Central African Republic: Muslims Being Forced To Convert To Christianity By Christian Militias

Loon Watch - 2 August, 2015 - 21:06


What if they were Muslim?


Muslims in the western part of Central African Republic are being forced to hide their religion or convert to Christianity under threat of death, Amnesty International said Friday.

Central African Republic has been rocked by violence since the mostly Muslim Seleka rebel coalition toppled the longtime president in 2013.

Widespread human rights abuses committed by Seleka led to the formation of a Christian militia known as the anti-Balaka, who have targeted Muslims and sent tens of thousands fleeing to neighboring countries.

Muslims told Amnesty International they’ve been forced to convert or hide practices.

“We had no choice but to join the Catholic Church. The anti-balaka swore they’d kill us if we didn’t,” said a 23-year-old man in the Sangha-Mbaere prefecture, whose name was not given to protect his security.

A Muslim trader said it was effectively illegal to pray.

“We have to hide, do it quickly, and do it by ourselves,” he said.

Amnesty International said the bans are happening outside areas under the protection of United Nations peacekeepers and renewed efforts must be made to protect Muslims under threat and bring back those who have fled.

“Many of the tens of thousands of Muslim refugees who were expelled from the country in 2014 would one day like to return home, but are waiting until they can do so in a safe and sustainable manner,” the report said.

A transitional government was put into place in January 2014. Presidential and legislative elections are slated for Oct. 18.

Last Update: Friday, 31 July 2015 KSA 22:42 – GMT 19:42

Maajid Nawaz: how a former Islamist became David Cameron’s anti-extremism adviser

The Guardian World news: Islam - 2 August, 2015 - 19:00

The Essex schoolboy who clashed with skinheads, joined an Islamist group and spent four years in jail seems an unlikely government ally – and he’s not short of critics

On 10 September 2001, a young British man stepped off a plane in Egypt, for a year abroad studying Arabic. When news of the most spectacular terrorist attack in history reached Maajid Nawaz the next day, he sensed it might play badly for the Islamist group of which he was a member. By April 2002, he had been picked up by the security services for his membership of Hizb-ut-Tahrir – the “Party of Liberation” – and ended up spending four years in an Egyptian jail. Since returning to Britain in 2006, though, Nawaz’s career has taken an improbable turn: he has set himself up as an expert on how to prevent radicalisation, and has even advised prime ministers and presidents, including David Cameron and George W Bush.

Nawaz likes to do things in style. In 2007, after dramatically leaving Hizb-ut-Tahrir, he decided to create an anti-extremism thinktank with his friend Ed Husain, another former Islamist. A snazzy agency was hired to design a “brand identity” for the Quilliam Foundation, named after the man who opened England’s first mosque. The logo they chose was a delicate, wispy “Q”, a calligraphic link between east and west. They picked the British Museum as a venue for its launch party; Jemima Goldsmith was among the attendees. All the more impressive given that the whole idea was hatched in the back of a clapped-out Renault Clio that had been doubling as Nawaz’s bedroom while he finally finished his degree. It’s testament to his chutzpah, but also his ability to persuade and convince, an ability that he’s been honing since he was a teenage radical, spreading Hizb-ut-Tahrir’s message.

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There’s more to the Binladins than OBL

Indigo Jo Blogs - 1 August, 2015 - 17:32

The main building and control tower of Blackbushe AirportYesterday a light aircraft crashed when attempting to land at Blackbushe airfield near Farnborough. The airfield is a former RAF base which has also been a passenger airport, but these days is used for executive jets and for pilots’ training. More significantly, there is a big car auction site next to it, which has an auction house as well as acres and acres of car park used to store the goods (cars). The aircraft came down in the middle of one of these car lots and destroyed several cars. I’ve delivered there (during a three-week period driving cars to and from that site for British Car Auctions) and my first thought was that the plane might have hit the auction house, which would have caused far more casualties, but which it did not. Anyway, the three passengers all belonged to the Saudi Binladin family, a large and wealthy Saudi family which owns, among other things, a large construction company, but whose most famous member over here was Osama, who is better known for demolition.

You may notice that I have spelled “Binladin” differently to how the name is usually spelled in the media. That is how the family spells it when they write in English. Media reports about this crash, such as this one in the Guardian and this one in the Daily Mail, said that the four people killed were relatives of Osama bin Laden, giving their relation to him rather than to his father Mohammed, who had more than one wife (I am not sure how many) and plenty of descendants. Although many Saudis sympathised with (and helped finance) the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan in which Osama bin Laden was active, after the Gulf War when the latter turned to terrorism and attacked western targets instead of Russian ones, both the Binladin family (who have substantial western connections and business interests) and the Saudi government turned against him. While any Google search for any of the Binladins will return lots of references to (and pictures of) Osama, the men are often shown in suits and ties and the women without hijab or with pretty floral headscarves, hardly a sign of a fanatically religious Muslim family, especially in Saudi Arabia.

Picture of Sana bin Laden, a middle-aged Arab woman in a floral headscarfOsama bin Laden is dead now, the organisation he ran is well-known to have lost so much ground to ISIS that its leaders are free men in some Arab countries. The other Binladins are not that well-known in the west but the fact that they are uninvolved in their late brother’s activities has been well-known for years. I don’t intend this as an advert for their corporation, which has been involved in all the religious building projects in Saudi Arabia (and the Saudis are notorious for demolishing historic buildings, including libraries, in the name of religious purism or to make way for vanity projects), though the woman killed in the crash (Sana, left) was a philanthropist known in Saudi as the “mother of orphans”, but it was not necessary to prominently report the relation of the dead in this crash to Osama bin Laden. It was newsworthy in itself that a passenger plane crashed near London with the loss of four lives, and in naming those killed, the fact that they were related to Osama bin Laden could have been mentioned in passing.

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Jewish, Muslim and LGBT communities oppose hate-crime hotline plans

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 August, 2015 - 15:43

Internal emails reveal Boris Johnson, mayor of London, intends to introduce single hotline for capital, but charities say plans will dilute community trust

London’s Jewish, Muslim and LGBT communities have joined forces to oppose plans by Boris Johnston for a hate-crime hotline, claiming it would dissuade victims from reporting antisemitic, Islamophobic and homophobic attacks at a time of rising attacks.

Not yet officially announced, internal emails from the mayor’s office for policing and crime, seen by the Guardian, reveal that Johnson is intending to introduce a one-number hotline for reporting hate crime throughout the capital.

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Obama's call to end female genital mutilation yet to reach Ethiopia's villages

The Guardian World news: Islam - 1 August, 2015 - 12:00

While some Ethiopians praise the US president’s speech in Addis Ababa, other activists are concerned his message did not reach the people who needed to hear it the most in remote, traditional villages where circumcision continues

When she was a girl, Sadiya Aliye’s genitals were cut, as she was told tradition dictated. So when she became a mother to four daughters, she put all of them through the same agonising ritual.

But attitudes, and law enforcement, are changing in Ethiopia. Aliye was arrested all four times, spent two months in jail and paid $50 fines. “I was very angry,” she recalls. “They beat me.” Her husband, the midwife and those who held down the girls were also punished.

Related: Barack Obama in Kenya: 'no excuse' for treating women as second-class citizens

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A Discussion Between Two Muslims On Jeremy Corbyn

Islamicate - 1 August, 2015 - 11:15



Salaam Sameer

I wanted to write to you why I believe Jeremy Corbyn should be the next leader of the Labour Party. After the General Election, the Labour Party has seemed to shift towards the right. Tackling issues such as tax avoidance, food banks and zero-hour contracts are no longer issues that dominate the interests of the party. The Labour Party was founded as the political wing of organised labour to represent workers and promote social justice. Jeremy Corbyn is the only leader who is committed to these principles and believes in a fairer and more equal society where work pays, and aspiration is not defined as something of a middle-class value.



Wasalaam Rabbil

Thanks for your email. The current Labour leadership contest is pretty interesting in the context of British politics as a whole. I understand your point, and one of the criticisms of Labour is that it is increasingly shifting with the prevailing wind to the right of politics, as opposed to standing up for those fundamental principles the party was founded upon, and arguing the case for them.

Corbyn is of course old school Labour, and I believe the main reason for his rise in the leadership discussion is that he seems to be an honest, genuine person, and not the typical, manufactured, ‘plastic’ politician that we have all become accustomed to. With him, what you see is what you get. I wish more politicians would be as transparent as he seems to be.

Part of me thinks he would be a good leader of the party, as he would actively challenge the Government and provide an alternative narrative, which is healthy for democracy; the other candidates just seem so weak and incapable of challenging them. However, part of me also has doubts. Would I really want Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister? Whilst there is an appeal with some of the things he says, I can’t help but feel that he’d fail miserably in trying to implement many of his proposed policies. Take free university education as an example. Free university education sounds brilliant on paper. But how would you implement that? Where would the money come from? Lets not forget that tuition fees allows universities to undertake cutting edge research, which comes at a cost, and is vital in order to remain internationally competitive. I am yet to hear Corbyn provide a cogent argument for how we would do this.



Dear Sameer

I’m glad you agree Jeremy Corbyn is healthy for democracy. People’s voices are being heard and in an age where politicians seem too disconnected and cold, there is something genuinely warm and human about Corbyn that has energised the entire leadership contest.

Corbyn has argued that education is a human right that all should be entitled to. He has announced that funding the abolition of tuition fees will cost around £10bn and he will manage this either by slowing the pace of deficit reduction or slightly raising the corporation tax (we have one of the lowest corporate tax levels in the world) thereby injecting some fairness and equality into our society. It is worth remembering that we lose around £25bn a year to tax avoidance (although this is actually a conservative estimate) while recently it was revealed that the taxpayer props up businesses with £93bn a year. So it’s quite clear that if we tackle the corporate influence over our governments, we will find there is money there to provide for free education.



Dear Rabbil

The figures Corbyn quotes seem very crude, and that is what concerns me. Slowing the pace of deficit reduction? Most Britons are concerned about this deficit that we have, and Corbyn as of yet hasn’t articulated a clear strategy as to how he would reduce this. Raising money through corporation tax is also interesting; yes we have low levels of corporation tax, but that’s what attracts big businesses to trade in the UK, and that creates jobs for people like you and me. I worry that under a Corbyn government, he would clamp down so hard on businesses that they would eventually relocate, resulting in higher unemployment and more people being reliant on the state for support; its in everyone’s interest to have as few people relying on the state for handouts surely? I would also like to hear more about how Corbyn would strike the balance between getting big businesses to pay up, whilst leaving incentives for them to remain and even expand operations in the UK.

But what you and I both agree upon is that funding free university education would be a massive financial undertaking. How would we achieve that, alongside all the other financial burdens that we have, such as keeping the NHS afloat in increasingly demanding times as a healthcare system free at the point of access? If Corbyn wishes to convert the ‘Corbynmania’ we are seeing now into something more tangible, he needs to gain credibility from the masses, and he can only do that by cogently showing where the money for his policies will come from. I don’t think he has done that yet, which is why many in his party remain unconvinced.

I feel many Muslims would welcome the fact that Corbyn would probably take the issues of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hatred more seriously than the current Government, and signs suggest he is more likely to engage with the Muslim community on these issues. However, we are yet to hear his views on an alternative counter-radicalisation strategy. Has he thought of one? Does he even think we need one?

I think the most commendable thing from Corbyn’s campaign is how he has garnered the support of younger people in society. Many of his policies have struck a cord in their hearts which is why they seem to be flocking towards him, as they have been continually ignored by mainstream politics in recent history. If Corbyn were to become Labour leader, it would send a clear message to other political parties that the younger generation have a powerful political voice, and will prompt them to take the views of younger people more seriously, as their active involvement could have the potential to change the political landscape in Britain.



Dear Sameer

Raising corporation tax only slightly, as he put it, will not turn away large businesses. Nor will raising the top-rate tax back to 50% (hardly a left-wing figure either). In addition, Corbyn has already suggested that he will clamp down fiercely on tax avoidance and corporate welfare; this is a matter of fairness, in not serving corporations but extending opportunity to all. Most people are actually hugely supportive of Britain taking a strong fist approach against businesses. In regards to finding a balance between getting big businesses to pay up and leaving incentives, should Corbyn become leader and exact his policies, then Britain will see long-term growth through huge public investment which will create a prosperous consumer society. Surely big businesses can see the benefits in contributing their fair share to create that society? The current economic plan is creating a society so disastrously unequal that soon we will reach a point where millions in a consumer society cannot actually consume because they are too poor to spend.

In regards to funding free education, once again building up the tax revenue by raising top-rate tax, corporation tax and clamping down on tax avoidance would contribute. Similarly, raising the minimum wage to a living wage would boost tax revenue by ensuring millions are earning enough to pay tax. This was actually one of the crucial reasons as to why the Tories have failed miserably in cutting the deficit, because by attacking public services and enriching the richest only, they have created a society where wealth is so unevenly concentrated amongst the wealthy few who are desperate to keep hold of that wealth rather than help the country. We cannot underestimate how much easier it would be to fund public services once we stop subsidising corporations, be it through tax credits, corporate subsidies, bank bailouts. money lended to private healthcare companies for NHS contracts or rescuing the failing railway companies. At the moment, when the government says there is no money to spend they are right: it’s because we’ve given all of it to the big cats.

In regards to Corbyn’s stance on Muslims; the crucial thing is he will end the atmosphere of hostility and persecution greeting Muslims. At the moment as a minority community, Muslims feel besieged increasingly. Corbyn has correctly identified that a crucial step to halting radicalisation somewhat is by radically changing our foreign policy plan. Young British Muslims, vulnerable to radical ideas because of their anger, feel a massive sense of injustice at what happens in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Palestine and Syria. These are not always religiously literate Muslims, but rather politically motivated individuals who build a sense of solidarity and comradeship with their Muslim brethren in the Middle-East. Why does this happen? Islamophobia plays its part. Muslims in the UK are in an identity crisis, feeling alienated and hopeless, constantly being pounded on the ropes by the media. For many young Muslims, they see Muslims suffering in Iraq and other plays and believe that Islam all around is under attack. When they see Muslims being persecuted in UK and killed abroad, and the British government involved in some way, it feeds into the “us against them” narrative spouted by Muslim extremists who provide these young, vulnerable individuals with a sense of identity and acceptance in society that we could never provide.

Corbyn I believe understands these things. His fight for social justice is so we can all have a stake in this society, and that includes young Muslims.



Dear Rabbil. 

I am yet to be convinced that Corbyn has it within him to foster a meaningful relationship with big businesses. I also disagree that most people are supportive of taking ‘a strong fist against business’. Yes, many of us are concerned about the numerous loopholes many businesses use to avoid paying their taxes, and I do believe it is important to address this issue. But most of us also realise the important role businesses play in our society. I’m not sure taking a strong fist against the private sector is the answer to addressing the very real problem of inequality that we face.

Also I think some of the language you have used against the rich within society is on the opposite end of spectrum of certain bigoted individuals in the higher echelons of society who speak in a derogatory manner about the poor. Lets not forget that the rich amongst us pay a significant chunk of the tax bill already, and their contribution in keeping our public services in working order is too often ignored. Your tone in which you seem to be despising the rich, and stereotyping them to be greedy individuals who avoid paying tax is just as bad as those who look down upon the poorest in our society as lazy benefit scroungers. There are bad people in all spheres of society, and they must equally be addressed. In fact, it is this same tone from a number of Corbyn supporters that many people find concerning.

I agree with Corbyn that we must learn the lessons from our recent past in dictating our foreign policy, and I think he raises some particularly prudent points about IS on addressing the fundamental issue of their arms supply, and the income they generate from oil. However, I am not convinced that merely addressing foreign policy will somehow make the problem of radicalisation miraculously disappear from Britain. Its much more complicated than that. I also agree that many facets of British society are going through a process of re-calibrating their identity (the Scots are a good example), and the Muslim in Britain are going through a similar process. Whilst I agree it is important for us to have compassion and continue to raise awareness about the injustices that people face all over the world, both Muslim and non-Muslim, I believe the focus of our concerns need to be for the troubles of the weakest and most vulnerable in our immediate vicinity. It is interesting that whilst many people agree that something like Zakat should be given locally, as we are supposed to ensure the needs of those amongst us are the ultimate priority before looking further afield, this sentiment doesn’t translate into the rest of our activism. This requires us to be more invested in wider society, and if Corbyn (or any other Government) was to help facilitate this process by working with Muslims, I believe it would go a long way in addressing many of the problems faced in the British Muslim community.

I think it has been very insightful to get your views, a young British Muslim, on this issue, and it will be interesting to see how events unfold in the next few months

Wasalaamu Alakum Wararhmatullahi Wa Barakatuh



Dear White Officials: Killing of Blacks is Made in the USA, Not the Middle East

Loon Watch - 1 August, 2015 - 00:04


(L) Killer cop: Ray Tensing. (R) Sam Dubose.

By  Mooneye

America is aflame due to systematic racism. Murders after murders of innocent Black Americans by authorities come to light daily. This isn’t a new phenomenon but one that is being highlighted because of the instant and quick distribution of videos caught by passerbys and/or body cameras.

Many Whites are in denial of this situation, in fact when such crimes and killings occur one often sees political officials downplay it, while right-wing sites and stations such as Fox run amok and do their utmost to blame the victims.

The recent video of University of Cincinnati officer Ray Tensing pulling over Sam Dubose and then killing him execution style has once again put in stark relief the inherent racism within the USA.

Interestingly, the Hamilton County Prosecutor, Joseph T. Deters, while noting the killing as “senseless and asinine” preceded to make his own asinine assertion, stating.:

“This doesn’t happen in the United States, OK?” he said. “This might happen in Afghanistan. People don’t get shot for a traffic stop.”

Excuse me?

Mr. Deters is supposed to be an intelligent individual, after all he is a prosecutor for the state! What explains his cognitive dissonance and bias? This DOES happen in the USA! This HAS been happening in the USA for a long, long time!

Projecting this onto other cultures with such implicit racist statements is completely ignorant and problematically feeds into the false notions of American exceptionalism and superiority over other cultures that are deemed “inferior.” What’s doubly problematic is that Afghanistan is a nation that we have invaded and occupied. Many of those killed in Afghanistan have been killed by US Army personnel!

Deters is not alone in this demeaning attitude. Recall that Sen. Lindsey Graham (a presidential hopeful), stated after the massacre of 9 Black Churchgoers in Charleston by the White supremacist terrorist, Dylann Roof, that,

“I don’t know how you can sit with somebody for an hour in a church and pray with them and get up and shoot them. That’s Mideast hate,” Graham said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “That’s something I didn’t think we had here, but apparently we do.”

No, Sen. Graham that is American Hate! This hate was born, bred and perpetrated in the good ‘ole USA. It’s time for you and others to admit and come to terms with it.

Friday Links

Muslimah Media Watch - 31 July, 2015 - 19:06
Seven Muslim women from around the world are bicycling across Iowa as a way of “promoting female sports participation as a fundamental right“. The 470-mile ride, featuring 8,500 cyclists, began July 19 and finished July 25.   In the last year and a half, as turmoil in Ukraine has dominated the news media’s attention, a [Read More...]

Why I disagree with having a women-run mosque in Bradford | Naz Shah

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 July, 2015 - 17:04
I don’t want to see even more gender segregation than there already is. We can strengthen our community by having Muslim men and women working together

On Sunday 2 August, the Muslim Women’s Council in Bradford will be holding an event to discuss its proposals for the UK’s first women-managed mosque. Some women have experienced exclusion from male-run mosques, and so on the surface this seems a reasonable way forward. Many Muslims in Bradford would agree that we need to work towards greater involvement and inclusion of women in the life of the Muslim community.

Over the years, I have come across both good and bad examples of the experience of women within the life of the mosque. Some of the bad examples include all-male committees, usually comprised of men aged over 50, as well as women’s spaces that are cramped and lacking appropriate sanitary facilities. On the other hand, I have come across Muslim organisations in Bradford that are chaired by Muslim women and in which women are involved at board level. In many mosques and Islamic centres, women play an important creative role in programming events and activities.

A space managed by only women sends out the wrong message

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Meet Bana Gora, the woman planning Britain's first female-managed mosque

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 July, 2015 - 16:35

Chief of Muslim Women’s Council, whose project is in consultation in Bradford, explains that women attending and running mosques is nothing new in Islam

In a brightly lit office in Bradford’s Carlisle business centre, on a road lined with charity shops, grocery stores and a green-domed masjid, Bana Gora and her team at the Muslim Women’s Council (MWC) are organising final preparations before a much-awaited consultation about the UK’s first women-managed mosque.

At the event on Sunday, which they expect local residents, imams and national media to attend, the community group will discuss their proposals for a mosque that will be open to all – men, women, children and worshippers of all sects, including Sunni and Shia. Prayers will be led by a male imam, yet the governance of the mosque will be run by women, in the first of its kind in Britain.

There’s lots of myths about women going to mosques: education is important. I hope it can be a safe space for ‘me time’

I know of a couple of mosques where women pretty much run the show, but in an unofficial position

Related: Muslim group to consult on plans for Britain's first women's mosque

Related: Senior Muslims call for women to have more say in communities

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I believe in an authority greater than David Cameron’s. Am I an extremist? | Giles Fraser: Loose canon

The Guardian World news: Islam - 31 July, 2015 - 14:22
In his attack on ‘non-violent extremism’, the PM forgets that had the Levellers of the 17th century not been radical or extreme, they would not have introduced England to democracy in the first place

The Church of England is the longest-running prevent strategy in history. If not from its inception, then certainly from the end of the English civil war, the big idea of the C of E was to prevent radicalisation – precisely the sort of radicalisation that led to religious people butchering each other throughout the 1630s and 40s. Its strategy was to discourage two things: big expansive politically minded theology – the sort of theology that has ambitions to change the world – and religious passion (or “enthusiasm” as it was dismissively described).

From the end of the 17th century, a new mood of religious inclusivity would dominate. Increasingly suspicious of theological dispute, the idea was to kill off God – or at least God-talk – with religion. People would all pray together, using the same form of words (the aptly described Book of Common Prayer), but be discouraged from discussing the ideological side of religion. Religion itself – going to church and so on – was reclaimable as a part of the much-needed project of national togetherness. It cemented all that one-nation, big-society stuff. But God had to be kept out of it as much as possible. Thus the formation of the English dinner party rules: no discussion of God, sex or politics. And under pressure not to “do God”, the wet non-committal English clergyman became a figure of fun – at best, a local amateur social worker, and at worst, a social climbing hypocrite. The Vicar of Dibley or Mr Collins. Thus God is defeated by religion. Indeed, one could even say that, for the English establishment, that is precisely the purpose of religion. They trap Him in boring services so that people won’t notice the revolution for which He is calling.

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The Critical Time Between Athan and Iqama

Muslim Matters - 31 July, 2015 - 06:00

As-salaamu alaykum,

Many of us enter the masjid before the time of Iqama (establishment of prayer) – or at least, we should. :) But do we know how valuable that time truly is? Do we know some of the Sunnan (Prophetic practices) that are performed during this blessed period? I will be sharing with you two beautiful ahadith that you can start applying for the rest of your life, in shaa Allah.

1) In Sahih Abi Dawood, Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhe wa sallam) said:

إن الدعاء لا يرد بين الأذان والإقامة فادعوا”

“The Duaa is not rejected between adhan (call to prayer) and Iqama (establishment of prayer) so make Duaa.” Allahu akbar! We need to start utilizing this blessed time to ask Allah for all goodness in this life and the afterlife. Also, remember me and the MuslimMatters in your Duaa :)

2) In Sahih Bukhari, Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu alayhe wa sallam) said:

بَيْنَ كُلِّ أَذَانَيْنِ صَلاَةٌ ، بَيْنَ كُلِّ أَذَانَيْنِ صَلاَةٌ ) ، ثُمَّ قَالَ فِي الثَّالِثَةِ : (لِمَنْ شَاءَ))”

“Between every two Adhans (adhan and Iqama) there is a prayer. Between every two Adhans there is a prayer. And then he said at the 3rd time (for whoever wants).” This is a prayer which the Prophet (salla Allahu alayhe wa sallam) highly recommended to all of us, and he wouldn't recommend it unless it had a lot of benefit.

There is no doubt, in shaa Allah, that if we sincerely implement the aforementioned ahadith before the time of iqama, our concentration (khushoo') during obligatory prayers would be affected positively. With that being said, let's not waste the valuable seconds before Iqama on things that can be done after prayer. Be patient and seize the moment!

May Allah bless you and accept from you. Feel free to share this post with your friends and family.

Wassalaamu alaykum.

NYTimes: Russia Sees a Threat in Its Converts to Islam

Loon Watch - 31 July, 2015 - 00:34


Russia generally doesn’t have a problem with Muslims as long as they aren’t ethnic Russians, then you are likely to be branded a terrorist and hounded by the state.

By David M. Herszenhorn, NYTimes

ERZURUM, Turkey — As a teenager in St. Petersburg, Maksim Baidak hung out with neo-Nazis and right-wing nationalists, but the Russian security services mostly left him alone.

It was not until he abandoned white-Slavic supremacy and instead found God — as a convert to Islam and leader of a group of ethnic Russian Muslims — that he came under near-constant surveillance and was often forced into cars at gunpoint by security agents.

Then, one morning in 2013, masked commandos from a special counter-extremism unit busted into his apartment and arrested him. For two days, he was interrogated, at times with a black hood over his head — “tortured,” he said, by choking, electric shock and death threats.

“I was arrested like a terrorist,” said Mr. Baidak, 28, who now lives in Erzurum, a university town in northeast Turkey, where he fled after a judge released him for lack of any criminal charges. “Look at me, I am a journalist. I am a blogger,” he said. “I am a political activist, pro-democratic oriented, Sufi-oriented, but I was arrested like — I don’t know — bin Laden.”

While nations across Europe are grappling with the relatively recent peril of homegrown Islamic terrorists, Russia has long lived in fear of a jihadist uprising within its own borders, particularly in the Caucasus, where it fought two brutal wars to suppress Muslim separatists.

For President Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia, Slavic, ethnic Russian converts to Islam like Mr. Baidak pose an especially subversive threat, not only by stoking Russia’s deep paranoia over separatist extremism, but also by challenging the Orthodox Christian national identity that Mr. Putin has used to unite the country in place of Soviet Communism.

The government also worries that ethnic Russian Muslims have shown a willingness to link up with an array of other anti-Kremlin forces, including nationalists, pro-democracy groups and even gay rights organizations.

“I worked with the L.G.B.T. society; it’s unbelievable for Muslims, yeah?” Mr. Baidak said, describing a group, Islamic Civil Charter, now banned in Russia.

“I don’t support this orientation of men and women, but I cannot change them,” he said in an interview. “If they are agents of freedom and we fight for freedom also, we fight for our common values. Let’s fight together, not be divided.”

Russia’s security services, however, were not about to let that happen.

An aggressive crackdown that began before last year’s Winter Olympics in Sochi never ended, leading to widespread arrests not just in the predominantly Muslim Caucasus but throughout European Russia and as far north as Novy Urengoi, just below the Arctic Circle, where the authorities this year demolished a building that had housed a mosque and an Islamic preschool.

The pressure by the security services, in the name of combating extremism, has set off a wave of refugees seeking safety and religious freedom, especially in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.

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In NY Times the Fate of One Israeli Soldier Trumps Massive Suffering in Gaza

“Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah,” a new report by Amnesty International, has drawn international media attention with its accounts of destruction and suffering during four days of the Gaza conflict last year. Headlines worldwide announce charges of Israeli war crimes, and photos present readers with towering columns of smoke, smoldering ruins and grieving Palestinians.

It is a story of suffering on a massive scale, but in reporting this narrative The New York Times has chosen to look not at Gaza and its agony but, once again, at Israel. Thus we find an article that gives focus to Israeli losses—a soldier missing in action, his comrades at arms and his bereaved family. The photo is of two Israeli parents grieving by a tombstone.

In her story, “Signs of War Crimes Seen in Israeli Hunt for Ambushed Soldier,” Isabel Kershner imposes this twist on a story of Palestinian suffering and Israeli atrocities by overplaying one element of the narrative: The attacks on the southern Gaza city of Rafah came after Lt. Hadar Goldin was captured on Aug. 1 and were a response to this event.

After Lt. Goldin was seized and taken into a tunnel, the Israeli army put its notorious “Hannibal Directive” into effect. This, in the words of the Amnesty report, is “a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).”

Kershner builds her story not around the findings of the report, but the capture of Lt. Goldin and the reactions of his family and comrades. Thus, the article opens with the moment his unit realized he was missing, it refers to him throughout and ends with the comments of his grieving parents.

In all, Kershner mentions Lt. Goldin in some 13 paragraphs, nearly half the article. Readers find news of the report in her piece, including the most vehement condemnations by Amnesty officials, but her angle undercuts the thrust of the document. (Readers might want to compare accounts in The Independent, Al Jazeera or Newsweek, among others.)

The report is the work of Amnesty and Forensic Architecture, a British research group. It presents a meticulous analysis of the attacks on Rafah from Aug. 1 through Aug. 4 last year, describing numerous assaults that left at least 135 dead, including 75 children. It contains chilling accounts of events on the ground: desperate attempts to escape, strikes on ambulances and residents blasted into fragments.

The investigation found “overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate attacks, which killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets or in vehicles, and injured many more.” It goes on to say, “In some cases there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.”

These findings provide “strong evidence” of “serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the report states, as well as “other war crimes.” Kershner, however, attempts to cast doubt on the aims of the report in one sentence that steps outside the bounds of reporting into editorializing.

She writes, “[The report] tries to offer the most detailed reconstruction of the events of Black Friday to date, in hopes of bolstering allegations against Israel that are now the subject of a preliminary investigation before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”

In other words, Kershner says, Amnesty and Forensic Architecture are motivated by a desire to delegitimize Israel, and their analysis is merely an attempt to be “the most detailed.”

It seems that the Times was reluctant to tell this story. The problem, once again, was how to report the news of yet another damning report and at the same time to shield Israel, and so we have an awkward piece, one that tries to mesh two opposing narratives: the fate of Lt. Goldin and the disclosure of Israeli war crimes in Rafah.

The result is a confusing combination of reporting and obfuscation, a frequent outcome of the Times’ effort to serve Israeli interests over those of the reading public.

Barbara Erickson

Filed under: Black Friday Tagged: Amnesty International, Black Friday, Gaza, Israel, New York Times, Rafah


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