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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 5    Issue 7   16 - 31 August 2010

New Mosque near Ground Zero

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre not only altered Manhattan’s landscape but also bedeviled the relations between Muslims and mainstream American society. The proposed construction of a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero is now sending a message of reconciliation and healing. In an old five-story building in Lower Manhattan, which was nearly destroyed on September 11, 2001, a new make-shift mosque opened in May. The old building, where the Burlington Coat Factory was located before 9/11, was sold in 2009 to a Muslim-owned real estate company for a sum of $4.85 million. The trustees of the mosque plan to turn the building into a multi-story Islamic cultural centre, including a large mosque which can accommodate about 2,000 worshippers, a museum, a conference hall, a swimming pool, a basketball court and a daycare centre. They hope that the mosque project will help clear the misconceptions and misrepresentation surrounding Islam and Muslims in the country and will pave the way for building bridges of understanding and reconciliation between Muslims and American society. Imam Faisal Rauf, who has been closely associated with the mosque project and is known for his moderate views and his disdain for violence and terrorism, says: “This space (Ground Zero) has very powerful symbolism in the perception of the world. It is important for us to be stakeholders in what this symbolism means. What better place to show that we, as Muslims, condemn the acts of 9/11 than making this stand and making this statement here”.

The American Society for Muslim Advancement, which is behind the mosque project, has held discussions with the local residents in order to allay potential misgivings and to solicit their goodwill and cooperation. The financial district committee of New York Community Board 1, representing local residents, gave the necessary approval for the construction of the mosque on 5 May, 2010.

A small section of Manhattan’s residents, including the relatives of those killed in the 9/11 attack, have raised objections to the mosque project. A far-right group called Stop the Islamization of America held a street protest against the mosque project on 6 June. The mosque plan is fuelling a surge of anti-Muslim protests in New York and other cities across the country. Sarah Palin, the former vice presidential candidate, has been a vocal opponent of the mosque project. In New York, a group called the American Freedom Defence Initiative, is planning adverts on buses showing a plane flying into one of the World Trade Centre towers and what it calls a “Mega Mosque”, and asking: “Why There?”. The controversy is a reflection of, and is heightening, the tide of Islamophobia in the country. A Florida church, Dove World Outreach Centre, is planning a “Burn the Quran Day” on September 11. The church’s senior pastor, Terry Jones, said in a recent statement that Islam is “a violent and oppressive religion…., a lie based upon lies and deceptions and fear”.

However, the majority of local residents have no objection to the construction of the mosque. Charles Wolf, a local resident, supports the mosque project. “The Muslims are not responsible for 9/11. There have been extremists in all religions. Denying them the ability to build a mosque….would be like London denying the Roman Catholic church the opportunity to build a church during the years of the IRA bombings,” he said.

Muslim Heritage Exhibition in London

In recent years museums and exhibitions have played a significant role in disseminating information about Islamic civilization’s magnificent contribution to the advancement of science, medicine, technology, arts and literature. An exhibition on 1001 Inventions: Discover the Muslim Heritage in Our World was held at London’s Science Museum from 21 January to 30th June 2010. The exhibition, sponsored by the Jameel Foundation, focused on the wide-ranging and incredible advancements in Islamic science, medicine and technology over a period of more than a thousand years. Originally launched in the UK in March 2006, the exhibition was created by the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, a British-based non-profit academic organisation. The launch of the exhibition marks the first step in a global tour involving the world’s most renowned museums and scientific centres over the next four years.

More than 15,000 people visited the exhibition on the opening day. The museum’s director, Professor Chris Rapley, described the exhibition as a “blockbuster”. He said: “The thousand-year period from the 7th century onwards was a time of exceptional scientific and technological advancement in the Muslim world, spanning China, India, Persia, Africa and Arabia. This is the period in history that gave us huge advances in engineering, mathematics, chemistry and physics. With over 15,000 objects in our collection spanning many different cultures, the Science Museum provides the perfect platform for this exhibition, as a place which encourages innovation and learning amongst visitors of all ages”.

One of the eye-catching exhibits was a 20-feet high replica of a spectacular clock designed by Al-Jazari in 1206. Interestingly, the components of the clock represent different cultural and scientific traditions. The clock’s base, for example, is an elephant, representing India while the water-driven works inside have been taken from ancient Greece. A Chinese dragon that swings down from the top of the clock marks the hours, while at the top is a phoenix, representing ancient Egypt. Sitting on the elephant and inside the framework of the clock are puppets dressed in Arab headgear.

Other exhibits included replicas of surgical instruments designed by the 10th-century Muslim physician and surgeon, Abul Qasim al-Zahrawi, a 10th-century alembic for distilling liquids, an astrolabe for determining geographical position, a model of a 9th century dark room, later called Camera Obscura, which the 10th century physician and ophthalmologist Ibn al-Haytham used to illustrate our understanding of vision and optics, a large, 3 metre reproduction of the world map prepared by the 12th century geographer Al-Idrisi, and a model of a vast 100 yard-long junk, commanded by a Chinese Muslim navigator, Zheng He.

A Christian-owned Halal Slaughterhouse in Germany

The number of Muslims living in Germany is estimated to be around 4 million, the second largest Muslim population in Europe after France. Like Muslims in general, Turkish Muslims in Germany prefer halal food. German companies are slowly waking up to the growing demand for halal food. In June 2009 Cologne hosted an exhibition showcasing the food products of more than 800 halal food producers. In Gehlenberg, a sleepy village in northern Germany, the Meemken family business house produces a wide range of halal chicken sausages and supplies some 100 tonnes of chicken salami and other types of halal sausages each week to food retailers in Germany and other European countries.

One of the most popular fast food items in Germany (as well as in Austria) is the doner kebab, first introduced by Turkish immigrants in Berlin in the early 1970s. Doner kebab is a lamb dish cooked on a vertical pit, which is then sliced off and served with a salad consisting of chopped letuce, cabbage, onions, cucumber and tomatoes. There are nearly 15,500 doner kebab businesses across the country. The doner kebab business in Germany is worth about €2.5 billion annually. It is estimated that there are over one thousand more doner kebab stands in Berlin than in Istanbul. Every day, more than 400 tonnes of doner kebab meat is produced in Germany. In most German cities, doner kebabs are more popular than hamburgers and sausages. The first ever doner kebab trade fair was held in Berlin in March 2010.

The Barlein-Denterlein family of Nuremberg in northern Bavaria in Germany has long been one of the biggest producers of doner kebab meat in the country. Though the members of the Barlein-Denterlein family live like other German families, relishing pork-made sausages and salami, they make sure that the animals are killed in their slaughterhouse in the town of Neustadt according to Islamic rituals. They employ Muslim butchers who say a short prayer before killing the animals with a sharp knife. Killing pigs is absolutely forbidden in their slaughterhouse. Nearly 95 per cent of the meat goes to doner kebab stands and Turkish supermarkets in Nuremberg and other German cities.

Sausages (a mixture of minced pork and flavouring stuffed into a thin casing made from pig’s intestine) are extremely popular in Germany (where they are known as wurst) as well as in other countries. A German butcher, Stefan Voelker, has invented a halal variety of sausage, known as bratwurst. This is made completely from halal veal and is stuffed into a casing made of sheep’s intestine. “One can eat it alone with ketchup or in a pita with salad just like a regular doner,” he says. Germany has been making serious and sustained efforts to integrate its Turkish minority. The bratwurst may help in bringing Germans and the country’s Turkish minority together.

The Disastrous Legacy of the ‘War on Terror’

There is a growing realisation around the world, as well as in the United States, that the American-led invasion and occupation of Iraq has proved to be an unmitigated disaster—for Iraq, for the world at large and for the US. The war has brought nothing but devastation and instability to Iraq, failed in its ostensible objectives (finding weapons of mass destruction and restoring democracy and stability in the country), and added to global insecurity. According to a study carried out by the World Health Organisation in January 2008, more than 151,000 Iraqis have died between March 2003 and June 2006. More than two million people have fled Iraq and an equal number have been displaced within the country.

The so-called “war on terror,” launched by the Bush administration in the wake of the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, has failed to stem global terrorism and has in fact exacerbated tensions and conflicts in large parts of the world. A survey carried out by the BBC Radio in 2006 revealed that most people in 33 out of 35 countries believed that the American-led war in Iraq has increased the threat of global terrorism. The official data for the American government-supported RAND Corporation reveal that the invasion of Iraq caused “a seven-fold increase in jihadism”. Soon after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan categorically stated that the invasion was in violation of international law. In the past few months, a number of prominent public figures and human rights organisations have voiced their anguish and concern over the legality of the invasion and occupation of Iraq by the US and its allies.

The former British prime minister Gordon Brown appointed an inquiry commission in 2009 under the chairmanship of John Chilcot, a former civil servant, to “learn lessons from the war in Iraq”. Giving evidence to the Chilcot inquiry on July 20, 2010, Eliza Manningham-Buller, who was the director general of MI5, the UK’s security force, from 2002 to 2007, said that the threat posed by Saddam Hussein before the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 was low. She added that the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan had radicalized parts of a generation of Muslims who saw the military actions as an “attack on Islam” and had significantly increased the terrorist threat to Britain. She said the toppling of Saddam had allowed Osama bin Ladin and al-Qaida to move in. “Arguably, we gave Osama bin Ladin his Iraqi Jihad,” she said.

Manningham-Buller said there was no evidence of Iraqi involvement in the September 11 attacks on the United States, a view that was shared by the CIA and which prompted the then defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to set up an alternative intelligence unit. She said that a year before the invasion of Iraq, she sent a letter to the permanent secretary at the Home Office in London, saying there was “no credible evidence” Iraq was implicated in the September 11 attacks and that Saddam was unlikely to order terrorist strikes unless he perceived that the survival of his regime was threatened. Manningham-Buller accused Tony Blair of placing too much credence on “fragmentary intelligence”. (www.guardian.co.uk/2010/july/20/iraq-inquiry-saddam-mi5-chief)

The former head of the UN weapons inspection unit Hans Blix told the Chilcot inquiry that it was his “firm view” that the invasion of Iraq was illegal, adding “I think the vast majority of international lawyers feel that way”. He said the US and UK intelligence claims, based on a forged document, that Iraq was trying to get its hands on uranium oxide for its alleged nuclear weapons programme, were “totally absurd”. He said both Britain and the US should have realized “their resources were poor” when his inspectors found no trace of any weapons of mass destruction. He said that “the UK was wedded to the UN route but eventually became a prisoner of the American train”.

The so-called war on terror, launched by the Bush administration in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks and joined by the UK, has resulted in the illegal arrest, confinement and torture of hundreds of innocent people who have had nothing to do with terrorist organizations and networks.

Babar Ahmad, 35, is the longest-surviving prisoner held without charge or trial in the UK. Born and raised in south London, Babar had a full-time job as an ICT Support Analystat at London’s Imperial College. His job involved supporting the software needs of undergraduate academic teaching and postgraduate research. He was arrested on December 2, 2003 on suspicions of having links with terrorist groups and was tortured and abused, which left him with 73 physical injuries including bleeding in his ears and urine. He was released after a week because no evidence was found against him. He returned to work in February 2004, but was rearrested on August 5, pursuant to an extradition warrant from the US. Since his arrest he has been held in a number of prisons in the high security estate, isolated from all other prisoners and was confined to the claustrophobic atmosphere of a small cell. Since the time he was arrested more than six years ago, he has not even been questioned about the charges leveled against him.

In March 2009, Babar was awarded £60,000 in compensation following the admission by the British anti-terrorism police that he was subjected to ‘grave abuse, tantamount to torture’ during his first arrest in December 2003. Babar filed an appeal against his illegal detention in the European Court of Human Rights at Strasbourg. On July 8, 2010 the court said it wanted to hear more evidence before deciding whether to allow his extradition to the US.

Monastic Medicine in Medieval Europe and Islamic Legacy

Before the establishment of universities in Europe in the Middle Ages, Christian monasteries used to be valuable storehouses of medical knowledge. Most monasteries had a healer and an infirmary.

Johannes Mayer is a medical historian at the Wurzburg Institute of the History of Medicine in Germany. He is a renowned expert on medieval monastic medicine and is at present engaged in a project that seeks to document the medical knowledge of Christian monks and, importantly, to test the efficacy of the medicinal herbs and indigenous medicine that they knew and used. He is assisted by a team of pharmacists, doctors, classical scholars and a Christian priest. Some German pharmaceutical companies have taken a keen interest in the research and have financed the project.

The research group tries to painstakingly decipher the manuscripts found at monasteries to identify the plants, minerals and animal materials, to understand how they were combined ad to test the recipes for their medicinal efficacy. Mayer and his team have already identified 600 medicinal plants, of which about 120 have been studied in great detail. Myer believes that a substantial part of herbal medicine in Europe goes back to monastic medicines. Interestingly, Mayer found that the monks in the Middle Ages had also drawn on the observations and recommendations of Muslim physicians. For example, they recommended the use of currant seeds for the treatment of rashes. “We now know that the seeds contain gramma linolenic acid, an effective anti-inflammatory agent used by Arab physicians,” says Mayer. Muslim physicians also considered valerin as an anti-inflammatory agent, which was recommended by European physicians during the Middle Ages for the treatment of wounds as well as for lung ailments. Mayer notes that valerin, which grows in Iran and the Middle East, does contain anti-inflammatory properties, but the European variety of the substance is devoid of this quality.

Hundreds of thousands of medical manuscripts, written by Muslim physicians during the medieval period, are to be found in libraries and museums and in private collections in Turkey, Egypt, Syria, Iran, India, Europe and the United States. The United States National Library of Medicine in Maryland, USA, the world’s largest medical library, has some 300 medical manuscripts in Arabic and Persian. It will be worthwhile to undertake a comprehensive project on Islamic medical manuscripts along the lines of Johannes Mayer’s research.

(Source: www.spiegel.de/international/zeitgeist/0,1518,685432,00.html)

Japan: Poverty Amidst Affluence

Inequality, wide disparities of income and poverty are not confined to developing countries. The 2008 report of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) shows that in industrialised countries too “the economic growth of recent decades has benefited the rich more than the poor”. The United States, the world’s richest country, came 27th out of 30 OECD member states in terms of entrenched poverty and growing income disparity. Income disparities in the US are the widest among the 30 countries of the OECD. The top 10 per cent of earners have an average $87,257 of disposable income, while those in the bottom have $5,819, among the very lowest of any OECD country. The 2008 annual report of the Department of Agriculture of the US government, released on November 16, 2009, pointed out that one in seven Americans was faced with food insecurity and that the number of Americans who lived in households that lacked consistent access to adequate food rose to 49 million in 2008, an increase of 11 per cent over the previous year. The report revealed that in 506,000 households, children faced “very low food security”. Britain, Canada and Luxembourg have big differences between the richest and poorest. According to a new study by the Fabian Society and Webb Memorial Trust, nearly 20 per cent of people in the UK are still stuck in poverty.

The OECD report shows that Japan had the fourth-highest relative poverty rate among 30 member countries in the mid-2000s. The worst-ranked countries in the report included Mexico with a relative poverty rate of 18.4 per cent and the US with 17.1 per cent. According to the latest survey by Japan’s welfare ministry, nearly one in every six Japanese lives in poverty, one of the highest rates in developing countries. The ministry said 15.7 per cent—up from 14.6 per cent in 1997—of Japanese people lived on less than half the median disposable income in 2006. The plight of Japanese workers has taken a turn for the worse in the wake of the global economic crisis. A World Health Organisation study carried out in August 2008 found that children born in the poorest parts of Britain die almost 30 years before their wealthier neighbours.

In October 2009 the Japanese government announced, for the first time, an official poverty line. After years of economic stagnation and widening income disparities, Japan has woken up to the fact that a fairly large number of people in the country are living below the poverty line. Japan’s official poverty rate is 15.7 per cent, which is close to that of the US (17.1 per cent). Following an internationally recognized formula, the Labour Minstry has set the national poverty line at about $22,000 per year for a family of four. The Labour Ministry disclosed that almost one in six Japanese, or 20 million people, lived in poverty in 2007. It is estimated that Japan’s poverty line has doubled since the nation’s real estate and stock markets collapsed in the early 1990s, resulting in increased stagnation and even decline.

It is believed that more than 80 per cent of those living in poverty in Japan are part of the working poor, holding low-wage, temporary jobs with no security and hopelessly inadequate safety nets. They can hardly afford to eat out or see a movie or go on a holiday. This pathetic state of affairs cuts them off from society and lowers their self-esteem.

Over half of Japan’s single mothers are poor. Satomi Sato, a 51-year old widow, makes just about $17,000 a year by combining two jobs—she makes boxed lunches in the morning and delivers newspapers in the afternoon. She has to support herself and her teenage daughter. Even with two jobs she cannot afford to see a doctor or buy medicines for her sore joints and frequent dizziness. Her daughter, Mayu, needed $700 to buy school uniforms on entering high school last year, she saved the money by having only two meals a day. May now wants to attend a vocational school to become a voice actress for animation, but Mrs Sato cannot afford the $10,000 annual tuition fee.

Statistics show that one in seven children in Japan lives in poverty. The government has recently decided to offer monthly payments of $270 per child and to cut the cost of high school education.

Until a couple of weeks ago, Japan was the second largest economy in the world after the United States. It is now the third largest economy after the US and China with an estimated GDP of $4,137 trillion. As the eminent economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz has pointed out, a country’s GDP provides no reliable index of the well-being of its people. He says that development is meaningless in the long run unless it is sustainable, equitable and participatory. He emphasizes that it is not just income that matters but overall standards of living.

(Source: The New York Times, April 21, 2010)

A 21st Century Land-Grab in Africa

Nearly 28 countries around the world experienced alarming food shortages and riots following the sharp oil price rises in 2008. The grim prospects of food scarcity have prompted wealthy countries, multinational companies and investors to buy or lease huge tracts of farmland in developing countries, especially Africa. The land grab is being spearheaded by international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders and sovereign wealth funds. The biggest buyers are Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and Abu Dhabi. In about 20 African countries, including Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Zanzibar and Sierra Leone, thousands of hectares of farmland have been bought or leased by rich countries in recent years for intensive agriculture. According to a report published in The Observer (March 7, 2010), up to 50 million hectares of land—an area more than double the size of the UK—have been acquired in the last few years by foreign governments and wealthy investors. British firms have acquired large tracts of farmland in Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria and Tanzania to grow vegetables and flowers. A New York investment company, Jarch Capital, has leased 800,000 hectares of land in southern Sudan. The UAE has acquired 750,000 hectares and Saudi Arabia 42,000 hectares in Sudan’s Nile province. The Saudi investment company, Foras, backed by wealthy Saudi investors, plans to spend $1 billion buying land in Mali, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda and growing 7 million tonnes of rice for the Saudi market over the next 7 years. Some Indian companies have bought or leased hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique for the cultivation of rice, sugarcane, maize and lentils for the domestic market.

Devlin Kuyek, a Montreal-based researcher with the NGO Grain, says investing in Africa is now seen as a new food supply strategy by many governments. “Rich countries are eyeing Africa not just for a healthy return on capital, but also as an insurance policy. Food shortages and riots in 28 countries in 2008, declining water supplies, climate change and huge population growth have together made land attractive. Africa has the most land, and compared with other countries, is cheap,” he says. Farmland in sub-Saharan Africa is now giving 25% returns a year.

Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world with more than 13 million people in need of urgent food aid, has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. In the country’s largest greenhouse, which extends over 20 hectares, millions of tomatoes, pepper and other vegetables are being grown with the help of the latest technology. Spanish engineers are building the steel structure, Dutch technicians are working on minimizing water use from two bore-holes, and 100 local women pick and pack nearly 50 tonnes of food a day. The vegetables are dispatched to shops and restaurants in Dubai, Jeddah and elsewhere in the Middle East. A Saudi billionaire businessman, Sheikh Mohammad al-Amoudi, one of the 50 richest men in the world, has acquired 1,000 hectares of farmland in Ethiopia on a 99-year lease. His Star company plans to invest up to $2 billion in acquiring and developing 500,000 hectares of land in Ethiopia in the next few years. It has already bought four farms, where wheat, rice and vegetables are being grown for the Saudi market.

The land grab involves using hundreds of millions of gallons of scarce water a year. Foreign companies that set up flower farms and other large intensive farms are not being charged for water. In Awassa, Ethiopia, the Al-Amouni farm uses as much water a year as 100,000 Ethiopians. Another motive in the escalating land grab is to grow biofuel crops. It is estimated that the European Union needs to grow biofuel crops on 17.5 million hectares in order to meet its 10% biofuel target by 2015. European biofuel companies have acquired about 3.9 hectares in Africa. China has signed a contract with the Democratic Republic of Congo to grow 2.8 million hectares of palm oil for biofuel.

Lorenzo Cotule, senior researcher with the International Institute for Environment and Development, says that well-structured deals could guarantee employment for the local people, better infrastructure and better crop yields. But when they are badly handled, they could cause great harm, especially if local people are excluded from decisions about allocating land and if their land rights are not protected. In many parts of Africa, foreign companies and investors who have acquired farmlands on lease with the consent of governments, are driving people of land which local communities have used for centuries. Local communities and farmers are never involved in negotiations relating to such acquisitions nor are they given any compensation. Consequently, local people are left with no option but to work for foreign companies.

(Source: www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2010/mar/07/food-water-africa-land-grab)

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