A Sorrowful Christmas In the Islamic World
Explosion kills 4 Iraqi Shiite pilgrims in capital
5 Muslim Americans from D.C. area likely to be charged with terrorism by Pakistan
Keep nikaahs simple: India's Muslim law board
Suicide bomber in southern Afghanistan kills eight: Police
Americans may face terror charges
Pakistan celebrates birth anniversary of Jinnah
Michigan Muslims make Mitzvah with Jews on Christmas, promoting good deeds over differences
Speed up welfare measures: India’s Muslim MPs
Muslim militants release kidnapped school official in Philippines
Women and girls flee region as swoop on illegal weapons starts
Muslims in world's most-populous Arab nation join holiday fun
Hasan asked Islamic leader about killing U.S. soldiers
Taliban gone, hotels in Swat offer free stay to woo tourists
Yemen Says It Attacked a Meeting of Al Qaeda
Yemen says kills 30 al-Qaida militants in airstrike
Imam tied to US massacre killed in Yemen raid
Vatican's top cleric in Arabia walks a thin line
Indonesia Backs Thailand in Solving Southern Problems
Indonesian troops ordered to protect Christian churches
Violence in Somalia over land dispute kills 8
Hundreds of faithful from Ahmadiyya branch of Islam gather in Chino for convention
Two dozen Islamists go on trial on corruption charges
Iran's President Ahmadinejad mocks Obama
Iran confirms Bin Laden daughter at Saudi Embassy
Iran bans construction of memorials for cleric in wake of violence
Iraq attacks kill scores on eve of Christmas, Ashura
Scribbled banknotes: Iran smells a rat, bans them
Iraqi Christians' still face uncertain future
Pakistan Ka Khuda Hafiz (PKKH) Quaid’s Day Special
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
URL of this page: http://www.newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/threats,-ashoura-bring-blue-christmas-in-iraq/d/2277
Threats, Ashoura bring blue Christmas in Iraq
December 25, 2009
Christians keep their celebrations under tighter wraps than usual, write Lara Jakes & Bushra Juhi
Christmas is bumping into Shiite Islam’s most mournful ceremony this year, forcing Iraqi Christians to keep their celebrations under tighter wraps than usual.
Midnight Mass will again be celebrated in daylight across Baghdad, and security around churches is heavier for a community that’s been threatened by sectarian violence since the 2003 US-led invasion.
A deadly Christmas eve ambush of a Christian bus driver and a bombing earlier this week targeting a 1,200-year-old church, both in Mosul, underscored their concerns.
But this year, Christians feeling an extra need for caution are toning down the Christmas glitz, and the plastic Santas aren’t selling as well as usual. At least one Catholic archbishop has discouraged Christmas decorations and public merrymaking out of respect for Ashoura, a period of Shiite mourning and self-flagellation.
“We used to put the Christmas tree with its bright lights close to the window in the entrance of our home,” said Mr Saad Matti, a 51-year-old surgeon and Basra city councilman.
“But this year, we put it away from the window as a kind of respect for the feelings of Shiite Muslims in our neighbourhood because of Ashoura,” he said.
Ashoura caps a 10-day period of self-flagellation and mourning for the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Imam Hussein, killed in 680 AD during a battle that sealed the split between Shiites and Sunnis.
During the 10 days, throngs of Shiite pilgrims march to the holy Iraqi city of Karbala, 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Baghdad.
The lunar Islamic calendar varies against the West’s, and this year Ashoura happens to climax on December 27.
Shiites are the majority of Iraq’s 28.9 million people and now dominate the country politically, giving other sects more reason to accommodate them.
Few weddings are held during Ashoura, and any business associated with beauty — flower shops, jewelry stores, photography studios — loses money.
“No weddings, no work,” Ms Nijood Hassan, a Sunni, complained at her flower shop central Baghdad. “Why do they have to do this?” But the compulsion to preserve an outward appearance of harmony is strong.
Ms Hassan’s sister, Ms Nadia, quickly interjected: “There is no sectarian division any more, and we have no objection whatsoever about that.”
The archbishop of the southern Shiite-dominated city of Basra, Imad al-Banna, called on Christians “to respect the feelings of Muslims during Ashoura and not hold the public celebrations during Christmas.... to hold Mass in the church only and not receive guests or show joyful appearances.”
Some 1.25 million Christians, 80 per cent of them Catholic, used to live in Iraq. An exodus that began after the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam Hussein imposed more Islamic policies, intensified after 2003, when Christians became targets of sectarian violence, and some 868,000 are left.
Iraq’s top Catholic prelate, Chaldean Cardinal Emmanuel III Delly, said he used to hold Mass at midnight on Christmas eve but in recent years switched the services to daylight hours, when the streets are safer. He said he was unaware of the Basra priest’s Ashoura edict.
“We will do our religious rituals as usual and on its dates, and our Muslim brothers will feel happy that each one has his own dear religion,” Delly said.
The Defence Ministry said patrols will be stepped up around churches, Christian neighbourhoods and places of celebration, mostly in Baghdad, Mosul and Kirkuk. That didn’t stop unidentified gunmen from ambushing a Christian man in Mosul on Thursday, shooting him after pulling him from the bus he was driving in Mosul, police said. It was not clear if the attack was religiously based. The added security also didn’t deter Mosul bombers from attacking the Mar Toma Church, or the Church of St. Thomas, on Wednesday with an explosive hidden in an abandoned cart a few yards away. Two Muslim passers-by were killed, police said.
Christians aren’t the only imperiled worshippers. Two dozen Shiite pilgrims preparing for Ashoura rituals were killed over the last two days in bombings in Baghdad and Hillah, about 60 miles (95 kilometres) to the south. Earlier this week, in Baqouba, two Shiites were gunned down while leaving a mosque where they had been flogging themselves for Ashoura. It was not known if they were targeted because of their beliefs.
Mr Adnan al-Sudani, a cleric in the Shiite-dominated Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad, said Christmas generates no ill will among his followers.
“We as Shiites respect Christian occasions and share their happiness in our hearts,” he said.
Shiite shop owner Ali Qassim wished more people would have themselves a very merry Christmas. His electronics shop, in the mixed Muslim-Christian neighbourhood of Karrada, is packed with artificial pine trees and cherry-cheeked faces of plastic Santas, called Baba Noel in Arabic.
But few were sold.
“Nothing is in the streets. Nothing is in the shops,” said Mr Qassim, looking out on the bustling midday traffic. “In the past, fashion stores used to put up Baba Noel and a tree in front of the shop. But out of respect, many families will not celebrate because of the Ashoura and to sympathise.
by Robert Spencer
Christians in the Iraqi city have opted not to celebrate Christmas this year, since Ashura, a major Shi’ite day of mourning, falls on the same day. So out of “respect” for the local Shi’ites, Chaldean Catholic Bishop Imad Al Banna asked all Christians in Basra not to engage in any public celebration of Christmas, and not even to entertain guests or show any joy in the day.
Would Shi’ites curtail one of their celebrations to show similar “respect” to the Christians? Would they mute their joy on Eid al-Fitr if it began on Good Friday? And what would happen to these Christians if they failed to show this “respect”?
Meanwhile, Christians are still streaming out of Iraq in such large numbers that the ancient Christian community is on the verge of extinction. Islamic jihadists last week attacked churches and Christian schools in Mosul, with forty people killed in bomb attacks and random Christians targeted for violence on the streets. This is after jihadist violence late last year killed forty and drove 12,000 Christians from the area. “It is terrible,” one Mosul Christian told the Times of London: : “Most of the Christians are staying at home, or when they go out they watch their backs.” A member of another religious minority, the Yazidis, who lives in a Christian village remarked: “You cannot live in Mosul. Every day you find Christians being killed. Very few are still going to church. The women have to wear hijabs. They send someone first in a car to check if there is someone outside the church.”
And in Egypt, Christian Solidarity International and the Coptic Foundation for Human Rights released a new report detailing rampant abuse of Christian women by Muslims: “Cases of abduction, forced conversion and marriage are usually accompanied by acts of violence which include rape, beatings, deprivation of food and other forms of physical and mental abuse.” John Eibner of Christian Solidarity International wrote a letter to Barack Obama about the treatment of Christian women, asking him to speak out and noting: “Trafficking of Christian women in Egypt is not a new phenomenon....But this problem has now reached boiling point within Egypt’s Coptic community, which views it as symptomatic of a much broader pattern of religious persecution.” But Obama, busy courting the good will of the Islamic world, is unlikely to say anything. And meanwhile, the State Department’s 2009 report on international religious freedom noted that the Egyptian government often turns a blind eye to crimes committed against Copts -- and government officials have on occasion even participated in those crimes.
The Christians in Turkey are facing a similarly somber Christmas. “We are treated,” said the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, “as citizens of second class. We don’t feel that we enjoy our full rights as Turkish citizens.” Yet “we prefer to stay here, even crucified sometimes.”
From where does the Islamic animus toward Christians come? Certainly Islamic jihadists despise Christians based on Koranic imperatives -- verses that say that those who “call Christ the son of Allah” are under “Allah’s curse” (9:30), and that command Muslims to “fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day...(even if they are) of the People of the Book” -- that is, primarily Jews and Christians (9:29). Islamic apologists in the West assure non-Muslims that Muslims do not take such passages literally today, yet the daily news contradicts them. Muslims in far too many areas of the world are growing increasingly less tolerant toward their non-Muslim neighbors.
these incidents have received only scant attention in the mainstream media. And not only the international media, but also the human rights establishment and the United Nations, continue to take no notice. In their conceptual framework, only Westerners can do evil, and Christians cannot possibly play the role of victim.
The sooner the world casts off these Leftist/jihadist fantasies, the better off we’ll all be – not just Christians. But this Christmas, in the meantime, will for Christians in Islamic lands be one of the saddest ever.
By BUSHRA JUHI
Friday, December 25, 2009
BAGHDAD -- Iraqi officials say a roadside bomb has killed four Shiite Muslim pilgrims in the latest violence targeting Shiites during the observance of their religious holiday.
A policeman in Sadr city in eastern Baghdad said Friday's bomb injured 13 and killed four pilgrims in a procession marking the ten-day Shiite festival of Ashoura. The men were beating their chests and using chains to beat their backs to show their grief over the 7th-century killing of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.
A medic and another policeman confirmed the number of casualties.
All spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.
Ashoura processions are often targeted by insurgents who hope to fuel sectarian violence.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
BAGHDAD (AP) - A handful of Iraqi Christians and Shiite Muslims got into a dispute Friday over decorations in a northern Iraqi town during their coinciding religious observances, officials said.
Iraqi troops were deployed and a curfew was imposed in the town after three guards at a Christian church were injured during the scuffle, reflecting how concerned the government is about keeping the peace during Christmas and Ashoura, a revered Shiite annual mourning period.
Friday's confrontation in Bartela, 240 miles (390 kilometers) northwest of Baghdad, comes as thousands of Christians in Iraq tamped down celebrations to avoid offending Shiites, who are making pilgrimages to the southern holy city of Karbala to commemorate the 7th Century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein.
The scuffle began after guards at a Christian church, which was preparing for Christmas Mass, pulled down black flags hung to mark the Shiite mourning period of Ashoura, a police official said. The guards were slightly injured, he added.
After the incident, a curfew was put in place - closing stores and restaurants, the official said.
The provincial governor and police officials met with leaders of both groups shortly after the scuffle, according to a statement released by the governor's office.
"Those involved must be held accountable and must be brought to justice. They must be outsiders who wanted to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims, especially in this time," the governor's media office said.
The incident came a day after Shiite pilgrims were targeted in a handful of bombing attacks that left dozens dead. In the worst of those attacks, police on Friday raised the toll to 19 killed and 80 wounded in a double bombing in Hillah, 60 miles (95) kilometers south of Baghdad.
Thousands of Shiites are marching to the southern holy city of Karbala to observe Ashoura, the date commemorating the death of Imam Hussein in a 680 A.D. battle. His death sealed the split between Shiites and Sunnis.
Speed up welfare measures: Muslim MPs
Dec 25, 2009
NEW DELHI: Muslim members of Parliament on Wednesday met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to press for speedy implementation of the measures announced by the government for the minorities.
Led by Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman K. Rahman Khan, the delegation urged Dr. Singh to implement the report of the National Commission for Religious and Linguistic Minorities — tabled in Parliament last week — while drawing his attention to the delay in the implementation of the Sachar Committee Report on Muslims.
It wanted the government to amend the Wakf Act in line with the recommendations made by a joint parliamentary committee.
Other demands include Haj reforms, reservation for Muslims along the lines of the policy adopted in Karnataka, recognition for the Islamic banking system to encourage savings within the community, proper monitoring of the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Programme for the Welfare of Minorities, constitutional status to the National Minorities Commission, and minority status to Aligarh Muslim University and Jamia Millia Islamia.
Friday, December 25th 2009
ISLAMABAD — Pakistani police are pursuing terrorism charges against five detained American men, police said Friday, a move that could complicate efforts to bring the men back to the United States where they could also land in the courts.
The case has bolstered fears that Americans and other Westerners are heading to Pakistan to link up with al-Qaida and other militant groups, and it could test a U.S.-Pakistani relationship already made brittle by demands of the war in neighboring Afghanistan.
The young Muslim men, who are from the Washington, D.C., area have not yet been formally charged with any crime.
However, police are now alleging that the men were collecting and attempting to collect material to carry out terrorist activities in the list of recommended charges to be presented to a court, police official Nazir Ahmad told The Associated Press.
Those charges fall under sections of Pakistan's anti-terrorism law, and the punishments range from seven years to life in prison, the police official said in a phone interview.
The men appeared before a magistrate in the Punjab province town of Sargodha on Friday. Police were given 10 more days to hold them and further investigate, said Ansar Ahmad, another Sargodha police official.
The five were arrested in Sargodha earlier this month, but are being held in Lahore, the provincial capital.
Police earlier accused them of trying to link up with militant groups and intending to go fight in Afghanistan. The detainees are accused of using the Facebook and YouTube Web sites to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan.
"We have seized maps of a Pakistan air force base in Sargodha and some sensitive installations at Chashma Barrage outside the town," Nazir Ahmad said Friday. The Chashma Barrage includes a major water reservoir and large power plants that were installed by China.
He said the police had tracked down e-mails containing clues about the men's contacts with militants, but he said police are still trying to track down a Taliban recruiter called Saifullah whom they allege was in touch with the five suspects.
Officials in both countries have said they expected the men would eventually be deported back to the United States, but the latest development muddies the picture on when that would happen. Pakistan's legal system can be slow and opaque.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire declined to comment on the potential charges but confirmed that American diplomats have paid at least two consular visits to the detainees.
The men were picked up by Pakistani authorities after their worried families in the U.S. turned to the FBI to track them down.
Pakistan officials have said those detained included two Pakistani Americans, two Ethiopian Americans and an Egyptian American named Ramy Zamzam who is a dental student at Howard University in Washington.
The others were identified as Waqar Hussain, Aman Yamar, Ahmad Abdul Minni and Umer Farooq. Pakistani officials have given various spellings of their names.
FBI agents have been granted some access to the men. The agency is looking into what potential charges they could face. Possibilities include conspiracy to provide material support to a terrorist group.
Pakistan is under U.S. pressure to do more to root out militant groups that use its soil to plan attacks against Western troops across the border in Afghanistan.
Early Friday, the Pakistani army used helicopter gunships to kill at least nine suspected militants and destroyed their hideouts in the northwest's Orakzai tribal region near the Afghan border, government official Mohammed Yasin said.
Many Pakistani Taliban fighters are believed to have fled to Orakzai since the army launched a major offensive against them in the South Waziristan tribal region in October.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has also hinted the army will pursue a full-scale offensive in Orakzai. The U.N. says around 40,000 people have already fled the region.
Keep nikaahs simple: Muslim law board
Lucknow: The next time you go to a nikah (Muslim wedding) or walima (reception), chances are you might find the DJ missing, the dastarkhwan (food) less elaborate and the overall arrangement rather austere. That is if Muslims follow the guidelines laid out by the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB).
The Islah-e-Ma'ashra (social reforms committee) of the AIMPLB finalised these guidelines at the Board's meeting held here last week. Among other things related to a common Muslim's social life, the committee focused on how Muslims were organising their weddings. Several Board members expressed grave concern over the pomp and show, giving of dowry and wasteful expenditure.
The AIMPLB is telling Muslims to organise the nikah only in mosques. Under the new guidelines finalised by the Islah-e-Ma'ashra, both giving and accepting jahez (dowry) would be considered un-Islamic. Muslims are also being told to organise weddings and receptions with utmost sobriety.
The timing couldn't have been better. Muslim weddings will begin after the mourning period of Muharram is over on December 28.
"The idea is to maintain the gravity of the occasion and to ensure minimum financial burden on the bride's family," says Maulana Wali Rahmani, AIMPLB secretary and convenor of the Islah-e-Ma'ashra, who presented the committee's report. "Doing the nikah at mosques seems the only practical way of prohibiting unnecessary display of riches and glamour," he says.
"Muslims should lead a life of simplicity, austerity and honesty and present an example of being good citizens," says Begum Naseem Iqtidar Ali, the lone woman member of the AIMPLB executive. "The waves of western culture are destroying our tehzeeb... DJs, dance and even drinks have become a part of Muslim weddings... it's disgusting," she says.
The Begum, who vehemently opposed dowry at the board meet, said: "I am appalled by Muslims who say they have the money so they don't mind giving dowry... they don't realise they are setting a bad example... it's one of the worst social evils and we are trying to do away with it."
As a definitive step in this direction, the AIMPLB would also be sensitising imams and qazis (Muslim clerics who conduct weddings) to spread awareness about such social reforms in the Muslim society.
The clerics are being asked to tell the people gathered before the nikah is solemnised about the virtues of not giving or accepting dowry, and the need to cut down on excessive expenditure.
"This campaign would be possible with the help of AIMPLB members, clerics and the Muslim intelligentsia," a Board member said.
Lucknow's 'naib imam' and AIMPLB member sums it up quite simply as he says: "According to Islam, the simplest wedding is the best wedding in the eyes of Allah."
AFP 25 December 2009
KABUL: A suicide bomber with a horse and cart detonated himself on Thursday in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar, killing eight people and wounding five, a senior police officer said.
The explosion happened around 7.15 pm (2015 IST) outside the Kandahar provincial health ministry directorate and a guesthouse sometimes used by foreigners, deputy provincial police chief Sazel Ahmad Shairzad said.
"Five of the dead were killed while sitting in a car nearby," he said.
The other three dead were passers-by, he added. The suicide bomber detonated explosives on his body and in his cart after being ordered by police, who had been following him, to stop, he said.
Windows in buildings on both sides of the road were blown out, and nearby walls were partially damaged.
Kandahar was the site in late August of a massive truck bomb that killed 43 people and injured another 65, most of them civilians.
(UKPA) December 25, 2009
Pakistani police are pursuing terrorism charges against five detained American men, a move that could complicate efforts to bring the men back to the US where they could also land in the courts.
The case has bolstered fears that Americans and other Westerners are heading to Pakistan to link up with al-Qaida and other militant groups, and it could test a US-Pakistani relationship already made brittle by demands in the war in neighbouring Afghanistan.
The young Muslim men, who are from the Washington DC, area have not yet been formally charged with any crime.
However, police are now alleging that the men were collecting and attempting to collect material to carry out terrorist activities in the list of recommended charges to be presented to a court, police official Nazir Ahmad said.
Those charges fall under sections of Pakistan's anti-terrorism law.
Police earlier accused them of trying to link up with militant groups and intending to go fight in Afghanistan. The detainees are accused of using the Facebook and YouTube Web sites to try to connect with extremist groups in Pakistan and are said to have established contact with a Taliban recruiter.
Officials in both countries have said they expected the men would eventually be deported back to the US, but the latest development muddies the picture on when that would happen.
Copyright © 2009 The Press Association. All rights reserved.
Pakistan celebrates birth anniversary of Jinnah
ISLAMABAD, Dec. 25 (Xinhua) -- The 133rd birth anniversary of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the nation, is celebrated across the country on Friday, local TV channels reported.
The day dawned with special prayers in mosques for the founder of the Pakistan. The change of guard ceremony was held at Jinnah's mausoleum in the southern port city of Karachi.
A smartly turned out contingent of the Cadets from Pakistan Military Academy, mounted the guard at the Mazar of Quaid-e-Azam. Lady Cadets are also included in the contingent.
Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari urged the country to unite and reclaim the values, which Jinnah bequeathed to the nation as his heritage.
"I wish to felicitate the nation on the Quaid's birth anniversary and urge the people to forge unity in their ranks to preserve and protect their democratic and political rights and thereby make Pakistan a shining example of prosperity and progress," Zardari said in his message to the nation.
He reiterated that to strengthen democracy, Pakistan's constitution will soon be rid of all undemocratic clauses to make it truly federal and democratic in character in accordance with the vision of the founding fathers.
Separately, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani said the best tribute the country could pay to Jinnah was allegiance to the principles that he had espoused in his life and the values, which he had promoted throughout his career.
The Pakistani government has declared a public holiday on this very occasion. National flags were hoisted atop all government buildings
Governor of Sindh, the southern province, Ishrat-ul-Ebad and Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and other Sindh cabinet members visited Mazar-e-Quaid and offered prays and laid floral wreath.
Apart from this, various political, social and literary organizations have chalked out programs to mark the day. Radio and TV channels are airing special programs on the life, ideas and achievements of the great leader who led struggle for a separate homeland for the Muslims of the sub-continent, for them to establish a model Muslim state.
People from different walks of life are visiting Mazar-e-Quaidto pay respect to the founder of Pakistan.
Jinnah was born on Dec. 25, 1876, and died on Sept. 11, 1948.
December 24, 2009
DETROIT (AP) — Many Jews consider Christmas Day an opportunity to serve their community while Christian neighbors celebrate their holiday. This year, what's also known as Mitzvah Day in southeast Michigan is getting an added boost from Muslims.
For the first time, about 40 Muslims are expected to join 900 Jews for what they call their largest annual day of volunteering. Leaders say it's a small but significant step in defusing tensions and promoting good will between the religions — particularly on a day that is sacred to Christianity, the third Abrahamic faith.
Mitzvah Day, a nearly 20-year tradition in the Detroit area also practiced in other communities, is so named because Mitzvah means "commandment" in Hebrew and is generally translated as a good deed.
The new partnership stemmed from a recent meeting between members of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit — which said it was unaware of any similar Mitzvah Day alliances.
The Jewish groups organize Mitzvah Day, which consists of volunteers helping 48 local social service agencies with tasks such as feeding the hungry and delivering toys to children in need.
Victor Begg, chairman of the Islamic council, said he was seeking a public way for the two faith communities to "build bridges of understanding and cooperation," which led to joining the Mitzvah Day effort.
"The general public is what we need to give the message to, our entire community," he said.
Not only are most Muslims and Jews available to serve on Christmas Day, but leaders also recognized a shared commitment to community service. Charity in Judaism is known as "tzedakah." In Islam, it's called "zakat."
"It's an interesting parallel," said Robert Cohen, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. "Both of our faiths predispose us to engaging in this sort of thing."
Muslim and Jewish volunteers will work together at the Gleaners Community Food Bank in Pontiac, about 25 miles north of Detroit.
"We felt it was a perfect activity for people to be getting together like this because you work side by side with one or two other people as you're moving the boxes," Cohen said. "The grass-roots connection builds relationships on a personal level."
Cohen said the local bonds are important given global animosities. He said Muslims and Jews here "have serious differences about what happens in the Middle East," but that shouldn't be the only dynamic defining their relationship.
Begg added the two faiths can set an example in the Detroit area, which has historically large Jewish and Muslim populations.
"Whatever happens in the Middle East, we have no control over it," Begg said. "But here, our kids go to the same school, we work together. ... We need to focus on building an inclusive community."
Mitzvah Day is planned months in advance, so the number of Muslim participants is modest to start, but both groups expect it will grow. Next year proves challenging for Jewish volunteers because Christmas falls on a Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath.
Details have yet to be worked out, though Cohen and others are considering moving Mitzvah Day. That would give Muslims the opportunity to try a solo run on Christmas, join Jewish groups on another day, or both.
"The bottom line is we really want to do it together," Begg said.
Muslim militants release kidnapped school official in Philippines
25 Dec 2009
Zamboanga City, Philippines - Muslim militants released a kidnapped official of a state college in the southern Philippines after 14 days of captivity, a regional police chief said Friday. Orlando Fajardo was released late Thursday in Lamitan City in Basilan province, 900 kilometres south of Manila, according to police Director Felizardo Serapio.
Serapio said Fajardo, a vice president of Basilan State College, was turned over by his kidnappers to Vice Governor Rashid Sakalahul in the village of Parang Basak.
Sakalahul said the family of the victim allegedly paid 100,000 pesos (2,150 dollars) in board and lodging fee, a euphemism for ransom, which was paid in installments.
The victim was seized by suspected al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf rebels on December 10 inside his house in nearby Isabela City.
Women and girls flee region as swoop on illegal weapons starts
By HASSAN HUKA
December 24 2009
Hundreds of women and young girls have fled Isiolo and Samburu districts ahead of a police operation to recover illegal weapons because they fear they would be raped.
The women are moving to towns outside the operation zone such as Meru, Naro Moru and even Nairobi.
The operation is expected to begin today after the expiry of a deadline for voluntary surrender of the weapons.
And even though police commander Anthony Kamitu, who would lead the operation, assured the residents that the swoop would be conducted with a human face, women like Mary Lesingiran and Rosemary Asiguru, say they would not take chances with their safety.
Ms Lesingiran, a mother of two, has seen it all before during last year’s operation to recover stolen livestock. This time around, she says, no one can convince her that it will be any different.
“If looking for cattle that can’t be hidden in huts resulted in beatings and rapes, how can the operation to recover guns which can be hidden in huts be any different? It could even be worse,” lamented Ms Lesingiran, a resident of Archer’s Post.
She continued: “I’m running away because if they did anything bad to me, my husband would definitely leave me.”
Apprehension is now building among locals over the manner in which the operation will be executed, with local leaders urging the government to carry out the exercise peacefully. The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the National Muslim Leaders Forum (Namlef) have established a crisis centre where victims can file reports of human rights abuses.
Namlef regional chairman Hussein Guleid said in a press release in Isiolo that they had urged the government to conduct the operation without torturing civilians and sexually abusing women and girls.
“We support the disarmament exercise because it will bolster peace in the region, but it should not violate human rights,” the statement read.
Ms Rosemary Asiguru does not want to remember this Christmas because it has disrupted her life. She has had to run to Nairobi, where her two daughters live, instead of partying with other family members at their rural home in Ngare Mara.
“I cannot invite my daughters over because they might fall victim to sexual abuses during the operation,” she said.
Mr Abdikarim Jillo, a resident, fears that sexual abuses against women would break families. He said that most men in the area divorce women who have been raped.
“I would not live with a woman who has been raped since I’m not sure of the rapist’s HIV status,” said Mr Jillo.
However, Isiolo DC James Mwaura assured local residents that the operation will be peaceful and that they have nothing to fear, adding that any officer who would abuse civilians would be dealt with accordingly.
Three weeks ago, Defence minister Yussuf Haji warned security officers against using excessive force to disarm residents.
Mr Haji urged the officers to uphold human rights and carry out the disarmament with a human face.
On his part, Livestock Development minister Mohammed Kuti urged the government to establish a complaints office to track the activities of the officers who will carry out the operation.
But Mr Kamitu, who is drawn from the GSU, said that the operation will be safe and called on locals to cooperate with the officers.
He urged the residents to immediately report any cases of torture or rape to him or to the DC’s office to allow for timely action to be taken against the culprits.
The operation commander also warned residents against resisting police search, saying that this may lead to the use of force.
“If you engage the officers in fire exchange or develop some resistance, they will use force to conduct the operation,” he warned.
By Betsy Hiel
CAIRO — Decorated Christmas trees fill many shop windows here. At some clothing stores, the mannequins wear plastic Santa masks and black-tasseled red fezzes.
Young street hawkers thread their way through the city's manic traffic wearing Santa hats strung with blinking lights.
In the capital of the world's most populous Arab nation, it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas, more and more every year.
The holiday's gift-giving and decorating traditions have spread around the globe, even to many non-Christian nations - and an ever-growing number of Egyptians, Christian and Muslim alike, are enthusiastically adopting it as well.
Outside florist shops, you can find several types of Christmas trees for sale; native cypress, Holland fir and artificial trees made in China line the sidewalks.
Specialty shops sell handmade colored-glass ornaments and small hand-painted statues of an Egyptian "Baba Noel" (Father Noel) carrying a sack of gifts.
Greeting cards with hand-stitched designs of the Holy Family increasingly are popular; the cards are created by Christian families of the Zabaleen, the city's garbage collectors.
Although Egypt is overwhelmingly Muslim, 10 percent to 15 percent of its 80 million people are Coptic Christians. They take pride in Egypt's place in the biblical narrative as the refuge to which the Holy Family fled, to escape the pogrom of King Herod of Judea.
While Coptic and Orthodox Christians here celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7, based on the Julian calendar, many come out early to buy holiday trees and decorations.
Many Egyptian Muslims buy Christmas trees, and some celebrate the holiday as many do in Europe and the Americas.
"We always celebrate Christmas," says Dolly Degwy, 40, a Muslim artist and writer with big, brown eyes and long, curly brown hair. "It's a time of the year when we are happy. We make a point that it is the birth of Jesus."
Degwy hosts a Christmas Eve dinner for Muslim and Christian friends, although she "dropped the turkey meal years ago," and she attends a Christmas Day dinner at a Muslim friend's home.
"We don't have the equivalent of an Islamic holiday where you give gifts and decorate the house," she says. "We do it for the kids, as well."
She has two Christmas trees in her home; one is in the bedroom of her 9-year-old daughter, who "gets to gussy it up the way she likes to," says Degwy, speaking with a slight British accent. "We have loads of gifts under the tree."
On the sidewalk outside the Gardenia florist shop, a wide selection of Christmas trees is mixed with cypress-leaf advent wreaths, Chinese-made ornaments and rice lights, and poinsettias imported from Holland.
Ala Rady, the shop's manager for 30 years, says tree sales were down this year.
"We used to get the big trees from Holland. Now we don't get too many, because they cost too much, and people aren't buying them." The trees can cost 1,000 Egyptian pounds, or $181.
More Egyptians than foreigners buy his trees, he says, explaining that "Muslims also like the tree for a new year's celebration. Everyone likes to celebrate Christmas, just like Christians celebrate our holidays."
The best-selling trees this year?
Artificial trees made in China, because they are cheaper and can be reused next year, he says. "Everything is coming from China. There is a joke that one day we will come home and find out that our spouses are Chinese."
An abundance of Christmas decorations spills from the Gift and Toys shop on the packed main thoroughfare of Zemalek, an upscale island neighborhood. A red-and-gold "Merry Christmas" sign hangs above the shop's door next to a Santa in a sleigh; reindeer are strung along a wire line into the top of a nearby tree.
A near-life-sized wooden nativity crèche fills one front window. Three more nativity scenes, all imported from Italy, are inside, along with Chinese-made decorations. "What Child is This?" and "O, Little Town of Bethlehem" play from the store's loudspeakers.
"Muslims will buy everything except the nativity scenes and religious icons — but the Santas, trees and ornaments they buy," says salesman Hussein Salah.
Dagwy, who says she doesn't have a typical Muslim outlook, explained that Muslims who celebrate Christmas may have spent time in the West or married Christians. "We went to church schools and grew up among Christians," she said. "Most Muslims don't look at Christmas that way but we are very eclectic, religiously."
Muslims believe Jesus was a prophet but that Mohammed was the final prophet, she said. "The nativity story is in Islam ... Jesus was a little more than a prophet, if you look in the Quran."
Posted: December 25, 2009
© 2009 WorldNetDaily
Radical imam tells news service of exchange with Fort Hood suspect
A radical Islamic imam says Fort Hood terror attack suspect Nidal Malik Hasan asked him, in an exchange of e-mails, about the Muslim perspective on killing U.S. soldiers.
Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan
The report comes from the Middle East Media Research Institute, which cited statements imam Anwar al-Awlaki made to the Aljazeera news agency.
Al-Awlaki told the interviewer Hasan initiated the e-mail exchange, and he "was asking about killing American soldiers and officers. [He asked] whether this is a religiously legitimate act or not," he said, according to the report.
Hasan has been charged with multiple criminal counts, including murder, for the Nov. 5 attack in which he reportedly shouted "Allahu Akbar" and starting shooting at soldiers at a processing center at Fort Hood.
Thirteen adults and one unborn baby were killed in the attack, and several dozen more were injured. Hasan himself was shot and remains hospitalized. He reportedly was paralyzed from his injuries.
President Obama has encouraged Americans not to jump to conclusions about the attack by the radical Muslim who had lectured fellow Army officers on the need to submit to Islam.
Al-Awlaki told Aljazeera he wondered why U.S. intelligence agencies didn't pick up on Hasan's statements.
"I wondered how the American security agencies, who claim to be able to read car license plate numbers from space, everywhere in the world, I wondered how [they did not reveal this]," he said.
Get "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That's Conspiring to Islamize America," autographed, from WND's Superstore.
Along with asking for an edict regarding the possibility of a Muslim soldier killing his Army colleagues, Hassan clarified his position regarding the killing of Israeli civilians," al-Awlaki said.
"He was in support of this, and in his messages he mentioned the religious justifications for targeting the Jews with missiles. Then there were some messages in which he asked for a way through which he could transfer some funds to us [and by this] participate in charitable activities," he said.
MEMRI reported the Aljazeera interview was conducted by Abd al-Ilah Heider Shane in Yemen.
It continues with al-Awlaki's affirmation of the attack as "courageous."
"My support to the operation was because the operation that brother Nidal carried out was a courageous one, and I endeavored to explain my position regarding what happened because many Islamic organizations and preachers in the West condemned the operation. So it was necessary for me [to raise] a voice that is [myself] connected to the Muslims in America and the West, while at the same time is independent and explains the truth regarding what Nidal did, especially since the media tried to connect him to me from the very beginning," he told the interviewer.
He said he "blessed" the attack "because Nidal's target was a military target inside America, and there is no question about this. Then, also, those members of the military [i.e. the victims] were not regular soldiers; rather they were prepared and preparing themselves to go to battle and to kill downtrodden Muslims and to commit crimes in Afghanistan," he answered.
As WND reported, al-Awlaki previously praised Hasan as a "hero."
There were unconfirmed reports today that al-Awlaki had been killed in a military strike in Yemen. The reports said the head of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wahishi and his deputy, Saeed al-Saudi Shahrani, also apparently were killed.
Al-Awlaki was once the imam at Dar al-Hijrah Mosque in Virginia. The FBI has claimed he had a close relationship with two of the 9/11 hijackers through the mosque, but he fled the U.S. in 2002.
WND also reported a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence questioned why President Obama apparently is suppressing information from an investigation into the Nov. 5 attack.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra, R-Mich., expressed concern in a recent commentary of a "troubling refusal by Obama officials to acknowledge that the shooting likely was an act of homegrown terrorism."
"How can it be that the House Committee on Homeland Security has launched an investigation and called hearings within a week to look into the couple who crashed a recent White House state dinner, yet a month after Fort Hood there has yet to be a single congressional hearing into the Fort Hood attack?" Hoekstra said. "I fear that our nation is returning to the naive security outlook of Sept. 10, 2001, when radical Islamic terrorist attacks were considered law enforcement and criminal problems and not threats to our national security."
Hasan, a Muslim of Palestinian descent, allegedly entered the Soldier Readiness Center at Fort Hood about 1:30 p.m. Nov. 5 and, according to witnesses, took a seat at a table, bowed his head for a few seconds, then stood up and started shooting.
Hoekstra said U.S. officials "need to understand how homegrown terrorism works if we are to identify and stop homegrown terrorists before they carry out acts of violence."
"How are al-Qaida leaders and other radical jihadists recruiting and radicalizing homegrown terrorists? A principle route seems to be the Internet," he said. "We know that Maj. Hasan was in contact via the Internet with radical Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki and that Mr. al-Awlaki's sermons have influenced would-be homegrown terrorists in the United States and the terrorists who launched the deadly 2005 London subway bombings."
Jamal Ware, a spokesman for the GOP members of the intelligence committee, told WND the problem is while the investigation apparently has produced a report about Hasan, it's being suppressed by the White House.
Hoekstra "had issued a call for the intelligence community to preserve all records relevant to looking at what happened at Fort Hood," Ware said, so that the committee could review and determine what changes should be made to prevent a recurrence.
"Several days after [that], President Obama issued an order to all in the intelligence community, asking them to bring together all of their records and produce a report related to Fort Hood," he said.
The report apparently was completed by Nov. 30, but committee members still have been given no information to review, he said.
PTI 25 December 2009
PESHAWAR: To woo back tourists to one time idyllic resort called as the 'Switzerland of Pakistan', hotels in scenic Swat valley are offering a ten day free stay to visitors.
Swat was a popular tourist destination till Taliban fighters led by Maulana Fazlullah took over the place two years ago launching a campaign to enforce sharia or Islamic law.
Tourists stopped flocking the region as militants beheaded security personnel, set up their own courts and blasted girls' schools, some of them renowned all over Pakistan.
But with the Taliban evicted by the army in a military campaign, the hotel owners hope to be back on business.
At a seminar held at Madyan on Wednesday, they resolved not to levy any charges for rooms from tourists in the festivities for the new year from January 1-10 to woo back visitors.
Yemen Says It Attacked a Meeting of Al Qaeda
By JACK HEALY and SCOTT SHANE
Yemeni fighter jets, acting on intelligence provided in part by the United States, struck what the Yemeni government said was a meeting of operatives from Al Qaeda early Thursday morning, and officials suggested that a radical cleric linked to the suspect in the Fort Hood shootings might have been among the 30 people killed.
A statement by the Yemeni Embassy in Washington said the target of the airstrike was a gathering of “scores” of Qaeda members from Yemen and other countries, including the network’s two top leaders in Yemen, in a remote corner of in the country’s south. The statement said the radical cleric, Anwar al-Awlaki, was “presumed to be at the site.”
It could take days for investigators to sift through the rubble to identify the dead, and intelligence officials in the United States could not immediately confirm whether Mr. Awlaki, who was born in the United States, or any Qaeda members were among those killed.
Yemen, which has long been a haven for terrorists, has been carrying out strikes that appear to be directed against Al Qaeda’s growing presence.
The group, whose regional affiliate is known as Al Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, has mounted frequent attacks against foreign embassies and Yemeni officials in the past two years, adding to security threats in Yemen that include an armed rebellion in the north and a secessionist movement in the south.
There is no indication that the various insurgents opposed to Yemen’s government are cooperating, but the concurrent crises have weakened the state’s ability to react.
Yemeni security forces carried out airstrikes and ground raids against suspected Qaeda hide-outs last week with what American officials described as “intelligence and firepower” supplied by the United States. The assaults were Yemen’s widest offensive against jihadists in years. Government forces hit bases in Abyan, a lawless, mountainous area in the south, as well as in the city of Arhab and the capital, Sana.
The airstrikes on Thursday were aimed at a large group of Qaeda operatives who had gathered in the southern province of Shabwa to plan attacks against the Yemeni government in retaliation for the offensive last week, the Yemeni Embassy statement said.
Yemeni officials said they had made targets of the leader of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, Nasser al-Wuhayshi, and his deputy, Said Ali al-Shihri, who were believed to be at the meeting with Mr. Awlaki.
Mr. Shihri was held for five years in the American detention camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and after his release in 2007 went through a Saudi rehabilitation program. But he joined Al Qaeda after his return to Yemen, a notable failure for the Saudi program, which American officials admire.
Although Mr. Awlaki, 38, has not been accused of planting bombs or carrying out terrorist attacks himself, his online sermons champion a radicalized vision of Islam, and he has been linked to numerous terrorism suspects, including Nidal Malik Hasan, the American Army major who faces murder charges in the shooting deaths of 13 people at the Fort Hood Army base in Texas in November.
Major Hasan and the American-born cleric exchanged about 20 e-mail messages, and shortly after the shootings, Mr. Awlaki praised Major Hasan as a hero.
In an interview posted Wednesday on the Web site of Al Jazeera, Mr. Awlaki said Major Hasan had asked in his first e-mail message about what Islamic law dictated about “Muslim soldiers who serve in the American military and kill their colleagues.”
Mr. Awlaki also praised the killings at Fort Hood, saying, “working in the American military to fight Muslims is a betrayal of Islam.”
Jack Healy reported from New York, and Scott Shane from Washington. Eric Schmitt contributed reporting from Washington.
REUTERS 24 December 2009
SANAA: A Yemeni airstrike killed 30 al-Qaida militants planning an attack on Yemeni and foreign oil targets, a security official said on Thursday.
The airstrikes were in the eastern province of Shabwa and included two top al-Qaida members in the Arabian peninsula, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
The attacks took place as the militants were gathered for a meeting, he said.
Yemen, which has intensified its campaign against al-Qaida militants over recent weeks, is also facing a Shi'ite rebellion in the north and a secessionist violence in the south.
AGENCIES 25 December 2009,
SANAA: A radical Muslim preacher linked by US intelligence to a gunman who killed 13 people at an American army base is believed to have died in a Yemen airstrike on al-Qaida militants, a security official said on Thursday.
"Anwar al Awlaki is suspected to be dead (in the air raid)," said the Yemeni official, who asked not to be identified. Yemen said 30 militants were killed in the strike in the eastern province of Shabwa.
The gunman in the November 5 shooting at the Fort Hood, Texas army base, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, had contacts with Awlaki late last year, US authorities believe.
Yemeni forces, backed by US intelligence, struck a series of suspected al-Qaida hideouts in its stepped-up campaign against the terror network, the government said.
Yemen's Supreme Security Committee said airstrikes in the eastern Shabwa province targeted an al-Qaida leadership meeting that was organizing attacks. It said top al-Qaida officials were at the meeting, though it was unclear whether they were harmed.
The Pentagon recently confirmed it is has poured nearly $70 million in military aid to Yemen this year, a massive financial infusion aimed at eliminating the expanding al-Qaida safe havens in that country.
Yemen's deputy defense minister, Rashad al-Alaimy, confirmed that US and Saudi assistance had been key to the latest strikes against al-Qaida. "Yemeni security forces carried out the operations using intelligence aid from Saudi Arabia and the US in our fight against terrorism," he said.
By BARBARA SURK
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates - The Vatican's top cleric in the heart of Muslim Arabia tends to a flock of 2 million Christians spread around six desert nations. But he has to do it quietly: Most of them must still pray in secret and are forbidden to display crosses and other symbols of their faith.
From his base in the emirate of Abu Dhabi on the Persian Gulf, Archbishop Paul Hinder travels the Arabian Peninsula, even slipping in and out of Saudi Arabia - the birthplace of Islam, where restrictions on Christians are the toughest.
"We are tolerated, but not popular here," Hinder said in an interview in the archbishop's living quarters inside a Christian compound in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates.
He spoke wearing the traditional hooded robe of his Capuchin order. The white garb blends in just fine with the Arab robes worn by men in the region, so he wears it in public - but without a cross around his neck or the belt of three knots that also mark the order.
"People here know who I am, although I never wear a cross when I go outside out of respect for local conditions," said Hinter, a Swiss citizen.
Still, he says, there are signs of slow change, even in Saudi Arabia, where small groups who in the past would have been punished or deported if caught practicing the Christian services are now left in peace to pray privately.
The UAE and the neighboring Gulf nations of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman have taken greater steps. They have allowed churches to be built on land donated by the countries' rulers, though there are no outward signs that the buildings are houses of worship.
On Thursday night, Hinder led a midnight Christmas Eve Mass for several thousand the faithful at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Abu Dhabi. Reflecting the diversity of the community, more than a dozen Christmas Day services will be held for 10,000 worshippers in at least eight different languages.
The cathedral is in a downtown compound that's also home to Anglican, Greek Orthodox and Egyptian Coptic churches. Crucifixes, icons, rosaries and other religious symbols are allowed within the walled compound. But the buildings' exteriors are spare and flat-roofed, avoiding any church-like architecture.
Besides Saudi Arabia, Hinder also oversees the needs of Catholics in Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen, and Qatar. The vast majority of the region's Christians are migrants from the Philippines, India and other Asian nations, many of whom work as maids, civil servants or in lower management positions at banks and businesses.
Yemen is the only country under his purview that had indigenous Christians. Except for two priests, however, all of Yemen's 10,000 Christians, most of whom lived around the southern port city of Aden, were driven out during communist rule in South Yemen in the 1960s.
Four old churches are slowly being restored there, though it is not clear how many indigenous Christians have returned, if any.
The first Catholic church in the Gulf was opened in Bahrain's capital, Manama, in 1939. Now there are seven in the UAE, four in Oman, three in Kuwait and one in Qatar, where five churches of other Christian denominations are under construction.
With no indigenous Christians, Gulf nations have long been the toughest in the Middle East in restricting Christian and other non-Muslim religious practices, though they rarely cross the line into outright persecution. In other Arab nations, Christians practice openly - though in Egypt, with the largest Christian minority, they often complain of discrimination at the hands of the Muslim majority.
Hinter said he is careful not to do anything that could be construed as proselytizing or seeking conversions - a major taboo in Islam.
Hinter, who has been in his post for seven years, says members of his flock are tested in areas beyond religion, particularly exploitation by their employers and fear of losing their jobs in the recession. Some are not allowed to attend a church service at all by their employers, who often strictly control the lives of their maids, gardeners, cooks, drivers and nannies.
"Their struggles are enormous," Hinder said. "They are often exploited and sometimes treated as human beings of second class."
The biggest congregation - about 1.4 million Christians - live and work in Saudi Arabia, which is home of Islam's holiest cities, Mecca and Medina, and is ruled under the strict version of Sunni Islam known as Wahhabism. Hard-core Wahhabis vehemently resist any practice of Christianity or other religions in what they see as the heartland of Islam.
Hinder travels there several times a year, but only as a private citizen, not as an archbishop.
Bibles and crucifixes - and all non-Muslim religious symbols - are illegal and are confiscated at the border. The low-key Christian services that do take place cannot be led by ordained priests, so Catholics cannot attend a Mass or confess their sins.
Still, Hinter said conditions improved somewhat after Saudi King Abdullah visited the Vatican in 2007 and met with Pope Benedict XVI.
Christians now can gather in private houses in small groups for prayer, led by an unordained "community leader," he said.
"The climate is changing, but that does not mean there will be churches in Saudi Arabia tomorrow," he said.
Indonesia Backs Thailand In Solving Southern Problems
BANGKOK, Dec 25 (NNN-TNA) — Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban said on Friday Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono supported Thai government?s plan to tackle violence in the three southern border provinces.
Mr Suthep said he had discussed with the Indonesian leader during his Dec 23-24 visit to the country about insurgency and violence in Thailand’s southern provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat.
The deputy premier, who oversees national security, informed Mr Yudhoyono that the Abhisit?s administration would peacefully solve the problem of insurgency in the South while improving the people’s quality of life.
The government has set aside budgets to develop the economy and well-being of the people in the three southernmost provinces and deploy security personnel to protect local residents, according to Mr Suthep.
Mr Yudhoyono expressed concern over southern insurgency and he had closely monitored the situation there, according to Mr Suthep.
“As Indonesia has experienced similar unrests in East Timor and Aceh and understands that the problems are Thailand’s internal affairs, it fully supports Thailand while showing confidence that the Thai government was on the right track,? said the deputy premier.
Mr Yudhoyono plans to visit the southern provinces in his future trip to Thailand, Mr Suthep said, adding that Indonesia will in the meantime set up a working group to consider options to help solve Thailand’s southern problems such as handing out scholarships to Thai students and support career development schemes for local people.
In a related development, security personnel in the southernmost region has intensified security measures to prevent possible attacks during New Year holidays.
In Pattani, police has set up checkpoints and moble security units to tighten security. Earlier local police seized a five-kilogramme homemade bomb in a metal box in Mayo sub-district. Forensic officials were examining the fingerprints.
Meanwhile, a 37-year-old Muslim-Thai was shot dead at his house in Yala’s Muang district early Friday morning. The motive behind the murder was under investigation. — NNN-TNA
Sri Lankan News.Net
Thursday 24th December, 2009
Tens of thousands of security personnel are being deployed in Central and West Java to protect places of Christian worship.
The Christian community has suffered threats and assaults over the past days, extending fears that there could be a repeat of episodes of violence, similar to those of Christmas Eve of 2000.
Some Muslim fundamentalist groups have already attacked Christian places of worship, threatening congregants.
Two weeks ago the Church of St. Albert, in Bekasi regency, was attacked by thousands of extremists on the occasion of the Islamic New Year.
In the province of West Java police and army personnel have been deployed in massive numbers to prevent potential terrorist attacks.
More than 11 thousand officers, backed by the military, have been sent to central Java.
On Christmas Eve of 2000, terrorists targeted dozens of churches in Indonesia.
Indonesian police arrest top militant's relative
Indonesian police on Thursday arrested the father-in-law of a top Southeast Asian militant leader who was killed in shootout with police four months ago.
Baharudin Latief, a Muslim cleric who had been at large since July, was captured in a raid in the West Java town of Garut, said police Maj. Gen. Nanan Sukarna.
Latief's daughter Arina Rahmah married Noordin Mohammed Top in 2005. The cleric hid his son-in-law for years, Sukarna said.
Malaysian-born Noordin was blamed for a string of terrorist attacks in Indonesia that killed more than 250 people, mostly foreign tourists on the resort island of Bali since 2002. He was shot dead in a gunbattle with police in Central Java on Sept. 17.
Latief and Noordin escaped a police raid in July.
AP | Mogadishu
Witnesses in Somalia say fighting spurred by a land dispute has killed eight people. Witnesses say they saw the bodies of seven people in the street in the central town of Galkayo after shells were lobbed into residential areas. Sahara Dahir, a nurse, says an eighth person died of wounds at a hospital. Eleven others were wounded. Galkayo is split into two different administrative regions, and there is a long-simmering rivalry between the two administrations. Somalia has been ravaged by violence since warlords overthrew dictator Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991, then turned on each other. A moderate Islamist was elected President in January amid hopes he could unite the country.
Dec. 24, 2009
More than a thousand members of a little known branch of Islam are gathering this weekend in Chino. The annual retreat is a time for Ahmadiyya Muslims to reaffirm beliefs that some consider heretical.
Amjad Mahmood Khan says it’s definitely not easy being an Ahmadiyya Muslim. “They are the most persecuted Muslim community in the world. Pakistan declares this community as non-Muslim and any attempt by an Ahmadiyy to call themselves Muslim is an arrestable offense and they can be fined, imprisoned or put to death.”
Khan’s parents fled Pakistan more than 30 years ago — and like many other Ahmadiyya, they settled in Southern California. Khan is an attorney who works on asylum cases involving Ahmadiyy facing persecution in other countries. He’s also the organizer of this year’s West Coast Jalsa Salana in Chino.
“It’s an opportunity to improve one’s spirituality”, says Khan. “There’s a lot of interesting discourse on anything from the secular to the spiritual, mostly dealing with Islamic ideology, governance issues and giving back to the community.”
The Ahmadiyya branch of Islam was founded a little over a century ago by its spiritual leader Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. The Indian-born guru proclaimed himself to be the promised Messiah foretold by Muhammad. Followers say Ahmad was sent to purge Islam of radical beliefs and restore its true and essential teachings. Ahmad condemned “jihad by the sword” and openly embraced the teachings of Jesus, Krishna and Buddha.
Amjad Mahmood Khan says those beliefs can draw scorn from other Muslims.
“That finality of prophet concept in Islam is so sacrosanct that if any Muslim community believes that there is anyone who came after Muhammad, that is essentially heretical — no matter how peaceful the teachings are. Our response is that he actually came to resurrect the peaceful teachings that we believe Muhammad taught. And I think it’s because of that ideological belief that the Ahmadiyya community is ostracized.”
Khan says the Ahmadiyya have won greater acceptance from Muslims in the U.S. than in countries like Pakistan or Indonesia. In fact, some of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad’s pacifist teachings were adopted by some mainstream American Muslims following the 9-11 terrorist attacks. An often heard credo in the Ahmadiyya community is “Love for All, Hatred for None.”
The Inland Empire Amadiyya community also won considerable local support after an electrical fire severely damaged the Baitul Hameed Mosque six years ago.
Amjad Mahmood Khan says it took years to restore the mosque. “We actually said prayers every Friday for over a year, maybe two years, at the Mormon church across the street,” remembers Khan. “It was amazing. They opened their church for us, and we offered all our services. So if you can imagine 5 or 600 Muslims every Friday at a Mormon church!”
The Baitul Hameed Mosque is hosting the annual “West Coast Jalsa Salana” for first time since that fire. It runs through Sunday. About 1,500 people are expected to attend.
Dec 24, 2009
Amman - A total of 24 Islamists on Thursday went on trial before a criminal court, charged with corruption linked with their running of the Islamic Centre Society (ICS) which was dissolved three years ago, judicial sources said.
The defendants pleaded not guilty, saying the case against them was motivated by political objectives, the sources added.
Before its dissolution, the ICS represented the financial arm of the influential Muslim Brotherhood movement.
The society, which administered more than 1 billion dollar worth of assets, ran scores of schools, health establishments and social centres.
The ICS was dissolved by the government of former Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit in 2006 at the height of differences with the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm, the Islamic Action Front (IAF).
The government at that time charged ICS officials of corruptive practices, but Brotherhood leaders contended that the step was designed to deprive the Islamic movement of the backing it traditionally enjoyed among beneficiaries from the ICS services.
The move was widely believed to have been one of the key reasons behind the bad showing of the IAF in the November 2007 elections, when the country's largest political party returned only six deputies compared with 17 MPs in the previous lower house of parliament.
London : Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday mocked US President Barack Obama's "extended hand" offer made earlier this year and said his country's cooperation on its nuclear programme had been spurned.
The US president had been a disappointment to the world, Ahmadinejad said in an interview with Britain's Channel 4 News, a full transcript of which was later posted on its website.
He once again dismissed a year-end deadline on a UN-drafted fuel deal, saying it was "meaningless". The deal requires Iran to ship most of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad in exchange for fuel for a Tehran research reactor.
The United States has made it clear it intends to pursue harsher sanctions against Iran in the United Nations if Iran fails to meet the deadline.
Ahmadinejad said Iran had made the proposal, and according to the regulations the offer of fuel was unconditional.
"But they are insisting that to have conditions for giving us the fuel -- political conditions I mean -- while the exchange of fuel is a technical job. I have not yet heard anybody who has given a deadline for this because it is meaningless."
Iran says its uranium enrichment programme is solely aimed at generating electricity so it can export more gas and oil. The West believes Iran wants to make atomic bombs.
"I think it has become an old issue to talk about the nuclear programme," Ahmadinejad said.
"The story of these claim(s) of US and its allies have turned into a TV series."
He said Iran would not accept a policy of "intimidation and aggression" from the United States, and warned if the major powers did not accept the offer, Iran would produce 20 per cent grade uranium.
The president said Iran had told the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) about the uranium enriching facility at Qom a year before the activities started "but unfortunately they have misinterpreted our cooperation".
"When you cooperate the reactions are negative," he said. "What does that mean? Does it mean we should not cooperate at all? We are keen to have friendly relations with all. But the basis of judgment and cooperation is on a legal basis."
Ahmadinejad rejected Obama's speech in which he said "if countries like Iran are willing to unclench their fists, they will find an extended hand from us".
"Which hand did he extend? His right hand or left hand?" Ahmadinejad asked.
"Who has extended his hand in practice? He extended the sanctions against us. What step has he taken?
"We are concerned about his avenues -- he has failed to meet the expectations of the people in the US and the people of the world."
Tehran : Iran has confirmed that a daughter of al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has turned up at the Saudi Embassy in Tehran, but said it does not know how she entered the country.
A Saudi newspaper reported Wednesday that Bin Laden's 17-year-old daughter, Eman, went to the embassy after eluding guards in Iran who have held her, her sister and four brothers under house arrest for eight years.
It has long been believed that Iran has held in custody a number of bin Laden's children since they fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion of that country in 2001 most notably Saad and Hamza bin Laden, who are thought to have held positions in al-Qaida.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on a TV talk show yesterday that Iran had no idea Eman was in the country until it heard from the embassy that she was there.
Mottaki said if Iranian authorities are able to confirm her identity she would be free to leave Iran.
"Some time ago, the Embassy of Saudi Arabia informed us that one of the daughters of Bin Laden is in the embassy," Mottaki said. "We don't know how this person went to the embassy or how she entered the country."
Mottaki made no mention of the other Bin Laden children and he was not asked on the TV program whether Iran was holding them.
Iran banned memorials for the country’s most senior dissident cleric and reiterated a stern warning to the Opposition on Thursday, after days of services in honor of the spiritual leader turned into street protests against the Government. A commemoration had been planned for Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri in the town of Kashan, 135 miles south of Tehran, according to reformist Web sites.
But a large banner was put up in the town proclaiming that the Supreme National Security Council has banned any memorials for Montazeri except in the holy city of Qom and the cleric’s hometown of Najafabad. The Web site Parlemannews carried a photo of the banner in Kashan.
The death on Sunday of the 87-year-old Ali Montazeri, a sharp critic of Iran’s leaders, has given a new push to opposition protests, which have endured despite a heavy security crackdown since disputed presidential elections in June.
Iran has been in turmoil since the vote, which the opposition alleges Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by fraud. On Wednesday, a memorial for Montazeri in the central city of Isfahan turned into anti-government demonstrations, and mourners clashed with riot police. At least 50 were arrested, according to reformist Web sites.
Security forces and hard-line militiamen assaulted the crowd gathered at Isfahan’s main mosque for Wednesday’s memorial, beating men and women and firing tear gas to disperse them. The reports could not be independently confirmed since authorities have banned foreign media from covering protests.
HILLA: Twenty-seven people were killed and more than 100 wounded in a string of attacks across Iraq on Thursday ahead of Christmas and the Shiite commemoration ceremonies of Ashura.
In the worst attack, 15 people including a provincial councillor were killed and 70 wounded when twin bombs struck outside a busy bus station in Hilla, south of Baghdad, Iraqi officials said.
"Fifteen people, including provincial councillor Neemat al-Bakri, were killed and 70 wounded in the explosion caused by a car bomb and a mine," said an interior ministry source.
Bakri was a member of the multi-confessional alliance formed by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to contest parliamentary elections scheduled for March next year.
Also identified among those killed was Colonel Taleb al-Shamri, a police officer in charge of local efforts to eradicate improvised explosive devices.
The attack took place in a car park in the centre of Hilla, a mainly Shiite town that is the capital of Babil province.
Witness Fadel Hassa, 25, who has a shop nearby, said a car had stopped at the Babel Hussein bus station around 1:30 pm (1030 GMT) and that the explosion occurred within moments.
"A few minutes later... police came to disarm a bomb placed some 20 metres (yards) from the site of the first attack, and it exploded as they arrived, causing numerous injuries among passersby and the police."
In the sacred Shiite town of Karbala, 110 kilometres (70 miles) south of Baghdad where pilgrims were converging for Ashura ceremonies culminating on Sunday, a bomb killed one person and wounded 12, security sources said.
The late afternoon attack occurred despite the deployment of 20,000 police.
In Baghdad, eight people were killed and 30 others injured when two explosive devices went off earlier in the afternoon.
The first bomb was attached to a car near a commemoration ceremony in Sadr city, the poor Shiite neighbourhood north of the capital, leaving five dead and 25 wounded, according to a military spokesman.
The second, which killed three people and injured 20, exploded in Zafraniya, south of the city centre, where a preliminary Ashura ceremony was also taking place.
Ashura, which means tenth in Arabic, falls on the tenth day of the Muslim month of Muharram and commemorates the death of Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Tradition holds that Hussein was decapitated and his body mutilated by the armies of Sunni caliph Yazid in 680 AD.
In Mosul, 350 kilometres (220 miles) north of Baghdad, a 23-year-old Christian, Bassel Icho Yuhanna, was killed when gunmen opened fire on his minibus as he was parking it in front of his house in the east of the city, police chief Mohammed Jassem said.
In Kirkuk, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Baghdad, local army captain Zamel Mohammed was killed in a bomb attack on his car as he was driving through the north of the city.
In Sharkat, 290 kilometres (180 miles) north of Baghdad, a member of the Sahwa anti al-Qaida militia group was killed and three of his comrades wounded when gunmen opened fire on their checkpoint.
The Sahwa, known as the "Sons of Iraq" by the US army, joined American and Iraqi forces to wage war in 2006 and 2007 against al-Qaida and its supporters, leading to a dramatic fall in violence across the country. But attacks remain common in some areas.
25 December 2009
TEHRAN: Iran will from next month ban banknotes which have been scribbled upon, Iranian media reported on Thursday, a move one website said was in response to the appearance of political slogans on some of them.
Expressions in support of moderate opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, such as "Oh Hossein, Mirhossein", have occasionally been cropping up on the Islamic Republic's banknotes since its disputed election in June. Other, non-political scribbles are frequently seen on various denominations, which all carry the image of late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
"Banknotes on which there are writings or are stamped or have any additional signs will be invalid," the Jam-e Jam daily quoted central bank official Ebrahim Darvishi as saying.
He called on the public and shop owners not to accept such notes from Jan.8, it said. State radio also carried the report. The Ayande website, seen as close to conservative politician Mohsen Rezaie, said in a headline about the move: "The central bank's reaction to the writing of slogans on banknotes."
In October, daily Mardomsalari quoted Tehran city council member Morteza Talai as calling for the invalidation of notes "with the slogans and messages of counter-revolutionaries," an apparent reference to Mousavi supporters.
Iran plunged into political turmoil in June after a presidential poll which the opposition said was rigged to secure the re-election of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The authorities deny the vote rigging charges.
"Montazeri is not dead," said a slogan on a 20,000-rial note, after Saturday's death of Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri.
By Rob Walker
At the church of the Virgin Mary in Baghdad, hymns sung in the ancient Aramaic language float through intricately carved wooden doors into a small courtyard outside.
They mix with religious songs blasted from the loudspeakers of a mosque opposite.
Next to the church, two Muslim women, veiled in black, wait for their turn to light candles to the Virgin Mary.
In Iraq, Christians and Muslims have worshipped side by side for centuries.
But half of the congregation of the Virgin Mary church have fled in recent years.
"They have gone either to the north of Iraq or to other countries because of the situation, the car bombings and kidnappings. There is no security, no peace," said Auxiliary Bishop, Shlemon Warduni.
Outside the gate, a group of policemen stand guard. Earlier this year, a car bomb exploded right in front of the church.
Iraq's defence ministry has said that the army will be on high alert this Christmas. It said it had received intelligence indicating Christians could be attacked.
On Wednesday, two people were killed when a bomb exploded outside a church in the northern city of Mosul, one of the latest in a series of attacks against Christians there in recent months.
According to some estimates, half of Iraq's Christian minority have left their homes since the American-led invasion in 2003.
Leila Paulos is about to join them. This will be her last Christmas in Baghdad.
Her son, Seevar, was kidnapped by criminals, and only freed after the family paid a ransom.
For Leila it was the last straw. In a few weeks, her family leave for Sweden.
"Of course, its sad to leave Iraq. Its the country of our ancestors, but there's nothing we can do. Most of the Christians who live in our neighbourhood have left."
But there are some signs things are improving. Baghdad is much safer now than two years ago.
In the centre of the capital, Christmas decorations are on sale in a way that would not have been possible during the worst of the violence.
It's not just Christians buying them.
Two laughing Muslim women show me the contents of their bulging shopping bags: a bright red plastic Father Christmas, and Christmas tree decorations.
"Christmas is for everyone, we celebrate Christmas and New Year's Eve just like the Christians," they tell me.
They hope the Christians who have fled Iraq will come back.
"This is their country. It's not for the Muslims, it's for Christians and Muslims. Iraq used to be a country of all Iraqis, and we hope it will be again."
It may take time for those hopes to be realised. But some Christians have returned to their homes in Baghdad.
'Yearning for Iraq'
Intisar Shawkat Jirjees achieved the dream of many Iraqi Christians: a home and a garden in a safe suburb in America.
But Intisar says she found life difficult in America. This month she moved back to Baghdad with her daughters.
"We felt a yearning for Iraq. We missed the people and their kindness. We missed the soil and the trees, and I missed my neighbours," she said.
This will be the family's first Christmas back in their home in Dora, a neighbourhood in Baghdad which saw some of the worst of the sectarian violence. Most of the Christians fled.
Intisar hopes things are better now.
"Most of my neighbours are Muslims. When I came back they took me by the arms, and they said they'd missed me."
It is not just Christians who have faced the threat of kidnappings or bombs since 2003.
Despite the improvements in security, Iraqis of all faiths are still afraid of when and where the next explosion will hit.
"Our situation is Iraq's situation," said Bishop Warduni. "Now we pray the situation will become better."
The future of Iraq's Christians is tied to the rest of Iraq. It is a future which is still uncertain.
Jinnah: The Man of the Hour
Much has been written about our Quaid, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, about the amazing leadership qualities that he possessed and the determination and strength with which he fought for the attainment of an independent State for the Muslims of the subcontinent. His personality and his grace won the admiration of friends and foes alike.
However, there is a section of Pakistani society that deems Jinnah irrelevant to the present day Pakistan and does not miss any opportunity to belittle the impact that this great man had on humanity. There is a reason for this charade; Jinnah is a threat to the self-proclaimed ‘democratically elected’ leaders of Pakistan who are steeped in corruption and nepotism. In the Pakistan of today, we see political parties loyal to ‘Quaid-e-Awams’, each focusing on their own particular mantra or slogan, each waving their own flag. The one leader who united us, who taught us the meaning of dignity and courage, is missing not only from the walls of the President House, but also from the hearts and minds of the sheeple who blindly follow these so called leaders. This particular section of society seems to think that Pakistan was created for the elite. The concern that Jinnah had for the Muslim Ummah, the very community that Pakistan was created for, has been set aside and the poor and downtrodden who in the words of Allama Iqbal were encouraged by Angels to ‘shake the foundations of society’ , have been forgotten. While the Pakistani elite continue to grow stronger through political alliances and inter-marriages, common Pakistanis are struggling to break away from this stranglehold.
Some of us still remember the not-so-distant past when Quaid’s dream for Pakistan to become one of the most progressive nations on earth was within our reach. In the 1960’s, Pakistan was set to become the model for developing nations. Today however, things seem entirely different. As Pakistan faces many crises, both internal and external, the entire nation is in search for ‘Salahuddin’; someone who has the moral fibre, the courage and the dignity to restore this nation’s honour, someone who is not afraid to say ’No’ to the Imperialist forces exploiting our weaknesses, someone who stands firm in the face of adversity and leads by example, someone who is self-sacrificing in every aspect of his life, someone who is not intimidated by men of power and fortune. Today, almost six decades after his passing, Pakistan is sorely missing Jinnah. This one man has left us with a legacy unmatched by any other in the history of the Modern World.
Still, there is a side to this man that his nation is not fully aware of, an aspect of his personality that is still hidden from the majority of Pakistanis, and that is his utmost love and respect for the Holy Prophet (SAW). In Jinnah’s own words:
“I thought of seeing the various Inns in London and meeting students studying there in order to make up my mind in advance. My inquiries and discussions made me decide for another Inn than Lincoln’s. But then I had seen the name of our great Prophet engraved on the main entrance of Lincoln’s Inn among the greatest law-givers of the world. So I made a sort of ‘Minnat’ or vow that I would join the Lincoln’s Inn”
This is the level of devotion that he had for Rasul Allah (SAW). How could such a man not be relevant to the present day Pakistan; a country that was created in the name of Allah and his Beloved (SAW). Jinnah, the spiritual man, was a gift to this Ummah, a gift that we need to be thankful for in every way we can, and the best way to do that is to benefit from his wisdom and incorporate in us, the principles that he strongly adhered to.
Today, as our nation struggles to understand and recapture its place among the nations of the world, Jinnah’s words are as relevant as they were all those years ago. Giving hope to the Muslims of the sub-continent in their darkest hour, he said:
‘Only one thing can save the Musalmans and energise them to regain their lost ground. They must first recapture their own soul and stand by their lofty position and principles which form the basis of their unity, and which bind them in one body-politic.’
In the above lines is the wisdom behind the creation of Pakistan which was for the Muslims to find their own selves, to envision themselves as a powerful and strong nation and then to re-group and re-emerge, in the words of Iqbal ‘to form a living family of nations’.
Pakistanis as a nation, as a collective entity know that the time is now and we have to re-organize ourselves and focus on the challenges that we face today. There was nothing co-incidental about the creation of this Land and the amazing gift that was given to the Muslim Ummah in the form of Jinnah. He is the man for this century and the man of the hour.