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9503News in Brief: Marvel Comics debuts female Muslim superhero

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  • Zafar Khan
    Nov 23, 2013
      Marvel Comics debuts female Muslim superhero
      16-year-old Muslim-American girl Kamala Khan can lengthen her arms and legs and change shape.
      Last Modified: 07 Nov 2013 13:04


      Move over Black Widow and step aside She-Hulk: Marvel Comics is introducing a new superhero - a 16-year-old Muslim-American girl named Kamala Khan, to reflect the growing diversity of its readers.

      The character, who will be the new Ms Marvel, lives with her conservative Pakistani parents and brother in the US state of New Jersey.

      She will make her debut in January and appear in a monthly series starting on February 6.

      "It is so important that we tell stories that reflect the ever-changing world that we live in and being a Muslim-American is so much a part of that," said Sana Amanat, the series editor, who also worked on the Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men comic books.

      Although the inspiration for the new series came from a desire to explore the Muslim-American experience, she said it was not about what it meant to be a Muslim, Pakistani or American.

      "It is about a young girl who is figuring out who she is and what happens when these really extraordinary things happen to her," she added in an interview.

      Khan is a big comic book fan and after she discovers her superhuman power - being a polymorph and able to lengthen her arms and legs and change her shape - she takes on the name of Ms Marvel. The title had previously belonged to Carol Danvers, a character Khan had always admired.

      The idea for the new superhero stemmed from a casual conversation Amanat had with her senior editor, Steve Wacker, about her own experiences growing up as a Muslim-American.

      "He was interested in the dilemma I faced as a young girl and the next day he came in and said, 'Wouldn't it be great to have a superhero that was for all the little girls that grew up just like you, and who are growing up just like you are today, and to create a character they can be inspired by,'" Amanat said.

      The writer, G Willow Wilson, a convert to Islam, and artist Adrian Alphona are working on the project, which started about 18 months ago.

      Wilson said she created the character as a true-to-life person so that people, particularly young women, could relate to her.

      Khan experiences the usual teenage angst, feelings of confusion and being an outsider, dealing with the expectations of her parents and problems at high school.

      "It's for all the geek girls out there, and everybody else who's ever looked at life on the fringe," Wilson said in a statement.

      Khan is not the first Muslim-American character in the superhero world, which has been largely dominated by white males, but Amanat said she was being pushed to the forefront of the Marvel universe.

      "People have been mostly positive about it," she said, adding that the real test would come early next year when the series began.

      Amiir and Family: Somalis in Norway
      12 November 2013 Last updated at 01:53


      [Comic Strip]

      Welcome 1435: Muharram and a new year in the Islamic calendar
      by Muhammad Taqi Usmani
      Source: Islamic City


      Muharram is the month with which the Muslims begin their lunar Hijrah Calendar. It is one of the four sanctified months about which the Holy Quran says, “The number of the months according to Allah is twelve months (mentioned) in the Book of Allah on the day in which He created heavens and the earth. Among these (twelve months) there are four sanctified”.

      These four months, according to the authentic traditions are the months of Zhul Qa’dah, Zhul Hijjah, Muharram and Rajab. All the commentators of the Holy Quran are unanimous on this point, because the Holy Prophet in his sermon on the occasion of his last Hajj, has declared:

      “One year consists of twelve months, of which four are sanctified months, three of them are in sequence; Zhul Qa’dah, Zhul Hijjah, Muharram, and the fourth is Rajab.”

      The specific mention of these four months does not mean that any other month has no sanctity, because the month of Ramadan is admittedly the most sanctified month in the year. But these four months were specifically termed as sanctified months for the simple reason that their sanctity was accepted even by the pagans of Makkah.

      In fact, every month, out of the twelve, is originally equal to the other, and there is no inherent sanctity, which may be attributed to one of them in comparison to other months. When Allah Almighty chooses a particular time for His special blessings, then it acquires sanctity out of His grace.

      Thus, the sanctity of these four months was recognized right from the days of Sayyidina Ibrahim. Since the Pagans of Makkah attributed themselves to Sayyidina Ibrahim they observed the sanctity of these four months and despite their frequent tribal battles, they held it unlawful to fight in these months.

      In the Shariah of our Holy Prophet the sanctity of these months was upheld and the Holy Quran referred to them as the “sanctified months”.

      The month of Muharram has certain other characteristics peculiar to it, which are specified below.

      Fasting during the month

      The Holy Prophet has said:

      “The best fasts after the fasts of Ramadan are those of the month of Muharram.”

      Although the fasts of the month of Muharram are not obligatory, yet, the one who fasts in these days out of his own will and choice is entitled to a great reward by Allah Almighty. The Hadith cited above signifies that the fasts of the month of Muharram are most reward-able ones among the Nafl fasts i.e. the fasts one observes out of his own choice without being obligatory on him.

      The Hadith does not mean that the award promised for fasts of Muharram can be achieved only by fasting for the whole month. On the contrary, each fast during this month has merit. Therefore, one should avail of this opportunity as much as he can.

      The day of Ashurah

      Although the month of Muharram is a sanctified month as a whole, yet, the 10th day of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named Ashurah.

      According to the Holy companion Ibn Abbas. The Holy Prophet , when migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Holy Prophet Musa (Moses) and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its water.

      On hearing this from the Jews, the Holy Prophet said, “We are more closely related to Musa than you” and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of Ashurah. (Abu Dawood)

      It is also reported in a number of authentic traditions that in the beginning, fasting on the day of Ashurah was obligatory for the Muslims.

      It was later that the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory and the fast on the day of ”Ashurah was made optional. Sayyidah Aishah has said:

      “When the Holy Prophet came to Madinah, he fasted on the day of Ashurah and directed the people to fast it. But when the fasts of Ramadan were made obligatory, the obligation of fasting was confined to Ramadan and the obligatory nature of the fast of Ashurah was abandoned. One can fast on this day, if he so wills, or can avoid fasting, if he so wills.”

      However, the Holy Prophet used to fast on the day of Ashurah even after the fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory.

      Abdullah Ian Masud reports that the Holy Prophet preferred the fast of Ashurah to the fast of other days and preferred the fast of Ramadan to the fast of Ashurah. (Bukhari and Muslim)

      In short, it is established through a number of authentic hadith that fasting on the day of Ashurah is Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and makes one entitled to a great reward.

      According to another Hadith, it is more advisable that the fast of Ashurah should either be prefixed or suffixed by another fast. It means that one should fast two days: the 9th and 10th of Muharram or the 10th and 11th of it. The reason of this additional fast as mentioned by the Holy Prophet is that the Jews used to fast on the day of Ashurah alone, and the Holy Prophet wanted to distinguish the Islamic-way of fasting from that of Jews. Therefore, he advised the Muslims to add another fast to that of Ashurah.

      Some traditions signify another feature of the day of Ashurah.

      According to these traditions one should be more generous to his family by providing more food to them on this day as compared to other days. These traditions are not very authentic according to the science of Hadith. Yet, some Scholars like Baihaqi and Ibn Hibban have accepted them as reliable.

      What is mentioned above is all that is supported through authentic sources about Ashurah.

      However, there are some legends and misconceptions with regard to Ashurah that have managed to find their way into the minds of the ignorant, but have no support of authentic Islamic sources, some very common of them are these:

      This is the day in which Adam was created.

      This is the day in which Ibrahim was born.

      This is the day in which Allah accepted the repentance of Sayyidina Ibrahim.

      This is the day on which the Qiyamah (dooms-day) will take place.

      Whoever takes bath in the day of Ashurah will never get ill.

      All these and other similar whims and fancies are totally baseless and the traditions referred to in this respect are not worthy of any credit.

      Some people take it as Sunnah to prepare a particular type of meal in the day of Ashurah. This practice, too, has no basis in the authentic Islamic sources.

      Some other people attribute the sanctity of Ashurah to the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain during his battle with the Syrian army. No doubt, the martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain is one of the most tragic episodes of our history. Yet, the sanctity of Ashurah cannot be ascribed to this event for the simple reason that the sanctity of ‘Ashurah was established during the days of the Holy Prophet much earlier than the birth of Sayyidina Husain.

      On the contrary, it is one of the merits of Sayyidina Husain that his martyrdom took place on the day of Ashurah.

      Another misconception about the month of Muharram is that it is an evil or unlucky month, for Sayyidina Husain was killed in it. It is for this misconception that people avoid holding marriage ceremonies in the month of Muharram. This is again a baseless concept which is contrary to the express teachings of the Holy Quran and the Sunnah. Such superstitions have been totally negated by the Holy Prophet . If the death of an eminent person in a particular day renders that day unlucky for all times to come, one can hardly find a day, free from this bad luck, out of 365 days of the whole year, because each and every day has a history of the demise of some eminent person. The Holy Quran and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet have made us free from such superstitious beliefs, and they should deserve no attention.

      Another wrong practice related to this month is to hold the lamentation and mourning ceremonies in the memory of martyrdom of Sayyidina Husain.

      As mentioned earlier, the event of Karbala is one of the most tragic events of our history, but the Holy Prophet has forbidden us from holding the mourning ceremonies on the death of any person. The people of Jahiliyyah (Ignorance) used to mourn over their deceased relatives or friends through loud lamentations, by tearing their clothes and by beating their cheeks and chests. The Holy Prophet stopped the Muslims from doing all this and directed them to observe patience by saying “Inna lillaahi wa innaa ilayhi raaji oon”. A number of authentic hadith are available on the subject.

      To quote only one of them:

      “He is not from our group who slaps his cheeks, tears his clothes and cries in the manner of the people of jahiliyyah.”

      All the authentic jurists are unanimous on the point that the mourning of this type is absolutely impermissible. Even Sayyidina Husain shortly before his demise, had advised his beloved sister Sayyidah Zainab not to mourn over his death in this manner. He said:

      “My dear sister, I swear upon you that you, in case I die, shall not tear your clothes, nor scratch your face, nor curse anyone for me or pray for your death”.

      It is evident from this advice of Sayyidina Husain that this type of mourning is condemned even by the blessed person for the memory of whom these mourning ceremonies are held. Every Muslim should avoid this practice and abide by the teachings of the Holy Prophet and his beloved grandchild Sayyidina Husain.

      Blessings of Muharram

      It is the first month of the Islamic Calendar.

      The meaning of the word:- The word “Muharram” means “Forbidden.” Even before Islam, this month was always known as a scared month in which all unlawful acts were forbidden, prominently the shedding of blood.

      A blessing of Muharram:- There are many bounties of this month, especially the tenth of Muharram.

      Two of the many virtues of the 10th of Muharram:-

      On this day he who spends more lavishly for the sake of his family members, Allah Taala will bestow blessing upon the sustenance of the following year.

      Abu Qataada has related that the Prophet has reported to have said, it is my thought that by fasting on the 10th of Muharram Allah Taala will pardon the sins of the past year. (Tirmidhi)

      Events of Muharram

      Hadhrat Hussain was martyred in this month.

      Shaykhain Tirmidthi & Haakim have narrated from Anas that the following verse:

      “Allah may forgive thee of thy sins that which is past and that which is to come.” (Al-Fath) was revealed on the 10th of Muharram.

      The Prophet Muhammed went to defeat Bani Muhaarin and Bani Tha’laba (Tribes of Bani Gatfan) in the year 4 A.H. (Asahhus-siyar).

      Winter Olympics 2014: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes on the ‘black widows’ in Sochi security crackdown
      Muslim women forced to provide saliva samples after suicide bombings by separatists raise Games fears
      ALEC LUHN MOSCOW Thursday 31 October 2013


      Bodies of migrants found in Niger desert
      At least 87 migrants, mostly women and children, died of thirst a few kilometres from Algeria, their final destination.
      Last Modified: 31 Oct 2013 07:48


      The bodies of 87 migrants were found in Niger's northern desert after they died of thirst just a few kilometres from the border of Algeria, their planned destination, security officials said.

      The corpses of the seven men, 32 women and 48 children were in addition to five bodies of women and girls found earlier, a security source said.

      All died in early October after a failed attempt to reach Algeria that began in late September, the source added.

      Almoustapha Alhacen, a spokesman of local aid organisation Aghir In'man, confirmed the death toll and gave a graphic account of discovering the bodies.

      "The corpses were decomposed; it was horrible," he said. "We found them in different locations in a 20km radius and in small groups, often under trees, or under the sun. Sometimes a mother and children, but some lone children too," Alhacen said.

      The bodies were buried according to Muslim rites, "as and when they were found," added Alhacen.

      Desert tragedy

      Nigerien officials said on Monday that dozens of migrants, most of them women and children, had died of thirst in the Sahara desert earlier this month. Two vehicles carrying the migrants broke down, one about 83km from the city of Arlit in northern Niger where they had set off from, and another at 158km, a security source said.

      "The first vehicle broke down. The second returned to Arlit to get a spare part after getting all the migrants it was carrying to alight, but it too broke down," said the source.

      "We think that the migrants were in the desert for seven days and on the fifth day, they began to leave the broken down vehicle in search of a well," said the source.

      However, 21 people had survived, the source said, including a man who walked to Arlit and a woman who was saved by a driver who came across her in the desert and took her to the same city.

      Nineteen others reached the Algerian city of Tamanrasset but were sent back to Niger, the source added.

      Niger is one of the world's poorest countries and has been hit by successive food crises. Libya, rather than Algeria, is more frequently the favoured country of transit for west Africans making the journey across the continent, many of whom aim to travel on to Europe.

      The UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that at least 30,000 economic migrants passed through Agadez, northern Niger's largest city, between March and August of this year.

      Philippine Muslims ask for education boost
      Minority community says a new law is needed to help help teach Islam in majority Christian country.
      Last Modified: 20 Oct 2013 03:06


      Muslims in the Philippines are asking the government to help their children learn Islam in schools.

      Muslims make up only around 15 percent of the population and the country is predominantly Christian.

      Now parents are pushing for a new bill that would help boost religious education. Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan explains.

      Video: Islam takes root in SA township



      As the Hajj begins, the destruction of Mecca's heritage continues
      Pilgrims follow in the footsteps of the prophet Muhammad, but there is little of his legacy left in Islam's holiest city
      Oliver Wainwright
      theguardian.com, Monday 14 October 2013 16.54 BST


      Two million Muslims have flooded into Saudi Arabia's Mina Valley from Mecca for the start of the Hajj pilgrimage this week. Dressed in simple white garments and freed from their worldly possessions, they are following in the footsteps of the prophet Muhammad. But in Islam's holiest city, there is increasingly little sign of the prophet's legacy – or the frugal life he espoused.

      “The authorities are trying to destroy anything in Mecca that is associated with the prophet's life,” says Irfan al-Alawi, director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who recently returned from a trip to the city. “They have already bulldozed the house of his wife, his grandson and his companion – and now they are coming for his birthplace. And for what? Yet more seven-star hotels.”

      At the foot of the Khandama mountain to the west of the Grand Mosque, an innocuous white building stands alone, cast adrift in a sea of paving and tarmac. This small library was built to mark the site of the house where the prophet was born, known as the House of Mawlid, the remains of which Alawi says still lie beneath its raised plinth. But it is now in the path of bigger plans.

      Stream of pilgrims on path to Mount Arafat
      Millions head to holiest spot in Mecca as part of their Hajj pilgrimage, including some who were not born Muslims.
      Last Modified: 14 Oct 2013 19:45


      Hajj draws fewer pilgrims over health fears
      Numbers down by more than 20 percent because of Saudi construction projects in Mecca and fears over MERS virus.
      Last Modified: 14 Oct 2013 06:35


      Kenya: Mombasa descends into riots as Islamist cleric is murdered two weeks after Nairobi shopping centre massacre
      CATRINA STEWART Author Biography NAIROBI Friday 04 October 2013


      Religious riots sparked by the murder of a popular Islamist cleric have left four protesters dead in Mombasa, setting the city on edge two weeks after Islamist militants killed dozens of people in an audacious terror attack on a Nairobi shopping centre.

      Sheikh Ibrahim Omar, a preacher at the Masjid Musa mosque which has alleged links to the Somali al-Shabaab group, was killed with three companions when the car he was in was shot at by unknown assailants on Thursday night.

      His followers blamed the security services for shooting the preacher in retaliation for al-Shabaab’s attack on the Westgate mall which killed at least 67 people.

      Kenya police have denied any involvement in the killing, which mirrors that of Sheikh Aboud Rogo Mohamed, a prominent cleric and alleged al-Shabaab recruiter who died when his car was shot at just over a year ago. His death, also blamed on the security services, sparked deadly riots in Mombasa.

      “The police have nothing to do with the shooting. That’s not how we operate,” Robert Kitur, Mom-basa County police commander, said.

      Muslim youths set fire to a Salvation Army church, burned tyres and blocked the main road into the city. Police became involved in battles with protesters, firing tear gas to disperse them. One protester was shot dead, while three others died of stab wounds.

      The imam was on the road to Malindi outside Mombasa when unknown gunmen started shooting at the car. “There were gunshots and the vehicle veered off the road, I don’t know how I walked out of the vehicle alive,” Salim Abdi, sole survivor of the shooting, told Agence France Presse. “All four others I was with in the vehicle died on the spot.”

      Only a few kilometres away Sheikh Rogo was shot dead in a similar attack last August. Rogo had been accused by the United States and Kenya of recruiting and funding militants from al-Shabaab, which is affiliated to al-Qa’ida. Omar was a student under Rogo, and apparently shared his hardline ideological beliefs in this city where many Muslims feel marginalised by the country’s predominantly Christian leaders.

      At the Masjid Musa mosque, where both men preached, worshippers accused the police of trying to divert attention from intelligence failures at the Westgate mall.

      Lower Saxony To Recognize Islam
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Wednesday, 02 October 2013 00:00


      LOWER SAXONY – Following the suit of Bremen and Hamburg, the government of Lower Saxony in Germany has recognized Islam as an official religion in the district, confirming that Muslims were a key part in the society.

      “A mutual skepticism occurred in the past and our government wishes to show its respect to the Muslims with this contract,” Lower Saxony Prime Minister Stephen Weil told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, October 1.

      Weil was speaking during the meeting at which Weil convened the representatives of Islamic institutions at the provincial guest-house to initiate the talks to accept Islam as an official religion.

      The meeting hosted the Chairman of Provincial Union of Lower Saxony and Bremen of Turkish Islamic Union of Religious Affairs Yilmaz Kilic, Chairman of Hannover Council Avni Altiner and Chairman of Alawite Unions Federation in Germany Huseyin Mat along several German politicians and guests.

      Signing the contract to recognize Islam was an initial step which needed further discussions to allow Muslims a wider recognition in the European country.

      "We have about 30 issues upon which we desire to discuss and agree on,” Kilic said for his part.

      “We would like to sign a contract which can set an example for other major provinces.”

      Last January, three German states, namely Bremen Hamburg and Hesse, recognized Islamic organizations as official religious bodies.

      Under a similar contract, Muslim holidays as `Eid Al-Fitr and `Eid Al-Adha were recognized as official vacations.

      The official recognition of Muslim groups as religious bodies allows them the right to minister to Muslims in prisons, hospitals and other public institutions.

      Muslims are allowed - within certain legal constraints - to build mosques and bury their dead by their own religious rites.

      The contracts are a milestone in the relationship between German states and Muslim associations.

      Muslim groups like the Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DITIB) and the Association of Islamic Cultural Centers (VIKZ) have long campaigned for recognition as religious bodies.

      Germany has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.

      Kenya shopping mall attack - eyewitness accounts: 'The people at the next table were all shot and killed'


      'This is not Kenya's war'
      As the siege in a Nairobi mall drags on, escaped shoppers think of those still trapped inside.
      James Reinl Last Modified: 22 Sep 2013 18:11


      Nairobi, Kenya - When she heard the first crackle of shots, Fiona Herbert thought she was listening to fireworks, rather than the bullets that signalled the start of a bloody siege on an upmarket shopping mall here in Kenya's capital.

      The 34-year-old Briton, who lives in Kenya, described chaotic scenes as she grabbed her baby son and darted out of the ground-floor cafe, fleeing with other shoppers into a furniture shop, jamming a chair behind the door and ducking into a store room.

      Outside, around a dozen masked attackers tossed grenades and shot shoppers in the head, using pistols and assault rifles, ostensibly to advance the cause of al-Shabaab, an armed Somali outfit with links to al-Qaeda and ambitions to topple their country's UN-backed government.

      Harmony at stake in Philippine city
      Tough time for multi-faith and multicultural Zamboanga as siege by Muslim armed group enters its 14th day.
      Last Modified: 22 Sep 2013 07:18


      The standoff between the Philippine military and a Muslim armed group in the city of Zamboanga has entered its 14th day.

      It has been a tough time for a city that has long been regarded as multicultural and multi-faith.

      Al Jazeera's Marga Ortigas reports from Zamboanga in southern Philippines.

      Kashmir refugees living a life on hold
      Many former fighters who fled Indian-controlled Kashmir with their families are now stranded.
      Asad Hashim Last Modified: 18 Sep 2013 11:40


      Muzaffarabad, Pakistan-administered Kashmir - For Usman Ali, the decision to flee his home and take up arms against the state came not at the end of a gradual process of conversion, but all of a sudden, in a rare moment of clarity.

      It was a chill winter's night in 1992, and a then 16-year-old Ali was asleep in his shared room, rain and hail falling on the village in Indian-administered Kashmir's Karnah district.

      "It was 3am, when suddenly we heard some disturbance outside. We thought some people must have been moving past. But then we heard some women screaming. We thought it must be the army," he told Al Jazeera.

      Army officers kicked the door down, beat him and his roommate and then dragged them both outside, he said. He was ordered to join the rest of the villagers, being questioned as they lined up in a clearing.

      "There was a woman there who had just given birth, hours earlier, at home... It was cold, but the soldiers didn't care at all... This went on for about three hours, and in that time they questioned or beat almost everyone.

      "In this process, the child died in its mothers arms. It was her first child."

      The woman started screaming, pleading for help, Ali says, and she soon got the attention of a soldier, who asked her why she was making such noise.

      "Let it die," Ali recalls him saying when she told him.

      A few weeks later, Ali says, he heard about the rape of 22 women in his village - allegedly by Indian security forces.

      "That was the turning point for me. I thought that forget life, forget parents - I decided that I must go to Pakistan, get training there, and fight against this. Whether I do it with stones or guns. This was oppression, this was cruelty. And who will stop the oppressor?"

      Ali, now 37, recalls how he crossed the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between India and Pakistan in the disputed territory of Kashmir, under cover of darkness, expecting to receive training from armed pro-independence groups and to return to fight Indian security forces.

      It's been 21 years, however, and Ali was never able to find a way to go back.

      "I didn't enroll in school here because when I came, I didn't come for school. I came to take part in the struggle for independence. I felt that if my life here was difficult, I was doing it for my family who was suffering over there. There should be some reason I came here. But after staying here so long, I have lost out."

      Ali is unemployed, and has been for most of the past two decades. He survives on a monthly stipend that the government of Pakistan-administered Kashmir provides to him and his family.

      His story is not atypical. Since an armed movement against Indian rule over Kashmir began in 1989, thousands of refugees such as Ali put their lives on hold when they crossed into Pakistan - whether fleeing the ensuing security forces' crackdown or to take up arms against India. They now live in Pakistan, most without jobs, citizenship or even identity cards, and struggle to get by on what the government provides.

      The government of Pakistan-administered Kashmir - known as Azad Jammu & Kashmir, or AJK - provides each of the 34,812 registered refugees to have arrived in Pakistan since 1990 with a monthly stipend of Rs1,500 ($14), or about Rs9,000 ($86) per month for a typical family.

      The government also provides land for the 24 refugee camps that it operates, housing 22,773 people. The rest live in various areas and cities across AJK, officials told Al Jazeera.

      Whether in camps or outside, however, most refugees continue to live in makeshift dwellings - shanty houses made of mud, brick and corrugated iron for those lucky enough to afford it, while simple tents give shelter to thousands of others.

      One of 'the disappeared'

      For those now in AJK, the memories of the homes and lives they left behind on "the other side" - as the Indian-controlled side of the LoC is known here - bring a mixture of longing and pain.

      "When we came here, we didn't think that we would go and study, start a business, make something of ourselves - we thought that we would come, help out in the cause in whatever way we could, and when Kashmir was freed, we would go back," says 37-year-old Chaudhry Mushtaq, who lives in the Manak Payan refugee camp in Muzaffarabad, the capital of AJK.

      Mushtaq fled his home at 17, after both his father and brother had been imprisoned by Indian authorities on suspicion of being part of the pro-independence movement.

      "At the time I was very young. I was scared and didn't know how to [cross the LoC]. But the pressure and cruelty on the other side was so much that all day, every day, the army men would come and bother our family. So it was my mother who said that I should leave, no matter what, so that I avoid my brother's fate," he told Al Jazeera.

      It has now been 19 years, but neither he nor his family have heard a word about what happened to his brother and father. They have become, he said, members of "the disappeared".

      Uzair Ahmed Ghazali, 38, came over in similar circumstances.

      China sentences three men to death over attack blamed on Islamists
      Another man is sentenced to 25 years for role in violence that left 24 police and civilians dead in restive Xinjiang region
      Associated Press in Beijing
      theguardian.com, Friday 13 September 2013 09.49 BST


      China has sentenced three men to death over an attack in June in the north-western region of Xinjiang blamed on Islamic extremists. The attack left 24 police and civilians dead.

      The official Xinhua news agency said on Friday that another man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his role in the violence on 26 June in which 13 militants were also killed. All four were found guilty of murder and being members of a terrorist organisation and sentenced on Thursday by the intermediate court in the city of Turfan at the end of a one-day trial.

      All were identified by names common among Xinjiang's indigenous Turkic Uighur minority group, some members of which have pursued a long-simmering insurgency against Chinese rule in the vast region bordering central Asia.

      In the incident, assailants attacked police and government offices in the eastern Xinjiang town of Lukqun, in one of an unusually large number of bloody clashes over the summer. Independent reports put the Lukqun death toll as high as 46.

      Police said the attackers belonged to a 17-member extremist Islamic cell formed in January by a man identified by the Chinese pronunciation of his Uighur name, Aihemaitiniyazi Sidike.

      Hostage crisis in Philippines brings Zamboanga to a standstill
      BULLIT MARQUEZ ZAMBOANGA, PHILIPPINES Wednesday 11 September 2013


      Muslim rebels holding scores of hostages in the southern Philippines demanded international mediation today, as fresh rounds of fire broke out between government troops and the guerrillas on the third day of the standoff.

      The rebels, enraged by a broken peace deal with the government, are holding the civilian hostages as human shields near the city of Zamboanga, on the island of Mindanao. Troops have surrounded the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and its hostages in four coastal villages. At least nine people have been killed since the standoff began Monday. On Tuesday, rebels fired two mortar rounds near the main port, prompting authorities to order vessels to dock elsewhere. The government rushed more troops and police to the city, and there were sporadic exchanges of fire. Some houses went up in flames in rebel-held villages, forcing more residents to flee.

      Zamboanga, a city of 770,000 people, was virtually shut down, with most flights and ferry services suspended. Armoured troop carriers lined the streets in nearby communities, with troops massing at a school and snipers taking positions atop buildings. A mosque and its minaret were pockmarked with bullet holes.

      The mayor of Zamboanga, Maria Isabelle Climaco, said the rebels were demanding international mediation. She said a former governor from the rebels’ stronghold of Sulu province tried to talk to the gunmen Tuesday, but “they refuse to listen to anybody locally”. “They say that it’s an international problem, and no less than the international community, the UN, should come in,” she told ABS-CBN television. Shots rang out as she spoke from the city hall. There were no immediate reports of anyone hurt in today’s sporadic trading of fire.

      The MNLF signed a peace accord brokered by a committee of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference with the government in 1996, but hundreds of its fighters held on to their arms and have recently accused officials of reneging on a promise to develop an autonomous region for minority Muslims in the southern Mindanao region. They also felt left out after a breakaway faction engaged in successful peace talks with the government brokered by Malaysia. Last month, the MNLF issued new threats to secede by establishing its own republic.

      However, its leader, Nur Misuari, has not appeared in public or issued any statement since about 200 of his followers barged into Zamboanga city’s coast early Monday and clashed with soldiers and police. The fighting left at least nine combatants and civilians dead and several wounded.

      The rebels took scores of residents hostage, holding them in houses and a mosque that have been ringed by troops.

      President Benigno Aquino III said the top priority was the safety of the hostages and residents of the city. He sent top Cabinet officials and his military chief of staff to oversee the security crisis in the country’s south, the scene of decades-long Muslim unrest and the homeland of minority Muslims in the predominantly Roman Catholic nation.

      The Interior Secretary, Mar Roxas, said some officials had opened talks with the rebels “at different levels”, including a commander loyal to Misuari, but added that there had been no breakthrough.


      Tuareg rebels clash with Mali army
      Three soldiers wounded in first clashes with northern rebels since two sides signed a ceasefire deal in June.
      Last Modified: 12 Sep 2013 05:25


      Three Malian soldiers have been wounded in the first clashes with Tuareg rebels since the two sides signed a ceasefire deal in June, the army has said,

      A Malian capitain warned the clash could endanger the truce.

      The fighting took place near the western town of Lere and comes a week after President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was sworn in, highlighting simmering tensions as he seeks to secure an end to cycles of uprisings by northern rebels.

      The Tuareg rebels have picked up arms thrice since independence in 1960, but it was only last year that they succeeded in making significant gains. They were temporarily sidelined by radicals operating in the area, though they have grown in strength again since French-led forces drove out the al-Qaeda linked fighters from the region.

      A UN peacekeeping mission is now rolling out to ensure stability as French troops gradually withdraw.

      "An army patrol came across some gunmen in four-wheel drives. They refused to follow the army's orders and opened fire on the troops," said army spokesman Captain Modibo Naman Traore.

      Attaye Ag Mohamed, one of the founders of the Tuareg rebellion, accused the army of starting the fighting by surrounding their position.

      In June, the rebels signed an agreement mediated by the president of Burkina Faso, agreeing to a ceasefire in order to allow Mali's presidential election to go ahead on July 28. The rebels also agreed to garrison their fighters, but the insurgents were frequently spotted outside their assigned bases in the northern province of Kidal.

      Talks are to begin later this year between the government and the rebels. However, the idea of negotiating with them remains deeply unpopular in southern Mali.

      Fight over 'Allah' back in Malaysia court
      Government appeals Christians' right to describe their god as 'Allah' as religious animosity grows.
      Kate Mayberry Last Modified: 10 Sep 2013 16:35


      Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Every Monday, Father Lawrence Andrew, the founding editor of Malaysia's Catholic Herald, goes over his newspaper a final time before it's despatched to the printers.

      As well as checking for spelling and grammar, the weekly is published in the country's four main languages - Malay, Chinese, Tamil and English - Father Lawrence also needs to be sure the word “Allah" is in quotation marks amid a long-running dispute over whether it is the "exclusive" domain of Malaysia's Malay Muslims.

      Christians in the Middle East and Indonesia have long used Allah to refer to the Christian God. So have Malaysia's one million Christians, 60 percent who speak the Malay language and live mostly in the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak. But in 2008, the government threatened to revoke the Herald's publishing licence if it continued to use the word, triggering a legal battle that has yet to be resolved.

      “It's almost like a life and death situation," said Father Lawrence, at his office behind St. Antony's Church in Kuala Lumpur, which this month marks its centenary. “[It means] we cannot quote from the Bible. If the word is Allah [they say] we have to change to Tuhan, so we are rendering the Bible inaccurate. They are attacking our creed."

      Although the High Court found in the Herald's favour in 2009, affirming Christians' constitutional right to use Allah, the government appealed the decision. On Tuesday, the Appeal Court finally began hearing the case, as scores of Christians and Muslims held vigils outside.

      Playing to the Malay base

      The court action comes in the wake of general elections in May that returned the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition - made up of three race-based parties - to power with less than half the popular vote. Prime Minister Najib Razak on election night blamed what he called a “Chinese tsunami" for the result, even as data showed it was mainly young, urban residents who backed the opposition.

      But while Najib promised a process of national reconciliation, his Malay-based party, which now dominates the coalition, is facing leadership polls in a matter of weeks, and the recrimination has continued.

      “There is an element of fear on the part of Barisan Nasional," said Billy Ford from Freedom House in Washington DC, who has lived in Terengganu on Malaysia's east coast. “They seem to have surrendered their efforts to attract non-Malays into the coalition, and instead have focused on playing to the Malay base."

      The court's original decision triggered some of Malaysia's worst religious violence in years, with some churches set on fire. The government then offered in 2011 what it called a 10-point solution, allowing the use of Allah for Bahasa Malaysia speaking Christians in Sabah and Sarawak.

      But it's now appealing the ruling on the grounds that Allah can only be used by Muslims and to allow Christians to do so would risk inflaming religious tensions. Official sermons posted online last week called for a “holy struggle" against the so-called enemies of Islam.

      Why Dubai's Islamic austerity is a sham – sex is for sale in every bar
      Couples who publicly kiss are jailed, yet the state turns a blind eye to 30,000 imported prostitutes, says William Butler
      William Butler
      The Observer, Sunday 16 May 2010


      The bosomy blonde in a tight, low-cut evening dress slid on to a barstool next to me and began the chat: Where are you from? How long are you here? Where are you staying? I asked her what she did for a living. "You know what I do," she replied. "I'm a whore."

      As I looked around the designer bar on the second floor of the glitzy five-star hotel, it was obvious that every woman in the place was a prostitute. And the men were all potential punters, or at least window-shoppers.

      While we talked, Jenny, from Minsk in Belarus, offered me "everything, what you like, all night" for the equivalent of about £500. It was better if I was staying in the luxurious hotel where we were drinking, she said, but if not she knew another one, cheaper but "friendly". I turned down the offer.

      This was not Amsterdam's red-light district or the Reeperbahn in Hamburg or a bar on Shanghai's Bund. This was in the city centre of Dubai, the Gulf emirate where western women get a month in prison for a peck on the cheek; the Islamic city on Muhammad's peninsula where the muezzin's call rings out five times a day drawing believers to prayer; where public consumption of alcohol prompts immediate arrest; where adultery is an imprisonable offence; and where mall shoppers are advised against "overt displays of affection", such as kissing.

      Ayman Najafi and Charlotte Adams, the couple recently banged up in Al Awir desert prison for a brief public snog, must have been very unlucky indeed, because in reality Dubai is a heaving maelstrom of sexual activity that would make the hair stand up on even the most worldly westerner's head. It is known by some residents as "Sodom-sur-Mer".

      Beach life, cafe society, glamorous lifestyles, fast cars and deep tans are all things associated with "romance" in the fog-chilled minds of Europeans and North Americans. And there is a fair amount of legitimate "romance" in Dubai. Western girls fall for handsome, flash Lebanese men; male visitors go for the dusky charms of women from virtually anywhere. Office and beach affairs are common.

      But most of the "romance" in Dubai is paid-for sex, accepted by expatriates as the norm, and to which a blind eye is turned – at the very least – by the authorities. The bar where "Jenny" approached me was top-of-the-range, where expensively dressed and coiffured girls can demand top dollar from wealthy businessmen or tourists.

      There are lots of these establishments. Virtually every five-star hotel has a bar where "working girls" are tolerated, even encouraged, to help pull in the punters with cash to blow. But it goes downhill from there. At sports and music bars, Fillipinas vie with the Russians and women from the former Soviet republics for custom at lower prices. In the older parts of the city, Deira and Bur Dubai, Chinese women undercut them all in the lobbies of three-star hotels or even on the streets (although outside soliciting is still rare).

      It is impossible to estimate accurately the prostitute population of Dubai. The authorities would never give out such figures, and it would be hard to take into account the "casual" or "part-time" sex trade. One recent estimate put the figure at about 30,000 out of a population of about 1.5 million. A similar ratio in Britain would mean a city the size of Glasgow and Leeds combined entirely populated by prostitutes.

      Of course, there are other cities in the world where the "oldest profession" is flourishing. But what makes Dubai prostitution different is the level of acceptance it has by the clients and, apparently, the city's Islamic authorities. Although strictly illegal under United Arab Emirates' and Islamic law, it is virtually a national pastime.

      I have seen a six-inch-high stack of application forms in the offices of a visa agent, each piece of paper representing a hopeful "tourist" from Russia, Armenia or Uzbekistan. The passport-sized photographs are all of women in their 20s seeking one-month visas for a holiday in the emirate.

      Maybe young Aida from Tashkent – oval-eyed and pouting – will find a few days' paid work as a maid or shop assistant while she's in Dubai, and maybe she will even get an afternoon or two on the beach as her holiday. But most nights she will be selling herself in the bars and hotels and the immigration authorities know that. So must the visa agent, who gets his cut out of each £300 visa fee.

      The higher you go up the Emirati food chain, the bigger the awards. All UAE nationals are entitled to a number of residence visas, which they routinely use to hire imported domestics, drivers or gardeners. But they will sell the surplus to middlemen who trade them on to women who want to go full-time and permanent in the city. The higher the social and financial status of the Emirati, the more visas he has to "farm".

      Thousands of women buy entitlement to full-time residence, and lucrative employment, in this way. Three years in Dubai – the normal duration of a residence visa – can be the difference between lifelong destitution and survival in Yerevan, Omsk or Bishkek.

      With a residence visa changing hands at upwards of £5,000 a time, it is a nice sideline, even for a wealthy national. And it also ensures a convenient supply of sex for Emiratis, who form a large proportion of the punters at the kind of bar where I met "Jenny". Arabs from other countries are high up the "johns" list, with Saudis in particular looking for distraction from life in their austere Wahabist homes with booze and sex-fuelled weekends in Dubai's hotels.

      The other big category of punters is Europeans and Americans, and it is remarkable how quickly it all seems normal. A few drinks with the lads on a Thursday night, maybe a curry, some semi-intoxicated ribaldry, and then off to a bar where you know "that" kind of girl will be waiting. In the west, peer group morality might frown on such leisure activities, but in Dubai it's as normal as watching the late-night movie.

      Male residents whose families are also in Dubai might be a little constrained most of the year – you could not really introduce Ludmilla from Lvov, all cleavage and stilettos, as a work colleague with whom you wanted to "run over a few things on the laptop". But in the long, hot summer it is different. Wives and families escape the heat by going to Europe or the US, and the change that comes over the male expat population is astounding. Middle-aged men in responsible jobs – accountants, marketeers, bankers – who for 10 months of the year are devoted husbands, transform in July and August into priapic stallions roaming the bars of Sheikh Zayed Road.

      Tales are swapped over a few beers the next night, positions described, prices compared, nationalities ranked according to performance. It could be the Champions League we are discussing, not paid-for sex.

      I've heard financial types justifying it as part of the process of globalisation, another manifestation of the west-east "tilt" by which world economic power is gravitating eastwards.

      In my experience, many men will be unfaithful if they have the opportunity and a reasonable expectation that they will not be found out. For expats in Dubai, the summer months provide virtual laboratory conditions for infidelity.

      Above all, there is opportunity. There is the Indonesian maid who makes it apparent that she has no objection to extending her duties, for a price; the central Asian shop assistant in one of the glittering malls who writes her mobile number on the back of your credit card receipt "in case you need anything else"; the Filipina manicurist at the hairdresser's who suggests you might also want a pedicure in the private room.

      Even though selling sex is haram (forbidden) under Islamic law, the authorities rarely do anything about it. Occasionally, an establishment will break some unwritten rule. Cyclone, a notorious whorehouse near the airport, was closed down a few years back, but then it really did go too far – a special area of the vast sex supermarket was dedicated to in-house oral sex. When the authorities ordered it to be closed, the girls simply moved elsewhere.

      There are occasional stories in the local papers of human trafficking rings being broken up and the exploiters arrested, but it is low-level stuff, usually involving Asian or Chinese gangs and Indian or Nepalese girls. The real problem is the high-end business, with official sanction. Even with the emirate's financial problems, Sodom-sur-Mer is flourishing. But would-be snoggers beware – your decadent behaviour will not be tolerated.

      William Butler is a pseudonym for a writer who lived in Dubai for four years and recently returned to Britain

      Air force sergeant accused of planning mosque attack as Muslim leader denounces 'Islamophobic' France
      ANNE PENKETH Author Biography PARIS Tuesday 13 August 2013


      A Muslim religious leader has denounced France’s “climate of Islamophobia” after an air force sergeant with alleged links to the extreme right was placed under investigation for attempting to carry out a terrorist attack against a mosque near Lyon.

      The 23-year-old, who was arrested at a military base last week, has been placed under investigation on charges including possessing a weapon with terrorist intent.

      Islamophobic attacks have risen by between 35 and 50 per cent in France this year according to data from Muslim associations. The country is home to five million Muslims.

      The French interior ministry said the sergeant is believed to be “close to the radical far right” and had allegedly planned to open fire on the mosque at Vénissieux in the Bordeaux region on Thursday last week, when Muslims celebrated the end of Ramadan. A rally was held outside the Vénissieux mosque yesterday to encourage solidarity with the local Muslim community.

      According to investigators, the soldier confessed to planning to attack the Vénissieux mosque and also admitted responsibility for firebombing a mosque in Libourne, southwestern France, in August last year. Some of the soldier’s relatives reportedly tipped off police about his most recent plans after finding him with extremist literature.

      Kamel Kabtane, the rector of Lyon’s main mosque, expressed shock that the arrested man was a soldier “who is tasked with defending France”. Mr Kabtane said the arrest revealed “that a climate of Islamophobia reigns in France today, we cannot delude ourselves.” He added: “It’s been going on for some years, but now people are turning their words into acts.”

      Investigators said that the serviceman had sought three times to contact Maxime Brunerie, a neo-Nazi who attempted to assassinate President Jacques Chirac in 2002 during the annual Bastille Day parade. The soldier was also a supporter of the radical historian Dominique Venner, who committed suicide in Notre-Dame cathedral in May. His suicide was ostensibly in protest against the legalisation of gay marriage in France, but in a blog post, he also warned that France and Europe were going to be brought under “Islamist control” and sharia law.

      The rector praised the interior ministry for the arrest as a sign that France “treats all these matters equally.” French authorities have been accused in the past of failing to investigate anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim attacks with the same zeal, an accusation which the Interior Minister, Manuel Valls, has described as false and “insulting.”

      Mr Valls has been criticised by Muslim community leaders for playing down Islamophobia and for suggesting that some Islamic institutions in France were in the hands of radical Salafist factions which are stirring up sectarian friction.

      Many anti-Muslim attacks have been linked to the debate on legislation which banned the wearing of the full-face niqab from April 2011, and which caused a spate of violent incidents. Riots erupted last month over a police identity check of a veiled woman in the Paris suburb of Trappes. In May, a 17-year-old identified only as Rabia told reporters she was attacked by “skinheads” who knocked her to the ground while calling her a “dirty Muslim”. In June, a pregnant Muslim woman lost her baby after an attack in which her veil was ripped from her by two men who taunted her with anti-Islamic slogans.

      Tensions were further fuelled in March, when a French soldier was stabbed in a Paris suburb. Judges placed 22-year-old Alexandre Dhaussy, believed to be a recent convert to Islam, under formal investigation for “attempted murder linked to a terrorist enterprise”.

      Last Saturday, the wall of a Muslim prayer room in Lesparre-Medoc, in the south-west, was daubed with swastikas.

      Mr Valls has had several meetings in recent weeks with Muslim representatives, most recently in Ozoir-la-Ferrière, east of Paris, where he had a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner. The mosque in that city was sprayed with extremist slogans earlier this year.

      5m The number of Muslims in France, out of a total population of 65 million

      40 Mosques were attacked last year, twice the number in 2011

      469 Islamophobic attacks were reported in France in 2012

      54% The proportion of respondents to a Le Monde poll in February who said they believed France awarded too many rights to followers of Islam

      Sri Lanka Buddhists attack Colombo mosque
      Police impose curfew after mob attacks mosque, wounding four people and reviving simmering religious tensions.
      Last Modified: 11 Aug 2013 06:42


      Sri Lankan police deployed commandos and imposed a curfew on a Colombo neighbourhood after a Buddhist-led mob attacked a mosque, wounding four people and reviving simmering religious tensions, officials said.

      Two police constables guarding the disputed mosque in Colombo's Grandpass area were among those wounded and hospitalised, Colombo National Hospital spokeswoman Pushpa Soysa said on Saturday.

      "They had been hit by stones and also had cut injuries from falling glass debris," Soysa told AFP news agency. "We have two constables and two Muslim men admitted following the attack."

      Residents said temple bells summoned the faithful who went over to the neighbouring mosque and started pelting stones. Several homes in the area were also damaged, residents said.

      Seventy percent of Sri Lanka's 20 million population follow Buddhism while Muslims are the second largest religious minority with just under 10 percent after Hindus who make up about 13 percent. Others are Christian.

      Police sources said elite Special Task Force commandos were deployed to help maintain law and order following mob violence against the mosque.

      Police said they had imposed a curfew until 7:00am Sunday (01:30 GMT) to disperse the large number of people still in the area.

      A security official said Buddhists had objected to the new mosque which had been established to replace their older place of worship earmarked for demolition to make way for new construction.

      "The Buddhist temple had objected to the relocation of the mosque and the troubles started during Saturday evening prayers of the mosque," the official said, asking not to be be named.

      The latest attack came five months after an anti-Muslim campaign culminated in the torching of two Muslim-owned businesses just outside the capital.