News in Brief: Informational billboards on Islamic faith are going up
- Informational billboards on Islamic faith are going up
Hoping to encourage interfaith dialogue, an Islamic organization will unveil a pair of billboards in Minneapolis this week.
The Minnesota chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America plans to unveil the billboards Friday, the eve of the Islamic New Year.
The billboards will be placed along Hiawatha Avenue in south Minneapolis and Central Avenue on the North Side.
They are part of a nationwide multimedia campaign that also includes placing posters on buses and subways in other big cities.
The billboards will display a toll-free telephone number where people can get answers to questions about Islam, as well as obtain free copies of the Qur'an and other Islamic literature.
"Got Questions? Get Answers," the billboard states.
In a prepared statement, the campaign's organizers are quoted as saying, "Islam is often a misunderstood religion, leading some to hold bias views of Islam with discrimination and suspicion of Muslims. This ad campaign will provide an opportunity for the people of Twin Cities to take a fresh and positive look at Islam."
Turkey's Model Madrasas
CAIRO — Seen as a beacon of moderate teachings, Turkey’s madrasas (religious schools) are growing as a role model for schools around the world.
“Of course imam-hatip schools should shed light on Islam and the profession of being an imam,” Huseyin Korkut, Association of Imam-hatip Graduates President, told Sunday's Zaman on January 3.
“We are happy to be a model."
Imam-hatip schools are a secondary education institution in Turkey.
The schools were originally established to train government employed imams after madrasas were abolished under the Republic founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
There are more than 500 Imam-hatip schools in Turkey, serving more than 100,000 students.
In addition to curricula taught in public schools, the Imam-hatip schools offer additional courses on Islam.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was a graduate from one of imam-hatip schools.
Originally alumni were able to go on to study in any faculty of Turkish universities, but the rules were changed in 1999 to restrict Imam-hatip graduates to faculties of theology alone.
The schools have become an attraction for students from around the world to study Islam.
“In a globalized world, to be taken as a model gives us a responsibility," said Korkut.
A Russian delegation visited Turkey two week ago to consider setting up a number of Imam-hatip schools to meet the growing demand among Russian Muslims for religious education.
Pakistan and several Balkan countries have also showed a growing interest in the Turkish schools.
A number of Imam-hatip schools have already been established by Bulgaria to meet the local demand.
"To reflect the experience we have gained in the best way possible cannot only be left to the government; this is also our duty,” said Korkut.
Turkey has opened an Imam-hatib school in Kayseri province in Central Turkey to educate 325 students from Europe and Asia.
Another school is being constructed in Istanbul.
In their first years at the schools, foreign students study Turkish before going on with the standard curriculum.
Turkey and Russia have recently signed an agreement allow 100 Russian students to have post-graduate education in Islam in Turkey next year.
Some professors of theology will also be sent to Russia from Turkey.
Capitalizing on the schools’ success, Turkish Religious Affairs Foundation (TDV) plans to launch a university to attract students from Balkan countries.
“The university will offer departments of education, literature, health and economic and administrative sciences,” Tayyar Alt?kulaç, a member of the board of trustees of On Asya University, said.
US and UK shut Yemen embassies
The United States and Britain have closed their embassies in Sanaa, Yemen's capital, citing security concerns after threats from an al-Qaeda group.
The US embassy posted a message on its website on Sunday saying it was closed "in response to ongoing threats by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to attack American interests in Yemen".
A British foreign office spokeswoman said later that it too had shut its embassy because of "security concerns".
Neither mission said when the embassies might reopen.
The Spanish embassy restricted access to its premises on Sunday, but remained open. The El Mundo newspaper said the embassy would be closed to the public on Monday.
John Brennan, the assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism to Barack Obama, the US president, meanwhile told CNN's "State of the Union" programme that "there are indications that al-Qaeda is planning an attack against a target in Sanaa".
Hakim al-Masmari, the editor-in-chief of the Yemen Post newspaper, told Al Jazeera that the closure can only mean "that they believe al-Qaeda threat is very serious".
"If you look at the recent video tapes from al-Qaeda, they clearly mention they have no enemy in Yemen except the US interests in Yemen. They warned the Yemeni soldiers against helping the Americans in any such way," al-Masmari said.
"We really expect attacks on the US interests in the next month by al-Qaeda."
Chechnya’s Reign of Fear
GROZNY — With black-booted police patrolling the streets, stopping cars, raiding houses and abducting residents, Chechens are gripped by a reign of fear in their post-war province.
"It's the Terror all over again," a Chechen woman in the capital Grozny told Reuters Sunday, December 13.
Dressed in camouflage clothes and carrying assault rifles and long daggers, militiamen of President Ramzan Kadyrov stop cars and people in the streets in search for Islamists.
As one car pulls over, a policeman jerks open the back door, slides in and slashes the dark tinted film off the car windows with his 10-inch (25 cm) dagger.
"If you don't like it, take it up with the president,” says the black-booted militiaman, whose woolen hats bear the letters "K.R.A.", the initials of the president's names, Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov.
“Militants could be hiding behind these," he snarls at a pair of nervous passengers, exposing a row of sparkling gold teeth.
The fear-gripped Chechens resemble the situation to the terror reign under Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in the late 1930s.
"(The police can) take us away for being against a law we don't even know is real or even exists," a young man called Aslan said, trembling to the look of the black-booted police.
Under Stalin rule, millions of people were arbitrarily sent to labor camps or exiled, using fake confessions extracted under torture.
Chechnya has been ravaged by conflict since 1994, with just three years of relative peace after the first war between Russian forces and Chechen fighters ended in August 1996.
The second war was ordered by late president Boris Yeltsin in 1999, just months before stepping down to Vladimir Putin, now the prime minister.
After a decade of bloodshed, destruction and gross rights violations, Russia declared an end to its military operations in Chechnya last April.
UK Muslims Europe's Most Patriotic: Study
AIRO — Though being looked at with suspicion, Muslims in the United Kingdom are the most patriotic in Europe, a new study by a leading international institute has found.
On average 78 percent of Muslims identified themselves as British, according to a study conducted by the Open Society Institute and cited by Sunday Times on December 13.
The study, funded by George Soros, the billionaire philanthropist, was conducted over two and a half years, involving 2,200 in-depth interviews and 60 focus groups in 11 cities across Europe with large Muslim communities.
The cities were chosen to be representative of varying levels of integration and cohesion across the continent.
The results show that on average 78 percent of Muslims identified themselves as British, 49 percent considered themselves French and just 23 percent who feel German.
The survey found that levels of patriotism are much higher among second-generation Muslims.
In Leicester, 72 percent of Muslims born abroad said they felt British compared to 94 percent among UK-born Muslims.
Nazia Hussain, director of the research project, believes the study shows a discrepancy between how British Muslims see themselves and how the society looks at them.
"There is a disturbing message that emerges from these findings," Hussain told the Times.
"Even though Muslims overwhelmingly feel British, they’re not seen as British by wider society," she added.
A 2007 survey by the Financial Times showed that Britons are the most suspicious about Muslims.
"That said ... there has been a policy of trying to accommodate difference here and it appears to be paying off," said Hussain.
Britain's Muslims, estimated at some 2 million, have taken the full brunt of anti-terror laws since the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London underground system.
Last June, a BBC survey found that the majority of British Muslims are against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda movements and would defend their country against any possible attack.
An earlier ICM/Guardian poll showed that 91 percent of British Muslims were loyal to Britain and 80 percent still wanted to live in and accept Western society.
Palestinian Christians Urge Israel Isolation
Christian religious and community leaders in occupied Palestine have launched an ecumenical campaign aimed at enlisting Christians around the world to help end the Israeli military occupation.
"This document is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine," says the 15-page document.
"We, Palestinian Christians, declare in this historic document that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed and a call to justice and equality among peoples."
Initiators, who include leaders of major churches in the Holy Land, said they had been working on the document for over a year.
"We have not encountered any real opposition to the document," Rifat Kassis, the main spokesman of the initiative, told IslamOnline.net.
He expects as many as 32 Christian institutions, 200 community leaders as well as thousands of intellectuals and intelligentsia to sign the document, themed Kairos Paletine-2009: A Moment of Truth-A word of Truth, Hope, and Love from the Heart of Palestinian suffering.
"In fact, all religious leaders are backing the initiative wholeheartedly. Even some evangelical leaders are endorsing the document."
Palestinian Christian leaders say the situation in occupied Palestine has reached "the moment of truth," or Kairos as the concept is called in Christian theological lexicon.
"The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it," says the document.
"The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church."
The document describes an extremely ugly reality in occupied Palestine under the yoke of the Israeli occupation.
It lists the various numerous disastrous effects of the occupation on Palestinian daily lives, including the separation wall, continued Jewish settlement expansion and the daily humiliation of Palestinians at military checkpoints.
"Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security," it says.
"Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
"Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem."
Israel captured and occupied Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war, then annexed it in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.
The city is home to some of the holiest Christian worship places including the ancient Jerusalem Church and Greek Orthodox Church.
Al-Quds is also home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam's third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Since its occupation, Israel has adopted a series of oppressive measures to force the Palestinian inhabitants of Al-Quds out, including systematic demolition of their homes.
"The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences, both of this conflict, and of the local international paralysis and failure to find a comprehensive solution to the problem," says the document.
"Thus the land is deprived of its most important and richest resource-educated youth."
US Muslim Concert Helps World Children
An opportunity to understand
The recent vote in Switzerland banning the construction of new minarets has already become notorious. This is sad of itself and casts an unnecessary shadow on the remarkable history of tolerance, hospitality and integration that is the true story of Switzerland It is important to remember however that this vote in no way changes the fundamental affirmation in the Swiss constitution that "The freedom of religion and philosophy is guaranteed. All persons have the right to choose their religion or philosophical convictions freely, and to profess them alone or in community with others." It is important to note also that the Swiss government, the leaders of the Christian community and most of the media in Switzerland have all expressed their opposition to this amendment and their disappointment that it was approved.
Nonetheless, much as the minaret seems somehow to have stood as a proxy for far wider concerns, the vote itself now stands as a dangerous symbol of the curtailment of the freedom to practice religion and does so in a way that may have ramifications across Europe and beyond, where this freedom needs to be enhanced and safeguarded not diminished.
Rabbis rage against net 'abominations'
Alan Johnston returns to land of his kidnap and hears, amid the Palestinian ghosts, the sound of laughter
Kidnapped BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who was freed in July 2007 after nearly four months in captivity, reports from Nablus on the brittle peace in the city and the threat of renewed violence if no progress is made towards a Palestinian state
Rafsanjani urges 'freedom' in Iran
Blood flows in Thailand's deep south
Little reported and little understood, Malay Muslims' separatist campaign in the southern provinces is intensifying again
Foreign Fighters Joining Al-Shebaab
As the Horn of Africa country sinks deeper in a deadly cycle of violence, the African Union mission in Somali believes that more foreign fighters are joining Al-Shabaab militant group to oust the Somali government of Sheikh Sharif.
“The presence of foreign fighters in Somalia is very true,” Wafula Wamunyinyi, the African Union representative for Somali, told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.
“Al-Shabaab has recruited many foreign fighters to help them over throw the transitional UN-backed Somali government.”
The AU representative said foreign fighters from Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania to far countries as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sudan, Bangladesh and the US have joined the militant group.
“We gathered reliable information from people who left Al-Shabaab and from other intelligence sources implicating the named people,” he said.
Intelligence sources said that foreigners make up the bulk of Al-Shabaab leadership.
A list released by intelligence sources named a number of foreigners aiding the Somali militant group.
The list includes Pakistani national Abu Musa Mombasa as Al-Shabaab’s head for security and training operations.
Abu Musa reportedly moved to Somalia to replace Saleh Ali Saleh Nabhan, a Kenyan who was killed in September by US soldiers for alleged links with Al-Qaeda.
The list also features Abu Mansur Al-Amliki, an American, Mohamoud Mujajir, a Sudanese and Afghan national Ahmed Abdi Godane.
Wafula also named Mohamed Abu Faid, a Saudi, for allegedly financing Al-Shabaab operations.
Estimates put the number of foreign fighters in Somalia at between 1200 to 1500.
Bosnians Helping Each Other and Others
East Jerusalem should be Palestinian capital, says EU draft paper
Israel accuses EU of destroying prospects of renewed peace talks with document seen as an effort to strengthen Abbas
An EU document stressing that East Jerusalem should be the capital of a future Palestinian state brought a sharp response today from Israel, which claimed Brussels was damaging the prospects of peace talks restarting.
The draft document, to be discussed by EU foreign ministers next week, strongly criticised Israeli policies towards the Palestinians and warned negotiations need to resume urgently to break the "stalemate" in the peace process. Although the EU has long said that Jerusalem's future should be resolved in final status negotiations, the draft appears to be part of a diplomatic effort to strengthen the Palestinians and encourage them to return to talks.
The draft says a future Palestine should be made up of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. It adds that the EU did not recognise Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem – a position shared by the rest of the international community. "If there is to be a genuine peace, a way must be found to resolve the status of Jerusalem as the capital of two states," says the draft, which the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz has obtained a copy of.
Sweden, which currently holds the EU presidency, was singled out for blame by Israel. "The move led by Sweden damages the ability of the European Union to take a role and be a significant factor in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians," the Israeli foreign ministry said.
"After the important steps taken by the government of Israel to enable the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, the European Union must now exert pressure on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table. Steps like those being led by Sweden only contribute to the opposite effect."
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has refused to resume negotiations – now frozen for a year – unless Israel halts all construction in settlements, in line with its US roadmap obligations. Israel has refused, offering instead a 10-month partial freeze but insisting it will continue to build inside East Jerusalem settlements and on 3,000 homes and all public buildings in West Bank settlements.
Abbas has threatened not to run in the next presidential election, apparently out of frustration with a lack of progress and of US support. Diplomats, and most senior Palestinian leaders, want him to stay.
The document – which comes ahead of a meeting on Tuesday of the EU foreign affairs council – insists that the borders of a future Palestinian state must be based on those in 1967, which stood until the six day war, and should only be changed under joint agreement. The draft also talks about recognising Palestinian statehood. This comes at a time when Palestinian leaders have considered a unilateral declaration of independence or attempting to win a UN security council resolution affirming statehood over the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.
But the wording was careful not to say when such recognition would come. "The council [of the EU] also reiterates its commitment to support further efforts and steps towards Palestinian statehood and to be able, at the appropriate time, to recognise a Palestinian state."
It said settlements, Israel's separation barrier and the demolition of Palestinian houses were "illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible." Israel's long-running economic blockade of Gaza was "unacceptable" under international law and "politically counterproductive."
But there was limited praise for Israel. In the draft the EU says it hopes the 10-month partial settlement freeze "will become a step towards resuming meaningful negotiations" and welcomed Israel's removal of some of its hundreds of checkpoints and obstacles in the West Bank.
Today more Jewish settlers moved into a Palestinian house in Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem, an area that has become a front line in Israel's settlement project. Several Palestinian houses in the east of the city have been demolished in recent weeks. A UN spokesman described these as "provocative actions" and said they should "cease immediately".
Jordan's women in no man's land