British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
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Sarah Rana and her son are pictured at the Grand Mosque in Makkah during a trip to the Kingdom to perform Umrah in 2017. (Supplied)
British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
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Updated 29 June 2022

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 

British Hajj pilgrim says she feels ‘very blessed’ to be one in a million 
  • One million people will perform Hajj this year
  • Sarah Rana said she feels “special and honored” to be performing Hajj next month

LONDON: A British pilgrim has said she feels “very blessed” to be among the 1 million people performing Hajj this year.

Sarah Rana, a management consultant and chartered surveyor, is performing Hajj for the first time and said she feels “special and honored” to be part of the annual gathering.

This year’s Hajj will be the first post-pandemic pilgrimage open to foreign pilgrims, and 1 million people will perform it this year as people across the globe start traveling again. 

Around 2.5 million people performed Hajj in 2019 before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, and approximately 1,000 and 60,000 people from within the Kingdom performed it in 2020 and 2021 respectively.

The chartered surveyor said that she started thinking about going to Hajj during the pandemic when she began reading the Qur’an more and learning about the life of the Prophet Muhammad.




A man reads the Qur'an at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana told Arab News that she has done “a lot of the emotional processing” and is now concentrating on preparing herself physically for the journey ahead which starts with her flight to the Kingdom on Friday.

“45 degrees is not going to be easy. That's going to be massive. If it goes over 30 degrees, my hands and feet start swelling,” Rana said. 




An employee hands out umbrellas at the Grand Mosque in Makkah to help beat the heat. (@ReasahAlharmain)

She said that although she walked the London Marathon last year, walking in the heat “is going to be a very different experience. So I’m not not taking it lightly. I’m thinking it through.”

Rana added that her friends and family have been giving her Hajj tips and that she is “quite well prepared.”




The Kaaba can be seen at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

“I’ve been buying clothes. I found that the stuff that was more expensive was more uncomfortable. So I’m just going to take my practical stuff,” Rana said.

Muslims believe that supplications that pilgrims make during Hajj, especially on the ninth day of Dhu Al-Hijjah, are definitely accepted.




A woman supplicates at the Grand Mosque in Makkah. (@ReasahAlharmain)

Rana said she believes that God knows her needs and will give her what is best for her. She will be praying for her kids, that the remainder of her life is a good one and for financial independence.

She said performing Hajj represents a new start for her and will give her closure from any painful experiences in the past. 

“As I turn 50 this year, I think it’s closure to a lot of stuff and genuinely about a new start, whatever that new start is. It’s very meaningful.”


Salman Rushdie says he feels ‘lucky’ in first interview since stabbing

Salman Rushdie says he feels ‘lucky’ in first interview since stabbing
Updated 06 February 2023

Salman Rushdie says he feels ‘lucky’ in first interview since stabbing

Salman Rushdie says he feels ‘lucky’ in first interview since stabbing
  • Novelist still struggling to write in the aftermath of ‘colossal attack’
  • Brands assailant Hadi Matar ‘an idiot’ but says he does not want to be ‘a victim’

LONDON: Author Salman Rushdie has said he feels “lucky” to be alive in his first interview since he was stabbed in New York.

Speaking to the New Yorker magazine, Rushdie said his “main overwhelming feeling is gratitude” that he had not been more severely injured during the incident, which saw him require emergency treatment and left him hospitalized for six weeks.

“The big injuries are healed, essentially. I have feeling in my thumb and index finger and in the bottom half of the palm. I’m doing a lot of hand therapy, and I’m told that I’m doing very well.

“I’m able to get up and walk around. When I say I’m fine, I mean, there are bits of my body that need constant checkups. It was a colossal attack.”

The Indian-born British American writer was attacked on stage at a talk at the Chautauqua Institution on Aug. 12 by 24-year-old Hadi Matar, who is thought to have been inspired to attack Rushdie by the fatwa issued by the late Iranian Supreme Leader Ruhollah Khomeini for his book “The Satanic Verses.”

Rushdie, who spent several years in hiding after the fatwa was issued, was stabbed multiple times in the neck and torso by Matar, going blind in one eye and losing the use of a hand.

Matar has been charged with attempted second-degree murder and attempted second-degree assault, both of which he denies.

Rushdie said he only blames his assailant for the attack and holds no bitterness toward anyone else, despite the venue in question having insufficient security measures in place.

“I don’t know what I think of him, because I don’t know him,” Rushdie said of Matar, who has admitted to not having read “The Satanic Verses” in its entirety.

“All I’ve seen is his idiotic interview in the New York Post. Which only an idiot would do. I know that the trial is still a long way away. It might not happen until late next year. I guess I’ll find out some more about him then.”

Rushdie continued: “I’ve tried very hard over these years to avoid recrimination and bitterness. I just think it’s not a good look. One of the ways I’ve dealt with this whole thing is to look forward and not backwards. What happens tomorrow is more important than what happened yesterday.

“I’ve always tried very hard not to adopt the role of a victim. Then you’re just sitting there saying, ‘Somebody stuck a knife in me! Poor me’ … Which I do sometimes think.”

He admitted, though, that writing had become difficult in the aftermath of the attack. “There is such a thing as PTSD, you know,” he said.

“I’ve found it very, very difficult to write. I sit down to write, and nothing happens. I write, but it’s a combination of blankness and junk, stuff that I write and that I delete the next day. I’m not out of that forest yet, really.”

Rushdie was speaking ahead of the publication of his latest novel, “Victory City,” which he had completed prior to the fateful day at the Chautauqua Institution.

He added that the future of his writing career remains unclear following the attack.

“I’m going to tell you really truthfully, I’m not thinking about the long term,” he said. “I’m thinking about little step by little step. I just think, ‘bop till you drop.’”

He did suggest, though, that he could write a sequel to his memoir “Joseph Anton,” which would almost certainly address the attack.


UK aid agency workers killed in Syria earthquake

Thousands of people across Turkiye and Syria have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake
Thousands of people across Turkiye and Syria have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake
Updated 06 February 2023

UK aid agency workers killed in Syria earthquake

Thousands of people across Turkiye and Syria have lost their lives in the devastating earthquake
  • Medic, who worked for Action For Humanity, also lost her infant in the earthquake

LONDON: Action For Humanity, the UK based-parent charity of Syria Relief, confirmed that two of its staff members were killed in Idlib, Syria, after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck the country on Monday.

According to a statement released by AFH, the group was unable to name the staff members, as their families were yet to be notified, but confirmed one was a doctor working in one of the organization’s mobile health clinics.

The medic’s child was also killed in the quake.

Othman Moqbel, AFH’s Chief Executive Officer said: “We are sad to confirm a member of the Action For Humanity team has lost her life, as has her child.”

He continued: “She was a doctor who was motivated with saving the lives of people impacted by the crisis in Syria, sadly, she has lost her life. If she hadn’t she would be there now trying to help as many people as possible, just like the rest of her colleagues.”

The earthquake hit a wide area in south-eastern Türkiye and Northern Syria, killing thousands of people. Reports of new deaths and injuries are being confirmed on the hour.  

Meanwhile, international NGO World Vision also expressed concern about the fate of children caught up in the disaster.

“In the middle of a harsh winter, already incredibly vulnerable children and families have now been shaken to their core by this devastating earthquake, which is likely to affect thousands in Northern Syria and southern Turkiye,” said Johan Mooij, Response Director for World Vision’s Syria Crisis Response.

“I am devastated by this sad news, and we will do everything we can to help those who were affected.

“As well as rapidly assessing how we can support the relief effort, we are also confirming the wellbeing of our staff in Turkiye and Syria – all of whom are safe. It is a reminder of how challenging these situations can be for all involved,” he added.

 


Alleged Daesh ‘Beatle’ to go on trial in UK

Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
Updated 06 February 2023

Alleged Daesh ‘Beatle’ to go on trial in UK

Aine Davis is accused of belonging to a group of hostage-takers who were radicalized in London. (Metropolitan Police)
  • Aine Davis is accused of belonging to the notorious group of hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London
  • Allegedly involved in abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the US and other countries

LONDON: An alleged member of Daesh’s “Beatles” kidnap-and-murder cell will face trial in the UK this month on terrorism charges, a judge said on Monday.
Aine Davis is accused of belonging to the notorious group of hostage-takers, who grew up and were radicalized in London.
Active in Syria from 2012 to 2015, they were allegedly involved in abducting more than two dozen journalists and relief workers from the United States and other countries.
The group members were nicknamed the “Beatles” by their captives because of their distinctive British accents.
The hostages, some of whom were released after their governments paid ransoms, were from at least 15 countries, including Denmark, France, Japan, Norway, Spain and the United States.
Daesh tortured and killed their victims, including by beheading, and released videos of the murders for propaganda purposes.
Davis, 38, will go on trial on February 27 at the Old Bailey criminal court in London, judge Mark Lucraft said on Monday.
He faces two charges related to providing money for terrorist purposes and one of possessing a firearm for a purpose connected to terrorism.
The judge also extended Davis’s detention in custody to March 3. It was due to run out on Friday.
Davis did not appear in court and the video link to his prison was not working.
His lawyer, Mark Summers, said he had been able to speak to his client about extending custody.
The lawyer predicted the trial would take less than two weeks.
Davis was arrested in Turkiye in 2015 and sentenced to seven and half years for membership of Daesh in 2017.
He was released in July last year and deported from Turkiye the next month. He was then arrested when he arrived at Britain’s Luton airport.
In 2014, his wife Amal El-Wahabi became the first person in Britain to be convicted of funding Daesh extremists after trying to send 20,000 euros — worth $25,000 at the time — to him in Syria.
She was jailed for 28 months and seven days following a trial in which Davis was described as a drug dealer before he went to Syria to fight with Daesh.
Two of the “Beatles,” El Shafee Elsheikh and Alexanda Amon Kotey, have received life sentences in the United States.
The fourth in the group, executioner Mohammed Emwazi, was killed by a US drone in Syria in November 2015.


UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert
Updated 06 February 2023

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert

UK officials who oversaw funding of extremist Muslim groups must be sacked: counterterrorism expert
  • Report: Prevent program provided millions to controversial organizations

LONDON: UK Prevent program officials who have overseen the public funding of Muslim groups that promote extremism should be sacked, a counterterrorism expert has said in The Times newspaper.

Prof. Ian Acheson, a senior adviser to the Counter Extremism Project, which contributed to the long-delayed Shawcross review of the government’s anti-extremism Prevent program due to be released this week, called for a stricter approach to Muslim groups that “undermine social cohesion.”

The review, led by William Shawcross, is expected to criticize Prevent for using its $48 million fund to provide money to controversial groups, ostensibly to support religious and community moderation in the UK.

Acheson, a former prison governor who published a review of Islamist extremism in UK jails in 2016, criticized Prevent’s “mission creep,” arguing that “‘securitizing’ growing numbers of young people for thoughts that will not translate into actions is a waste of time and scarce resources.”

He cited statistics showing that despite a surge in referrals in recent years — including 2,127 boys classed as “vulnerable” — a majority of terror attacks in the UK since the program’s launch were carried out by individuals known to the program.

Acheson wrote in The Times: “There will be huge concern at the Home Office with Shawcross detailing how Prevent funding has been given to those who have used it to undermine the effectiveness of the program.

“Inexplicably we lag behind other European governments — Austria for one example — who take a much dimmer view of non-violent Islamist groups who undermine social cohesion. Delegitimizing our counterterror strategy is an article of faith with some of these groups.

“We need to trace these funding decisions right back to the officials who made them.

“There must be accountability, if only on behalf of the huge numbers of British Muslims in this country who are wrongly associated with those who preach division and attack moderate Islam.

“We need to return to fundamentals here: Prevent exists to stop terrorists in the making — prioritizing stopping harm — not to provide a creche for an ever-widening cohort of disaffected young adults.

“Shawcross has done the state some service at some cost to his reputation, maligned by some figures. Politicians must not let him down.”


British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service
Updated 06 February 2023

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service

British workers stage largest strike in history of health service
  • Biggest strike in 75-year history of National Health Service
  • Government urges workers to call off walkouts

LONDON: Health workers in Britain began their largest strike on Monday, as tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance workers walk out in an escalating pay dispute, putting further strain on the state-run National Health Service (NHS).
Nurses and ambulance workers have been striking separately on and off since late last year but Monday’s walkout involving both, largely in England, is the biggest in the 75-year history of the NHS.
Nurses will also strike on Tuesday, while ambulance staff will walk out on Friday and physiotherapists on Thursday, making the week probably the most disruptive in NHS history, its Medical Director Stephen Powis said.
Health workers are demanding a pay rise that reflects the worst inflation in Britain in four decades, while the government says that would be unaffordable and cause more price rises, and in turn, make interest rates and mortgage payments rise.
Around 500,000 workers, many from the public sector, have been staging strikes since last summer, adding to pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak to resolve the disputes and limit disruption to public services such as railways and schools.
The Royal College of Nursing (RCN) trade union wrote to Sunak over the weekend asking him to bring the nursing strike “to a swift close” by making “meaningful” pay offers.
“We’ve got one of the busiest winters we have ever had with record levels of funding going into the NHS to try and manage services,” Maria Caulfield, the minister for mental health and women’s health strategy, told Sky News on Monday.
“So every percent of a pay increase takes money away.”
The government has urged people to continue to access emergency services and attend appointments during the strikes unless they had been canceled but said patients would face disruption and delays.
NURSES LEAVING
The NHS, a source of pride for most Britons, is under extreme pressure with millions of patients on waiting lists for operations and thousands each month failing to receive prompt emergency care.
The RCN says a decade of poor pay has contributed to tens of thousands of nurses leaving the profession — 25,000 over just the last year — with the severe staffing shortages impacting patient care.
The RCN initially asked for a pay rise of 5 percent above inflation and has since said it could meet the government “half way,” but both sides have failed to reach agreement despite weeks of talks.
Meanwhile, thousands of ambulance workers represented by the GMB and Unite trade unions are set to strike on Monday in their own pay dispute. Both unions have announced several more days of industrial action.
Not all ambulance workers will strike at once and emergency calls will be attended to.
In Wales, nurses and some ambulance workers have called off strikes planned for Monday as they review pay offers from the Welsh government.
Sunak said in a TalkTV interview last week he would “love to give the nurses a massive pay rise” but said the government faced tough choices and that it was funding the NHS in other areas such as by providing medical equipment and ambulances.