Dhaka launches project to honor founding father

Dhaka launches project to honor founding father
Once completed, all 560 mosques’ libraries will accommodate 34,000 people, while free education will be provided to 168,000 children. (Supplied)
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Updated 09 February 2021

Dhaka launches project to honor founding father

Dhaka launches project to honor founding father
  • $1bn program will see 170 mosques open this year, 560 in all throughout Bangladesh

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi government is to open 170 new mosques this year as part of a major project to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, often referred to as the father of the nation.

In all, 560 mosques will be built throughout the country under the $1 billion construction program.

“This is the largest mosque project for any government in the world where a large number of mosques are being constructed at a time,” Shafiqur Rahman Talukder, deputy project director of the Model Mosque Project (MMP) told Arab News.

“The project was initiated to mark the birth centenary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, coinciding with 50 years of independence. A total of 560 model mosques will be built under this initiative across the country,” he said.

Rahman spearheaded a freedom struggle in former East Pakistan until the formation of Bangladesh in 1971.

A year later, he became the first president of the war-torn, south Asian country and governed Bangladesh for three years until he was killed in an army revolt on Aug. 15, 1975.

Sheikh Hasina, one of his two daughters, took over the helm of his Awami League Party after being appointed prime minister in 1996 and declared Aug. 15 as a holiday and national day of mourning to honor her father’s memory.

To mark the centenary year of Rahman’s birth, the government has been pulling out all the stops to celebrate the occasion.

There are more than 300,000 mosques in Bangladesh, according to data provided by the Bangladesh Islamic Foundation (BIF) which was established in 1975 by Rahman and is the central government body “to protect and promote Islamic values in the country.”

The MMP will see 50 mosques being inaugurated in April, ahead of Ramadan, followed by 60 in September and the rest in December.

All districts, subdistricts, and city corporation areas will have one model mosque equipped with a grand prayer hall for 900 to 1,200 people, centers for Islamic research, and a mass education system for pre-primary school children.

Once completed, all 560 mosques’ libraries will accommodate 34,000 people, while free education will be provided to 168,000 children aged between four and six.

“An approved curriculum is already in place. Currently, we are running this program in 70,000 mosques across the country to teach around 2,300,000 children,” Talukder said.

Educators from the BIF – which has been running the program since 1995 – will be teaching nearly 33 children at each mosque. “We have plans to expand this project to all mosques in the country,” he added.

The mosques will also include housing and accommodation facilities for local and foreign tourists, and an enrollment and training program for Hajj pilgrims.

While the local Bangle language will be the primary communication mode, employees will also be trained in English and Arabic to facilitate tourists visiting the centers.

Talukder said: “The main objective of the project is to disseminate the true spirit of Islam. Through the sermons, imams will be able to teach people about Islamic values and the evils of terrorism and other extremist activities in society.”

Among parents welcoming the move was Motaleb Ahmed, the father of a 5-year-old, who told Arab News: “I want my son to learn the Holy Qur’an. Besides, he will also get lessons in Bangle and English which will help him in primary school next year.”

Islamic scholars in the country also backed the initiative. Mufti Farid Uddin Masoud, the grand imam of the Sholakia Eidgah, said the project would “help build an ideal society by teaching children the right values.”

He added: “The authorities need to monitor and evaluate the project’s outcomes very closely. Otherwise, such a great initiative may not bring desired results. Such an initiative is praiseworthy and should be continued as it is the first of its kind.”

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival
Updated 06 December 2021

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

In Pakistan’s Khaplu Valley, autumn foliage becomes ‘blessing’ fuel for winter survival

KHAPLU GILGIT, Pakistan: When autumn arrives in the Khaplu Valley with its foliage of vibrant reds, yellows and copper browns, families welcome it as a “blessing” — not for the colorful spectacle but for the fuel the falling leaves will serve as when burnt come winter, helping locals survive the harsh weather in Pakistan’s mountainous north.

The valley in the northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan, surrounded by some of Pakistan’s highest peaks and glaciers, is home to over 24,000 people who remain largely cut off from the rest of the country in the winter months, when temperatures can fall below minus 20 degrees Celsius.

In the absence of reliable gas or electricity sources, residents have had to find alternative means of heating their homes. One option is burning the colorful leaves that fall in autumn, which locals call “gold” and diligently collect between late November and early December to use as burning fuel in the winter ahead.

“We don’t waste dried leaves because they are the main source of heating for us,” Mohammed Jaffar, a 68-year-old resident of Garbong village, told Arab News.

Jaffar, a member of the village’s welfare committee, which is responsible for leaf collection and distribution, said the dried leaves were “the biggest blessing.”


•Villagers collect dry leaves between late November and early December to use as fuel during freezing winters.

•In the absence of reliable gas or electricity sources, people have found alternative means to heat their homes. 

The collection and distribution of dried leaves among Garbong’s 130 households take almost a week. Each household nominates a woman representative and does not receive leaves if it fails to do so. The same practice is observed in all other villages in Khaplu valley.

Mohammed Ali, who summons residents using a mosque loudspeaker every morning during the week to collect their share of leaves from the nearby Stronpi village, said leaf collection rules and exact dates were established years ago to avoid conflict.

“Fifteen years ago, women would fight each other for dried leaves,” he said. “Now, the committee monitors all the affairs of the village, from the mosque to working in the fields and personal disputes as well as dried leaf collection.”

Once distributed among village households, the leaves are burnt in the open air. When they stop giving off smoke, they are brought into the kitchen in a metal pot, placed under a special square table and covered with a blanket or quilt.

“Family members nestle around the table with the burnt leaves placed under it,” Stronpi resident Sajid Ali said.

Fatima, a village elder who only gave her first name, said there was a special room in her basement to store the leaves during winter. 

“Without dried leaves, how could we spend the winter days?” she said. “It’s only seasonal dried leaves, but for us, it is like gold.”

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland
Updated 06 December 2021

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland

India orders probe after troops kill 14 civilians in Nagaland
  • Assam Rifles patrol opened fire on group of miners returning home after work

NEW DELHI: The Indian government on Sunday ordered a special investigation into the killing of at least 14 civilians by paramilitary forces who mistook them for insurgents in the northeastern
state of Nagaland bordering Myanmar.

The Indian army has been battling separatist militants in Nagaland for years.

On Saturday night, an Assam Rifles patrol in Oting village, Mon district, opened fire on a group of miners returning home after work, killing six. Local police told reporters eight more civilians and a soldier died when angry villagers confronted troops.

The army said in a statement on Sunday it acted “based on credible intelligence of likely movement of insurgents” and that it “deeply regretted” the incident.

The central and local government immediately ordered a probe.


Local media reported that telephone and internet services have been suspended in Mon district as the incident has fueled anger among members of the Konyak tribe, which constitutes a majority in the region.

India’s Home Minister Amit Shah said in a tweet that a “high-level” special investigation team “will thoroughly probe this incident to ensure justice to the bereaved families.”

The Nagaland chief minister appealed for calm and tweeted that justice will be “delivered as per the law of the land.”

Local media reported that telephone and internet services have been suspended in Mon district as the incident has fueled anger among members of the Konyak tribe, which constitutes a majority in the region.

“I spoke to my relatives in Mon. There is tension in the area and people are angry about the incident,” Langphong Konyak, a civil society leader based in Kohima, the capital city of Nagaland, told Arab News.

“The people killed are miners working in a coal mine,” he said. “Locals confirm that 14 people were killed in the army firing, with seven injured. You cannot solve the Naga problem by killing innocent people.”

There are dozens of ethnic insurgent groups in India’s remote, predominantly tribal northeast. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland, the main nationalist separatist group in Nagaland, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Indian government in 1997.

But its splinter group, formed under the late Burmese insurgent leader Shangwang Shangyung Khaplang, remains active in Mon district, aiming to establish a sovereign state out of all Naga-inhabited areas of Myanmar and India.

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance
Updated 06 December 2021

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

Ethiopia’s war in uncertain phase after Abiy’s advance

ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s military this week regained control of territory previously claimed by Tigrayan rebels, a potential validation of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s decision to join soldiers in conflict-hit areas.

Yet how the government scored its wins and what they mean for an eventual outcome in the year-old war remain points of fierce debate as fighting enters a new, uncertain phase.

Just a month ago, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front rebel group appeared to be on the offensive, claiming to have captured Dessie and Kombolcha, towns on a key highway headed toward the capital Addis Ababa.

They reportedly reached as far as Shewa Robit, around 220 kilometers (135 miles) northeast of Addis Ababa by road.

But after Abiy announced last week he would lead operations in the field, the government announced a string of victories and the rebels acknowledged making adjustments to their strategy.

State media has responded with triumphalist wall-to-wall coverage.

“The enemy is destroyed, disintegrated,” the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation quoted Abiy as saying Thursday.

There’s little doubt the government can claim to have the “upper hand” in specific areas, said Awet Weldemichael, a Horn of Africa security expert at Queen’s University in Canada.

“Only time will tell if these can be translated into [the] upper hand in the war,” he said.

The war in northern Ethiopia broke out in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops to topple the TPLF — a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps.

Though Abiy, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, promised a quick victory, by late June the TPLF had retaken most of Tigray, and it soon launched offensives into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions.

The rebels’ march toward Addis sparked international panic, with a host of embassies urging their citizens to leave the country as soon as possible.

All the while, though, the exact nature of the TPLF advance was in dispute.

“I don’t know whether we should call it an advance,” one Western security official told AFP in mid-November.

“There’s not a huge column of tanks and armored vehicles driving down the road toward Addis. It’s more complex than that. There are foot soldiers going into the mountains, they shoot and surround certain areas” but do not seem to fully control cities and towns, the official said.

The TPLF also never explicitly said it wanted to enter Addis Ababa, instead simply declining to rule out such a move.

The latest battlefield shifts unfolded swiftly.

The government first claimed towns in Afar, near a critical highway bringing goods to Addis Ababa, then on Wednesday it declared victory in Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site that fell to the TPLF in August.

On Friday state media announced that towns on the road heading north toward Dessie and Kombolcha had been “liberated.”

The news could be a sign that government forces, as well as many thousands of new recruits who have enlisted in recent months, have more fight than they’ve gotten credit for.

“I was quite surprised by the latest counteroffensive by the government,” said Mehdi Labzae, a sociologist who studies land issues and mobilization in Ethiopia.

“I have seen all the people who were mobilized ... but the thing is I thought they were not trained and I thought they would just be destroyed.”

The African Union is trying to broker a cease-fire to avert further bloodshed, though there has been little progress so far.

The TPLF insists it will have the advantage in whatever fighting is to come.

“In battle, it’s known there will be adjustments and limited retreat as well as significant moves forward,” TPLF military boss Tadesse Worede said in an interview that aired Friday.

“We decided that to reduce problems and vulnerabilities in some areas we had reached, to leave some of those places voluntarily.”

For Labzae, such statements recall the government’s announcement that it was withdrawing from most of Tigray in late June — a claim that elided military setbacks even as TPLF fighters celebrated in the streets of the regional capital Mekele.

“They were so close [to Addis]. Why would they turn back now?” Labzae said of the TPLF.

“It means there was something worrying them or something that did not look good for them.”

One possibility, said Awet of Queen’s University, is that the government’s superior air power has turned the tide — at least for now.

“Drones are claimed to have played a decisive role in active combat, the full extent of which we are yet to find out,” he said.

“But so far, it appears like they have helped halt Tigrayan counterattacks and advances.”

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
Updated 06 December 2021

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit

Pope calls neglect of migrants ‘shipwreck’ on Lesbos visit
  • Pope Francis has long championed cause of migrants, visit comes a day after he made a stinging rebuke to Europe

LESBOS ISLAND: Pope Francis on Sunday returned to the island of Lesbos, the migration flashpoint he first visited in 2016, calling the neglect of migrants the “shipwreck of civilization.”

The pope has long championed the cause of migrants and his visit comes a day after he delivered a stinging rebuke to Europe which he said was “torn by nationalist egoism.”

“In Europe there are those who persist in treating the problem as a matter that does not concern them,” the pope said as he spent some two hours at Lesbos’ Mavrovouni camp where nearly 2,200 asylum seekers live.

On the second day of his visit to Greece, he met dozens of child asylum seekers and relatives standing behind metal barriers and stopped to embrace a boy called Mustafa. 

People later gathered in a tent to sing songs and psalms to the pontiff.

Pope Francis warned that the Mediterranean “is becoming a grim cemetery without tombstones” and that “after all this time, we see that little in the world has changed with regard to the issue of migration.”

He said the root causes “should be confronted — not the poor people who pay the consequences and are even used for political propaganda.”

The European Union has been locked in a dispute with Belarus over an influx of migrants traveling through the former Soviet state seeking to enter Poland, Lithuania and Latvia in recent months.

Britain and France have traded barbs over the increasing number of migrants making the deadly Channel crossing to reach the UK in the wake of the November 24 mass drowning which claimed 27 lives.

“His visit is a blessing,” said Rosette Leo, a Congolese asylum seeker at the site.

The temporary Mavrovouni tent camp was hurriedly erected after the sprawling camp of Moria, Europe’s largest such site at the time, burned down last year.

Greek authorities blamed a group of young Afghans for the incident and security was substantially enhanced for the pontiff’s visit.

The pope’s trip to Lesbos was shorter than his last as he will hold a mass for some 2,500 people at the Megaron Athens Concert Hall later Sunday.

In Cyprus, where the pope visited before Greece this week, authorities said that 50 migrants will be relocated to Italy thanks to Francis.

Greek officials have not ruled out the possibility that some migrants from Mavrovouni could accompany him back to Italy.

He took 12 Syrian refugees with him during his last visit to Lesbos in 2016.

At the start of his Athens visit on Saturday, Francis “today, and not only in Europe, we are witnessing a retreat from democracy,” , warning against populism’s “easy answers.”

In 2016, Francis visited Moria with Bartholomew I, the spiritual leader of the world’s Orthodox Christians, and Archbishop Ieronymos II, head of the Church of Greece.

The Mavrovouni camp currently holds 2,193 people and has a capacity of 8,000, a facility official said this week.

Authorities insist asylum procedures and processing times are now faster.

With EU funds, Greece is building a series of “closed” facilities on Greek islands with barbed wire fencing, surveillance cameras, X-ray scanners and magnetic gates that are closed at night.

Three such camps have opened on the islands of Samos, Leros and Kos, with Lesbos and Chios to follow next year.

Once migrants receive asylum they are no longer eligible to remain in the camps with many then unable to find accommodation or work, drawing criticism from NGOS and aid agencies.

The groups have also raised concerns about the new camps, arguing that people’s movements should not be restricted as well as claiming Greek border officers have pushed back migrants.

Greece vehemently denies the claims, insisting its coast guard saves lives at sea.

The pope flew back to Athens after the visit and will return to Rome on Monday.

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
Updated 05 December 2021

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’

UK police ‘treated Daesh bride families as suspects, criminals’
  • Girls, young women were coerced into traveling to northeast Syria, where “rape, forced marriage were widespread”

LONDON: The grieving families of British “Daesh brides” were treated as suspects and criminals by police, The Observer has reported.

Several family members of girls and young women who had traveled to join Daesh described being “treated as criminals” and used as sources of intelligence by the authorities.

One individual said that their home was raided and searched after they informed police of their daughter’s decision to join Daesh in Syria.

The revelations came during a parliamentary session last week. The media were prohibited from reporting on the session due to harassment concerns, but separately, four of the families later gave accounts of their experiences to The Observer.

They warned that their daughters have been “left stranded” in Syrian refugee camps.

One woman said that her sister had traveled to Syria. However, after she had informed and cooperated with police, she learned that officers were uninterested in locating her sibling.

“We thought the police were there to help us. Over time, we could see the police and the authorities weren’t talking to us to help us, but only to get information. Once they had their information, they washed their hands of us,” she said.

“We were never offered any support. I felt I had to prove I was anti-extremist to them. I felt I was always under suspicion.”

Another person said: “I was interrogated as if I was a suspect, and once they had decided I wasn’t, they didn’t really want anything to do with me. It became really difficult to get in touch with them.”

Many of the families warned that the UK government had abandoned the presumption of innocence when it came to their children.

One said: “Normally, it is Western governments that talk about human rights and trafficking. However, when it is my family who have been abused and trafficked, they have decided not even to investigate their cases. They are considered guilty just for being in Syria.

“Women and children are being punished without a trial. I don’t know why Britain has decided to abandon its principles in my family’s case.”

Another family member said: “I felt really betrayed. I’ve now lost faith in the people who are supposed to help and protect us. We don’t have our rights any longer.”

The claims come in the wake of a report from legal charity Reprieve that found that many of the Daesh brides initially traveled to the war-torn country due to coercion and trafficking.

Once there, the report warned, exploitation, forced marriage and rape were widespread within Daesh territory.

There are now about 20 UK families stranded in former Daesh territories in Syria, but the UK Home Office has repeatedly denied the repatriation of women and children.

Andrew Mitchell, former international development secretary and chair of the all-party parliamentary group that heard the testimonies, said: “If the government would only listen to these families, it would surely realize the inhumanity and sheer wrongheadedness of abandoning British citizens in desert detention camps.

“This terrible policy is affecting ordinary law-abiding families and fraying the fabric of our multicultural society. Whether from a security perspective or a moral one, the case for repatriation could not be more clear.”

Former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi said: “Many of us in parliament are very concerned by what is happening here, particularly in relation to the precedent that it sets.”

Maya Foa, Reprieve director, said that families in the camps were “stripped of all rights, presumed guilty without a trial, subjected to violence and abandoned by the government.”

Foa warned that the government “appeared to be seeking to inflict maximum harm on this group — which is mostly British children — to make some kind of political point.”

One family member heard during the session said: “All I want to ask the government is; you had every opportunity to protect her and failed, how can you now wash your hands of her?”