Thursday, January 29, 2015

The US "Peace Plan" For Syria

JPEG - 16.8 kb
Former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General John R. Allen conspired with General David Petraeus to sabotage the Syria peace plan at the Geneva 1 Conference. President Barack Obama had him placed under surveillance and managed to prevent his appointment as head of NATO. However, he managed to stay in office despite the charges against him (while Petraeus was forced to resign from the leadership of the CIA). Become commander of the anti-Daesh Military Coalition, he supports the shenanigans that General Petraeus leads from the Kohlberg Kravis Roberts Global Institute. He is director of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS), the think tank of "liberal hawks".

When, in 2001, President George W. Bush decided to place Syria on his list of targets to destroy, he had three objectives: 
- Breaking the "Axis of Resistance" and encouraging Israeli expansion;
- Laying hands on the huge gas reserves;
- Reshaping the "Broader Middle East".
Several months ago, I explained that the Daesh project corresponds with the new US map of the division of the Middle East, published by Robin Wright in The New York Times in 2013 [1]. In continuation of the Sykes-Picot, the US plan aimed to further drastically reduce Syria. Also, when the US - after having waited for Daesh to complete the ethnic cleansing in Iraq for which they had been created - began bombing the jihadists, the question arose as to whether the liberated areas of Daesh would or would not be returned to Baghdad and to Damascus.
As the United States has refused to coordinate its military action against Daesh with Syria, and in view of the fact that Russia is preparing a peace conference, "liberal hawks" in Washington have set new goals.
The "peace" plan of the "liberal hawks" consists therefore in achieving the original goals by dividing Syria in two: an area governed by Damascus and another by "moderate rebels" (read: the Pentagon). The Republic is to have the capital and the Mediterranean coast; the Pentagon: the Syrian desert and gas reserves (that is to say the Daesh zone liberated by the bomber raids of General John Allen). According to their own records, "liberal hawks" would leave only 30% of the territory to the Syrian People!
JPEG - 26.2 kb
Remodelling map according Robin Wright
The principle is simple: at present, the Republic controls all major cities except Rakka and a small part of Aleppo, but no one can claim to control a vast desert, neither the government nor the jihadists. So the Pentagon suggests that what is not clearly governed by Damascus rightfully belongs to its mercenaries!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

15 Famous Muslim Scientists and Their Inventions

Abu Nasr Al-Farabi (872 – 950)


Also known as Alpharabius. Arab scientist and philosopher, considered as one of the preeminent thinkers of medieval era.
Abu Nasr Al-Farabi
Al-Battani (858 – 929)
Also known as Albatenius. Arab mathematician, scientists and astronomer who improved existing values for the length of the year and of the seasons.
Al-Battani
Ibn Sina (980 – 1037)
Also known as Avicenna. Persian philosopher and scientist known for his contributions to Aristotelian philosophy and medicine.
Ibn Sina
Ibn Battuta (1304 – 1369)
Also known as Shams ad–Din. Arab traveler and scholar who wrote one of the most famous travel books in history, the Rihlah.
Ibn Battuta
Ibn Rushd (1126 – 1198)
Also known as Averroes. Arab philosopher and scholar who produced a series of summaries and commentaries on most of Aristotle’s works and on Plato’s Republic.
Ibn Rushd
Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi (780 – 850)
Also known as Algoritmi or Algaurizin. His works introduced Hindu-Arabic numerals and the concepts of algebra into European mathematics.
Muhammad ibn Musa Al-Khwarizmi
Omar Khayyam (1048 – 1131)
Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet, known for his scientific achievements and Rubaiyat (“quatrains”).
Omar Khayyam
Thabit ibn Qurra (826 – 901)
Also known as Thebit. Arab mathematician, physician and astronomer; who was the first reformer of the Ptolemaic system and the founder of statics.
Thabit ibn Qurra
Abu Bakr Al-Razi (865 – 925)
Also known as Rhazes. Persian alchemist and philosopher, who was one of the greatest physicians in history.
Abu Bakr Al-Razi
Jabir Ibn Haiyan (722 – 804)
Also known as Geber. The father of Arab chemistry known for his highly influential works on alchemy and metallurgy.
Jabir Ibn Haiyan
Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (801 – 873)
Also known as Alkindus. Arab philosopher and scientist, who is known as the first of the Muslim peripatetic philosophers.
Ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi
Ibn Al-Haytham (965 – 1040)
Also known as Alhazen. Arab astronomer and mathematician known for his important contributions to the principles of optics and the use of scientific experiments.
Ibn Al-Haytham
Ibn Zuhr (1091 – 1161)
Also known as Avenzoar. Arab physician and surgeon, known for his influential book Al-Taisir Fil-Mudawat Wal-Tadbeer (Book of Simplification Concerning Therapeutics and Diet).
Ibn Zuhr
Ibn Khaldun (1332 – 1406)
Arab historiographer and historian who developed one of the earliest nonreligious philosophies of history. Often considered as one of the forerunners of modern historiography, sociology and economics.
Ibn Khaldun
Ibn Al-Baitar (1197 – 1248)
Arab scientist, botanist and physician who systematically recorded the discoveries made by Islamic physicians in the Middle Ages.
Ibn Al-Baitar

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Muslim Inventions That Shaped The Modern World


In 9th century Spain, Muslim inventor Abbas ibn Firnas designed a flying machine -- hundreds of years before da Vinci drew plans of his own.


1. Surgery
Around the year 1,000, the celebrated doctor Al Zahrawi published a 1,500 page illustrated encyclopedia of surgery that was used in Europe as a medical reference for the next 500 years. Among his many inventions, Zahrawi discovered the use of dissolving cat gut to stitch wounds -- beforehand a second surgery had to be performed to remove sutures. He also reportedly performed the first caesarean operation and created the first pair of forceps.
2. Coffee
Now the Western world's drink du jour, coffee was first brewed in Yemen around the 9th century. In its earliest days, coffee helped Sufis stay up during late nights of devotion. Later brought to Cairo by a group of students, the coffee buzz soon caught on around the empire. By the 13th century it reached Turkey, but not until the 16th century did the beans start boiling in Europe, brought to Italy by a Venetian trader.
3. Flying Machine
"Abbas ibn Firnas was the first person to make a real attempt to construct a flying machine and fly," said Hassani. In the 9th century he designed a winged apparatus, roughly resembling a bird costume. In his most famous trial near Cordoba in Spain, Firnas flew upward for a few moments, before falling to the ground and partially breaking his back. His designs would undoubtedly have been an inspiration for famed Italian artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci's hundreds of years later, said Hassani.
4. University
In 859 a young princess named Fatima al-Firhi founded the first degree-granting university in Fez, Morocco. Her sister Miriam founded an adjacent mosque and together the complex became the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University. Still operating almost 1,200 years later, Hassani says he hopes the center will remind people that learning is at the core of the Islamic tradition and that the story of the al-Firhi sisters will inspire young Muslim women around the world today.
5. Algebra
The word algebra comes from the title of a Persian mathematician's famous 9th century treatise "Kitab al-Jabr Wa l-Mugabala" which translates roughly as "The Book of Reasoning and Balancing." Built on the roots of Greek and Hindu systems, the new algebraic order was a unifying system for rational numbers, irrational numbers and geometrical magnitudes. The same mathematician, Al-Khwarizmi, was also the first to introduce the concept of raising a number to a power.
6. Optics
"Many of the most important advances in the study of optics come from the Muslim world," says Hassani. Around the year 1000 Ibn al-Haitham proved that humans see objects by light reflecting off of them and entering the eye, dismissing Euclid and Ptolemy's theories that light was emitted from the eye itself. This great Muslim physicist also discovered the camera obscura phenomenon, which explains how the eye sees images upright due to the connection between the optic nerve and the brain.
7. Music
Muslim musicians have had a profound impact on Europe, dating back to Charlemagne tried to compete with the music of Baghdad and Cordoba, according to Hassani. Among many instruments that arrived in Europe through the Middle East are the lute and the rahab, an ancestor of the violin. Modern musical scales are also said to derive from the Arabic alphabet.
8. Toothbrush
According to Hassani, the Prophet Mohammed popularized the use of the first toothbrush in around 600. Using a twig from the Meswak tree, he cleaned his teeth and freshened his breath. Substances similar to Meswak are used in modern toothpaste.
9. The Crank
Many of the basics of modern automatics were first put to use in the Muslim world, including the revolutionary crank-connecting rod system. By converting rotary motion to linear motion, the crank enables the lifting of heavy objects with relative ease. This technology, discovered by Al-Jazari in the 12th century, exploded across the globe, leading to everything from the bicycle to the internal combustion engine.
10. Hospitals
"Hospitals as we know them today, with wards and teaching centers, come from 9th century Egypt," explained Hassani. The first such medical center was the Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital, founded in 872 in Cairo. Tulun hospital provided free care for anyone who needed it -- a policy based on the Muslim tradition of caring for all who are sick. From Cairo, such hospitals spread around the Muslim world.
1. The Numeral System
Many Westerners, Germans in particular, are proud of their feats of technology and engineering. But where would engineers be without numbers? The numeral system of 1 to 9 which we use today dates back to the “House of Wisdom” in Baghdad. It is thought that our numeral system was invented there in the ninth century AD.
The numerals became known to Europe in the twelfth century, when British Arabist Robert of Chester translated the writings of Arab scholar Al-Khwarizmi. Al-Khwarizmi, for whom algorithms are named, is known as the developer of modern algebra -- yet another invention from the Muslim world.
2. The Guitar
The guitar, as we know it today, has its origins in the Arabic oud – a lute with a bent neck. During the Middle Ages, it found its way to Muslim Spain, where it was referred to as “qitara” in the Arabic of Andalusia.
It is said that a music teacher brought one to the court of the Umayyad ruler Abdel Rahman II in the ninth century. The modern guitar developed as a result of many influences, but the Arabic lute was its most important predecessor.
3. Magnifying Glass/Glasses
Not only did the Arab world revolutionize mathematics – it also revolutionized optics. The scholar Alhazen (Abu al-Hasan) from Basra was the first person to describe how the eye works.
He carried out experiments with reflective materials and proved that the eye does not sense the environment with “sight rays,” as scientists had believed up until then. He also discovered that curved glass surfaces can be used for magnification.
His glass “reading stones” were the first magnifying glasses. It was from these that glasses were later developed. Furthermore, Alhazen wrote important scholarly texts on astronomy and meteorology.
  • Bridge Mill: The bridge mill was a unique type of watermill that was built as part of the superstructure of a bridge. The earliest record of a bridge mill is from Córdoba, Spain in the 12th century.
  • Vertical-Axle windmill: A small wind wheel operating an organ is described as early as the 1st century AD by Hero of Alexandria. The first vertical-axle windmills were eventually built in SistanPersia as described by Muslim geographers. These windmills had long verticaldriveshafts with rectangle shaped blades. They may have been constructed as early as the time of the second Rashidun caliph Umar (634-644 AD), though some argue that this account may have been a 10th-century amendment. Made of six to twelve sails covered in reed matting or cloth material, these windmills were used to grind corn and draw up water, and used in the gristmilling and sugarcane industries. Horizontal axle windmills of the type generally used today, however, were developed in Northwestern Europe in the 1180s.
Mercuric chloride (formerly corrosive sublimate): used to disinfect wounds

Early Torpedoes: Syrian Al-Hassan er-Rammah's manuscript "The Book of Fighting on Horseback and With War Engines"(1280) includes the first known design for a rocket driven torpedo.
Lute: while pre-Islamic Arabs had similar instruments, the Lute is thought to have been invented in the 11th century, and spread from Iraq to other areas under Muslim provinces

  • Albarello: An albarello is a type of maiolica earthenware jar originally designed to hold apothecaries' ointments and dry drugs. The development of this type of pharmacy jar had its roots in the Islamic Middle East.


  • Fritware: It refers to a type of pottery which was first developed in the Near East, where production is dated to the late 1st millennium AD through the second millennium AD Frit was a significant ingredient. A recipe for "fritware" dating to c. 1300 AD written by Abu’l Qasim reports that the ratio of quartz to "frit-glass" to white clay is 10:1:1. This type of pottery has also been referred to as "stonepaste" and "faience" among other names. A 9th-century corpus of "proto-stonepaste" from Baghdad has "relict glass fragments" in its fabric.


  • Hispano-Moresque ware: This was a style of Islamic pottery created in Islamic Spain, after the Moors had introduced two ceramic techniques to Europe: glazingwith an opaque white tin-glaze, and painting in metallic lusters. Hispano-Moresque ware was distinguished from the pottery of Christendom by the Islamic character of its decoration.


  • Iznik pottery: Produced in Ottoman Turkey as early as the 15th century AD It consists of a body, slip, and glaze, where the body and glaze are "quartz-frit."The "frits" in both cases "are unusual in that they contain lead oxide as well assoda"; the lead oxide would help reduce the thermal expansion coefficient of the ceramic. Microscopic analysis reveals that the material that has been labeled "frit" is "interstitial glass" which serves to connect the quartz particles.


  • Lusterware: Lustre glazes were applied to pottery in Mesopotamia in the 9th century; the technique soon became popular in Persia and Syria. Earlier uses of lustre are known.


  • Tin-glazing: The tin-glazing of ceramics was invented by Muslim potters in 8th-century Basra, Iraq. The first examples of this technique can be found as blue-painted ware in 8th-century Basra. The oldest fragments found to-date were excavated from the palace of Samarra about fifty miles north of Baghdad.


  • Cryptanalysis and frequency analysis: In cryptology, the first known recorded explanation of cryptanalysis was given by 9th-century Arabian polymathAl-Kindi(also known as "Alkindus" in Europe), in A Manuscript on Deciphering Cryptographic Messages. This treatise includes the first description of the method of frequency analysis.


  • Source: Wikipedia

    Cutting edge! Countless surgical instruments in a modern medical theater were brought to us by Al Zahrawi (Father of Modern Surgery). Thanks to his monkey nibbling on his lute string, the Muslim doc discovered that catgut used for internal stitches would dissolve naturally and could also make medicine capsules.
    Surgical tools

    Renowned for stunning calligraphy, it should come as no surprise that the fountain pen was developed in in the Arab world. The demanding Sultan of Egypt Al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah insisted that his minions create a pen that wouldn’t cause ink stains. And the fountain pen was born, making your handwriting look more beautiful since 953 AD.
    Fountain pen

    Ahh pay day - well known instigators of reckless spending, we have the ancient Arabs to thank for our monthly cheques. The first recorded instance of a written pledge for goods instead of cash comes from the Arabic saqq. Although somewhat obsolete in the world of PIN codes, their legacy will remain.
    Cheque

    Since cleanliness is a central part of the Quran, it should come as no surprise that soap originates from the region. Keeping greasy hair and smelly pits at bay for centuries, Muslim brainboxes as early as 2800 B.C. were working up a lather in Babylon. Perhaps the most useful invention of all time, wouldn't you say?
    Soap Middle East

    With scorching temperatures and a plethora of desert creepy crawlies, it’s no wonder that the Arabs devised the first vaccinations. Muslim Indians brewed a successful vaccination for smallpox as early as 1000 BC but it wasn’t until the wife of the British ambassador in Turkey began exporting it to Europe in 1724 that it went viral.
    smallpox vaccine india

    Although the Chinese are credited with inventing saltpetre gunpowder, the Arabs figured out that the saltpetre gunpowder can be purified using potassium nitrate. In the 15th century, Arabs invented a rocket which they called a “self-moving and combustion egg”, and they called the torpedo a “self-propelled pear-shaped bomb”.
    rockets middle east

    Islamic architecture is known to be the first style of architecture to adopt pointed arches. Europe’s gothic architecture later borrowed this characteristics for their cathedrals. The Middle East itself has moved out of its gothic teenage phase and, as shown by the Gulf, is now into opulent buildings like the Burj Al Khalifa in Dubai.
    architecture

    As the world goes camera crazy and snaps up selfies, let’s remember who we should thank for Kodak moments! Ibn al-Haytham, the “father of optics,” was the first person to realise that light enters through the eye and with this knowledge, he crafted the first pinhole camera. The world has been anything but camera-shy since.
    camera invention

    Source: Al-Bawaba

    Monday, January 26, 2015

    What Is Islamic Democracy?



    Islamic Democracy refers to a political ideology that seeks to apply Islamic principles to public policy within a democratic framework. In practice, there are three kinds of political systems in the Muslim-majority countries today; the basis of the distinction between them has to do with how comprehensively Islam is incorporated into the affairs of the state:
    1. Secular democracies, in secular states such as Azerbaijan and Turkey, that do not recognize any religion as its state religion and, therefore, does not incorporate religious principles into its public policy and other state affairs.
    2. Religious democracies; that recognize Islam as its state religion and a source of legislation, such as Malaysia and Maldives. The application of religious principles into public policy varies from country to country, since Islam is not the only source of law, such as Pakistan.
    3. Theocracies; that endeavor to institute Sharia, in full force,[1] and offers more comprehensive inclusion of Islam into the affairs of the state. Presently, Iran is the only example of an Islamic state in the form of Islamic republics.
    The concepts of liberalism and democratic participation were already present in the medieval Islamic world. The Rashidun Caliphate is perceived by its proponents as an early example of a democratic state.

    The key features of Islamic governance that I have found in Islamic sources – Quran and the Prophetic precedence (Sunnah), and contemporary Muslim discussions on the Islamic State – are Constitution,Consent, and Consultation. Muslims who seek to implement the Shariah are obliged to emulate the Prophet’s precedence and, given the rather narrow definitions of Shariah and Sunnah that most Islamist operate with, there is no escape for them from the three key principles identified here. While these principles need to be explored and articulated in the specific socio-cultural context of different Muslim societies, it is important to understand that they are essential.
    Constitution
    The compact, or constitution, of Medina that Prophet Muhammad adopted provides a very important occasion for the development of Islamic political theory. After Prophet Muhammad migrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE, he established the first Islamic state. For ten years, Prophet Muhammad was not only the leader of the emerging Muslim community in Arabia, but also the political head of the state of Medina. As the leader of Medina, Prophet Muhammad exercised jurisdiction over Muslims as well as non-Muslims. The legitimacy of his sovereignty over Medina was based on his status as the Prophet of Islam, as well as on the basis of the compact of Medina.
    As Prophet of God, he had sovereignty over all Muslims by divine decree. But Muhammad did not rule over the non-Muslims of Medina because he was the messenger of Allah. He ruled over them by virtue of the compact that was signed by the Muhajirun (Muslim immigrants from Mecca), the Ansar (indigenous Muslims of Medina), and the Yahud (several Jewish tribes that lived in and around Medina). It is interesting to note that Jews were constitutional partners in the making of the first Islamic state.
    The compact of Medina can be read as both a social contract and a constitution. A social contract, a model developed by English philosophers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, is an imaginary agreement between people in the state of nature that leads to the establishment of a community or a State. In the state of nature people are free and are not obliged to follow any rules or laws. They are essentially sovereign individuals. However, through the social contract they surrender their individual sovereignty to a collective one and create a community or a State.
    The second idea that the compact of Medina manifests is that of a constitution. In many ways, the constitution is the document that enshrines the conditions of the social contract upon which any society is founded. The compact of Medina clearly served a constitutional function, since it was the constitutive document for the first Islamic state. Thus, we can argue that the compact of Medina serves the dual function of a social contract and a constitution. Clearly the compact of Medina by itself cannot serve as a modern constitution. It would be quite inadequate, since it is a historically specific document and quite limited in its scope. However, it can serve as a guiding principle to be emulated, rather than a manual to be duplicated. Today, Muslims worldwide can emulate Prophet Muhammad and draw up their own constitutions, historically and temporally specific to their conditions.
    Consent
    An important principle of the Constitution of Medina was that Prophet Muhammad governed the city-state of Medina by virtue of the consent of its citizens. He was invited to govern, and his authority to govern was enshrined in the social contract. The constitution of Medina established the importance of consent and cooperation for governance.
    The process of bayah, or the pledging of allegiance, was an important institution that sought to formalise the consent of the governed. In those days, when a ruler failed to gain the consent of the ruled through a formal and direct process of pledging of allegiance, the ruler’s authority was not fully legitimised. This was an Arab custom that predates Islam, but, like many Arab customs, was incorporated within Islamic traditions. Just as Prophet Muhammad had done, the early Caliphs of Islam, too, practiced the process of bayah after rudimentary forms of electoral colleges had nominated the Caliph, in order to legitimise the authority of the Caliph. One does not need to stretch one’s imagination too far to recognise that in polities that have millions rather than hundreds of citizens, the process of nomination followed by elections can serve as a necessary modernisation of the process of bayah. Replacing bayah with ballots makes the process of pledging allegiance simple and universal. Elections, therefore, are neither a departure from Islamic principles and traditions, nor inherently un-Islamic in any form.
    The Quran, too, recognises the authority of those who have been chosen as leaders, and in a sense extends divine legitimacy to those who have legitimate authority.
    O you who believe! Obey Allah and obey the Messenger and
those in authority from among you. [Quran 4:59] 
    Consultation
    The third key principle of Islamic governance is consultation, or Shura in Arabic. This is a very widely known concept, and many Islamic scholars have advanced the Islamic concept of Shura as evidence for Islam’s democratic credentials. Indeed, many scholars actually equate democracy with Shura. 
    …and consult them in affairs (of moment). 
Then, when thou hast taken a decision put thy trust in Allah. [Quran 3:159]
    [righteous are those] …who conduct their affairs through [shura baynahum] mutual Consultation. [Quran 42:38]
    Muslim scholars dispute whether the Quranic injunction for consultation is advisory or mandatory, but it nevertheless remains a divine sanction. Pro-democracy Muslims see it as necessary, and those who fear democratic freedoms and prefer authoritarianism interpret these injunctions as divine suggestions and not divine fiats. The Prophet himself left behind a very important tradition that emphasised the importance of collective and democratic decision making. He said that “the community of Muhammed will never agree upon error.” Consultative governance, therefore, is the preferred form of governance in Islam, and any Muslim who chooses to stay true to his faith sources cannot but prefer a democratic structure over all others to realise the justice and wellbeing promised in Islamic sources.
    Conclusion 
    There is much in Islamic sources and Islamic tradition that is favorable to making democracy the vehicle for delivering the products of Islamic governance, such as social justice, economic welfare, and religious freedoms. I am convinced that Islam is not a barrier to, but instead a facilitator of, democracy, justice, and tolerance in the Muslim world. That said, for that to happen, Muslims must revisit their sources and re-understand them without a bias against things that they erroneously label as Western. Democracy is inherent to Islamic values and Islamic historical experience.
    References 
    Al-Raysuni, Ahmad. Al-Shura: The Quranic Principle of Consultation (London: International Institute of Islamic thought, 2011).
    El Fadl, Khaled Abou, et al. Islam and the Challenge of Democracy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).
    Esposito, John L., Mohammed A. Muqtedar Khan, and Jillian Schwedler. “Religion and Politics in the Middle East.” Understanding the Contemporary Middle East (Boulder and London: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2000).
    Esposito, John L. and John O. Voll. Islam and Democracy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996).
    Haykal, M. H. The Life of Muhammad (trans.) Ismael R. Al Faruqi (Indianapolis: NAIT, 1988), pp. 180-83.
    Khan, Muqtedar. “Shura and Democracy.” Ijtihad.Org.
    Khan, M. A. Muqtedar. Debating Moderate Islam: The Geopolitics of Islam and the West (Salt Lake, Utah, University of Utah Press, 2007).
    Khan, Muqtedar Khan. “Islam, Democracy and Islamism after the Counterrevolution in Egypt.” Middle East Policy XXI.1 (2014): 75-86.
    Khan, M. A. Muqtedar. “The Islamic States,” in M. Hawkesworth and M. Kogan (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Government and Politics, (London: Routledge Press, 2003).
    Siddiqui, A. H. The Life of Muhammad (Des Plaines, IL: Library of Islam, 1991).
    By M.A. Muqtedar Khan is Associate Professor in the department of Political Science and Contributors International Relations at the University of Delaware and a Fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

    Sunday, January 25, 2015

    China’s Ban On Islamic Veils Sends Uighurs Westward To Pray

    Veils Banned
    A veiled Muslim Uyghur woman walks passed a statue of Mao Zedong in Kashgar, Xinjiang Province, China. Last month the Urumqi legislature banned the wearing of veils in public areas. Photographer: Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

    The Imam at one of Almaty’s biggest mosques gets busy around Ramadan when his Uighur “brothers and sisters” from China flock to the Kazakh city to pray, finding it increasingly difficult to practice Islam at home.
    As the western Chinese region of Xinjiang grapples with ethnic tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese, and President Xi Jinping vows to crush separatist activity, more Uighurs are finding a warmer reception about 235 miles (380 kilometers) away. In some parts of Xinjiang, Uighurs risk fines or detention for wearing veils or growing beards and some are warned against observing Ramadan -- Islam’s holiest month.
    “Uighur Muslims want their religion and want to practice their religion freely,” Imam Knanat Ali said outside the blue-domed Prophet Muhammad Mosque in the industrial north of Almaty. “In China this is strictly controlled, so we see many Uighurs come here during Ramadan to pray, to fast, to learn more knowledge about Islam,” said Ali, who has presided over the mosque for three years.
    The flow of worshippers to Kazakhstan, which has the biggest Uighur population outside Xinjiang, persists even as China is boosting ties with its neighbor, a gateway to the west in Xi’s plan to rebuild the ancient Silk Road route. China has displaced Russia as Kazakhstan’s biggest trading partner -- the two-way relationship accounts for around 70 percent of China’s trade with central Asia, and China is the biggest foreign investor in the country’s oil and gas sector.
    China’s crackdown on violence in Xinjiang, which authorities have linked to Islamic extremism and terrorism, is driving Uighurs to come across the long, shared border with Kazakhstan. Uighurs have “quite a balanced position” with other ethnic groups in Kazakhstan, said Konstantin Syroezhkin, chief research fellow of the state-sponsored Kazakhstan Institute for Strategic Studies.

    ‘Fully Assimilated’

    “They’re not restricted here,” Syroezhkin said. “There are around 260,000 Uighurs living in the country and they’re fully assimilated in the Kazakh society. Kazakhstan doesn’t support a policy of ethnic separatism.”
    Many Uighurs have family in Xinjiang, the Imam said. There are around 10 million Uighurs in China’s western province, according to the Xinjiang Statistics Bureau. About 1.5 percent of Kazakhstan’s population are Uighurs, a Turkic language-speaking group, and many live in the Almaty area, says London-based Minority Rights Group International.
    “We Uighurs are brothers and sisters; we care a lot about what’s happening in Xinjiang,” Ali said. “The Uighur rebellion” in Xinjiang has sprouted because “the Chinese government punishes them for their religion.”

    Han Chinese

    Uighur communities in Almaty, the former capital of Kazakhstan, live in compact, closely-knit neighborhoods where they have their own cafes, restaurants and mosques. That kinship prompted hundreds to rally in Almaty after riots in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in July 2009. The most violent clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in decades left nearly 200 dead, most of them Chinese.
    Even though about 92 percent of China’s 1.3 billion population is Han, more than 45 percent of Xinjiang’s 22 million people are Uighurs.
    Violence picked up in Xinjiang in 2014 and spilled to other Chinese cities such as Kunming and Guangzhou. In November, 15 people, including 11 assailants, were killed after a group hurled explosives at a food court in Kashgar in south Xinjiang. In September, 50 people, including 40 that police identified as rioters, were killed in what authorities called a terrorist attack in Luntai county, while in July, 96 people died in an assault on government offices in Shache county.

    ‘All Uighurs’

    “During the 2009 riots, Uighur prayers here were crying because we all had relatives in Xinjiang,” said a 65-year-old mosque worker known as “Auntie Sonya” who moved to Almaty from Xinjiang in the late 1960s. “We didn’t know who was responsible for this conflict and who was guilty, but we felt for them because all Uighurs are family.”
    Last month the Urumqi legislature banned the wearing of veils in public areas. Communist Party members, civil servants, teachers and students are “encouraged” to eat during the day over Ramadan “for the sake of their health, work and study,” state media reports say. Some officials must sign a document pledging not to observe Ramadan, according to the website Uighur Online, whose founder Ilham Tohti is serving life in jail for promoting separatism.
    Source: Business Week

    Saturday, January 24, 2015

    I'm A Feminist and I Converted To Islam

    I am a Muslim, but I wasn't always. I converted to Islam in November 2001, two months after 9/11.
    I was 21 and living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. It was a bad time to be a Muslim. But after four years of studying, poking and prodding at world religions and their adherents, I decided to take the plunge.
    Questions and Answers
    I am the product of a Creole Catholic and an Irish atheist. I grew up Catholic, then was agnostic, now I'm Muslim.
    My journey to Islam began when I was about 15 years old in mass, and had questions about my faith. The answers from teachers and clergymen -- don't worry your pretty little head about it -- didn't satisfy me.
      So I did what any red-blooded American would do: the opposite. I worried about it. For many years. I questioned the nature of religion, man, and the universe.
      After questioning everything I was taught to be true and digging through rhetoric, history and dogma, I found out about this strange thing called Islam. I learned that Islam is neither a culture nor a cult, nor could it be represented by one part of the world. I came to realize Islam is a world religion that teaches tolerance, justice and honor, and promotes patience, modesty and balance.
      As I studied the faith, I was surprised many of the tenants resonated with me. I was pleased to find that Islam teaches its adherents to honor all prophets, from Moses to Jesus to Muhammad, all of whom taught mankind to worship one God and to conduct ourselves with higher purpose.
      I was drawn to Islam's appeal to intellect and heartened by the prophet Muhammad's quote, "The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female." I was astounded that science and rationality were embraced by Muslim thinkers like Al-Khawarizmi, who invented algebra; Ibn Firnas, who developed the mechanics of flight before DaVinci; and Al-Zahravi, who is the father of modern surgery.
      Here was a religion telling me to seek out answers and use my intellect to question the world around me.
      Taking The Plunge
      It was 2001 and I had been putting off converting for a while. I feared what people would think, but was utterly miserable. When 9/11 happened, the actions of the hijackers horrified me. But in its aftermath, I spent most of my time defending Muslims and their religion to people who were all too eager to paint a group of 1.6 billion people with one brush because of the actions of a few. I was done being held hostage by the opinions of others. In defending Islam, I got over my fear and decided to join my brothers and sisters in the faith I believed in.
      My family did not understand, but it wasn't a surprise to them since I had been studying religion. Most were very concerned for my safety. Luckily, most of my friends were cool about it, and even curious to learn more.
      The Scarf
      These days, I am a proud wearer of hijab. You can call it a scarf. My scarf does not tie my hands behind my back, and it is not a tool of oppression. It doesn't prevent thoughts from entering my head and leaving my mouth. But I didn't always know this.
      Studying Islam didn't immediately dispel all my cultural misconceptions. I had been raised on imagery of women in the East being treated like chattel by men who forced them to cover their bodies out of shame or a sense of ownership.
      But when I asked a Muslim woman "Why do you wear that?", her answer was obvious, and appealing: "To please God. To be recognized as a woman who is to be respected and not harassed. So that I can protect myself from the male gaze." She explained how dressing modestly is a symbol to the world that a woman's body is not meant for mass consumption or critique.
      I still wasn't convinced and replied, "Yeah, but women are like second class citizens in your faith?" The very patient Muslim lady explained that, during a time when the Western world treated women like property, Islam taught that men and women were equal in the eyes of God. Islam made the woman's consent to marriage mandatory and gave women the opportunity to inherit, own property, run businesses and participate in government.
      She listed right after right that women in Islam held nearly 1250 years before women's lib was ever thought of in the West. Surprisingly, Islam turned out to be the religion that appealed to my feminist ideals.
      Getting Married
      It might shock you to know that I had an arranged marriage. That doesn't mean I was forced to marry my father's first choice suitor, like Jasmine from Aladdin. Dad didn't even have a say.
      When I converted, it wasn't a good time to be a Muslim. Feeling isolated, alienated and rejected by my own society pushed me to want to start a family of my own. Even before converting I had always wanted a serious relationship, but found few men looking for the same.
      As a new Muslim, I knew there was a better way to look for love and a lifelong partnership. I decided that if I wanted a serious relationship, it was time to get serious about finding one. I wanted an arranged marriage.
      I made a list of "30 Rock"-style deal breakers. I searched. I interviewed. I interrogated friends and families of prospects.
      I decided I wanted to marry another convert, someone who had been where I was and wanted to go where I wanted to go. Thanks to parents of friends, I found my now-husband, a convert to Islam, in Mobile, Alabama, two hours from my New Orleans home. Twelve years later, we are living happily ever after.
      Not every Muslim finds a mate in this manner, and I didn't always see this for my life. But I am glad Islam afforded me this option.
      Living In A Post-9/11 World
      I never had to give up my personality, American identity or culture to be a Muslim. I have, at times, had to give up on being treated with dignity.
      I have been spat on, had eggs thrown at me, and been cursed at from passing cars. And I have felt terror when the mosque I attended in Savannah, Georgia, was first shot at, then burned down.
      In August 2012, I moved back home to New Orleans, where being different is the norm. I finally felt safe -- for a while. But now, with the continuous news coverage of the un-Islamic group known as ISIS, I have been subjected to much of the same treatment I received in other cities. And I now feel less safe than I ever have.
      It enrages me to know there are some who call themselves Muslims and who distort and misappropriate Islam for political gains. It weighs on me knowing that millions of my countrymen see only these images as a representative of my religion. It is unbearable to know that I am passionately hated for my beliefs, when those hating me don't even know what my beliefs are.
      In my journey to Islam, I came to learn that Muslims come in all shapes, sizes, attitudes, ethnicities, cultures and nationalities. I came to know that Islam teaches disagreement and that shouldn't lead to disrespect, as most Muslims want peace. Most of all, I have faith that my fellow Americans can rise above fear and hatred and come to learn the same.