Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

March 2008
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The Muslim World

UAE to Construct World's Greenest City
Abu Dhabi

Masdar City, the world’s greenest city would come up here by 2015. It has been launched by Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) and the World Wide Fund For Nature. It will be a zero-carbon, zero-waste, car-free city that will be aiming to exceed the 10 sustainability principles of ‘One Planet Living’ of the WWF. Masdar City’s electricity will be generated by photovoltaic panels while cooling will be provided by concentrated solar power. Water will be provided through a solar powered desalination plant. Grey recycled waster water will be used for irrigating the gardens and forests being created around the Abu Dhabi Airport. It will be located on 6000 sq. km. area and will have a population of 50,000 people.

'Dial for Doubt' for Islamic Query
Abu Dhabi

The General Authority for the Islamic Affairs and Endowments of Abu Dhabi will set up a toll-free telephone enquiry line for non-Arabic speaking people, especially Urdu, on religious matters. Services are set to be launched in March this year. The Authority is headed by Mr. Matar Al-Kaabi.

Turkey Lifts ban on Headscarf

Turkey’s Parliament lifted the ban on wearing of headscarf by women on February 9. The secularists in Army, University and other institutions  have been opposing the lifting of the ban, a bone of contention between the ruling AK Party and the powerful Kemalist elements who still retain grip over vital institutions of authority, though routed electorally. The bill to lift the ban was carried with 411 votes against 103. It may be recalled that in the predominantly Muslim Turkey, the Kemalists had been  opposing the wearing of headscarves by choice by Muslim women. A standoff between the government and the Kemalists had made wife and family members of President Abdullah Gul too keep off the installation ceremony.

Pakistanis at Guantanamo: HRCP Urges Govt Action

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan on Wednesday called upon the government to intervene on behalf of Pakistani nationals held by US forces at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In a letter to the federal law minister, HRCP expressed its distress at Islamabad’s failure to ensure its nationals are not detained illegally. The organization asked the government about actions it had taken or intended to take to ensure that the continued incarceration and violations of Pakistani nationals’ human rights ceased immediately.

HRCP also expressed concern at reports of risks to the life and health of Mr. Saifullah Piracha, a heart patient currently detained in Guantanamo.

It urged the government to disclose the number of Pakistanis currently detained at Guantanamo and make representations to US authorities on behalf of all Pakistani nationals still detained there to ensure their return to Pakistan, a press released by Iqbal Haider, general secretary said.

Intolerant Jews Target Indian Scholar
Memphis (US)

Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson forced to quit the Institute he founded in the US

Arun Gandhi, the fifth grandson of father of nation Mahatma Gandhi, resigned from presidentship of the M. K. Gandhi Institute of Non-Violence, an organization he co-founded with his wife Sunanda in the Christian Brothers University at Memphis, Tennessee in the United States on January 26. The Institute was founded in 1991 but was relocated inside University of  Rochester campus in June. Sunanda had died a few days before the relocation.

Mr. Arun Gandhi drew condemnation from the Jewish community for his comments wherein he said that Israel and the Jews were the biggest players in a global culture of violence. Describing Israel as a nation that believes its survival can only be ensured by weapons and bombs, Gandhi asked whether it would not be better to befriend those who hate you.

He wrote that the Jewish identity is locked into the experience of holocaust, a German burden that the Jews have not been able to shed. It is a very good example how a community overplays an historic experience and begins to repulse friends.

Arun Gandhi and Sunanda had been peace activists since very long. Arun had worked in The Times of India for some time in Mumbai. They had migrated to the United State in 1987 and jointly set up the M. K. Gandhi Institute for Non-Violence.

Al Azhar opens door for Lebanese Shiite students

Sheikh of the Jamia Al-Azhar Dr. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi has issued directives granting permission to Shiite students from Lebanon to get enrolled in various educational institutes affiliated to the Azhar. “They will be given permission to join both the educational institutes as well as faculties under the Azhar University,” he said while highlighting the moderate stance being upheld by the highest seat of learning in the Muslim world, Egyptian Arabic newspaper Aqeedati reported.

Sheikh Tantawi reiterated that the Azhar is nothing to do with discrimination of any religious schools of thought. “Doors of the Azhar educational institutions are open to students from all schools of thought,” he said. The Sheikh of Azhar’s decision came in response to a request made by Sheikh Ali Al Ameen, Shia mufti of Tyre city in south Lebanon.

Survey shows Iraq Conflict has Killed a Million

More than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the conflict in their country since the US-led invasion in 2003, according to research conducted by one of Britain’s leading polling groups.

The survey, conducted by Opinion Research Business (ORB) with 2,414 adults in face-to-face interviews, found that 20 per cent of people had had at least one death in their household as a result of the conflict, rather than natural causes.

The last complete census in Iraq conducted in 1997 found 4.05 million households in the country, a figure ORB used to calculate that approximately 1.03 million people had died as a result of the war, the researchers found.

The margin of error in the survey, conducted in August and September 2007, was 1.7 per cent, giving a range of deaths of 946,258 to 1.12 million.

ORB originally found that 1.2 million people had died, but decided to go back and conduct more research in rural areas to make the survey as comprehensive as possible and then came up with the revised figure.

The research covered 15 of Iraq’s 18 provinces. Those not covered included two of Iraq’s more volatile regions Karbala and Anbar and the northern province of Arbil, where local authorities refused them a permit to work.

Estimates of deaths in Iraq have been highly controversial in the past.

Medical journal The Lancet published a peer-reviewed report in 2004 stating that there had been 100,000 more deaths than would normally be expected since the March 2003 invasion, kicking off a storm of protest.

The widely watched Web site Iraq Body Count currently estimates that between 80,699 and 88,126 people have died in the conflict, although its methodology and figures have also been questioned by US authorities and others.

ORB, a non-government-funded group founded in 1994, conducts research for the private, public and voluntary sectors.

The director of the group, Allan Hyde, told Reauters it had no objective other than to record as accurately as possible the number of deaths among the Iraqi population as a result of the invasion and ensuing conflict.

Saudi Preachers Blame Sinners for Lack of Rain

Saudi preachers recently conducted prayers for rain in their desert kingdom and blamed the empty skies on sinfulness, the official SPA news agency reported.

“Misfortune does not befall (a country) unless sins have been committed there,” said the imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Sheikh Abderrahman bin Abdel Aziz Al Sudeiss.

The sheikh, a critic of what he calls the “goodly number of people who chase after forbidden pleasures,” singled out as particularly responsible for the lack of rain “corruption, bribery and the search for ill-gotten gain.”

In the capital, Riyadh, prayers were conducted by the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Sheikh Abdelaziz Al Sheikh, who heads the highest religious authority in the kingdom.

He also exhorted the faithful to “avoid the forbidden and the illicit,” before calling on God to “shower the country with beneficial rains, for the good of the land and of men.”

In a ritual practised since the time of the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, the prayers for rain consist of a procession in which the faithful seek the generosity of heaven.

Saudi Arabia is one of the most arid countries in the world and must routinely resort to desalination plants to provide enough drinking water.

Italy Archaeologists Say
Iran Civilization Unique

Prominent Italian archaeologists and Iranologists have described the rich Iranian cultural background and civilization as ‘unique’.

The archaeologists made the remarks during a one-day conference which was held in Florence, IRINN reported recently. Iran’s archeology is considered as a foundation of modern human civilization in the world, the participants said.

The conference played host to more than 600 scientific and cultural figures, professors, and researchers. The conference was co-hosted by the municipality of Florence and one of the most creditable Italian archeology journals.

Persian culture dates back more than 3,000 years and has a vast rich cultural, linguistic and artistic legacy which influenced many great cultures around the world.

Worship Places for Pak Minorities

Prisoners belonging to various minority groups in the country will soon have worship places of their own to perform their religious duties at ease. This is the latest step taken for the collective welfare of prisoners belonging to different faiths. Sources said the Human Rights Ministry had issued directives for the construction of such places of worship. Caretaker Human Rights Minister Ansar Burney said all spadework had been completed, adding that construction would begin as soon as the Finance Ministry approved the funds. Among other steps to facilitate prisoners, this latest initiative came just after Burney’s visits to various jails of the country. “One of the major grievances I have to confront during my visits to certain jails like Kot Lakhpat and Haripur was that prisoners belonging to minority groups had no separate places to worship inside jails,” said Burney according to a report of by the Associated Press of Pakistan.

Pak Test-fires Ghaznavi Hataf-III

Pakistani troops fired a short-range nuclear-capable ballistic missile during exercises on Wednesday in the third such training launch in as many weeks, the army said. Soldiers from the country’s strategic force command carried out a “successful” launch of the Hatf III (Ghaznavi) missile, which has a range of 290 kilometres (180 miles), an army statement said. The launch was witnessed by caretaker Prime Minister Mohammed-mian Soomro and army chief Ashfaq Kayani, the statement added, saying that more details would be announced later. Pakistan and India have routinely conducted missile tests since the nuclear-armed South Asian neighbours carried out tit-for-tat atomic detonations in May 1998. However in 2004 they launched a slow-moving peace process aimed at ending six decades of hostility and resolving their dispute over Kashmir, the cause of two of their three wars.

Pak First Woman Astronaut

Pakistan’s first astronaut Namira Salim has received the certificate on completion of her space flight training in United States.

Appreciating her talent, President Musharraf said Pakistani women have the potential to prove their mettle by showing outstanding performance in the field of life.

Namira has recently completed Sub-orbital Spaceflight Training at the NASTAR Centre in the United States, being the first Pakistani qualified to go to space.

World Economic Forum Report Launched
West, Muslim World Need to Interact on Several Levels

For the first time, the World Economic Forum (WEF) has launched a report highlighting the need for the West and the Muslim world to relate to each other at the political, social, economic and cultural levels.

In collaboration with Georgetown University, the WEF – a gathering of over 2,500 business and political leaders in Davos - came out with Islam and the West: Annual Report on the State of Dialogue.

It is first of its kind report on how Muslim and Western societies perceive and relate to each other at the political, social, economic and cultural levels.

Among both Muslim majority and non-Muslim majority nations, the proportion which thinks that the ‘other side’ is committed to better relations rarely rises above 30 per cent, said the report.

Notwithstanding the prevalent sense of skepticism, majority of residents in nations around the world say that better interaction between the Muslim and Western worlds is important to them.

“Over the course of 2008, the Community of Islam and the West Dialogue will invite leaders from various walks of life to engage in a concerted dialogue and debate of the most important issues, in particular the area of citizenship and integration,” said Prof. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of WEF, in the report.

The report features a Gallup Muslim-West Dialogue Index, which is a ranking of countries based on citizens’ degree of optimism about the state of relations between the West and the Muslim world.

The report also presents an analysis of the portrayal of Islam and the West in newspapers and television across 24 countries by Media Tenor; and a survey by Georgetown University of international, national and local efforts to improve Muslim-West relations.

An important finding of the report is the emergence of citizenship and integration as the second most powerful shaper of the state of dialogue after international politics.

Growing Muslim minorities committed to active and full citizenship, particularly in Europe, are increasingly finding a voice in the public sphere, it said.

Governments committed to ideals of equality and recognition, but eager to maintain majority support and national cohesion, are seeking to engage Muslim groups in structured dialogue; with mixed results.

Greater interaction with the Muslim world is actually seen as a threat by 60 per cent of the citizens in many European countries but not in America or Israel, the report said.

“As an annual global reference on the state of West and Islam dialogue, the report will elevate the visibility of dialogue activities around the world and strengthen efforts to advance greater understanding and cooperation at a critical juncture in history,” remarked its lead author, John J. DeGioia, President of Georgetown University.

Earlier, addressing the meeting, Afghan President Hamid Karzai said “the focus of our war against terrorism must be the elimination of sanctuaries where terrorists hide and recuperate. The war can only be won if local populations are empowered to confront it,” he said while cautioning against the ‘short-sighted policy for reckless pursuit of misperceived interest.

Muslims Should Demonstrate an Introspective Approach to the Present Crises

Dr Karen Armstrong asserted last month that Muslims today needed to follow the example of the companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who, in the time immediately after his death, had re-explored the verses of the Holy Qur’an within the framework of ‘reasoning’ in order to establish a pluralistic society.

The internationally renowned religious historian and scholar said this while delivering a seminar entitled “Intellectual Traditions in Islam” – part of a series of lectures to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the Imamate of His Highness the Aga Khan. The lectures, organised by the Ismaili Council of Pakistan, were aimed at developing a comprehensive understanding of the need for pluralism and tolerance within society.

Dr Armstrong stressed that the world often passed through periods of great turbulence and upheaval. Indeed, she noted, Muslims had faced such crises directly after the death of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Fitna (chaos or mischief), she said, ensued after his death. For many at that time, his death represented a religious and political vacuum. Others saw the crisis as having the potential to give space to non-Arab influences that directly challenged the prevailing Arab-Islamic culture. Thus, she noted, the companions of the Prophet began addressing these problems within the framework of Quranic injunctions and the teachings of the Holy Prophet in the form of the books of the Hadith, which were compiled in order to offer additional guidance to Muslims.

Dr Armstrong stressed that Islamic scholars such as Ibne Rushad (Averroes) and Ibne Seena (Avicena) were also at the forefront of those who pondered and followed the teachings of their religion within the framework of reasoning in order to form a just and ideal society. Thus, she said, Muslims today should not shy away from adopting the same approach towards Islam. This was especially true given that the Holy Qur’an represents a code of conduct, which promotes the idea of pluralism and, as such, is open to new ideas. “We need to assume confidence which we do not have at the moment and then we need to recover spiritualism.”

Given that Muslim tradition had demonstrated an introspective approach to the crises of a particular era, she urged Muslims today to adopt a similar approach. This would help them fulfill the visions of Muslim saints, including the Sufi leaders, who had practiced Islam in its true form to promote humanity, equality and respect for all.

Indeed, Dr Armstrong said that since the Holy Qur’an itself urged believers against blind faith, Muslims should engage in exploring the true meaning of its injunctions in order to advance the cause of humanity.

Earlier, President of Ismaili Council for Pakistan Iqbal Walji addressed the gathering saying that it was essential for Muslims to promote a pluralistic society in order to foster peace and harmony. In addition, he said that communities needed to be provided with a greater range of choices and understanding in order to promote mutual respect and tolerance. Towards this end, he said that it was imperative to promote good governance in the bid to eradicate poverty. Stressing that the world should strive to become an alliance of civilisations, Mr Walji appreciated the role played by Dr. Armstrong in building bridges between the West and the Islamic world.

After the end of the lecture, the audience was invited to participate in a brief questions and answers session, where Dr Armstrong again stressed that the Holy Qur’an outlined the need for understanding of Islam’s true meaning and that this could not be developed until its injunctions had been fully explored. Such an approach, she said, should extend to madrassa education.

Dr Armstrong is the author of many books on religion, many of which have been translated into forty languages worldwide. In 1999, she was honored by the Muslim Council for Public Affairs (USA) and in 2004 by the Muslim Association of Social Sciences in recognition of her contributions for building bridges between the West and Islamic world.

Saudi Theologian Favours Car driving by Women

A well-regarded Saudi religious scholar said that there is nothing in Islamic law that bans women from driving and that the fatwas issued in this regard are based on individual judgments.

“In principle driving by women is permitted in Islam,” said Sheikh Abdul Mohsen Al-Obaikan, a member of the Kingdom’s Council of Senior Islamic Scholars.

The ban, he said, has to do with the social complications rather than the act itself. As an example, the sheikh referred to a fatwa from former Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdulaziz Bin-Baz that said it is permitted for women in rural areas to drive cars, but that they should be forbidden from driving in the cities where, as Al-Obaikan said, “youths (even) harass women accompanied by parents and drivers.

He said if certain issues are resolved, such as the problem of men’s behavior and traffic safety, then he sees no religiously motivated conflict with women driving.

Sheikh Mehsin Al-Awaji, another prominent religious scholar in the Kingdom, agreed. “No religious scholar is going to tell you differently,” he said. “But (the issue of) women driving comes as a ‘package’ and we need to fix the ‘package’ before making the decision (to allow women to drive).”

Expanding on the idea that allowing women to drive in Saudi Arabia comes with a “package” of issues, Al-Awaji said there needs to be Saudi women working as police officers, mechanics and other positions. The sheikh diminished the significance of women driving, saying that myriad social reforms have higher priority, even in the realm of empowering women or encouraging public participation in important social challenges.

Fawzeyah Al-Oyouni, a woman’s rights and human rights activist, said that most people agree that Islam doesn’t forbid women from driving. The problem, she says, is that the government isn’t moving fast enough to implement the necessary actions to open the way for a smooth transition toward allowing women to drive.

The Saudi government has pointed out that there is no law that states women cannot drive. “The Interior Ministry’s stand is clear on this,” said ministry spokesman Gen. Mansour Al-Turki.

But in reality women are occasionally arrested when found driving. Newspapers have reported several instances in recent years of situations where women have been stopped by authorities and detained for the infraction of driving a vehicle.

In a previous statement, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah said that Saudi women would be permitted to drive someday.

(courtesy Arab News)