News in Brief: Building West-Muslim Bridges
- Building West-Muslim Bridges
Sitting firmly in his seat with a determined look in his eyes, American Imam Feisal Abdul-Rauf appears resolved to bridge the gap between the West and the Muslim world.
"My purpose is to spread harmony and peace between the West and the Muslim world," Imam Abdul-Rauf, chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, told IslamOnline.net in an exclusive interview.
"My role is to see how can my work help improve this relationship."
With that in mind, the American imam founded the Cordoba Initiative in 2003 to clear mutual mistrust.
"First (we seek) to identify the sources of conflict between the Muslim world and the West," he said.
"We have developed under this initiative a number of projects which we believe are effective in creating this discourse about these particular arenas," he said, citing projects in political, religious and cultural arenas.
"(They aim) to help reduce the conflict inshaAllah and solve it as well."
According to its website, the Cordoba Initiative aims to achieve a tipping point in Muslim-West relations within the next decade, steering the world back to the course of mutual recognition and respect and away from heightened tension.
Born in 1948, Imam Abdul-Rauf is a well-known figure in the field of West-Muslim relations.
In 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA), reportedly the first Muslim organization committed to bringing US Muslims and non-Muslims through programs in academia, policy, current affairs and culture.
An imam of Masjid al-Farah in New York, Abdul-Rauf also sits on the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Center of New York and serves as an adviser to the Interfaith Center of New York.
He authored three books on Islam and its place on contemporary Western society.
Imam Abdul-Rauf is currently on a State Department-sponsored tour to build bridges.
"This is part of it as the work is huge and can't be done by one person or one organization," he said.
"It is also to share people like yourself the work that we do. We need people in the media and we need people to talk to understand what we do."
He defended the US government's support for his organization.
"If I don't have the ears of people in the political power, I would not engage in the issues of today," he said.
"So if you want to solve the problems, you have to have the anchor of each place.
"As an American citizen and as an American organization, we have to comply with American laws, not doubt. But unless I get involved in the big issues of today, we can't solve them."
Imam Abdul-Rauf does not think such relation with the US government could create suspicions about him or his initiative.
"My Cordoba Initiative is supported by both the West and the Muslim world," he insisted.
"My work has drawn the attention of governments of many countries," he said, naming Malaysia, Qatar, the Netherlands and Britain.
"We are looking to get the initiative like the United Nations. The UN has the support of all countries but to serve a common purpose of peace."
As part of his bridges-building efforts, Imam Abul-Rauf is championing a project to build an Islamic Center two blocks from Ground Zero in New York.
"We would like to have our center equipped with (state-of-the-art) technology," he added.
"We would like our center in some aspects to have this technology so we can display and show what Muslims today are doing in the common bonds of civilizations."
Imam Abdul-Rauf believes American Muslims are continually improving all the time and credits that to the system in America.
"This is the societal system of law, the principle of civil rights, the civil rights protection and the freedom of religions. These are things that are built in the legal American structure."
Many believe American Muslims, estimated at between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights since 9/11.
Imam Abdul-Rauf does not seem to agree.
"The American legal structure and political structure is to ensure that these individual rights of the people are not breached or eroded.
"And because we enjoy these protections the situation of Muslim Americans are always improving."
Funding Hinders Serbia Islamic Education
Facing a dearth of donations over government pressures, Muslim education institutions in Serbia are risking to shut down over the lack of funding.
“Our educational institutions are facing a financial crisis that hampers them from delivering their message,” Sheikh Muamer Zukorlic, the Grand Mufti and Head of the Islamic Sheikhdom of Serbia, told IslamOnline.net.
“The crisis facing our institutions is the result of a political standoff between the Sheikhdom and Serbian authorities.”
Zukorlic blamed the standoff on government attempts to restrict the expansion of Sheikdom institutions.
“The government has adopted a policy to dry financial sources feeding our projects and institutions,” he lamented.
The government has suspended aid to the Sheikhdom though Serbian laws allow aid to religious organizations.
“It is also pressuring businessmen funding the Sheikhdom projects to stop funding, resulting in a dearth of donations as they fear harm to their businesses,” he said.
“Authorities are also launching media campaigns against the Sheikhdom to blemish its image and lose the people’s confidence.”
The Sheikhdom is overseeing seven kindergartens catering 1,000 children and three secondary schools catering 500 students.
It is also running a faculty for Islamic studies as well as the International University of Novi Pazar, which has 4,000 students.
“Though we need to expand our educational institutions to preserve our identity, the crisis has forced us to halt our new projects,” Zukorlic said.
The Muslim leader appealed to Muslims abroad to provide help to the Sheikhdom to overcome the financial crisis.
“There is no other option but to rely on foreign help in order to keep our education institutions running.”
Serbia has a Muslim minority of nearly half a million, mostly ethnic Bosniaks and Albanians.
Norway Muslims Protest Prophet Pig Cartoon
Thousands of Norwegian Muslims went into the streets of the capital Oslo Friday, February 12, in protest at a newspaper cartoon lampooning Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) as a pig.
"This is a big attack on Muslims,” Kamran Naveeb, a 25-year-old student, told Reuters.
“It goes against our religion."
Nearly 3,000 people protested the cartoon published by the tabloid Dagbladet showing the Prophet as a pig writing the Noble Qur’an.
The caricature, originally drawn by an Israeli setter in the 1990s, was printed by the daily last week to illustrate a front-page story describing a link between the Facebook page of the Norwegian Police Security Service (PST) to pages featuring Prophet cartoons.
"I am here because what Dagbladet has done is very offensive to us," said Kashif Aurangzev, a 34-year-old taxi driver.
The protestors chanted slogans for respect of religions.
"Show respect to all religions" and "Stop insults against Muslims" were among the placards carried by the marchers.
Norway was plunged into the controversy of the Danish cartoons lampooning Prophet Muhammad in 2005.
In September 2005, the mass-circulation Jyllands-Posten published 12 drawings including portrayals of a man the daily called the Prophet, wearing a bomb-shaped turban and another showing him as a knife-wielding nomad flanked by shrouded women.
The cartoons were republished by a Norwegian Christian newspaper in January 2006, leading to violent acts against the Norwegian embassy in Syria.
The drawings, considered blasphemous under Islam, triggered mass protests across the world and strained Muslim-West ties.
Mosque Vandalism Unites Nashville Faiths
A vandalism attack on a Tennessee mosque has prompted leaders of different faiths to join hands to fight religious and racial hatred in the south-eastern American state.
"As Jews, we have been subjected to similar attacks on our synagogues and communal institutions in Nashville over the years and can empathize with your anguish," Steve Edelstein, executive director of the Jewish Federation, writes in a letter to Muslim leaders and cited by The Tennessean on Saturday, February 13.
"As God's children, we must all speak out against intolerance, bigotry and the resulting violence."
Christian leaders also expressed solidarity with Muslims, with Rev. James "Tex" Thomas of Jefferson Street Baptist Church planning to visit the mosque Saturday.
Al-Farooq Mosque on Fourth Avenue, in Nashville, south Tennessee, was vandalized on Wednesday.
The attackers spray-painted "Muslim go home” and several crosses in red on the exterior of the Muslim worship place.
An expletive and hate-filled letter was also left behind at the mosque's youth center stating that Islam is the enemy and that the religion is trying to destroy the US and Israel.
Police investigators are looking at the attack as a possible hate crime.
The incident was the first attack on the mosque, established in 2003.
In 2008, a mosque in Columbia, about 40 miles south of Nashville, was destroyed by an arson fire. The attacker was handed a 14-year prison sentence.
Student says 'slaughter the Jews' remark was misunderstood
North Yemen calm after truce
The Yemeni army has halted fighting on all fronts after a truce with Shia Houthi rebels in the country's north came into force..
Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni president, had declared the ceasefire on Thursday after the rebels agreed to accept six conditions put forward by the government.
"Calm reigns on all fronts from Saada and Malahidh [in the far north near the Saudi border] to Harf Sufian," further south, one field commander said on Friday.
Another military source said the air force had halted all of its sorties over the combat zone from the moment the truce went into force at midnight on Thursday.
"We have decided to halt military operations in the northwestern region ... to stop bloodshed, bring peace to the region," the president's office said in a statement.
Can Gulf states really help Yemen?
Keeping Yemen unstable and poor is in nobody's interests – except, perhaps, those of the Arab Gulf regimes
Following last month's international meeting aimed at saving Yemen from becoming a failed state, many hopes have been pinned on help that could be provided by Yemen's neighbours – and especially the rich Arabs club, the Gulf Co-operation Council.
The GCC states – Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – certainly have the money, and there's a lot they could do to stimulate Yemen's economic development. On the face of it, they also have every reason to want to help: if Yemen finally tips over the brink, they will be among the first to suffer.
But it's not quite as simple as that. While none of them wants to see Yemen turn into another Somalia, the idea of a stable, prosperous Yemen is something they also find rather scary.
For a start, Yemen has a large and very rapidly growing population of more than 23 million. It's also the only republic in the Arabian peninsula – all the others are monarchies – and before 1990 southern Yemen was ruled by Marxists. Nominally at least, for the last 20 years it has been a democracy, with a multiparty system. In 1993, it became the first country in the peninsula to hold competitive elections in which women could take part. Although in many ways it has an oppressive system and couldn't be described as a working democracy, in terms of elections and political parties it has actually gone further down the democratic road than its peninsular neighbours.
Yemen has always been a particular concern for Saudi Arabia, the dominant power in the GCC. The kingdom has a long history of meddling and manipulation in Yemen (much in the way that the US has meddled in other countries) and for this reason Saudi Arabia is probably even more unpopular in Yemen than the United States is.
Rather than trying to develop a stable neighbour on its southern flank, the Saudi strategy, most of the time, has been to keep Yemen weak and wobbly for fear that it might start to challenge the kingdom's dominance.
In the 1962 civil war, the Saudis backed the losing royalist side. In 1990 they opposed the unification of north and south Yemen, and in 1994 they armed and bankrolled southern leaders against President Saleh in a failed war of secession.
Currently, the Saudis are friends with Saleh. They are widely acknowledged to have been funding his war with the Houthi rebels and last November, when he seemed to be making little headway, they plunged in themselves with their own forces.
The effect of this Saudi involvement in the war is overwhelmingly negative. On one hand it props up the regime responsible for many of Yemen's problems and on the other it highlights the regime's weakness – encouraging disaffected elements elsewhere in the country to take up arms against it.
'To Israel I am stained with blood'
Gazans recycle rubble to rebuild
Palestinians have been forced to innovate ways to rebuild houses destroyed during last year’s war on Gaza.
That is because an Israeli blockade is preventing construction materials from getting into the Gaza Strip.
Many therefore are collecting rubble from destroyed homes, smuggling in cement from Egypt, and using the two to make concrete blocks.
The quality of the concrete blocks is not as good as they should be. But desperate to rebuild homes, few are complaining.
Al Jazeera's Casey Kauffman reports.
World's tallest tower in UAE closes
The world's tallest skyscraper in Dubai has unexpectedly closed to the public a month after its lavish opening, the tower's owner said.
The Burj Khalifa was closed due to "unexpected high traffic," and "technical issues with the power supply", Emaar Properties said on Monday.
The indefinite closure of the $1.5bn skyscraper on Sunday comes as Dubai struggles to revive its international image as a cutting-edge Arab metropolis amid nagging questions about its financial health.
The Gulf emirate had hoped the 828m high Burj Khalifa would be a major stimulant to boost its tourism economy.
In recent weeks, thousands of tourists have lined up to buy tickets for viewing times often days in advance that cost more than $27 each - or $110 for a queue-jump pass.
But the closure will now prevent those tourists gaining entry to the observation deck and casts doubt over plans to welcome its first permanent occupants in the coming weeks.
Abductions rife in lawless Yemen
The government of Yemen has had to deal with years of severe internal conflicts in the north and south, crippling it from implementing an effective legal system throughout the country.
As a result, the people of Yemen have developed the practice of taking the law into their own hands.
For numerous tribes - the ancient old method of abduction - especially of children - continues to be a common way to settle disputes among one another.
Some Yemenis even accuse the government of being guilty of the same practice.
Al Jazeera's Mohamed Vall reports from San'aa.
Welsh Faiths Unite Against Extremism
Thinking Another Egypt in Italy
In the cafeteria of Collegio di Milano, there is a bunch of kids who master switching from fluent Arabic to impeccable Italian. Those kids are Italian Muslims and Italian Christians born in Italy with an Arab background. They do not know how much weight religion will play in the process of their identity formation yet, and probably they will never comprehend why in the homelands of their parents, on the other side of the Mediterranean Sea, people can take the life of other human beings in the name of religion.
But, these kids' parents, who immigrated to Italy 20–-30 years ago, are aware of these issues. They are worried the injustice and violence carried out for absurd, sectarian reasons in some areas of the Arab World would either set hurdles in Italy or be an excuse for some Arab immigrants to isolate themselves from native Italians or be a reason to cut off the ties, which are already weak, between Arab Christians and Arab Muslims who live in Italy.
Chilcot will change the way Muslims see the west
If there is any hint of whitewash in the Iraq inquiry, it will only exacerbate an already inflamed situation
As we watch the unfolding drama of the Chilcot inquiry, we should be aware that this is not simply an act of domestic cleansing. Whatever the implications for our political and judicial institutions, it is crucial that the British people learn how we came to go to war. But Muslims are also waiting for the outcome of the investigation, and this makes the inquiry an opportunity that we can ill afford to lose.
It is simply not true that the current tension between the west and the Islamic world is due to an inevitable "clash of civilisations". At the beginning of the 20th century, nearly every Muslim intellectual was in love with the modern west, which they found deeply congenial with their own traditions. Hence the famous remark of Muhammad Abduh, Grand Mufti of Egypt (1849-1905), who said, provocatively, after a trip to Paris: "In France I saw Islam but no Muslims; in Cairo I see Muslims but no Islam." His point was that the modern European economy had created conditions of fairness and equity that came closer to the Qur'anic ideal than was possible in the pre-modern economies of the Muslim world.
Turkish girl, 16, buried alive for talking to boys
Bosnian police raid Muslim houses
Hundreds of Bosnian police have conducted a raid on a rural Muslim village in the country's north, arresting seven people.
The operation on Gornja Maoca on Tuesday targeted people connected to those accused of threatening the country's stability, authorities said.
Police also seized a large cache of weapons, ammunition, CDs and DVDs during the raid, said Boris Grubesic, a state prosecution spokesman.
"The goal of this operation ... is to identify people accused of endangering the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Hercegovia, threatening the constitutional order and promoting national, racial and religious hatred," he said.
Grubesic added that those arrested included Nusret Imamovic, a local community leader, and one foreign national.
South Sudan just a year away?
When John Garang signed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) back in 2005, he made sure it included a referendum clause by which the people of south Sudan could decide their own fate.
They could remain part of a united Sudan or become an independent entity.
Garang told his people that it was a golden choice and they must take it seriously. The referendum is set for January 2011, and southerners are gearing up for it.
But statements of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made on Sunday have infuriated people here. In particular, his comment on Radio France Internationale that "the UN has a big responsibility ... to make unity attractive".
Protesters have been carrying banners screaming: "Down, down with the UN coward Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Ban Ki-moon repent before judgement."
Another said: "Why not hand over Bashir to ICC to get good leadership?"
The reference was to Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague for alleged war crimes in Sudan's western Darfur province.
A third banner said: "We'd prefer to be dead in our own country than be in a failed Arab state."
The anger is also directed towards the African Union which - according to southerners - is protecting and supporting al-Bashir.
Standing among protesters here in Bor - capital of Jonglei, the south's largest state - I can only notice that Ban's statements have only increased a public resolve to vote for cessation.
As one man put it: "I hope that those who were thinking about unity will nowl understand that its not an option."
People here make their "golden choice" .. even if it means war. Better dead, they say, than continue to be second class citizens in their own country.
Bin Laden deplores climate change
Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader, has condemned the US and other industrial economies, holding them responsible for the phenomenon of climate change.
In an audio tape obtained by Al Jazeera, bin Laden criticised George Bush, the former US president, for rejecting the Kyoto pact and condemned global corporations.
"This is a message to the whole world about those responsible for climate change and its repercussions - whether intentionally or unintentionally - and about the action we must take," bin Laden said.
"Speaking about climate change is not a matter of intellectual luxury - the phenomenon is an actual fact."
The tape follows one released earlier this week in which the al-Qaeda leader praised a Nigerian man accused of a failed attempt to blow up an airliner heading for Detroit on Christmas Day.