The Weekly Standard Blog October 28, 2013
On Saturday, October 26, news broadcasts around the world presented images that, innocuous in any other country, were revolutionary for the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Responding to an online petition titled “oct26driving.com,” at least 60 female subjects of the desert monarchy drove cars on the country’s streets and highways. Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that forbids women driving.
Many participants in the demonstration video-recorded their experiences and uploaded them to YouTube. Two days before, on October 24, an obscure Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman, General Mansur al-Turki, warned that the country’s ban on women driving would be enforced, that women defying it faced arrest, and that all such demonstrations were prohibited.
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the protest was, therefore, that it took place without significant repression, regardless of official threats. CNN reported that “authorities stopped five women who were spotted driving” in Riyadh. A city police representative said that the women were not taken to jail but “were kept in their vehicles” waiting for a “male guardian” or “mehram.” The latter is a family member with legal control over Saudi women’s personal activities, including permission to work, study in a foreign country, possess a bank account, marry or divorce, or receive medical treatment. The five Riyadh women were compelled to sign pledges not to drive again, then released to their “guardians.”
Continue reading Saudi Women Driving – Toward More Reforms? by Irfan Al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz
CIP October 15, 2013
The Center for Islamic Pluralism, an international network of Muslim scholars, clerics, authors, journalists, Sufi shaykhs, and other believers, active in 32 Muslim-majority countries and Muslim-minority communities, extends warm greetings to all Muslims on the occasion of Eid Al-Adha for the hijri year 1434.
Also known as Kurban Bayram, or the “Feast of Sacrifice,” Eid Al-Adha commemorates the act of Ibrahim/Abraham, peace be upon him, the common father of monotheists, in accepting the commandment of Almighty Allah, Lord of the Worlds, to slay his son Ismail.
Allah, whose mercy and compassionate are infinite, intervened to prevent Ibrahim from killing his son and provided a ram for slaughter in his place. This interaction between Allah Almighty and Ibrahim/Abraham has been interpreted by some non-Muslim commentators as expressing the break of the monotheist, “Abrahamic” believers with prior religions founded on human sacrifice.
With the coming of Eid Al-Adha the annual hajj pilgrimage will have been fulfilled, an occasion on which we pray for the highest spiritual rewards for the hujjaj, notwithstanding difficulties caused by excessively ambitious Saudi Arabian construction plans in the beloved, holy city of Mecca.
We see in Eid Al-Adha above all the signs of human solidarity, denial of doubt, and renunciation of extreme personal zeal. The God who preserved the son of Ibrahim/Abraham cannot offer counsel or comfort to heartless terrorists and dictators currently interfering with our faith, which is Islam, and committing crimes that disgrace us as Muslims. Allah almighty will prevail; and the victims of radical violence, wherever they are found, will prevail by Allah’s will. The shrines and other heritage of Mecca, Medina, and similar places where extremist vandalism and heedless commercialism now dictate devastation of our Islamic legacy will be rescued and restored, insha’allah.
Bajram šerif mubarek olsun!
Gëzuar kurban bajramin!
The Guardian Online [London] October 14, 2013
The Grand Mosque in Mecca, teeming with pilgrims for the start of Hajj this week. Photograph: Amr Nabil/AP
Two million Muslims have flooded into Saudi Arabia’s Mina Valley from Mecca for the start of the Hajj pilgrimage this week. Dressed in simple white garments and freed from their worldly possessions, they are following in the footsteps of the prophet Muhammad. But in Islam’s holiest city, there is increasingly little sign of the prophet’s legacy – or the frugal life he espoused.
“The authorities are trying to destroy anything in Mecca that is associated with the prophet’s life,” says Irfan al-Alawi, director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who recently returned from a trip to the city. “They have already bulldozed the house of his wife, his grandson and his companion – and now they are coming for his birthplace. And for what? Yet more seven-star hotels.”
At the foot of the Khandama mountain to the west of the Grand Mosque, an innocuous white building stands alone, cast adrift in a sea of paving and tarmac. This small library was built to mark the site of the house where the prophet was born, known as the House of Mawlid, the remains of which Alawi says still lie beneath its raised plinth. But it is now in the path of bigger plans.
Continue reading As the Hajj begins, the destruction of Mecca’s heritage continues by Oliver Wainwright
CIP October 14, 2013
The Art Newspaper [London] October 2013
May the blessings of Allah subhanawata'la be generous upon all those Muslims undertaking the hajj this year.
Jeddah. The Saudi government has drastically reduced the number of pilgrims travelling to Mecca for the Hajj this month (13-18 October), owing to construction work in and around the holy city, including the £690m redevelopment of the Grand Mosque. The number of Saudi pilgrims has been halved, while the number of foreign Muslims has been cut by 20%. The restriction is temporary, according to the Hajj minister, Bandar Hajjar, although building work is not expected to finish for another two to three years.
The controversial multi-billion-pound expansion of the holy sites of Mecca and Medina, which is being overseen by the Saudi Binladin Group, is intended to meet the demands of the 12 million pilgrims who visit every year. This figure is expected to increase to 17 million by 2025. But critics say that the new skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels built in Mecca are turning it into a city for the few, rather than a place for the masses—the reason for expansion in the first place.
Development has also come at a cost. Archaeologists estimate that the building boom has destroyed more than 95% of the 1,000-year-old heritage sites and buildings in the cities, with the few remaining sites facing imminent destruction. “Muslims need to make their voices heard now,” says Irfan Al Alawi, the executive director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who describes Mecca as the new Las Vegas. “We haven’t got years or even months—it’s a matter of days,” he warns. “As we speak, the Grand Mosque looks like a salvage yard,” he says.
Continue reading Old Mecca falls, luxury hotels rise by Anny Shaw
Gatestone Institute October 11, 2013
Germany’s federal election, held on September 22, had two new consequences, one reported widely in global media – the failure of the centrist Free Democrats [FDP] to retain their presence in the parliament, or Bundestag – and the other observed almost exclusively by Turks, whether in Turkey or in the large Turkish immigrant community in Western Europe. That was the public emergence of an ambitious Islamist party in Germany.
In the political contest in September, for the first time, state-level candidates appeared with an Islamist ideology that values separation from – rather than cooperation with – other German parties. The Islamists are represented by the Alliance for Innovation and Justice, known by its German-language title as BIG, founded in 2010 and currently headed by Haluk Yıldız. A management consultant and leader of the Muslim Council of Bonn, Yıldız was elected in 2009 to the Bonn city council on the ticket of the Alliance for Peace and Fairness [German acronym: BFF], a group that joined in founding BIG.
Continue reading New Islamist Approach to Turks in Germany by Veli Sirin
Uyghur Human Rights Project and Uyghur American Association October 9, 2013
The flag of East Turkestan.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project (UHRP) is proud to unveil its new website in the Chinese language, which it hopes will build bridges between the Uyghur and Chinese communities as they strive to bring democratic reform to China. UHRP believes a Chinese language website will help to draw connections between the struggle for Uyghur human rights and broader Chinese democracy activism.
“The UHRP-Chinese website is an important development in the Uyghur movement for freedom, democracy and human rights,” said UHRP director Alim Seytoff in a statement from Washington, DC. “It is a first-of-its-kind initiative to bring together research, original writing and news on the human rights issues that directly affect the Uyghur and Chinese people. UHRP hopes that through educating the Chinese public on the plight of the Uyghur, we will be able to counteract the demonizing effects of Chinese government propaganda and seek meaningful solutions to the East Turkestan issue.”
Continue reading The Uyghur Human Rights Project launches new Chinese language website by The Uyghur American Association
The Weekly Standard Blog October 9, 2013
On October 2, Arab media reported that a Kuwaiti radical Muslim television preacher, Tareq Suwaidan, was prohibited from visiting Saudi Arabia. Suwaidan had sought to go to Mecca to perform “umrah,” a shorter version of the annual hajj pilgrimage.
The hajj, which takes up five days of rituals, will begin on October 13-14. Its timing depends on sighting of a new moon, marking commencement of the hajj month, or Dhu l-Hijjah, which is the last month in the Islamic lunar calendar. Umrah, involving only a part of the full hajj ceremonies, may be performed at any time, and is popular with Muslim believers who can afford the journey.
Suwaidan, one of an array of prominent Muslims considered imitators of Western tele-evangelists, is a man of parts. Supplementing his televised sermons, he is a motivational speaker and management consultant. He is ambiguous about certain topics, but admits to membership in the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). He has appealed for dialogue between Muslims and the West, and praised American schooling—perhaps unsurprisingly since he was educated at Penn State and the University of Tulsa, earning a doctorate in petroleum engineering at the latter institution.
Continue reading Saudi Arabia Moves Against Muslim Brotherhood Amid Increased Pressure for Reform by Irfan Al-Alawi and Stephen Schwartz
Republika [Macedonia] October 4, 2013
Stephen Sulejman Schwartz, 2013 -- Photograph by K.S. Rolph, reproduction prohibited without permission of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.
Stephen Sulejman Schwartz is Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism, an international network of moderate Muslim scholars, clerics, intellectuals and journalists in more than 20 countries. He was born in 1948 to a Jewish father and Protestant Christian mother. Schwartz was not a member of any faith until 1997, and accepted Islam during a visit to Bosnia-Hercegovina. He has had an abundant career in the field of literature and journalism. His articles have been published in the world’s major media, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, the Toronto Globe and Mail, and others. He is currently a contributor to the Weekly Standard and the Huffington Post. He is a leading expert on the problems of Muslims in the Balkans and a critic of Islamic fundamentalism, especially the Wahhabi sect and the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
Republika: Mr. Schwartz, you follow very closely developments within Islam. You are also a very strong critic of Islamic fundamentalism. What are the risks you see from Islamist extremism in the Balkans, and in Macedonia?
The Balkan Muslims have been targeted, clearly, by radicals in the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as representatives of the Wahhabi movement. This is obvious to anybody who visits the region and knows the situation there. As the most outrageous example, I would cite the terroristic campaign against the Bektashi Sufis of the Harabati Baba teqe in Tetova, conducted by Wahhabi radicals with the complicity of the official Islamic Community of Macedonia. This situation has been recognized and criticized by the U.S. State Department for 10 years.
Continue reading Moderate Balkan Muslims Are Targeted By Wahhabis and the Muslim Brotherhood Interview with Stephen Sulejman Schwartz by Nenad Mirchevski
The recently-reconstructed Jewish Cemetery at Manastiri/Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.
Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts October 1, 2013
I will begin by thanking Bar-Ilan University and its departments concerned with the subject of this conference, the Holocaust Memorial Center for the Jews of Macedonia, Ashkelon Academic College, the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ss. Cyril and Methodius University, and the Ministry of Religious Services of the State of Israel for permitting presentation of my paper. [Unfortunately, because of a health procedure to which I was subject, I was prevented from travelling to the conference from the United States to deliver the text in person. Instead, it will be read to the audience in English by my friend and colleague, Madame Xhangyle Ilijazi, vice president of the "Dr. Haim Abravanel" Kosova-Israel Friendship Association, who is in attendance.] I should also specify that I am not an academic and do not possess a doctorate. I am an author and journalist.
Continue reading The Myth of Bulgarian Rescue of Jews And Reality of Bulgarian Complicity In the Destruction of Vardar Macedonian Jewry During the Holocaust by Stephen Schwartz. [Presented to the Conference "Jews Across the Balkans: History, Society and Culture"]