Muslims from around the world on pilgrimage to Mecca ahead of hajj

As the birthplace of Muhammad, and the site of Muhammad’s first revelation of the Quran (specifically, a cave 3 km (2 mi) from Mecca), Mecca is regarded as the holiest city in the religion of Islam and a pilgrimage to it known as the Hajj is obligatory for all able Muslims. Mecca is home to the Kaaba, by majority description Islam’s holiest site, as well as being the direction of Muslim prayer.
Muslim pilgrims walk out after the Friday prayer at the Grand mosque ahead of annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 17, 2018.

Muslim pilgrims walk out after the Friday prayer at the Grand mosque ahead of annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia August 17, 2018. 
Image: REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

bY CRIMSON TAZVINZWA//Hisham Mostafa briefly forgot the war in Syria and his financial worries as he looked upon Islam’s holiest sites for the first time, standing among hundreds of thousands of white-clad Muslims gathered in Mecca ahead of the hajj pilgrimage.

“This is the first time I see the Grand Mosque and the Kaaba. It is the best feeling of my life to be able to perform the hajj,” said Mostafa, 50, as he looked at the cube-shaped structure towards which Muslims turn in prayer five times a day.

The accountant traveled to Saudi Arabia from Turkey where he has lived for five years since fleeing Aleppo in Syria. “War destroys everything … Life in Turkey is hard and I barely earn enough.”

But he was able to join about 2 million Muslims, including 1.68 million from abroad, flooding Mecca’s narrow streets for the annual rite which starts on Sunday.

Nayef Ahmed, 37, told Reuters that in order to afford the hajj he had to sell a plot of land in Yemen, which is embroiled in a three-year proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

“Because of the war the prices are very high. But being here I feel comfort and peace and I pray to God for the war to end.”

Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites and organising a peaceful hajj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.

The interior ministry has put in place measures to confront any security threat from militant attacks to political protests, but no specific threats have been detected, a spokesman said.

“We will prevent any actions that are not part of the hajj ritual and any act that may impact the safety of pilgrims or their ability to perform the rite,” Interior Ministry spokesman Mansour Turki told Reuters.

Every able-bodied Muslim who has the means should perform the hajj at least once in their lifetime under a quota system.

“I came for umrah (minor pilgrimage) in 2007 and today after 10 years of registering and waiting, I am here,” said Najwa, 59, from Tunisia. “I cannot describe the feeling. I cry every day.”Image result for muslims mecca

The hajj itinerary retraces the route Prophet Mohammad took 14 centuries ago. Saudi Arabia has made use of technology to manage the flow of millions at the same place at the same time.

This includes electronic identification bracelets, connected to GPS, that were introduced after a 2015 crush killed hundreds.

“There is a comprehensive electronic agenda for every pilgrim and we have provided many apps that offer guidance,” Minister of Hajj and Umrah Mohammed Bintin told Reuters.

“We have a fleet of more than 18,000 buses, all of them linked to a control system that tracks their path.”

He said a high speed railway between Mecca and Medina had been completed and was being now being tested.

Pilgrimage is the backbone of a plan to expand tourism under a drive to diversify the kingdom’s economy away from oil. The hajj and year-round umrah generate billions of dollars in revenues from worshippers’ lodging, transport, fees and gifts.

Officials aim to increase the number of umrah and hajj pilgrims to 15 million and 5 million respectively by 2020, and hope to double the umrah number again to 30 million by 2030.

Myanmar Rohingya Muslim: ‘I saw them with our women, doing whatever they wanted’

Rohingya Muslims, who fled the massacre of Chut Pyin in Myanmar, tell Campbell MacDiarmid of their battle for dignity

A young Rohingya refugee in a camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, August 11 2018. Campbell MacDiarmid for The National
A young Rohingya refugee in a camp near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, August 11 2018. Campbell MacDiarmid for The National

bY CAMPBELL MAcDIARMID ~~It was once called the Village of Bitter Gourds for the vegetables that residents grow in Chut Pyin. As well as the gourds, the lush fields around their homes in northern Rakhine State produced a profusion of rice, pumpkins and okra.

But last year, the rice paddies of Chut Pyin became killing fields, as Myanmar soldiers and Buddhist extremists carried out a brutal massacre of the Rohingya villagers. On August 26, nearly 400 of them were killed and the village razed, while those who survived fled on foot across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh. The bitter gourds of Chut Pyin were supplanted by bitter memories for the more than 1,000 odd people to whom that bountiful home is just a memory.

 Mohammad Haror, six, left, embraces his brother Mohmmad Aktar, four
Mohammad Haror, six, left, embraces his brother Mohmmad Aktar, fourIMAGE: REX FEATURES

Instead, 12 months on, the villagers live in a tight cluster of tarpaulin and bamboo huts atop a small hillock in the Kutupalong-Balukhali Refugee Camp.

“You won’t find anyone around here who didn’t lose at least one family member,” says Mohammed Sadiq, a grey-haired farmer in a white skull cap, whose granddaughter and daughter-in-law were both killed.

Of the 1,400 Rohingya who lived in Chut Pyin, 358 were killed and another 94 were wounded, according to Ahammed Hossain, who was once the village foreman.

According to Mr Hossain, a boyish 25-year-old who wears a T shirt emblazoned with the white sign of the Hollywood hills, a further 59 men were detained by Myanmar soldiers and have not been released. At least 19 women were savagely raped. He recounted how he found his own sister dying in the bushes after being raped and shot.

“I couldn’t save her,” he says flatly. His father and brother were also killed, he added, the numbness of loss palpable in his voice.

The massacre at Chut Pyin – which has been documented and corroborated by various international rights groups – became the most notorious example of the Myanmar government’s campaign to expel the ethnic minority Rohingya from its lands, and precipitate a mass exodus of refugees into Bangladesh.

Today, as Bangladesh and Myanmar discuss the return of refugees, the villagers of Chut Pyin hold up their experience as evidence of why greater international involvement is needed to protect the rights of Rohingya Muslims.

Iain Duncan Smith Defends Boris Johnson’s ‘Freedom Of Speech’ Over Burkas Row

But numerous leading Muslim figures have condemned the former foreign secretary’s “joke”

By Rachel Wearmouth

PA ARCHIVE/PA IMAGES
Iain Duncan Smith has defended fellow Brexiteer Boris Johnson

Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has defended Boris Johnson after he compared women in burkas to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”.

Fellow Brexiteer Duncan Smith said there was not anything “particularly wrong” with comments the ex-foreign secretary, who faces an investigation by the Conservative Party, made about Muslim women in a Sunday Telegraph article.

He said people “may not agree with the tone or the jokes” made in the article, but that Johnson was exercise his “freedom of speech” and was defending the government line not to ban the burka, as Denmark has done.

Numerous leading Muslim figures, including Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, have condemned Johnson’s use of language.

One hundred Muslim women who wear a burka or niqab have written to Tory chairman Brandon Lewis to demand Boris Johnson be thrown out of the Conservative Party.

But Duncan Smith said: “We have a thing called freedom of speech in this country and I don’t believe that just because somebody takes offence that means therefore that there has to be an inquiry in terms of whether or not that individual should be shut down for saying what they believe.”

He added that those who “believe strongly in equality for women “take a very different view” on burkas, adding: “Most Muslim women don’t wear one and as I understand it that is their choice, and that’s what I uphold, their choice.”

PA WIRE/PA IMAGES
Theresa May has backed calls for Boris Johnson to apologise

Johnson was urged to apologise by both Lewis and Prime Minister Theresa May, and after several complaints were submitted to the party, an internal investigation will now take place.

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Denmark has ridiculed itself by banning burkas, activist tells Euronews

“We live in a land that has freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of worship and freedom of choice and if you want to uphold those there will always be those that take offence,” Duncan Smith told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

The letter signed by 100 women said Johnson made a “deliberate choice” to inflame tensions, which could pave the way for “bigots to justify hate crime”.

Speaking as “free women who are able to speak for ourselves”, the group warns “all personal choices should be respected”, adding that an apology from Johnson would be “insufficient”.

According to the party’s code of conduct, members should not use their position to “bully, abuse, victimise, harass or unlawfully discriminate against others”, with the prospect of suspension or expulsion for those found to be in breach.

‘She prayed she would be martyred’: Gaza parents mourn their dead

Children should be allowed to grow up knowing how to love themselves,  life and not death; and thrive in every-way possible to preserve this miracle for that’s all we have got  left as humanity; but also to be aware what’s shaping their lives, and all that surrounds them and how to positively influence that. “A child must know that S/HE is a miracle, that since the beginning of the world there hasn’t been, and until the end of the world there will not be, another child like them.” ~~~ Pablo Casals

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© Getty Images Mourners at the funeral of an eight-month-old child in Gaza City.

“May God help the people who are living here,” she said, speaking surrounded by friends and family all crammed into a tiny room under a corrugated iron roof.

At 14 years old, Wesal Sheikh Khalil had already made plans for her funeral. If Israeli troops were to shoot her during protests on the Gaza border, the Palestinian teenager had told her mother, she should be buried at the spot where she died or in the plot next to her grandfather’s grave.

“She thought death was better than this life,” said Reem Abu Irmana a day after she lost her youngest daughter. “Every time she went to the demonstrations she prayed to God that she would be martyred.”

Wesal was one of more than 60 people killed in Gaza on Monday as Israeli snipers fired on gatherings of tens of thousands along a perimeter fence surrounding the blockaded enclave.

According to Gaza’s ministry of health, the dead included an eight-month-old baby who reportedly died after inhaling teargas. A double amputee who was photographed throwing stones from a wheelchair was also killed.

Several of the dead were members of Hamas, the group that runs Gaza and has fought three wars with Israel. At least 1,300 people were wounded by live fire, Gaza’s health ministry said.

Funerals on Tuesday coincided with the anniversary of the Nakba, or catastrophe, commemorating the more than 700,000 people who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

For six weeks, demonstrators have rallied in the “great march of return”, a movement symbolising their desire to return to their ancestral homes. Monday’s protest, the bloodiest to date, was focused on fury over the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem on the same day.

Wesal, who turned 14 in December, had been inspired by the marches and started to think intensely about “martyrdom”, her mother said.

For a decade, Israel and Egypt have imposed tight restrictions of the movement of goods and people into Gaza, and Abu Irmana said life had become unbearable for her seven children, with the family having to move every three or four months as they could not afford the rent.

“May God help the people who are living here,” she said, speaking surrounded by friends and family all crammed into a tiny room under a corrugated iron roof.

The family say they are from a small village they have never visited in what is now Israel. Three generations have lived in Gaza’s cramped al-Bureij refugee camp, in a section of the neighbourhood that residents call Block D.

Wesal never left Gaza, Abu Irmana said, recalling a girl she described as “full of joy”. Wesal had written a song for her mother’s upcoming birthday, which she had memorised and sung around the house in her last days.

Her 21-year-old brother had warned her not to go to the protests, threatening – as a joke – that he would break her legs if she tried. But she was steadfast, her mother said. “She said: ‘If I had one leg I would go. If both were broken, I would crawl.’”

Wesal’s 11-year-old brother Mohammed was with her when she was killed. He said she had been given wire cutters by other protesters and was shot in the head near the fence.

Israel’s military said on Monday that Hamas planned to “carry out a massacre in Israel”. However, no one pushed through, and since the weekly protests began on 30 March no Israeli has been harmed, except for one soldier lightly wounded in an unspecified incident.

Mohammed wanted to return to Tuesday’s protests, which were much smaller, but his mother forbade it. “My life is the same,” Abu Irmana said when asked about her plans for the future. “The only change is I don’t have a daughter.”

In Gaza City on Tuesday, shops selling snacks and fresh watermelons stayed open and children played football. Streets of the enclave were quieter than usual. “It feels like wartime again,” said one resident.

A road was blocked off by a blue tarpaulin tent. Dozens of men, old and young, sat on plastic chairs to mourn the death of Yazen al-Toubasi, another casualty from Monday. The 23-year-old cleaner had a son under the age of two.

Toubasi’s father, Ibrahim, sat among neighbours. “All the world is squeezing this small place called Gaza,” he said in a soft, fractured voice. He too had been protesting. He said it was a “national duty” for all Palestinians to continue.

Toubasi had not approached the fence but had stayed in one of the tents set up several hundred metres back for a sit-in. “Even if he tried to throw a stone, it wouldn’t reach them,” his father said.

Green flags belonging to Hamas had been positioned in the road, and a poster with Toubasi’s name embossed on it also showed photos of the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam.

Hamas has paid for funeral services and donated money to the families of the dead and wounded, a move Israel condemns. Toubasi’s father said his son was not affiliated to one political group but supported “all the factions”.

As he spoke, people walked up and hugged him, often whispering condolences into his ears. “Thank you,” he replied politely to each.

“The Palestinian cause was abandoned and it is back to the forefront,” he said, promising to return to the frontier with Israel for further demonstrations. “I will be in Yazen’s place tomorrow.”

Violent extremism and terrorism, including suicide attacks, are against Islamic principles and faith – prominent Muslim Scholars

“We reaffirm that violence and terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group, as violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestation including violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principles of Islam,” the declaration said.

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© Getty Muslim prayer service at JFK airport

Muslim scholars have declared that violent extremism and terrorism, including suicide attacks, are against Islamic principles, in an effort to convince the Taliban to end its violence, at a conference in Indonesia on Friday.

Seventy prominent Muslim scholars from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia issued the fatwa, or edict, during a discussion on ways to achieve peace and stability in Afghanistan.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, who opened the one-day meeting, stressed his country’s commitment to helping build peace in the war-torn country.

“Through the voice of ulema, mainly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Indonesia, presumably the spirit of brotherhood for peace in Afghanistan can be strengthened,” Mr Jokowi said. “Ulema are the agent of peace … they have the power to form the face of peaceful people.”

He expressed his hope that the conference could make a concrete contribution towards peace in Afghanistan.

In a joint declaration, the scholars said Islam was a religion of peace and denounced all kinds of violent extremism and terrorism.

“We reaffirm that violence and terrorism cannot and should not be associated with any religion, nationality, civilisation or ethnic group, as violent extremism and terrorism in all its forms and manifestation including violence against civilians and suicide attacks are against the holy principles of Islam,” the declaration said.

Russian civilians helping Assad use military base back home – witnesses

 

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A still image from a video footage shows a bus transferring Russian private military contractors leaving an airport outside Rostov-on-Don

The Kremlin says it has nothing to do with Russian civilians fighting in Syria but on three recent occasions groups of men flying in from Damascus headed straight to a defense ministry base in Molkino, Reuters reporters witnessed.
Molkino in southwestern Russia is where the Russian 10th Special Forces Brigade is based, according to information on the Kremlin website.
The destination of the Russians arriving from Syria provides rare evidence of a covert Russian mission in Syria beyond the air strikes, training of Syrian forces and small numbers of special forces troops acknowledged by Moscow.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Feb. 14 Russians may be in Syria but “they are not part of the armed forces of the Russian Federation”. He referred Reuters to the defense ministry when asked why civilians fighting in Syria return to a military base. The ministry did not immediately respond.
A duty officer at the 10th special forces brigade, asked why non-military people were entering the military base, said: “Nobody enters it, as far as I am aware … You’ve seen them, okay. But you should not believe everything … You can maybe. But how can we comment on what other organizations do?”
More than 2,000 Russian contractors are fighting to help Syrian forces recapture land from their opponents, several sources, including one contractor, have said.
The contractors are transferred by Syrian airline Cham Wings, the sources said.
Reuters reporters saw a Syrian Cham Wings charter flight from Damascus land at the civilian airport in Rostov-on-Don on April 17 and watched groups of men leave the terminal through an exit separate from the one used by ordinary passengers.
They boarded three buses, which took them to an area mainly used by airport staff. A luggage carrier brought numerous oversized bags and the men, dressed in civilian clothes, got off the buses, loaded the bags and got back on.
The three buses then left the airport in convoy and headed south; two made stops near cafes along the way and one on the roadside. All three reached the village of Molkino, 350 km (220 miles) south, shortly before midnight.

Osama Bin Laden’s ‘dangerous’ bodyguard living free on £1,000-a-month welfare

osama
© Provided by Independent Print Limited

Although classified as dangerous and required to report to police every day, authorities say the man, known as Sami A, cannot be sent back to his Tunisian homeland because the risk that he would be tortured was too high.

A court in Münster branded Sami A, 42, as “an acute and considerable danger for public security”, and he had an asylum application rejected.

But a higher court has ruled that a deportation order cannot be carried out. Sami A came to Germany as a student in 1997.