East Timor’s Muslim minority welcomes Ramadan

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Updated 20 May 2018
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East Timor’s Muslim minority welcomes Ramadan

  • Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party lost in parliamentary elections on May 12, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent.
  • Despite its Catholic-majority population and the church having great influence, East Timor is secular, and Muslims live in peace and harmony with the rest of society.

DILI: Muslims in Dili, the capital of predominantly Catholic East Timor, have welcomed Ramadan with great joy. 

Julio Muslim Antonio da Costa, the imam of Dili’s largest mosque An Nur, said as the holy month approached, the mosque council set up a committee to organize Ramadan-related activities, such as preparing meals for iftar (the breaking of the fast at sunset) and collecting alms. 

“We had up to 400 people for iftar on the first and second day of Ramadan, and we prepare the food every day throughout the month,” da Costa told Arab News. 

Some congregation members stay in the mosque for the rest of the evening to perform the Taraweeh prayer and listen to sermons delivered by clerics from neighboring countries. 

The clerics also “deliver sermons in other parts of the country, where there are smaller Muslim communities,” da Costa said. 

Every Sunday afternoon, Nurul Habibah, 28, organizes a daily Qur’an recital with fellow Muslim women.

“We have sermons and recital after the Asr prayer, and we involve children from the adjoining orphanage,” said Habibah, who hails from Lombok island in Indonesia. 

Muslims make up about 0.3 percent of East Timor’s population of 1.2 million, most of them concentrated in Dili. 

Outgoing Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri, whose Fretilin party lost in parliamentary elections on May 12, is a Muslim of Yemeni descent. 

“There’s no problem with religion in my country,” he told Arab News. “The problem is only when you mix religion with politics, but it’s a problem at the high level. There’s no problem at the people’s level.”

Despite its Catholic-majority population and the church having great influence, East Timor is secular, and Muslims live in peace and harmony with the rest of society. 

“Every Eid Al-Fitr, the president comes to An Nur after Eid prayer to celebrate the day with the Muslim community,” said da Costa. “It’s a symbol of religious tolerance in East Timor.”

The offices of the president and prime minister, as well as other government offices, send livestock for sacrifice to the mosque for Eid Al-Adha festivities, said Arif Abdullah Sagran, president of the Center of East Timor Islamic Community. But finding halal food is still a problem in the country, Sagran told Arab News.

Da Costa said: “The lingering misperception now is that food is halal as long as it doesn’t contain pork. We don’t yet have a special body to regulate halal food, but for the time being, we can get halal food from Indonesian traders here.”   

An Nur was built in the 1950s during the Portuguese colonization of East Timor and was developed during Indonesia’s occupation. 

“After our independence (in 2002), the government built two towers in the mosque,” said da Costa. “Now it can accommodate up to 3,000 people.”


Kuril islands: strategic chain at heart of Russia-Japan dispute

Updated 27 min 2 sec ago
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Kuril islands: strategic chain at heart of Russia-Japan dispute

  • Soviet troops seized the Kuril Islands from Japan in the final days of World War II
  • The islands are rich in hot springs and minerals and rare metals such as rhenium

MOSCOW: Called the Kurils by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, a string of volcanic islands are at the heart of a feud between the two countries that has prevented them signing a formal World War II peace treaty.
Talks stalled for decades due to Japan’s claim to the four strategic islands seized by the Soviet army in the final days of the war.
Here are some key facts about the Kuril islands:

• The disputed islands of Iturup (Etorofu in Japanese), Kunashir (Kunashiri), Shikotan and Habomai lie at their closest point just a few kilometers (miles) off the north coast of Hokkaido in Japan.
They are the southernmost islands in a volcanic chain that separates the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean.
They are located to the southeast of the Russian island of Sakhalin and are administratively part of the same region, although Tokyo considers them part of its Hokkaido prefecture and “illegally occupied by Russia.”

• Russian Empress Catherine the Great claimed sovereignty over the Kuril islands in 1786 after her government declared they were discovered by “Russian explorers” and therefore “undoubtedly must belong to Russia.”
In the first treaty between tsarist Russia and Japan in 1855, the frontier between the two countries was drawn just north of the four islands closest to Japan.
Twenty years later in 1875, a new treaty handed Tokyo the entire chain, in exchange for Russia gaining full control of the island of Sakhalin.
Japan seized back control of the southern half of Sakhalin after its crushing defeat of Moscow in the 1905 Russo-Japanese War.

• The Kuril islands have been back at the center of a dispute between Moscow and Tokyo since Soviet troops invaded them in the final days of World War II.
The USSR only entered into war with Japan on August 9, 1945, just after the United States had dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
The Soviet troops completed the takeover of the islands after Japan’s general surrendered later that month.


Russia argues that then US president Franklin Roosevelt promised Soviet leader Joseph Stalin he could take back the Kurils in exchange for joining the war against Japan when they met at the Yalta conference in February 1945 at which the Allied leaders divided up the post-war world.
The Soviet capture of the islands has since prevented Moscow and Tokyo from signing a formal peace treaty to end the war, despite repeated attempts over the past 70 years to reach an agreement.
In 1956, Soviet leader Nikita Krushchev first offered to give Japan the two smallest islands, Shikotan and Habomai, in exchange for signing a peace treaty but dropped the idea after Tokyo struck a military alliance with the United States.

Rich in hot springs and rare metals
Strategically, control of the islands ensures Russia has year-round access to the Pacific Ocean for its Pacific Fleet of warships and submarines based in Vladivostok, as the strait between Kunashir and Iturup does not freeze over in winter.
Russia has military bases on the archipelago and has deployed missile systems on the islands.
The islands’ current population is around 20,000 people.
After numerous meetings over the past few years between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin, they have launched various economic projects on the islands in areas such as the farming of fish and shellfish, wind-generated energy, and tourism, though Moscow says investment is still meagre.
Since 2017, the two countries have also agreed on charter flights for Japanese former inhabitants to visit family graves there.
The islands are rich in hot springs and minerals and rare metals such as rhenium, which is used in the production of supersonic aircraft.