The Independent [London] November 12, 2014
Construction projects in Mecca.
The site in Mecca where the Prophet Mohamed is said to have been born is about to be “buried under marble” and replaced by a huge royal palace. The work is part of a multibillion-pound construction project in the holy city which has already resulted in the destruction of hundreds of historic monuments.
The project, which began several years ago, aims to expand the al-Masjid al-Haram, or the Grand Mosque, to cater for the millions of pilgrims who make their way to the holy city each year for the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are obliged to make at least once.
Mecca is the holiest city in Islam because of its link to the birth of the Prophet, and because it is the site of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped building made from black granite and said to have been built by Abraham. The Grand Mosque is built around it, and Muslims face towards it when they pray.
Continue reading Mecca under threat. Outrage at plan to destroy the ‘birthplace’ of the Prophet Mohamed and replace it with a new palace and luxury malls by Andrew Johnson
The Weekly Standard Blog November 11, 2014
Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi in his prison cell.
Ayatollah Seyed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi has been imprisoned in his native land since 2006. In a statement on November 7, he announced a hunger strike from his cell in Tehran’s Evin House of Detention, notorious for the political and spiritual dissidents held and abused there.
Boroujerdi’s meditations appeared on the occasion of Ashura, which recalls the murder in the 7th century of Imam Hussein, grandson of Muhammad and an opponent of the reigning Islamic caliphate, at the Battle of Karbala in Iraq. Ashura and the remembrance of Karbala–a time for mourning rather than a holiday–are especially prominent in Shia Islam.
Ayatollah Boroujerdi took the occasion this year to describe the Iranian state as “worse and more evil than Daesh [the Arabic name for the Islamic State] and the Taliban.” He warned that the Khomeinist doctrine of “guardianship by the jurisprudent” or velayet-e faqih, i.e. clerical command in politics, had handed over Iran’s wealth to “authoritarian Pharaonic rulers” in Yemen, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and among the Palestinians. The incarcerated ayatollah compared the atrocities of the caliphate in killing Imam Hussein and his followers at Karbala more than 1,330 years ago with Khomeinism, and pledged “aggressive” opposition to the dominant Iranian ideology.
Continue reading Jailed Iranian Ayatollah Calls Regime ‘Worse and More Evil than ISIS or the Taliban’ by Stephen Schwartz
The Huffington Post November 3, 2014
The Tenth of Muharram, by Ottoman court painter Fausto Zonaro (1854-1929)
The Muslim religious observance of Ashura – the 10th day of Muharram, the month that commences the Islamic lunar year – began on the evening of Sunday, November 2, 2014, and extends through Monday, November 3, by Western reckoning.
Ashura marks the death at the battle of Karbala, in Iraq in 680 CE, of Imam Husayn, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and 72 of Husayn’s followers. The first ten days of Muharram are dedicated by many Muslims, but especially by adherents of the Shia tradition, to sorrow for the tragedy of Karbala.
While Ashura is a day of grief, rather than a festival, in Turkey and among the Bektashi Muslims of the Albanian lands, fasting for Ashura is followed by consumption of a special pudding, also called Ashura, made up of grains, nuts, fruits, and sweeteners.
Continue reading Ashura In the Shadow of New Terrorism by Stephen Schwartz
Gatestone Institute October 26, 2014
Turkish Army tanks at the country's border with Syria -- Photo credit Anadolu Agency.
The world has watched the town of Kobani on the Turkish-Syrian border, where the Wahhabi terrorists of the so-called “Islamic State” [IS], also known as ISIS, ISIL, and, in Arabic, the “Daesh,” are fighting the Kurdish peshmerga, a word meaning “those facing death.” The Turkish authorities, under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the Islamist Justice and Development Party [AKP], have stood among the ambivalent observers of the battle for Kobani.
At the same time, he who is called “the man on the island” has put an ultimatum to Erdoğan. Abdullah Öcalan, in jail surrounded by the sea near Istanbul and still the real leader of the Kurdish Workers Party [PKK], has given the Turkish authorities more time to achieve a full agreement with its Kurdish subjects. If it does not, he says he can do “nothing more for the peace process.” But as reported by the London Financial Times on October 22, Öcalan said he remained “optimistic” about relations between Ankara and the Kurdish revolutionaries. The PKK is designated a terrorist group by the United States and various European governments, as well as Turkey.
Continue reading The Kurds in Turkey and the Fight for Kobani by Veli Sirin
First Things Online October 22, 2014
The flag of the Republic of Latvia. Every Muslim should stand up against Russian imperialism.
In May 2014, I attended an interfaith conference in Kosova where I met Janīs Priede, an associate professor in the department of Oriental Studies at the University of Latvia, located in the national capital, Riga. Having watched, from the Balkans, the Russian annexation of Crimea and further attempted partition of Ukraine during the first half of the year, I expressed my concern to Prof. Priede that Latvia, a member of the European Union (EU) and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), could be the next object of aggression by Vladimir Putin. He agreed.
Continue reading Is Latvia Putin’s New Target? by Stephen Schwartz
The Weekly Standard Blog October 21, 2014
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.
Recently, some media commentators have argued that, rather than the product of a simple confrontation between Sunni and Shia Muslims in Syria and Iraq, the rise of the so-called “Islamic State” should be perceived as an eruption into those countries of Wahhabism, the only interpretation of Islam recognized as official in Saudi Arabia.
David Gardner of the Financial Times, for instance, blamed Saudi Arabia indirectly for the growth of ISIS, writing, “Jihadi extremism does present a threat to the kingdom. But in doctrinal terms it is hard to see in what way it ‘deviates’ from Wahhabi orthodoxy.” Others have implied or alleged that Saudi Arabia helps finance ISIS.
Continue reading Saudi Wahhabism and ISIS Wahhabism: The Difference by Stephen Schwartz
The Huffington Post October 16, 2014
Our sister, the honorable Muslimah Malala Yousafzai -- United Nations News photograph,
The award of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize to Malala Yousafzai, the 17-year old Pakistani female and youngest-ever Nobel laureate, in tandem with India’s Kailash Satyarthi, 60, a prominent activist for children’s rights in his own country, has various contexts.
One such involves Pakistani-Indian conciliation in the face of shared challenges. As the Nobel Committee affirmed, it “regards [the dual Prize] as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism.”
“Extremism” touches on a wider aspect of the 2014 Peace Prize: the future of millions of women in the Muslim global community, or umma.
Continue reading Malala Yousafzai and the Future of Islam by Stephen Schwartz
The Weekly Standard October 20, 2014
Since Islam emerged more than 14 centuries ago, Mecca, near the western coast of the Arabian peninsula, has drawn the interest of the world. For Muslim believers, the city and its sacred mosque—which encompasses a high, cubical structure, the Kaaba—are the focus of spiritual devotion as the qibla, or direction of prayer, and a destination for pilgrimages. For non-Muslims, Mecca has long been enigmatic, as it has been closed to them since early in Islamic history. Ziauddin Sardar, a British Muslim of Pakistani background, has written an extensive history of Mecca. His panorama is somewhat limited, with attention focused on the great mosque and the Kaaba.
Sardar’s account of Mecca’s origins is based on conventional religious and historical sources, as is his treatment of Muhammad, who would make the city famous. The foundation of the Kaaba has been credited, in Islamic tradition, to Adam, as well as to Abraham and his first son Ishmael (Ismail), progenitor of the Arabs and, through descent from Ismail to Muhammad, of the Muslims. Sardar details how the original association with Abraham, the common originator of Jewish, Christian, and Muslim monotheism, was replaced with a vision of Mecca as a heavenly city in which Adam and Eve dwelt after their expulsion from paradise.
Continue reading Mecca: The Sacred City by Ziauddin Sardar Bloomsbury, 448 pp., $30.00 Reviewed by Stephen Schwartz
CIP October 6, 2014
The 16th c. CE Čobanija mosque, a jewel of Sarajevo.
This year – 2014 in the Common Era (C.E.) calendar, 5774-75 in the Hebrew calendar, and the Islamic lunar year 1435-36 – saw a coincidence between the Jewish and Muslim holy days. The 10 Jewish “Days of Awe” were observed from Rosh Hashanah on September 24 to the fast of Yom Kippur on the night of October 3-4. The Muslim observance of the Hajj pilgrimage commenced in Mecca on October 1-2 and the beginning of four days of Eid Al-Adha – the “feast of sacrifice” at the end of the Hajj – was set on the same night as Yom Kippur, October 3-4.
In the “northern” Islamic tier between the Balkans and Central Asia, Eid Al-Adha is known as Kurban Bayram, a translation of “feast of sacrifice.”
Because the Islamic calendar is a lunar reckoning that moves its dates in reverse when compared with the Common Era and Jewish days, Muslim holidays are observed earlier from year to year. Muslims in North America and Western Europe were expected to celebrate Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram beginning on October 4-5. Since it is dependent on local moon sightings, Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram was to be celebrated from Sunday, October 5-6, in North Africa, East Africa, and South Africa, and commencing on Monday, October 6-7, in Pakistan and India.
As noted in The Times of Israel, the coincidence of Yom Kippur and Eid Al-Adha/Kurban Bayram takes place only once every 33 years – most recently in 1948 and 1981, as well as this year.
Continue reading Jews and Muslims Share A Holy Week by Stephen Schwartz
Gulf News [Dubai] October 3, 2014
As a child, Osama Al Bar would walk from his home past Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba, to the market of spice and fabric merchants where his father owned a store. At that time, Makkah was so small, pilgrims could sit at the cube-shaped Kaaba and look out at the serene desert mountains where the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) once walked.
Now the market and the homes are gone. Monumental luxury hotel towers crowd around the Grand Mosque where the Kaaba is located, dwarfing it. Steep rocky hills overlooking the mosque have been leveled and are now covered with cranes building more towers in row after row.
“My father and all the people who lived in Makkah wouldn’t recognise it,” said Al Bar, who is now Makkah’s mayor.
Essam Kalthoum, left, managing director of the Bawabat Makkah Company, which oversees several projects around the city, shows a prototype of what the heart of Makkah will look like after construction around the Grand Mosque is complete. Photo: AP
As Muslims from around the world stream into Makkah for the annual Haj this week, they come to a city undergoing the biggest transformation in its history.
Decades ago, this was a low-built city of centuries-old neighbourhoods. Over the years, it saw piecemeal renewal projects. But in the mid-2000s, the kingdom launched its most ambitious overhaul ever with a series of mega-projects that, though incomplete, have already reshaped Makkah.
Continue reading Saudi overhaul reshapes Islam’s holiest city Makkah. Makkah transformed to accommodate growing number of pilgrims by Associated Press