editing a document providing information on the protests and how to support them on social media, and issued warrants against two others.

The latest arrests come amid increased targeting of activists, academics, and other critics, by the government in recent years. The authorities have especially harassed and prosecuted those protecting the rights of minorities and vulnerable communities. BJP leaders and affiliated groups have long portrayed minority communities, especially Muslims, as a threat to national security and to the Hindu way of life. They have raised the bogey of “love jihad,” claiming that Muslim men lure Hindu women into marriages to convert them to Islam, labeled Muslims illegal immigrants or even extremists, and accused them of hurting Hindu sentiment over cow slaughter.

Since Modi’s BJP came to power in 2014, it has taken various legislative and other actions that have legitimized discrimination against religious minorities and enabled violent Hindu nationalism, Human Rights Watch said.

The government passed a citizenship law in December 2019 that discriminates against Muslims, making religion the basis for citizenship for the first time. In August 2019, the government also revoked the constitutional autonomy granted to the only Muslim-majority state, Jammu and Kashmir, and imposed restrictions in violation of people’s basic rights. Since October 2018, Indian authorities have threatened to deport Rohingya Muslim refugees to Myanmar despite the risks to their lives and security, and have already repatriated over a dozen. States use laws against cow slaughter to prosecute Muslim cattle traders even as BJP-affiliated groups attack Muslims and Dalits on rumors that they killed or traded cows for beef. Most recently, three BJP-ruled states have passed an anti-conversion law, which in practice is used against Muslim men who marry Hindu women.

These actions violate domestic law and India’s obligations under international human rights law that prohibit discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion, and require the governments to provide residents with equal protection of the law. The Indian government is also obligated to protect religious and other minority populations, and to fully and fairly prosecute those responsible for discrimination and violence against them, Human Rights Watch said.

“The BJP government’s actions have stoked communal hatred, created deep fissures in society, and led to much fear and mistrust of authorities among minority communities,” Ganguly said. “India’s standing as a secular democracy is at serious risk unless the government rolls back discriminatory laws and policies and ensures justice for abuses against minorities.”

https://www.milligazette.com/news/Human-Rights/33810-year-after-delhi-violence-bias-against-muslims-taints-investigation/

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Mathura Court Admits Two Pleas Seeking Shifting Of 17th Century Shahi Idgah Mosque

Outlook Web Bureau

21 February 2021

A court in Mathura admitted two pleas seeking shifting of the Shahi Idgah which is claimed to have been built at the birthplace of Lord Krishna, within the 13.37-acre premises of the Katra Keshav Dev temple, according to a district government counsel.

District Government Counsel Sanjai Gaur said one of the suits was filed by Advocate Shailendra Singh and four others.

Civil Judge Senior Division Neha Banaudia admitted the suits and fixed March 10 as the date of the next hearing.

They sought the shifting of the Shahi Idgah mosque, which is claimed to have been built at the birthplace of Lord Krishna, within the 13.37-acre premises of the Katra Keshav Dev temple here.

Judge Neha Banaudia also ordered that no fresh suit will now be admitted. The judge also set a date for becoming a party to the case.

Anybody desirous of becoming a party can file the request within a month as any request after that won’t be accepted, the order said.

The judge has also ordered to get the directions published in newspapers for coverage.

https://www.outlookindia.com/website/story/india-news-mathura-court-admits-two-pleas-seeking-shifting-of-17th-century-shahi-idgah-mosque/374879

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‘Tolerance, edu can help Muslims face challenges’

Feb 21, 2021

Hyderabad: Telangana home minister Mahmood Ali said tolerance, equality, justice and education can help Muslims face challenges ahead at an event on Saturday.

He advised Muslims to face the future challenges with their skills and education adding that the dearth of vision and wisdom has disrupted progress of the community. The home minister lauded the ganga-jamuni tehzeeb of Hyderabad, and added that it will continue to be a confluence of peacefully coexisting multi-cultural and multi-religious communities.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/tolerance-edu-can-help-muslims-face-challenges/articleshowprint/81130355.cms

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Assam Assembly election 2021, Mankachar profile: INC's Motiur Rohman Mondal handily beat AIUDF's Md Aminul Islam in 2016

FP Research

February 20, 2021

Mankachar Assembly Election 2021: Mankachar constituency is located in Assam's Dhubri district. It falls under the Dhubri Lok Sabha constituency. In the 2016 Assembly election, the constituency had a total of 182,791 registered voters.

Voter turnout in previous election

The voter turnout in Mankachar in the previous Assembly election was 93.89 percent.

Past election results and winners

In the 2016 Assembly election, the INC's Motiur Rohman Mondal, with 53,800 votes, handily beat AIUDF's Md Aminul Islam, who got 49,868 votes.

In the 2011 Assembly election, the IND's Zabed Islam, with 53,937 votes, easily beat INC's Nazibul Umar, who received 46,455 votes.

The Mankachar constituency is expected to go to polls in April or May 2021, as part of the 2021 Assam Assembly election.

The Assam Assembly polls will be held to elect a total of 126 Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs).

https://www.firstpost.com/politics/assam-assembly-election-2021-mankachar-profile-incs-motiur-rohman-mondal-handily-beat-aiudfs-md-aminul-islam-in-2016-9199371.html

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Release Passports Of Acquitted Foreign Islamic Sect Members: Court To Cops

Press Trust of India

February 21, 2021

New Delhi: A Delhi court Saturday directed the police to release the passports of 35 foreigners, who were acquitted in December last year in a case in which they were charge sheeted for attending the Tablighi Jamaat congregation here, allegedly being negligent and disobeying the government guidelines issued in wake of COVID-19 pandemic.

Chief Metropolitan Magistrate Arun Kumar Garg said all the foreigners have already been acquitted by the court and the police has not filed any appeal/revision till date to the acquittal order.

The court's directions came after the investigating officer submitted he had no objection in releasing the passports to the foreigners.

Advocate Ashima Mandla, appearing for the foreigners, submitted that the Look out Circulars (LOCs) issued against the foreigners were closed in February.

The court said in its similar order passed on the foreigners'' applications, "...considering the facts that the accused have already been acquitted by the court vide judgement dated December 15, 2020, non-filing of any appeal/revision by the state against the judgement dated December 12, 2020 of this court till date and that the LOC(s) qua the applicant(s) have already been closed by the DCP pursuant to the directions of the Supreme Court of India, the application of the present applicant(s) is disposed off with the directions to release the original passport(s) of the applicant(s) to the applicant(s) or his/her (their) attorney against proper acknowledgement as per rules, after verification of his/her (their) identity."

The applications, moved through Mandla and Mandakini Singh, sought release of the passports which were in the custody of the police. The pleas noted that the Supreme Court had on January 13 directed the government to facilitate the return of the acquitted foreigners to their respective countries.

While acquitting the foreigners from 14 countries of all charges in December last year, the court had said the prosecution has failed to prove the presence of the accused at the Markaz premises during from March 12 to April 1.

The court had further said in its order that as per the list of evacuees, none of the accused was having Covid-19 symptoms and hence there was no question of any negligent act on their part, which to their knowledge or belief was likely to spread infection.

"It is beyond comprehension of the court, as to how, Investigating Officer (IO) could have identified 952 foreign nationals out of 2,343 persons, who as per Station House Officer, were found flouting the guidelines, without any Test Identification Parade, but on the basis of the list provided by Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India," it had said.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/release-passports-of-acquitted-foreign-islamic-sect-members-court-to-cops-2375176

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Pakistan

Alvi urges France to avoid discriminatory laws against Muslims

February 21, 2021

ISLAMABAD: President Dr Arif Alvi on Saturday urged the political leadership of France not to entrench the discriminatory attitudes against Muslim into laws and warned that such steps would lead to serious repercussions in the shape of hatred and conflict.

“You [France] need to bring people together and not to stamp a religion in a certain manner to create disharmony and bias,” he said at an international conference on religious freedom and minorities rights.

The president’s statement came in reference to a bill passed by the French parliament’s lower house on Tuesday with an overwhelming majority that would strengthen oversight of mosques in an act of discrimination against Muslims.

Hosted by the Presidency, the event was attended by Minister for Religious Affairs Pir Noorul Haq Qadri, Parliamentary Secretary Shunila Ruth and European Union Ambassador to Pakistan Androulla Kaminara. Besides, Member of the US Democratic Central State Committee Ayesha Khan and Implementation of Minority Rights Forum Chairman Samuel Pyara also addressed the moot attended by representatives of the minority communities and international organisations, religious scholars and bishops.

President Alvi said the French legislation was not in line with the United Nations charter and contradicted the spirit of social harmony that Europe previously instilled in its society. Let there not be a retrogressive step for situations which arise out of animosity and for situations which are carried forward by the people who do not know about the real Islam, he said.

Dr Alvi said the damage might not be evident at present but would ultimately end up in a terrible scenario of hatred and hostility. To label the entire religion in a different manner and to start taking precautions against the entire community sparks the fact that if not now, it will have very bad repercussions in the next 10 years, he said.

He said the West was being communicated by the government of Pakistan that blasphemy of Prophet Muhammad in the name of freedom of expression and religion was considered by entire Muslims Ummah an insult to the revered personality.

He said laws existed in the West about protection of certain ideas such as Holocaust, the violation of which created disharmony. Similarly, the laws [about Islam’s Prophet] should make sure that this does not happen, he added. President Alvi said the government believed in an emerging Pakistan with peace and harmony among people with all religions, faiths and colours merged into the ideals of peace and prosperity.

“In Pakistan, we believe today, there is morality behind every decision. At the same time, it is in our self-interest that the people of Pakistan must be together and, in all laws, and everything we do, we must ensure that we will promptly fight incidents raising differences.”

The president said there could be accidents and incidents attempting to create disharmony but the nation would fight those very promptly, adding it was a continuous struggle to maintain peace. Minister Noorul Haq Qadri said the country’s religion of majority population and the Constitution guaranteed protection of rights of minorities.

EU Ambassador Androulla Kaminara said the EU would continue to partner with Pakistan in promoting development and religious harmony under the EU-Pak Strategic Engagement 2019.

She said schools and universities could promote religious tolerance, adding EU in Pakistan would collaborate for a positive change in the lives of people.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608466/alvi-urges-france-to-avoid-discriminatory-laws-against-muslims

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Lahore Literary Festival 2021: ‘Muslim youth fashioning what social life should be’

Khalid Khattak

February 21, 2021

LAHORE: Speakers at a session on the second last day of Lahore Literary Festival (LLF) 2021 observed that youth in most parts of the world, including the Muslim world, were returning to a more diverse understanding of what social life should be like.

They were speaking at Book Launch, “Black Wave: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Rivalry that Unraveled the Middle East” written by Emmy Award-winning journalist and author Kim Ghattas. Iranian-American academic and author Vali Nasr also joined the session which was moderated by Khaled Ahmed of Newsweek Pakistan.

The speakers also observed that voting to conservative parties was not just happening in the Muslim world alone, adding, perhaps by doing so people expected better governance models.

Referring to title of her book Kim Ghattas the term Black Wave was coined by an Egyptian movie director to describe what was happening around in 1990s in Egypt as she saw this as euphemism for darkness that engulfed so many countries in 1980s.

Kim said despite this darkness, what she tried to do in her book, was to show how despite this darkness there were always people everywhere who were fighting back, writing poetry, singing, dancing and fighting militants.

It is pertinent to mention here that the first ever all virtual LLF2021 stated on February 18 and will continue till February 18 featuring some of the best writers, authors, historians and journalists from Pakistan and around the world.

At the book launch “Bacha Khan, My Life and Struggle” human rights activist Afrasiab Khattak and London School of Economics’s Mukulika Banerjee threw light on political struggle of Bacha Khan. Shandana Humayun Khan moderated the session and said the movement of Bacha Khan was peaceful and non-violent.

Mukulika Banerjee said, “Bacha Khan was unique voice. His voice must be read by everyone.” She further said when Bacha Khan died it was written by newspaper that non-violent leader passed away. There was outpouring grief everywhere because he was extraordinary person. Bacha Khan had a special place like Gandhi. These two people were special said, Mukulika Banerjee. She said, when the death of Bacha Khan was near he was sick. He said he did not want to bury in Pakistan. Indian offered him that his mausoleum would be built between Nehru and Gandi but he refused, said Mukulika Banerjee. According to her, Bacha Khan wanted to be buried in Jalalabad Afghanistan. After his death across the Durand line, there was no shelling, no firing. In 1988, ceased fire was called. Thousands of people crossed the border to attend the funeral of Bacha in Afghanistan. It was great moment. It was extraordinary funeral. He was such a great man; he had earned respect in India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Afrasiyab Khattak said his determination was very impressive. He used to live in society which was tribal for centuries were customs ruled. But Bacha khan decided to reform the society, politicised it and brought it into mainstream in South Asia and world as well. He was a social reformer and he proved it. He focused on education. Khattak further said transformation was great success of Bacha Khan, adding that he made Pashtoon society democratic and modernised it. His vision was beyond religion color, social status and race. He was true humanist. He loved Pashtoons but his was not limited to Pashtoon as he loved people across the globe. Bacha Khan was voice marginalised and oppressed, he added. The noted rights activist further said that Bacha Khan taught us to respect diversity and added this book was very important for us and for generation. Our history is lost actually. Unfortunately, he was labeled as traitor.

Bacha Khan stood for peace, harmony and brotherhood. He was against war in Afghanistan, said Khattak. He wanted Russian forces be out from Afghanistan. He kept his struggle for peace till end of his life, said Khattak. A book representing what author calls ‘a different Pakistan’ was also launched here at the LLF2021. The book titled, ‘Midnight Doorways: Fables from Pakistan,’ portrays fables of a ‘haunted Pakistan’. Usman T. Malik, the author of the book dilated upon different angles discussed by him in conversation with Snopes reporter Nur Nasreen Ibrahim. Usman, several international awards winner fiction writer hailing from Lahore, said the title doorways depicted options and opportunities while stories referring to human choices.

Emphasizing a fable is like torch-bearer of history, he said a lot of people looked at fables as mere moral allegories. While mentioning the second part of the title of the book, he stressed that a fable which gives up its moral allegory is not a true fable. The writer was of the view that he greatly enjoyed writing such stories. I wrote this book to represent a different Pakistan. A haunted Pakistan, a Pakistan which had come out of two-decade long war. These stories look at that haunted Pakistan through a different lens, he observed.

Usman especially mentioned Nayyer Masood and Khalida Asghar who inspired him to write such stories. He also praised work of nine artists who did illustrations of different stories in the book.

Earlier, the first session of the third day started with “Aleph Review: Journal Writing in Pakistan” with Editor Mehvash Amin, Senior contributing Editor, Afshan Shafi and Hassan Tahir Latif.

The 3rd session & 4th sessions of this one of the most celebrated and acknowledged literary festivals in this part of the world consisted of two back to back books launching events which presented introduction and discussions on the Book “Cheeni Kothi” and Urdu literary marvel. This session had the Kolkata based modern fiction Urdu writer Siddiq Alam and Nasir Abbas Nayyar.

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/793400-lahore-literary-festival-2021-muslim-youth-fashioning-what-social-life-should-be

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Pak religious scholars to protest against Imran Khan's plans to 'take over' mosques, seminaries

Feb 20, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan's religious scholars have threatened to protest against Prime Minister Imran Khan-led government's plans to take over the mosques and seminaries.

According to a report by Dawn, the scholars at a convention raised their voices against the Waqf Amlak Act 2020 and vowed to resist it.

The members who participated in the convention included the head of the movement Maulana Zahoor Ahmad Alvi, chief of Punjab chapter of Wafaqul Madaris Arabia Pakistan Maulana Qazi Abdur Rashid among others.

They said that the representatives from five schools of thought, leaders of religious parties and representatives of five boards of education of seminaries will be jointly protesting against the new educational boards for seminaries.

"Mosques and seminaries had been free, are free and will remain free. None will be allowed to put restrictions on their freedom. We have resisted all such conspiracies in the past and would face them in times to come. The movement to protect mosques and seminaries will continue," they added.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/pakistan/pak-religious-scholars-to-protest-against-imran-khans-plans-to-take-over-mosques-seminaries/articleshowprint/81127653.cms

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Pakistan peacekeeper dies in Sudan accident

Anwar Iqbal

February 21, 2021

WASHINGTON: A Pakista­­ni soldier, Lance Naik Tahir Ikram, died in Sudan on Saturday when his truck met with an accident in the South Darfur region, Pakistan’s UN Mission announced.

Tahir Ikram was associated with the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and was driving a mission truck when he had the accident. He was a member of the UNAMID’s Formed Police Unit.

The statement released by Pakistan’s UN Mission did not say how the accident happened and whether other people were also involved in this mishap.

“My sincere and heartfelt condolences to Lance Naik Tahir Ikram’s family on the tragic passing of a valuable member of International Police Peacekeeping,” Pakistan’s UN Ambassador Munir Akram said in a message released in New York.

“His services will be forever remembered. His dedication in the line of duty is beyond the call of duty. We are immeasurably indebted to him,” he added.

Pakistan is one of the longest-serving and largest contributors to UN peacekeeping and has a health personnel unit in Darfur as well.

Pakistan’s first UN peacekeeping mission began in 1960 in Congo and so far more than 200,000 Pakistani soldiers have participated in 60 missions in 28 countries. Pakistan still has more than 7,000 personnel deployed in nine countries as part of 14 ongoing UN missions.

During its long association with UN peacekeeping missions, Pakistan has lost 157 personnel and 24 officers — martyred during their efforts to restore peace and stability in some of the world’s most turbulent regions.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608499/pakistan-peacekeeper-dies-in-sudan-accident

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Isa hopes SC will stand against constitutional violations

Nasir Iqbal

February 21, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Justice Qazi Faez Isa on Saturday hoped and prayed that the Supreme Court would stand unwaveringly against all manners of constitutional violations and safeguard the people against misuse of power.

In a strongly worded 28-page dissenting note, Justice Faez Isa also expressed the hope that unstructured discretion would be curtailed since it had neither served any institution nor the interest of people, adding that the most resilient and finest institutions were those where candour, transparency and legitimate dissent existed.

The dissenting note is a continuation of the Feb 11 order in which a five-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed had barred one of its members — Justice Isa — from hearing the cases concerning Prime Minister Imran Khan. The bench was hearing the proposed distribution of uplift grant of Rs500 million each among the PTI lawmakers.

“The tug of war between the senior members of the top judiciary is bringing down, rather compromising, the prestige and honour of the highest institution of justice,” regretted a senior law officer on condition of anonymity.

Also, Barrister Taimur Malik, an international law expert, said in a tweet: “Pakistan has passed through phases of Judicial Acquiescence, Judicial Activism, Judicial Imperialism and (briefly) Judicial Restraint. Where are we headed now!”

Justice Isa expressed his disappointment by stating that a non-issue was raised by the chief justice and, without hearing him, unilaterally decided that he might be biased and lack impartiality. “Thus in an unprecedented fashion and without any evidence or without any recourse to petition or appeal, the reputation of a judge of the Supreme Court was tarnished,” Justice Isa bemoaned.

Consequently, credibility and integrity of the judiciary has also been undermined, he regretted in the dissenting note, dubbing the Feb 11 order by four senior judges of the apex court something that did not meet the stipulated criteria to constitute a legal order of a decision in terms of Article 189 of the Constitution and thus contrary to the rules of natural justice, the Constitution, impartiality and fair play and undermined this court.

“The appraisal and review of the decisions of this court dating back to the 1950s show that to be properly categorised as an ‘order’ or a ‘judgment’, reasons therein must be given, adjudication should take place after a careful consideration of the facts and the law and the decision made only after giving the affected party an opportunity of being heard,” he emphasised.

The Feb 11 order did not state which particular jurisdiction was exercised, he said, observing that if the court assumed jurisdiction which it did not have, such an action or order was liable to be struck down.

Justice Isa explained that Imran Khan’s person and the office of prime minister were two different things and were not interchangeable since the prime minister was the head of the federal government and even the head of the state (the president) in most matters acted on his advice. If the Feb 11 order was implemented, it would mean that a judge of the Supreme Court can only hear cases of private civil disputes because even in criminal cases the state is always a party.

On bias, Justice Isa observed that he did not personally know Imran Khan and, therefore, he could not possibly have a bias against him as the prime minister. “I am more than capable of adjudicating impartially and without bias”, failing which, he would violate the Constitution, his oath, his conscience and his faith, he said. “My brethren [other judges] are not my conscience keepers, nor am I theirs.”

Justice Isa regretted that if Imran Khan wanted to make allegations of bias against him, the premier had to do so himself but Attorney General for Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan was not the personal lawyer of the prime minister nor could the chief justice extend support to the prime minister or restrain the judge nor the Constitution or law permitted judges to look into the hearts of colleague judges and determine whether they suffered from biasness and lack of impartiality. “Almighty Allah alone knows what is in the hearts.”

Justice Isa also recalled how he wrote a letter to the chief justice to object to the constitution of the five-judge bench in which Justice Maqbool Baqar was not included despite the fact that the judge was part of the two-judge bench which had requested the CJP to constitute a larger bench. But, he regretted, the CJP did not respond to the letter.

“This court often castigates arbitrary exercise of discretion, yet in constituting benches hearing important constitutional matters unstructured discretion is exercised,” Justice Isa regretted. “This recurrent issue has been left unattended by the chief justices and not made into an agenda item for full-court meetings,” he observed, adding that the apex court was the final arbiter of all disputes and the custodian of the Constitution and was tasked with ensuring that the executive did not overreach or act contrary to the Constitution.

“If the executive’s transgressions are not checked, and instead benches are reconstituted and judges restrained, the people suffer,” he observed.

Justice Isa also highlighted 20 improprieties and illegalities in the Feb 11 order, saying that without informing the two-member bench, which was already hearing the matter, the CJP decided to reconstitute the bench, expand it and exclude Justice Maqbool Baqar from it, no one had alleged bias or lack of impartiality against any judge on the bench, and without consulting his colleagues on the bench, the chief justice tersely announced that a judge should not hear any case involving the prime minister; the CJP arbitrarily introduced a non-issue — bias and lack of impartiality on the part of a judge on the bench, who was not made privy to the written order.

Likewise, the order was sent to a junior judge while the said judge, his senior, was bypassed; the order of the court was not written and thus, not signed and, therefore, there is no order of the court and the matter remains pending.

Justice Isa said the Feb 11 order was uploaded on the website before a judge had seen it, let alone had the opportunity to agree/disagree with it; the order and case file were not sent, in accordance with longstanding established practice, to him, who learnt it through the media and had to write to the registrar seeking the order and case file.

Moreover, the restraining paragraph of the order contravenes the oath of judges, contrary to the Islamic principles, contrary to the settled jurisprudence.

The anomalies also pointed out that the prime minister’s reported statement said that money from the public purse would be disbursed for apparent political patronage at a time when the Senate elections were on the horizon and, therefore, notice was issued by the two-judge bench earlier; however, without a proper determination, and without ascertainment of the veracity and effect of the documents he produced about the release of development funds in constituency No 65, the matter was abruptly disposed of.

“What commenced as an attempt to prevent corrupt practices and bribery ended with a judge being rebuked and restrained,” Justice Isa regretted, adding that submitting a resignation letter was contemplated, but then he remembered that this was not about a judge and his mistreatment.

“It is about something far more important; the Constitution, the peoples’ rights and their monies. All of which I have, with Almighty Allah’s help and grace, endeavored to protect and will (Insha’Allah) continue to do so,” Justice Isa observed.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608487/isa-hopes-sc-will-stand-against-constitutional-violations

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Fencing to boost border security: interior minister

Ali Raza Rind

February 21, 2021

GWADAR/CHAGAI: Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed, who is on a four-day visit to Balochistan, has said that the government is boosting security arrangements by erecting fences along the borders with Afghanistan and Iran.

He said this during a visit to the Pak-Iran border where he took an aerial view of Mand and Redeeg and visited the newly-opened trade gateway with Iran at Raimdan/Gabad.

Inspector General of Frontier Corps, South, Maj Gen Bilal Safdar and Deputy Commissioner of Turbat Ilyas Badini accompanied the interior minister during the visit.

The officials at a briefing told the minister that 40 per cent fencing work at the Iran border had been completed and the 928km fence would be completed by June this year.

Similarly, he was told that 90pc fencing work had been completed at the Afghan border and the remaining work would be completed in four months.

The interior minister said that Pakistan and Iran enjoyed cordial relations, which would be further strengthened with the passage of time as Pakistan gave importance to its relations with Iran.

He said that Pakistan was developing its border management system on modern lines to provide maximum legal crossing and trade facilities at the borders with Iran and Afghanistan.

Sheikh Rashid said that the government was taking steps to ensure internal security and would not allow enemies of the country to succeed in their nefarious designs.

He said that Gwadar would be the future economic hub of Pakistan and that was why the enemy wanted to destabilise Balochistan but all such designs would be foiled by the security forces with the cooperation of the people.

The interior minister expressed similar views during a visit to Pak-Iran border in the Taftan area of Chagai district. He visited different entry points at Taftan border crossing and witnessed the arrangements for trade and residential camps for pilgrims travelling to Iran.

The minister vowed to facilitate cross-border trade and said that resources were being utilised to boost internal security of the country.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608500/fencing-to-boost-border-security-interior-minister

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PPP’s Nisar Morai, others jailed for seven years in FCS case

Naeem Sahoutara

February 21, 2021

KARACHI: An accountability court on Saturday sentenced Pakistan Peoples Party leader Dr Nisar Ahmed Jan Memon, alias Nisar Morai, and three others, to seven years in prison each in a case pertaining to illegal appointments in the Fishermen Cooperative Society (FCS).

FCS former chairman Memon, former vice chairman Sultan Qamar Siddiqui, former contractor Imran Afzal and former audit manager Shaukat Hussain along with 12 others, including the incumbent and former FCS officials as well as contractors, had been charged with misusing their authority, embezzlement of funds, illegal appointments and awarding fake contracts during 2014-15.

The Accountability Court-I Judge, Abdul Ghani Soomro, pronounced his judgement reserved after recording evidence and final arguments from both sides.

Therefore, he awarded seven years in prison each to the FCS ex-chairman Memon, ex-vice chairman Sultan Qamar Siddiqui, ex-contractor Imran Afzal and ex-audit manager Shaukat Hussain.

The court had reserved the decision on a previous hearing after concluding the trial spanning over three years during which testimonies of around 32 prosecution witnesses had been recorded.

In May 2018, the court indicted 16 accused persons for misusing their authority, embezzlement of funds, illegal appointments and awarding fake contracts during 2014-15.

According to the National Accountability Bureau, the accused persons had caused a loss of Rs343 million to the national exchequer by inducting their relatives and others in the FCS violating the recruitment rules.

It further mentioned that Memon joined FCS as a director in 2013 and within a year became its chairman while he was already holding a public office as a medical officer in the Sindh health department and continued to draw salary in this capacity till 2015.

The prosecution further mentioned that Memon had allegedly made 343 illegal appointments in the FCS against the due process and misappropriated funds. Siddiqui was accused of getting his father-in-law, brother-in-law and other relatives appointed in the society.

Both Siddiqui and Memon were picked up by the Rangers in 2015 and 2016 respectively, after which they were detained for 90 days under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Siddiqui was also charged with facilitating the attack on the Ismaili community in Safoora Goth in which 46 people were killed. Later, a military court acquitted him in the case.

Memon was charged with the murder of chairman of the Pakistan Steel Mills Sajjad Hussain. Later, he was granted bail and the case is still pending before a sessions’ court.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608461/ppps-nisar-morai-others-jailed-for-seven-years-in-fcs-case

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Lawyers’ representatives demand reconstruction of demolished chambers in Islamabad

Malik Asad

February 21, 2021

ISLAMABAD: Representatives of lawyers’ associations on Saturday demanded reconstruction of chambers demolished by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the district administration in an anti-encroachment operation on Feb 8.

The demand came in a joint resolution passed by representatives of Pakistan Bar Council, Supreme Court Bar Association, Islamabad Bar Council, Punjab Bar Council, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Bar Council, Sindh Bar Council and Azad Kashmir Bar Council at a lawyers’ convention here.

According to Raja Aleem Abbasi, member Islamabad Bar Council (IBC), Mr Afridi excused from participating in the convention due to an ailment, but he was represented by Advocate Sheerin Imran.

The lawyers demanded immediate transfer of District and Sessions Judge Islamabad (west) Tahir Khan and constitution of a joint investigation team (JIT) to identify those responsible for demolishing the chambers.

Resolution passed at convention seeks withdrawal of CDA’s notification issued to 200 lawyers to vacate chambers built on state land

Moreover, they demanded withdrawal of the notification issued by the CDA to the occupants of illegally established chambers and said the lawyers may be allowed to use the chambers until the construction of a complex for them.

Following the Feb 8 anti-encroachment drive, a large number of lawyers stormed into the IHC, attacked the Chief Justice Block and detained him as well as other judges for a couple of hours.

Subsequently, police registered FIRs against 32 lawyers under different sections of Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA). Besides, IHC also started disciplinary proceedings against 21 lawyers.

The resolution of lawyers demanded the IHC stop disciplinary proceedings against the lawyers and quash the FIRs.Pakistan Bar Council Vice Chairman Khushdil Khan told the lawyers that the matter related to the chambers had been discussed with the chief justice of Pakistan.

He said PBC had convened a meeting to review the situation, adding lawyers believed in peaceful struggle and the bar council would continue to support them.

Islamabad High Court Bar Association President Chaudhry Haseeb Mohammad said the issue must be resolved through negotiations as lawyers were avoiding street agitation.

Criticising the CDA for issuing notices to about 200 lawyers to vacate the chambers built on state land, he warned that in case the CDA started an operation to demolish all the chambers in the district courts, it would lead to a never ending unrest not only among the lawyers of the federal capital but the entire legal fraternity.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) on the requisition of Senator Farooq H. Naek and other members convened a meeting on Feb 23 to discuss the prevailing situation in the federal capital.

A notice issued by the PBC stated: “On the requisition of Mr Farooq H. Naek, Hassan Raza Pasha, Haroonur Rashid, Syed Amjad Shah and Syed Qalb-i-Hassan, the 232nd meeting of the PBC is being held on Tuesday, 23rd Feb, 2021.”

The agenda of the meeting is “Considering the rapidly aggravating situation as a result of demolition of lawyers chambers in district courts, Islamabad on Feb 8, 2021, and subsequent registration of FIRs, issuance of contempt of court notices, by the Hon’ble Islamabad High Court, arrest of advocates and the order dated Feb 16, 2021, passed by Islamabad High Court for demolition of lawyers chambers.”

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608474/lawyers-representatives-demand-reconstruction-of-demolished-chambers-in-islamabad

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PTI Senate candidates use Punjab Governor House for ‘campaign’

Staff Reporter

February 21, 2021

LAHORE: The Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senate candidates from Islamabad, federal finance minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and Fauzia Arshad, along with some other federal ministers arrived in Lahore on Saturday for their election campaign.

The Senate candidates held a meeting with Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar at the Governor House and discussed the upcoming polls, to ensure that the PTI and allied parties’ National Assembly members vote for the party candidates.

The governor assured the candidates that the PTI members would definitely vote for them. He said the PTI allies were also standing with the party candidates, hoping it would win the both Senate seats from Islamabad.

Dr Sheikh and Ms Arshad, who are being accompanied by federal minister retired Brig Ejaz Shah, PTI Chief Whip in the National Assembly Malik Amir Dogar, MNA retired Brig Rahat Amanullah, MNA Chaudhry Shaukat Ali Bhatti and others. The team is expected to hold meetings with the party MNAs from Lahore.

Later, at a press conference at the Governor House, finance minister Dr Sheikh said the Senate election was not between him and Yousaf Raza Gilani, but it was a contest between the two parties.

Stating that he had worked with Mr Gillani, when the latter was serving as the country’s prime minister, Dr Sheikh said, “I want this election to be completely transparent and there should be no buying and selling [of votes]”.

Dr Sheikh said the government had approached the International Monetary Fund (IMF) due to the compulsion to make the country economically strong. In the previous government’s tenure, he said, the dollar reserves had dipped drastically.

The governor denied there were any differences within the PTI, and said the party MNAs might have reservations over some issues, but all of them were united under the leadership of Prime Minister Imran Khan. He said the PTI allies were also standing firm with the government.

“Winning both federal seats of the Senate by the PTI will prove that all the party members have fought the election of Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh and Fauzia Arshad as their own election,” the governor said.

Mr Sarwar said the PTI government and people of the country needed services of finance minister Dr Sheikh as he “saved Pakistan from economic crisis and made it economically prosperous” under the leadership of Imran Khan.

Federal Education Minister Shafqat Mahmood said the PML-N was declaring only those elections transparent that it was winning, when it lost it started crying rigging.

PPP REACTS: Meanwhile, the PPP has expressed its strong reservations over the Punjab Governor and Dr Hafeez Sheikh’s joint press conference at the Governor House and sought the Election Commission of Pakistan should take notice of the activity.

PPP Secretary General Syed Nayyar Husain Bukhari said the joint presser by the governor and the PTI Senate candidate was tantamount to pre-poll rigging and alleged that Chaudhry Sarwar had become PTI Senate election campaign in charge.

Mr Bukhari regretted the governor, while using his office, sought MNAs’ votes for Dr Sheikh and added the presser was a bid to influence the Senate elections.

“The ECP should take notice of converting the Governor House into the PTI’s election office as well as the governor’s political activities,” Mr Bukhari demanded.

https://www.dawn.com/news/1608551/pti-senate-candidates-use-punjab-governor-house-for-campaign

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Mideast

 

Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi: We learned jihad against occupation from Martyr al-Sadr

Source : Nujaba

February 20, 2021

In a message on the anniversary of the martyrdom of Ayatollah al-Sadr by the Ba’athist executioners, Sheikh Akram al-Kaabi described the spiritual figure as a teacher of jihad and resistance against oppression and occupation.

According to the Communication and Media Affairs Centre of al-Nujaba in Iran, Sheikh al-Kaabi, the secretary-general of al-Nujaba Islamic Resistance Movement, issued a statement on the occasion of the anniversary of the martyrdom of Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad-Sadiq al-Sadr, saying, “On the anniversary of the martyrdom of this holy guardian of God, we remember all the values he left among us. How can we complement what he founded and offered his pure blood for?”

Sheikh al-Kaabi continued, “On such a day, a resilient figure who was a teacher of endurance and stability passed away, a warrior left us with whom we engaged in jihad and did not surrender, just as he did not surrender.”

Praising the spiritual status of Ayatollah al-Sadr and emphasizing the continuation of the path of that martyred teacher of the resistance, he noted, “We continue to walk in the direction of the ‘no’ he said to oppression, corruption and occupation.”

https://en.abna24.com/news//sheikh-akram-al-kaabi-we-learned-jihad-against-occupation-from-martyr-al-sadr_1116974.html

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Email to Jewish lawmaker: 'This time, it's the Muslims who will deal with you'

Cnaan Liphshiz

Feb 20 , 2021

In a spate of anti-Semitic incidents in Western Europe, a swastika was carved into the door of a Swiss synagogue and a Jewish lawmaker in France received hate mail telling her to “get ready for the camps.”

Yaël Braun-Pivet, a Jewish lawmaker of the LREM centrist party of President Emmanuel Macron, on Thursday shared on Twitter an anti-Semitic hate mail that she received in her private email.

In addition to referencing death camps, the author wrote “This time, it’s the Muslims who will deal with you.” Also, “Jews can no longer come into some neighborhoods. Within two generations it will be whole cities. Demography determines laws.”

In the Switzerland incident, the members of the Jewish Community of Biel on Thursday found the words “Sieg Heil” and “Jews pack” etched onto the door of their synagogue alongside the swastika. Police are searching for suspects, the Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities wrote in a statement.

Earlier this month, pig meat was left at two other synagogues in Switzerland.

Separately, the words “Hitler force” were scrawled with a black marker on the car of a Jewish family in Milan, Italy, earlier this week.

https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/297170

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Crisis talks in Iran over nuclear ultimatum

ARAB NEWS

February 21, 2021

JEDDAH: The head of the UN nuclear watchdog arrived in Tehran for crisis talks on Saturday as the clock ticked down on an Iranian ultimatum for a US return to the deal aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

Rafael Grossi, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he would “meet with senior Iranian officials to find a mutually agreeable solution, compatible with Iranian law, so that the IAEA can continue essential verification activities in Iran.” He added: “I am looking forward to success — this is in everybody’s interest.”

The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was signed in 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since former US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and began reimposing sanctions, Iran has incrementally breached its obligations under the JCPOA, enriching uranium to prohibited levels of purity.

Rafael Mariano Grossi (right) Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency, speaks with spokesman of Iran's atomic agency Behrouz Kamalvandi upon his arrival at Tehran's Imam Khomeini airport, Iran, on Feb. 20, 2021. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

In its latest ultimatum, Tehran set a deadline of Feb. 23 for the US to return to full compliance with the agreement. If not, Iran will refuse to comply with a section of the JCPOA that permits unannounced snap inspections by the IAEA. The deadline, set in a law passed by the Iranian parliament, has fueled international concern about a possible expulsion of UN inspectors.

Iran has told the IAEA that it will suspend “voluntary transparency measures,” notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity.

“If the other side has not fulfilled its obligations to lift the sanctions, inspections beyond safeguard measures will be suspended,” Iran’s atomic energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said on Saturday.

US President Joe Biden on Friday urged European powers to work together to curb Iran’s “destabilizing activities.” He said: “The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us. That’s why we have said we’re prepared to re-engage in negotiations … on Iran’s nuclear program.”

The US insists Iran must comply with the JCPOA before it will consider easing sanctions, but Tehran says sanctions must be lifted first. In an opening gesture, the Biden administration has dropped a push for more sanctions proposed by Trump and removed restrictions on Iranian diplomats accredited to the UN.

Iran’s government spokesman Ali Rabiei said on Saturday that Tehran’s nuclear deadline would not prevent it from responding to any US show of goodwill.

“We predict with confidence that diplomatic initiatives will result in a favorable outcome despite the diplomatic wrangling, which is a natural prelude to the return of the parties to their commitments, including the lifting of all sanctions in the near future,” he said.

https://www.arabnews.com/node/1812976/middle-east

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Iran to launch direct shipping line to S. Africa, Latin America

February 20, 2021

TEHRAN TIMES

According to Babak Afghahi, ICC’s head of the non-oil trade and export development committee, the mentioned shipping line will connect southern Iranian ports to the ports of South Africa and then to Latin American countries, specifically Brazil.

The said shipping line is going to be launched with the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and is aimed to develop Iran’s non-oil trade with the countries in the mentioned regions.

“With the support of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, considering the capacity of Iran's cargo export to the mentioned destinations, the chambers of commerce across the country, the Trade Promotion Organization (TPO) of Iran and other export bodies have been informed about the new development,” Afghahi said.

As reported by IRNA, the Islamic Republic’s trade with South Africa reached $43 million in the first six months of the previous Iranian calendar year (March 21-September 22, 2019), while the figure stood at $27 million in the same period of its preceding year.

Following a new strategy for boosting non-oil trade and distancing the country’s economy from oil, Iran has been launching several direct shipping lines to its major trade destinations over the past few years

Earlier this month, the Head of Iran-Syria Joint Chamber of Commerce Keyvan Kashefi announced the establishment of a direct shipping line between Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas and Syria’s Mediterranean port of Latakia.

The country has also launched five direct shipping lines to Oman and is planning to establish direct routes to Qatar, India, Turkmenistan, and Russia as well.

https://www.tehrantimes.com/news/458315/Iran-to-launch-direct-shipping-line-to-S-Africa-Latin-America

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Iran Hosts UN Nuclear Watchdog Chief Ahead Of Sanctions Deadline

Agence France-Presse

February 21, 2021

Tehran: UN nuclear watchdog head Rafael Grossi arrived late Saturday in Iran for talks on the eve of Tehran's deadline for US sanctions to be lifted, as President Joe Biden called for "careful diplomacy".

The deadline, set by Iranian lawmakers, carries the threat of a suspension of some nuclear inspections, stoking international concern about a possible expulsion of UN inspectors.

Grossi was received in Tehran by Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Kazem Gharibabadi, and Iran Atomic Energy Organisation official Behrouz Kamalvandi, Gharibabadi tweeted Saturday evening. The IAEA chief's visit is due to run into Sunday.

On Friday, Grossi tweeted he would "meet with senior Iranian officials to find a mutually agreeable solution, compatible with Iranian law, so that the @iaeaorg can continue essential verification activities in Iran".

Iran has notified the IAEA that it will suspend "voluntary transparency measures", notably inspection visits to non-nuclear sites, including military sites suspected of nuclear-related activity, if the United States has not lifted the sweeping sanctions former president Donald Trump reimposed in 2018.

The new measures, laid out in a law passed by the conservative-dominated parliament in December, are to go into effect on Tuesday, the head of Iran's atomic body, Ali Akbar Salehi, confirmed on Saturday.

As Iran implements the law and "the other side has not yet fulfilled its obligations to lift the sanctions, inspections beyond safeguard measures will be suspended", state television quoted Salehi as saying on its website.

He added that "during tomorrow's (Sunday) meeting with Mr. Grossi, the IAEA's considerations in the framework of the safeguards agreement and bilateral cooperation will be reviewed and discussed".

The visit comes in the wake of Biden's call on Friday for European powers to work together to curb Iran's "destabilising" activities, a day after committing to rejoin talks on Tehran's nuclear programme.

Biden told the Munich Security Conference that the United States would work closely with allies in dealing with Iran after his predecessor Trump took an aggressive unilateral approach.

"The threat of nuclear proliferation also continues to require careful diplomacy and cooperation among us," Biden told fellow leaders via teleconference.

"That's why we have said we're prepared to reengage in negotiations with the P5+1 on Iran's nuclear program," he said, referring to the five UN Security Council permanent members and Germany.

Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready to return to its nuclear commitments on the condition that Washington does so first by lifting the sanctions reimposed by Trump that have dealt a heavy blow to Iran's economy.

Following an offer for talks by the Biden administration, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Friday that Iran would "immediately reverse" its retaliatory measures if the US lifts "all sanctions imposed, re-imposed or re-labelled by Trump".

The former president withdrew from the nuclear accord in 2018, while Iran started the next year to suspend its compliance with most key nuclear commitments in response.

In an opening gesture, the Biden administration has dropped a push for more sanctions crafted by Trump and removed restrictions on Iranian diplomats accredited to the United Nations in New York.

Iran's government spokesman, Ali Rabiei, on Saturday stressed that Tehran's latest nuclear move will not prevent it from responding to any US show of goodwill and expressed optimism regarding the ongoing diplomatic process.

It is "neither against our (deal) commitments nor an obstacle for proportionate and appropriate response to any US action to prove (its) goodwill", he wrote in an op-ed for government newspaper Iran.

"We can confidently predict that diplomatic initiatives will work well (to achieve) the desired outcome, despite diplomatic back-and-forths, which are the natural prelude to the return of all sides to commitments, including the lifting of all sanctions in the near future," he added.

https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/iran-hosts-un-nuclear-watchdog-chief-rafael-grossi-ahead-of-sanctions-deadline-2375104

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Supreme Leader: Islamic Revolution gives important role to youth

Journalist ID: 1842

Feb 20, 2021

Tehran, Feb 20, IRNA – Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said in a message to the 55th meeting of the Union of Islamic Students Associations in Europe that the Islamic Revolution gave the Iranian youth an important role in the basic issues.

The message was read by Hojatoleslam Ahmad Vaezi, the representative of Ayatollah Khamenei in university students’ affairs in Europe.

The importance of the role in progress of the country becomes more visible every day, said Ayatollah Khamenei, adding that in the coronavirus pandemic, like many other issues, the Iranian youths’ resolve, motivation and hope have brought on progress in scientific and practical achievements.

Calling the role one of the greatest glories that has been pinned to the chest of the Iranian youth, he went on to urge the Iranian youth to obtain more scientific, religious, and ethical qualifications and prepare to play the role in the country.

https://en.irna.ir/news/84236397/Supreme-Leader-Islamic-Revolution-gives-important-role-to-youth

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Stages of rehabilitation of Imam Al-Kadhem gate concluded

Source : Al-Kafeel News

February 20, 2021

The Engineering Projects Department at the al-Abbas's (p) Holy Shrine announced the completion of one of the most important stages of the rehabilitation and development of the Imam Musa al-Kadhem Gate (peace be upon him) from the inside, with a modern design consistent with the other main entrances. This is one of the gates designated for the entry of women and also includes one of the entrances to the host restaurant of the Holy Shrine, which is located in the southwestern part of the holy sanctuary.

The head of the aforementioned department, Eng. Dea' Majeed Al-Sa'egh, said: “The gate of Imam al-Kadhem (peace be upon him) differs in design from the rest of the gates of the holy shrine, as it does not directly overlook the sanctuary, but rather connects to it through a curvature, and this required us to prepare a design that fits with this shape, and in a harmony with the main entrance to the gate and the other gates of the shrine, in a modern urban style that combines authenticity and modernity of execution."

He added: "An important stage has been completed, which is the cladding of the floor of this gate for the area extending from the main entrance to the gate to the holy sanctuary, in addition to the completion of all work of wiring the retaining systems and the completion of the strengthening of the walls and other parts, as well as completion of the cladding of the part that separates the floor of the gate, to the area that will be covered with Kashi Karbala’i in the last stage of these works.

He explained: “The cladding was done with natural alabaster, and many factors were taken into account in this work, the most important of which is making its height suitable for walking from the holy sanctuary in a way that creates a flow of movement. Only cladding the walls with Kashi Karbala’i remains in this gate, where the places for fixing it were prepared and identified with sections with special ornamental shapes that will surround it. "

https://en.abna24.com/news//stages-of-rehabilitation-of-imam-al-kadhem-gate-concluded-photos_1117052.html

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South Asia

 

Russian and Pakistani officials Discuss ‘Afghan Peace Process’

By Khaama Press

20 Feb 2021

Russian President’s Special Envoy for Afghanistan, Zamir Kabulov, on Friday met with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi and exchanged views on the Afghanistan peace process.

Zamir Kabulov, Russian Special Envoy for Afghanistan on Friday met with Pakistani Foreign minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, both shared views on the Afghan peace process.

The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan said in a statement that “both Pakistan and Russia have convergence of views on matters of mutual interest including an inclusive political settlement of the conflict in Afghanistan”.

Pakistani foreign minister reiterated that his country’s support to the Afghan peace process, Qureshi highlighted “Pakistan’s facilitation of the U.S.-Taliban Peace Agreement and subsequent commencement of Intra-Afghan Negotiations,” the statement said.

Qureshi hoped that peace talks would lead to an acceptable and desired achievement of a “peaceful, stable and prosperous Afghanistan”.

According to the statement, Qureshi stressed on the importance of regional consultations and appreciated the role of Four Party Talks in the facilitation of the Afghan peace negotiations.

Pakistani media reported, that matters of mutual interest, regional security, progress in the Afghan peace process were talked over.

During the meeting that peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan is one of the biggest interests of the region he added, “The visiting dignitary appreciated the positive role being played by Pakistan for Afghan Peace Process and expressed that, Pak-Russia relations will continue to prosper manifolds”

“Both sides reiterated the commitment to enhance the bilateral relationship,” the statement read.

https://www.khaama.com/russian-and-pakistani-officials-discuss-afghan-peace-process-445544/

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U.S supports permanent ‘ceasefire’ in Afghanistan

By Khaama Press

21 Feb 2021

Antony Blinken in his conversation with the head of High Council for National Reconciliation said that the US supports a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire.

Blinken added, that the U.S also supports durable political settlement in Afghanistan.US Department of State in a published statement said, both of the officials discussed the United States’ review of its strategy in Afghanistan, statement added, “The Secretary thanked Abdullah for his vital work in support of the Afghanistan peace process, and he expressed America’s resolve to support a just and durable political settlement and permanent and comprehensive ceasefire in Afghanistan,”.

HCNR office told media that Blinken promised to continue his support for the efforts of achieving a durable and prolonged peace in Afghanistan.

Earlier, while addressing Munich Security Conference, US President Joe Biden said Friday, that America will work closely with its allies, and his administration committed to working with NATO on the way forward in Afghanistan.

President Joe Biden said, “My administration strongly supports the diplomatic process that is underway and to bring an end to this war (Afghan war) that is closing out 20 years,” and that he is  “determined” to re-engage with Europe as he addresses Munich Security Conference.

Referring to US-Europe strategic alliance he added,   “I know the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship,”.

Biden said that the US is committed to making sure that threats are not posed against the US and its allies from Afghanistan.

https://www.khaama.com/u-s-supports-permanent-ceasefire-in-afghanistan-34343/

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Ghani: Taliban will not see the face of interim government

By Khaama Press

21 Feb 2021

In a phone conversation with Afghan soldiers on Saturday, President Ghani reportedly said that the Taliban will not get an interim government and that he is ready for threats of the Taliban.

“As long as I am alive, they will not see the face of an interim government,” President Ghani said.

This comes as National Security Adviser, Hamdullah Mohib, reacted to remarks by a Russian special envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov saying that the interim government plan is not useful for the country.

While addressing a press conference, Mohib said that such remarks shouldn’t be made and added that the Taliban don’t want peace and are not willing to lose their prosperous lives in Doha.

According to Mohib Taliban leadership “don’t want peace” in the country and “Taliban leadership have prosperous lives in Doha, they do not want to lose it” Ariana news quoted Mohib.

Meanwhile, Afghan defense officials said that NATO’s support to Afghan National Army indicates that the Taliban are not ready to make peace,

Deputy Minister of Defense, Shah Mahmood Miakhel added that the NATO defense ministerial meeting indicates that the world believes the Taliban are not committed to peace.

Head of National Directorate, Ahmad Zia Saraj in his turn said 20 terrorist groups in Afghanistan operate under the direct supervision of the Taliban, and this has raised complexity in the war.

https://www.khaama.com/ghani-taliban-will-not-see-the-face-of-interim-government-334433/

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Qurankhwani, special prayers held at Baitul Mukarram Mosque

Feb 21, 2021

DHAKA– Qurankhwani and special prayers were held at Baitul Mukarram National Mosque at around 11 am this morning seeking eternal peace of the martyrs, who sacrificed their lives to the cause of mother tongue in 1952.

The Islamic Foundation (IF) arranged the prayers on the occasion of Language Martyrs Day and International Mother Language Day, a press release said.

Director General (DG) of Islamic Foundation Dr Md Mushfiqur Rahman was present there as the chief guest while Baitul Mukarram National Mosque Senior Pesh Imam Hafez Muhammad Mizanur Rahman led the doa-munajat.

Marking the day, the national flag has been hoisted at half-mast in all the divisional and district offices of the IF, 50 Islamic Missions, 7 Imam Training Academies and all offices.

Earlier, IF organized Qurankhwani and doa-munajat at around 8.30 am at Azimpur graveyard seeking eternal peace of the departed souls of the language martyrs.

IF asked to offer special prayers marking the ‘Shaheed Dibash’ at all mosques of the country today.

https://www.bssnews.net/?p=536059

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Security officials arrest MUDL employees over corruption accusation

By Khaama Press

20 Feb 2021

At least 12 workers of the Ministry of Urban Development and Land including a general director were arrested by the Afghan security officials for their involvement in corruption, MoI spokesman Tariq Arian confirmed the issues in a thread of tweets.

According to sources procurement officials and construction engineers are among the detained officials charged with corruption.

Khaama Press in a leaked letter from the Attorney General’s Office to the Ministry of Urban Development found that an order was issued on the arrest of the perpetrators.

Those involved in the corruption were named in the AGO’s letter, the list contains:

These indivduals are accused of corruption in the Ministry of Urban Development and Land.

The perpetrators are said to have been arrested for corruption and summoned to the Attorney General’s Office.

These officials were given detention order following the investigation and findings of anti crime police.

https://www.khaama.com/security-officials-charge-mudl-employees-with-corruption-223322/

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Drama over Quader Mirza ‘suspension’

February 21, 2021

Our Correspondent

Noakhali Awami League leaders backtracked from their decision to relieve Abdul Quader Mirza of organisational activities within two hours of issuing the release statement yesterday.

It was signed by the district AL President AHM Khairul Anam Chowdhury and its General Secretary Mohammad Ekramul Karim Chowdhury and was issued around 4:00pm yesterday.

The statement said Quader Mirza has been released from all types of the party's organisational functions on charge of delivering indecent speech that went against the party and threatened some party men.

Besides, the district AL president and secretary also recommended in the statement that party chief Sheikh Hasina permanently expel Quader Mirza and cancel his primary membership from the party.

"The statement was issued mistakenly. Now, we are waiting for a decision from our party chief Sheikh Hasina on this matter," he said.

Abdul Quader Mirza, younger brother of AL general secretary Obaidul Quader and elected mayor of Basurhat municipality under Companiganj upazila, has been serving as the vice president of the district unit and a member of executive committee of the upazila unit.

Mirza has lately been delivering speeches against some party men, claiming they were involved in misdeeds and corruption. His remarks have put the AL top brass in an awkward position.

Meanwhile, followers of Mirza yesterday again locked into clashes with police near Companiganj police station yesterday, a day after mayhem in the area.

Earlier on Friday, at least one person died and 50 people were injured in clashes, nine with bullet injuries, between two AL factions over establishing supremacy in the upazila.

One group was led by Mirza and another group was led by Mizanur Rahman Badal, organising secretary of the upazila AL, also a follower of lawmakers Ekramul Karim Chowdhury and Nizam Uddin Hazari.

Immediately after the violence, Mirza called a strike in Companiganj upazila yesterday "protesting the attack on his men" and to press home his previous demands, including an end to corruption and misdeeds by AL men and the transfer of some government officials who were allegedly involved with graft.

In support of the strike, Mirza and his supporters brought out a procession around 7:00am yesterday. Many of his supporters were carrying sticks, said witnesses and police.

Marching on different streets of Basurhat municipality, the procession reached the police station gate. The agitators then tried to enter the police station, but police intercepted them, which triggered a clash, police sources said.

Meanwhile, Mirza'a rival group, led by Mizanur Rahman Badal, held a separate press conference at a local AL office in the upazila and demanded the expulsion of Mirza from the party and mayoral post.

In the press conference, Badal claimed that Mirza, who ran in Basurhat municipal poll with the party's symbol, won the election by "vote rigging".

The dead, Borhan Uddin Muzakkir, 30, correspondent of local online portal Barta Bazar and resident of Char Fakira union under Companiganj upazila, succumbed to his injuries while undergoing treatment at the ICU of Dhaka Medical College Hospital (DMCH) around 10:45pm, said Inspector Bacchu Mia, in-charge of DMCH Police Outpost.

Borhan was admitted on Friday night in with a  bullet injury in the throat, said Dr Md Alauddin, resident surgeon at emergency department of DMCH.

He was initially rushed to Noakhali General Hospital and then referred to DMCH for better treatment as his condition deteriorated.

https://www.thedailystar.net/backpage/news/drama-over-quader-mirza-suspension-2048357

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Red Crescent Volunteers: A vital cog in vaccination

February 21, 2021

Moudud Ahmmed Sujan

"Have you brought the vaccination card, sir?" Rubina Akter asks a middle-aged man who just arrived at a Covid-19 inoculation centre at Dhaka Medical College and Hospital.

Once the man gives her the card, she takes him to a desk and helps him fill out a few forms. She then shows him the waiting room, saying, "You will be called soon."

Rubina, a graduate student, is one of the 4,200 volunteers aged between 18 and 30 of Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (BDRCS). They are lending a hand in the government's vaccination programme.

They have been working at over 1,000 vaccination centres across the country since February 7 when the campaign launched. They only receive a meal and transport costs for the work.

The positive attitude can be seen among volunteers at many vaccination centres across the country. They help people at the reception desks and assist them in every step of the process.

With academic activities limited to online classes, many students like Rubina have been able to find the time to engage in voluntary work.

At some centres, this correspondent saw the volunteers helping the elderly in wheelchairs. It is the volunteers who watch for side-effects in vaccine recipients for 30 minutes after they get the shot.

"Many people do not get such opportunities to help others. I consider myself lucky," said Rabby, the chief of the youth section of BDRCS in Dhaka.

For Afia Ulpha, who is in her third year at Mirpur Institute of Science, Trade and Technology, voluntary work is a source of immense happiness.

"The smiling faces of people after they get inoculated give me peace," Afia told this correspondent at booth-8 in Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University Hospital.

According to BDRCS officials, over 14,000 volunteers across the country are prepared to lend a hand, thanks to the cooperation of the Directorate General of Health Service (DGHS).

"We cannot ensure all the logistics due to fund shortages. But the young volunteers are really committed," Imam Jafor Sikder, director of Youth and Volunteers at BDRCS, told The Daily Star.

Prof Nasima Sultana, additional director general (administration) at the DGHS, said, "The volunteers of the Red Crescent Society have been with us since the beginning of the pandemic. We are grateful and we appreciate their contributions."

https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/red-crescent-volunteers-vital-cog-vaccination-2048301

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Language Movement paved path for independence

February 21, 2021

Unb, Dhaka

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday said the 1952 Language Movement had paved the path for achieving the independence of Bangladesh.

"In the history of the Bangalee's struggle for freedom, the Language Movement is very important. All our achievements came through this movement," she said while distributing the prestigious Ekushey Padak, the country's second highest civilian award, among the recipients.

The cultural affairs ministry organised the programme at the capital's Osmani Memorial Auditorium, with State Minister for Cultural Affairs KM Khalid in the chair. The PM joined the event virtually from the Gono Bhaban.

Briefly describing the contributions of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to the Language Movement, Hasina said an Education Conference in Karachi in December 1947 had decided that Urdu would be the state language of Pakistan.

She mentioned that Bangabandhu formed Chhatra League on January 4, 1948 and the proposal for the Language Movement was adopted as per his proposal. "Basically, we attained our Independence through this struggle of the Father of the Nation, because he had launched his protest against those who attacked our language."

Following Bangabandhu's proposal, the "Sarbadaliya Rashtrabhasha Bangla Sangram Parishad" (All Party State Language Bangla Action Council) was formed at Fazlul Huq Hall of Dhaka University, comprising Chhatra League, Tamuddin Majlish and several other progressive student organisations in March (1948) for the movement to get the recognition of Bangla as a state language, the PM said.

She mentioned that the Bangalee nation attained independence under the leadership of Bangabandhu through long struggles starting from the Language Movement.

Quoting from Bangabandhu's speech delivered on February 21, 1971, Hasina said the Language Movement was not only to establish the rights of mother tongue, but also to achieve political, social, cultural and economic rights of the Bangalee nation.

"If anyone is interested to know about the details of the Language Movement, I will request him to go through the Pakistan Intelligence Branch reports on Bangabandhu from 1948 to 1971. We are publishing those in books. Seven volumes have already been published while the remaining ones are under the process of publication."

The premier said, "We have attained our Independence going through many struggles and movements, and this attainment of independence is the most important one [in our history]."

Hasina mentioned that every achievement of the country has been attained through movement and struggle. "No one gave us anything willingly."

She reiterated her firm resolve that Bangladesh would go ahead at the world stage with dignity and holding its head high, and it will not depend on others.

Talking about the Covid-19 situation, the PM renewed her call to the people to follow health rules and wear masks even after taking vaccine.

Liberation War Affairs Minister AKM Mozammel Haque handed the Ekushey Padak to the recipients on behalf of the prime minister.

This year's winners of the award are: Motahar Hossain Talukdar (posthumous), Shamsul Haque (posthumous), and Afsar Uddin Ahmed (posthumous) (Language Movement), Begum Papia Sarowar (music), Raisul Islam Asad and Salma Begum Sujata (performing arts), Ahmed Iqbal Haidar (drama), Syed Salahuddin Zaki (film), Bhaskar Bandyopadhyay (recitation), Pavel Rahman (photography), Golam Hasnayen, Fazlur Rahman Khan Faruk, and Syeda Issabela (posthumous) (Liberation War), Ajay Dasgupta (journalism), Samir Kumar Saha (research), Mahfuza Khanam (education), Mirza Abdul Jalil (economics), Kazi Kamruzzaman (social service) and Kazi Rozy, Bulbul Chowdhury and Golam Murshid (language and literature).

https://www.thedailystar.net/frontpage/news/language-movement-paved-path-independence-2048305

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Southeast Asia

Jakim calls for calm, says authorities investigating video of man claiming to have converted his Muslim wife to Hinduism

BY EMMANUEL SANTA MARIA CHIN

21 Feb 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — The Department of Islamic Development Malaysia (Jakim) has called for calm from all quarters and for the public to refrain from speculating as the relevant authorities investigate allegations of a man converting his Muslim wife to Hinduism.

Jakim’s Director-General Datuk Abdul Aziz Jusoh through a statement today said the department is aware of the viral video where the Hindu man explains how he allegedly apostatised his Muslim wife out if Islam.

“Jakim has been made to understand that the issue is under the attention of the Royal Malaysian Police (PDRM) after receiving several complaints from several parties.

“Therefore, Jakim urges the public to allow the issue to be handled by the relevant authorities for them to decide on the next course of action,” he said in a statement today.

Abdul Aziz reminded the public that action can be taken against someone apostatising any Muslim person out of their religion under the Control and Restriction Of The Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment, that is enforced in several states in the country.

He said action can also be taken against the Muslim individual looking to convert out of the religion under the Shariah Criminal Offences Enactment.

Abdul Aziz then reminded all Muslims to instead work on strengthening the spiritual understanding and appreciation towards the virtues of Islam.

“Everyone is reminded not to push the blame around when it concerns issues involving Muslims, and to instead work on strengthening the institution of Islamic families, foster the attitude of taking care of each other, and looking out for one another in times of trouble,” he added.

A video of a man narrating how he managed to convert his Muslim wife to Hinduism had recently surfaced on social media, triggering a large part of the Muslim community.

Malaysian Shariah law prohibits Muslims from converting out of the religion while non-Muslims looking to get married to Muslims are required to convert to Islam for the matrimony to be officially recognised. 

A second video later surfaced depicting the man’s wife explaining to the camera how she is a citizen of Indonesia, and that she had gone through the process of converting out of Islam while in Indonesia.

However, several outraged netizens felt compelled to report the incident to authorities, with a few even uploading their police reports on social media.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/21/jakim-calls-for-calm-says-authorities-investigating-video-of-man-claiming-t/1951550

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Police investigating case of non-Muslim man in apostasy case, says minister

by Shafwan Zaidon

21 Feb 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Religious Affairs) Datuk Seri Zulkifli Mohamad Al Bakri today urged the public to let the relevant authorities to take the necessary action against the non-Muslim man who claimed on video, which has since gone viral, to have got a Muslim woman to apostatise.

“The position of Islam is guaranteed under Article 3 of the Federal Constitution, while Article 11 of the Federal Constitution recognises the rights and freedom of religion for Muslims and those from other religions.

“Even so, the spread of the religions, other than Islam,  is subject to Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution,” he said in a statement today.

He said the clause empowered states to formulate laws to control the spread of other religions to Muslims, including attempts to persuade, coax or invite Muslims to leave their religion either through preaching, marriage or any other means.

Zulkifli said almost all states have the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment, which is based on Article 11 (4) of the Federal Constitution.

“I understand that the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment for the Federal Territory is currently in the final process of drafting. This is one of the government’s priorities in strengthening the syariah law in Malaysia,” he added.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/21/police-investigating-case-of-non-muslim-man-in-apostasy-case-says-minister/1951555

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MCO: National Unity Ministry establishes SOPs for non-Muslim houses of worship, Chap Goh Mei

by Yusof Mat Isa

20 Feb 2021

PUTRAJAYA, Feb 20 — The National Unity Ministry (KPN) has decided on the standard operating procedures (SOP) for non-Muslim houses of worship following the government’s decision to allow them to reopen from yesterday until March 4.

KPN in a statement today said for states under the movement control order (MCO), the operating hours would be from 6am to 2pm and 4pm to 10pm with the number in attendance not exceeding 30 people at any one time.

As for states placed under the conditional movement control order (CMCO), the number should not exceed 50 per cent of the venue premises capacity, subject to decision of the National Security Council (MKN) as well as the state government or the Federal Territories Ministry.

“The prayer time duration in non-Muslim houses of worship (CMCO areas) depends on the respective church or temple management,” read the statement.

The ministry added that states placed under recovery MCO, the number of attendees allowed would depend on the size of the space provided, and the operating hours was up to the respective management.

It said the government has also agreed to allow prayer rituals in conjunction with the Chap Goh Mei festival which will be celebrated on February 26 while the MCO, CMCO and RMCO are enforced, with strict adherence to the SOPs.

The ministry also reminded those performing religious activities at houses of worship across the country to comply with the SOPs set in curbing the spread of the virus, and to embrace the new norm to break the Covid-19 chain.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/20/mco-national-unity-ministry-establishes-sops-for-non-muslim-houses-of-worsh/1951432

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UN, US voice concern as Myanmar ships arrive in Malaysia to pick up detainees

20 Feb 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 20 — The UN refugee agency said today at least six people registered with it were among 1,200 Myanmar nationals to be deported by Malaysia next week, while the United States voiced alarm that the plan could put deportees’ lives at risk.

Malaysia will deport the Myanmar citizens — including asylum seekers — after Myanmar’s military, which seized power in a February 1 coup, offered to send navy ships to pick them up, officials and refugee groups say.

But concerns over deportation of unregistered asylum-seekers persist as UNHCR has not been allowed to interview detainees for more than a year to verify their status.

Confirming the planned deportation of six persons of concern registered with it, the UNHCR said it has asked authorities not to send back those in need of international protection.

“We are concerned that there may be others of concern to UNHCR in the group,” Yante Ismail, a spokeswoman for the agency, told Reuters in an emailed statement.

Rights groups have asked Malaysia to scrap the deportation, saying it would endanger the deportees. Some of the deportees include people from Myanmar Muslim and Chin communities who arrived in Malaysia fleeing conflict and persecution at home.

The Myanmar Embassy in Malaysia did not respond to calls seeking comment. On Facebook on Saturday it confirmed it would be bringing back the 1,200 people, saying it was prioritising the repatriation of nationals stranded due to the pandemic.

Three Myanmar-flagged vessels were anchored off Malaysia’s Lumut naval base on Saturday, including one described as a military operations ship, according to ship-tracking website Marine Traffic.

Two Malaysian sources, who requested anonymity, confirmed those ships were sent to pick up the detainees. They are scheduled to leave for Myanmar on Tuesday, Malaysia has said.

US and other Western missions in Kuala Lumpur have been trying to dissuade Malaysia from proceeding, four other sources with knowledge of the matter said.

Diplomats are also urging Malaysia to let the UNHCR interview the deportees and have expressed concern over Malaysia’s cooperation with the Myanmar junta, the sources said.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/20/us-voices-concern-as-myanmar-ships-arrive-in-malaysia-to-pick-up-detainees/1951425

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Umno veep: I’m no fan, but Malaysiakini’s right, freedom as news platform should be defended

BY JERRY CHOONG

20 Feb 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 20 — Another political leader has spoken out against the recent fine imposed on online news portal Malaysiakini for contempt of court, this time Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

He said only with a free and neutral media can democratic practices mature and become better, as the nation’s administration will have an instrument of checks and balances, and the public a free range of choices and variety of information sources.

“I am neither a fan nor supporter of Malaysiakini, given it has previously taken my statements out of context. Indeed, I have been relentlessly criticised and attacked on their spaces. Yet there is one thing I believe, and that is their right and freedom as a news platform should be defended,” Khaled said in a statement.

Although the former Permas assemblyman is confident the Federal Court has its own solid rationale and justification for handing down the fine, he nonetheless respectfully disagreed with it.

“I am certain many among us are affected by the fining of Malaysiakini. Considering the decision will be used as a referral point in media practice, it is thus necessary for all to ensure that media and press freedom in Malaysia, especially online, is done more ethically with decorum.

“We must ensure our media remains independent, neutral and does not fear in stating or upholding views, be it their own or the general public’s. I hope this latest development will not weaken the resolve of media practitioners in Malaysia,” Khaled said.

Yesterday, Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Rohana Yusuf handed down the RM500,000 fine to Malysiakini’s operator Mkini Dot Com Sdn Bhd following the decision by a panel of seven judges.

The comments were posted under a June 9, 2020 news report titled “CJ orders all courts to be fully operational from July 1” with Malaysiakini having previously said that it was alerted at 12.45pm on June 12 about these comments when police contacted them to notify them about investigations regarding these comments.

In court documents, Malaysiakini previously said it was not aware of the five offensive comments previously as no readers had reported these comments and as the comments did not carry any of the “suspected words” that Malaysiakini’s filter could detect, further noting that the editorial team had immediately reviewed the comments upon being alerted by the police and removed the comments at 12.57pm the same day.

On June 17, the Federal Court allowed the Attorney General to start contempt of court proceedings against Malaysiakini’s operator Mkini Dot Com Sdn Bhd and Malaysiakini’s “Ketua Editor”.

Shortly after the sentence was handed down, Malaysiakini kickstarted a campaign drive to pay off the fine, which managed to reach its targeted goal within four hours.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/20/umno-veep-im-no-fan-but-malaysiakinis-right-freedom-as-news-platform-should/1951424

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Dr Noor Hisham: Malaysians above 60 can volunteer for Chinese Covid-19 vaccine

BY KEERTAN AYAMANY

21 Feb 2021

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 21 — Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Malaysians aged 60 and above can now volunteer for the third phase of clinical trials of the SARS-CoV-2 vaccine made by the Institute of Medical Biology Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences (IMBCAMS).

In a Facebook post last night, Dr Noor Hisham shared a message from the Clinical Trials Centre under the National Health Institute of the Ministry of Health, which said the trials will be conducted at the centre in Hospital Ampang.

“We have vacancies for volunteer slots for those aged 60 above for our study titled ‘Randomized, Double-Blinded, Placebo Controlled Phase III Clinical Trial for the Evaluation of Efficacy and Safety of SARS-CoV-2 Vaccine, Inactivated (Vero Cell) in Healthy Population Aged 18 Years and Above in Malaysia’,” read the message.

The IBMCAMS is among the many SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes the Covid-19 disease) vaccines that have been placed under the study of the Health Ministry, including the Pfizer-BioNTech, Sinovac and AstraZeneca vaccines.

Previously Dr Noor Hisham had debunked news that vaccines made in China are unsafe to use, saying that the East Asian nation has a successful track record in manufacturing vaccines for diseases other than Covid-19.

He said China had previously come out with prequalified vaccines for the World Health Organization (WHO), for example, vaccines for influenza, polio, hepatitis A and Japanese encephalitis and that they have experience with manufacturing vaccines.

https://www.malaymail.com/news/malaysia/2021/02/21/dr-noor-hisham-malaysians-above-60-can-volunteer-for-chinese-covid-19-vacci/1951539

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Arab world

Saudi Schoolbooks: What Does It Take To Recontextualize Islam?

By James M. Dorsey

February 20, 2021

Two decades of snail pace revisions of Saudi schoolbooks aimed at removing supremacist references to Jews, Christians, and Shiites suggest a willingness to delete offensive language while keeping in place fundamental concepts of an ultra-conservative, anti-pluralistic, and intolerant interpretation of Islam.

In a break with the past, Human Rights Watch and Impact-se, an education-focused Israeli research group, reported for the first time in two decades of post-9/11 pressure on Saudi Arabia that the kingdom had made significant progress in revising textbooks.

The reports focussed on explicit references to other religions but noted that further revisions were needed to eliminate language that disparages practices associated with religious minorities, particularly Shiite Muslims and Sufis, sects viewed as heretic by ultra-conservatives.

“As long as the texts continue to disparage religious beliefs and practices of minority groups, including those of fellow Saudi citizens, it will contribute to the culture of discrimination that these groups face,” said Michael Page, Human Rights Watch’s deputy Middle East director.

“They removed some of the more offensive stuff like pictures of Shiite shrines that were called shirk (polytheistic) and they removed some offensive language, but the kernel is still there… They are trying to make the language less offensive but the whole idea is offensive,” added Human Rights Watch Middle East researcher Adam Coogle.

Implicit in the two reports’ conclusions, but at best only summarily mentioned, was the fact that the ultra-conservative interpretation of basic religious concepts as promoted by Saudi Arabia until the rise of King Salman and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, remain unaltered in the schoolbooks.

These interpretations relate to the ban on bida’a or religious innovation and shirk or polytheism as well as the rejection of supplication, a thinly veiled reference to the Shia practice of intercession.

Critics, including prominent Muslim scholars, argue that Saudi Arabia’s failure to address problematic concepts of Islam, that constitute the basis for ultra-conservative rejection of religious pluralism and supremacist and intolerant interpretations of the faith, call into question the kingdom’s projection of itself as a paragon of religious moderation and leader of the Islamic world.

The critics assert that the significant progress reported by Human Rights Watch and Impact-se constitutes part of Saudi Arabia’s effort to pre-empt pressure from the Biden administration as it recalibrates its relationship with the kingdom.

They also charge that the progress is designed to make Saudi Arabia, whose image has been tarnished by human rights abuse and the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, palatable to foreign direct investors as well as boost pressure on international companies to shift their regional operations from Dubai to the kingdom.

Scholars in Saudi Arabia took issue with the Human Rights Watch report. “I do not know why the world is so busy with us. Although their countries are full of things that need attention, revision, arrangement, and organization,” said political sociologist Widad al-Jarwan, adding that “even their curricula in the West are full of mistakes against” Muslims.

Indonesian Muslim scholars argue that the Saudi interpretation of ibadah, the rules governing worship, constitute an innovation by defining aspects of worship practised by a majority of Muslims in ways that are viewed by ultra-conservatives as beyond the pale.

“What matters is how the Saudis interpret the teachings related to how Muslims should treat anybody of a different sect or faith. The problem is how they believe the other should be treated. It doesn’t matter what they call me. It doesn’t matter if they call me a kafir, an infidel, as long as they truly believe that I should be treated equally. The problem is that the Saudis don’t really want to change their established system of beliefs,” said Yahya Cholil Staquf, a prominent Islamic scholar and secretary-general of Indonesia’s Nahdlatul Ulama, the world’s largest Muslim movement.

Mr. Staquf was one of the major forces behind Nahdlatul Ulama’s charter of Humanitarian Islam that embraces the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calls for reform of problematic or obsolete religious legal concepts that negate equal rights for all.

Ali al-Ahmad, director of the Washington-based Institute of Gulf Affairs that has long highlighted problems with Saudi textbooks, contended that “when it comes to bida’a and shirk, the Wahhabis are more guilty than other Muslims. Saudi Arabia will not be able to move forward with Wahhabism as its state religion. The concept of a state religion must be abolished before the country can move into the modern age.”

Mr. Al-Ahmed’s comment goes to the core of the debate about religious reform in the Muslim world and whether states like Saudi Arabia without the lead and buy-in of civil society can achieve real and lasting change.

Significant social reforms in recent years were primarily designed to cater to youth aspirations, enable economic diversification, attract foreign direct investment, and shore up the country’s tarnished image while ensuring state-control on the principle of absolute obedience to the ruler. They were not rooted in a recognition that the kingdom’s ultra-conservative mores were problematic in and of themselves.

Discussing the textbook revisions, Mr. Coogle noted that “it’s not like the Saudis looked at their textbooks and saw a problem. Other people didn’t like it and the Saudis are trying to quell those concerns.”

The stepped-up Saudi revision of schoolbooks was in part spurred by a draft bill in the US Congress that would require the Secretary of State to report annually “on religious intolerance in Saudi Arabian educational materials.” The draft was initially introduced in 2017 by a Republican sponsor who has since retired and reintroduced in 2019.

The Human Rights Watch report noted that although the revised schoolbooks no longer contain explicit references to Shia Islam, they still included harsh criticism of Shia practices and traditions, labelling them evidence of polytheism that threatens the existence of Islam.

A schoolbook for 4th-grade nine-year olds advised that adherence to such practices would lead to the cancellation of a person’s good deeds, God’s rejection of their repentance, and eternal damnation.

The practices include praying to saints and visiting tombs and shrines of prominent religious figures that are rejected by Wahhabism as a form of idolatry. They also involve the Shiite supplication to God via intermediaries as well as kneeling to anyone other than God, building mosques and shrines on top of graves, and wailing over the dead.

Saudi Shiites noted that all Muslim students, including Shiites, were required to use these textbooks even if they were perceived as offensive.

“The textbooks are written under the close supervision of leading Wahhabi clerics led by Sheikh Saleh Al-Fawzan,” one of Saudi Arabia’s most senior ultra-conservative clerics, Mr. Al-Ahmad said.

Mr. Al-Fawzan “views Islam as a Wahhabi-only religion. This vision is what is reflected in Saudi textbooks and other religious literature. This means that Shia Muslims, Sufis, other Sunni Muslims –are polytheists and deviants,” Mr. Al-Ahmad added.

Mr. Page cautioned that “as long as disparaging references to religious minorities remain in the text it will continue to stoke controversy and condemnation.”

By the same token, Saudi Arabia’s failure to address ultra-conservative interpretations of religious concepts that justify a rejection of pluralism and religious tolerance challenge the kingdom’s claim to be a leading voice of moderation – a pillar of the country’s quest to be recognized as a, if not the leader of the Muslim world in a new world order.

https://www.eurasiareview.com/20022021-saudi-schoolbooks-what-does-it-take-to-recontextualize-islam-analysis/

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Egypt denies reports on removing Quran verses from school books

Source : Quran News

February 21, 2021

The government of Egypt denies reports that it intends to remove verses of the Quran and Hadiths from some school books.

An education ministry deputy said these reports are baseless and there are no such plans, youm7.com reported.

The official added that no verses or Hadiths have been removed from books.

He further said that a new book entitled “Values and Respect for Others” has been added to the list of school books with the aim of promoting moral values and religious teachings.

Some activists have criticized the new book saying it is aimed at justification of boosting ties with the Zionist regime of Israel.

Earlier this week, there were reports of an order by Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi on removal of Quran verses and Hadiths from some school books.

The reports said the Egyptian president has made the move under the pretext of countering extremism.

Critics and activists accuse el-Sisi of trying to eliminate Egypt’s Islamic identity through such moves.

He is not going to revive and renovate religious discourse in the country as he claims, they say, but he is rather trying to remove the religion from the society entirely.

They say people of Egypt should rise up against decisions that undermine the country’s Islamic identity and structure.

https://en.abna24.com/news//egypt-denies-reports-on-removing-quran-verses-from-school-books_1117292.html

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Sharjah Islamic Bank to pay 8% cash dividends as profits rise to Dh405.8 million in 2020

Staff Report

February 20, 2021

Sharjah Islamic Bank (SIB), which held its 45th general assembly on Saturday, agreed to distribute eight per cent of cash profits to shareholders, after the bank achieved net profits of Dh405.8 million dirhams for the year 2020.

The assembly, chaired by Abdul Rahman Al Owais, chairman of the board of directors of SIB, was held virtually via video technology to curb the spread of Covid-19.

Present during the virtual meeting were representatives from the Securities and Commodities Authority, the Department of Economic Development in Sharjah, and a large number of shareholders.

The consolidated financial statements for the financial year ending 31 December 2020 were approved at the meeting, in light of the bank’s performance in exceptional economic circumstances.

Abdul Rahman Al Owais said the positive financial results of Sharjah Islamic Bank for the year 2020 reflect the strength of its performance in light of the unprecedented exceptional economic conditions that the world is going through amidst the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The bank was rated positively by the international credit rating agency, Standard & Poor's, improving its rating from “BBB +” to “A-” with a stable outlook on the balance sheet side. During 2020, our total assets grew by 15.5 per cent to reach Dh53.6 billion compared to Dh46.4 billion by the end of 2019,” he said.

"We are therefore keen to achieve the vision and aspirations of our wise leadership and help pave the way towards economic recovery in light of the challenges faced in 2020. We continue to contribute to establishing a strong digital economy and expanding innovative technological services, with the aim of improving service for our customers according to the highest standards and practices.”

The SIB chairman pointed out that the performance of Sharjah Islamic Bank during the upcoming year will continue to improve, in light of expectations of stable performance among the banking sector. The sector has shown strong capital stocks and large liquidity, increased government spending and continued economic growth according to international rating agencies.

Sharjah Islamic Bank enjoys a strong capital base, with total shareholders' equity at the end of December 2020 reaching Dh7.6 billion, which represents 14.3 per cent of the bank's total assets, and thus the capital adequacy ratio according to Basel 3 decisions reached 21.46 per cent.

The total facilities granted to customers increased by 16.4 per cent to reach Dh29.3 billion by the end of 2020 compared to Dh25.1 billion at the end of 2019. Total customer deposits increased by 23 per cent to reach an amount of Dh33.6 billion, compared to Dh27.3 billion at the end of 2019, which strengthened the bank’s liquid assets as they reached Dh11.2 billion equivalent to 20.9 per cent of total assets at the end of December 2020.

The bank’s issuance of $500 million in bonds last June was met with great demand by local and international investors, whose applications to subscribe to them amounted to more than $ 3.6 billion. This reflects the bank’s financial position as a source of credit for quality in the money market.

Sharjah Islamic Bank achieved an increase in its operating profits, which amounted to Dh697.7 million, or 8.7 per cent up, compared to Dh642.1 million for the previous year before calculating the provisions for impairment, and in view of the exceptional circumstances that the world is going through, the bank has hedged against any potential risks as a result of these difficult economic conditions. As the allocations amounted to Dh255.8 million compared to Dh96.8 million from the previous year, and as a result, the net profit decreased to reach Dh405.8 million compared to Dh545.5 million for the year 2019, a decrease of 25.6 per cent.

It is noteworthy that Sharjah Islamic Bank provides a wide range of services conforming to Shariah to serve individuals, companies, institutions and investors, in addition to providing all global banking services and facilities, which are designed to meet the requirements of the retail and corporate customer base during the current period to support the state’s efforts to contain the coronavirus. It aligns with the bank’s strategy in keeping pace with global economic transformations and using the latest digital technologies in banking that are internationally approved.

https://www.khaleejtimes.com/business/banking-finance/sharjah-islamic-bank-to-pay-8-cash-dividends-as-profits-rise-to-dh4058-million-in-2020

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Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Ministry licensed 11 Quranic Centres in 2020

20 Feb 2021

Manama, Feb.20 (BNA): The Ministry of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments licensed eleven new Quranic Centres last year (2029).

This brings the overall number of authorised Quranic centres in the Kingdom of Bahrain to 286, said the Directorate of Quran Affairs.

According to latest figures, a total of 3000 employees affiliated with the ministry work at Quranic centres, teaching 30,000 students.

Under directives of Justice, Islamic Affairs and Endowments Minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ali bin Abdulla Al Khalifa, the directorate switched to remote learning via Teams Microsoft and Zoom in compliance with mandatory precautionary measures for combating the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).

“More thans 93 percent of the staff teach their students onlines; of whom 92% use Teams Microsoft and Zoom”, it said.

https://www.bna.bh/en/news?cms=q8FmFJgiscL2fwIzON1%2bDif62YoKZTObwRnq%2baIWywI%3d

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On Behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, HRH Crown Prince Patronizes 2nd Edition of Saudi Cup Ceremony

2021/02/20

Riyadh, Feb 20, 2021, SPA -- On behalf of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, the Honorary President of the Horse Races' Club, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense patronized here tonight the ceremony of the Saudi Cup 2021, in its second edition, which is the most valuable in the history of the world horse races, at King Abdulaziz Equestrian Field, in Riyadh.

On arrival at the venue, HRH the Crown Prince was received by Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh Region; Prince Bandar bin Khalid Al-Faisal, Advisor at the Royal Court, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Equestrian Commission and Chairman of the Horse Races' Club and Prince Abdullah bin Khalid bin Sultan bin Abdulaziz, Saudi Ambassador to Austria and Member of the Board of Directors of the Horse Races' Club.

Following playing the national anthem, horses taking part in the race were introduced into the parade track, before HRH the Crown Prince, in a two round parade, prior to starting the race. All participant jockeys have also taken part in the parade.

Following its end, His Royal Highness Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense went to the awarding podium, offering congratulations to Prince Abdulrahman bin Abdullah Al-Faisal, owner of horse Mishriff, who raised high the Saudi Cup, as the winner of the race.

The race ceremony of the Saudi Cup was attended by Prince Abdulrahman Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, Prince Miteb bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Abdulaziz, Advisor to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Prince Mohammed bin Khalid Al-Abdullah Al-Faisal, Prince Abdulaziz bin Fahd bin Abdulaziz, Prince Mohammed bin Abdulaziz bin Mohammed bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Governor of Najran Region, Prince Ahmed bin Fahd bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Deputy Governor of the Eastern Region, Prince Saud bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Prince Faisal bin Ahmed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The ceremony was attended also by Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Representative of the Bahraini King for Humanitarian Works and Youth Affairs, Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa, First Deputy of the Chairman of the Higher Council for Youth and Sports, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, President of the Higher Equestrian Club and Horse Race and Sheikh Abdullah bin Isa Al Khalifa.

It was attended also by distinguished guests of the Saudi Cup ceremony and various owners of participating horses.

https://www.spa.gov.sa/viewfullstory.php?lang=en&newsid=2193174

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Iraq trip a chance for pope to build rapport with Shia Muslims

Cindy Wooden

February 20, 2021

As Pope Francis continues his efforts to encourage and personally engage in interreligious dialogue, his planned March trip to Iraq will be an opportunity to extend a hand to the Shia Muslim community.

In Iraq -- like in Iran, Bahrain and Azerbaijan -- more than 60 percent of Muslims are Shia. Worldwide, though, Shia are a minority, making up less than 15 percent of the Muslim community. Most Muslims are Sunni.

While the two communities have had serious disputes, even violent ones, "the differences between Sunni Islam and Shia Islam are not that important or obvious, because for both there is only one God, and Muhammad is his blessed prophet and the one who received the Quran," the sacred text, said Shahrzad Houshmand Zadeh, a Shia Muslim theologian who has taught at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Often referred to as sects or schools of thought or even denominations, the Sunni and Shia communities split early in Islamic history in a dispute over who was the legitimate successor to Muhammad in leading the community. For the Shia, the obvious choice was Ali, Muhammad's son-in-law, whom they believe was designated by Muhammad. The Sunnis instead decided to elect a caliph and chose Abu Bakr as the first; but years later they chose Ali as the fourth caliph, so both recognize him as an important figure in early Islam.

Ali is buried in the Iraqi city of Najaf, and his mausoleum is a pilgrimage destination. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit the city March 6 for a meeting with Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, one of Shia Islam's most authoritative figures.

After his February 2019 meeting with Sheikh Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Al-Azhar, who is an authority recognized by many Sunnis around the world, the pope's meeting with Ayatollah al-Sistani will extend that outreach to all Muslims, Houshmand said.

While no common document is expected from the pope's meeting with the ayatollah -- unlike the document on "human fraternity" signed with the sheikh -- "I am certain there will be a great, perhaps even greater spiritual understanding" between the two, Houshmand said.

"I do not know if he means to or not, but the pope also is creating greater harmony between Sunnis and Shia," she said. "These encounters, which are so courageous, innovative and urgent, are a source of hope for humanity."

In a way similar to what happened after splits developed within Christianity, once the Sunni and Shia communities broke from one another, differences began to develop in the areas of prayer and devotion, theology and jurisprudence although they continue to share the core tenets of faith. And they both insist on the importance of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, making a pilgrimage to Mecca and giving public witness to their faith.

One of the most obvious differences between Sunni and Shia, Houshmand said, is the Shia devotion to saints, especially to Ali and the early imams. Just like Catholics are devoted to saints, but do not worship them, Shia affirm the uniqueness of Muhammad as prophet, but believe holiness continues to exist in the world in the lives of the saints and that they can mediate between God and people on earth.

Related News-In Iraq, pope hopes to encourage Christians, build bridges to MuslimsIn Iraq, pope hopes to encourage Christians, build bridges to MuslimsPandemic, security pose challenges, but pope hopeful for Iraq visitPandemic, security pose challenges, but pope hopeful for Iraq visitPope Francis points way to better times beyond Covid-19Pope Francis points way to better times beyond Covid-19Iraq announces Covid-19 restrictions ahead of papal tripIraq announces Covid-19 restrictions ahead of papal trip

And also like Catholics, she said, Shia have developed devotional practices, including religious processions, which are not a feature of the Sunni community.

https://www.ucanews.com/news/iraq-trip-a-chance-for-pope-to-build-rapport-with-shia-muslims/91488#

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Europe

Christians, Muslims and Jews to share faith centre in Berlin

Harriet Sherwood

21 Feb 2021

On the site of a church torn down by East Germany’s communist rulers, a new place of worship is set to rise that will bring Christians, Jews and Muslims under one roof – and it has already been dubbed a “churmosquagogue”.

The foundation stone of the House of One in Berlin will be laid at a ceremony on 27 May, marking the end of 10 years of planning and the beginning of an estimated four years of construction, and symbolising a new venture in interfaith cooperation and dialogue. The €47m building, designed by Berlin architects Kuehn Malvezzi, will incorporate a church, a mosque and a synagogue linked to a central meeting space. People of other faiths and denominations, and those of no faith, will be invited to events and discussions in the large hall.

“The idea is pretty simple,” said Roland Stolte, a Christian theologian who helped start the project. “We wanted to build a house of prayer and learning, where these three religions could co-exist while each retaining their own identity.”

Andreas Nachama, a rabbi who is turning the vision into reality in partnership with a pastor and imam, said: “There are many different ways to God, and each is a good way.” In the House of One, Christians, Muslims and Jews would worship separately, but would visit each other for religious holidays, commemorations and celebrations, he added.

The House of One will be built on the site of St Peter’s church in Petriplatz, which was damaged during the second world war and demolished in 1964 by the GDR authorities. When the foundations of the church were uncovered more than a decade ago, consideration was given to a memorial or a new church on the site. “But we wanted to create a new kind of sacred building that mirrors Berlin today,” said Stolte. “The initiators are acting as placeholders. This is not a club for monotheistic religions – we want others to join us.”

The federal government and the state of Berlin have between them contributed €30m to the cost of the project, with another €9m coming from donations and fundraising. A new drive for contributions, launched in December, is expected to fill the gap of nearly €8m.

The project has been generally supported by faith communities and the public, said Stolte, although “in the first few years there were some fears that we were mixing religions or trying to create a new religion”.

The inclusion in the planning of people of no faith was a very important aspect of the House of One project, he said. “East Berlin is a very secular place. Religious institutions have to find new language and ways to be relevant, and to make connections.”

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/21/christians-muslims-and-jews-to-share-faith-centre-in-berlin

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Political Rally by Islamist Outfit Showing Hindu Nationalist RSS Members in Chains Triggers Outrage

by Dhairya Maheshwari

20.02.2021

Members of the Popular Front of India (PFI), the organisation behind the controversial march, have in the past been accused of being involved in terrorist activities in India, a charge contested by the outfit. There have also been calls to ban the PFI by several Indian state governments.

A political rally by the Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) in the southern state of Kerala, in which men depicted as volunteers from the Hindu nationalist outfit Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS) were paraded in chains on the street, has triggered a major political controversy in India, with many on social media questioning the state authorities for allowing such an provocative event.

Videos purportedly depicting Friday's march in the Malappuram district and shared on social media show participants chanting Islamist slogans while they parade chained men meant to be members of the RSS, an organigation that is considered the ideological parent of the federally-governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Kerala is among a handful of Indian states governed by a non-BJP government, with a leftist coalition of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) commanding a majority in the state legislature. The protest march comes as the BJP is trying to make political inroads in the non-Hindi speaking state.

The symbolic march by the PFI commemorated the centennial of the Malabar Uprising, an insurrection by local Muslim farmers against their Hindu landlords as well as the then-British colonial government.

Over 2,300 people are said to have been killed at the time as Muslim farmers targeted government offices and landlords, mostly Hindus, in retaliation for oppressive farm policies, as per official figures. Some unofficial estimates put the death toll as high as 10,000.

The PFI, the organisation behind Friday's event, has been on the radar of Indian investigative agencies for its alleged role in organising protests against Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government over the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019 and 2020.

In fact, authorities in India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, even demanded a ban on the PFI after 25 of its members were arrested last year for allegedly inciting Muslims against the CAA, a piece of legislation that the Indian government says would fast-track Indian citizenship applications for non-Muslim minorities from the neighbouring countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan. Many Indian Muslims fear that the CAA, in combination with several other proposed laws, will ultimately disenfranchise them.

The PFI, for its part, claims that it is being targeted by the BJP-led federal government for resisting its policies, including the CAA.

Several PFI members have also been found to be linked with terror cases, allegations that raised concerns about the organisation's ideology. Many of PFI's cadre are ex-members of the Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), which was outlawed by the Indian government in 2001 over its role in carrying out terrorist attacks in the country.

https://sputniknews.com/india/202102201082134349-political-rally-by-islamist-outfit-showing-hindu-nationalist-rss-members-in-chains-triggers-outrage/

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Muslim leaders should be questioned like anybody else

Kenan Malik

21 Feb 2021

The new leader of a high-profile organisation gets grilled by a go-get-’em journalist. Not exactly an unusual event. But Emma Barnett’s interview of Zara Mohammed, the newly elected leader of the Muslim Council of Britain (and its first female leader) on Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour has caused ripples.

A hundred public figures (including former Tory cabinet minister Sayeeda Warsi, Labour MP Diane Abbott and union leader Jo Grady) signed an open letter to the BBC deploring the “strikingly hostile” tone of the interview. “Most of Mohammed’s answers,” they note, “were interrupted, revealing an instinctive urge not to listen to the voice of a Muslim woman.” The interview was akin to the grilling of a politician “rather than authentically recognising and engaging in what this represented for British Muslim women”.

Barnett is an abrasive interviewer, openly contemptuous of waffle and given to interrupting. Personally, I can find her style irritating, and not always useful in elucidating an issue, but I also think it better to have journalists willing to challenge interviewees than take answers at face value.

Barnett has brought that style to Woman’s Hour too. One can argue over whether that’s a good thing. What is unacceptable, though, is the suggestion that Barnett should have made an exception for a Muslim woman. Her interruptions of Mohammed revealed a willingness to subject all her interviewees to the same treatment. That, surely, is what we should demand. To insist that Muslim leaders should not be subject to the same harsh questioning as anyone else is hardly an argument for equal treatment.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/feb/21/muslim-leaders-should-be-questioned-like-anybody-else

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Residents found baby left in front of a mosque in Ariha city

Feb 20, 2021

SOHR sources have reported that a baby aged just few months was found alive in a bag placed near a mosque in Ariha city in Idlib countryside.

On Thursday, Observatory activists reported that a newborn baby girl was found in a box on the road between Maryamayn and Darkoush in the western countryside of Idlib. The baby died of hypothermia while residents were transporting her to hospital.

It is worth noting that the abandonment of new-born babies has become more prevalent during the years of fighting and confliction different parts of Syria. And sadly, cases of child abandonment in the streets have become familiar to many people. Although it is difficult to determine the scale of the phenomenon as there are no official statistics or studies, the recurrence of these incidents confirms its prevalence, in the absence of relevant institutions to deal with these cases.

https://www.syriahr.com/en/205938/?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=bdddcf8b325b40fd5c1367b73eba98081dc7fb0d-1613896342-0-AeKCQtcu0f2vhqSGwYdr-0dK3jPLyV-Q7zpgJGTLLzH-drlNyC8Ccko-AH4H5Hpt688_bufdKs8zB_nSmOK1h5QCcPCCGDwmlsETTNIx0NBf1MZQ68kZGLFz2KueqIt0yOyrFiapbOGFFen73qso-HtgrYFDoN2yV2Kzbnc9B7aC0I7aPzPYnRr-m0ZVafaPiJrYZjYytlQjenY3DMbSfth_vqMwYOzIyvcrZxzRkUnEJMk2CwhS0mafGJrlPIbizloLooA5L-Nh8SoBkbqocPQUyAlIPaAX9ri1xPQEnJMV1ZBoLN_fGtUqPN4vI-FwlQ

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Braintree Imam encourages Muslim community to get Covid-19 vaccine after conspiracy theory fears

ByLouise Lazell

20 FEB 2021

An Essex Imam is encouraging residents within the Muslim community to accept offers of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Since the vaccine roll-out began in December, a number of false conspiracy theories and misinformation have spread through social media.

The Government and NHS have repeatedly tackled false claims to reassure residents that the coronavirus vaccination is a safe and life-saving jab.

But there has been recent concern that the uptake of the vaccine is lower for ethnic minorities, the BBC reported - despite studies showing they are more at risk of the virus.

In the Muslim Council of Britain's most recent report, based on data from the Office for National Stastics, highlights how ethnic minorities are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 - with Muslim communities being the faith group with the highest mortality rates.

"But especially this year, in this lockdown, I think we have reached a stage where people have now personally met someone or know someone who has died or contracted Covid and seen the struggle, so you don't really see anyone doesn't believe in Covid anymore.

"Everyone I have spoken to, in our non-English community, I think most have been looking forward to their jab and I think a lot of them are going to take it.

"But I think we clarified that very early on, that it's completely halal and there are no animal products and it is completely fine to take."

If you're looking for a way to stay up to date with the latest breaking news from around Essex, the EssexLive newsletter is a good place to start.

We choose the most important stories of the day to include in the newsletter, including crime, court news, long reads, traffic and travel, food and drink articles and more.

Kashif stressed that it is important residents check where the information they are reading has come from to ensure they are not reading or spreading fake news.

"Last week, one guy came up and was adamant [the vaccine] did contain animal products but when I read it correctly he couldn't find anything," he said.

"I think there's a lot of conspiracy theories going around, even before Covid. I think it's because of misinformation on Facebook and WhatsApp where people receive something and forward it to everyone without actually verifying it."

"If you were unhealthy and eating fast food all the time you would not be doing justice to your body and in same way you have a requirement to look after your body maintaining it like with this vaccine.

The NHS states: "Vaccines approved for use in the UK have met strict standards of safety, quality and effectiveness set out by the independent Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

"Any coronavirus vaccine that is approved must go through all the clinical trials and safety checks all other licensed medicines go through. The MHRA follows international standards of safety.

"Other vaccines are being developed. They will only be available on the NHS once they have been thoroughly tested to make sure they are safe and effective.

"So far, millions of people have been given a COVID-19 vaccine and reports of serious side effects, such as allergic reactions, have been very rare. No long-term complications have been reported."

https://www.essexlive.news/news/essex-news/braintree-imam-encourages-muslim-community-5022744

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Russian air strikes 'kill 21 Islamic State fighters' in Syrian desert

By MEE

20 February 2021

Russia launched at least 130 air strikes in Syria over the past 24 hours, killing at least 21 Islamic State (IS) fighters, according to a UK-based activist group on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Russian onslaught followed a series of IS attacks on Friday that killed at least eight members of a militia fighting to support the Syrian government.

The air strikes focused on a vast desert area stretching from the central province of Homs to the border with Iraq that has recently become the focal point of increasingly frequent fighting between IS and Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air power.

Despite having lost the large areas of territory it had controlled since 2014, IS has continued to launch attacks in the Badia desert area.

More than 1,300 government troops have been killed in such clashes since late March 2019, as well as 145 pro-Iran militia members and more than 750 IS fighters, according to the Observatory.

Russian raids in the desert region generally "target small groupings of IS militants as well as their vehicles," said Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Observatory.

"It is a difficult operation for the Russians because there are no fixed positions for IS fighters who are always on the move," he told AFP.

Since Syria's civil war broke out in 2011, more than 387,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes.

https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/syria-russia-strikes-kill-islamic-state-fighters

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Student loans continue to discriminate against Muslim students

Aaliyah Harris

20th February 2021

To be Muslim in Britain means to be a part of a population of 3 million. Like all religions, what it means to be Muslim varies for each individual and the guidelines of practicing Islam differ.

For young people venturing from college or sixth form into university, accepting a monstrous educational debt will always be a tricky decision. But for Muslims, deciding to take out a Student Finance Loan – or for that matter any loan which requires repayment with interest – holds a heavier burden. This is because loans with interest are deemed ‘haram’, meaning forbidden.

Aaisha Illiyas always knew that she wanted to study at university. Now, a first-year dental student at Queen Mary University of London, she’s set to complete a five-year course. Illiyas told The Canary:

I planned to go to university from a young age and worked hard for it. Being Muslim is a huge part of who I am. I have always been brought up with this religion and it means a lot to me so my actions every day reflect my beliefs.

In England, the cost of financing education has rapidly increased over the years. And it now stands at around £9,250 per year just for tuition fees alone. It’s a cost The Canary has previously reported on and hasn’t been adjusted for remote learning or online teaching in the age of coronavirus (Covid-19).

Most university courses typically run for 3-5 years before completion, so tuition fees can total a minimum of £27,750. That’s close to Statista’s 2020 figures, which show the average annual salary earnings of a person in the UK.

Moreover, accommodation costs, resource fees, travel, food and all other aspects of studying impact the overall cost – it’s a snowball effect. Not to mention that applying for a Student Finance Maintenance Loan is also, of course, not permitted for Muslims.

Paying the hefty price to study can be near impossible for someone whose religious beliefs do not support the limited finance options available in Britain.

Deenah Yasmi, part-time Wilko worker and first-year primary education student with QTS, said taking out a finance loan was not an option because of her religion and interest fee concerns. Yasmi told The Canary:

It’s an important matter in the sense that people take religion really serious[ly] and large Uni fees. People who desire to do things like become a doctor to save lives cannot as they are too scared to be in debt or go against religious beliefs.

I find it extremely hard and stressful to go to Uni and get this degree as me and my family are constantly thinking about paying [for tuition] and where we can find the money.

So far, the Student Loans Company has been the go-to, primary finance resource for those looking to pursue university in England. Other options provided by universities more or less depend on the individual establishment and only some offer religious based scholarships, bursaries, fee waivers and information to charitable trusts such as National Zakat Foundation and Turn2us grants search. And only a select number of students will be granted what little is available. Educational funds like those given by the National Zakat Foundation help with the cost of fees for a maximum of 3 consecutive years.

The only barrier relating to religion would be financing as tuition fees as well as living costs add up to a huge amount to pay without taking any loans – especially as my course is pretty long. Besides that, religion wouldn’t impact me going into university.

Before starting her studies in September, Illiyas took a gap year and spent her time working with hopes to earn as much money as possible to help finance university.

I haven’t taken out a student loan, my parents are covering the costs of tuition. My siblings both work full-time and are happy to help with my university costs which will be a massive help.

I lost my job last year due to Covid and haven’t been able to find one since, but I am planning to as soon as possible so I can help out.

Part-time work while studying full-time is a route plenty of students must take. Even when the commute costs are kept low and when it’s possible for students to stay living at home, university is expensive.

Relying on family members or close friends to help with finances is common. And it’s been long debated whether the price to attend university is truly fair. As finance loans are often the main or only option students can take, the discussion about whether this should change for people in the UK is ongoing.

Sharia-compliant funding systems comply with Islamic laws. According to the Bank of England, these finance products and services do not require people to pay interest. And they ensure that the bank will not invest money held in these accounts in “anything that the Shari’ah says is harmful”.

In September 2014, the UK government agreed to offer an Alternative Student Finance (ASF) option. It also agreed to “ensure that it was approved by a reputable Sharia board which met International standards”. The aim would be “compatible with their moral and religious beliefs” alongside “not putting them at any advantage or disadvantage to those who take out traditional student loans”.

https://www.thecanary.co/feature/2021/02/20/student-loans-continue-to-discriminate-against-muslim-students/

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One of Britain's youngest Imams, 26, says 'there isn't a single word' in the Quran to justify 'ramming your car into people' and reveals how he's suffered abuse for being a British Muslim

By MAIL ONLINE REPORTER

20 February 2021

One of Britain's youngest Imams says he knew he wanted to dedicate his life to a Caliphate as a teenager, while his siblings dreamed of being doctors - and he's leading five prayers a day at just 26.

Imam Adeel Shah, 26, who lives in East Hampshire and attended a Catholic secondary school in South London growing up, decided to pledge allegiance while in his teens and began studying to be an Ahmadi Muslim Imam at just 17.

Now fully qualified as an Islamic leader, Shah, who came to the UK from Pakistan as a baby, slams terrorists who use the religion to commit atrocities and says his Caliph promotes only 'love, harmony and brotherhood'.

Shah has four siblings, including two who are now training to be NHS doctors, and says the doors of his mosque are open to anyone, even those who practice different religions.

In 2017, after Shah saw that Westminster Bridge terrorist Khalid Masood, 52, had killed five people and injured 49 in the attack near the Houses of Parliament, he says his first instinct was to go to the scene to protest against Masood's actions.

After unfurling a banner at the scene of the attack with 'love for all, hatred for none' written across it, he wore a t-shirt with the words 'I am a Muslim, ask me anything' on it, and some of the questions were harder than others, he admits.

'A gentleman walked by and looked at the banner...and he looked at me and he said: "Why are you here?" with a tone that suggested "this atrocity has been because of you". The good thing about him though, was that he was open to dialogue.'

Shah says he explained about the charity work he'd done - he helped raise £1million for ten British charities last year - and the man admitted he'd been living in London for nine or ten years and had never spoken to a Muslim.

Ahmadi Muslims, one of the 73 different denominations within Islam, read the Quran and pray five times a day but, unlike other many other religions, they believe the Messiah came in 1835, and they're currently on their fifth caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, who lives in Guildford.

He says the current Caliph 'has nothing to do with ISIS or extremists and terrorists' and that his role is to promote peace, love and brotherhood wherever he goes.

Shah says: 'He's been to Capitol Hill, the Houses of Parliament, New Zealand's parliament - he's travelled to country after country visiting political leaders explaining how there's a dire need for world peace to be established in the world.'

The young Imam is perpetually frustrated by the portrayal of British Muslim men in the media, saying he only needs to 'read a headline' to know by the 'tone' that the story will involve a Muslim.

He says his community is encouraged to vote if they want to change things. Pictured right: Shah leading prayers at his community mosque

He tells FEMAIL terrorists who use the name of Islam to cause bloodshed have 'misunderstood' the Quran, explaining: 'I have read the Quran word for word and I have failed to find a single verse or a single narration of the founder of Islam where he's inciting people to cause bloodshed, to pick up the sword, or to ram you car into people.'

Referencing Samuel Paty, the French teacher who was beheaded for showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad to his students in October 2020, Shah says of the murder: 'He was not to blame. He was teaching the syllabus, the answer was not to be behead him.' 

'Get those people in power that you think that using it will be able to echo your voices, your thoughts in the best manner possible.' 

When quizzed about the intolerance maybe people in the LGBTQ community still experience in the Muslim community, Shah maintains everyone is welcome but admits only if they don't 'preach'.  

'If someone who belongs to the LGBTQ community comes to us, the doors of our mosques always open for everyone. If they start preaching, then we'd say this is not what Islam teaches and this is a place for Islamic teaching.'

Shah's own focus remains on charity work - picking up litter on New Year's Day, planting trees, donating blood - and working with other religions to promote tolerance.

He says: 'Islam is a peaceful religion. We haven't got any hidden agenda. We want to promote love, peace and harmony and we are we continuously looking to find how we can do that.'

https://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-9006345/Imam-26-says-isnt-single-word-Quran-justifies-terror-attacks.html

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All adults in UK to get first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by July 31, says PM Boris Johnson

IANS

FEB 21, 2021

London, All adults in the UK will be offered their first dose of a coronavirus vaccine by the end of July, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged.

More than 17 million people have been given a jab since the UK's Covid-19 vaccine rollout began in December 2020, the BBC reported on Saturday.

He said the July target would allow vulnerable people to be protected "sooner" and would help to further ease lockdown rules across the country.

The prime minister is expected to hold a final meeting on Sunday about how to ease England's lockdown, before he sets out the full "road map" on Monday.

A speedy rollout of the vaccine to all vulnerable people is seen as critical to reducing the pandemic's death toll and relieving pressure on the NHS.

The new plans mean that by April 15, all adults aged 50 and over, as well as younger people with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk, should have been offered a jab.

However, the order of priority in which the under-50s will be offered jabs has yet to be outlined by the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI).

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: "It's perfectly reasonable for teachers, police officers and other key workers who haven't been able to stay at home in the lockdown to ask when their turn will be.

At least 17.2 million people in the UK have received their first dose of a vaccine at one of the 1,500 vaccination sites across the country, and almost 600,000 have received their second dose.

The government has said it met its pledge of offering a vaccine to everyone in the top four priority groups - including those aged 70 and over, care home residents, healthcare workers and people required to shield - by February 15.

https://www.businessinsider.in/international/news/all-adults-in-uk-to-get-first-dose-of-covid-19-vaccine-by-july-31-says-pm-boris-johnson/articleshow/81134482.cms

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Prince Charles returns to Highgrove House after visiting Prince Philip in hospital

By Charlie Proctor

20th February 2021

The Prince of Wales has made the 200-round mile journey to Central London and back to visit the Duke of Edinburgh in hospital.

Prince Charles is spending lockdown at Highgrove House alongside the Duchess of Cornwall, however, the 72-year-old royal decided to make the three hour journey to King Edward VII’s hospital to see his father.

Clarence House confirmed that the Prince then travelled back to Highgrove, despite earlier reports suggesting that the heir-to-the-throne would be staying overnight in London.

On Friday, a palace spokesperson said: that the Prince will likely remain in hospital over the weekend and into next week for “observation and rest”

Prince Philip was driven to the King Edward VII on February 16th although news of his admission wasn’t shared until the following day. At the time his hospital treatment was confirmed, Buckingham Palace said he was there for rest and observation.

https://royalcentral.co.uk/uk/wales/prince-charles-to-spend-the-night-in-london-after-visiting-prince-philip-in-hospital-156116/

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Barcelona rocked by fifth night of unrest over rapper's jailing

21/02/2021

by:NEWS WIRES

Protesters threw bottles at police, set fire to containers and smashed up shops in Barcelona on Saturday in a fifth night of clashes after a rapper was jailed for glorifying terrorism and insulting royalty in his songs.

The nine-month sentence of Pablo Hasel, known for his virulently anti-establishment raps, has sparked a debate over freedom of expression in Spain as well as protests that have at times turned violent.

Demonstrators hurled projectiles and flares at police, who fired foam bullets to disperse the crowd, the Mossos d'Esquadra, the Catalan regional police, said on Twitter.

Protesters attacked shops on Barcelona's most prestigious shopping street, Passeig de Gracia, while newspaper El Pais reported others had smashed windows in the emblematic Palau de la Musica concert hall.

"We reiterate our strongest condemnation of violence which cannot be justified as a defence of the freedom of expression," she said.

Officials said four people were injured in Barcelona on Friday after demonstrators pelted police with projectiles, attacked two banks and burned containers. Protesters caused 128,000 euros ($156,000) in damages, the city council said.

More than 60 people have been arrested across Catalonia, police said. One woman lost an eye during clashes in Barcelona, triggering calls from politicians to investigate police tactics.

Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem was among artists, celebrities and politicians who called for a change in the law covering freedom of expression. The Spanish government announced last week it would scrap prison sentences for offences involving cases of freedom of speech.

https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20210221-barcelona-rocked-by-fifth-night-of-unrest-over-rapper-s-jailing

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North America

Schools teach about Islam – and are accused of indoctrination

February 19, 2021

By Deena Mousa

When she immigrated to the United States from Iran as a child, Elika Dadsetan-Foley says she was taunted “at school … for being a terrorist and heard terms … that have to do with having a lot of sand where I came from. I asked my parents, ‘Is there even sand in Iran? What does this mean? Do they know something about my heritage that I don’t know?’”

Eventually, Ms. Dadsetan-Foley converted to Catholicism. “I wanted to shed one more layer of difference,” she says. “I thought to myself, I can try to assimilate this way.”

Currently CEO/executive director of VISIONS Inc., a nonprofit training and consulting organization specializing in diversity and inclusion, Ms. Dadsetan-Foley taught civics at High Tech High School in San Diego in the late 2000s. She says she seriously considered how she taught about other cultures and values. “When I think about values, I think, Are we teaching them through a white, monocultural lens?”

“Our public school system’s historic role was to provide a common set of values,” says Michael Kirst, professor emeritus of education at Stanford University and former president of the California State Board of Education. “[Public schools] exist in particular to socialize and provide a values perspective for immigrants.”

But that begs the question of what values should be taught and how. Whenever teachers stand at the head of a classroom, they convey foundational principles – often through the simple ways they relate to their students. “It’s not a question of whether we should teach values; it’s happening [regardless],” Ms. Dadsetan-Foley says.

Debates about values education have gone on for decades – often with considerable tension. Recently, much of the conflict has centered around how educators teach their students about Islam and Islamic values.

Students in Chatham Middle School in New Jersey undertake a World Cultures and Geography class in the seventh grade, including a unit on the Islamic faith in the context of the Middle East and North Africa. In January 2017, Libby Hilsenrath was reviewing her son’s schoolwork when she learned about the Islam-related unit.

Ms. Hilsenrath complained to the school district and appeared on Fox News to discuss her concerns. Following her television appearance, viewers threatened school officials and Board members. “The threats were serious enough to have police at the middle school and the district administration building,” says Melissa Cavallo, whose children attend Chatham Middle School.

A year after her initial complaint, Ms. Hilsenrath filed a law suit against several Chatham school officials, the board of education, and the school district. The Thomas More Law Center represented her pro bono, as part of their mission to defend and promote “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage and moral values.” One of their key goals is “confronting the threat of radical Islam,” which, they say, has already “infiltrated” many sectors of society, including the schools.

The suit alleged that the school was promoting the Islamic faith. At the center of the complaint was a five-minute video introduction to Islam that included statements like “Allah is the one God,” The Quran is a “Perfect guide for Humanity,” and “May God help us all find the true faith, Islam.”

Ms. Hilsenrath argued that the school proselytized on behalf of Islam by exposing middle school students to a video that “seeks to convert viewers to Islam and is filled with the religious teachings of Islam.” The suit also complained about a worksheet with a link to a webpage that explains “the ease with which they could convert to become Muslim.”

In November 2020, Ms. Hilsenrath’s case was dismissed with prejudice. “There is, to be sure, a line to be drawn between teaching about religion and teaching religion,” Judge Kevin McNulty wrote in the decision. “On this record, I must conclude that the school did not cross that line.”

Conflict over teaching about Islam is not limited to Chatham. Similar complaints have arisen from coast to coast. These conflicts are not victimless.

On the one hand, when education about different belief systems is stunted, students lack an adequate understanding of other cultures. For those living in homogenous areas, this may be their only opportunity for a different perspective.

“I remember there not being any religious diversity in the town to speak of,” says Guy Citron, an alumnus of Chatham Middle School. “I was one of only a few Jewish kids.” In this case, he says, “The school district was legitimately trying to raise awareness about what other people in other countries have as far as religious tradition goes ... because they weren’t going to learn about Islam from their fellow students.”

Mr. Kirst also notes that there is “some evidence that ethnic studies help students understand others of different ethnic backgrounds or heritage” – and that this understanding may help students “do better in other subjects.” 

On the other hand, if teachers hold that “belief in Judeo-Christian principles is foundational to being an American” – as Richard Thompson, chief counsel and president of the Thomas More Law Center, advocates – Muslim children could find it difficult to feel a sense of belonging in the classroom.

“I think the conflict itself, may have reaffirmed several things to … Muslim students in the school system,” Mr. Citron says, “certainly that Chatham has closemindedness issues.”

https://www.csmonitor.com/Commentary/2021/0219/Schools-teach-about-Islam-and-are-accused-of-indoctrination

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Biden’s foreign policy towards Iran, Russia, China and Saudi Arabia

Source : SCFR

February 21, 2021

Seyyed Reza Mirtaher told the Strategic Council on Foreign Relations that Biden is following the same policy of Barak Obama towards Iran which resulted in the imposition of unilateral US and EU sanctions against Iran.

“In the meantime, Biden is intending to continue Obama’s policy towards Iran and it has been reported that the US president has proposed a three step plan in consultation with the Europeans to return to the nuclear deal. However, what is currently being said as the official US policy in remarks by the authorities of the Biden administration and the US president is that until Iran does not return to the full implementation of its commitments in the JCPOA, the US government would not take any step to reduce sanctions. And in the meantime, they want Iran’s enrichment more than the levels described in the nuclear deal to be stopped. The Islamic Republic of Iran has openly declared its position in this regard.”

Asked about the probable policies of the Biden administration towards Washington’s two main global rivals i.e. China and Russia, Mirtaher said it seems the officials in Washington are keen on intensifying hardship on Russia at least in their remarks and statements.

He added that the Democratic government in the US was predicted to place on the Biden’s agenda the intensification of hardship on Russia given the allegations during Trump’s tenure against Russia and Trump’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. From now on, we would be witness to a change in policy and diplomatic and propaganda war between the US and Russia under excuses such as the arrest and conviction of Alexi Navalny the leader of opposition. It is also being said that the US pressures would be heightened against Russia.

Mirtaher said this issue has caused Russians to prepare for a probable intensification of tensions with the new US administration as they have not much hope in Biden.

Referring to the landscape of relations between Washington and Beijing during Biden’s term in office, this expert of international issues said despite allegations leveled by Trump against Biden during the election campaigns which introduced Biden as an agent of China, the current measures by the White House indicate that the Biden administration indeed decides to heighten hardship against China.

Mirtaher said from the security and military dimension, we are witness to increased military presence of the United States in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait and the US warnings to China concerning the continuation of measures in the South China Sea and the Eastern China Sea indicates that Washington decides to increase pressure on China.

“From the commercial and trade point of view, it is possible to see some interactions and agreements between the United States and China. However, what is evident in the official stances of the US officials is that from the viewpoint of the Americans, China is one of the largest rivals and enemies of Washington and this would encourage the White House to adopt a tougher stance towards China.”

He added that in general, the foreign policy of the Biden administration is focused on the return of the United States to the international scene as well as multilateral measures with the US allies and partners in various parts of the world and a review in the regional policies of the United States including in the West Asia concerning traditional partners of Washington such as Saudi Arabia and the Zionist regime.

“As with Saudi Arabia, Biden in his election campaigns and Democrats in the US Congress have a very critical approach towards this country especially towards the US-supported Saudi invasion of Yemen. Therefore, one of the primary measures taken by the Biden administration was the official announcement of cutting intelligence and arms support for Saudi Arabia in the Yemen war and review of deproscribing Ansarollah as a terrorist group.”

Asked about the approach of the new US government towards the Zionist regime, Mirtaher emphasized that it is very clear that plans pursued by Trump in the heart of Tel Aviv especially the so-called Deal of the Century is no longer valid; “however, there is a series of issues to which the Biden administration is still allied. Such issues are the continuation of normalization of Arab countries relations with the Zionist regime and continuation of political and military support for Israel”.

https://en.abna24.com/news//biden%e2%80%99s-foreign-policy-towards-iran-russia-china-and-saudi-arabia_1117229.html

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Family Battles ICE For The Same Reason They Fled Their Home: They’re Muslim

By Rowaida Abdelaziz

02/20/2021

One of the first times Muhammad was harassed for being Muslim ― and there were many times ― was in his home country of Tajikistan. He was 23 years old. It was August 2014, and he’d returned home from Russia, where he was living and working, for his upcoming wedding. One day while out shopping, he was stopped by the Tajik KGB, who brought him in for questioning.

At their offices, Muhammad says, he was interrogated for nearly six hours, verbally abused and accused of being an anti-government extremist, simply because he was Muslim. The men set fire to his beard.

They visited Muhammad a few months later at his home, he says, where they again accused him of being an extremist. He was beaten, slapped in the face and threatened with arrest on religious extremism charges. From there he fled to Russia, where he encountered yet more anti-Muslim harassment.

In 2020, Muhammad ― along with his wife, Aida, and their children ― eventually made it to Mexico, where he hoped they could gain entry to the United States and seek asylum there. But he found himself detained again and separated from his family, this time by the Trump administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Muhammad” and “Aida” are pseudonyms; the immigration advocacy group RAICES has shared Muhammad’s full name with HuffPost for the purposes of our investigation. HuffPost has agreed to use aliases in light of the fact that the family’s asylum case is still ongoing.

Earlier this month, President Joe Biden issued an executive order to increase refugee admissions to 125,000, a group expected to include many people fleeing violence, humanitarian crises and persecution ― people like Muhammad and his family. The order is Biden’s first step in rebuilding the country’s refugee program after a series of blows implemented by former President Donald Trump, who spent years demonizing refugees and who cut admissions to a record low cap of 15,000. Some experts and advocates have applauded Biden for taking the first step to restoring admissions, but he still faces a series of challenges to undo the years of damage.

It is unclear how many Muslims like Muhammad are currently in detention, as ICE does not keep track of immigrants based on religion. However, Muslim detainees across the country have reported and sued over religious maltreatment, including being forced to eat pork and being denied prayer services or the right to head covering.

In June 2020, Muhammad and his family presented themselves at a U.S. port of entry, seeking asylum. They were apprehended by immigration authorities and processed at Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, Muhammad told HuffPost via a translator in January.

The family was interviewed by an asylum officer who determined they had a positive credible fear, the first step needed in an asylum application to establish that an individual faces persecution or torture back in their country of origin. The family was due to be released after the findings, but immigration officials only released Aida, who was pregnant at the time, and their children. Muhammad was denied release and transferred to an adult detention center in Laredo, Texas. Officials told him they needed to verify more information.

But according to his lawyers, immigration officials suspected Muhammad of posing a danger to the community for the same reason he was persecuted to begin with: He was Muslim.

The pervasive influence of Islamophobia in the American immigration system has compounded into a series of challenges for Muslim immigrants like Muhammad, who say they are not given a chance to prove their asylum cases because of preconceived notions about their faith.

For decades, Muslim immigrants have been targeted by structural and institutional barriers implemented through immigration laws, which were only amplified in the post-9/11 era. Issues of racial profiling and religious discrimination were further exacerbated from 2017 onward, as Trump put anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment at the center of his presidency. And while Biden has taken the first steps to reverse many of Trump’s anti-immigrant policies, researchers and experts say the damage has already been done, and may take months if not years to undo.

“Islam is viewed as inherently inconsistent with the Constitution of the United States, which means that Islam is not viewed as a religion or a faith, but as a race and a hostile political ideology, rather than the diverse ethnic and racial identities that Muslims hold,” said Nahid Soltanzadeh, a digital organizer at MPower Change, a grassroots Muslim-led advocacy organization.

Muslim immigrants are automatically seen as potential risks, rather than human beings fleeing persecution, Soltanzadeh said, making it more challenging for immigrants like Muhammad to contend with a system that is biased against them.

“[Immigration officials] decided that the persecution that he suffered made him a national security threat and a potential terrorist threat ― which was very, very alarming, because that was the abuse that he was suffering and that was how they were persecuting him as a young Muslim man,” said Nicole Morgan, associate attorney in the family detention division of RAICES, who is representing the family.

The excess of misinformation concerning immigration and Islamophobia, particularly under the Trump administration, made it nearly impossible for asylum-seekers to have a fair chance in immigration court and with the public, Morgan said. Meanwhile, the increased power granted to ICE and immigration authorities allowed them to act on preconceived notions with impunity.

“The average American doesn’t even know who these people are, because they’re being fed a lie and a misrepresentation of our clients,” Morgan said. “If they met them or even heard a tenth of their story, they would open their homes to them, let alone our country.”

Human rights and religious freedoms have had a volatile history in Tajikistan since the collapse of the Soviet Union, involving issues of media censorship, a crackdown on government critics and the country’s uneasy relationship with its own Islamic roots. Over the years, the government has made various attempts to restrict religious practice.

In 2009, the government passed a law formalizing a ban on female students wearing the hijab. In 2011, authorities banned anyone under 18 years of age from attending any kind of religious service. The government began to close down unregistered mosques throughout the country.

According to the State Department’s 2019 Report on International Religious Freedom, the U.S. government has recognized the pervasive harassment Muslims face in Tajikistan and the curtailing of religious freedoms there. In 2016, the report designated Tajikistan a “Country of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act, a status it has held through the publication of the 2019 report, the most recent.

The State Department’s report for Russia is no better, noting that the Russian government has the power to prohibit the activity of religious associations for “violating public order or engaging in ‘extremist activity.’”

The human rights situation in Tajikistan took a turn for the worse after the government banned an opposition party in 2015 and declared it a terrorist organization without credible evidence, according to Human Rights Watch.

The government perceived devout Muslims as being associated with political groups that threatened the power of the current government, said Syinat Sultanalieva, the Central Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

Authorities harassed women wearing hijabs and men with beards. Mosques and religious centers were subjected to police raids, surveillance and forced closures ― an attempt by government officials to regulate Islam for extremist activities, despite outcry from critics that such regulations were politically motivated and a clear violation of personal religious freedoms.

Once Muhammad heard rumors that the government was targeting his local mosque amid its crackdown, he stopped going, fearing retaliation. In 2013, those rumors were proven true after police raided his sister’s home, arrested his sister and her husband, and shut down their center. By then, Muhammad had just moved to Russia, where he was a dual citizen, looking for safety and work.

In November 2014, Muhammad and Aida moved to Russia, but even there the harassment by the Tajik officials didn’t stop. Muhammad says the men frequently visited his parents’ home, demanding they call their son and coerce him back to Tajikistan.

But Muhammad couldn’t return. He knew he’d be arrested immediately, he said. He changed his number to evade the Tajik security forces’ calls and threats. He found work as a delivery driver in 2015 for a dairy company. Aida gave birth to a daughter in October 2015, and a son in October 2017. For a while, life became normal again.

One November evening in 2017, Muhammad and Aida held an Islamic baby shower, a welcoming ceremony traditionally held after a birth, with close friends and family. Two hours into the celebration, Russian police officers showed up and told them their religious ceremony was against the law. The officers searched the house and the guests and arrested Muhammad and Aida.

The couple was interrogated. Aida, who did not speak Russian, was forced to sign a document admitting she violated public order. She was released, but Muhammad was held several more days and interrogated about his Islamic beliefs. Russian police confiscated his Quran as supposed evidence of his extremism, an allegation that Muhammad found astonishing.

Muhammad says he was slapped, shocked with a stun gun and deprived of sleep over the course of three days by Russian authorities who accused him of wanting to join and recruit for ISIS ― all of which he vehemently denied. He handed over his cellphone and social media login information, in hopes that the police would clear him of wrongdoing.

Eventually, Muhammad signed papers he was not allowed to read, and was released. But the harassment didn’t stop. He says Russian police tracked him everywhere he went, calling every month demanding to know his whereabouts. They showed up at his house and searched it without a warrant. Law enforcement and members of the Russian government stopped him in the streets and asked him who he was visiting. They were always watching, they told him.

In March 2018, Muhammad says, he was taken again to the police station, where he was handcuffed with other men who he assumes were also Muslim. He watched the police beat these men and drag them out of the room. He never saw the men again.

Muhammad was also beaten and shocked several times, he says. The officers accused him again of being an ISIS member. Muhammad denied the accusations and told them he denounced extremism in all forms. After days of interrogation and torture, Muhammad was coerced into signing more paperwork and was eventually released.

Deniz Yuksel, Turkey advocacy specialist at Amnesty International USA, told HuffPost that the Russian government has persecuted religious minorities like Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and that Muhammad’s case dovetails with what is known about the deterioration of religious freedom there.

The crackdown on religious minority groups is “part of a broader attack by the government on communities and ideologies that they believe are either in opposition to them directly politically, or opposition to the traditional Orthodox Christian values,” Yuksel said.

The police never stopped harassing and torturing Muhammad, who tried to clear his name each time he was apprehended. He says he filed a complaint against the officers who tortured him, without any success. Instead, the harassment escalated. The police continued to search his home unexpectedly. He began to receive calls from unknown numbers, from people who spewed Islamophobic insults at him and mocked his Tajik background.

“They never left us to live peacefully. Always calling, always watching,” said Aida, who told HuffPost she knew they were targeted due to their Muslim faith.

“Especially because we were practicing Muslims. My husband had a beard and I wore a scarf, so you can clearly see that we are practicing Muslims,” she said. She was worried that any day her husband would be taken away and unfairly jailed.

In August 2018, Aida’s Russian residency was canceled, and was only reinstated after the couple hired a lawyer. They moved to a new city, hoping to evade police, but were eventually found. During the last round of threatening calls and visits, members of law enforcement told Muhammad that sooner or later, he was going to be put in jail for extremism ― in retaliation for the complaint he’d filed against them.

It was at that moment that Muhammad realized he couldn’t stay in Russia any longer. In August 2019, Muhammad, Aida and their two children abandoned everything they had and began their journey to Mexico ― and to their final destination, America.

Although most migrants apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border are from Central America or Mexico, there has been an increase of migrants from other continents. According to numbers gathered by the Mexican government, more than 670,000 migrants from Asia entered Mexico through legal ports of entry in 2019. Most extra-continental migrants arrive in Central and South American countries due to their lax visa requirements, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan immigration think tank.

Muhammad and his family arrived in Mexico in August 2019, where they were detained by Mexican immigration for three months. Via a translator, Aida told HuffPost the conditions in the detention facility were unbearable for her and her children. She was separated from her husband, and one of her children got sick from the lack of heat and hot water, she says.

After they were released from detention, they rented an apartment for six months and worked to save money. In June 2020, they crossed into America at the Calexico Port of Entry, seeking asylum. The family was processed at Karnes County Residential Center in Texas, and a month later, Aida and the children were released. Muhammad, however, was detained and transferred to the Laredo Detention Center.

Suffering from kidney malfunction and stomach pains, Muhammad’s health grew worse in detention. He was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, diabetes and a possible autoimmune disorder, according to his lawyers. His kidney pain became more severe, and he dealt with urinary incontinence, weight loss and bladder pain. Each time, he was only given painkillers and not treated for the underlying conditions. In July, Muhammad tested positive for the coronavirus.

“U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is committed to ensuring the welfare of all those in the agency’s custody, including providing access to necessary and appropriate medical care,” an ICE spokesperson told HuffPost in an emailed statement. “Comprehensive medical care is provided to all individuals in custody.”

Detainees with medical conditions “can expect timely and appropriate responses to emergent medical requests, and timely medical care appropriate to the anticipated length of detention,” the spokesperson wrote.

Muhammad told HuffPost that he was served pork ― which many Muslims don’t eat, in accordance with their faith ― and denied halal food, often forcing him to go without a meal, which exacerbated his health conditions.

“Him being a young Muslim man and the Islamophobia that has just permeated our politics and our immigration system, he is absolutely suffering from that,” said Morgan, the RAICES attorney. “[The U.S. government] has no evidence or even a credible reason to believe he’s a threat to the United States, but yet they’re treating him with such hostility.”

The ICE spokesperson told HuffPost that people “held at the centers receive three meals daily using menus developed by a registered dietician, who ensure individual unique health (included allergies), dietary, and religious needs are met.”

Muhammad was denied parole four times in 2020 ― once in July, twice in October and again in December. Aida was worried constantly. “We thought this would be the safest place where we could come and find our protection,” she told HuffPost.

The couple spoke on the phone nearly every day, Muhammad from detention and Aida from a San Antonio church that was sponsoring her and her children and giving them a place to stay. In January, Aida gave birth to their third child, a baby girl, without her husband by her side. Their 5-year-old daughter and their 3-year-old son asked their mother every day where their father was. She didn’t know how to answer them, so the children started to ask members of the church.

“My kids are suffering. It’s stress and constant torture to not know where their father is,” Muhammad said. “It’s painful for me to know that my kids think I’ve disappeared.”

On Friday, Feb. 5, Muhammad received a note telling him to call his lawyer. His heart sank. He thought something was wrong ― either with his case or his family.

At first, he couldn’t believe what he’d heard. The news shocked him to the point where he was physically unable to speak and his lawyer thought the line had disconnected. Instead of talking, Muhammad broke down in sobs.

A few days later, Muhammad was released and made his way to the San Antonio shelter to reunite with his family. As he approached, he saw his son playing with toys, but his son didn’t recognize him. Soon, Aida came sprinting over. The couple embraced for the first time in months. Neither of them spoke between the hugs and kisses. They couldn’t find the words.

Between congratulations from members of the church and shelter, and after downing a glass of fruit juice, Muhammad met his newborn daughter for the first time. He held her in his arms and apologized tearfully to her, over and over, for missing her birth. He swore to her, and the rest of his children, to make up for the lost time. He promised his elder daughter he would teach her how to draw and paint ― a new hobby she has picked up. He promised Aida he would never leave her side again.

ICE confirmed to HuffPost that Muhammad was released on Feb. 8, but did not elaborate on his case or explain what prompted the sudden change.

Muhammad, now 30, said he hopes immigration officials will finally view his faith as a religion like any other and not believe the xenophobic stereotypes. After all, he said, it was his faith that kept him hopeful during his time in detention.

“We’re glad that pressure from the public and a coalition of advocates in support of [Muhammad] has forced ICE to make the right decision and release him to be with his family,” said Laila Ayub, the special projects attorney at RAICES’ family detention services program.

“Nonetheless, [Muhammad]’s case is an example of the xenophobia, Islamophobia, criminalization, and family separation inherent to immigration enforcement,” Ayub said. “The immigration system, even under the Biden administration, permits ICE to justify the detention of someone like [Muhammad] under the guise of national security. ICE’s analysis of public safety and national security is a superficial one rooted in white supremacy, and people like [Muhammad] are still at risk of detention and deportation even under the Biden administration’s new enforcement policies.”

For now, Muhammad says he feels “bottomless gratitude” for his lawyers, the church members who cared for his family, and others. He wants to thank them “for giving me my life back and giving my children their father back.”

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/after-fleeing-2-countries-a-muslim-family-battles-ice-and-family-separation_n_601dbcf5c5b6d78d444661bc

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Oklahoma’s leading pro-gun group endorses ‘Anti-Islam’ former lawmaker for chairman of state’s Republican Party

DYLAN GOFORTH

February 19, 2021

The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association, a nonprofit that bills itself as “the state’s leading advocate for Second Amendment rights,” has endorsed for state Republican Party chairman a controversial former state lawmaker who drew the ire of Muslim groups when he called Islam “a cancer.”

John Bennett, a United States Marine who served in the House of Representatives from 2011-2019, famously called Islam “a cancer that needs to be cut out” of America in 2014. Later that year he told a Tea Party group of supporters at a meeting that there’s “no difference between moderate Islam and extreme Islam.”

Bennett is one of two people running to replace David McLain as state party chair. Charles Ortega, a former state representative from Altus, is also running to replace McLain. McLain, who is not seeking re-election, replaced Pam Pollard as party chair in 2019.

Ortega served for 12 years in the House of Representatives. In 2018 he, along with two others, unsuccessfully challenged Speaker Charles McCall for the role of House speaker.

While running for re-election in 2016 Bennett said he was introducing legislation to kick the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) out of Oklahoma, calling it a terrorist organization.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is a nonprofit focused on “enhancing the understanding of Islam, encouraging dialogue, protecting civil liberties, empowering Muslims, and building coaltions that promote justice and mutual understanding,” according to its website.

In 2017, during the annual “Muslim Day” at the Oklahoma Capitol, Bennett made Islamic students who wanted to visit with him first answer several written questions, including “do you beat your wife?” The questionnaire also asked students to denounce terror groups.

Bennett has also run afoul of other groups as well. He posted a news story about Hillary Clinton on his Facebook account in 2016 and added “2 words … firing squad.” In 2017, as a debate was ongoing about potentially raising Oklahoma’s Gross Production Tax on the oil and gas industry, Bennett called state agencies who supported the increase “terrorists.”

“We should not be negotiating with terrorists, period.” Bennett said on the House floor. Then-Gov. Mary Fallin called the statement “unacceptable” and Bennett later said he was referring only to state agency heads.

“As soon as we heard that (Bennett was running) for party chair, we were pretty convinced that’s our guy,” said Don Spencer, the president of OK2A.

Bennett, who could not be reached for comment, is an OK2A member, Spencer said, and a lawmaker who worked with the nonprofit to craft pro-gun legislation.

“I have known him since 2010 and had a working relationship with him when he was in the state Legislature,” Spencer said. “He introduced bills and passed bills on behalf of OK2A and maintained an A+ grade with us. He’s an OK2A member, he’s right there with us.”

Spencer said he was throwing his group’s support behind Bennett because “in this atmosphere we’re in, we’ve got a broad problem of Republicans not holding up to the platform and we just don’t feel like they’re fighting for us like they should be.”

Pollard, who served as party chair from 2015 to 2019, said that when Oklahoma was heavily Democrat, the state’s Republican Party was more focused on recruiting candidates. But, she said, things have changed.

“Now that we have the majority in Oklahoma, the state party no longer does state party recruitment because the elections really are taking place in the primaries, and we don’t get involved in the primaries,” she said.

The role of the party chair, Pollard said, is to oversee elections in the state, to organize the structure in all 77 counties and to educate voters about the party’s platform.

County conventions, where delegates are selected to vote for state party chair, are ongoing, with “the big ones” coming soon, Pollard said.

“Oklahoma County, Tulsa County, Cleveland County and Canadian County conventions are soon and we expect 300-plus people at each of those,” she said. “Interest and enthusiasm is very high right now.”

Pollard looks back on her four years as state party chair with fondness, but she said she’s more pleased with the growth of the Republican party going back to the beginning of her political career in the 90s.

“To know that our message has resonated with voters and that our strategies are successful, it’s gratifying to know that the Republican party is in tune with the majority of voters in Oklahoma,” she said. “I’m proud to be a part of the party that’s in tune with the voters.”

Last November, voters in House District 88 elected Mauree Turner, D-OKC, a nonbinary Muslim, to the legislature. Turner, 27, is the first Muslim to serve in Oklahoma’s legislature and is the first openly non-binary state legislator in the country.

https://www.readfrontier.org/stories/oklahomas-leading-pro-gun-group-endorses-anti-islam-former-lawmaker-for-chairman-of-states-republican-party/

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Islamic State continues to terrorize Raqqa

Hussam Hammoud

Feb 19, 2021

Although the US-led international coalition and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) — a Kurdish-Arab alliance from the area — declared victory over the Islamic State when they took control of its last strongholds in al-Baghouz in March 2019, the global joy over eliminating the terrorist organization has not reached the people of Raqqa, the former capital of the caliphate, where IS seems to still wield significant influence.

Many of the city's people are still living in fear of the militants. Even if they cannot control the area as they once did, many IS cells are terrorizing civilians with bombings in residential areas, assassinations and threats despite the thousands of SDF soldiers in the area.

Hassan Abdullah (a pseudonym), a car dealer and a father of three in Raqqa who preferred not to reveal his real identity for fear of retaliation by IS or arrest by the SDF, lives in a rented house after the international coalition raids destroyed his family's home during the battle to expel IS from Raqqa.

Abdullah told Al-Monitor that residents are even more afraid of IS than before. “IS still exists," he said. "In September 2020, I got a phone call from a private number. The first thing I heard was: ‘We are the Islamic State, and we know that you make a lot of money from the car trade, and you have to pay zakat to us, or we are going to kill you,’” referring to a traditional Islamic charitable donation.

During its rule, IS would take money from civilians in the name of zakat. But according to locals, it was just a way to collect taxes from the community IS controlled.

Abdullah said the call felt like his worst nightmare. “I did not believe it at first, but after three days they contacted me via WhatsApp, and they sent me photos of the entrance to my house and from inside my shop. They even sent me a photo of one of my children! At that point, I could not ignore the matter. I spoke to some friends, but was shocked to find out that three out of five of them had also paid money under threats, but they did not dare tell anyone for fear of assassination by IS or arrest by the SDF on charges of financing terrorism.”

There was no other option for Abdullah but to pay IS, which is known for assassinating prominent figures in Raqqa in broad daylight.

Following IS’ instructions, Hassan took $5,000 to the meeting site, where he found two masked IS members on a motorcycle on the road between Jazrat al-Buhumaid and Abu Khashab, an area in the western countryside of Deir Ez-Zor. He delivered the bag of money at gunpoint.

Mohab al-Nasser, a human rights activist and researcher from Raqqa, explained that between 2014 and 2017, many people joined IS for the monthly salary but did not fight. However, today, those who have remained with IS are true believers in the terrorist organization's ideology, and they have gained military experience from the battles against the international coalition.

Nasser told Al-Monitor, “For two years, the SDF has failed to maintain security in al-Hol camp [which houses IS fighters and their relatives in eastern Syria], as there have been hundreds of cases of smuggling of dangerous women members of IS and assassinations using pistols inside the camp, despite the heavy security that the SDF claims to provide there."

Nasser explained, “The arrests of some IS cells in northeastern Syria are carried out based on intelligence from the international coalition, but the SDF takes credit for the operations.”

The southern countryside of Raqqa has also had its share of terrorism. Khalil, the brother of two men who were brutally killed by IS on the outskirts of the regime-held town of Maadan, recounted to Al-Monitor, “In July 2020, IS contacted my two brothers, who were shepherds. The organization requested a payment of four million Syrian pounds [$3,200] from each of them as zakat for our sheep.”

Khalil, who did not want to reveal his full name, said that his brothers decided to inform the Syrian regime but local security forces took no action, claiming the threats were empty.

“My two brothers refused to pay and ignored the repeated threats until November, when we found them executed with two bullets in their heads while they were herding sheep at night in the Maadan area,” Khalil said.

Other local civilians from the area confirmed the similar killings of at least eight other people, including women: following a series of threats and demands of money.

Nasser believes that IS poses a much greater danger today is greater than when it declared the caliphate. “When the organization was in Raqqa, it was hard for IS members to hide as they would go to the group’s main headquarters, but today we are facing a completely unknown enemy,” he said.

https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2021/02/syria-raqqa-islamic-state-threats-assassinations-sdf.html

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Officials, Experts Say Islamic State’s Economic Spigot Not Dry Yet

By Sirwan Kajjo

February 19, 2021

WASHINGTON - Nearly two years after losing the last sliver of territory in eastern Syria, the Islamic State terror group seems to be generating substantial amounts of revenue that has been instrumental for funding its insurgency across Syria and Iraq.

The group’s growing terror activity in both countries in recent months has occurred largely because it is still capable of generating cash from criminal networks, military officials and experts say.

In a recent raid against Islamic State (IS) militants in the eastern Syrian province of Deir el-Zour, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) discovered a hideout that contained large amounts of weapons, ammunition and cash.

“Every time we carry out an operation against Daesh terrorists, we find a lot of weapons and money,” said an SDF official, using an Arabic acronym for IS, which also goes by ISIS.

The official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter, also said “it is clear they possess a lot of money to finance their terrorism in the region.”

Experts believe a significant portion of that money could be from when IS ruled large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria, particularly when the group introduced its own currency.

“During 2017 and 2018, as the caliphate was collapsing, they imposed their dinar and made residents deal with it,” said Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, a researcher at Swansea University in Britain.

Residents “weren’t allowed to use other currencies," he told VOA. "What [IS militants] were trying to do by imposing [use of their own dinar] was to suck out as much foreign currency as they could from the populations that were living under them for financing their post-territorial control phase.”

Tamimi also says the extent to which IS made prior preparations to financially stabilize its current insurgency phase has largely been overlooked.

With no territory to control, IS no longer has the administrative responsibilities that would require additional spending, say local military officials in Syria.

“Lack of direct control over the areas they once occupied has allowed them to decentralize their terror activity in Syria and Iraq,” the SDF official said.

“Their sleeper cells in our areas focus on attacks in our areas,” the official added. “Those in the [Syrian] regime areas focus on carrying out attacks there, and the same thing goes for Iraq, which means they could inflict a lot of damage with little money and resources.”

The U.S. Treasury recently said that IS supporters increasingly have been relying on cryptocurrencies to finance their operations.

In its quarterly report released this month, the U.S. Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General said that “ISIS used money services, including alternate money transmittal services known as hawalas ... to move funds in and out of Iraq and Syria, often relying on logistical hubs in Turkey and in other financial centers.”

Turkey’s foreign ministry did not respond to VOA’s request to comment on those reports, but Turkish officials have detained IS supporters and disrupted their financial networks in the past.

The SDF official claimed that several IS militants captured in recent raids in eastern Syria have confessed to receiving donations from supporters in Europe through Turkey.

Since the collapse of its so-called caliphate, experts say, smuggling goods between Iraq and Syria has become the largest source of revenue for IS.

And with smuggling comes “using extortion to ‘tax’ some local communities in the disputed territories between the Kurdistan Region and Baghdad-administered areas of Iraq,” said Nicholas Heras, a Middle East researcher at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War.

In Syria, “ISIS is reportedly still involved in smuggling drugs into regime-held areas of Syria, which then get sent onward to Europe,” he told VOA.

Heras added that “these activities are trickier for ISIS now than when it controlled a territorial caliphate, so the organization has to run itself more like a cartel network to make money off of these activities.”

Last week, Abbas Khidr Juma, a Kurdish car dealer from northeast Syria, was reportedly kidnapped and killed by suspected IS militants in the southern part of Hasakah province.

“They spoke to me on WhatsApp and said they are ISIS. I did not respond because I was scared, and I threw away the phone. They called me again and said, ‘Answer the phone, we will tell you what has happened to Abbas.’ I answered the phone and they said if I want Abbas’ corpse, I must send them $100,000,” Abbas’ wife, Jiyan, told Kurdish news network Rudaw this week.

In November 2020, Dilan Mofaq Rashid, 23, a security guard in the province of Kirkuk, was guarding electricity pylons in the oil-rich province when IS militants raided his observation post at night to arrest him along with his 22-year-old colleague.

Though the two men were working for the government, IS’s objective was not to kill them. It was to take them alive and release them after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in ransom from their families.

“They took us to a cave blindfolded and handcuffed. They would sometimes flog us. They would tell us it was not up to them whether we would get killed or released,” Rashid told VOA in a recent interview after he was released in exchange for $40,000.

To eradicate IS financial networks, experts suggest that the global coalition against IS and its local partners in Syria and Iraq should deal with the group as if it were more like a mafia organization.

“ISIS’s reserves of cash are in hard currency and in goods that retain value, such as gold items, all of which are very difficult to interdict,” analyst Heras said. “ISIS does not have assets in a bank account that could be frozen, or a stock portfolio that could be seized.”

https://www.voanews.com/extremism-watch/officials-experts-say-islamic-states-economic-spigot-not-dry-yet

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US: Three dead in New Orleans gun store shooting

21 Feb 2021

ALJAZEERA

A man who entered a gun shop in a suburb of the US city of New Orleans and fatally shot two people has died after customers and staff opened fire on him in response, police said.

The shooting happened on Saturday at the Jefferson Gun Outlet and shooting range in the suburb of Metairie, according to a release from the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Sheriff Joseph Lopinto said the shooter initially struck two people in the shop, following which several other people – employees or customers – opened fire on the shooter, killing him in the car park outside the building.

“It got extremely loud, like a bomb almost,” said Joseph, who hid with other students under a table – not knowing if there were multiple shooters or if one was near the classroom. One instructor stayed with the students while two others left the room and headed towards the sound of gunfire.

Russell said that when he was led out, he could see a guy “laid out” in the parking lot not far from his car, which was struck by bullets. He described seeing shattered glass and bullet casings strewn about the store.

Caution tape surrounded the business to keep onlookers from getting close to the scene, where ambulances and numerous law enforcement vehicles had converged. A neighbouring eatery had been evacuated.

Metairie is a major suburb of New Orleans, about 8km (5 miles) west of the city’s iconic French Quarter, in the neighbouring jurisdiction of Jefferson Parish.

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/2/21/us-three-dead-in-new-orleans-gun-store-shooting

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United Airlines Boeing 777 lands safely in Denver after engine failure

By David Shepardson

February 20, 2021

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A United Airlines flight landed safely at Denver International Airport on Saturday after its right engine failed, the Federal Aviation Administration said, with dramatic images showing debris from the plane scattered on the ground.

The Boeing 777-200 plane, with 231 passengers and 10 crew on board, was heading to Honolulu when it suffered an engine failure soon after takeoff, the airline said.

Images posted by police in Broomfield, Colorado showed significant plane debris on the ground, including an engine cowling scattered outside a home and what appeared to be other parts in a field. Police tape was used to cordon off the debris.

“Mayday, aircraft just experienced engine failure, need to turn immediately,” according to audio from the monitoring website liveatc.net which was reviewed by Reuters.

The 26-year-old 777 was powered by two Pratt & Whitney PW4000 engines. Investigators will focus on what caused the accident and will look at whether a fan blade failed.

Boeing said its technical advisers would assist the NTSB with its investigation, while United pledged to “work with federal agencies investigating this incident.”

Engine failures are rare but are potentially dangerous whenever rotating parts pierce the outer casing – an event known as an uncontained engine failure.

In February 2018, an older Boeing 777 operated by United and bound for Honolulu suffered an engine failure when a cowling fell off about 30 minutes before the plane landed safely. The NTSB determined that incident was the result of a full-length fan blade fracture.

Because of the United fan blade separation incident, Pratt & Whitney, which is unit of Raytheon, reviewed inspection records for all previously inspected PW4000 fan blades, the NTSB said. The FAA in March 2019 issued a directive requiring initial and recurring inspections of the fan blades on the PW4000 engines.

https://www.metro.us/united-airlines-boeing-777/

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Africa

Mali creates body to open talks with Islamist militants

BY REUTERS

20 February 2021

Mali's government has created a body to open talks with Islamist militants whose insurgency has made vast portions of the country ungovernable, the interim prime minister said on Friday, in the face of objections by France.

A year ago ousted former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said his government was prepared to negotiate with al Qaeda-linked militants. National talks in the aftermath of the August coup that overthrew Keita endorsed that policy.

"Dialogue is not an exclusive solution, but rather an additional means of bringing back into the bosom of the Republic those who left it, often for existential reasons far removed from any fanaticism," said interim Prime Minister Moctar Ouane.

Former colonial power France, which has 5,000 troops in Mali, has previously signalled opposition to negotiating with Islamist groups that did not sign a 2015 peace deal it considers a framework for restoring peace to northern Mali.

France is searching for an exit strategy after getting bogged down in a counter-insurgency operation in the Sahel which has cost billions and seen 55 French soldiers killed.

Chad will deploy some 1,000 troops to the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali to reinforce national armies, sources said last week.

https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/africa/2021-02-20-mali-creates-body-to-open-talks-with-islamist-militants/

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Boko Haram militants releases video of seized UNHCR staff

Source : Anadolu

February 21, 2021

An aid worker abducted by Boko Haram terrorists on a major highway in northeast Borno State pleaded Saturday on video for authorities to secure his release.

"As Salamu Alaykum [Peace be unto you]. My name is Idris Aloma. I am a worker with UNHCR [United Nations High Commission for Refugees]. I am pleading with the commission to liaise with the government for my freedom," he said in a video message released by terrorists.

Colleagues identified Aloma as the person kidnapped Jan. 3 by terrorists on the northeast Maiduguri-Damaturu highway, which is an epicenter for terror attacks.

Boko Haram has claimed responsivity for most terror attacks in the region for more than a decade and has abducted nearly one dozen aid workers in the area.

https://en.abna24.com/news//boko-haram-militants-releases-video-of-seized-unhcr-staff_1117344.html

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Insurgency: Boko Haram Hoists Flag In Parts Of Borno As Military Repels Attack

Blessing Tunoh 

February 20, 2021

The insurgents repeatedly attacked the local government within the week.

On Friday, the insurgents attacked neighbouring Dikwa local government.

But they were repelled by a combined effort of the air component and ground forces of Operation Lafiya Dole in a battle that lasted hours, sources said.

The casualty figure for the attack is still unknown, but some soldiers injured from Marte have since been evacuated to Maiduguri where they are currently being treated.

Meanwhile, the Chief of Army Staff has commended the troops of the Nigerian Army who repelled the attack on Dikwa, saying the soldiers gave a good account of themselves.

Major-General Ibrahim Attahiru gave the assurance that more combat equipment will be moved to the theatre in Borno State and others in various parts of the country.

The General assured that the Nigerian army, under his watch, will continue to work hard to surmount the twin problems of banditry and insurgency in the country.

https://www.channelstv.com/2021/02/20/insurgency-boko-haram-hoists-flag-in-parts-of-borno-state/

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Niger: A history of instability

Feb 21, 2021

NIAMEY: Niger, a vast desert nation that straddles both the Sahara and the troubled semi-arid Sahel, goes to the polls on Sunday to elect a new president and legislature.

Niger gains independence from France on August 3, 1960. It sees the first of several coups in April 1974, before oscillating between military and democratic regimes until President Mahamadou Issoufou is elected in March 2011.

In 2010 seven employees of the French nuclear giant Areva are kidnapped by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) from a uranium mine in Arlit in the north of the country. The last four men are freed in 2013.

In May 2013 Niger is hit by two suicide attacks, against a military camp in Agadez and an Areva uranium site, in which 20 are killed by jihadists loyal to notorious Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar.

In 2015 the Boko Haram jihadist group from neighbouring Nigeria carries out a spate of deadly attacks in the southeastern area of Diffa and against a military position on an island in Lake Chad, in which at least 74 are killed.

Since 2016 the southeast has also been the scene of attacks by Islamic State in West Africa (ISWAP), a dissident branch of Boko Haram.

A year later in March 2017 opposition leader and former premier Hama Amadou is sentenced to a year in jail for baby smuggling, a charge he says is aimed at sidelining him. After returning from self-imposed exile in 2019, he is locked up before being freed this year in a coronavirus prison release.

In November 2017 the French-backed local anti-jihadist military force G5 Sahel is created for troubled regions of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

In late 2018 the Nigerian army deploys in force in the vast Tillaberi region near the border with Mali and Burkina Faso, which has become a hunting ground for jihadists, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.

Six young French aid workers are killed with their Nigerien driver and guide on August 9 in the tourist hotspot of Koure, an attack also claimed by IS.

On December 12, 34 people are massacred in a Boko Haram attack in the southeastern region of Diffa on the eve of delayed municipal and regional elections.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/rest-of-world/niger-a-history-of-instability/articleshowprint/81134042.cms

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Covid-19: Which countries in Africa are administering vaccines?

By Peter Mwai

21-02-2021

There has been global competition to get hold of vaccines, and African countries have generally not been as successful as richer countries in securing supplies.

"It is deeply unjust that the most vulnerable Africans are forced to wait for vaccines while lower-risk groups in rich countries are made safe," says Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization (WHO) regional director for Africa.

The ones which have so far got vaccines have largely done so through direct purchases from manufacturers, or as donations from countries such as China, Russia, India and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

One is the global Covax initiative, in which countries pool their resources to support the development of effective vaccines with a view to ensuring that everyone gets a fair supply.

The WHO expects that African countries will begin receiving doses from the scheme by the end of this month, and the initial 90 million vaccine doses are expected to cover 3% of the continent's population.

The final Covax target is to provide up to 600 million doses to Africa, enough to vaccinate at least 20% of the population by the end of 2021.

But John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), says the vaccines provided "will not get the pandemic out" of the continent.

He says African countries will eventually need to vaccinate at least 60% of their populations, with his target for this year being 35%.

Africa's leading mobile network provider, MTN, has made a donation of $25m (£17.8m) to this plan to secure about seven million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine for the continent's health workers.

https://www.bbc.com/news/56100076

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Africa in the news: Mining disputes, COVID-19 and Ebola updates, and an increase in foreign troops in CAR and the Sahel

Christina Golubski

February 20, 2021

In recent years, African countries like Mali and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have tried to rewrite unfavorable mining contracts that leave the states short on generated revenue as well as recover funds owed to them—concerns that the pandemic has only exacerbated. Last year, Mali’s auditor general found that mining companies like Barrick Gold and Resolute Mining had not been paying dividends to public shareholders that were part of the original contracts. Last September, Barrick Gold ended up making its first dividend payment in 15 years since the opening of the Loulo Mine. In addition, SOMISY, a subsidiary of Resolute Mining, agreed to begin dividend payments once profitable.

In 2018, the DRC introduced a new mining code that raised levies on minerals such as cobalt, copper, and gold. The new code has been met with resistance: Mining company Glencore, the biggest Western company operating in the country, has yet to accept the new code and its royalties. There has also been backlash to regulation tightening elsewhere in the continent. Australian iron ore company Sundance Resources is planning to enter international arbitration proceedings against the Republic of the Congo after the government cancelled the Nabeba iron ore project in December of last year.

The possibility of success in many of these efforts is unclear given past judicial rulings against African countries. For example, just on Monday, a British court dismissed Sierra Leone’s dispute of a 2020 International Chamber of Commerce ruling involving a 2019 SL Mining arbitration filing. The British court’s ruling implies that Sierra Leone will pay SL Mining a partial reward and reach a settlement over the arbitration within three months.

COVID-19 deaths in sub-Saharan Africa passed 100,000 this week, moving the region’s fatality rate above the global average of 2.3 percent to 2.6 percent during the “second wave” of the disease. Richard Mihigo, coordinator of immunization programs at the World Health Organization’s Africa office, noted recently that the fact that the rise in deaths has been quickest in countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, and Malawi might indicate further spread of the South African variant of the virus, known as 501Y.V2. Gaps in testing might still be masking the full extent of the spread of all the variants of the virus too, as Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong noted last week, saying “Are we counting all the deaths on the continent? No … but most people on the continent do know somebody who has died of COVID during this second wave.”

Recent news that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine provides limited resistance to the 501Y.V2 variant  forced authorities in South Africa to scramble for a vaccine that could offer more protection. By Tuesday night, the country had received 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, allowing it to move forward with its vaccination program. President Cyril Ramaphosa, who received that vaccine this week, also noted that the country has secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and is looking into China’s Sinopharm and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines. Meanwhile, other countries in the region have started their vaccination programs, with Senegal, Zimbabwe, Egypt, and Equatorial Guinea receiving the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine.

Procurement and distribution of vaccines overall has been both challenging and controversial. On Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticized developed-country efforts to secure vaccines first, calling the distribution process “wildly uneven and unfair,” and noting that just 10 countries have administered 75 percent of all vaccinations. Emphasizing that point, on Thursday, February 18, French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the current uneven distribution of doses demonstrates an “unprecedented acceleration of global inequality,” and highlighted that some countries were being charged two or three times the price paid by the European Union and other developed countries.

While some countries are scrambling to obtain the vaccines, Tanzanian President John Magufuli has rejected any need for them. According to The Washington Post, Magufuli has been promoting herbal cures and claims that his country has been “COVID-free” since three days of national prayer in June of last year. Notably, the country has not released numbers on the virus since April 2020 and reports on the ground, including from the U.S. embassy in Dar-es-Salaam, dispute the claim of zero cases, instead stating the numbers are on the rise.

Meanwhile, new outbreaks of Ebola have surfaced in Guinea and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Already, vaccines have been distributed to both countries, with another 11,000 expected in Guinea this Sunday from the European Union and a further 8,000 from the U.S. not long after. On Tuesday, the United Nations announced it would be releasing $15 million to both countries in emergency relief funds. The two countries and their neighbors are on high alert given that over 11,000 people died in the 2014-2016 outbreak in West Africa and thousands have perished in a series of outbreaks over the last decade in the DRC and surrounding area.

For more on supporting sub-Saharan Africa’s health systems, see the February 12 AGI event with John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control as well as his Foresight Africa 2021 essay.

Despite the second anniversary of a peace agreement between the government of the Central African Republic and rebel groups, the situation in the country has been deteriorating. On Wednesday, February 17, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres recommended increasing the U.N. peacekeeping presence in the Central African Republic, calling for an additional 3,700 soldiers and police to reinforce the forces and assist the peacekeeping mission. Guterres stresses the reinforcements are “not intended as a means for a military solution to the present challenges … [nor] a substitute for the national authorities’ primary responsibility to advance the peace process and protect the population.” The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA—abbreviated from the French) currently deploys nearly 15,000 personnel, 11,000 of which are military, to the region. Any further increases in the mission’s military and police deployment requires approval by the U.N. Security Council.

In other security news, on Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron ruled out an immediate reduction to his country’s 5,100 soldiers currently fighting armed combatants in the Sahel. Eight years after sending military forces to assist Mali in fighting rebel groups, the intervention has cost France billions of dollars and killed 55 French soldiers. Conflict in the region has persisted for a decade and permeated the borders of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, resulting in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions. In fact, experts believe Mali’s inability to control the violence led to discontent with then-President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, which resulted in a coup last August.

Domestic pressure in France for a drawdown has led to calls to review the country’s strategy and, ultimately, search for an exit strategy. In response to this pressure, Macron argued that a rushed exit from the region would be a mistake due to lingering instability there. In his remarks, he emphasized France’s commitment to its partners in the Sahel, stating that any changes in military deployment “will result first of all from a collective discussion with our Sahel partners … They will be based on the results obtained and the degree of engagement from our partners.” Subsequently, he outlined the launch of additional operations by a consortium of international forces—including the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Sweden, (who have already sent troops) and Hungary, Greece, and Serbia (who have stated their willingness to do so).

https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2021/02/20/africa-in-the-news-mining-disputes-covid-19-and-ebola-updates-and-an-increase-in-foreign-troops-in-car-and-the-sahel/

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