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“Selling More Than Clothes?” Gap Opens Up in Myanmar

Loon Watch - 4 July, 2014 - 20:27

ON Product and USAID

By Garibaldi

Gap, Inc. the parent company of Old Navy, Gap, Banana Republic, Athleta, and Piperlime is joining other US companies, including Coca-Cola, MasterCard and GE in expanding operations and investments in Myanmar (Burma). Myanmar is viewed, after opening up its economy and political space, as a new lucrative Southeast Asian market, with some investors speculating that it may even be “the new Thailand.” The comparison is being made because of Thailand’s high economic growth, with the Neo-Liberal institution, The World Bank, dubbing Thailand as “one of the great development success stories.”

Gap, which calls itself a “responsible company” is putting a sugary spin on its decision to invest in Myanmar, describing it in moralistic terms as an investment “in the economic and social development of Myanmar,” when in reality it is all about beating the competition and reaping the most profit.

Gap has an abysmal history when it comes to outsourcing,

In 1999, Gap and several other companies were sued in a class action lawsuit in Saipan claiming that workers were subject to unsafe working conditions, forced abortions, and unpaid overtime. Gap eventually settled the lawsuit in 2002 without admitting liability.

In 2006, a Jordanian supplier for Gap, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , and other companies was charged with using adult and child employees for up to 109 hours per week. Some workers had been unpaid for up to six months. The following year, BBC broadcast footage of child labor in Gap’s factories in India. Gap denied knowledge of those practices, but nonetheless removed the piece of clothing featured in the report from British stores.

Last April, the collapse of Rana Plaza in Bangladesh — the deadliest garment factory accident in history — claimed 1,129 lives and injured 2,515 people. Many North American retailers had outsourced their apparel from the factory, although Gap was not among those implicated.

Gap and other North American retailers announced a broad plan to improve factory safety in Bangladesh last July, but the plan didn’t legally bind the companies to actually pay for those improvements. By comparison, The Accord on Factory and Building Safety in Bangladesh, an earlier plan introduced in May, legally required the companies to pay for those improvements. Gap’s rivals Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) , American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO  ) , PVH (NYSE: PVH  ) , and H&M all signed that accord, but Gap and several other major U.S. retailers refused.

The announcement by Gap was made in partnership with USAID, the US Ambassador, Derek Mitchell, was also present. The operation is sold as being motivated by humanitarianism, with an emphasis on helping the women of Burma through providing female garment workers with “life skills education and technical training.”

Amb Mitchell remarks

Gap, Inc./USAID: US Ambassador Derek Mitchell speaking

Of course the deep involvement of the US government with corporations is not a reality-shattering phenomenon; it is a familiar gimmick that odiously packages capitalistic motives and goals in a thin veneer of humanitarianism.

This is also enmeshed with President Obama’s proclaimed foreign policy objective of “pivoting towards Asia.” The US doesn’t want to miss out on an emerging market in Southeast Asia, one where China already has beaten the US in terms of economic influence,

Although Gap is the first U.S. retailer to enter Myanmar, other U.S. companies like General ElectricMasterCardVisa, and Coca-Cola have already made investments in the country. However, U.S. direct investment in Myanmar only accounts for 1% of the country’s overall foreign direct investments (FDI), compared to 30% from China.

Myanmar appears advantageous to the likes of Gap because of the cheap labor force it provides, the cheapest in Southeast Asia,

Myanmar’s low wages — an average of $1,100 per year — are considerably lower than its neighbors in Southeast Asia. Vietnam’s wages are double that of Myanmar, and wages in Thailand are six times as high. Cambodia is Myanmar’s closest competitor, with an average annual wage of $1,424.

Yet in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Gap stated that its Burmese workers will be paid an average of $110 per month, and supervisors will be paid as much as $1,000 — far exceeding the national average. Gap has also launched education and training programs for Burmese women with the aid of U.S. agencies. Those strategies are clearly aimed at shielding Gap from the controversies that dogged the company in the past.

The reality is that Gap is investing in a country in which human rights are not respected, in which pogroms are common place and where ethnic minorities are denied basic recognition. Just yesterday it was reported that Buddhist mobs have for a second straight night attacked Muslims in the historic city of Mandalay, the violence has left 2 dead and 14 injured.

Two people are dead and 14 injured after Buddhist mobs on motorbikes drove through Burma’s historic city of Mandalay in a second night of attacks on minority Muslims.

The past two years have seen grisly attacks on Muslims and other minorities: Massacres such as Buddhists killing 9 Muslim pilgrims, 36 school children and their teachers butchered in front of local police are common place. Myanmar saw the near complete destruction of the Muslim quarter in the city of Kyaukpyu. Human rights groups have reported on the systematic killing and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya in Rakhine State, where the Rohingya Muslim population is herded into concentration campsMosques, Muslim homes, and orphanages across the country are torched in arson attacks. Numerous  internet sites are replete with Islamophobic dehumanization messages about Islam and Muslims spread by the extremist movement ’969.’ Myanmar is where the “symbol of Democracy,” the Noble Peace Prize winning Suu Kyi not only says she won’t speak out for the persecuted Rohingya but denies their existence. Myanmar’s government has given official backing to the violent, extremist 969 movement. Ministers in the Myanmar government have backed discriminatory legislation that would limit Rohingya women to two children. Local officials have severely restricted humanitarian aid to Rohingya concentration camps and the rest of Rakhine State, where tuberculosis, waterborne illnesses and malnutrition are endemic.

These basic facts don’t begin to touch the deep suffering of the families that have been expelled from their homes, tortured, had loved ones murdered or drown on perilous boat journeys.

It is cynical and callous for Gap to then describe Myanmar as making “slow progress.” Of course it is not out of the norm for a corporation to laughably try and convince consumers that it does “more than sell clothes.”

Doubly egregious is the complicity of Western diplomats, who as Matthew Smith of Fortify Rights points out have been giving Myanmar a free pass,

Western diplomats eschew efforts to end the culture of impunity in the country, fearing it will stall the reform process. This is an entirely wrong-headed view.

Ending impunity comes in many forms but typically requires at least a proper accounting of the facts. As such, foreign governments should press Myanmar to set up an independent inquiry into ongoing wartime crimes in ethnic states, and redouble support for the country’s human rights defenders, most of whom are working under demoralizing conditions with limited resources.

Ultimately, high praise for thin reforms is no way to promote democracy or the rights of Myanmar’s least advantaged populations.

It’s worth mentioning pop-philosopher Slavoj Zizek’s theory of cultural capitalism, which asserts the farcical nature of contemporary enterprises seeking to put a charitable, in this case “humanitarian,” face on their products, i.e. “global capitalism with a human face.”

In the near term the violent and extremist 969 movement continues to get stronger, atrocities proliferate and human rights take second place to capitalistic ventures. Corporations such as Gap that invest in Myanmar can save us the feel-good facade, we know what this is all about.

My Mother, Parveena Ahangar

Jiji

 

If you ask Jiji what she would like to eat, her response is always “Sanaa, koi fikar nahi, Allah hai na. Khaana mil jayega, bas mujhe apna kaam karna hai. Khaane ki koi fikar nahi” [Sanaa, don’t worry. Allah is with us. I just need to do my work, food will come and go. I have no worry about food.]

“Jiji aap apna bhi khayal rakha kareh..” [Mother, you need to take care of yourself too.]

“Allah hai na mera khayal rakne ke liye. Meh neh khabi apna hayal nahi rakha, meh neh bas logoh ka kaam kiya. Allah hai na mereh saath. Koi baat nahi, meh teek hu.”[Allah is there to take care of me. I’ve never take care of myself, I have always worked for the people. Allah is with me. Don’t worry, I’m fine]

Almost four weeks after she left and still all I can talk about are the moments we spent together. I was very fortunate to have the task that I did, to stay with and take care of Jiji during her stay here. I accompanied her entirely for six days, six days which I will never forget. It’s impossible to remain unchanged after spending moments in the company of a spirit such as hers.

I’ve been trying, contemplating how to put my experience into words over the last month but out of fear that these words will not measure up I have been unable run my fingers over a keyboard, in a way that might somehow capture what I am feeling. But even if these words fall short, I must attempt to write them.

Parveena Ahangar is the founder of APDP, the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons in Srinagar, Indian Occupied Kashmir. Her son Javed Ahmad Ahangar was taken by Indian troops on 18th August 1990 in the early hours of the morning. Since this unfortunate night he has become one of many of Kashmir’s victims of enforced disappearances. It is estimated that between 8-10,000 Kashmiris have been subjected to enforced disappearances by the Indian State. In conversation Parveena ji told me she fears that the number is in fact much higher than the official estimates.

APDP lead by Parveena ji has campaigned globally for answers regarding the whereabouts of those enforcedly disappeared. Jiji has spent her life in service of her nation, she has vowed to fight until her last breath and it is because of her that Kashmir’s victims of enforced disappearances have not become another faceless statistic. I too have a brother who is a victim of India’s practise of enforced disappearance; his name is Javed Ahmad Ahangar. Javed bhai is not only alive in Parveena ji’s memory; he lives vividly within everybody who has had the honour of her presence.

But it is not merely her struggle as the Mother of the disappeared which inspires. The nature of APDP’s work means that Parveena ji has met victims of the whole spectrum of India’s brutalities in Kashmir. Her work as an apolitical figure providing physical, emotional and psychological support to victims has created her a position in society that no other has been able to fulfil. APDP has made a promise to deliver relief and under the leadership of Jiji it is doing everything within and beyond its capacity to ensure these promises are met.

In the six days I spent by Parveena Ahangar’s side I learnt more about the struggle than I have learnt in my nineteen years of life. I found a woman who has the biggest heart I have ever encountered and the strongest spirit I will ever know. Somewhere within her unique mix of characteristics I found a Mother, a leader and an essential member of her community. To be one who makes change for the people, you have to be a part of their community. She personifies these sentiments.

Jiji says “APDP ek Maa ke dardh se ban’na hai. Maa keh dardh jaise aur koi jazba nahi.” [APDP was founded from a Mother’s suffering. There is no emotion that compares to a mother’s pain.]
It is a simple statement to make but Parveena ji embodies each syllable with painful ease. I wish she didn’t have to, but I am so proud that she does. The sincerity with which she carries herself should give us all something to aspire to.

She is funny. Despite the harsh reality she has been subjected to Jiji has a wonderful sense of humour. She is soft hearted. She is a lioness and she likes ice cream, chocolate ice cream. We laughed together. We shared a prayer mat and knelt before our Lord and cried; wiped away each other’s tears. In her eyes I saw what it means to be a woman from a country like ours.

I called her earlier today and she told me “Sanaa tum rozdaar mat raho tum kamzohr ho jao gi. Tum kuj khaati bhi nahi aur tumhe bohat kaam karna hai. Meri beti ho, hameh bohat kaam karna hai.” [Sanaa don’t fast you will get weak. You don’t eat anything and you have so much to do. You are my daughter, we have so much work to do.]

I told her she is the one who taught me “Ham darneh vaale nahi hai, ham marne vaale hai. Allah hamaare saath hai.” [We are not of those who fear, one day we will die. Allah is with us]

She laughed and said you remember my words well. How could I not? Her unwavering strength and relentless spirit has left an imprint on me that will not wash away. A mother’s hand on her child’s head never does and within just a few moments of our meeting Parveena Ahangar became my mother too.

Crossing the mountains of Home is a now promise written in stone because just as you miss your mother when you are far from home, I miss her.

If you meet my mother, give her my love, hugs and kisses. Tell her of the love and pride with which her daughter still speaks of her.

 

 


The hand-choppers of Isis are deluded: there is nothing Islamic about their caliphate

Mahdi Hassan - 4 July, 2014 - 16:32

Have we gone back in time? The era of Muslim caliphates came to a close in 1924, when the Ottomans were toppled in Turkey.

 GettyIraqi women at the Khazair displacement camp for those caught-up in the fighting in Mosul. Photo: Getty

I have a new leader, apparently. As do the rest of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. His name is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is the caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere”. Or so say the blood-drenched fanatics of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (Isis). On 29 June, an Isis spokesman declared that the group had set up a caliphate in the areas under its control, from Diyala in eastern Iraq to Aleppo in northern Syria.

Have we gone back in time? The era of Muslim caliphates came to a close in 1924, when the Ottomans were toppled in Turkey. Over the past nine decades, several Muslim leaders have tried to set themselves up as caliph-type figures (think of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran or the Taliban’s Mullah Omar in Afghanistan). Yet, crucially, none of them has tried to claim political authority over Muslims outside the borders of his respective state. Al-Baghdadi wants Muslims across the world to fall at his feet.

The Isis declaration has come as a bit of a shock. In recent years, most Islamist groups (think al-Nahda in Tunisia or the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt) have tried to take power through the ballot box, with only fringe groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir agitating for a medieval-style caliphate. (I remember arguing, as a teenager, with members of Hizb ut-Tahrir. “Brother, we need to reject western democracy and have a caliph,” they would say to me. “And how will we decide who the caliph is?” I would ask, feigning both innocence and interest. “Well . . . um . . . He’ll be elected,” they would invariably reply, shifting in their seats.)

There are four points worth considering in any discussion of Isis or its “caliphate”. First, there is nothing Islamic about a state. I have argued before on these pages that: “There is not a shred of theological, historical or empirical evidence to support the existence of such an entity.” Yes, we Muslims have a romanticised view of Medina, under the rule of the Prophet Muhammad between 622 and 632AD, but it had none of the trappings of a modern state – no fixed borders, no standing army, no civil servants – and was led by a divinely appointed prophet of God. Unless the shadowy al-Baghdadi plans to declare his prophethood, too, the Medina example is irrelevant.

Incidentally, the caliphate (from the Arabic khilafah, or “succession”) that came after Muhammad was plagued by intrigue, division and bloodshed. Three of the first four “rightly guided caliphs” were assassinated. By the 10th and 11th centuries, there were three different caliphates – Umayyad, Abbasid and Fatimid – which were constantly at war with one another. Not quite the golden age of the Islamist imagination.

Second, the Islamic faith doesn’t require an Islamic state. I have never needed to live in such a caliphate in order to pray, fast or give alms. And, as the great Muslim jurist of the 14th century Imam Shatibi argued, sharia law can be boiled down to the preservation of five things: religion, life, reason, progeny and property. I’d argue that the UK, despite rising Islamophobia, does preserve these five things and therefore allows us, as Muslims, to live “Islamic” lives. By contrast, the authors of a recent study at George Washington University found: “Many countries that profess Islam and are called Islamic are unjust, corrupt and under­developed and are in fact not ‘Islamic’ by any stretch of the imagination.”

Third, most Muslims don’t want an Isis-style state. In their book Who Speaks for Islam? – based on 50,000 interviews with Muslims in more than 35 countries – John L Esposito and Dalia Mogahed record how: “Majorities in many countries remarked that they do not want religious leaders to hold direct legislative or political power.”

British Muslims aren’t keen, either. As many as 500 British Muslims are believed to have gone to fight for Isis, which is 500 too many but less than 0.02 per cent of the UK’s 2.7 million Muslims. A recent YouGov poll found that Muslims as a group are more patriotic Britons than Scots.

Fourth, time and again, politicised Islam has proved to be a failure. Violent Islamists have discovered, after the shedding of much blood, that you cannot Islamise a society by force – whether in Afghanistan, Gaza, Egypt or Iran. Rhetoric is easy; running public services and state institutions much harder. The hand-choppers and throat-slitters of Isis, Boko Haram, al-Shabab and the rest have no political programme, no blueprint for government. Theirs is a hate-filled ideo­logy, built on a cult of victimhood and sustained by horrific violence.

In his book The Rise and Fall of al-Qaeda, the Lebanese-American academic Fawaz A Gerges recalls interviewing Kamal al-Said Habib, a former member of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. Gerges asked whether the group had been “truly prepared to establish a viable Islamic government”. “Thank God, we did not win, because we would have constructed a state along the same authoritarian lines as the ones existing in the Muslim world,” Habib replied. “We had no vision or an intellectual framework of what a state is or how it functions and how it should be administered . . . While I cannot predict that our state would have been totalitarian, we had little awareness of the challenges that needed to be overcome.”

Let me make a prediction. The so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria will be totalitarian, won’t be Islamic and, in the words of the former US state department spokesman Philip Crowley, “has as much chance of survival as an ice cream cone in the desert”. By declaring statehood, Isis may have sown the seeds of its own destruction. 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the political director of the Huffington Post UK, where this column is crossposted

GuardianWitness weekly highlights: Ramadan, Brazil and postcards from reality

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 July, 2014 - 14:44

We've been getting such great contributions from our readers that we want to share them on our blog. Here are some of this week's highlights

With Ramadan starting this week, we asked Muslims to share their experiences from all over the world. Ahmed Deeb send in this moving photo of a father and son praying in Turkey:

A Turkish man and his son are praying at the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on the first day of the fasting month of Ramadan in Turkey.

Sent via GuardianWitness

29 June 2014, 14:09

Sent via GuardianWitness

1 July 2014, 13:15

I had included my bi-polar disorder on my health form when i applied to teach at the school I worked at, however the Head had clearly not paid any attention. When I mentioned it to another staff member, 12 months after I had begun working there, it only took a day before things started to turn. My wife, who also worked at the school, was questioned as to whether she felt that she and the children were safe. A member of the senior staff confidentially reported to us that my health had been raised at a Senior Staff meeting and it had been made clear that my contract with the school would not be renewed, not because I was not good at my job but purely on the basis of my mental health background. People kept saying 'Discrimination is against the law', which it is. However, if someone wants to get rid of you they do not have to give the real reason, they can come up with any excuse they like. So it was with us. When we tried to pursue for wrongful dismissal all our evidence was dismissed as 'anecdotal' by the county.

Sent via GuardianWitness

29 June 2014, 5:20

Common dolphin photographed off the coast of Pembrokeshire this week

Sent via GuardianWitness

14 June 2014, 10:27

Granite outcrop in the state of São Paulo, close to its border with the state of Minas Gerais in the Mantiqueira mountains, with peaks here of around 2000m with an almost alpine feel at higher levels. The surrounding countryside, which is something like a sub-tropical North Wales with its rolling hills and peaks, contains a number of small pleasant towns such as São Bento do Sapucai and Gonçalves.

Sent via GuardianWitness

21 May 2014, 18:19

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I am Muslim and Republican and was attacked by people in my party | Saba Ahmed

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 July, 2014 - 13:08

I exercise my freedoms as an American in my mosque and in conservative politics.

Earlier this year, I attended an event with former House speaker Newt Gingrich, despite knowing of his stereotypical attitude towards Muslims. I realized then the power of one voice to change people's prejudices and how rarely people like me use ours: I was the first Muslimah to whom he had ever spoken.

Yes, I am Muslim, and I am a Republican and that's why I was at the Heritage Foundation panel on Benghazi last month, where I asked the now-infamous question about how conservatives deal with the vast majority of people of my faith who are peaceful. Americans don't expect minorities especially Muslims to be Republicans, and it happens often in conservative circles that I am the only Muslim woman in the audience.

Continue reading...

British jihadist warns of 'black flag of Islam' over Downing Street

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 July, 2014 - 07:26
British Muslims urged not to travel to Syria and Iraq as fears grow over homegrown involvement in terrorism

A Briton who claims he has been fighting alongside jihadist militants in Syria has told the BBC he would not return to the UK until he could raise "the black flag of Islam" over Downing Street and Buckingham Palace.

The comments were broadcast as religious leaders called on British Muslims not to travel to Syria and Iraq, amid fears of jihadists fleeing the country to take part in terrorism.

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Friday Links | July 4, 2014

Muslimah Media Watch - 4 July, 2014 - 07:00
Human Rights Watch has issued a report on how the war in Syria has affected women. Several human rights organisations accuse Egypt of allowing (sexual) abuse and torture to be used against its female prisoners, despite the promise to fight sexual harassment. Recently, Egypt adopted a new law that makes sexual harassment punishable by law, [Read More...]

Ramadan’s 5 Golden Rules of Difference of Opinion

Muslim Matters - 4 July, 2014 - 05:00

By Yawar Baig

This was original posted on Yawar's blog, you can find that post here

 

A difference of opinion indicates interest and commitment. Not stupidity and ignorance. Only the interested and committed, disagree.

 

We Muslims are perhaps a people who have the highest number of differences of opinion in the world, when it comes to understanding our religion. I am sure someone will disagree with this statement as well. However be that as it may, we should therefore be the greatest experts in expressing those differences in the most positive ways, building trust and friendship and encouraging further enquiry and debate to understand better. Sadly the opposite is the case. The way we express our differences breaks hearts, creates angst and anger, is insulting and aggravating and encourages nothing but a worse response. So here goes a short 101 on how to disagree positively.

Five Golden Rules

1. I repeat my quote above: A difference of opinion indicates interest and commitment. Not stupidity and ignorance. Only the interested and committed, disagree. So if you want to disagree, first appreciate the other person's interest and commitment. Start by saying, “May Allah bless you for your interest in this matter and enable us to do what is pleasing to Him.”

2. Always remember that in matters of opinion which are not clearly defined in the Qur'an or Sunnah, stating an opinion as the only correct way,  is incorrect. Neither you nor the other person is getting Wahi. So don't talk as if you are. You have an opinion based on your subjective understanding. The other person has an opinion based on his understanding. Both of you are ordinary people, not Anbiya. Remember that always.

Remember the principle of the Fuqaha: I believe my opinion is correct with the possibility of being wrong. And I believe that the other opinion is wrong with the possibility of being correct.

Humility is the safety net that saves us from arrogance and the anger Allah.

3. Don't criticize the other opinion even if you think it is wrong. After all we can all agree that at worst the opinion may be a mistake in understanding or a lack of attention to a particular aspect of the case. It is not a case of an evil Shaytan trying to destroy Islam.

So make excuses for the brother as Rasoolullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) advised and don't criticize. Don't use words like silly, shallow, stupid, narrow minded or anything like that. Don't attack the individual personally because that only shows you up in the worst light and closes the door for any objective consideration of what you're about to say.

4. State your perspective on the matter and give your opinion with your evidence objectively, confidently and independently of whatever the other opinion stated.

Don't refer to the other opinion or to its maker at all. It's there for people to read if they please. You're not trying to compare yourself to the other person and you're not trying to show how much smarter you are. So simply state your case.

Guard your own Ikhlaas, Niyyah and fear Allah's anger if He should consider your approach to be arrogance.

Remember the Hadith of Rasoolullah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who said that on the Day of Judgment Allah will humiliate the one who insults and attacks the honor of his brother. So stay far away from anything which may appear to be insulting or humiliating in the way you refer to the other opinion or its maker.

5. Finally thank the other person for his opinion and interest and remind your audience that only Allah knows best and that we're all only trying to please Him.

One word about what to do if you or your opinion are attacked without regard to the rules above : do and say nothing. Don't acknowledge the dishonorable. Give it the importance it deserves. Simply ignore it.

I hope this will be useful for those who take the trouble to read, reflect, and differ.

A difference of opinion in a matter of interpretation that creates a division among Muslims is a tool of Shaytan. Let us not help the Shaytan to achieve his aim.

 

The post Ramadan’s 5 Golden Rules of Difference of Opinion appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Police aim to subdue Myanmar violence

Loon Watch - 4 July, 2014 - 02:19

Myanmar_pogrom Police aim to subdue Myanmar violence

(AlJazeera)

Large numbers of police have been deployed and a curfew imposed in Myanmar’s second largest city in an attempt to bring escalating violence in the area under control.

Myanmar police escalated tactics in Mandalay on Thursday, after consecutive nights of sectarian unrest left two people dead.

Local residents say a Muslim man was attacked and killed by a mob as he made his way to a mosque before dawn on Thursday morning.

A Buddhist man was also killed overnight, with police investigating the cause of death.

The riots left another 14 injured.

Police were first deployed on Tuesday night, as hundreds of Buddhists attacked a mosque and attempted to set fire to businesses owned by Muslims. Vehicles were set on fire and some shops were ransacked.

Shops in Muslim neighbourhoods are now closed, with some streets blocked by metal and wooden barriers. One resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said, “most Muslims are hiding and some shifted to other towns near Mandalay”.

“We do not want the situation getting worse,” senior Mandalay police officer Zaw Min Oo told AFP, explaining that the curfew now imposed on the city was for ‘security reasons’.

Escalating violence

The violence was sparked by rumours on the Internet that the Muslim owner of a teashop had raped a Buddhist woman.

The latest flare up of sectarian violence in Myanmar has raised fears of a wider escalation in ongoing tensions between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and Muslim minority.

Previously, sectarian violence had mostly taken place in Myanmar’s Western Rakhine state, while relations between Muslims and Buddhists in the city of Mandalay had been relatively peaceful.

Myanmar has struggled to contain outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence since the end of military rule in 2011. At least 280 people have been killed since June 2012, with 140,000 made homeless – most of them Muslims.

Muslims are thought to account for about four percent of Myanmar’s population of approximately 60 million.

The government has faced international criticism for failing to act strongly to stop the attacks on Muslims, which in Rakhine state reportedly occurred as security forces looked on.

Myanmar has been wracked by violence between the two communities since June 2012. More than 200 people have been killed and at least 140,000 displaced. Most of the victims have been Muslim.

80-20 Principle: 3 Ways Masjids Cater to a Small Minority At The Expense of the Congregation in Ramadan

Muslim Matters - 3 July, 2014 - 17:55

Ramadan in the long summer days is not easy. This is not said as a complaint, alhamdulillah. Rather, it is stated as a general observation. No matter how difficult Ramadan may seemingly be, we willingly embrace the challenge for a higher purpose. This enthusiasm, however, does not preclude making sure we are not making things more difficult than they need to be.

The long summer days present a number of challenges for the everyday Muslim with a family. Most of us dads are sleeping after isha/taraweeh (around 12:30-1:30am), waking up for suhoor at something like 4 am, possibly catching an hour of sleep before work, and then napping before iftar.

Add to the mix children who want to take part.

Sprinkle in an exhausted mom who is also fasting on top of that, and you've got a crazy fun situation.

I'm not highlighting these difficulties as a complaint. Alhamdulillah, the more challenging it is, the sweeter the reward. The crazier it is, the better the memories when we look back. But it is important to set the stage a little bit to add some context in understanding the challenges of your masjid's congregation.

I'm going to highlight 3 issues that I feel cater to a small (and probably confrontational/vocal) minority of the masjid.

1. Iftar at the masjid

This varies greatly from community to community. The first issue is the frequency of iftar at the masjid. Now some places, alhamdulillah, have an open iftar daily. That's great.

Some places have iftar only on weekends, or selected days. The rationale behind this decision making is that  the masjid will get dirty, it's too expensive, and it's too much work. Sorry, but why else do you fund raise all year for the wonderful services the masjid is supposed to provide?

There is a large percentage of our population that only frequents the masjid in this month. There is another segment of our population that doesn't have a Muslim family to break fast with. There is yet another segment of our population that cannot afford to buy food but are too embarrassed to ask (and yes, they live near and around the rich suburban masjids as well). There's a segment of the population who simply prefers meeting people at the masjid and making iftar in a large group.

The question to be raised is – did the people in charge of making the decision take all these factors into account when setting the masjid policy? Or was it set based on the wants and needs of a small handful?

That's one issue. The second issue is the type of food. Families with young kids, and many younger families as well as many elders in general are trying to eat healthy – especially in Ramadan. Yet, when you go to the masjid, the vast majority of the time there is greasy, often spicy, heartburn inducing food being served. Kids get pizza – every time.

This doesn't mean that we need to have Desi food or Arab food. It also doesn't mean that we need to serve kale smoothies for iftar. It just means that the majority of your congregation probably doesn't eat the same as you do, so try to pick a menu that appeals to a larger audience. Even with a small amount of dishes it is feasible. Replace the token (lettuce, carrot, onion, and ranch) salad with something that a person can eat as a meal (Chicken Caesar salad, Greek salad, etc.). Replace a salan or curry dish with a baked meat item. Have a vegetable dish that's not cooked in grease. These are a couple of simple tweaks that will allow you to retain an overall ethnic flavor (if you wish) while still accommodating a wider audience.

2. Masjid Logistics

We're already familiar with the issues regarding women's prayer spaces. This is going to be more about the kids.

Newer masjids have introduced what they feel is an innovative and amazing solution. That is to put parents with kids in another room. This way, the people in the main hall can pray in peace. And the parents can pray in, well, a zoo. Okay maybe that's too harsh. Perhaps it's more appropriate if we call it praying in the time-out room. I'm all for creating a separate space for kids, but we need to have some boundaries.

Sisters accommodations are usually already small, then they force them to split out into a general space and a kids space. Here is what happens in the sister's kids space. Moms with younger kids are forced to pray in there with their children because they're too young to be left alone. Moms with older kids can't stay in the larger area because the other sisters will yell at them. But they also don't want to pray in the kids room because it's a zoo. So they tell their kids to go in the kids room, while they stay in the main area. This turns the younger moms, who are trying their best to raise their iman by some iota and praying taraweeh (behind  a broken speaker) into de facto babysitters. Instead of praying, they're now breaking up fights, yelling at kids, and keeping them from slamming doors and running around. Well, as this happens, the people from the main area start complaining that there is too much noise and to keep it down. It culminates with the imam making an announcement on the mic for the parents to please control their kids. To really cap it off – most of the times there is not a kids area on the men's side. It's only on the sister's side. So if a brother happens to bring a kid who makes even a peep, he's told to send the kid over to the sister's side.

We've got an older generation who complains all year that younger people aren't involved. Then when the younger families show up in Ramadan, they don't want to be disturbed or have any part of it.

I think the time-out room is a terrible idea, even as more and more masjids see this as a sophisticated solution. I personally cannot stand praying in those rooms, and refuse to go in there with my kids. It is impossible to pray when the kids are in a confined space all yelling and screaming and jumping around and beating each other up. Call me old school, but I think parents should pray with their kids in the main hall and, you know, parent them. How else are they going to learn?

At the same time, as much as we want to have undisturbed prayers, the congregation needs to learn to ease up on this issue. Many people act as if they pray 365 days a year with pristine khushoo' and one baby crying in the 14th rakat of taraweeh is going to destroy it's delicate balance.

An even better option is to build masjids with a youth lounge, let the youth hold their own taraweeh, and then have their own activities. It's not just that we need to stop favoring needs of the small minority – maybe it's finally recognizing that there is not a one size fits all solution. We need multiple solutions.

3. Taraweeh

Most people I know this year are debating whether to even pray taraweeh or not. This is due simply to the schedule factor. Take a look at who is left in the masjid for the last 2 rakat of taraweeh compared to the first 2 rakat.

Let's ignore for a second whether 8 is preferred or 20 is preferred. The real question to ask is – how best can we serve our congregation? How can we best set up our process to allow them to pray isha in the masjid, pray taraweeh with the imam, and still be able to make it back for fajr in the masjid in the morning? How can we make sure taraweeh is an enjoyable experience?

Instead of going through the various options and problems (many of which I think are obvious), I'll put my proposed solution. I'm sure many will disagree with it, or even find it heretical, but that's ok. Let's at least get a discussion going because what we have now is not working.

For summer Ramadans: Pray 8 rakat taraweeh. Recite at a normal pace like you would in Maghrib or Isha. Don't go so fast so that no one can enjoy it, or rush the rest of the prayer so much that no one can squeeze in du'a in sujood.

Spread out your completion of the Qur'an. By that I mean don't complete it in taraweeh only, but utilize Fajr, and Isha as well. You can also add Qiyam in the last 10 nights to help finish on time. This significantly eases the burden and allows for a 15 minute khatirah after 4 or 8 rakat. You can read a little bit extra on weekends if needed as well. But this would allow someone who has work the next morning to be able to pray peacefully, with serenity, and in a reasonable amount of time. It also enables them, more importantly, to get the reward of praying with the imam instead of having to figure out how many rakat they need to sacrifice every night just to survive (and wake up for fajr).

This makes it very reasonable to pray Isha, taraweeh, and witr within one hour (or even less – especially if you make up for time with longer Qiyam in the last 10 nights).

For winter Ramadans: Pray 20 rakat taraweeh (unless the majority of your congregation prefers 8). Complete the Qur'an only in taraweeh, and have a khatirah after 8 rakat.

Too often we try to pick one solution (usually however a board member used to do it “back home”) and enforce that over the whole month no matter what. We should be a little bit more flexible.

The concern of the average congregant is to enjoy the prayer, hear a nice recitation, feel the peace of prayer, make du'a, get a short reminder, and still be ready for the next day. Instead, we cater to the 3 people who are belligerently hardcore about 8 vs. 20, who complain about the taraweeh not being fast enough, or the khatirah being too long or short. We cater to the 5 people who have the freedom and flexibility to pray until 1 am because they don't have work the next morning.

We deprive 98% of the congregation from completing the prayer with the imam to cater to 2% of the crowd. The hadith mentions the reward for praying with the imam until he finishes—even though it is Sunnah to complete the Qur'an there is ample scholarly support to have 'an amount recited that will not burden people or lead them to stay away from the congregation' (here is another general fatwa) .

Facilitate what brings the most reward to the people in a way that is easy for them.

The bottom line is a shift in mindset. It's talking to the congregation to see what they want, what they need, what their pain points are, and then figuring out how best to serve them.

Written by Omar UsmanSocial Media Team Lead Google+

Omar Usman is a founding member of MuslimMatters, Qalam Institute, Muslim Strategic Initiative, and Debt Free Muslims. He is a regular khateeb and has served in different administrative capacities in various national and local Islamic organizations. You can follow him on Google+ or on Twitter @ibnabeeomar. Check out his latest project at Fiqh of Social Media.

The post 80-20 Principle: 3 Ways Masjids Cater to a Small Minority At The Expense of the Congregation in Ramadan appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

Nigerian atheist faces death threats after release from psychiatric ward

The Guardian World news: Islam - 3 July, 2014 - 16:51
Mubarak Bala, who was forcibly committed for renouncing Islam, goes into hiding in region where sharia law holds

A Nigerian atheist released from a psychiatric unit to which his Muslim family committed him by force has said he is getting death threats for blaspheming against Islam.

Mubarak Bala, a 29-year-old chemical process engineer, said he is in hiding in predominantly Muslim northern Nigeria where sharia law holds and some interpretations deem blasphemy punishable by death.

Continue reading...

When Fasting Is Not For God

Muslimah Media Watch - 3 July, 2014 - 07:00
The writer of this post wishes to remain anonymous. Trigger warning: This post contains discussions of body image and disordered eating. The first Ramadan that I fasted, I was struck by how easy I found it. This was not exactly a good thing.  I had struggled with control issues around food, and with my perception [Read More...]

‘WhyIslam’ Scores a “GOAL” During the World Cup

Muslim Matters - 3 July, 2014 - 05:00

By Farhan Pervez

Organizing a massive da'wah effort for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, bringing together over 20 Islamic organizations on an international level, and mobilizing dozens of volunteers originating from 6 continents is a task of epic proportions. With the help of Allah and the assistance of the Centro de Divulgação do Islam para a América Latina (CDIAL), an equally dynamic da'wah initiative based in Brazil, South America, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA)'s Why Islam Project was able to take on the challenge and as of June 12th a team of daees was already in Sao Paulo kicking off the World Cup by asking soccer fans, “What is your goal?”

Team members began arriving in Brazil as early as June 10th, from as far as the UK and the US. After some meetings with local volunteers and logistics coordinating, they began hitting the streets of Sao Paulo on June 12th, which marked the beginning of the World Cup soccer matches. In preparation for the games, they printed 40,000 da'wah handouts in Portuguese and Spanish, as well as other languages. As they work, they don the official campaign T-shirt with the slogan, “What is Your Goal?” or “Qual é o seu meta” in Portuguese. The purpose of the slogan is to make people think about what really is the most important goal in life.

The crew engaged local residents and fans from all over the world in “street da'wah,” a style of outreach in which Muslim men and women approach individuals on the street, local vendors, or fans at stadium-side to provide them with information about Islam and answer questions. In just one week, there have been 3 shahadahs facilitated by da'wah volunteers in Sao Paulo; one of which was a cab driver who was transporting some of the volunteers, alhamdulillah.

Throughout their days, volunteers take photos and video to post on social media in order to keep WhyIslam's global audience informed of their progress. After just a week of da'wah activities in Brazil, WhyIslam's official Facebook page has garnered a 3.4% increase in the number of likes, bringing their total number of fans up to more than 80,100. Picture collages of the team's street da'wah, encounters with diehard fútbol fans, and of course, the youngest daee in the group, Andrew, who is only 9 years old, and his adventures in Brazil, have gotten a lot of attention.

Besides the ever-popular Andrew, some of the volunteers include Nahela Morales, WhyIslam's National Spanish Outreach Coordinator, Sheikh Abdool Rahman Khan, Boona Muhammad, Cyrus McGoldrick, and Abu Sumayyah Lebron. Bia Kehdy and Muhammad Martins, both Muslim Brazilian natives, and other local Brazilian volunteers have been instrumental in planning and breaking language barriers. More team members are continuously arriving from places such as the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, and the UK. Others involved in managing and organizing, taking hotline calls, and media coverage are not physically present in Brazil, but working remotely from the US and Canada to provide assistance to the group.

For more information about this initiative, please visit www.whatisyourgoal.org. Videos and pictures are available on Facebook on the official WhyIslam fan page. Video highlights will be posted periodically on YouTube such as this one of the first day of da'wah in Brazil

 

The post ‘WhyIslam’ Scores a “GOAL” During the World Cup appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.

China bans Ramadan fasting in East Turkestan

Loon Watch - 2 July, 2014 - 22:40

uighur

World Bulletin / News Desk

Authorities in China’s East Turkestan (Xinjiang) province have officially banned students and teachers from engaging in the Islamic Ramadan fast, in yet another curb on religious freedoms against the region’s native Uighur Muslim population.

The Turfan trade bureau on its internet website at the beginning of the week released a statement saying that all public workers, students and teachers were banned from fasting and participating in religious activities.

Bozhou, the region’s official radio station, also announced that party members, teachers and youths cannot engage in Ramadan worship.

East Turkestan, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, is crucial to China’s growing energy needs.

Analysts say that, despite its mineral wealth and billions of dollars of investment, much of the proceeds have gone to majority Han Chinese, stoking resentment among Uighurs.

Rights groups complain that Uighurs – who speak a Turkic language – are cut off from economic development because they face hiring discrimination, with jobs going to an influx of migrant workers from other parts of China.

Around 200 people have died in unrest in East Turkestan in the past year or so, the government says.

Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say the government’s repressive policies in East Turkestan, including controls on Islam, have provoked unrest, a claim Beijing denies.

China has tightened its grip on public discussion about East Turkestan too.

In January, police detained prominent Uighur economics professor Ilham Tohti and charged him with separatism.

Britain First Organize “Fight Club” To Target Muslims

Loon Watch - 2 July, 2014 - 22:37

Britain-First-no-more-mosques

Britain First is led by a Neo-Nazi, and now the group is creating “Fight Clubs” to fight Muslims. This is clear incitement and a threat to “social cohesion,” where is the outcry?

Britain First Organize “Fight Club” To Target Muslims

A FAR-RIGHT group led by a notorious Scots rabble-rouser are promoting sinister “fight clubs” for their followers.

And anti-racism activists claim Jim Dowson’s Britain First organisation are training boot boys to fight Muslims on the streets.

Mathew Collins of Hope Not Hate said: “They have been booking mixed martial arts gyms so they can fight among themselves, training for confrontations with Muslims.”

Vicky Burns of Show Racism the Red Card Scotland added: “Britain First’s brand of racism and prejudice simply is not welcome here.”

Britain First have used a series of Facebook posts to attract recruits for fight training.

One ad says: “Things are bad and will only get worse.

“Don’t you think it’s time to learn how to protect the ones you love – and yourself?”

It adds that the fight clubs – apparently named after Brad Pitt’s 1999 film – will be rolled out UK-wide and free of charge.

Another ad says of the plan: “We feel this is a vital part of building a real movement for the future struggle to take back our country.”

Dowson’s rag-tag mob of former BNP members have already targeted Muslims in Scotland and beyond.

One of the Britain First ads urging supporters to be ready for the fightOne of the Britain First ads urging supporters to be ready for the fight

 

They swaggered into mosques in Glasgow, Cumbernauld and several English cities, handing out Army Bibles to worshippers and telling them to stop Muslim men grooming young girls for sex.

The invaders claimed to be carrying out a “Christian crusade”.

Britain First have also staged “Christian Patrols” in London, with supporters in military style fatigues marching through Asian areas waving Union flags.

Collins called Britain First “the most dangerous group to emerge on the far right for years”, and urged the authorities to take proper action against them.

He warned that Dowson’s men were “generating a climate of fear” and said their actions “could lead to a violent backlash”.

Former Orangeman Dowson is from Airdrie but lives in Belfast.

The self-styled born again Christian has links to anti-abortion extremists. A group he founded, Precious Life, have been accused of intimidating pro-choice supporters.

Dowson was one of the leaders of Loyalist protests in Belfast over city council plans to limit the amount of time when the Union flag was flown over their HQ.

He wore a veil over his face on his way to appear in court after the disorder.

Dowson was a close associate of BNP leader Nick Griffin and a major fund-raiser for the far-right party, but he quit over claims that he groped a female party activist.

He then founded Britain First with Paul Golding, an old ally and former BNP councillor.

The group have raised their profile by urging Facebook users to “like” posts backing British troops, paying tribute to Princess Diana and opposing animal cruelty.

The strategy has helped Britain First get more than 480,000 Facebook “likes”. Many users don’t know they are interacting with the extreme right.

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