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.”


Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week
Updated 21 January 2022

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

Russia: US to provide written responses on Ukraine next week

GENEVA: The United States and Russia tried Friday to avert another devastating conflict in Europe, but the two powers’ top diplomats warned no breakthrough was imminent as fears rise that Moscow is planning to invade Ukraine.

Armed with seemingly intractable and diametrically opposed demands, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met in Geneva at what the American said was a “critical moment.” The talks are shaping up as a possible last-ditch effort at dialogue and a negotiated agreement.

With an estimated 100,000 Russian troops massed near Ukraine, many fear Moscow is preparing an invasion although Russia denies that. The US and its allies are scrambling to present a united front to prevent that or coordinate a tough response if they can’t.

After the meeting, Lavrov said that the US agreed to provide written responses to Russian demands on Ukraine and NATO next week. That could at least delay any imminent aggression for a few days.

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

But ahead of the meeting, they remained far apart.

“We don’t expect to resolve our differences here today. But I do hope and expect that we can test whether the path of diplomacy or dialogue remains open,” Blinken told Lavrov before their spoke privately. “This is a critical moment.”

Lavrov, meanwhile, said he did not “expect a breakthrough at these negotiations either. What we expect is concrete answers to our concrete proposals.”

Washington and its allies have repeatedly promised “severe” consequences such as biting economic sanctions — though not military action — against Russia if an invasion goes ahead.

Blinken repeated that warning Friday. He said the US and its allies were committed to diplomacy, but also committed “if that proves impossible, and Russia decides to pursue aggression against Ukraine, to a united, swift and severe response.”

But he said he also wanted to use the opportunity to share directly with Lavrov some “concrete ideas to address some of the concerns that you have raised, as well as the deep concerns that many of us have about Russia’s actions.”

Ukraine is already beset by conflict. Russia’s Putin seized control of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula in 2014 and backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine, part of a simmering but largely stalemated conflict with Ukrainian forces that has taken more than 14,000 lives. He faced limited international consequences for those moves, but the West says a new invasion would be different.


Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme
Updated 21 January 2022

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme

Synagogue attacker was referred to UK counter-radicalization scheme
  • Malik Faisal Akram was referred to Prevent after breakdown of his marriage
  • Scheme under review amid string of deadly failings, boycott by rights groups

LONDON: A British man who took four people hostage in a Texas synagogue was referred to the UK government’s counter-radicalization program Prevent, it has emerged.

Malik Faisal Akram was referred to Prevent in 2016 following the breakdown of his marriage. MI5 also tracked him for a month in 2020.

Akram was shot dead by the FBI last week while holed up with hostages in a Texas synagogue. He was the only person killed in the ordeal.

Leaked audio revealed that his brother tried to convince him to abort the attack, but was told that Akram would be returning home “in a body bag.”

According to his brother, Akram’s life fell apart in 2016 after he split from his wife. His brother told The Times that he was bitter that his wife had taken his six children after their split, and that Akram had closed his pharmacy business, which ran five locations across the north of England.

It was after this string of events that Akram was referred to Prevent. The new revelations about his referral are likely to pile more pressure on the British government to rethink its de-radicalization strategy.

The Prevent program is currently under review by the government, and a string of failings — some with deadly consequences — add further impetus to strengthening or modifying the program.

Last year, MP Sir David Amess was murdered in his constituency by Ali Harbi Ali, who had also previously been referred to and later discharged by Prevent.

Another attacker, Khairi Saadallah, had been referred to the program by refugee groups. He later killed three in a knife rampage in the English town of Reading.

Prevent’s review, undertaken in 2019, had initially been scheduled for completion in 2020, but a series of delays means it still has not been published.

Rights groups including Amnesty International have boycotted the review, saying William Shawcross, who is leading it, had previously expressed anti-Muslim views that call into question the review’s validity.

A joint statement by the rights groups said: “Shawcross’s appointment, given his well-known record and previous statements on Islam … brings into question the good faith of the government in establishing the review and fundamentally undermines its credibility.”


Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths
Updated 21 January 2022

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths

Australia records deadliest day of pandemic with 80 deaths
  • The previous record of 78 deaths was set on Tuesday
  • New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported a record 46 deaths

CANBERRA: Australia on Friday reported its deadliest day of the pandemic with 80 coronavirus fatalities, as an outbreak of the omicron variant continued to take a toll.
But Dominic Perrottet, premier of the most populous state, New South Wales, said a slight decrease in hospitalizations gave him some hope about the strain the outbreak is putting on the health system.
The previous record of 78 deaths was set on Tuesday. There have been just under 3,000 coronavirus deaths in Australia since the pandemic began.
New South Wales, home to Sydney, reported a record 46 deaths. They included a baby who died from COVID-19 in December, one of several historical cases that were investigated.
The news came after the premier of Western Australia state, Mark McGowan, backed down on a promise to reopen the state to the rest of the country on Feb. 5.
In a late-night news conference on Thursday, McGowan said reopening the state as planned would be “reckless and irresponsible” given the large number of COVID-19 cases in other states. No new date has been set for when the state might relax its border closure.
The border decision means neither Prime Minister Scott Morrison nor opposition leader Anthony Albanese can campaign in the state for now. An election is due to be held by May 21.


UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’

UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’
Updated 21 January 2022

UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’

UK government reinstates citizenship of alleged ‘Islamist extremist’
  • He was told his British citizenship was revoked while visiting newborn daughter in Bangladesh
  • Advocacy group: Citizenship deprivation ‘nearly exclusively impacts Muslims, people of color’

LONDON: A British man left stateless in 2017 when his citizenship was stripped has had it reinstated following a lengthy court battle.

The man, identified in court documents as E3, had his citizenship removed in 2017 while he was in Bangladesh for the birth of his daughter.

In a deprivation-of-citizenship order sent to his mother’s UK address, the government alleged that he was “an Islamist extremist who had previously sought to travel abroad to participate in terrorism-related activity.”

It said he was considered a threat to national security and would not be allowed to return to Britain.

His lawyers were not given any evidence of the criminal activity upon which the decision was based because it was “secret.”

Five years on, the government has reinstated the man’s citizenship, but he faces another court battle to provide his daughter with UK nationality.

“I never thought I would win my case; not because I am guilty of anything but because the system is set up to make you lose,” the man, who was born in London but is of Bangladeshi heritage, told The Independent.

“It was incredibly difficult. It is something that you cannot prepare for — you are suddenly cut off from your home, your family and friends, your job and source of income, and everything you take for granted.

“I was stranded in a country with a family that were financially dependent on me and I had no way of providing for them.”

He said he felt helpless and in danger from the Bangladeshi government. “If they were to learn that the British government had accused me of terrorism, they would probably detain and torture me as they routinely do with terrorism suspects,” E3 added.

“I had been sent into exile for a crime that I was not told about; I was not brought before a judge, had not even seen the evidence, so was not at all hopeful for a positive outcome to my appeal.”

The UK government is currently attempting to push the Nationality and Borders Bill through Parliament, which would make it significantly easier to remove the citizenship of those considered threats to national security.

The bill has proved controversial — if implemented, almost half of all British Asians and two in five black Britons would be eligible to have their citizenship revoked, potentially at short notice.

Anas Mustapha of advocacy group Cage, which is supporting E3’s family, told The Independent that E3’s case “exposes the cruel nature of citizenship deprivation” which, he added, “nearly exclusively impacts Muslims and people of color.”

The Good Law Project published advice on the bill, currently being reviewed by the House of Lords, and concluded that if it becomes law it will have “a disproportionate impact on non-white British citizens.”


Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record

Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record
Updated 21 January 2022

Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record

Nepal imposes tough restrictions as COVID-19 cases set record
  • Authorities also halted in-person classes at all schools and indefinitely postponed university examinations

Katmandu: Nepal’s capital shut schools, ordered citizens to carry vaccination cards in public, banned religious festivals and instructed hotel guests to be tested every three days as it battles its biggest COVID-19 outbreak.
The chief government administrator of Katmandu issued a notice on Friday saying all people must carry their vaccination cards when they are in public areas or shop in stores.
Nepal, however, has only fully vaccinated 41 percent of its population. The notice did not say how unvaccinated people will be able to pay utility bills or shop for groceries.
The government says it has enough vaccines in stock, but a new wave of COVID-19 cases propelled by the omicron variant has created long lines at vaccination centers, with many people unable to receive shots.
All public gatherings and meetings will be banned and cinemas and theaters will be closed. Gymnasiums, pools and other sporting venues will also be shut. No public religious festivals or events will be allowed, the notice said. It did not say how long the restrictions would last.
Authorities also halted in-person classes at all schools and indefinitely postponed university examinations.
Wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing in public will be mandatory. Only 20 customers at a time will be allowed in shopping malls and department stores, and all must carry vaccination cards. Employees will be given regular antigen tests to be allowed to work.
Restaurants and hotels can remain open, but employees must wear face masks and other protection. Hotel guests must take antigen tests every three days.
The government is also limiting road traffic, with bans on alternating days for vehicles with odd or even license plates.
The notice said violators will be punished, but did not elaborates. An existing law relating to pandemics says violators can be jailed for a month.
The Health Ministry reported a record 12,338 new cases on Thursday and 11,352 on Wednesday, compared to a few hundred daily cases last month.
Nepal had full lockdowns in 2020 and again from late April to Sept. 1, 2021.