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News in Brief: Philippines and Muslim rebels sign peace deal...

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  • Zafar Khan
    Philippines and Muslim rebels sign peace deal The agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front effectively ends one of Asia s deadliest and longest
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 29 6:32 AM
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      Philippines and Muslim rebels sign peace deal
      The agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front effectively ends one of Asia's deadliest and longest conflicts.
      Last updated: 27 Mar 2014 22:25

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/asia-pacific/2014/03/philippines-muslim-rebels-sign-peace-deal-2014327204917398512.html

      [VIDEO]
      The Philippine government has signed a landmark peace deal with the country's biggest Muslim rebel group. The agreement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front effectively ends one of Asia's deadliest and longest conflicts.

      It has been described as a significant political achievement for President Benigno Aquino.

      Al Jazeera's Jamela Alindogan reports from southern Philippines.
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      War is over – now Serbs and Bosniaks fight to win control of a brutal history
      Serb nationalists trying to suppress reminders of atrocities committed against country's Muslims 20 years ago
      Julian Borger in Višegrad
      theguardian.com, Sunday 23 March 2014 13.43 GMT

      http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/mar/23/war-serbs-bosniaks-history-visegrad

      After survivors and bereaved families put up a memorial to the mass slaughter in 1992 of Muslims in Višegrad, the response of the Serb authorities in the eastern Bosnian town was as unsubtle as it was symbolic. They ordered the word "genocide" chiselled off the stone monument.

      A group of Višegrad widows soon restored the word in lipstick, only for it to be obscured by municipal white paint a few days later. This is a battle the town hall is not prepared to lose. When it sent a surveyor and workman into the town's Muslim cemetery with an angle grinder to erase the offending term on 23 January, they were accompanied by 150 policemen in riot gear. The message was clear.

      The graveyard spat is a skirmish in a much bigger battle being fought in Bosnia – the continuation by bureaucratic means of the murderous four-year war of two decades ago. It is a struggle over collective memory and the power to write history.

      "Those who committed the war crimes against us are still winning. They are killing our truth," said Bakira Hasečić, a Višegrad survivor who was raped multiple times by Serb paramilitaries at her home and in the local police station in 1992. Her sister was raped and killed. Her 18-year-old daughter was raped and had her head smashed by a rifle butt, but survived.

      Hasečić now runs the Association of Women Victims of War. She and other Višegrad rape victims tried to protect the monument last month but failed because the town authorities turned up an hour earlier than announced, and in force.

      "The huge numbers of police in their uniforms and caps brought back the memories of 1992. You relive those moments. My legs were shaking. When we arrived, we had no idea they had already done that to the monument. People started crying when they found out. I couldn't bring myself to look at it."

      However, the same morning and less than 200 yards away, Hasečić and other Bosniak survivors were successful in stopping another act of demolition. The Serb authorities want to knock down a house on Pionirska Street, where 59 Muslim women, children and pensioners were locked into a single room and incinerated on 14 June 1992. Relatives of the dead, with Hasečić's help, are trying to restore the house as a memorial.

      The town council has countered by expropriating the building, claiming the road needs to be widened. Yet the house is set well back from the existing road and the immediate Serb neighbours – who have mostly been supportive of the Bosniaks' restoration attempts, offering to help with water and electricity connections – say no other houses on the street have been targeted in the same way.

      But no one in the neighbourhood believes the issue is really about town planning. Serb nationalists are striving to suppress reminders of atrocities committed in the name of separatism, mostly against the country's Muslims (known as Bosniaks) and to construct an alternative history in which Serbs were the principal victims. Many Bosniaks and outside observers fear that this refusal to come to terms with the past means there are few guarantees that such acts will not be repeated.

      Bosniaks and Croats have also been slow to allow memorials to civilian victims from other ethnicities, but it is in the Republika Srpska, the Serb-run half of Bosnia, where the scale of the killing was by far the greatest, and where the culture of denial is now the deepest.

      Višegrad is a grim example. An eastern Bosnian town set dramatically along a break in the white limestone ravines of the River Drina, it is home to Bosnia's best-known cultural artefact, the 16th century Mehmed Paša Sokolović bridge, a graceful span of 11 masonry arches made legendary by the Yugoslav Nobel laureate Ivo Andrić.

      In his 1945 novel, the Bridge on the Drina, it is silent witness to atrocities across generations. In 1992, it was spattered with blood once more. Serb paramilitaries calling themselves "The Avengers" and the "White Eagles" went on a killing spree through the town and surrounding villages, executing Muslims. Men, women and over a hundred children were slaughtered, many on the bridge itself, and their bodies dumped in the Drina.

      The practice of barricading people into houses and setting them alight with grenades was reproduced several times. In another incident in nearby Bikavac, there were 60 victims, against mostly women and children.

      A couple of miles outside Višegrad, young women and girls as young as 14 were held captive and repeatedly raped in the Vilina Vlas spa hotel. It was where the paramilitaries led by a pair of sadistic local cousins, Milan and Sredoje Lukić, made their wartime base. Muslim men were routinely tortured next door to where the women were raped and killed.

      The estimates of the total number of victims in the Višegrad municipality range from 1,600 to 3,000. The rest of the area's Muslims fled; most made their way south to Goražde, which became a Bosniak enclave and survived a three-year Serbian siege. Before the war, the Višegrad municipality had a population over 21,000, two thirds Muslim. Now the population is 12,000, 1,500 of them Bosniaks.
      ...
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      Islam Cultivates Malawians Life
      By Khalid Abubaker,
      OnIslam Correspondent
      Friday, 21 March 2014 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/africa/470471-islam-cultivates-malawians-life.html

      LILONGWE – Despite its minority status, the influence Islam has been widening on Malawi’s cultural and socio–economic aspects over the past years, setting a phenomenon and a model to other religions in the largely Christian dominated Southern African nation.

      “Since its introduction, about two hundred years ago, Islam has over the years become so influential,” Sheikh Ahmed Chienda, one of the country’s renowned Shariah scholars, told Onlslam.net.

      “Malawians of diverse religious persuasions have been influenced, culturally, socially and economically. We have touched the national hood of Malawi as a religion.”
      ...
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      Scores killed in central Nigeria attacks
      Raids by Fulani herdsman armed with guns and machetes in three villages in Kaduna state leave at least 100 people dead.
      Last updated: 17 Mar 2014 06:00

      http://www.aljazeera.com/news/africa/2014/03/scores-killed-central-nigeria-attacks-201431613364443374.html

      [VIDEO]
      Gunmen have killed at least 100 people in attacks on three villages in central Nigeria, an area where long-standing disputes over land, religion and ethnicity often erupt into violence, two local government officials have said.

      Police confirmed on Sunday the raids by Fulani herdsman late on Friday on the villages of Ugwar Sankwai, Ungwan Gata and Chenshyi, in Kaduna state, but declined to give a death toll, the Reuters news agency said.

      "Fulani gunmen came across from neighbouring Plateau state and just opened fire on the villagers at around 11pm," said Daniel Anyip, vice chairman of the Kaura local government authority.

      "We are still picking bodies out of the bush but so far there are more than 100 killed."

      Andrew Kazah, another local councillor, said at least 96 had been killed, but that the toll was likely to go up, Reuters reported.

      Chenshyi village was the worst affected with at least 50 people killed, Adamu Marshall, a spokesman for the Southern Kaduna Peoples' Union, a regional political and cultural body, told the AFP news agency.

      Scores of residents were also injured when about 40 assailants, armed with guns and machetes, stormed the villages and attacked locals in their sleep and torched their homes, said Yakubu Bitiyong, a legislator at the Kaduna state parliament.

      Land disputes

      Hundreds of people have been killed in the past year in clashes pitting the cattle-herding and largely Muslim Fulani people against mostly Christian settled communities like the Berom in Nigeria's volatile "Middle Belt", where its mostly Christian south and Muslim north meet.

      The unrest is not linked to the insurgency in the northeast by Boko Haram, which wants to impose Islamic law in northern Nigeria.

      However, analysts say there is a risk the fighters will try to stoke central Nigeria's conflict.

      Most of Boko Haram's attacks are contained further north, but it did claim a 2011 Christmas Day bomb attack at a church in Jos.

      Human Rights Watch in December said sectarian clashes in the central region had killed 3,000 people since 2010, adding that authorities had largely ignored the violence, an accusation they denied.

      Though it sometimes takes on a sectarian character, the violence is fundamentally about decades-old land disputes between semi-nomadic, cattle-keeping communities such as the Fulani and settled farming peoples such as the Berom, both often armed with automatic weapons.

      Nigeria is Africa's most populous nation with almost 170 million people, split roughly equally between Christians and
      Muslims and around 250 different ethnic groups who mostly live peacefully side-by-side.
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      Activists Petition for Spain's Islamic History
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Thursday, 13 March 2014 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/europe/470243-activists-petition-for-spains-islamic-history.html

      MADRID – Spain's Catholic Church bids to annex the centuries-old Cordoba mosque has been vehemently criticized by rights groups demanding the recognition of the Islamic rich history in Spain.

      “Over the past few years, the Diocese of Cordoba has erased the term 'mosque' from all the information leaflets of what is recognized worldwide as a symbol of cultural harmony,” reads ‘Save the Cordoba Mosque’ petition, cited by Agence France Presse (AFP) on Thursday, March 13.

      This “offers millions of tourists a distorted historical account, which crudely adulterates the essence of a complex building and an emblem of diversity,” the petition adds.

      According to Spanish campaigners, the Catholic Church has been trying to blackout the Islamic history of Cordoba mosque, established centuries ago.

      At the historical religious site, visitor's leaflets include misleading information by ignoring reference to the 500-year-old history of the mosque.

      Moreover, the entry tickets to the historical site include a statement that read, “Welcome to the Santa Iglesia Cathedral”.

      The Great Mosque of Cordoba was built between 784 and 786 during the reign of caliph Abd al-Rahman I.

      Serving as a place for Muslim prayers for five centuries, the mosque was consecrated as a church since Ferdinand III, the king of Castile, took Cordoba from the Muslim rulers in 1236.

      However, the place is still being called by both Spaniards and tourists as mosque, not cathedral.

      The mosque became the center of debates recently after Catholic Church efforts to take it out of public hands were made public.

      The church has announced its control over the religious site since 2006 without informing the government which had granted the church the right to run the site earlier.

      Fierce debates erupted after it emerged that the local archbishopric is in the process of registering itself as the owner of the entire building – which is public property – a move that will be irreversible by 2016.

      Many in the city believe this is part of an effort by the Córdoba Catholic authorities to suppress the monument’s Islamic identity.

      Pressure

      Campaigning for the petition, a secular group has collected about 156,000 signatures demanding the reorganization of the mutual Islamic and Christian history of the religious site.

      “For the citizens of Cordoba, what has hurt our feelings is that they have cut off the name and the memory of the monument,” said Antonio Manuel Rodriguez, a law professor at Cordoba University.

      The petition was also signed by many Spanish writers and scientists and moderate Catholics along with the acclaimed British architect Norman Foster.

      On the other hand, the Spanish Catholic church has been getting support from conservative groups who endorse the Cathedral control over the religious site.

      Aiming to spoil campaigners' bids to recognize the Islamic history of the cathedral, the conservative pressure group, HazteOir, has made a rival petition collecting more than 96,000 signatures.

      Last week, Andalusia's Socialist regional government said that it was considering legal action to protect the public ownership of this cultural asset.

      Yet the Cordoba Cathedral insists that it “always had understanding and loyal collaboration with the public administration, never questioning the ownership nor the running of the place of worship”.

      Muslims ruled much of Spain for centuries starting from 711 to 1492.

      Their last king was defeated by Catholic king and queen, Ferdinand and Isabella, in 1492.

      After that Muslims mosques were either left to ruin or converted into churches.

      There are nearly 1.6 million Muslims in Spain, making up 3.4% of the country’s 47 million population, according to an Andalusian Observatory.

      About 1.1 million of Spain's Muslims re foreigners, while 464,978 are Spanish Muslims.

      Islam is the second religion in Spain after Christianity and has been recognized through the 1967 law of religious freedom.

      A recent survey found that 70% of Spain’s Muslims feel at home in the European country and that 80 percent feel they have adapted well to the Spanish way of life.
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      Thailand Fines Uighur Asylum Seekers
      OnIslam & Newspapers
      Saturday, 15 March 2014 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/asia-pacific/470273-thailand-fines-uighur-asylum-seekers.html

      BANGKOK — Thailand sentenced dozens of asylum seekers, believed to be from China’s persecuted Uighur Muslim minority, on Saturday, March 15, amid calls from the US and human rights groups not to forcibly return them to China.

      “Thai authorities should realize that Uighurs forced back to China disappear into a black hole,” said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch said in a statement published on its website.

      “They need to allow all members of this group access to a fair process to determine their claims based on their merits, not on Beijing’s demands.”

      The group of Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim, Turkic minority that originates from western China, was discovered on March 13, 2014, in a jungle camp in Thailand’s Songkhla province.

      The group includes 78 men, 60 women and 82 children.

      The asylum seekers, who appeared to be preparing to head elsewhere, presented themselves as Turkish.

      But US-based activists have identified them as Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, predominantly Muslim group from China's northwestern Xinjiang region.

      On the first official move, the Thai authorities sentenced the group to a fine of 4,000 baht (about RM406) each by a court in southern Thailand.

      The men will be detained by immigration and the women and children will be taken to a shelter, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot told Agence France Presse (AFP) by telephone.

      Uighur Muslims are a Turkish-speaking minority of eight million in the northwestern Xinjiang region.

      Xinjiang, which activists call East Turkestan, has been autonomous since 1955 but continues to be the subject of massive security crackdowns by Chinese authorities.

      Rights groups accuse Chinese authorities of religious repression against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang in the name of counter terrorism.

      Protect Refugees

      As the position of Uighur refugees remain unclear, US State Department has urged Thailand “to provide full protection” to the asylum seekers.

      "We are concerned about Uighurs generally (and) welcome reports that these Uighurs were rescued," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf told reporters Friday in Washington, without directly addressing the possibility of the group's repatriation to China.

      "We're encouraging Thailand to make sure their humanitarian needs are met."

      The Uighur American Association, a Washington-based advocacy group, has also voiced concern over the group.

      The group urged Thailand to cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

      “This group of Uighurs should not be a test of Thailand's relationship with China, but a test of Thailand's ability to follow international refugee standards,” said association president Alim Seytoff.

      In recent years there have been multiple incidents of Uighurs being forcibly returned to China in violation of international law, particularly from Southeast Asia, a common route for people fleeing China.

      In December 2009, Cambodia forcibly returned 20 Uighurs despite the fact that the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had already issued “persons of concern” letters to all members of the group.

      On December 31, 2012, Malaysia deported six Uighur men back to China. The six had been detained earlier in 2012, allegedly for attempting to leave Malaysia on false passports.

      Thailand has long been a hub for people trafficking, with thousands of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma believed to have passed through the kingdom in recent years.

      In 2013, many Rohingya refugees accused Thai officers of selling members of the persecuted minority to human traffickers.
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Bishkek Named Capital of Islamic Culture
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Friday, 14 March 2014 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/asia-pacific/470251-bishkek-named-capital-of-islamic-culture.html

      CAIRO – Bishkek, the capital city of the Republic of Kyrgyzstan, has been declared the capital of Islamic culture in 2014, hosting five month activities to mark the event.

      The announcement was made last Wednesday when Kyrgyzstan's deputy prime minister, Kamila Taliyeva, hosted a meeting to arrange events held between May 20 and October 19, World Bulletin website reported on Thursday, March 13.

      The events include art exhibitions, film festivals, workshops, conferences and a trade fair.

      After the meeting, a government press statement said that the activities would be aimed at promoting and developing Islamic culture as well as strengthening cultural ties between the countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

      Bishkek has several historical buildings and museums, and boasts vast expansions of natural heritage.

      It is considered one of the most famous economic, cultural and tourist centers in the country, and one of Central Asia’s best cities to live in, due to its ability to create balance between its old traditional heritage and modern aspirations.

      The name of Bishkek is thought to be derived from Russian “bishkek”, which means the churn used to make fermented mare's milk (Kumis), the Kyrgyz national drink, ISESCO website says.

      The city was founded in 1878 on the ruins of the Russian Pishpek Fortress built in 1855. Hence, the name “Bishkek” was given to both the fortress and the neighboring city.

      In 1926, the city was given the name of Frunze, after the Bolshevik military leader Mikhail Frunze.

      The city regained its name in 1991, when the Republic of Kyrgyzstan achieved its independence.

      Muslims make up 75 percent of Kyrgyzstan's 5-million population.
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      Can madrassas help developing countries?
      Religious schools have been criticised for breeding extremism, but well-run madrassas can help children escape poverty.
      Philippa H Stewart Last updated: 13 Mar 2014 08:08

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2014/03/can-madrassas-help-developing-countries-20143613421527815.html

      Religious schools, or madrassas, are often portrayed in the media as training grounds for extremists. But some say the institutions, if effectively regulated, could be the key to breaking the cycle of poverty and boosting literacy in underdeveloped countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

      While some madrassas can offer opportunities to poorer students, others struggle to offer a decent standard of education.

      Accordingly, Pakistan's government recently announced plans to bring madrassas under the umbrella of the national education system as part of its first National Internal Security Policy aimed at quelling extremism in the country - which is often attributed to indoctrination at poorly run madrassas.

      "A large number of terrorists either are or have been students of madrassas where they were brainwashed to take up arms against the state," said the document, which was presented to parliament by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan.

      A conservative estimate puts the number of madrassas in Pakistan at about 20,000 schools, serving between two and three million pupils.

      Azhar Hussain, founder and president of the Peace and Education Foundation (PEF) in Pakistan , told Al Jazeera that the Pakistani government had previously tried to bring the madrassas under its control and failed. "It is a necessary move by the government, but they tried this before and miserably failed," he said. "[Madrassas] do not properly equip students to find jobs in the private sector or to address contemporary problems. Consequently, some opt to become insurgents in order to keep bread on their tables."

      Hussain said efforts to include contemporary subjects in madrassas' curricula met stiff resistance from madrassa boards and religious leaders. "In the past 10 years, though, there has been a lot of progress. We [ICRD] have been working with about 4,000 madrassa teachers and they themselves are now asking to be modernised."

      Lack of tolerance

      The tussle over madrassas in Pakistan is part of a larger religious debate in the country. Connecting the Dots: Education and Religious Discrimination in Pakistan, a 2011 report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) co-authored by Hussain, describes a lack of tolerance for religious minorities in both public schools and madrassas.

      "Public school textbooks used by all children often were found to have a strong Islamic orientation, while Pakistan's religious minorities were either referenced derogatorily or omitted all together," said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo in the report's opening letter.

      The report added that "many students expressed discomfort or disdain for the practices of other traditions. A large portion of public school students could not correctly identify religious minorities as citizens". It also highlighted the fact that any effort to fight religious discrimination in Pakistan would likely face strong opposition.

      With the modernisation of the curriculum, these pupils could choose to go to a secular college, an option not currently available because of their lack of math, science, and English language education.

      "The issue is that the public schools, really, are a shambles. This means that some madrassas are saying, 'Why do you want us to be more like them?' and they have a point," said Hussain. "About 88 percent of madrassa students are from poor families and attend because they receive free room and board in addition to some religious education. What we find at the moment is that madrassa pupils are isolated and insulated."

      'Against jihad'

      In neighbouring Afghanistan, the draw of free board and education also draws poorer families towards madrassas, which, critics say, often offer little in the way of preparing children for a modern job market.

      The education system also struggles with pressure from extreme religious groups and the deep-seated conservatism of some areas, specifically when it comes to female education.

      Claudio Franco, the author of The Ongoing Battle for Education; Uprisings, Negotiations and Taleban Tactics, said ethnic Pashtun parts of Afghanistan tend to be especially conservative when it comes to education.

      "[In the Pashtun belt in particular] there have been attempts by the Taliban to curtail or pre-empt girls' education, and these attempts have been largely successful. The local populace is very often sympathetic towards this kind of stance, simply because of an instinctive, well-rooted conservatism," he said. "As a consequence, there have been attacks on girls travelling to and from school, or on teachers and/or administrators who did not comply with this ban."

      Franco said that objections to female education were being used as a means of questioning the entire idea of Western education. "A compromise between a modern education and the insurgents' stances is the only viable option to provide Afghanistan with an effective education system. Aiming for a Westernised system would probably be a waste of time," he said.

      Borhan Osman, of the Afghanistan Analysts Network, said there was a dichotomy between "modern" and more traditional schools that needed to be addressed. "There is a serious need for reforming the madrassa education system. Turning a blind eye to the many problems in the religious education will only deepen the gap between the systems. The influence of religion or religious groups on education is now not that strong as during the Taliban era or the Mujahideen, but religion is still heavily present in the Afghan educational landscape."

      He added that both modern schools and madrassas have failings. "Modern schools are fairly good in equipping children with the basic skills needed for a job or business, although they are far from sufficient. Religious schools fare much worse... With more awareness now, I think poor families increasingly prefer to send their children to modern schools instead of madrassas since they seek a better chance of jobs for their children."

      'Absence of oversight'

      In contrast to the struggles of Afghanistan to reconcile women, religion, and education, Bangladesh took steps to improve the education of girls - by reaching out to madrassas for help. This led to an increase in literacy, and by 2011 girls had a higher literacy rate than boys in the country.

      "The government started to encourage madrassas to admit girls, and so what we had was a system that had traditionally avoided admitting girls welcoming them equally to boys," said M Niaz Asadullah, professor of development economics at the University of Malaya, who has described the benefits that could come from the "feminisation" of the madrassa system, such as higher levels of female employment.

      This stands in stark contrast to the situation in Afghanistan, where many rural girls struggle to be educated beyond the sixth grade.

      Yet Bangladesh is also home to many unrecognised madrassas - which continue to exist, according to Asadullah, because the government has failed to provide quality religious education. Recent figures place the number of recognised madrassas at 16,000, serving about 5.5 million pupils.

      The number of unrecognised madrassas stands at roughly 10,000, although accurate analysis is difficult.

      Unrecognised madrassas do not take any money from the government, relying instead on charitable donations, and do not provide the same amount of secular studies. "In the case of Bangladesh, education is free, but you may still have to bribe to get enrolled. Teachers also remain absent. Madrassas offer a cheaper and not-so-inferior alternative," Asadullah said.

      But, he added, "the 'unrecognised' status makes them vulnerable to abuse. Given the religious label and absence of oversight, it's true that anti-social activities have been carried out in the name of running a madrassa, but I have not seen any evidence suggesting that this is systematic. Going to an unrecognised madrassa is not going to make you a doctor or a lawyer, but people know that already."

      A traditional view of madrassas in South Asia is that they are the last refuge of the poor to obtain an education. Yet Asadullah told Al Jazeera that while economic factors did come in to play, it was not the only consideration in Bangladesh. "Evidence also indicates that households diversify by sending one child to school and another to a madrassa," he said.

      "There is a poverty connection in both Bangladesh and Indonesia, and it's stronger when it comes to unrecognised madrassa education. Religious views matter, but economic factors dominate. Provide a good school irrespective of its faith orientation, [and parents would] enrol kids."

      Follow Philippa H Stewart on Twitter: @Flip_Stewart
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      “They Are Skiing On Circassians’ Bones”
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Wednesday, 19 February 2014 00:00

      http://www.onislam.net/english/news/europe/469393-they-are-skiing-on-circassians-bones.html

      SOCHI – One hundred and fifty years on genocide, Circassian activists still recall the horrors their people faced at the hands of the Russian invaders who killed around 1.5 million Circassians and expelled a similar number from their inherited land.

      “They tried to forget us, as if we never even lived there,” Circassian architect Abdullah Makhmudovic Berisov told CNN on Tuesday, February 18.

      The pain expressed by Berisov, 67, was shared by thousands of Circassians who witnessed the opening ceremony of 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the city deemed once before as their capital.

      When the opening ceremony of the Sochi Games unfolded last February 7, Circassians could not see a single reference to their people, who lived in Circassia for millennia, according to Frankie Martin, a research fellow at American University's School of International Service in Washington.

      In the 19th century, Russia coveted their land and brutally defeated them, decimating entire tribes.

      Russia killed around 1.5 million Circassians and expelled a similar number.

      “It was our land,” Circassian artist Sheomir Guchepshoko, 32, said.

      “But during the opening of the Olympic Games, they said it was a Greek land, and then after that it was Russian land. They didn't say anything about the Circassian part of Russian history. And it really hurt.”

      Guchepshoko added that Sochi Olympics are a tragic reminder of what was lost during the Russian-Circassian war that ended in 1864.

      Other activists asserted that the Olympic venue at Krasnaya Polyana was built on what they say is the mass burial site of the Circassians' final defeat.

      In these Olympic Games, “athletes are skiing on the bones of our ancestors,” one activist

      “It would be like Germany deciding to build an Olympic Park on Auschwitz.”

      Islam is Russia's second-largest religion representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million predominantly Orthodox population.

      The Russian Federation is home to some 23 million Muslims in the north of the Caucasus and southern republics of Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan.

      Sochi city, home to 20,000 Muslim residents, has no single mosque as Muslim leaders have been pushing for a new place to worship since 1996.

      Can’t Forget

      Years after their genocide, Circassians are demanding the inclusion of their story of crushing defeat, widespread killing, and mass deportation to the Middle East and elsewhere in the Russian history.

      “When I was a child, it was if I was a guest in my own country. But slowly, I found some information about our history, and now I understand. I am a Circassian,” Guchepshoko said.

      “I started to think about it. It's like there was a hole in my heart, and now I want it to be filled.”

      Learning Circassian history was prohibited in school, he says.

      Despite setbacks, Circassian activists point out that there were efforts to preserve parts of their culture when the area was part of the Soviet Union.

      To this day, there is an autonomous region not far from Sochi reserved for the Adyghe, a subset of the Circassian people.

      In Maykop, the Circassian language is spoken on the street and shares a place next to Russian on historic landmarks.

      Last year, workers constructed a monument to the Circassian people in a scruffy park next to a mosque that was built in the 1990s.

      In the mean time, their efforts to be recognized by the Russia authorities have failed after the Olympic organizers refused to move the remains of those lost in the battle at Krasnaya Polyana to a separate cemetery.

      They also rejected the creation of a special museum to house precious artifacts that would be recovered during that resettlement.

      Adam Bogus, leader of a Circassian council in Maykop, said they have also asked for a portion of the cultural program in the Olympic opening ceremony to acknowledge the Circassian chapter of Russian history.

      “We believed the Olympic tradition would be observed here ... until the very last minute,” he said.

      “And that too did not happen.”

      Facing danger of being forgotten, the artist has an exhibit in Maykop, the capital of the Adyghe region, about 150 miles north of Sochi, which paints a tale of a 101-year-long war and the tragic exodus

      “I want to show the truth,” he said.

      “Because some young people, people who live here, they don't know about their own history.”
      ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

      Discrimination Olympics: Meddling with Muslims in Sochi
      Why Putin's Islamophobic policies pervade the Winter Olympics at Sochi.
      Last updated: 17 Feb 2014 09:19
      Khaled A Beydoun
      Khaled A Beydoun is the Critical Race Studies Teaching Fellow at the UCLA School of Law.

      http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/2014/02/discrimination-olympics-meddlin-201421754736814877.html

      Sochi's more than 20,000 Muslims helped build the infrastructure and stages for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, where Muslim athletes from a range of participating nations will compete within these multi-million-dollar stadia, slopes, and structures, vying for gold and the glory that comes with Olympic victory.

      However, for Muslims in Sochi, the rampant Islamophobia has cast a shadow of concern and danger during these Olympic Games. Coverage of the Sochi games mentions Islam and Muslims exclusively in the form of terrorist threat, head-scarved "black widows", and, the familiar conflation of religious observance with national security concerns.

      While the Opening Ceremony showcased the well-crafted face of a "New Russia", age-old Russian hate toward the LGBTQ community, and indeed, both indigenous and visiting Muslims, are also prominently displayed in Sochi.

      During its buildup, NBC's Bob Costas stated that the Sochi Games will, "take place against a backdrop of questions about policy differences, security, cost overruns and human rights issues, including Russia's anti-gay propaganda law".

      The firestorm against Sochi's brazen homophobia leading up and during the Olympics was fierce, capped by President Barack Obama sending a US delegation led by openly gay athletes. The message, from news desks and the Oval Office, was clear - the US opposed the structural homophobia built into the Sochi Olympics.

      No similar statements were made of the pervasive Islamophobia encircling the Games. Rather, the media and political rhetoric in the US toward Muslims and Islam are aligned with those of Russia, and linked inextricably to terrorism. American misalignment with Russia's per se homophobia, and its converging interests with Moscow's framing of Muslim threat, highlights the ever more relevant observation of Derrick Bell, who held that: "Domestic civil rights policies are only promoted when they advance majoritarian (white) interests abroad."

      The policing of Muslims stateside, and its nexus to the "global war on terrorism", has - in large part - erased word of Sochi's brazen Islamophobia from news headlines, and, hushed the US government from calling into question the religious freedoms of Muslims in Russia.

      20,000 Muslims, zero mosques

      Like its rigid stance against homosexuality, Islamophobia is built deeply within the brick and mortar of Russian law. New - like Old - Russia, violently persecutes its religious minorities. The Olympic City sits on the edges of the Caucasus Mountains - the site of the 19th century decimation and displacement of Circassian Muslims. In an effort to pacify resistance, the Czar followed by Soviet strategy focused on shuttering mosques, and eliminating religious centres and meeting spaces as a strategy to ethnically cleanse the indigenous Muslims. This Russian tactic of blanket suppression has outlived czars, the Soviet Union, and still lords over the Muslim population surrounding and within the Caucasus region.

      In the Mother Jones article "Why Sochi has no mosques", Tim Murphy writes that Sochi does not have a single mosque within its bounds for its 20,000 Muslim residents. The vast majority of these Muslims "migrated to the city over the last decade to take jobs building the Olympic facilities". The nearest mosque is in the village of Tkhagapsh, roughly 50 miles from Sochi. Likely in an effort to preempt disruptive protests, Anatoli Rykov, the interim mayor of Sochi, told reporters that talks to build Sochi's first mosque would begin after the Olympics.

      Prayers rooms have been availed to Muslim Olympians. The accommodation of Muslim athletes, however, is hardly a symbol of tolerance. But rather, a blatant effort to quell dissidence within the Olympic Village, while simultaneously, denying the rights of Sochi's Muslim residents to practice their faith.


      Sochi's mosque-less limits is emblematic of a deeper animus toward Muslims. Conspicuous markers of Muslim identity, including beards or headscarves, legal status and Chechen or Circassian nationality, will instantly mobilise the 50,000 police forces patrolling the city.

      In short, Sochi is no place for Muslims, and the Steering Committee's welcome for the Games' Muslim athletes will surely expire as soon as Olympic flame is put out.

      Sochi: A modern Potemkin Village?

      The Sochi Games have been called a "moment of personal glory" for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. A $51 bn grand circus for the Russian strongman, showcasing his financial mettle and might for the entire world to see. However, Putin's arrogance is only one dimension of how these Games will be remembered after its end on February 23.

      Without question, Putin backs the modern Islamophobic policies in Russia today. However, the phobia that mixes with religious animus with empire, xenophobia and a racially narrow conception of authentic Russian identity, precedes the modern czar by centuries. Beyond the billion-dollar Olympic Structures that symbolise "New Russia" are deeply entrenched phobias and systems of hate that no sublime opening ceremony or state-of-the-art stadium can hide.

      When the crowds are gone and the world's cameras are far away, Sochi will be remembered as a modern "Potemkin Village", built atop the hollowed pillars of hate that survived the fall of walls and the crumbling of iron curtains. After the final medal is awarded in Sochi, these will stand as the lasting symbols of the Winter Olympics 2014.

      Khaled A Beydoun is the Critical Race Studies Teaching Fellow at the UCLA School of Law.
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      Why Robert Davila is the Most Famous Muslim in America This Week
      Posted by: Hena Zuberi February 27, 2014

      http://muslimmatters.org/2014/02/27/why-robert-davila-is-the-most-famous-muslim-in-america-this-week/

      Sometimes we land in a spiritual slump and want to stop doing what we are doing, and then Allāh sends us inspiration when we need it most. I watched this last night and had to share this with our readers. Although it has probably been shared all over the world, on forums, Facebook pages, and websites (yes, even soap opera sites), it deserves to be shared even more, māshā'Allāh!
      What a story, what an inspiration! JazakAllah Khayr to Ustadh Nouman for sharing the story of Robert Davila.
      I relayed this story to three different people today, and each of them felt rejuvenated on his/her journey to Allāh, including my daughter, who was struggling with her Qurʾān lessons. To encourage her, we were reading Khuram Murad's Way to the Qurʾān together and at the part where he writes about making sure that we are “constantly alert with intense praise and gratitude to [our] Master for having blessed [us] with His greatest gift- the Qurʾān and for having guided [us] to its reading and study,” Brother Robert was the most perfect example that I could give to her, having seen this video.
      It really, truly reminded me that Allāh's work doesn't stop–we need Him–he doesn't need us. May Allāh guide all of us with the light of His Guidance in whatever position we may be in and give us the taufiq of du‘ā’ (supplication), shukr (thankfulness), sabr (patience), and ridha bil qadha (satisfaction with Divine Decree). Āmīn.
      ...
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