25 December 2007

Closed banks a headache for Zimbabweans

Even though Gideon Gono, the governor of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, promised on Christmas Eve that banks would stay open across the country on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, Zimbabweans have found their banks closed today. The country has lately been going through a cash shortage, and the closure of the banks means that the few ATMs there are in Zimbabwe are unable to cope with the demand. This left customer queueing up instead of celebrating the holiday at home.

Tawanda Moyo, a teacher lining up at an ATM, said
I was hoping to find a shorter queue since it's Christmas, but it seems everyone has come out. After a year in which the struggle to survive got harder, one expected to rest through Christmas, not to be queuing for hours (BBC).
Just one more reason why Mugabe should resign and finally hand over power to people who may do something good with it.

Pope prays for peace

In his annual "Urbi et Orbi" (to the City and the World) speech, Pope Benedict XVI has called for a peaceful resolution of conflicts raging in Israel, Palestine, Iraq, Africa and other places. He also spoke out against terrorism, and against violence towards women and children.

The Pope called on politicians to "seek and find humane, just and lasting solutions" to conflicts that are "destroying the internal fabric of many countries and embittering international relations". The Pope also prayed for consolation to be given "to those who live in the darkness of poverty, injustice and war" (BBC).

Bigger celebration in Bethlehem this year

According to the Mayor of Bethlehem, Victor Batarseh, 25,000-35,000 "pilgrims and tourists" visited his city on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day this year. This is twice as high as last year's numbers.

As Bethlehem shopkeeper Jacques Aman put it, "This year is very much better than the last seven years for tourism. The atmosphere is better in general. There is relative calm, from the security standpoint."

After praying at the Midnight Mass, President Mahmoud Abbas, who is a Muslim, "We pray next year will be the year of independence for the Palestinian people."

Michel Sabbah, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, said during the Midnight Mass that "This land belongs to God. It must not be for some a land of life and for others a land of occupation and a political prison" (BBC).

Merry Christmas!

I would like to wish all my Catholic and Protestant readers a Merry Christmas!

During this joyful season, let us remember the ties that bind together those who believe in God and Jesus (pbuh).

You can see some pictures showing Christians celebrating Christmas in nine different countries around the world here.

23 December 2007

Suicide bomber kills 50 worshippers in Pakistan

A suicide bomber detonated his weapon in the midst of worshippers celebrating Eid al-Adha at a mosque near Peshawar, Pakistan on 21 December, killing at least 50 people and injuring around 100. He was apparently to be targeting the Aftab Ali Sherpao, a former interior minister unpopular in some quarters in Pakistan due to the military campaign he waged against Islamist rebels (BBC).

If the perpetrators bomb fellow-Muslims on Eid, what remains to be said about the state of their morals?

22 December 2007

Eid mubarak!

I would like to wish all my Muslim readers a happy Eid al-Adha!

Here are some pictures of Muslims celebrating Eid in different parts of the world.

18 December 2007

Bangladeshi Muslim helps Jews under attack

Hassan Askari, a 20-year-old Bangladeshi accountancy student living in New York, is being hailed as a hero in New York after he helped rescue a group of four Jews from 14 Christian assailants who attacked them on the Subway.

When a member of the Christian group wished the Jewish passengers a merry Christmas, two of them replied with "Happy Hanukkah." According to the group of Jews, the Christians were not happy to hear that, and started assaulting the Jews, both physically and verbally, with the insults focusing on the victims' Jewish faith.

At that point, Askari stepped into the fray and pushed one of the Christian attackers. As a result, in Askari's words, "They grabbed me and punched and beat me up." He suffered bruises to the eyes and nose.

About protecting the Jewish victims of the attack, Askari says ""I just did what I had to do…. My parents raised me that way.... In Islam it teaches you to be helpful to your fellow man, to be kind, courteous."

According to Walter Adler, 23, one of the Jewish victims of the attack, "A random Muslim guy jumped in and helped a Jewish guy on Hanukkah - that's a miracle. He was the only person to help us…. He's basically a hero."

As a result of Askari's action, Adler managed to pull the emergency brake of the train. The police entered the carriage at the next station and arrested ten of the attackers.

Meanwhile, Askari celebrated Hanukkah with Adler the day after the incident (Al Arabiya).

Subhan Allah. This sort of story brings hope of a greater degree of understanding between Muslims, Jews and Christians, an understanding that may exist in many cases on a day-to-day level, but is often hidden underneath sensational news of discord.

A handful of Belarusians takes part in Hajj

A small number of Belarusians and foreigners residing in Belarus are taking part in the Hajj this year. The first time Belarus sent a Hajj delegation after independence in 1991 was in 1998. The largest number of Belarusian pilgrims so far -- over ten people -- went on Hajj in 2002.

There are thought to be over 30,000 Muslims in Belarus (BELTA).

The standard quota for non-Saudi Muslims is one Hajji per 1,000 Muslims, so Belarus ought to be sending 30 people or more each year. I think it's financial difficulties that make this figure hard to reach.

26,000 Russian pilgrims go on Hajj

A record 26,000 pilgrims from Russia have gone on Hajj this year, after Saudi Arabia raised Russia's quota from 20,000. Chechnya alone accounts for 3,000 pilgrims.

Abdul-Vakhed Niyazov, head of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Russia, observed that
This year, because of religious consciousness, the end of violence in the North Caucasus and in Chechnya in particular and the current growth of people's well-being, people can just allow themselves to do this.
Russia currently has 4,000 mosques, up from the 90 it had at the end of the Soviet era, and Islam is undergoing something of a revival there.

Rushan Abbyasov, director of international relations for the Russian Council of Muftis, observed that Hajjis from other parts of the world are still getting used to the presence of Russian pilgrims. According to him,
"A good many people are surprised that there are Muslims in Russia" (International Herald Tribune).

17 December 2007

Volunteers look for tampered Santa Claus letters

After 15 children in Ottawa recieved letters from Santa Claus containing vulgarities, 12 volunteers got together at the Canada Post headquarters in the Canadian capital to inspect 1,500 letters written by other volunteers and due to be sent to children in response to the letters they write to Santa Claus. No new letters containing unfriendly messages or swear-words were found.

A million Canadian children get letters from Santa Claus, written by volunteers across Canada, each year (Ottawa Citizen).

16 December 2007

Secret funeral held for Aqsa Parvez

The family of Aqsa Parvez, the 16-year-old Muslim Canadian girl who was allegedly strangled recently by her father, moved her funeral on 15 December without informing other mourners of the fact. As a result, when Aqsa's friends and teachers gathered at the Islamic Centre of Canada in Mississauga in the afternoon, they were told that the funeral had already taken place, and that Aqsa had already been buried.

According to an employee of the mosque bookstore, "this was all just set up as a decoy for the media". The bookstore worker said this an hour and a half before the funeral was scheduled to begin, which lends credence to this version of events. Many mourners were left frustrated by the sudden move.

The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) later held a vigil in honour of Aqsa. According to CAIR-CAN spokeswoman Maryam Dadabhoy,

We're not here to talk about religion or culture – it has nothing to do with it – we're just here based on the fact that she lost her life and we just want to work towards stopping this from happening in the future

Farheen Khan, president of the Toronto chapter of the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals (CAMP), said that "there's a certain stigma attached to reaching out" to victims of domestic abuse within the Muslim community in Canada, and that more needs to be done "to build that awareness that there are services – that this doesn't have to be the way it has to end" (Globe and Mail).

Hiding from mourners certainly doesn't make Aqsa's family look good. May justice prevail in this case.

Happy Victory Day!

I'd like to wish all my Bangladeshi readers a happy Victory Day!

You can see news reports on Victory Day celebrations here.

Visitor profile, 15 November to 14 December 2007

Welcome to the ninth installment of Notes on Religion visitor profiles!

This month (15 November to 14 December 2007):

This month, Notes on Religion received 82 visits, that is, 12% more than the previous month. The average number of visitors during this period was three a day.

Visitors came to Notes on Religion from every inhabited continent, alhamdu lillah. The largest number of visitors (44%) came from Canada, and the United States came second with 32%. The UAE came a distant third with 6%.

Within Canada, 17% of the ISPs were in Quebec.

The largest number of visitors this month (40%) was referred to the blog by Google. The most common Google search terms that brought visitors to Notes on Religion were 'rashed chowdhury blog' and 'saeed bin maktoum al maktoum married'.

The most popular browser this month was Firefox (56%). 99% of the visitors were Windows users.

Since the founding of the blog (15 March to 14 December 2007):

The total number of visitors during these nine months was 1,092. The average number of visitors was four per day.

The largest number of visitors (37%) came from Canada. The second-highest number (31%) came from the United States. The United Kingdom came third with 6%.

Quebec accounted for 65% of the visitors' ISPs within Canada.

The biggest proportion of visitors (48%) was referred to the blog by Blogger. The most common search term entered by visitors who were referred to Notes on Religion by Google was 'ishaq nizami'.

The most popular browser was Internet Explorer (53%). 93% of the visitors were Windows users.

12 December 2007

Indian judge orders Hindu gods to appear before him

Sunil Kumar Singh, a judge in Dhanbad, Jharkhand, has used newspaper ads to summon the Hindu gods Ram and Hanuman to "appear before the court personally". Earlier, he had sent them court summons through the mail, but the letters were returned. The postal authorities said that the addresses used had been "incomplete".

Singh is seeking Ram and Hanuman's testimony in a case that has remained unresolved for the past 20 years. It involves a land dispute concerning a Hindu temple dedicated to the two gods. Manmohan Pathak, the priest of the temple, says that the 1.4 acre plot the temple is located on belongs to him, as it was granted to his grandfather by a local king. On the other hand, local people assert that the temple belongs to the gods it is dedicated to. Singh wants to ask the gods their opinion on the ownership dispute.

According to Bijan Rawani, a lawyer in Dhanbad, "since the land has been donated to the gods, it is necessary to make them a party to the case" (BBC).

You can't make this stuff up! This should help the priest's case, though.

05 December 2007

Gibbons back in England after 8 days in prison

The British teacher at the centre of the teddy bear naming row in Sudan is now safely back in England. After successful negotiations carried out with the Sudanese government on her behalf by Lord Ahmed and Lady Warsi, Muslim members of the British House of Lords, Gillian Gibbons was pardoned by President Omar al-Bashir. She promptly flew back home, accompanied by the two peers.

Upon her return, Gibbons, 54, said, "I'm just an ordinary middle-aged teacher in search of adventure and I got a bit more of an adventure than I bargained for." She also encouraged someone to take up her position at the Unity Primary School in Khartoum, while she herself plans to start looking for a new job soon.

Muhammad Abdul Bari, the head of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that the 15-day sentence received by Gibbons had been "a gross overreaction".

Meanwhile, Khalid al-Mubarak, a spokesman for the Sudanese Embassy in London, "It is an unusual case, which came about as a misunderstanding which was not managed well in the early stages" (Los Angeles Times).

Thank God common sense has prevailed. My congratulations to Mrs Gibbons, her family, and the two peers.

Catholic schools in Calgary drop anti-Catholic novel

The Catholic school network of Calgary has decided to remove copies of the fantasy novel The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman from library shelves pending a review of the book's suitability for young Catholics. Earlier, some Catholic schools in Ontario decided to remove the book from their stacks as well.

Pullman is reportedly anti-Christian, and the book contains themes deemed by some Catholics to be offensive. As a result, a US organisation called the Catholic League has called for a boycott of the recent film based on the novel (National Post).

While for some this decision on the part of Catholic schools in Calgary will no doubt smack of the old days, when the Index Librorum Prohibitorum told good Catholics what they could not read, I think any school has the right to decided what reading matter is appropriate for its students. Any parents who disagree with the schools' policies can, of course, buy copies of the book or borrow them from a public library.

Shi'ite militants demand British withdrawal from Iraq

The Islamic Shi'a Resistence in Iraq, a group that was not internationally known before its kidnapping of five British men on 29 May has demanded that Britain withdraw from Iraq, threatening to kill the hostages if the demand is not carried out.

The militant group has released a video showing one of the five captives. In a written statement shown on the video, the group asks Britain to "withdraw all the thieves and the gangs that they have brought with them to plunder and squander our wealth and resources, and to return what they have stolen".

According to the British Foreign Office, negotiations have been going on quietly for some time to try to secure the five men's release (BBC).

I certainly hope the negotiations succeed.

03 December 2007

Afghans' views on women

In a survey conducted in October and November 2007, a majority of Afghans revealed that they favour many freedoms for women, but still want them to wear the burqa (PDF here).

59% of Afghans (including 51% of Afghan men) strongly support the idea of women voting. 27% (30% of men) support the idea somewhat.

38% of Afghans (including 23% of Afghan men) strongly support the idea of women working outside the home. 29% (32% of men) support the idea somewhat.

31% of Afghans (including 19% of Afghan men) strongly support the idea of women holding government office. 29% (27% of men) support the idea somewhat.

60% of Afghans (including 52% of Afghan men) strongly support education for girls. 29% (33% of men) support the idea somewhat.

At the same time, 49% of Afghans (including 56% of Afghan men and 42% of Afghan women) strongly support the idea of women wearing the burqa. 28% (29% of men and 27% of women) support the idea somewhat. Meanwhile, 4% of Afghan men and 11% of women are strongly opposed to the idea.

Afghans oppose the Taliban, want NATO to stay for now

The results of a poll conducted in Afghanistan between October and November 2007 indicate that Afghans oppose the Taliban and support both President Hamid Karzai and his American backers, along with their NATO allies. The poll, commissioned by the BBC World Service, ABC News and the German network ARD, involved interviews with 1,377 Afghans from different parts of the country.

Some results (taken from this PDF):

54% of Afghans believe their country is headed in the right direction. The biggest factor in this view is "good security". For those who believe Afghanistan is headed in the wrong direction, the biggest reason is problems with the economy.

According to 30% of Afghans, the biggest problem currently facing Afghanistan is "security/warlords/attacks/violence". According to 26%, the Taliban is the biggest problem.

"Security from crime and violence" was the biggest priority for the largest number of Afghans (28%). "Getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan" was the topmost priority for only 3% of Afghans.

15% of Afghans rate work done by the current Afghan government as excellent, and 44% rate it as good.

26% of Afghans rate work done by Karzai as excellent, and 37% rate it as good.

8% of Afghans rate the role of the US in Afghanistan as excellent, and 35% rate it as good. 21% rate it as poor.

84% of Afghans want the current government to continue ruling the country. 4% would rather have the Taliban rule.

52% of Afghans believe that the Taliban is the biggest danger to the country. 10% think the US is.

Asked their opinion about the 2001 US invasion which toppled the Taliban government, 35% of Afghans rated the intervention as very good, and 40% rated it as mostly good.

20% of Afghans strongly support the presence of US troops in Afghanistan today, while 51% support it somewhat.

25% of Afghans strongly support the presence of NATO and ISAF forces in Afghanistan today, while 42% support it somewhat.

1% of Afghans strongly support the presence of foreign "Jihadi fighters" in Afghanistan, while 13% support it somewhat.

1% of Afghans strongly support Taliban fighters, while 4% support them somewhat.

Asked whom they blame the most for the violence seen in Afghanistan today, 36% fo Afghans named the Taliban, 22% named al-Qaeda and "foreign jihadis". 16% named the US or George Bush, and 3% blamed NATO and ISAF member-states.

42% of Afghans think the Taliban have grown stronger over the past year.

60% of Afghans believe that the government should negotiate a peace settlement with the Taliban.

74% of Afghans think that attacks against US forces in Afghanistan are not justified.

77% of Afghans think that attacks against non-American NATO or ISAF forces are not justified.

91% of Afghans think that attacks against the Afghan police or army are not justified.

94% of Afghans think that attacks against officials of the Afghan government are not justified.

42% of Afghans believe that US forces should leave the country only after security is restored there.

43% believe that non-US NATO and ISAF forces should leave only after security is restored in Afghanistan.

Only 3% of Afghans think the Taliban have a "very strong presence" in their area, while 7% think they have a "fairly strong presence".

By contrast, 11% of Afghans think that US/NATO/ISAF forces have a "very strong presence" in their area, and 39% think they have a "fairly strong presence".

3% of Afghans think that "foreign jihadis" have a "very strong presence" in their area, and 11% think they have a "fairly strong presence".

35% of Afghans are very confident and 47% are fairly confident that the Afghan government can provide security in their area.

1% of Afghans are very confident and 7% are fairly confident that the Taliban can provide security in their area.

12% of Afghans are very confident and 40% are fairly confident that US/NATO/ISAF forces can provide security in their area.

2% of Afghans are very confident and 10% are fairly confident that "foreign jihadis" can provide security in their area.

69% of Afghans believe the Pakistani government allows the Taliban to operate from its territory.

62% of Afghans believe the cultivation of opium is "unacceptable in all cases".

84% of Afghans think their government should "kill off" the poppy crop.

69% of Afghans have a very unfavourable view of the Taliban, while 15% have a somewhat unfavourable view of them.

76% of Afghans have a very unfavourable view of Osama bin Laden, while 11% have a somewhat unfavourable view of them.

48% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of the US, while 17% have a very favourable view of it.

38% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of the UK, while 11% have a very favourable view of it.

49% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of Germany, while 22% have a very favourable view of it.

38% of Afghans have a somewhat favourable view of Iran, while 14% have a very favourable view of it.

63% of Afghans have a very unfavourable view of Pakistan and 16% have a somewhat unfavourable view of it.

Something Even More Magical

In other news...