East Timor’s Muslim minority welcomes Ramadan

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Updated 20 May 2018

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.”


Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

Updated 3 min 22 sec ago

Protester flees Russia as two others tie the knot in jail

  • The protester faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police
  • Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realizing he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition

MOSCOW: A protester has fled Russia fearing imprisonment, his lawyer said Thursday, as a jailed demonstrator married a young woman accused of plotting to overthrow the government.
Aidar Gubaidulin, a 26-year-old programmer who faces up to five years in prison for throwing a plastic bottle at police, was among more than a dozen people who were arrested following anti-government protests demanding fair elections this summer.
Gubaidulin fled the country this week after realizing he could soon be given a lengthy jail term amid an unrelenting crackdown on the opposition, his lawyer Maxim Pashkov told AFP.
“This decision did not come easily to me but the events of the last few days left me no choice,” Gubaidulin said on Facebook.
“I’ve left the country and will not return anytime soon.”
Gubaidulin, who tossed an empty plastic bottle toward police at a July rally but did not hit anyone, was arrested and charged with mass unrest.
He was later released from pre-trial detention and eventually charged with threatening to use violence against police.
Pashkov said Gubaidulin decided to leave Russia after a court this week upheld the conviction of fellow protester Konstantin Kotov, who had been jailed for four years over peaceful protests.
“This affected him very much,” Pashkov said.
Meanwhile in a bittersweet development, Kotov, 34, married a 19-year-old suspected extremist, Anna Pavlikova, at Moscow’s infamous Matrosskaya Tishina jail, said Kotov’s friend and fellow activist Alexei Minyailo.
Along with several other people Pavlikova, then aged 17, was arrested last year and charged with creating an extremist organization and seeking to overthrow President Vladimir Putin’s government.
Her health deteriorated in jail and she was later placed under house arrest.
“Justice failed them, Kostya will soon be sent to a penal colony but love will triumph anyway,” Minyailo, who attended the wedding, told AFP, using a diminutive to refer to his friend.
Minyailo himself spent two months in pre-trial detention after the protests but was released after a solidarity campaign.
Overall six people including Kotov received jail terms of between two and five years over the opposition protests over elections in Moscow which were seen as unfair.
Under pressure from supporters the authorities made a few concessions, including releasing from prison actor Pavel Ustinov after he was jailed for three-and-a-half years and giving him a suspended sentence instead.
But as the wave of protests for the most part died down, the authorities once again began to tighten the screws.
This week, investigators announced five more detentions of protesters.
The latest arrests brought the number of people awaiting trial in jail to seven.
Tens of thousands of people rallied in Moscow this summer after authorities refused to allow allies of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to stand for city parliament in September elections.
Scores of Kremlin critics have fled Russia in recent years amid an increasing crackdown on dissent.