Sri Lankan govt allows Muslims to perform Hajj if they pay in foreign currency

Special Sri Lankan govt allows Muslims to perform Hajj if they pay in foreign currency
Muslim pilgrims arrive at King Abdulaziz International Airport in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coastal city of Jeddah on June 5, 2022, prior to the annual Hajj pilgrimage in the holy city of Makkah. (AFP)
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Updated 08 June 2022

Sri Lankan govt allows Muslims to perform Hajj if they pay in foreign currency

Sri Lankan govt allows Muslims to perform Hajj if they pay in foreign currency
  • New requirement would reduce pressure on country’s economy, says religious affairs minister
  • Island nation unlikely to use 1,585 pilgrim quota this year as financial crisis worsens

COLOMBO: The Sri Lankan government has announced that Muslims would be allowed to perform Hajj this year provided they pay their travel costs in foreign currency, as the country faces its worst economic crisis in recent memory.

Last month, Sri Lanka’s umbrella association of pilgrimage organizers said its members would suspend operations because the cost of sending worshippers to Makkah — estimated at $10 million — would be too high for the country to bear when it is struggling with the worst financial downturn since independence in 1948, and has already defaulted on its foreign debt repayments.

The suspension was conditionally lifted by Religious Affairs Minister Vidura Wickremanayake on Tuesday, following consultations with Muslim parliamentarians and Environment Minister Naseer Ahamed, who also oversees Middle Eastern affairs.

“At the request of the Muslim groups led by Minister Ahamed, we have decided to fulfil the quota of pilgrims by requesting them to pay for their Hajj package in foreign currencies, which will not affect our national economy,” Wickremanayake told Arab News.

“I have requested the central bank to work out the modalities of working out this pilgrimage and they would help them find an easy passage to and from Makkah this year.”

Muslims make up almost 10 percent of the country’s population of 22 million, which is predominantly Buddhist.

This year, the country has been allocated a quota of 1,585 pilgrims to perform the Hajj, after Saudi Arabia announced it would allow 1 million foreign and domestic Muslims to travel to the holy sites in Makkah.

While it is unlikely that Sri Lanka would fill the entire quota, Ahamed, who discussed the issue with Wickremanayake, said that even sending a reduced number of pilgrims this year would help the country keep its allocation. This year’s number is already lower than in 2019, before the coronavirus pandemic upended Hajj travel.

“Since the pilgrims have been asked to pay for their package in foreign currencies, we cannot expect to make use of the full quota this year. But it’s good to take some pilgrims to keep Sri Lanka’s quota intact for next year too when things would get eased,” Ahamed told Arab News.

“Three years ago, we got a Hajj quota of nearly 4,000 and this year we do not want to miss this 1,585 quota for Lankan pilgrims.”

One of Islam’s five main pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over coronavirus fears to just 1,000 people residing in Saudi Arabia in 2020. Last year, the Kingdom allowed 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-pandemic number of 2.5 million.

Prospective Sri Lankan pilgrims have to file their applications with the Ministry of Religious Affairs by Friday.

“I have asked those interested to make the necessary applications to the department of Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs on or before June 10,” said Ibrahim Sahib Ansar, director of the ministry’s department overseeing the logistics.

“There are 86 Hajj travel operators and some 15 reputed agents will be selected from them and the operations will be streamlined through them,” he added.


Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
Updated 9 sec ago

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris

Religious hymns cause concern among Kashmiris
  • Viral clip showed Muslim students practicing Hindu hymn for Mahatma Gandhi birthday celebrations
  • Hymn is not controversial, BJP leader says

NEW DELHI: Kashmiri communities are raising concerns over alleged attempts to “undermine the Muslim identity” in the valley after a clip showing Muslim students in public schools reciting a Hindu hymn sparked controversy among religious and political leaders in the region.

New Delhi revoked the constitutional semi-autonomy of Jammu and Kashmir, its portion of the region contested by India and Pakistan, into two federally governed territories in 2019.

The abrogation of its autonomy, which was followed by a total communications blackout, severe restrictions on freedom of movement, the detention of hundreds of local political leaders and the deployment of thousands of additional troops, has since compounded fears that the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is trying to alter the Muslim-majority region.

When Muslim students earlier this month were instructed to recite a Hindu hymn as part of preparations to celebrate the birth of Mahatma Gandhi on Oct. 2, a clip of the activity triggered new concerns among communities in the valley, such as the Muttahida Majlis-e-Ulema Jammu and Kashmir, a collective of 30 religious and educational bodies in the region.

“MMU appeals to the government and concerned authorities to immediately withdraw its orders and stop these practices in schools and educational institutions, which deeply hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims and cause them grief,” they said in a statement.

The collective issued the statement after a meeting was held over the weekend “in the wake of unfortunate attempts being made to undermine the Muslim identity of Kashmir.”

Mohd Ashraf Rather, chief education officer of the region’s Kulgam district, told Arab News on Sunday that the hymn was practiced in school “because it is an all-faith prayer” and had been part of a “one-day activity” ahead of Gandhi’s birthday celebrations.

“This is the same hymn that Mahatma Gandhi used to sing and the prayer invokes both Ishwar (Hindu address to God) and Allah,” Rather said.

The Hindu hymn controversy appears to be part of a “deliberate” plan, said Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, leader of the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, who has been held under house arrest since August 2019.

“It is becoming clear that there seems to be a deliberate plan to push our young generation through state-run educational institutions towards apostasy, to wean them away from Islamic beliefs and identity, to speed their so-called ‘integration’ with the Hindu majoritarian idea of India,” Farooq told Arab News.

Though recitations of Hindu hymns are not something new in Kashmir, the questions raised in the valley were triggered by concerns over the intention of the ruling BJP party, the region’s political leader Ghulam Mir of the Apni Party, told Arab News.

“Prayers can be performed in any language but the important thing is to look at the intention. If the intention is an ulterior motive, then anyone can raise an objection,” Mir said.

“Earlier also people used to recite Hindu hymns, but that time (the) intention was different, but the majoritarian politics of the BJP looks like (being) against Muslims — their profile is anti-Muslim so whatever they do, Muslims feel it’s against them.”

Imran Nabi Dar, spokesperson of Kashmir’s oldest political party, National Conference, urged the government to provide an explanation.

“The government needs to come out with clarification. What is the intent behind it?” Dar told Arab News.

“There is a serious attempt to hurt the sentiments of the majority community of Kashmir. There is an attempt to provoke the people,” he added.

Mohammed Yousuf Tarigami, a senior leader and convenor of the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration — a political alliance between several regional parties in Jammu and Kashmir campaigning to restore its special autonomous status — stressed the importance of secular education in Kashmir.

“Any encroachment compromising the secular spirit of the constitution is dangerous,” Tarigami said. “Whatever is happening in Kashmir is part of the program to ‘Hindunize’ education and this will provoke and promote other varieties of extremism.”

Dr. Hina Bhat, a local leader and spokesperson for the BJP based in Srinagar, told Arab News the hymn is not controversial.

“What is controversial about the hymns?” Bhat asked. “They should stop politicizing the issue where kids are not allowed to grow in an open space.”

Kapil Kak, former Indian air marshal and member of the Forum for Human Rights in Jammu and Kashmir, said “there should be no changes” in the patterns of prayers and school songs in Kashmir.

“The issue can turn into a potential trouble spot. Kashmiris have been very patient; they have gone through multiple types of assaults on their identity for the last three years but they have borne it.”

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Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
Updated 25 September 2022

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war

Tens of thousands of Jewish pilgrims in Ukraine despite war
  • Despite warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing celebrated in the streets of Uman
  • Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman in which he promised he would ‘save (worshippers) from hell’ if they came to visit his tomb

UMAN, Ukraine: Tens of thousands of Hasidic Jews gathered in the Ukrainian city of Uman for their annual pilgrimage, officials said Sunday, despite authorities asking them to skip the trip because of the war.
Every year, Hasidic Jewish pilgrims come to Uman from across the world to visit the tomb of one of the main figures of Hasidic judaism for Rosh Hashana, the Jewish new year.
The central Ukrainian city of Uman is relatively far from the frontline, but Ukrainian and Israeli authorities urged worshippers to skip the celebrations taking place between September 25 and 27 this year.
But despite the warnings, crowds of Hasidim dressed in traditional black clothing gathered in Uman, celebrating in the streets.
“This is the most important day of the year to be able to connect with God. And this a great place to do it,” one pilgrim, Aaron Allen, told AFP.
Pilgrims often cite a religious text from Rabbi Nachman, the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement who died in the city in 1810, in which he promised he would “save (worshippers) from hell” if they came to visit his tomb on Rosh Hashana.
“There were sirens, but coming from Israel we are used to sirens, we know what to do. We feel pretty safe,” said Allen, a 48-year-old doctor from Yad Binyamin.
Police set up a wide perimeter to access the area around the grave, checking IDs and only letting through residents and Hasidim.
It was forbidden to sell not only alcohol, fireworks and firecrackers, but even toy guns during the festivities in Uman, regional police spokeswoman Zoya Vovk told AFP.
A curfew between 11 p.m. (20 GMT) and 5 am is also in place.
Despite the restrictions, the shrine housing the tomb was buzzing with celebrations on Sunday.
Pilgrims — only men and boys — were praying, pressed against the white walls and columns of the burial place.
Outside the temple, a simultaneous prayer from hundreds of pilgrims resonated.
Police will not release the exact number of pilgrims until the end of the festivities for fear of attacks from Russia.
“We understand that there is a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine and that the enemy is monitoring information,” Zoya Vovk told AFP.
“The only thing I can say is tens of thousands (of pilgrims have already arrived),” she added, however.
The United Jewish Community of Ukraine NGO said that more than 23,000 pilgrims had arrived in Uman.
Uman in central Ukraine has been hit several times by Russian strikes since the invasion began on February 24.


Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia
Updated 25 September 2022

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

Al-Shabab suicide attack kills 7 in Somalia

MOGADISHU: A suicide attack claimed by the Somali extremist militant group Al-Shabab killed at least seven people and injured nine others in Mogadishu on Sunday, the army and eyewitnesses told AFP.
A “desperate terrorist” blew himself up on Sunday morning near a line of new recruits who were enrolling at the Nacnac military base in the south of the Somali capital, local military commander Abdullahi Adan told AFP.
“Seven people were killed and nine others injured,” he said.
“I was close to the site of the explosion, it was huge and I could see dead and injured people,” eyewitness Ahme Gobe told AFP.
Another eyewitness, Asha Omar, spoke of seeing at least 10 people taken away by ambulance.
Al-Shabab, an extremist group linked to Al-Qaeda that has been waging an insurgency against the Somali state for 15 years, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Its fighters killed at least 19 civilians in central Somalia earlier this month.
The group carried out a major attack on a Mogadishu hotel in August, leaving 21 people dead and 117 injured following a 30-hour siege.
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has faced a resurgent Al-Shabab since his election in May and vowed to wage an “all-out war” against the insurgents.
Mohamud also has to grapple with a looming famine caused by the Horn of Africa nation’s worst drought in 40 years.
Al-Shabab has been driven out of Somalia’s urban centers, including Mogadishu in 2011, but remains entrenched in vast swathes of the countryside.
The US army on Wednesday said it had killed 27 Al-Shabab militiamen in an air strike in central Somalia in support of the country’s regular forces.
President Joe Biden decided to restore a US military presence in Somalia in May to fight the militants, approving a request from the Pentagon, which deemed his predecessor Donald Trump’s rotation system too risky and ineffective.


Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
Updated 25 September 2022

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones

Ukraine’s Odessa again attacked by Iranian drones
  • The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone

KYIV: Ukraine said Sunday that the southern port city of Odessa was attacked by Iranian-made drones overnight, two days after a Russian attack with such a weapon killed two civilians.
“Odessa was attacked again by enemy kamikaze drones,” said the Ukrainian army’s Operational Command South.
“The enemy hit the administrative building in the city center three times,” it said in a Facebook message.
“One drone was shot down by (Ukrainian) air defense forces. No casualties (were) recorded,” it said.
“These were Iranian drones,” a Ukrainian South Command spokeswoman, Natalya Gumenyuk, later told AFP.
The strikes come two days after two civilians were killed in Odessa Friday in a Russian attack with an Iranian-made drone.
Four Iranian-made drones were shot down in the south of the country Friday, according to Ukraine’s armed forces.
Kyiv said later it decided to reduce Iran’s diplomatic presence in Ukraine over its supply of drones to Russia.
“In response to such an unfriendly act, the Ukrainian side decided to deprive the ambassador of Iran in Ukraine of accreditation, as well as to significantly reduce the number of diplomatic personnel of the Iranian embassy in Kyiv,” said Ukraine’s foreign ministry.
A foreign ministry official told AFP that the move amounted to expulsion as the ambassador was not in Ukraine and therefore could not be expelled.
“The use of Iranian-made weapons by Russian troops... are steps taken by Iran against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our state, as well as against the life and health of Ukrainian citizens,” a spokesman for Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Sergii Nykyforov, said on Friday.


Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens
Updated 25 September 2022

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens

Molotov cocktail attack against Iran embassy in Athens
  • Two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy
  • No damage was caused

ATHENS: A Molotov cocktail bomb was thrown against the Iranian embassy in Athens on Sunday, Athens News Agency reported.
According to Greek police, at around 1:00 am local time (2200 GMT on Saturday), two people riding a motorcycle with their faces covered hurled the weapon on the wall of the embassy where it exploded.
No damage was caused.
On Saturday afternoon, around 200 people gathered at Syntagma Square in downtown Athens to denounce Iran’s crackdown on protests following the death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest by the country’s notorious morality police.
Iranian women cut their hair in a gesture of solidarity with Amini, brandishing placards reading “say her name!.”