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 Saudi nets $16.5 bn from pilgrims: paper


Muslim pilgrims attend Friday prayers at the Grand Mosque and its surrounding area during the annual haj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca October 19, 2012. – Reuters

 

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia raised $16.5 billion from Muslim pilgrimages this year to Mecca and Medina in the west of the kingdom, a Saudi newspaper reported on Thursday.

Al-Hayat, citing religious tourism sources, said a total of 12 million pilgrims visited Islam's holiest sites during the annual hajj which took place this year at the end of October or for the year-long umra, or minor pilgrimage.

The pilgrims - including 3.1 million who made the hajj, including 1.7 million from abroad, according to official figures - spent 62 billion riyals ($16.5 billion), a rise of 10 percent over 2011 because of increased costs, it said.

makkah-hajj-reuters-670.jpg





-- Edited by Admin on Wednesday 6th of November 2013 08:38:51 AM

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Mecca makeover: how the hajj has become big business for Saudi Arabia

• Country's religious tourism industry booming
• New luxury hotels prove huge draw for pilgrims

A Muslim pilgrim looks at Mecca
A Muslim pilgrim looks at Mecca from the top of Noor mountain. Photograph: Mustafa Ozer/AFP/Getty Images

The arid landscape hugging the Jeddah-Mecca highway used to hold little appeal. But now travellers can marvel at the fantastical structure rearing out of the otherwise unforgiving landscape, clearly visible from 25 miles away.

The new 485-metre-high Mecca clocktower would bear a remarkable resemblance to Big Ben, were it not for the gold crescent and Arabic calligraphy adorning it, and represents a new era for Mecca, symbolising the dizzying vision and growth of the religious tourism industry in Saudi Arabia.

An estimated 2.5 million Muslims began the annual hajj pilgrimage today and the total number of tourists to Mecca and Medina, home to the prophet Muhammad, is expected to rise from about 12 million to almost 17 million by 2025.

The clocktower is part of a project that buckles under the weight of its own statistics. Abraj al-Bait, a complex of luxury hotels, malls and apartments, has an estimated value of $3bn (£1.86bn), a built-up area of 1.4m sq metres, 15,000 housing units and 70,000 sq metres of retail space.

Hadi Helal, a marketing agent for Abraj al-Bait, says that different nationalities seek different styles of accommodation when they perform the pilgrimage, which is the fifth pillar of Islam and a once-in-a-lifetime obligation for Muslims who can afford to do it.

"Moroccan, Tunisian, Turkish, British, Algerian and South African – they like comfort and luxury. People who patronise these hotels tend to be richer. Pakistanis don't patronise high-end hotels. The closer you are the more you pay."

The level of pampering offered by some of the hotels – Asprey toiletries, 24-hour butler service, $270 chocolate selections – may jar with the ethos of sacrifice, simplicity and humility of hajj but it is not a contradiction felt by the customers snapping up royal suites at $5,880 a night, eating gelato or milling around hangar-like lobbies of polished marble in their Hajj clothing of bedsheets, towels or burqas. Raffles is reporting 100% occupancy for it 211 rooms.

Helal said: "As long as you do what you have to do for the hajj, it does not mean you have to eat bread or lobster, or sleep on a bed or the floor. It is not for me to say how people should stay when they get here."

The appetite for walk-in wardrobes and wet-rooms is outstripped, however, by demand for the hajj. Even now, the number of tourists is still only a fraction of the world's Muslim population of 1.8 billion, with a year-on-year growth of 6.7%.

Business reports conclude that Saudi tourism, especially the religious variety, is recession proof. The government's commission for tourism and antiquities said revenue from tourism this year would reach $17.6bn, then almost double again by 2015. Business Monitor International forecasts there will be 319,000 rooms, up from 218,000 in 2009 in Saudi Arabia.

The country's strengths, it adds, are its "strong and growing" religious tourism industry and, with some understatement perhaps, "the financial resources" for infrastructure investments.

As a sign of how seriously the country is taking its tourism industry – and its potential to diversify the economy –, a $6bn, 276-mile rail link will connect the two holy cities, slashing journey times, while a $2.4bn upgrade will increase the capacity of Medina airport from 3 million to 12 million passengers a year. King AbdulAziz International airport in Jeddah will also expand its capacity, from 30 million travellers by 2012 to 80 million when finished.

The latest efforts to improve the pilgrimage experience is the al-Mashaaer al-Mugaddassah metro, which will carry people between Muzdalifah, Mina and Mount Arafat, important locations for pilgrimage rituals. At its peak it will transport 72,000 passengers and go some way to relieving the interminable congestion and frayed nerves experienced every year.

The view from al-Bait reveals the physical impact of this soaring ambition. All around the Grand Mosque and the Ka'bah, which are overshadowed by cranes and skyscrapers, construction continues at a frenzied pace. Mountains have been razed to make way for towers– a pile 'em high and sell 'em high approach to hospitality – and homes demolished.

The mountains of Mecca – Omar, Kaabah, Khandama – will no longer exist. The Shamiya district has all but disappeared. From the terrace of al-Bait to street level there is a stench of machine oil and cement that mingles with the more familiar odours of hajj – sweat, hardship and flipflops.

As many towers as possible are being built, says Helal. "There used to be small houses, they were old-fashioned. The Mecca opportunity is growing. More people will come to the hajj, the demand used to be more than supply, now they are about the same. We will try to make the supply more. The big-name hotels come here because they know there is business here. People will not stop coming to hajj. They cannot do hajj anywhere else."

While Saudi Arabia is catching up with the likes of its glitzier, Emirati neighbours in terms of hotel stock it is not, Helal believes, an attempt to lure Muslim holidaymakers away from places such as Dubai. "There is no entertainment in Mecca. You do not come here for that. You come, you do hajj. The government will spend more money to make Mecca beautiful, they want to satisfy everyone."

The Mecca makeover is a source of pride and respect for those working in the hotel and tourism sector.

Asim Garout, a soft-spoken and thoughtful 38-year old, has lived in Mecca all his life. Now working at the Makkah Clock Royal Tower, he says the Saudi government is publicising how much it values the holy city. "They want Mecca to be the heart of Islam. They want to be proud of it. They want to add value and make it a landmark.Everyone talks about Greenwich, but for Muslims they try to find a time for them," he says, referring to the clock tower.

Shabbier hotels and dwellings are gone, replaced by narrow towers, features that are fast becoming the norm in Mecca. "We try to maximise our service to accommodate the number of pilgrims who come here, a mixture of modern and traditional. I feel sad that people have lost their homesThey get compensation and new homes – at times I am sorry,, but then I think of the pilgrims who have struggled to find somewhere nice to sleep. Sometimes, you have to sacrifice."

How the hajj works

Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam, an obligation on every able-bodied Muslim who can afford to do it and a journey with rites that must be performed at a certain time, in a certain way.

While the hajj has strong associations with the prophet Muhammad, its rituals stretch back thousands of years to the time of Abraham and symbolise his trials with God and Satan.

The experience begins with millions of pilgrims orbiting the Ka'bah, the black cube at the heart of the Grand Mosque in Mecca, before shuttling between the hills of Safa and Marwah.

From Mecca they travel to Mina, where they spend the night, and then on to Mount Arafat, the place of the prophet's final sermon, for prayer and reflection.

At sunset they leave for Muzdalifah, where they collect 49 pebbles in order to carry out the stoning of the devil ritual on their return to Mina, throwing seven pebbles at vast pillars on three separate occasions.

After this ritual, animals are sacrificed and pilgrims shave their hair. They then return to Mecca to perform another circuit of the Ka'bah, going on to Mina for three more rounds of pebble throwing.

Before they leave Mecca they must perform a final circuit of the Ka'bah.

• This article was amended on 2 December 2010. The original referred to the complex of hotels, malls and apartments at Abraj al-Bait as having an estimated value of $3bn (£2.5bn). This has been corrected.

http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/15069

Is the Saudi Regime fit to be Custodians of Mecca and Medina When they Cannot even Properly try Rizana under the Sharia Law they Claim to Follow?



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Mecca for the rich: Islam's holiest site 'turning into Vegas'

 

Historic and culturally important landmarks are being destroyed to make way for luxury hotels and malls, reports Jerome Taylor

 
 
 
 
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Behind closed doors – in places where the religious police cannot listen in – residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city as Las Vegas, and the moniker is not a compliment.

Click HERE to download graphic: Mecca For The Rich (430.39kB)

Over the past 10 years the holiest site in Islam has undergone a huge transformation, one that has divided opinion among Muslims all over the world.

Once a dusty desert town struggling to cope with the ever-increasing number of pilgrims arriving for the annual Hajj, the city now soars above its surroundings with a glittering array of skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels.

To the al-Saud monarchy, Mecca is their vision of the future – a steel and concrete metropolis built on the proceeds of enormous oil wealth that showcases their national pride.

Yet growing numbers of citizens, particularly those living in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have looked on aghast as the nation's archaeological heritage is trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who preach against the preservation of their own heritage. Mecca, once a place where the Prophet Mohamed insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a playground for the rich, critics say, where naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the city's raison d'être.

Few are willing to discuss their fears openly because of the risks associated with criticising official policy in the authoritarian kingdom. And, with the exceptions of Turkey and Iran, fellow Muslim nations have largely held their tongues for fear of of a diplomatic fallout and restrictions on their citizens' pilgrimage visas. Western archaeologists are silent out of fear that the few sites they are allowed access to will be closed to them.

But a number of prominent Saudi archaeologists and historians are speaking up in the belief that the opportunity to save Saudi Arabia's remaining historical sites is closing fast.

"No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism," says Dr Irfan al-Alawi who, as executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, has fought in vain to protect his country's historical sites. "We have already lost 400-500 sites. I just hope it's not too late to turn things around."

Sami Angawi, a renowned Saudi expert on the region's Islamic architecture, is equally concerned. "This is an absolute contradiction to the nature of Mecca and the sacredness of the house of God," he told the Reuters news agency earlier this year. "Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished. You do not find anything except skyscrapers."

Dr Alawi's most pressing concern is the planned £690m expansion of the Grand Mosque, the most sacred site in Islam which contains the Kaaba – the black stone cube built by Ibrahim (Abraham) that Muslims face when they pray.

Construction officially began earlier this month with the country's Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Eissa, exclaiming that the project would respect "the sacredness and glory of the location, which calls for the highest care and attention of the servants or Islam and Muslims".

The 400,000 square metre development is being built to accommodate an extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year and will turn the Grand Mosque into the largest religious structure in the world. But the Islamic Heritage Foundation has compiled a list of key historical sites that they believe are now at risk from the ongoing development of Mecca, including the old Ottoman and Abbasi sections of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Mohamed was born and the house where his paternal uncle Hamza grew up.

There is little argument that Mecca and Medina desperately need infrastructure development. Twelve million pilgrims visit the cities every year with the numbers expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.

But critics fear that the desire to expand the pilgrimage sites has allowed the authorities to ride roughshod over the area's cultural heritage. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca's millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.

The destruction has been aided by Wahabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that has served as the kingdom's official religion ever since the al-Sauds rose to power across the Arabian Peninsula in the 19th century.

In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage "shirq" – the sin of idolatry or polytheism – and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes swept through Mecca in the 1920s, the first thing they did was lay waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam's important figures. They have been destroying the country's heritage ever since. Of the three sites the Saudis have allowed the UN to designate World Heritage Sites, none are related to Islam.

Those circling the Kaaba only need to look skywards to see the latest example of the Saudi monarchy's insatiable appetite for architectural bling. At 1,972ft, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, opened earlier this year, soars over the surrounding Grand Mosque, part of an enormous development of skyscrapers that will house five-star hotels for the minority of pilgrims rich enough to afford them.

To build the skyscraper city, the authorities dynamited an entire mountain and the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress that lay on top of it. At the other end of the Grand Mosque complex, the house of the Prophet's first wife Khadijah has been turned into a toilet block. The fate of the house he was born in is uncertain. Also planned for demolition are the Grand Mosque's Ottoman columns which dare to contain the names of the Prophet's companions, something hardline Wahabis detest.

For ordinary Meccans living in the mainly Ottoman-era town houses that make up much of what remains of the old city, development often means the loss of their family home.

Non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca and Medina, but The Independent was able to interview a number of citizens who expressed discontent over the way their town was changing. One young woman whose father recently had his house bulldozed described how her family was still waiting for compensation. "There was very little warning; they just came and told him that the house had to be bulldozed," she said.

Another Meccan added: "If a prince of a member of the royal family wants to extend his palace he just does it. No one talks about it in public though. There's such a climate of fear."

Dr Alawi hopes the international community will finally begin to wake up to what is happening in the cradle of Islam. "We would never allow someone to destroy the Pyramids, so why are we letting Islam's history disappear?"

Under Threat

Bayt al-Mawlid

When the Wahabis took Mecca in the 1920s they destroyed the dome on top of the house where the Prophet Mohammed was born. It was thenused as a cattle market before being turned into a library after a campaign by Meccans. There are concerns that the expansion of the Grand Mosque will destroy it once more. The site has never been excavated by archaeologists.

Ottoman and Abasi columns of the Grand Mosque

Slated for demolition as part of the Grand Mosque expansion, these intricately carved columns date back to the 17th century and are the oldest surviving sections of Islam's holiest site. Much to the chagrin of Wahabis, they are inscribed with the names of the Prophet's companions. Ottomon Mecca is now rapidly disappearing

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi

For many years, hardline Wahabi clerics have had their sites set on the 15th century green dome that rests above the tomb holding the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar in Medina. The mosque is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam. Wahabis, however, believe marked graves are idolatrous. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that "the green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet's Masjid".

Jabal al-Nour

A mountain outside Mecca where Mohammed received his first Koranic revelations. The Prophet used to spend long spells in a cave called Hira. The cave is particularly popular among South Asian pilgrims who have carved steps up to its entrance and adorned the walls with graffiti. Religious hardliners are keen to dissuade pilgrims from congregating there and have mooted the idea of removing the steps and even destroying the mountain altogether.



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Mecca's mega architecture casts shadow over hajj

Towering over Mecca, this is the world's second-tallest building – and it is just a tiny part of a voracious development that has seen historic sites bulldozed and locals forced into shantytowns. As the hajj begins, Oliver Wainwright reports

• Plus: Riazat Butt offers a view from the ground

Abraj al-Bait
Arabian heights ... the Abraj al-Bait looms over the Grand Mosque and Kaaba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Photograph: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty

A glowing green disc hovers high in the sky at night, casting an eerie glow over a forest of minarets, cranes and concrete frames that seem to stretch endlessly into the dusty distance, like a vast field of dominoes. The disc is the largest clockface in the world – and not only does it adorn the tallest clocktower in the world, it also sits atop a building boasting the biggest floor area in the world. Visible 30km away, this is the Abraj al-Bait, which rises like Big Ben on steroids to tower 600m over the holy mosque of Mecca in the spiritual heart of the Islamic world.

This thrusting pastiche palace houses an array of luxury hotels and apartments, perched above a five-storey slab of shopping malls. Completed last year at a cost of $15bn (£9bn), it stands where anOttoman fortress once stood. A stone citadel built in 1781 to repel bandits, the Ajyad fortress's demolition sparked an international outcry in 2002, but this was quickly rebuffed by the Saudi Islamic affairs minister. "No one has the right to interfere in what comes under the state's authority," he said. "This development is in the interest of all Muslims all over the world." The fortress wasn't just swept away – the hill it sat on went, too.

Shooting 26 searchlights 10km into the skies, and blaring its call to prayer 7km across the valley, the Abraj al-Bait is also the world's second tallest building. Encrusted with mosaics and inlaid with gold, it is the most visible (and audible) sign of the frenzied building boom that has taken hold of Saudi Arabia's holy city over the last 10 years. "It is truly indescribable," says Sami Angawi, architect and founder of the Jeddah-based Hajj Research Centre, who has spent the last three decades researching and documenting the historic buildings of Mecca and Medina, few of which now remain. In particular, the house of the prophet's wife, Khadijah, was razed to make way for public lavatories; the house of his companion, Abu Bakr, is now the site of a Hilton hotel; and his grandson's house was flattened by the King's palace. "They are turning the holy sanctuary into a machine, a city which has no identity, noheritage, no culture and no natural environment. They've even taken away the mountains," says Angawi.

Geological features have proved no match for dynamite and concrete, which are being liberally deployed to make way for the burgeoning number of visitors. Three million Muslims arrived in Mecca this week for the annual hajj pilgrimage, an event that has mutated from a simple, spartan rite of passage, in which pilgrims give up their worldly goods, into a big-bucks business worthy of Las Vegas – with the overblown architecture to match.

Along the western flank of the city are the first towers of the Jabal Omar development, a sprawling complex that will eventually accommodate 100,000 people in 26 luxury hotels – sitting on another gargantuan plinth of 4,000 shops and 500 restaurants, along with its own six-storey prayer hall. The line of blocks, which will climb to heights of up to 200 metres and terminate in a monumental gateway building, share the clocktower's Islamic-lite language: a cliched dressing of pointed arches and filigree grillwork plastered over generic concrete shells.

The developers have somehow transformed a type of architecture that evolved from a dense urban grain of low-rise courtyards and narrow streets into meaningless wallpaper: an endlessly repeatable pattern for the decoration of standardised slab after standardised slab. Flimsy rows of concrete arches hang above swaths of blue mirror glass, punctuated by stick-on timber trellis screens. These are modelled on traditional mashrabiya panels, those beautiful latticework openings designed as ventilating veils, but here they become meaningless applique. "If we are imitating, why can't we imitate the best?" asks Angawi, in a tone of desperation. "Why are we imitating the worst mistakes of 60 or 70 years ago from around the world – only even bigger?"

Another development of repetitive slabs, echoing Jabal Omar's toast-rack urbanism, is slated for the northern side of the Grand Mosque, at al-Shamiya, while a $10bn plan to provide an extra 400,000 sq metres of prayer halls there is almost complete. Standing like a gigantic triangular slice of wedding cake, this building will accommodate 1.2m more worshippers each year, but it has come at a price.

al-ShamiyaToast-rack urbanism ... how the al-Shamiya area will look

"This was the most historic part of the old city," says Irfan al-Alawi, executive director of the UK-based Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, who has worked in vain to raise the profile of his country's historic sites. "It has now all been flattened." Residents were evicted, he says, with one week's notice, and many have still not been compensated – a common story across Mecca's developments. "They are now living in shantytowns on the edge of the city without proper sanitation. Locals, who have lived here for generations, are being forced out to make way for these marble castles in the sky."

Alawi describes the imminent arrival of yet more seven-star hotels even closer to the mosque than the al-Bait clocktower, as well as proposals to develop Jabal Khandama, on the hills to the east, which will likely see the erasure of the site where the prophet Muhammad was born. Alawi says this wilful destruction of Islamic heritage is no accident: it is driven by state-endorsed wahhabism, the hardline interpretation of Islam that perceives historical sites as encouraging sinful idolatry. So anything that relates to the prophet could be in the bulldozer's sights.

"It is the end of Mecca," says Alawi. "And for what? Most of these hotels are 50% vacant and the malls are empty – the rents are too expensive for the former souk stall-holders. And people praying in the new mosque extension will not even be able to see the Kaaba."

The Kaaba is the holy black cube in the centre of the Grand Mosque, around which pilgrims walk; proximity to it has become the ultimate currency, allowing hotel suites with the best views to charge $7,000 per night during peak seasons. This unique concentricity, with everything determined by its orientation towards the hallowed centre, has spawned a strangely diagrammatic radial urbanism. From above, like a sea of iron filings pulled by a magnet, the whole city appears to crowd round a core, the vortex of pilgrims giving way to an equally swirling current of tower blocks. It is the axis of prayer writ large in concrete.

The road to Mecca funnels traffic into two lanes: the one marked "Muslims only" goes to the holy city; the other, marked "Non Muslims", bypasses it, since the latter – me included – are forbidden entry to Mecca (and Medina) under Saudi law. Soon after this hajj, work will start on the expansion of the mataf, the open area around the Kaaba, to triple its capacity to 130,000 pilgrims per hour. But to create this, the historic centre of the mosque will be obliterated. "They want to get rid of the brick vaults and stone columns that have stood there since the 17th century," says Alawi. "These are the oldest part of the holy mosque, designed by the great architect Sinan. The pillars are inscribed with stories and the names of the prophet's companions, so the wahhabis want to see them bulldozed."

Toast rack in the sky ... a CGI construction of what the Jabal Omar project will look likeThe Jabal Omar project

The desperation to be, or feel, as close as possible to the Kaaba has forced buildings to become ever higher, ever more ridiculously tapered, so everyone can have a view, however notional, of the sacred centre. This has given the sanctified "mother of villages" the most expensive real estate in the world: a square foot around the Grand Mosque now sells for up to $18,000, mayor Osama al-Bar said last year, dwarfing the Monaco average of $4,400.

As the influx of pilgrims increases, land values will continue to rise: 12 million visit the city every year, a figure expected to swell to 17 million by 2025. They will be eased on their way by a new high-speed rail link that will connect gateway city Jeddah with Mecca and Medina. Jeddah'sKing Abdul Aziz international airport is itself undergoing expansion to quadruple its capacity to 80 million passengers a year.

Fuelled by petrodollars, all of these vast projects are now either completed or well under way. So it seems strange that King Abdullah should only now be ordering the creation of a masterplan for Mecca and its surroundings, covering buildings, transport and infrastructure – given that most of the city's holy mountains have been dynamited into dust, and all but a handful of its ancient monuments buried beneath soaring structures. As Angawi says: "There is no other place in the world where development starts with bulldozing before planning. But it is not too late if we stop now. Otherwise, we risk the sanctity of Mecca being gone for ever."

Prayer room with a view: a pilgrim's perspective

Everything about the hajj is overwhelming – the numbers, the logistics, the infrastructure, the stakes – so it's no surprise that the architecture is catching up. Its sleek and state-of-the-art towers offer butler services, designer toiletries, entire floors reserved for Saudi royalty, wet rooms, helipads, quality linens, plush carpets and thick bathrobes.

During my 2010 visit to Mecca, a number of hotels in the Abraj al-Bait complex (left, with clocktower) were at 100% capacity. The hotel employee showing me around one presidential suite said I could pray in front of the Qibla without ever leaving the room, gesturing to a window with priceless views to prove his point. The sense of exclusivity extended to the reservation system, too. Rooms could only be booked through the hotel, but not as part of a package, the traditional if not the uniform way of securing accommodation in Mecca.

None of this is visible at ground level. Pilgrims occupy every available space and the dimensions of the projects are too grand to be appreciated simply by craning the neck. Instead, the best views are from the Jeddah-Mecca Highway, where the clocktower appears to rear out of the barren landscape in such an outlandish fashion it looks as if it has been drawn on to the skyline. The vast floor-to-ceiling windows of al-Safa Palace, perched on a hill above Mecca's holy sites, fully reveal the audacious vision to reshape the pilgrimage.

The building work has inevitably changed the hajj experience for everyone. Aside from the increased pollution and heavy machinery, there is more segregation along economic and class lines. Muslims cannot choose where or when to perform the hajj – it can only be done in Mecca, at a certain point in the year – but they can choose where to stay.

Riazat Butt



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The economics of Hajj: Money and pilgrimage

African Muslim pilgrims shop close to the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca, on October 23, 2012.The Hajj pilgrimage netted Saudi Arabia an estimated $10bn in 2011
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Millions of Muslims from all walks of life have converged on Saudi Arabia to perform the pilgrimage known as the Hajj.

The annual occasion has become a lucrative business in recent years, proving a great financial asset to the economy of the oil-rich kingdom.

Many pilgrims, however, struggle to reconcile their spiritual needs with their wallets.

Mohammed Zayan, a 53-year-old pilgrim from Tunisia, has waited a lifetime to perform the religious obligation, which does not come free.

"I spent up to $6,000 (£3,700) on my Hajj," says Mr Zayan, who wears the traditional white pilgrims' clothes.

"I thank God that he enabled me to save this amount of money but I'm sad I could not afford taking my wife and son with me."

The millions who come to Mecca every year bring billions of dollars to the Saudi economy.

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Ahmed Abdel Rahman

I don't find shop owners opportunists but we help our brothers in Islam to make profit and make ends meet”

Ahmed Abdel RahmanMauritian Hajj pilgrim

Restaurants, travel agents, airlines and mobile phone companies all earn big bucks during the Hajj, and the government benefits in the form of taxes.

Last year, the 10-day event generated some $10bn (£6.2bn), according to the Chamber of Commerce in Mecca.

Worthwhile investment

The private sector also maximises its returns during Hajj, with investment in real estate an attractive proposition ahead of the pilgrimage.

The highest rents in Saudi Arabia are found in the holy city of Mecca, the birthplace of Islam.

Owners of hotels close to the main mosque ask for $700 a night, blaming the skyrocketing prices of land for the sharp rise in rates.

"I have been investing in this sector for 35 years. I remember when I first sold a metre of land in Mecca for just 15 rials ($3), now it has reached 80,000 rials ($22,000)," said Mohamed Saed al-Jahni, one of Mecca's real estate tycoons.

"The demand is higher than supply and that is why many buildings and hotels have been built in recent years to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims".

Super-tall buildings are filling the Mecca skyline at an unstoppable pace.

The ancient city's centuries-old sites are giving way to glitzy luxury hotels, which are not affordable for many pilgrims.

The government says it is a necessary step, even if the construction comes at the expense of historical mountains dating back to the age of the Prophet of Islam Muhammad and his companions.

Spiritual relief

Muslim pilgrims perform their prayers in the Grand Mosque of the holy city of Mecca, on October 22, 2012High-rise luxury hotels have sprung up all over Mecca

Selling Mecca souvenirs is another very lucrative business during the Hajj.

There are no official estimates for this profitable trade, but it is believed to bring hundreds of millions of dollars every year.

Ahmed Abdel Rahman, 43, will leave Mecca laden with presents and souvenirs for loved ones back in Mauritius.

"These are blessed souvenirs," he says, holding a bead he just bought at almost three times its original price outside the city.

The price of Mecca souvenirs is often eye-wateringly high and most of the products like prayer mats and beads are not made in the city, but rather in China.

But Mr Abdel Rahman says he feels a great spiritual relief when he spends his money in Mecca.

"I don't find shop owners opportunists but we help our brothers in Islam to make profit and make ends meet. This is a highly rewarded act."

Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and an obligation, provided a Muslim is financially and physically able.

The ritual, which demonstrates the unity of Muslims and their submission to Allah, has been carried out for nearly nearly 1,400 years.

However much it costs, Muslims will not stop coming to this spiritual and also commercial hub. They simply cannot do Hajj anywhere else.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-20067809



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The Hajj and Its Impact on Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World – David E. Long

Published: October 13, 2013

[Previously published in SUSRIS]

Editor’s Note:

This week as the Hajj gets underway in Saudi Arabia we are pleased to provide a series of articles that will provide background information and perspective on the annual pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. “The Hajj and Its Impact on Saudi Arabia,” by David E. Long, was originally provided in SUSRIS’ on-line companion the Saudi-American Forum, and is reprinted here as the Hajj begins in Saudi Arabia.  He is author of numerous books on the Middle East and his “Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” which was released in its second edition in September, is among the definitive texts on the subject.  Long is also author of “Culture and Customs of Saudi Arabia.”  We thank Dr. David Long — diplomat, scholar and author — for sharing his expertise with our readers. You can find more articles, links and resources at a SUSRIS Special Page on Hajj.

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hajjThe Hajj and Its Impact on Saudi Arabia and the Muslim World
David E. Long

Executive Summary

Each year, 2 million Muslims perform the Hajj, or Great Pilgrimage to Makkah. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, the Hajj is required of all believers once in their lifetimes provided they are physically, mentally and financially able.

For the duration of the Hajj and the traditional visit to al-Madinah afterward, the Saudi government must insure that the Hajjis are provided with adequate housing (mainly in tents), food, water, health and sanitation, ground transportation, and public safety and security.

The government has spent billions of dollars on Hajj infrastructure from the two special Hajj air terminals which are the largest structures under a single roof in the world, to the extensive preventative and curative health and sanitation facilities at all the major Hajj locations. The Saudi government has also maintained a strict policy banning political activity so that militants do not desecrate this peaceful and joyous occasion. It is a task of almost unimaginable proportions.

Each year, 2 million Muslims perform the Hajj, or Great Pilgrimage to Makkah, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and where the Qur’an was first revealed to him. One of the Five Pillars of Islam,1 the Hajj is required of all believers once in their lifetimes provided they are physically, mentally and financially able. Sura (Chapter) 3: 90-91 of the Qur’an states: “And the Pilgrimage to the Temple (the Hajj) is an obligation to God from those who are able to journey there.” Although it is not technically a part of the Hajj, most Hajjis then visit al-Madinah, 450 kilometers to the north. In 622 AD, Muhammad and his followers fled to al-Madinah from mounting persecution in Makkah. The flight, known as the Hijrah, marks the beginning of the Muslim, or Hijriyyah calendar.2 Many of the chapters (suras) of the Qur’an were written down in al-Madinah.

Although many religions have pilgrimages, the Hajj is virtually unique in its worldwide participation and sheer size. It is hard for anyone who has not been in the Kingdom during the Hajj to appreciate its full scope. How can a country with a relatively small population such as Saudi Arabia maintain such a good record in administering it each year? The following is a brief overview of administrative, political, economic, and social significance of the Hajj on Saudi Arabia and indeed the entire Muslim world. But first, for those not familiar with the rites of the Hajj, it would be instructive follow the pilgrims through the rites.

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The Religious Significance of the Hajj

The Hajj takes place each year during the month of Dhu al-Hijja, the last month of the Muslim calendar. It is virtually impossible to describe the deep emotions generated during the Hajj, even by watching it on Saudi television which annually records it. Each rite has a special significance. The principal rites are Ihram, Tawaf, Sa`y, Wuquf, Nafrah, Rajm, and the `Id al-Adha:3

Ihram is a ritual cleansing and consecration and declaration of intent to perform the Hajj, performed before entering Makkah. Afterwards, pilgrim don special Irham garb of white terrycloth representing the equality of all believers before God, regardless of race, gender, age or social standing. Men wear two coverings for the upper and lower body, and women wear white robes but need not cover their faces.

Tawaf, performed on arrival in the great Haram Mosque in Makkah, is completed by circling seven times around the Ka`bah, located in a great open area in the Haram Mosque. The Ka`bah is considered the spiritual and geographical center of Islam, toward which Muslims face in prayer. Tradition has it that the Ka`bah, a dark stone structure, was originally built by the Prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) and his son Ismail (Ishmael) as a place of worship of the one true God, and symbolizes monotheism which is at the heart of Islam. Each year just before the Hajj, the Ka`bah is covered with a new black velvet and gold drape called the Kiswah. Following the Arrival Tawaf, pilgrims say prayers at the Maqam Ibraham, a station near the Ka`bah, and also drink water from the holy well of Zamzam. Tradition has it that God created the well by striking a stone so that Hajar (Hagar) and Ismail might drink when they were about to die of thirst.

Sa`y consists of seven laps on foot between two elevations formerly adjacent to the mosque but now a part of the mosque complex. It commemorates Hagar’s frantic search for water. Sa`y and Tawaf together are called the Umrah (Lesser pilgrimage) and can be performed any time during the year but do not meet the obligation of Hajj.

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Wuquf is performed in a ceremony of “Standing” on the Plain of Arafat, about 20 kilometers east of Makkah beginning at noon on the ninth day of Dhu al-Hijjah, called Yawm al-Wuquf, “Standing Day.” The favored spot to stand is Jabal al-Rahma, the Mount of Mercy, a rocky hill rising about 150 feet above the plain and crowned by a tall white stone obelisk. According to Islamic tradition, the Wuquf is the Hajj – the supreme hours. Everyone must literally be present at `Arafat at maghrib (sunset) or the Hajj is forfeited.

Nafrah: The word literally means “the Rush” in Arabic. As the sun finally disappears over the horizon, in its wake some 2 million Hajjis surge forth from `Arafat to Mina, some 17 kilometers away. They travel by bus, car, truck, and for many as an act of piety, by foot. With so many people, the Nafrah is one of the most chaotic and stressful exercises in this or any other religious observance. The first stop is Muzdalifa about seven kilometers west, where Sunset and Evening prayers (Salat al-Maghrib and al-`Isha) are traditionally said, and a special prayer can be said at a roofless mosque called al-Mash`ar al-Haram (the Sacred Grove). Because of the great crowds, now only the earliest to depart `Arafat usually arrive in Muzdalifa in time for Maghrib prayer, and many say them before leaving Arafat. After midnight and saying Early Morning prayer (Salat al-Fajr), the Hajjis travel on to Mina, a small town about ten kilometers farther west, where they will stay for three days.

Rajm: In Mina, Hajjis perform Rajm over the next three days, the ritual throwing of seven stones at three pillars, called Jamras which represent Shaytans (devils). The tenth through the twelfth of Dhu al-Hijja is also the `Id al-Adha (the Feast of the Sacrifice) which includes the sacramental sacrifice of a blemishless animal, usually a sheep. The `Id is celebrated not only at the Hajj but also throughout the Muslim world where it is a joyous time to visit family and friends.

On the thirteenth, Hajjis return to Makkah for a Farewell Tawaf and are free from all Ihram restrictions. At that point, the Hajj is technically over, and Hajjis are free to travel home or on to visit al-Madinah. There the pace is more relaxed and people can take more time to see the sights, principally the Prophet’s Mosque.

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The Impact of the Hajj on Saudi Public Administration

Due to tremendous advances in transportation and communications technology, the Hajj has changed more in the past eight decades since Saudi Arabia formally became guardians of the Holy Places in 1926 than it had in the previous 1300 years of Islamic history.4 In 1927, an estimated 300 to 350 thousand attended with only about 150,000 from outside the Kingdom. In 1972, there was a total of 1,042,007 Hajjis, including 353,460 Saudis, 209,208 non-Saudi residents, and 479,339 from abroad. Today, an estimated 2 million perform the Hajj.

The unprecedented increase in the numbers of pilgrims has greatly increased the complexity of Hajj administration. Just to make room for foreign Hajjis, the Saudi government has restricted attendance by Saudis, many of whom formerly often attended every year, to once every five years, and has negotiated visa quotas for foreign Hajjis with their countries of origin.

Another huge logistical problem is how to dispose of the remains of the thousands of sheep annually sacrificed at Mina. For years, families were allowed to keep only what they consumed during the `Id and the rest was buried in huge pits. In recent years, however, an abattoir has been constructed to preserve the meat, and Hajjis may now purchase a sheep from an Islamic bank to be sacrificed in accordance with Islamic practice, with the meat then distributed to the poor throughout the Muslim world. Increasing numbers of Hajjis are choosing this option, which combines piety with charity.

Providing Zamzam water for so many Hajjis is a major task. Traditionally, the Zamzamis roamed the Haram Mosque providing water to all who asked. But with so many pilgrims today, they must now store the water well in advance, replenish portable containers and paper cups in numerous, strategically located places around the mosque, and continuously refill them as needed. A charitable foundation also bottles Zamzam water for sale throughout the world.

To meet these administrative needs, the Saudi government has established a combination of public services and government regulated privately administered Hajj services:

hajj06

The Hajj Private Service Industry

For centuries, Hajj administration was largely in the hands of ancient, family-organized guilds that arranged for food, lodging and transportation, and also guided pilgrims through the Hajj rites: Wakils, or Agents, who guided them to Makkah, usually from the nearby port city of Jiddah; the Mutawwifs (from the word Tawaf), who guided Hajjis through the Hajj rites; Zamzamis, who distributed Zamzam water; and Dallils, or Guides, who guided visitors to al-Madinah. Lacking the resources to take over these tasks, King Abd al-Aziz (“Ibn Saud”) left them in the hands of the guilds. As the Hajj was the backbone of the economy of the Hijaz, the guilds had traditionally charged literally whatever the Hajj traffic would bear. However, the Saudi government, which takes its responsibility as custodian of the Two Holy Places very seriously, strictly regulates the guilds in order to insure that the Hajjis not be overcharged. Today, the guilds function much as public utilities. To the present day, the principal responsibility for providing personal services to the Hajjis rests with the Mutawwifs, who act essentially as religious tour guide companies for designated countries of origin. They are responsible for looking after the Hajjis under their care from the time they leave home for Saudi Arabia until they return home again.

The Hajj service industry also includes other regulated private sector enterprises. Overland bus transportation is provided by a combination of foreign and Saudi public and private companies. Of the 11,5000 buses in service in the 2002 Hajj, the Saudi Transportation Syndicate, made up of several private companies, provided 7,000, and the Saudi Arabian Public Transportation Company (SAPTCO) provided 600. SAPTCO is a publicly traded, government-managed company whose board of directors is chaired by the Undersecretary of Communications. It was created 24 years ago to provide bus scheduled intercity and international service and chartered service for the Hajj and Umrah. The rest of the buses come from foreign countries.6

In 1945, Saudi Arabia established Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) as a national air carrier. In addition to providing domestic and international air service, it was also given the mission to provide service “for Moslems on pilgrimage to the Holy Cities of Islam in Saudi Arabia.”7 In the 2003 Hajj, Saudia plans to carry 893,702 Hajjis on 1,754 flights from 70 international destinations.8 Most Hajjis will enter the Kingdom at Jiddah, the main Hajj port of entry, where two special Hajj air terminals await them, the largest structures under a single roof in the world.

Public and private Islamic foundations also are involved in operations such as providing and distributing sacrificed meat and Zamzam water. The Ministry of Awqaf (Islamic foundations; sing. Waqf) also acts as a repository for those who wish to donate charitable contributions as a part of their Hajj experience.

Muslim pilgrims participate in their noon prayers at the Namira mosque on the plains of Arafat outside the holy city of Mecca

Hajj Public Services

In addition to government-regulated and government-owned Hajj service companies, Saudi Arabia must also provide extensive direct government services for the Hajj. Overall services are coordinated by the Hajj Ministry and the inter-agency Central Hajj Committee. Public safety, public security and traffic control are provided by the Ministry of Interior, and were a special crisis to arise, it can also call on the National Guard. It is responsible for regulating entry and exit from the Kingdom at all land, sea and air ports of entry, and insuring their safe overland travel to and from Makkah and al-Madinah. For the most part, overland traffic is spread out over a number of weeks, but during the Nafrah, all 2 million Hajjis set out at the same time for the same place. It has become one of the greatest traffic gridlocks in the world. Despite Herculean efforts by the traffic police, supplied with the most up-to-date equipment; the journey from Arafat to Mina can take over 12 hours. By comparison, consider a dozen Super Bowl games getting out at the same time and place, everyone all heading in the same direction.

Public health is another Herculean task. Modern health services were originally created in the 19th century because of fear in Europe and America over the spread of cholera. Asian Hajjis brought cholera to Makkah, and North African Hajjis spread it from there to Europe and America. The Western powers pressured the Ottoman sultan to create an international organization called the Paris Office of Hygiene to oversee the health and sanitation aspects of the Hajj. After World War II, the newly formed World Health Organization assumed this responsibility after absorbing the Paris Office. In 1956, the Saudi Ministry of Health assumed responsibility for Hajj health and sanitation and now operates extensive preventative and curative health and sanitation facilities at all major Hajj locations.9 The Saudi Red Crescent Society also participates, operating first aid and other facilities.

Of lesser magnitude but equally important, personnel in Saudi Embassies and Consulates abroad must be augmented each year to process foreign Hajj visa applications. At home, the Foreign Ministry also plays host to VIPs making the Hajj, including cabinet ministers, heads of state and other important personages.

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Hajj Infrastructure

The government has also spent billions of dollars on Hajj infrastructure. This has included major expansions of the two holy mosques in Makkah and al-Madinah. The Haram Mosque can now comfortably accommodate a million worshipers, and during the Hajj, twice that number pack into it. There are also two new levels to increase capacity for performing the Sa`y. The Prophet’s Mosque in al-Madinah has also been expanded, although the crowds are smaller there during the Hajj.10 In Mina, the space for throwing stones at the three Jamras has been increased to three tiers.

To accommodate overland transportation at the Hajj, the Saudi government has constructed hundreds of miles of all weather, four lane highways, particularly between Arafat and Mina. It has also installed created a fully computerized traffic control system. Each year, portable tent cities are set up at `Arafat and Mina to provide housing, food, water, health and sanitation, transportation, telecommunications, public safety, banking facilities, markets – indeed all amenities of a city of 2 million people. All in all, nearly every Saudi government agency and ministry becomes involved one way or another in making the Hajj an administrative success.

The Political Significance of the Hajj

The Saudi government has always maintained a strict policy banning political activity under the pretext of attending the Hajj, welcoming Muslims regardless of their political persuasion. Nevertheless, over the years there have been a number of political activists that have tried to use the occasion to press their political agendas. During the height of Arab socialism, radical Arab nationalists made periodic attempts to embarrass the Saudi regime by disrupting the Hajj, but none of them were successful. In an attempt to challenge Saudi Arabia’s role of leadership in the Muslim world and discredit its custodianship of the Islamic holy places, the Khomeini regime in Iran sent provocateurs to disrupt 1982 Hajj in an attempt. Tensions mounted in subsequent years, until 1987 when 400 people were killed and Saudi security services had to be called in to quell violent agitation by Iranian Hajjis.11 Muslims throughout the world condemned the agitation as a desecration of the Hajj.

Since then, the Hajj has remained a peaceful and joyous occasion as it was intended to be. However, in the wake of the attacks on September 11, 2001, the threat of violent political activity has increased as militant Muslims put forward the claim that anti-American and anti-Zionist demonstrations would be in the name of Islam, not politics.

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The Economic Impact of the Hajj

Prior to the oil era, the Hajj was the economic backbone of the Saudi economy. With vast oil wealth, the government no longer depend on Hajj revenue, but it is still a major source of income for the private sector. In addition to the Hajj service industry, the Hajj is a major season for the consumer retail season as well, somewhat analogous to the Christmas season in the United States. Hajjis from third world countries in particular buy items that are hard to get or highly taxed at home, such as medicines and luxury items such as perfumes and jewelry. For the 2003 Hajj, about 1500 young Saudis have been hired and trained to accompany the Hajjis on their sacred journey. According the project director, the aim of the project is to create employment for Saudi youth while helping guests and serving in the worship of God.12

In recent years, Islamic religious tourism has been expanded far beyond the Hajj. Many Muslims from all over the world now perform the Umrah year round. The fasting month of Ramadhan is particularly busy season, as many Saudi residents also flock to the Holy Places. At the month draws to an end, Muslims celebrate the anniversary of the first revelation of the Qur’an. On this lailat al-qadir, or “night of power,” some three million people perform tarawih prayers in the Haram Mosque, more than at the Hajj.13

With year round visits now to the two Holy Places, there are no published figures that break out gross revenues generated by the Hajj, but they are estimated to be in the billions of dollars, including annual government expenditures.

The Social Impact of the Hajj

In its size and global scope, the Hajj is the greatest single ritual celebration, not just of Islam, but of any religion anywhere. As one of the Five Pillars of Islam, it is an obligation for one-fifth of world’s population. During the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, virtually the entire population of Saudi Arabia is intimately touched by the Hajj, whether directly in its administration, its service industry, as a purveyor of personal goods and services, or indirectly by observing it on television. The `Id al-Adha, observed at the end of the Hajj, is celebrated throughout the Muslim world as a time of worship and fellowship with family and friends.

Unlike the impact of the Hajj on many foreign visitors, whose journey is a mystical, once in a lifetime experience, the Saudi experience while visiting the Islamic Holy Places, during the Hajj or at any other time of year, is a local, accessible reality. The sites are the physical and geographical manifestation of the birth of Islam. This blending of the highly sacred and the familiar commonplace has permeated Saudi society to such an extraordinary degree that it can be felt in virtually every human endeavor from politics to business to simple recreation.

Notes:

1. The other pillars are the Shahada, or Profession of Faith: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is the Prophet of God”; Salah: regular prayer five times a day while facing Makkah; Zakat: charitable giving; and Sawm: fasting from sunup to sundown during the Muslim month of Ramadhan.
2. The Muslim, or Hijriyyah calendar, designated “AH,” began on July 16, 622. Its lunar years are eleven days shorter than the solar year, resulting in the Hajj beginning earlier each solar year.
3. It is important to note that this description is highly abbreviated. The actual rites are somewhat more complicated and include numerous variations and details.
4. The Saudis were actually in control of Makkah in 1925, and allowed to perform the Hajj, though numbers were greatly reduced.
5. Long, The Hajj Today, p. 135. Figures are derived from collating multiple sources.
6. The Saudi Arabian Information Resource, 18 December 2002,
(http://www.saudinf.com/main/y5068.htm ).
7. Saudi Arabian Airlines, “The Story of Saudi Arabian Airlines,” (pamphlet, 1970), pages unnumbered.
8. Ibid. 6 January 2003, ( http://www.saudinf.com/main/y5159.htm ).
9. See David E. Long, The Hajj Today, (Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1979), pp. 76-87.
10. Greg Noakes, “The Servants of God’s House,” Aramco World, January/February 1999, pp. 48, ff.
11. John L. Esposito, “The Iranian Revolution: A Ten Year Perspective,” in John L. Esposito, ed., The Iranian Revolution: Its Global Impact, (Miami: Florida International University Press, 1990), pp. 34-35.
12. Saudi Arabian Information Resource, 14 January 2003, ( http://www.saudinfo.com/main/y5204 )
13. Noakes, Loc. cit.

[Originally published in SUSRIS on January 6, 2006]

 



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IEDs found in Bastar as Sonia, Modi head to Chhattisgarh by FP Staff

Read more at: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/ieds-found-in-bastar-as-sonia-modi-head-to-chhattisgarh-1216085.html?utm_source=ref_article

Security forces today averted a possible landmine explosion on a vital road in poll-bound Chhattisgarh as they diffused two IEDs weighing 50 kg in the Dantewada area of the state. A joint squad of CRPF and state police detected two big Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) of 25 kg each kept in steel cases on the road between Dornapal and Jagargunda near Chintalnar in Sukma district. The forces were conducting an area domination exercise. The IEDs, concealed beneath, were diffused, a senior official said. The bomb squad has defused the IEDs and there is no report of injuries. The MHA had already issued alerts on a possibility of a Naxal attack in the state between 9-10 November. According to reports, Maoist chief Ganpatty was also spotted in Abujmad hills in Bastar. This is the same spot where Naxalites in 2010 had carried out the deadliest attack on security forces deployed for anti-Naxal operations as they killed 76 of them in a single ambush. Narendra Modi and Sonia Gandhi. Agencies. Amidst reports that Maoists may attack leaders in the Bastar region, security forces have been told to keep a hawk’s eye on every suspicious movement. Security personnel have been put on high alert ahead of the visit of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Sonia Gandhi and BJP’s PM nominee Narendra Modi, to the poll bound Chhattisgarh state for election campaigning. Security has been heightened across the state, particularly in the Maoist-affected Bastar region, ahead of the visit by these VIPs, Director General of Police Ramniwas told PTI in Raipur on Wednesday. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh‘s visit is scheduled on November 9 in Raipur, while UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi are set to visit the Maoist-affected Bastar region on November 7, even as Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi is set to visit Maoist-hit Kanker on November 8. Eighteen Maoist-affected constituencies in the eight districts of Bastar, Bijapur, Kondagaon, Sukma, Narayanpur, Dantewada, Kanker and Rajnandgaon will go to polls in the first phase, while the rest of the 72 constituencies will go to polls during the second phase on November 19. Chhattisgarh has a total of 1,67,97,368 voters and 21,418 polling booths have been set up to elect a 90-member state assembly. Taking a serious note of the Maoist threat, the Centre has sent an additional 400 companies (40,000 personnel) of paramilitary forces to ensure peaceful polling. With inputs from Agencies

Read more at: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/ieds-found-in-bastar-as-sonia-modi-head-to-chhattisgarh-1216085.html?utm_source=ref_article



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Schemes for minorities being cornered by non-Muslims: Report

 

Schemes for minorities being cornered by non-Muslims: Report
A report by the Council for Social Development shows how the UPA government has failed to implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee, with its response to Muslim deprivation at best being “cautious and minimalist”.
 

 

NEW DELHI: Even as minority politics takes centrestage in the wake of recent riots in Uttar Pradesh, a report by the Council for Social Development shows how the UPA government has failed to implement the recommendations of the Sachar Committee, with its response to Muslim deprivation at best being "cautious and minimalist". The report said most of the benefits intended for minorities were being cornered by either the majority population or non-Muslim minorities.

The report listed misplaced focus of minority-oriented programmes, lack of funds and fear of 'minority appeasement' taunts as the reasons for government's failure to fulfil its promises.

The 'Social Development Report 2012: Minorities at the Margins' was prepared by scholars such as Zoya Hasan, Mushirul Hasan, Tanweer Fazal, Javed Alam Khan and Abusaleh Sharif among others.

For example, the report illustrates how programmes intended to improve school education among Muslims has focused on modernization of madarsas even though only 4% Muslims go there for education. In higher studies, the government has focused on providing assistance to minority institutions rather than expanding the overall education network to include Muslims.

It also brought out the failure of multi-sectoral development programme (MSDP) — launched after the Sachar Committee's report — targeting 90 districts with around 25% Muslim population for infrastructure development through enhanced funding. The report noted that benefits of the scheme reached only 30% of Muslim population in these areas, indicating others have cornered most of the resources. In states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (with high concentration of Muslims), infrastructure projects have been diverted to non-minority areas.

The Reserve Bank of India's efforts to extend banking and credit facilities to Muslims, a major fallout of the Sachar Committee report which said Muslims were out of the banking system, has also ended up benefiting non-Muslim minorities whose socio-economic status is comparable to upper caste Hindus, the report said.

"Diffidence at the policy level to clearly focus on Muslim deprivation translates into active reluctance by the implementing agencies on the ground to target the Muslims even in districts with high Muslim concentration," the report said.

Mushirul Hasan blamed the minority affairs ministry for such failures. He told TOI, "The ministry has become a liability. It is devoid of any ideas and lacks social commitment."

According to the report, both funding and its utilization have been a problem. In the 11th plan, allocation for minorities was 6% of the total outlay with minority affairs ministry's share being only 0.79%. The report called it insignificant to address minority development. It also noted that unlike SC/ST, budgetary plans for minorities were not proportional to their population.

Even these funds are not utilized properly. During 2007-2012, state governments did not utilize even half of the allocated funds. Twelve states utilized less than 50% of funds and some states spent only 20%. States such as Bihar, UP, Maharashtra and Assam (all with high concentration of Muslims) were in the category of those that spent less than 50%.

Government's scholarship scheme for Muslim students has been widely praised, but the report found it to be too little and poorly implemented. While 2.45 crore Muslim students were enrolled up to upper primary level (2009-10 data), the government has provided 24 lakh pre-matric scholarships for minorities, the report said.

It also found the scholarship amount of Rs 1,000 to be too little. It noted that compared with SC/ST, the scheme was discriminatory. While income eligibility criteria for SC/ST to avail scholarship was kept at Rs 2 lakh per annum, for minorities it is only Rs 1 lakh.
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Debunking the ‘facts’ on Narendra Modi and Muslims

Nov 8, 2013

13401 450 CommentsEmailPrint Asifa Khan & Zafar Sareshwala When it comes to Narendra Modi, his detractors, it seems, have a licence to twist “facts” out of shape. A case in point is Christophe Jaffrelot’s article in The Indian Express of 7 November, where he suggests that even though Modi is trying to adopt a new “tone” on Muslims, the “facts from Gujarat tell another story.” There is a wide difference between healthy criticism and diatribe. Jaffrelot, professor of Indian politics and sociology at King’s India Institute, London, and non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has made sweeping one-sided comments on Muslims and Modi to the detriment of both – and his own credibility. In his narrative about this relationship, despite Modi’s Sadhbavna Mission, his “ability to reach out to Muslims was doubtful” and this is proven by the “fact” that the BJP’s Muslim vote share fell from 22 percent in 2007 to 20 percent in 2012. Narendra Modi meeting with Muslim politicians. AFP image Jaffrelot’s other “facts” are the following: Modi did not find it fit to nominate even one MLA from the BJP in the last assembly elections; Modi refused a skullcap at his Sadhbhavna fast in 2011; he refused scholarships to poor Muslims on the ground that these discriminated against poor people from other communities; and that Muslims in Gujarat continue to remain poorer than the rest. Jaffrelot also makes much of the fact that Atal Behari Vajpayee used to hold “iftar” parties and Eid Milans to prove that Modi remains communal. For Jaffrelot, Modi’s “hum paanch, hamare pachees” reference from a 2002 election speech is more defining of his attitude to Muslims than anything concrete he may have done from the community after his election. The problem with this kind of mindless criticism is simple: it seems to put a premium on “symbolic gestures” like wearing skullcaps to judge Modi, while at the same time ignoring the real changes that have taken place on the ground. Now, consider these “real” facts about Gujarat’s Muslims and Modi. Whatever Modi may have said in election speeches in 2002, the fact is many Muslims in India are not interested in tokenism and symbolism. Whether Modi wears a skullcap or not is of little interest to Muslims; it does not matter if Modi throws iftar parties or not, for Muslims can see through this hypocrisy. In the aspirational politics of today, these are empty gestures. We don’t know where Jaffrelot gets his figures from on Muslim voting patterns. More than 31% of Muslims voted for BJP in 2012. Out of 12 Muslim majority constituencies, 8 were won by the BJP. He may not have given a single assembly ticket to Muslims, but in the local elections in February-March 2013, more than 200-plus Muslims were elected on a BJP ticket. In any case, what is the point of having Muslim MLAs or MPs if it is mere tokenism? The present Lok Sabha has 29 Muslim MPs out of 543 and the Congress party, which thrives on Muslim votes, has 11 Muslim MPs out of 206. Out of these 29, 19 have not spoken even once in parliament. Barring Asaduddin Owaisi of MIM and Shahnawaz Hussain of BJP, who routinely speak on Muslim issues, the rest are mere rubber stamps of their respective parties. As opposed to this tokenism, consider the case of real empowerment of Muslims in Gujarat. The only way to empower Muslims is through Education, Education and Education. In Ahmedabad, there were only three schools for Muslims. Today there are 25 run by Muslims – a 10-fold increase in 10 years – and this is the case in many other parts of Gujarat. Gujarat has among the lowest poverty ratios for Muslims and it counts among the seven states which have lower poverty than Hindus in rural as well as urban areas. Jaffrelot quotes old statistics to show that Muslims in Gujarat are worse off than Hindus – but what matters is how fast their lot is improving, not the historical disadvantage they have always had in almost all states outside the south. The Gujarat model is often compared unfavourably with Nitish Kumar’s Bihar model, but here is what economist Surjit Bhalla had to say about Muslim poverty decline in Gujarat against Bihar. Comparing percentage declines in poverty for all states with a Muslim population of more than six percent between 2004-05 and 2011-12, Bhalla writes: “For Muslims, Gujarat had the third highest decline among 15 states in the country and for SC/STs, the eighth highest decline. For the disadvantaged groups together, Gujarat’s rank is sixth and seventh for OBCs. Modi’s political, governance and growth comparator and competitor Nitish Kumar obtains the following disappointing rankings: ninth for both Muslims and SC/STs, 11th for the disadvantaged, and 10th for OBCs.” Jaffrelot also makes the mistake of putting only Gujarat under the microscope – when he could have usefully compared the plight of Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Assam, West Bengal – all states run by supposedly secular parties. Next, let’s look at riots – since Jaffrelot wants to use 2002 as the central point to judge Modi. The fact is Gujarat was terrorised by riots in every decade after independence, and the riots of the late sixties had two-and-a-half times the casualties of 2002. Muslims have seen 200-day-long curfews many times, and the decade after 2002 is the first one to not have even one such curfew. Recently, a former IGP of Maharashtra said: “The most safe place for Muslims today is Gujarat.” He goes on to say that Maharashtra has done the greatest damage to the Muslim’s image. Recently a prominent Islamic scholar, Maulana Mehmood Madni of the Jamiat-ul-ulema-e-Hind had said that Muslims in Gujarat are better off in many economic indicators. He also said that there are more Muslims in jails in Maharashtra, UP, and Bengal than in Gujarat. Maulana Gulam Vastanvi has said that “Gujarati Muslims have benefited from the economic growth of Gujarat” Muslim government employees are 11% of the total in Gujarat (higher than their population share) and the police force has 12% Muslims. Let’s settle the scholarship issue once and for all. Jaffrelot mentions the centre’s contribution to that scholarship as Rs 3.75 crore with the state’s being Rs 1.25 crore. Distributed among 55,000 Muslims, it comes to just over Rs 900 per head. Is this some great bonanza that Muslims have to be ever grateful for? The Gujarat government has its own scholarship for the “weaker sections” under which 63,000 Muslim students have benefited to the tune of about Rs 2,600 each. Then there is the Gujarat Minority Finance Corporation which has disbursed over Rs 63 crore to Muslims in the range of Rs 25,000-2,00,000 each. Now, let’s turn the spotlight on how Jaffrelot’s own country treats its Muslims. Muslims of Arab origin live in squalid conditions in the suburbs of Paris and they are discriminated against in the worst possible manner in the guise of “secularism”. Prof Jaffrelot may take umbrage that the BJP offered burqas to Muslim women who attended Modi’s rally, but in France they have simply banned the burqa and the hijab. Islamophobia is alive and well in Jaffrelot’s France. In India, it is Modi-phobia at work. Modi may have moved on from 2002, but his critics have not. They have a vested interest in keeping Muslims focused on victimhood by keeping old wounds raw. Asifa Khan is a member of the Gujarat BJP, and Zafar Sareshwala is a Gujarati businessman who opened a dialogue with Modi to improve the lot of Muslims in Gujarat

Read more at: http://www.firstpost.com/politics/debunking-the-facts-on-narendra-modi-and-muslims-1218661.html?utm_source=ref_article



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It's OK if minorities don't repay loans, Karnataka Congress chief G Parameshwara says

BANGALORE: In the race to appease the minorities in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections next year, KPCC president G Parameshwara on Saturday suggested it's all right for them to cheat by not repaying loans taken from government agencies.

At a Congress workshop for here on schemes for minorities, Parameshwara said several people who had taken loans had cheated the government by not repaying them. "The Karnataka Minorities Development Corporation, instead of giving small loans, should sanction huge amounts like Rs 50 lakh. Never mind if the beneficiaries don't repay the loans. Topi hakidre parvagilla (colloquial for 'no issues if they cheat'). Many people and officials have duped government agencies of several thousands of crores of rupees. It's part of the development process," he said.

Also present at the workshop were Union minister for minority affairs K Rahman Khan, former MP CK Jaffer Sharief, minister Qamarul Islam, R Roshan Baig and Naseer Ahmed.

The opposition was quick to react. Former chief minister and Karnataka Janata Party supremo BS Yeddyurappa said a person in a responsible position should not make such statements. "Statements appeasing minorities is wrong. Such statements will definitely have a bearing on the administration," he said.

State BJP president Prahlad Joshi alleged that the Congress has been duping the minorities. "There is nothing surprising in this statement, and Parameshwara has made the party's intentions clear," he said.

 

 
 


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Admin wrote:

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J&K student humiliated at top Pakistan varsity 

Accuses Professor Of Grabbing Research Funds 

M Saleem Pandit TNN 

Srinagar: A Kashmiri student at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad has allegedly faced torture,threats and humiliation at the hands of his guide there.Ishrat Naveed,who had gone to Pakistan under a SAARC exchange programme three years ago,said this in an email sent to mediapersons here from Islamabad.
The way my supervisor /guide,Dr Tariq Mehmood (assistant professor,department of plant sciences,Quaid-i-Azam University ),Islamabad,behaved during my research is disappointing and difficult to narrate, Naveed said in the email statement.
He emotionally blackmailed,tortured and harassed me.He took all the research samples in his custody in my absence.He used to accuse me that I am an Indian spy who is on espionage mission to Pakistan.My research samples,which included experimental design and optimized protocols,were distributed among [the] favourite students of Dr Mehmood.The stolen samples including transgenic plants,expression vectors and clones are worth millions. 
Naveed,who is from Soibugh in Budgam district,has not visited Kashmir since leaving for Pakistan in early 2010.My commitment with Dr Mehmood was that after completion of my degree I will move back to India, he said.
The practical research I carried out in plant biochemistry and molecular biology laboratory received funding of 9.5 million Pakistani rupees (approx Indian Rs 5.6 million).But my supervisor evaluated me on regional basis,not on merit. 
Asked in an email query why he was being mistreated by Dr Mehmood,Naveed said: The reason behind this worst humiliation was to grab money (9.5 million Pakistani rupees) and research articles.I fought for my rights in Islamabad and lodged a complaint against my supervisor with the university authorities and the Higher Education Commission for justice.However,they have not taken any action till date. 
Naveed could not visit his home in Budgam when his younger sister passed away a year ago.
When I handed over the thesis to my supervisor for submission in December 2011,my sister,who had cardiac problems,was waiting for me, he said.
I was scheduled to reach home but my supervisor did not allow me.My beloved sister breathed her last in a Srinagar hospital.Her last words were: My brother (has) not returned from Pakistan and I cannot wait now any more.

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SPREADING JOY 
Much-needed help pours in at Muzaffarnagar camps 

Riot Victims Brave Cold With Help From Good Samaritans 

Maria Akram TNN 

Shamli:It was a merry Christmas for little Aslam at the Malakpur relief camp for refugees of the Muzaffarnagar riots.Someone from Delhis Nizamuddin area had sent socks,a jacket and a cap that fitted him perfectly.Perhaps they were those of the nameless benefactors son,7 or 8,just like Aslam.Others had sent shawls that turned out to be useful for the boys mother and aunt.
After several reports of deaths due to the cold in the camps of Muzaffarnagar,people now seem to be showering their warmth,literally,for the homeless.In the camps,where many residents were reported to be sharing sweaters by turns to stave off the cold,trucks laden with blankets and warm clothes have begun to arrive,and are greeted by smiles and laughter.The displaced victims say it is only due to the aid pouring in that they now have hope of surviving the harsh cold that has set in.The administration,they say,has only made the situation worse for them.
Once again the people of our country have shown that when tragedy strikes,help does come for the needy from every corner,irrespective of religion and caste, said Shamim Saifi,an elderly resident of the camp.
Amritpal Singh from Ludhiana had come with 600kg of wheat and rice along 700 packets that had a pair of socks,sandals,a stuffed toy and two woollens for each tent in the camp.A garment manufacturer,Singh said after he read media reports,he and his friends decided to contribute their bit towards helping the people at the camps.We were here last month as well and many kids were unwell due to the cold, he said.Thats when we decided to collect funds and distribute things ourselves. 
The composite committee members at the camp said help is pouring in in large numbers and some have even promised jobs in cities.Donations from churches and NGOs is the only reason why these people have survived.No help has come from the government and instead we are forced to vacate the land.We dont have any place to go, said Haji Dilshad,who heads the committee.
A group of IT professionals from Bangalore came with solar heaters.Solar heaters dont require electricity and will help them to cook and heat water to take baths.We read in TOI how taking a bath is a task in the camp, said Junaid Iqbal,an engineer.
A team of doctors from Deoband has been camping with the displaced in Malakpur for the past one week.They have decided to spend the New Year at the camp.Dr Mohd Arshad Khan,a pediatrician,is not only examining children,but also giving away free medicines.We heard that kids are dying from the cold and several infants are suffering from pneumonia, said Dr Khan.Allergies and diarrhoea are rampant and medical facilities arent available. 
To date,there have been 26 deaths in this camp 19 of them were kids aged below 12.
As a heavily pregnant Rubina,a mother of two kids,tries on a red sweater she got from a church,she looks no less than a Santa Claus herself.Today,for the first time Ive got my Christmas present.Merry Christmas, she said to the church volunteers.

MSY tapping into Hindutva sentiment 


New Delhi:Mulayam Singh Yadavs accusation that people staying in relief camps in Muzaffarnagar were not victims but enemy conspirators strikes at the heart of his minority politics but it is also in keeping with the comments he has been making lately that suggest his eagerness to tap into the Hindutva sentiment in a polarized atmosphere.
The startling remark about riot-hit Muslims appears a brazen bid to appear on the Hindu side of the religious polarization triggered by the Muzaffarnagar conflagration.Given the anger among Muslims over SP-ruled Uttar Pradesh governments failure to check riots that rendered 50,000 Muslims homeless,the SP seems reconciled to losses in the elections.
Calling the affected Muslims political pawns is part of a recent pattern with Maulana Mulayam seeing positives among the communalists.Only months back,he surprised party workers by praising L K Advani as truthful and honest.He also told an SP rally last month that the Centre was planning to trap Narendra Modi,a comment seen as sympathizing with the communalist Gujarat leader.TNN

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KILLERS SURRENDER
Muslim leader hacked to death over family dispute

TIMES NEWS NETWORK

Thanjavur: Syed Jamaludeen,the district president of Manithaneya Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (MMMK),a party working for the welfare of the Muslim community,was allegedly hacked to death by two people in Thanjavur early Sunday morning.
Police said a dispute between his family members was the motive behind the murder.Two people,who claimed to have murdered the Muslim leader,later surrendered,police said.
Jamaludeen,58,a resident of Gunduthaikkal near Keezhavasthachavadi,Thanjavur,was killed by the duo who intercepted his two-wheeler on Pattukottai Road around 6am on Sunday.Jamaludeen was on his way to the flower market.He sustained brutal injuries on his head and collapsed.Eye-witnesses informed the police and his family,but Jamaludeen succumbed to his injuries before police reached the spot.Jamaludeen is survived by his wife,two sons and a daughter.It was said that Jamaludeen was living with his mother and sister,following a dispute with his family.
Investigations pointed to a dispute between Jamaludeen and his relatives over a powerful post in the Wakf Board.It was a murder following a dispute between him and his close relatives.He served in the Wakf Board earlier.The two groups had differences,and this led to Jamaludeens death, inspector M S Abdul Rahim told TOI.



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Anti-national transfer of prime properties to Delhi Waqf Board: VHP tells Pranab Babu to restrain SoniaG UPA

"OM"
VISHVA SAMVAD KENDRA
57, North Avenue, New Delhi - 110 001, Telefax: 011-23092266
 
Media statement of VHP Patron Ma. Ashokji Singhal:

The Government of India cannot arbitrarily transfer 123 prime and high-end properties, many of it at locations of strategic importance, to the Delhi Waqf Board without giving to the Hindu society the Ayodhya and Mathura sites of Lord Vishnu and the Varanasi site of Lord Shiva and some such sites in Delhi itself. 
 
- Ashok Singhal, Patron, Vishva Hindu Parishad
 
New Delhi, March 03, 2014 - The country was yesterday stunned to hear the Government of India’s Minister Manish Tewari say on the eve of the general elections that "The Cabinet has approved the denotification of 123 properties in Delhi under the control of the land and development office and DDA and allowing the title to revert to the Delhi Wakf Board!" This transfer of title would enable the Wakf Board to take a call on these high-end prime properties at locations of strategic importance including selling them. These properties are spread over prime locations in the capital such as Connaught Place, Mathura Road, Lodhi Road, Man Singh Road, Pandara Road, Ashoka Road, Janpath, Parliament House, Karol Bagh, Sadar Bazaar, Darya Ganj and Jangpura, etc. At present, about sixty of these 123 properties are owned by the Land and Development Office (L&DO) under the urban development ministry while the rest lies with Delhi Development Authority (DDA).
 
“In the absence of a national policy in the matter serving the cause of national and cultural interest of the country, the outgoing Government cannotrepeat,cannot simplistically and arbitrarily denotify and transfer high-end prime properties, many of it at locations of strategic importance, to members of its vote bank without giving to the Hindu society the Sri Rama Janma Bhumi at Ayodhya, Sri Krishna Janmasthan at Mathura, Sri Kashi Vishwanath Prakatsthal at Varanasi, Indraprastha Durg (5,000+ year old Capital Fort of the Pandavas of Mahabharat fame/Old Fort) near Delhi Zoo, the Vishnu Dhwaj (Qutub Minar) complex comprising of the Lal Kot Fort & Qila-Rai-Pithora of the Rajput kings that housed a complex of twenty-seven ancient Hindu and Jain temples which were destroyed by Jihadists and their material used in the construction of the Quwwat-ul-Islam (Might of Islam?) mosque which pattern of terrorist statement they made everywhere else including at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, the holiest site in Judaism, superimposing on it the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They have made similar land-grabbing political statements on over 30,000 places of worship of the Himalayan Tradition all over Bharatvarsh,” warned Shri Ashok Singhal, Patron, Vishva Hindu Parishad.
 
Such conferring of largesse of public properties to its vote bank by the UPA-II Government driven under its unpardonable policy of appeasement for the sake of Vote-Bank Politics and Burqa Secularism is totally unlawful and unconstitutional, which will be fought tooth & nail by the Hindu society.
 
Vishva Hindu Parishad urges upon the Government of India to rescind and make null & void the said Cabinet approval of “denotification of 123 properties”! The UPA Government has perhaps done it as per the suicidal policy declaration by its Prime Minister in December-2006 that “Muslims must have first claim on national resources!” The UPA Government, it is now absolutely clear, is there only to serve the Muslim community and the national society counts not for it which is why it dares to oppress the latter’s nationalist interests at will. The Hindu society warns the Central Government that plays its tricks on it from behind its cloak of pseudo-secularism that it can no longer bear such humiliation and fraud!
 
Vishva Hindu Parishad is writing to His Excellency President of India Shri Pranab Mukherjee to intervene in the matter and restrain his Government.
 
- Released by


(Prakash Sharma)
Advocate
Spokesperson, VHP


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Jul 16 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
Suicide bombing in Af market kills 89
Kabul:
AP
 
 
 
A suicide bomber blew up a car packed with explosives near a market and a mosque in eastern Afghanistan on Tuesday , killing 89 people and wounding over 40 in one of the deadliest attacks since the 2001 US-led invasion.

The attack took place in the town of Urgun in Paktika province. General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence ministry spokesman, said the bomber detonated his explosives-laden vehicle as he drove by the crowded market.

The military was providing helicopters and ambulances to transport the victims to the provincial capital, Sharan, and so far 42 wounded have been moved to hospi tals, he said, adding the explosion destroyed over 20 shops and dozens of vehicles.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, and the Taliban denied involvement, saying they “strongly condemn attacks on local people.“ Many victims were buried under the rubble, said Mohammad Reza Kharoti, the administrative chief of Urgun district.

The bombing was also the first major attack since a deal between the two Afghan presidential contenders brokered by US secretary of state John Kerry averted a dangerous rift in the country's troubled democracy following last month's disputed run-off.



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Aug 25 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
Royal family girl duped into inter-faith marriage, alleges torture by hubby
Ranchi
 
 
 
 
The Jharkhand police lodged an FIR on the complaint of national-level shooter Tara Shahdeo, who alleged she was deceived by one Ranjit Kumar Kohli into marriage, whose real name is Raqibul Hasan Khan. She said in her complaint that she was tortured for over a month to accept her husband’s religion.

Confirming this, Ranchi SSP Prabhat Kumar told reporters on Sunday, “Raqibul Hasan Khan was known as Ranjit Kumar Kohli among people in Ranchi. After their marriage, he forced Tara to have a ‘nikaah’, which she refused, and was tortured for raising her voice in protest.” Kumar said police have charged Hasan with Section 295A under the IPC which deals with deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings of a class by insulting its religious beliefs.

Following the August 22 FIR, the police sealed two of Hasan’s houses and six cars. Hindu religious organisations like the VHP called for a Ranchi bandh on Monday against Tara’s fraudulent marriage, her torture and confinement. They demanded a CBI probe into Hasan’s role, alleging he could be part of a jihadi outfit carrying out forcible conversions by luring Hindu girls into marriage. Tara, who is related to the erstwhile ruling family of the Palkot principality, won the gold medal at a national event, Eastern India Shooting Championship (2011-12). Tara met Jharkhand Women’s Commission chairperson Mahua Manjhi on August 23 and told her about her plight, saying she met Hasan as Ranjit Kohli in May this year during shooting practice at the range at Hotwar sports complex in Ranchi.

“He was well known as Kohli and connected to high-profile people of the state and a regular visitor at the shooting range,” Tara told Manjhi, who quoted her. “Kohli” proposed to her though her friends, Tara told the JWC chairperson, and their wedding took place according to Hindu rituals on July 20. Meanwhile, Hasan and his mother are said to have escaped. “A high alert has been sounded but they are yet to be traced,” said DSP Kotwali Deepak Ambasth.

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 Sep 04 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)

 
Convert and you'll go to heaven, Pakistani cricketer tells Dilshan
Islamabad
AGENCIES
 
 
 
Religious comments by Pakistan batsman Ahmed Shehzad to Sri Lanka player Tillakaratne Dilshan after their one-day international last Saturday are being investigated by the Pakistan Cricket Board.

While the players were walking back to the dressing room in Dambulla, Sri Lanka, Shehzad was caught on camera telling Dilshan, “If you are a non-Muslim and you turn Muslim, no matter whatever you do in your life, (you go) straight to heaven.“ Dilshan's reply was not audible, and Shehzad added, “Then be ready for the fire.“ Shehzad was summoned to PCB headquarters in Lahore on Wednesday and asked about his comments, board general manager, media, Agha Akbar said.

“Ahmed informed the PCB that it was his personal chat with Dilshan, and there was nothing more to it,“ Akbar said. “What we understand is that no Sri Lanka official or our own manager lodged a complaint.“ Dilshan was born to a Muslim father and a Buddhist mother and was known as Tuwan Mohamed Dilshan.

He shed his Muslim name shortly after his international debut in 1999 and took the name Tillakaratne Mudiyanselage Dilshan with an ethnic Sinhalese-Buddhist identity. His childhood coach Ranjan Paranavitana said even though Dilshan carried a Muslim name, he, his brothers and sisters followed their mother's religion.

Dilshan scored an unbeaten 50 on Saturday and powered the home team to a seven-wicket victory .

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ISIS claims beheading of US aid worker, dozen Syrians
Beirut:
AGENCIES
 
 
 
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group on Sunday released a video claiming the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig in a warning to the US as it prepares to send more troops to Peter Kassig Iraq.

The same video showed the gruesome simultaneous beheadings of over a dozen Syrian military personnel, the latest in a series of mass executions and other atrocities proudly broadcast by the ISIS terrorists.

In the highly choreographed sequence, jihadists march the prisoners by a wooden box of long military knives, each taking one as they pass, before forcing their victims to kneel in a line and decapitating them.

In the undated video, a man who appears to be the same British-accented jihadist who beheaded previous Western hostages stands above a severed head.

“This is Peter Edward Kassig, a US citizen of your country,“ the black-clad masked executioner says, urging President Barack Obama to send more troops back to the region. US officials said they were working to determine the video's authenticity .

Meanwhile, even as the British-accented militant appeared in the video, there were reports that `Jihadi John', the same Briton wanted for the beheading of US journalists James Foley , Steven Sotloff and British aid workers David Haines and Allan Henning, was injured in a US air strike in an Iraqi town.

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Nov 17 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
ISIS beheads US aid worker
Beirut:
AP
 
 
Video Shows Dozen Syrian Soldiers Executed Too
An ISIS group video released on Sunday purports to show rebels beheading a dozen Syrian soldiers and ends with a militant claiming to have killed US aid worker Peter Kassig, the latest slaughter proudly broadcast by the group on the Internet.

The video ends with the militant standing over a severed head he says belongs to Kassig. US officials said that they were working to determine the video's authenticity .Kassig's family said it was awaiting the outcome of the investigation. “We prefer our son is written about and remembered for his important work and the love he shared with friends and family , not in the manner the hostage takers would use to manipulate Americans and further their cause,“ the family said.

The video identifies the militants' location as Dabiq, a town in northern Syria that the militant group uses as the title of its English-language propaganda magazine. The HD video shows the beheadings of about a dozen Syrian military officers and pilots, all dressed in blue jumpsuits.The main militant in the video who speaks to the camera has a British accent and warns that US soldiers will meet a similar fate.

“We say to you, Obama: ...You claim to have withdrawn from Iraq four years ago,“ the militant said. “Here you are: You have not withdrawn.Rather, you hid some of your forces behind your proxies.“

The militant's voice is distorted in the video. Previous videos featured a militant with a British accent that the FBI says it has identified, though it hasn't named him.The militant claims Kassig, 26, was killed because he “fought against the Muslims in Iraq while serving as a soldier.“ Kassig, from Indianapolis, Indiana, served in the US army's 75th Ranger Regiment, a special operations unit, and deployed to Iraq in 2007.

Kassig formed the aid organization Special Emergency Response and Assistance in Turkey to aid Syrian refugees. He delivered food and supplies before being captured in Syria last year.

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Nov 17 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)
 
Muslims discovered America: Turkey prez
Istanbul:
AGENCIES
 
 
 
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that the Americas were discovered by Muslims in the 12th century , nearly three centuries before Christopher Columbus set foot there.

“Contacts between Latin America and Islam date back to the 12th century . Muslims discovered America in 1178, not Christopher Columbus,“ the conservative president said in a televised speech during an Istanbul summit of Muslim leaders from Latin America. “Muslim sailors arrived in America from 1178.Columbus mentioned the existence of a mosque on a hill on the Cuban coast,“ Erdogan said. Erdogan said that Ankara was even prepared to build a mosque at the site mentioned by the Genoese explorer.

“I would like to talk about it to my Cuban brothers. A mosque would go perfectly on the hill today ,“ the Turkish leader said. History books say that Columbus set foot on the American continent in 1492 as he was seeking a new maritime route to India.

A tiny minority of Muslim scholars have recently suggested a prior Muslim presence in the Americas, although no pre-Columbian ruin of an Islamic structure has ever been found. In a controversial article published in 1996, historian Youssef Mroueh refers to a diary entry from Columbus that mentions a mosque in Cuba. But the passage is widely understood to be a metaphorical reference to the shape of the landscape.

Scholars have disputed the claim in Columbus' writings, saying there is no archaeological evidence of Muslims having lived in the Americas before Columbus, an Italian, made his expedition in 1492 on behalf of the Spanish crown.

Who discovered the Americas has long been a controversial issue with various scholars.

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 Nov 16 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)

 
2 students held for LKG kid's rape
Kozhikode:
TIMES NEWS NETWORK
 
 
 
Bowing to public pressure, police on Saturday arrested two inmates of the Sirajul Huda dars (religious school) on charges of allegedly raping a LKG student of the Darul Huda English Medium School at Parakkadavu on October 30.

Those arrested have been identified as Shamsudeen (18) of Thalassery and Mubasheer (19) of Panur.The girl had identified the two accused in an identification parade. A third student, who was also in custody , is likely to be let off as his role in the incident has not been proved.

Their arrest was recorded after the girl failed to identify Muneer, bus cleaner, whom the police had pre sented as `the real culprit'.TOI had reported on the blatant bid to sabotage the case bowing to political interests that had sparked off protests in the Nadapuram area.

The girl's statement was recorded again by the the Payyoli munsiff court after the protests. The relatives of the girl also stuck to their demand for arresting the youth, who had been identified by the child.

Ironically, police, who had claimed that Muneer had confessed to the crime, said on Saturday that the arrested youths Shamsudeen and Mubasheer took the girl to a room near the kitchen of the orphanage after offering her sweets. Both fled the scene when the girl started screaming.



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