In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia
Indonesian pilgrims depart for Hajj, June 4, 2022. (AFP Photo)
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Updated 27 June 2022

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia

In Indonesia’s ‘Makkah porch,’ Hajj rekindles centuries-old bond with Arabia
  • For centuries, Aceh was the last Southeast Asian port of call for Hajj, known as the ‘Porch of Makkah’
  • Saudi Arabia was one the biggest single aid donors when a tsunami devastated Aceh in 2004 

JAKARTA: As they leave for Hajj, pilgrims from Aceh prepare for a transformative and spiritually moving experience, which for many of them also rekindles a special, centuries-old connection they feel for Saudi Arabia.

The westernmost province of Indonesia, Aceh is the site of the earliest Muslim kingdoms in Southeast Asia, which began to form in the late 13th century. 

It was the last Southeast Asian port of call for pilgrimages to the holiest city of Islam, and in the 17th century court chronicles of Aceh rulers began to refer to it as “Serambi Makkah,” or “Porch of Makkah” — a term that is still used by the Acehnese today.

Now, the opportunity to depart for the real Makkah and perform Hajj is something they look forward to for years, if not decades.

“In Aceh it’s about 30 to 31 years,” Mizaj Iskandar, who has been tasked by the local government with organizing the pilgrimage, told Arab News.

“They are certainly very emotional because they have been waiting for so long,” he said. “By the time they receive the call, they must be moved, happy, and in disbelief. All these emotions you can find in almost all the participants.”

One of the pilgrims, 58-year-old Kamariah from Aceh Besar regency, could not find the words to describe how moved she was that she would be able to see the Kaaba at the center of the Grand Mosque, Masjid Al-Haram, in Makkah.

“I don’t know how to express how happy I am to see Kaaba,” she said. “It feels like I will never want to leave it.”

Like other pilgrims, Kamariah has been preparing for the journey, especially spiritually.

“Before we go to the holy land, we must have already cleansed our hearts,” she said. “We hope to become good Hajj pilgrims.”

One of Islam’s five pillars of faith, the Hajj was restricted over pandemic fears to only 1,000 people living in Saudi Arabia in 2020. In 2021, the Kingdom limited the pilgrimage to 60,000 domestic participants, compared with the pre-pandemic 2.5 million.

But this year, as it has already lifted most of its COVID-19 curbs, Saudi Arabia will welcome 1 million pilgrims from abroad. More than 100,000 of them are arriving from Indonesia — the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation. And among them, 2,022 are from Aceh.

“My family and I have not stopped expressing our gratitude to Allah, because we have been called this year to go for Hajj,” Amalia Sabrina, a doctor from Sigli town in the Pidie regency of Aceh, told Arab News.

“I once had a dream of the event that has now taken place, and it feels almost like deja vu to be in the same position as in that dream.”

She arrived in the Kingdom last week and was enjoying the hospitality with which pilgrims have been received.

“Whether it’s the hotel service, food, laundry, service at the shops, or the people,” she said. “Everyone has been friendly.”

Sabrina’s younger brother Miftahul Hamdi, a football player, was also grateful to be in the Kingdom.

“I am so grateful to get this opportunity to go for Hajj this year,” he said. “Aceh is often referred to as a ‘Makkah porch,’ so being able to go for Hajj here is just very fulfilling and makes me feel very grateful.” 

The enthusiasm Acehnese have for the Hajj pilgrimage, a sacred milestone for Muslims, is reinforced by their historical links to Saudi Arabia.

Marzuki Abubakar, researcher and lecturer at Ar-Raniry State Islamic University in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, said that Islam in Aceh has revolved around Arabia ever since its advent in Southeast Asia. The coastal region also connected the rest of the islands that constitute present-day Indonesia with the Middle East.

“Aceh was a transit point for Hajj pilgrims to go to Makkah from all over the archipelago,” he said. “There’s amazing enthusiasm among Acehnese to go for Hajj.”

What has recently strengthened the bond was the help the Acehnese received from the Kingdom during one of the darkest periods in the region’s history — the 2004 tsunami.

“They are emotionally attached to Saudi Arabia because of the help they received after the tsunami,” Abubakar told Arab News.

Saudi Arabia was one the biggest single donors to the relief response, when the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami devastated Aceh, killing more than 160,000 people — nearly 5 percent of the local population.

Saudi charities helped rebuild houses, medical facilities and the 17th-century Baiturrahman Grand Mosque in Banda Aceh — a symbol of religion and identity of the Acehnese.

Nurlinda Nurdin, a radio reporter from Banda Aceh, who performed the pilgrimage in 2006 and spent two months covering Hajj preparations in Saudi Arabia, said that before the journey she would often fall ill, but all her ailments were gone when she was there.

“When I arrived in Saudi Arabia, I was always healthy. I was fully working, didn’t feel exhausted at all, I was enjoying myself, I was comfortable,” she told Arab News.

“I just felt super close, as if my house was just right behind the mountain. My heart was just at ease.”


Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat
Updated 8 sec ago

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

Dozens missing after Greece rescues 29 migrants from capsized boat

ATHENS: Dozens of migrants are reported missing from a sunken boat after Greece’s coast guard rescued 29 in the Aegean Sea on Wednesday.
The rescued migrants said their boat had set out from Antalya, Turkey, heading toward Italy with 60 to 80 people aboard, according to a coast guard spokesperson.
It had capsized and sunk off the island of Karpathos in the southern Aegean, spokesperson Nikos Kokkalas told state television. The search and rescue operation had begun in the early morning hours amid strong winds, he added.
The rescued migrants were Afghans, Iranians and Iraqis, another coast guard official said on condition of anonymity.
Greece was at the front line of a European migration crisis in 2015 and 2016, when a million refugees fleeing war and poverty in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan arrived in the country, mainly via Turkey.
The number of migrant arrivals has fallen sharply since then. But Greek authorities say they have recently seen a sharp increase in attempted entries through the country’s islands and land border with Turkey.


Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
Updated 10 min 6 sec ago

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions

Philippines cancels Russia helicopter deal over US sanctions
  • Manila, a longtime Washington ally, agreed in November to pay $228 million for the Mi-17 helicopters

MANILA: The Philippines has scrapped an order for 16 Russian military helicopters, an official confirmed Wednesday, following reports former president Rodrigo Duterte decided to cancel it due to US sanctions on Moscow.
Manila — a longtime Washington ally — agreed in November to pay $228 million (12.7 billion pesos) for the Mi-17 helicopters, as it seeks to modernize its military hardware.
The United States and its allies imposed wide-ranging sanctions on Moscow in the wake of its assault on Ukraine in February.
They are aimed at cutting off Russia from the global financial system and choking off funds available to Moscow to finance the war.
The Philippine defense department was “formalizing the termination” of the contract, spokesman Arsenio Andolong said Wednesday.
Without mentioning US sanctions on Moscow, Andolong said “changes in priorities necessitated by global political developments resulted in the cancelation of the project by the previous administration.”
Delfin Lorenzana, who served as defense secretary under Duterte, said in March that the Philippines had paid a deposit for the transport helicopters before war erupted in Ukraine and the deal was “on track.”
But last week Lorenzana, who now heads a different government agency, told local media that Duterte himself decided to cancel the deal in the waning days of his administration over the sanctions threat.
“I don’t know if we can still get back the money since we were the ones who terminated the contract,” Lorenzana told reporters.
Russian embassy officials in Manila could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Philippine ambassador to Washington Jose Romualdez recently told AFP the decision to cancel was triggered by “the Ukrainian war.”
Romualdez said Manila was also wary of falling foul of a US law passed in 2017 that sanctions anyone doing business with Russia’s intelligence or defense sectors.
The United States was offering “alternative helicopters to meet our needs,” he added.
Manila began a modest military modernization program in 2012. Until recently, its equipment featured Vietnam War-era helicopters and World War II naval vessels used by the United States.
After President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took power on June 30, the new government reviewed the Russian deal, arriving at the same decision as Duterte.


Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport
Updated 39 min 16 sec ago

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport

Police kill knife-wielding man at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport
  • Initially the man left while yelling curses but he soon returned and brought out a knife

BOBIGNY, Fra.: Police officers shot and killed a man who brandished a knife at the Charles de Gaulle airport outside Paris on Wednesday, police and airport sources said.
“Officers neutralized a threatening individual in possession of a knife at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport,” the Paris police department said on its Twitter account.
An airport source said the incident occurred at the busy Terminal 2F at around 8:20 am (0620 GMT), when “a homeless man started bothering security agents and border police were called in to remove him.”
Initially the man left while yelling curses but he soon returned and brought out a knife, when one of the officers fired his weapon.
An AFP photographer who witnessed the scene said “a large person of color brandished something that looked like a knife at the police.”
“He was ordered to stop but kept advancing toward them, and an officer fired a single shot.”
The man was quickly put on a stretcher and evacuated, the photographer said.
Security forces have been on high alert for terrorist attacks since a wave of jihadist killings that have killed more than 250 people since 2015, often by so-called “lone wolves” who often target police.


Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims
Updated 10 August 2022

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims

Suspect named in ‘serial’ killings of four Albuquerque Muslims
  • Muhammad Syed was arrested on Monday after a traffic stop more than 160 kilometers away from his home in Albuquerque

CHICAGO: A 51-year-old man, Mohammed Syed, was named Tuesday as the primary suspect, and has been charged, with the shooting and killing of two of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico, over the past 10 months.

Police said they are continuing to investigate whether Syed, himself Muslim, is connected to the other two victims in the apparent serial murder case, although no motive was released.

The possible connection between the murders surfaced on Aug. 1 after the body of Muhammad Afzaal Hussain, 27, was discovered. Police determined evidence in his murder was similar to the fatal shooting of two other Muslims, Aftab Hussein, 41, on July 26, 2022, and Mohammad Amir Ahmadi, 62, on Nov. 7, 2021.

“All were ambushed with no warning, fired on and killed. All of the killings appeared to be of a similar nature,” Albuquerque Police Chief Harold Medina said during a special press conference Tuesday afternoon.

“We tracked down the vehicle believed to be involved in a recent murder of a Muslim man in Albuquerque. The driver was detained and he is our primary suspect for the murders.”

A fourth Muslim man, Naeem Hussain, 25, was found dead hours after attending an Islamic service held for Muhammad Afzaal Hussain and Aftab Hussein. Police said they are investigating if Naeem Hussain’s death is tied to the shooting of the other three.

Muhammad Syed was taken into custody on Aug. 8, 2022, in connection with the killings of four Muslim men in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Albuquerque Police Department via AP)

Syed, an immigrant from Afghanistan, has had several misdemeanor arrests in New Mexico, police said, although they did not provide details of those crimes. He has lived in Albuquerque at least five years, police said.

Syed is charged with the murder of Aftab Hussein and Muhammad Afzaal Hussain.

“We are working with the District Attorney’s office on potential charges of murder of two other Muslim men, Naeem Hussain and Mohammad Amir Ahmadi,” Medina said, praising support that he received from the US Attorney, FBI, ATF or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and even President Joe Biden.

“We knew Albuquerque would step up and someone would find and identify that vehicle for us which is exactly what happened. It is the city of Albuquerque and its residents and in particular the members of the Muslim community who stepped forward, had faith in the department and trusted us, and gave us the information needed so that we could follow through and make the arrest that we made yesterday (Monday).”

“To the Muslim community, a big thank you,” Medina said, noting he has worked with them during the past year to create an “ambassador program” to allow the city to “hear their voice.”

Syed was arrested after police released a photo of a vehicle on Sunday, Aug. 7, which they said had been identified as being used by the then unknown suspect. Medina said tips came from “members of the Muslim community” who recognized the suspect’s car, a Volkswagen Jetta. During the search of the car and Syed’s home, police said they discovered other evidence that allegedly tied him to the two murders.

“The tip was as a result of reaching out to the community. It came directly from the Muslim community and we explored it. It pointed us in the direction of the Syed family,” Medina said.

Police caught Syed while he was driving his car in Santa Rosa in southeastern Albuquerque when he was pulled over and arrested late Monday. A firearm was found in the vehicle. Police said they believe Syed knows at least one of the victims personally.

Medina emphasized they are continuing to investigate the killings of the two other Muslim victims to determine whether the suspect was involved.

Medina said he was asked repeatedly if this was a “hate crime” or a “serial” murder. He said he resisted jumping to conclusions, explaining: “We don’t have (any) indication that either of these labels or topics are appropriate.”

Rumors have been circulating in the community that the killings may have involved a family quarrel over an engagement, although the police declined to provide any details.

“Right now, we are charging only one person,” a police official stressed, adding the door has not been closed on possible accomplices who helped Syed, who was described as “the mostly likely suspect in these cases.”


Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation

Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation
Updated 10 August 2022

Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation

Donald Trump to testify in New York attorney general’s civil investigation
  • Former US president’s testimony comes amid a flurry of legal activity surrounding him
  • Attorney general’s office: Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces

WASHINGTON: Former President Donald Trump will be questioned under oath Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation into his dealings as a real estate mogul, he confirmed in a post on his Truth Social account.
Trump’s testimony comes amid a flurry of legal activity surrounding him, taking place just days after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an unrelated federal probe into whether he took classified records when he left the White House.
The New York civil investigation, led by Attorney General Letitia James, involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.
“In New York City tonight. Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in US history!” Trump wrote on Truth Social, invoking his oft-repeated claims about James, who is Black, and the investigation.
“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” Trump added. “Banana Republic!”
Messages seeking comment were left with James’ office and with Trump’s lawyer.
Trump’s testimony is happening at a critical point in James’ investigation, midway through a pivotal week in his post-presidency.
In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both.
The Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, testified in the investigation in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.
The Trumps’ testimony had initially been planned for last month but was delayed after the July 14 death of the former president’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, the mother of Ivanka, Donald Jr. and another son, Eric Trump, who sat for a deposition in James’ investigation in 2020.
On Friday, the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, will be in court seeking dismissal of tax fraud charges brought against them last year in the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel criminal probe.
James, a Democrat, has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”
James alleges the Trump Organization exaggerated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misstated what land was worth to slash its tax burden, pointing to annual financial statements given to banks to secure favorable loan terms and to financial magazines to justify Trump’s place among the world’s billionaires.
The company even exaggerated the size of Trump’s Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size — a difference in value of about $200 million, James’ office said.
Trump has denied the allegations, explaining that seeking the best valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry. He says James’ investigation is part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” and that her office is “doing everything within their corrupt discretion to interfere with my business relationships, and with the political process.”
“THERE IS NO CASE!” Trump said in a February statement, after Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’ office had “the clear right” to question Trump and other principals in his company.
While James has explored suing Trump or his company, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has long pursued a parallel criminal investigation.
That probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment, but slowed after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, took office in January.
A grand jury that had been hearing evidence disbanded. The top prosecutor who had been handling the probe resigned after Bragg raised questions internally about the viability of the case.
Bragg has said his investigation is continuing, which means that Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and decline to answer questions from James’ investigators.
According to the subpoena issued by James’ office, Trump was to appear in person at the attorney general’s office, located in a Manhattan office tower that has doubled as the fictional conglomerate Waystar Royco’s headquarters on HBO’s “Succession.”
As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could backfire in a deposition setting because anything he says could potentially be used against him or his company in the criminal investigation. No former president has even been charged with a crime.
In fighting to block the subpoenas, lawyers for the Trumps argued New York authorities were using the civil investigation to get information for the criminal probe and that the depositions were a ploy to avoid calling them before a criminal grand jury, where state law requires they be given immunity.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered by James’ office, Manhattan prosecutors filed charges against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. Prosecutors said Weisselberg collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation.
Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty.
Weisselberg and Eric Trump each invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when questioned by James’ lawyers during separate depositions in 2020, according to court papers.
The former president could choose to do the same, but it’s likely “he’ll claim lack of knowledge on many questions,” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said.
That could be a successful strategy, since Trump is known as more of a “big-picture guy” Gillers said. “So he’ll answer the big-picture questions and those answers will be general enough to keep him out of trouble, or so his lawyers will hope.”
“On the other hand, his impetuosity makes him a lawyer’s nightmare and his overconfidence may lead him astray. Whoever questions him will encourage that,” the professor added.
Once her investigation wraps up, James could decide to bring a lawsuit and seek financial penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in certain types of businesses.