News in Brief: What Islam Can Offer The West
- What Islam Can Offer The West
By Wael Shihab, IOL Correspondent
LONDON — A galaxy of renowned scholars, intellectuals and politicians from the four corners of the globe are meeting in London to discuss what Islam can offer the West.
"This year, we have a proposal for a new important institution," Dr. Kamal El-Helbawy, chairman of the Global Civilizations Study Centre (GCSC), told IslamOnline.net.
Helbawy, the organizer, said participants are discussing a proposal to establish an institution on pondering over skies and Earth.
He said the Noble Qur'an has commanded Muslims to reflect on the creation of skies and Earth.
"Muslims don't fully carry out the tasks mentioned in the (Qur`anic) verses by not having institutions like NASA and other institutions to study and advance researches related to skies and earth," he said.
The 3rd annual seminar "What Islam Can Offer the West" was opened on Friday, May 23.
A cohort of Muslim leaders, scholars and intellectuals are attending the three-day event, including Dr. Robert Crane, former adviser to late US president Richard Nixon.
Dr. Crane, the Director for Global Strategy at the Abraham Federation, said the Islamic Shari`ah has universal principles that fit people in all ages.
"These [principles] may be categorized as the following seven: freedom of religion, respect for the human person and human life, respect for marriage and human community, respect for the universal right of ownership of productive property, respect for the human dignity, especially gender equity, and respect for the rights to free speech, publication, and association," he told participants.
Dr. Crane, who is also a resident scholar at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT), was awarded at the opening session in recognition of his scholarly and human efforts.
Launched in May 2006, "What Can Islam Offer the West" seminar aims to maintain dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims and re-study the Noble Qur'an and the Sunnah (traditions of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) from various perspectives.
It also aims to establish a charity trust in the West to support Muslim progress and promote scientific research.
Saudi Aid Helps World Food Appeal
CAIRO — Bailing out poor people around the world, Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has donated half a billion dollars to the UN World Food Program (WFP) to battle the global food price crisis.
"The Saudi donation will keep many people from dying, others from slipping into malnutrition and disease, and will even help to stave off civil unrest," WFP executive director Josette Sheeran said in a statement on the agency's website.
The WFP, which operates in 78 countries and helps feed an estimated 73 million people, launched the 755 million dollar emergency appeal in March.
Thirty-one countries had given 460 million dollars to the WFP appeal before the Saudi donation came in.
"This contribution completes the World Food Program's appeal target of $755 million to respond to the rise in fuel and food costs," UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said.
"The secretary-general notes that this contribution of an unprecedented size and generosity comes not a moment too soon, given the needs of millions of people dependent on food rations."
Global food prices have nearly doubled in three years, sparking violent protests in several countries.
Fearing social discontent, many countries strained their budgets to maintain huge food subsidies.
Rising populations, strong demand from developing countries, increased cultivation of crops for biofuels as well as floods and droughts have sent food prices soaring across the globe.
Based on UN records, global food prices rose 35 percent this year and 65 percent since 2002.
In 2007 alone, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's world food index, dairy prices rose nearly 80 percent and grain 42 percent.
Last month, oil-rich Kuwait launched an Islamic food fund to help poor Muslim countries face the worsening global food crisis caused by surging prices.
The WFP said the skyrocketing food prices represent the foremost challenge which pushes about 130 million people into hunger.
"We turned to the world to help the hungry and the world has been generous," said Sheeran.
"This is an example of what humanitarians around the world can do when we come together to address problems that affect us all."
The Rome-based agency said the Saudi donations will help secure much-needed food for programs throughout Africa and other parts of the world.
"In particular, WFP will be able to continue to providing food for millions of children enrolled in school and therapeutic feeding programs in Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia and Somalia and in many other critical hunger zones.
"The 500 million dollars from Saudi Arabia rounds out the appeal, and leaves an additional 214 million dollars available for other urgent hunger needs."
Arabs Campaign for Obama on Facebook
CAIRO — Arab youth are campaigning on the world's second largest social networking site Facebook to drum up support for Democratic presidential frontrunner Barak Obama.
"Barak Obama, whose candidacy carries signs of US commitment to great human values, has become a symbol of a future phase," the campaigners said on Facebook.
Nearly 105 activists have set up a group entitled "Arab campaign for Support of Obama…Necessity and Moral Commitment".
Two other groups were also launched under the title "Supporters of Barak Obama Only" and "Barak Obama, Welcome as US President".
"Through their support for Obama, American youth are sending a message to the world that they want a change in the US to help restore world respect and make the world and the US more secure," said the campaigners.
"Therefore, we must seek to establish free and democratic regimes through supporting Obama to win presidency and make changes."
Obama, America's first realistic black White House candidate, is competing with New York Senator Hillary Clinton, a former first lady, for the Democratic ticket.
The Harvard-educated Illinois Senator is holding an insurmountable lead over his rival Clinton ahead of the final three primaries, ending on June 3.
"As America has a direct influence on allowing regimes in and others out, we have a moral duty, if not political, to take part in deciding who should lead the biggest superpower in the world," said the campaigners.
The Arab youths said they disagree with US policies on several issues topped by the US occupation of Iraq.
"But this should not make us deny the fact that the US is the most civilized power in human history."
The Arab campaign has sparked opposition from some participants.
"Stop living in dreams and leaving our fate to others to decide," said one participant.
"Throughout US history, no president has dared say stop to Israel. Why should Obama be different," he asked.
Obama, eyeing the Jewish votes, estimated at 2 to 3 percent of the US electorate, has frequently voiced support for Israel.
"There is not a single trace of me ever being anything more than a friend of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people," he told voters at a Jewish temple on Thursday.
The Democratic contender also repeated calls for not talking to the Palestinian group Hamas until it recognizes Israel.
Obama has earlier said that Israel must remain a Jewish state and Palestinian refugees must forget about ever returning to their homes.
Arab campaigners, however, argue that Obama is much better than other presidential hopefuls.
"Why should not support a man who is not that bad as Republican contender John McCain or Democratic aspirant Hillary Clinton."
McCain has described the occupied holy city of Al-Quds as Israel's capital and accused Hamas of being an obstacle to peace.
Clinton has also pledged full support and protection to Israel, promising the Jewish lobbyists to contain Iran, Israel's arch foe enemy.
"Why the US rushes to Israel's defense? The answer is the Jewish lobby. Why should not we try creating an Arab lobby?"
Life and Beyond
In the Qur'an life in this world is an inseparable part of a continuum, a unified whole - life, death, life - which gives our life a context and relevance. In this context, the life of the individual is made meaningful and enriched inasmuch as it is full of 'good works'. Life in this world leads to the afterlife, a belief which is fundamental in the Qur'an. The afterlife is not treated in the Qur'an in a separate chapter, or as something on its own, for its own sake, but always in relation to life in this world.
Linguistically it is not possible in the Qur'an to talk about this life without semantic reference to the next since every term used for each is comparative with the other. Thus: al- 'ula and al-akhira (the First and the Last life), al-dunya and al-akhira (the nearer and the further/latter life). Neither has a name specific to itself, or independent of the other. Consequently, the frequency of the terms in the Qur'an is the same, in the case of dunya and akhira - each appears 115 times.'
There is a reference, direct or indirect, to one aspect or another of the afterlife on almost every single page of the Qur'an. This follows from the fact that belief in the afterlife is an article of faith which has a bearing on every aspect of the present life and manifests itself in the discussion of the creed, the rituals, the ethics and the laws of Islam. In discussing the afterlife, moreover, the Qur'an addresses both believers and non-believers. The plan of two worlds and the relationship between them has been, from the beginning, part of the divine scheme of things:
It is God who created you, then He provided sustenance for you, then He will cause you to die, then He will give life back to you.
It is We who give lift and make to die and to Us is the homecoming.
He created death and life that He might try you &cording to which of you is best in works.
According to the Qur'an, belief in the afterlife, which is an issue fundamental to the mission of Muhammad, was also central to the mission of all prophets before him.
Belief in the afterlife is often referred to in conjunction with belief in God, as in the expression: 'If you believe in God and the Last Day'. Believers are frequently reminded in the Qur'an, 'Be mindful of God and know that you shall meet Him' (2:233) (used in this instance to urge fitting treatment of one's wife in intimate situations). 'To Him is the homecoming/ the return' (36:83; 4O:3). As a belief in the afterlife is so fundamental to Islam, it is only right that Muslims should regularly be reminded of it not only throughout the pages of the Qur'an but also in their daily life. practicing Muslims in their five daily prayers repeat their praise of God at least seventeen times a day, 'The Master of the Day of Judgment' (1:4). Being inattentive to the afterlife (30:7) or to the prospect of coming to judgment (32:14) are signs of the unbeliever. All this heightens the believer's sense of responsibility for actions in this life. In fact the principles
and details of religion are meant to be seen within the framework of the interdependence of this life and the afterlife and to color the Muslims' conception of life and the universe and have a bearing on their actions in this life.
The Importance of the Resurrection and Judgment in the Afterlife
Divine wisdom and justice necessitate the resurrection of the dead and judgment in an afterlife:
We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them save in truth. Surely the Hour' is coming.
The resurrection is thus:
...a binding promise from God that shall be fulfilled though most people may not know it, so that He may resolve their differences for them.
In the Qur'an, judgment is so essential to human beings that God has created them with a peculiar, innate permanent judge within themselves, that is 'conscience', the 'reproachful soul'. Indeed this is marked in a chapter entitled The Resurrection in which God declares:
I swear by the Day of Resurrection, and by the reproachful soul! Does man think We shall never put his bones together again? Yes indeed: We can remould his very fingers.
The 'reproachful soul' foreshadows the judgment and is here placed side by side, in the oath, with the resurrection that precedes the judgment. In answer to the unbelievers' incredulity that the scattered bones of dead people can be resurrected into new life, God swears that it will be done. Modem interpreters see in the phrase, 'his very fingers', reference to the power of God who moulds our finger prints in a way unique to each individual: He has done it in this life and can do it again in the afterlife.
Convert 'targeted because of vulnerability'
An Islam convert in custody in connection with an explosion in Exeter city centre could have been targeted because of his vulnerability, a neighbour has said.
Nicky Reilly, 22, was arrested at the scene after a blast at the Giraffe restaurant in the recently opened £230m showpiece Princesshay shopping centre yesterday.
Police said Reilly suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries in the explosion, which caused the evacuation of the city centre for several hours.
A device he had on him partially exploded while another found in the vicinity of the restaurant did not.
Devon and Cornwall Police Deputy Chief Constable Tony Melville said investigations have indicated that Reilly, who has a history of mental illness, had adopted the Islamic faith.
"We believe that, despite his weak and vulnerable state, he was preyed upon, radicalised and taken advantage of," he said.
Police are continuing to search the first-floor flat in King Street, Plymouth, where Reilly lives with his mother Kim, and from where he travelled to Exeter by bus yesterday.
Scott Allen, 19, who lives in the flat below, said Reilly could have come into contact with groups of what he believed were Muslims who gathered in the area. He said they had been around for a couple of years "in increasing numbers".
He said there is sympathy in the local community for Reilly, and added: "I would say they picked on him because of his vulnerability.
"He had always been a follower and had always wanted friends," said Mr Allen.
New boycott of Israeli academics would be 'unlawful'
If lecturers pass a motion to boycott Israeli academics at the University and College Union (UCU) annual congress next week, they will break the law, campaigners claimed today.
A motion proposed at last year's UCU congress to debate the possibility of an academic boycott of Israel sparked international outrage and both sides are squaring up for a fight at next week's event in Manchester.
The motion due to be debated calls on members to be "asked to consider the moral and political implications of educational links with Israeli institutions, and to discuss the occupation with individuals and institutions concerned, including Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating".
It also suggests Ariel College, "an explicitly colonising institution in the West Bank, be investigated under the formal greylisting procedure".
But legal advice published today by the Stop the Boycott campaign, which launched in protest at last year's boycott motion, claims it would be unlawful for the union to pass the motion.
"In our view ... it would be unlawful for the union to pass the motion, in as much as [it] calls on the members of the union to undertake certain actions in relation to 'Israeli colleagues with whom they are collaborating' as well as expressly mandating the union via the national executive committee to take steps towards so-called 'greylisting' of another academic institution, Ariel College," the advice states.
Lawyers say the motion would "expose Jewish members of the union to indirect discrimination" and could make the UCU liable for an "act of harassment on grounds of race or nationality".
"In our view, the union and its officers are undertaking substantial legal risks if they resolve to pursue the motion in its current terms," the opinion says, calling for the motion to be withdrawn.
They say the UCU is entitled to "freedom of expression to debate the political issues surrounding the Israel/Palestine question", but "aspects of the motion which are in substance a call to the membership to impose some form of sanction on Israeli academics and/or institutions exceed acceptable limits".
UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: "It is not for UCU to comment on legal advice received by other organisations, especially since we have neither seen the instructions the advice responded to nor do we know the context or purpose for which the advice was given.
"UCU delegates at our conference will have the opportunity to debate and set policy for the union on a host of issues. There is no call for a boycott; the motions to congress call for a wider debate about what is happening over there and members will initiate that debate, as is their right, at congress.
"I have made it quite clear on a number of occasions that my personal view is that a boycott of all Israeli academic institutions is not the best way to promote a just peace. For the record, once again, that position has not changed."
Finding my Faith
I'm not the same woman I was at 27 when I told my mother, "Ma, I can't eat the pasta fagioli." (She'd made it with bacon.) I'm not the same woman who lied when she said, "I didn't become Muslim because of Ahmed."
My mother believes that for women, most problems and solutions begin and end with the man in her life. But back then there was no way this feminist would admit to anyone -- including herself and especially not her mother -- that she had converted because of a man.
But today, at 42, and secure in my faith, I can admit that if it weren't for Ahmed -- though he is now my ex-husband -- the word "Islam" would probably still conjure up images of black-cloaked women and melodramatic Sally Field movies in my head. After all, I am my mother's daughter.
The day I left my Italian-Bronx neighborhood to go to college, I knew my communion and confession days were over. I was never going to let Jesus stick to the roof of my mouth again. There were too many contradictions for me in Catholicism. Why was my never-miss-Sunday-mass father excommunicated after he and my mother divorced -- especially when she was the one having the affair? How could the pope have an Olympic-size swimming pool while millions of his people were starving? And how could I tolerate the church's position on abortion and women's rights?
By the time I transferred from Barnard to UCLA, I was a lapsed Catholic who wanted nothing to do with organized religion. But I needed to believe in something.
During my years at UCLA I spent more hours making fliers, organizing demonstrations and making phone calls -- and once or twice bail -- than I spent studying. I defended clinics under attack by anti-abortionists; I worked for funding for the homeless and against nuclear testing; I traveled to Nicaragua to build houses and to Arizona to herd sheep for Navajos fighting to keep their land.
I tried to change the world one cause at a time.
British Jewish population on the rise
Britain's Jewish population is increasing for the first time in 50 years, with strictly Orthodox Jews set to outnumber their secular counterparts by the second half of this century.
According to new research published yesterday, from Manchester University's centre for Jewish studies, almost three out of every four British Jewish births are in strictly Orthodox families, accounting for 46,500 out of a total population of around 280,000, or just under 17%.
Secular numbers are declining by about 2% each year as a result of low birth rates, emigration to Israel and high rates of intermarriage, which is running at about 50%.
Dr Yaakov Wise, who led the research, said: "Though Britain's Jewish population is the fifth largest in the world, it has declined by 40% from over 450,000 in 1950 to only 280,000 today.
"The high birth rate of ultra-Orthodox Jews is now reversing this trend and that will have a major impact on the Jewish community in the years to come."
The research found that secular Jewish women have, on average, 1.65 children, while strictly Orthodox women have, on average, 6.9. Some families have up to 15 children.
There were growing numbers of strictly Orthodox communities in the UK, Wise said.
"In Greater Manchester the ultra-Orthodox number over 8,500, almost a third of the 28,000 Jews in the region. This is up from around one quarter only 10 years ago. Approximately half of all the Jewish under-fives in Greater Manchester are ultra-Orthodox. And in Greater London the ultra-Orthodox now account for 18% of the Jewish population, up from less than 10% in the early 1990s," he said.
The biggest cluster of strictly Orthodox communities can be found in Stamford Hill, east London, which is home to 20,000 Haredis, who follow the most theologically conservative form of Judaism. More than half of these are aged 16 or under and these children account for almost half of all Jewish pupils in all Jewish schools.
Bush urges more freedom in Arab states
Arab states need to promote freedom at home and resist Iran's nuclear ambitions, George Bush said yesterday, while insisting in the face of widespread scepticism that he is committed to achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
The US president used a speech in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh to appeal to leaders in the region to take the future into their hands and "treat their people with the dignity and respect they deserve. Too often in the Middle East politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail," he told the World Economic Forum (WEF).
"The light of liberty is beginning to shine," he added, praising advances for democracy in Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco and Jordan, but only hinting at stagnation and repression in Saudi Arabia and Egypt, his two stops after joining Israel's 60th anniversary celebrations in Jerusalem last week.
Bush made an effort yesterday to express sympathy for the Palestinians - "who have suffered for decades and earned the right to a homeland of their own" - after Arab anger at his highly sympathetic speech to the Israeli parliament. In that address he mentioned the proposed Palestinian state only once, though it was he who launched the now badly faltering Annapolis talks last November with the goal of reaching agreement by the time he leaves office next January.
As Bush ended his visit to the Middle East yesterday an audio recording purporting to be from Osama bin Laden surfaced on Islamist websites in which the
al-Qaida leader urged Muslims to break the Israeli-led blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and fight Arab governments that deal with the Jewish state.
"The duty to break this blockade falls upon our brothers in [Egypt] as they are the only ones that are on the border," Bin Laden said. "Each one of us is responsible for the deaths of our oppressed people in Gaza and dozens upon dozens have died due to this oppressive blockade."
Hamas gunmen blasted open the Rafah border crossing to Egypt for several days early in the year until the Egyptian authorities moved in troops in February and closed it again.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, told Bush about his concerns over the Knesset speech when the two met in Sharm el-Sheikh on Saturday. "We do not want the Americans to negotiate on our behalf," Abbas said yesterday after talks with the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak. "All that we want from them is to stand by [our] legitimacy and have a minimum of neutrality."
In his WEF speech, Bush also attacked Syrian and Iranian support for the Shia movement Hizbullah in Lebanon. "Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in stopping these nations from supporting terrorism," he said.