How Latin American Muslims observe Ramadan amid sadness and solidarity with Gaza

Special  How Latin American Muslims observe Ramadan amid sadness and solidarity with Gaza
The feeling of closeness to Gaza is omnipresent even in Muslim communities in Latin America that do not have a high number of Palestinians. (Supplied)
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Updated 29 March 2024
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How Latin American Muslims observe Ramadan amid sadness and solidarity with Gaza

 How Latin American Muslims observe Ramadan amid sadness and solidarity with Gaza
  • Mosques throughout the region have launched charity efforts and awareness campaigns for Palestinians
  • Community leaders say the holy month has been more subdued than usual owing to the suffering in Gaza

SAO PAULO: Throughout Latin America, Muslim communities are observing Ramadan this year without the atmosphere of festivity that is common during the iftar meal owing to the suffering in Gaza, where more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed since the war began on Oct. 7.

“This will be one of the worst Ramadan celebrations for us,” said Bashar Shakerat, a community leader in an area on the border between Uruguay and Brazil called Little Palestine due to the relatively high concentration of Palestinian immigrants.

“We’re praying at the mosque and there’s no festivity later. Everybody is sad.”

On Sundays during Ramadan, women traditionally cook large meals and people gather at the social club to celebrate. On weeknights, groups usually gather at home for iftar. Shakerat said nothing like that is happening this year.




Smoke billows behind highrise buildings during an Israeli airstrike on Gaza City. (AFP)

“We just want to pray and stay quiet at home,” he told Arab News. “We just want this war to be over. We’re tired. We want peace.”

Born in the Palestinian city of Jenin, Shakerat said he has family in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as do many of the residents of Little Palestine.

“We traditionally collect food kits and distribute them among needy families in our city. We know that our brothers and sisters in Palestine are also starving,” he added.

Muslim communities in Latin America do not have a high number of Palestinians. Even so, the feeling of closeness to Gazans is omnipresent.

“Our mosque was founded decades ago by Palestinian immigrants. They moved to other cities or died over the years, and now most of our community are Africans or Brazilians,” Turkish-born Sheikh Adil Pechliye, spiritual leader of Palestine Mosque in the Brazilian city of Criciuma, told Arab News.

Despite the demographic change in the community, the mosque’s members still have a deep connection to Palestine, said Pechliye, who graduated in Madinah in 2001.

“We’ve joined Criciuma’s pro-Palestine committee, and have been active in protests and marches against the genocide in Gaza,” he added.

Pechliye has been giving lectures on Palestine, and gave a Friday sermon in a public square a few weeks ago in order to disseminate information on Gaza.

A couple of months ago, the Muslim community promoted a relief campaign and sent aid to the Palestinian enclave.

Pechliye believes that most Brazilians support the Palestinians despite the pro-Israel stance of the Brazilian press.

He praised President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been fiercely critical of Israel and even compared what is happening in Gaza to the Holocaust.




A Palestinian carries sacks of humanitarian aid at the distribution center of UNRWA. (AFP)

“The Holocaust was undeniably terrible, but I don’t think Lula tried to downplay its seriousness. He wanted to emphasize the horror of what’s happening now,” Pechliye said.

In the city of Santa Ana in El Salvador, the Muslim community also gathers to pray at a mosque named Palestine.

Mezquita Palestina Tierra Santa was founded in 2011 by a community that is almost completely made up of converted Salvadorans.

“We wished to honor Armando Bukele, who introduced Islam to El Salvador and whose family came from Palestine,” Sheikh Guillermo Sanchez told Arab News.

Bukele was born in El Salvador to Christian parents from Palestine, but he converted to Islam and was an imam for several years. His son Nayib is the current president of El Salvador.

Sanchez said his community “has strong ties with Palestine, and has been struggling to support Gazans in every way possible. A few weeks ago, we promoted a campaign to collect donations and sent it to Gaza.”

In the Colombian city of Cali, the Muslim community is in constant sorrow for the Palestinians, said Egyptian-born Sheikh Amr Nabil.

“At night we’ll have something to eat with our brothers here, but Gazans won’t have anything,” he told Arab News. “That’s very painful, and at the same time it helps us understand the injustices of our world.”

Since the beginning of Ramadan, the community in Cali has been praying for the Palestinians, and leaders such as Nabil have been giving lectures about Palestine and the roots of the conflict.

“I believe that only somebody who is completely uninformed about the Palestinian struggle is capable of supporting the ongoing genocide, or it’s a person who has completely lost humanity,” he said.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro has criticized on several occasions Israel’s attacks on Gaza. Many Muslims in the South American nation support his stance.

“His declarations are those of a human being who expressed solidarity to a people that’s being massacred. We appreciate it very much,” Nabil said.

Sheikh Abu Yahya, a Mexican-born community leader who converted to Islam 12 years ago, told Arab News this is “the most difficult Ramadan. Our community in (the city of) Leon is formed by Mexican converts and by Muslims from Arab countries. We’re all equally sad.”




People walk past the damaged Gaza City headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. (AFP)

He said the community has been focusing on “developing empathy and suffering together with those who are suffering, so prayers for the Palestinians have been constant.”

Abu Yahya added: “We decided to take part in the local pro-Palestinian committee. We’ve been taking part in several activities and sharing information about Palestine.”

He said amid pro-Israel campaigns in the Mexican media, many Mexicans do not have adequate information about what is happening in Gaza.

“That’s noticeable during our lectures, but when people discover the reality, they express their solidarity with the Palestinians,” he added.

Many Latin Americans have been receiving information and images of the victims in Gaza via social media, which has been impacting the perceptions of a growing number of people in the region.

“The war doesn’t spare anyone, and hunger is undoubtedly the worst way of dying. That’s why it’s impossible not to think about Gazans during Ramadan,” said Shakerat.

 

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UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

Updated 19 sec ago
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UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year

UN sees tripling of children killed in conflict in one year
Warring parties were increasingly “pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal,” UN rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
“Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric“

GENEVA: Global conflicts killed three times as many children and twice as many women in 2023 than in the previous year, as overall civilian fatalities swelled 72 percent, the UN said Tuesday.
Warring parties were increasingly “pushing beyond boundaries of what is acceptable — and legal,” United Nations rights chief Volker Turk told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
They are showing “utter contempt for the other, trampling human rights at their core,” he said. “Killings and injuries of civilians have become a daily occurrence. Destruction of vital infrastructure a daily occurrence.”
“Children shot at. Hospitals bombed. Heavy artillery launched on entire communities. All along with hateful, divisive, and dehumanizing rhetoric.”
The UN rights chief said his office had gathered data indicating that last year, “the number of civilian deaths in armed conflict soared by 72 percent.”
“Horrifyingly, the data indicates that the proportion of women killed in 2023 doubled and that of children tripled, compared to the year prior,” he said.
In the Gaza Strip, Turk said he was “appalled by the disregard for international human rights and humanitarian law by parties to the conflict” and “unconscionable death and suffering.”
Since the war erupted after Hamas’s unprecedented attack inside Israel on October 7, he said “more than 120,000 people in Gaza, overwhelmingly women and children, have been killed or injured ... as a result of the intensive Israeli offensives.”
“Since Israel escalated its operations into Rafah in early May, almost one million Palestinians have been forcibly displaced yet again, while aid delivery and humanitarian access deteriorated further,” he said.
Turk also pointed to a range of other conflicts, including in Ukraine, the Democratic republic of Congo and Syria.
And in Sudan, in the grips of a more than year-long civil war, he warned the country “is being destroyed in front of our eyes by two warring parties and affiliated groups ... (who have) flagrantly cast aside the rights of their own people.”
Such devastation comes as funding to help the growing numbers of people in need is dwindling.
“As of the end of May 2024, the gap between humanitarian funding requirements and available resources stands at $40.8 billion,” Turk said.
“Appeals are funded at an average of 16.1 percent only,” he said.
“Contrast this with the almost $2.5 trillion in global military expenditure in 2023, a 6.8 percent increase in real terms from 2022,” Turk said, stressing that “this was the steepest year-on-year increase since 2009.”
“In addition to inflicting unbearable human suffering, war comes with a hefty price tag,” he said.

French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer

French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer
Updated 12 min 25 sec ago
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French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer

French court rules against Israeli ban from arms expo: lawyer
  • The decision by Coges Events to ban 74 Israeli exhibitors from Eurosatory was “discriminatory“

PARIS: A French court on Tuesday ordered organizers of a defense trade show to suspend a ban on Israeli firms, the lawyer for the Franco-Israeli chamber of commerce told AFP.
The Paris Commerce Tribunal said the decision by Coges Events to ban 74 Israeli exhibitors from Eurosatory was “discriminatory,” said the lawyer, Patrick Klugman.


Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza

Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza
Updated 19 min ago
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Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza

Indonesian hospital resumes limited operations in north Gaza
  • Indonesia Hospital was one of the first targets hit by Israeli attacks last year
  • Facility is still unable to perform major surgeries due to lack of equipment

JAKARTA: The Indonesia Hospital in Gaza has resumed limited operations, the nongovernmental organization that funded it said on Tuesday, months after the facility was severely damaged by a deadly Israeli siege and attacks.

The hospital in northern Gaza, a four-story building located near the Jabalia refugee camp, was built from donations organized by the Jakarta-based Medical Emergency Rescue Committee. 

It was one of the first targets hit by Israeli air raids in October and one of the last to remain operational until late last year. But Israeli bombardments forced staff and thousands of people seeking shelter on the hospital’s premises to move to Gaza’s south. 

“Praise be to God, the hospital has resumed operations under limited capacity,” MER-C Chairman Dr. Sarbini Murad told Arab News. 

“The Indonesia Hospital is relying on solar energy, but even solar is limited. Most of the medical equipment is damaged. The staff are making the most of what’s available because the most important thing is that the hospital can function to help the isolated residents of northern Gaza.” 

According to Murad, the medical facility began to resume some services last month and is now able to take in patients, although doctors still cannot perform major surgeries. 

“If a permanent ceasefire is implemented, hopefully (MER-C) can go there and begin repairing the hospital,” Murad said, adding that the facility may be the only one providing medical aid in north Gaza. 

For months, Palestinians in northern Gaza have been isolated from the rest of the besieged enclave and hit hardest by hunger as Israeli forces denied aid convoys entry to the area. 

In early November, the Israeli military said that Gaza-based militant group Hamas was using the Indonesia Hospital “to hide an underground command and control center.” 

The claim was immediately refuted by MER-C, which said that it was a “precondition to attack” the medical facility.

A few weeks later, Israeli tanks and snipers indeed laid siege to the hospital, severely damaging the building and destroying its equipment, as they turned it into a new base for their attacks.


Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan

Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan
Updated 18 June 2024
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Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan

Afghans spend Eid in poverty after fleeing Pakistan
  • Pakistan forcibly deported thousands of Afghans last year who were allegedly living in country without legal documents
  • War-ravaged Afghanistan deals with refugees returning as it reels from humanitarian, climate and economic crises

MOYE MUBARAK, Afghanistan: Seven months since fleeing Pakistan out of fear of deportation, Jan Mohammad marked the Eid Al-Adha holiday on Monday struggling to feed his family, still living in a tent in Afghanistan in the border province of Nangarhar.

“We are spending Eid as if we were in prison,” the 30-year-old father of six told AFP.

“We have absolutely no money. We are still grateful to Allah that we are alive but sometimes we regret that as well. We can’t do anything. This year, and this Eid, we became fully bankrupt.”

He and his family crossed from Pakistan at the end of last year, not long after a deadline set by Islamabad for Afghans without legal right to stay in the country to leave.

Hundreds of thousands Afghans have hurriedly packed up their belongings to start fresh in their homeland, a place many of them had never seen before, in the months since the November 1, 2023 deadline.

But months later, many have still not found their feet.

Mohammad and his family were living in a tent encampment in the Moye Mubarak area of Nangarhar with other recently returned Afghan families.

He worked as a trainer at a sports club in Pakistan but is now jobless, unable to provide sufficient food for his family, let alone take part in Eid Al-Adha traditions of buying new clothes or a sheep for the ritual sacrifice or gathering with extended family and friends.

“My children don’t have proper food to eat or clothes to wear (for Eid), or shoes, while the children in the nearby villages have good clothes and shoes. My children want the same things. It is very difficult but we are helpless,” Mohammad said.

“It breaks my heart, I sit in a corner at home and cry.”

In a nearby tent, Sang Bibi is also holding on by a thread. Where other families were buying new clothes for Eid, she and her six children can rarely wash and beg for hand-me-downs to wear.

“We even beg for the clothes of dead,” the 60-year-old widow, the sole breadwinner for her family, told AFP.

“We have been in a terrible situation these past two Eids,” she said, referring to Eid Al-Fitr, which fell at the end of the holy month of Ramadan in April this year.

The influx of returnees into Afghanistan from both Pakistan and Iran came as the war-ravaged country grapples with economic, climate and humanitarian crises.

UN refugee agency UNHCR said last year that Afghans make up the third-largest group of displaced people globally, with around eight million Afghans living across 103 countries as of 2023.

The Taliban government, which took power almost three years ago, provided some support for the returnees, but struggled to cope with the surge.

“We want the government to help us by providing shelter,” said Sana Gul, who has lived in a tent with her husband and their two daughters since coming from Pakistan.

In the days ahead of Eid, markets were bustling with shoppers buying sweets and food for the holiday, with many families sharing meat with poorer relations during the holiday.

But having spent years, if not their whole lives, abroad, fleeing Afghanistan’s successive conflicts, many returnees have few networks to support them.

“We don’t even have bread to eat,” said Gul’s husband Safar.


Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’

Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’
Updated 18 June 2024
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Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’

Philippines says navy officer severely injured in China Coast Guard ‘ramming’
  • Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea later said the Chinese vessels had "engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing"
  • This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area

Manila: The Philippines said Tuesday one of its navy personnel was severely injured after the China Coast Guard rammed a Philippine vessel near Second Thomas Shoal in the South China Sea.
"A Philippine Navy personnel sustained severe injury after the CCG's (China Coast Guard's) intentional high-speed ramming during the rotation and resupply mission to the BRP Sierra Madre (LS57) on June 17," a military statement said.
The shoal, which hosts a tiny Philippine garrison stationed on a deliberately beached old warship, has been a focus of escalating confrontations between Chinese and Philippine ships in recent months as Beijing steps up efforts to push its claims to the disputed area.
Shortly after the incident, the Chinese coast guard reported that a Philippine resupply ship in the area had "ignored many solemn warnings from the Chinese side".
It "approached the... Chinese vessel in an unprofessional way, resulting in a collision", Beijing said, accusing the ship of having "illegally broken into the sea near Ren'ai Reef".
"The Chinese Coast Guard took control measures against the Philippine ship in accordance with the law," it added.
But the Philippine armed forces called China's version of events "misleading", decrying "the illegal presence and actions of Chinese vessels within the Philippines' exclusive economic zone".
Manila's national task force on the West Philippine Sea later said the Chinese vessels had "engaged in dangerous manoeuvres, including ramming and towing".
"Their actions put at risk the lives of our personnel and damaged our boats," it said.
In an update, the Philippine military on Tuesday made its first casualty report from the incident, adding that the injured navy personnel "has been safely evacuated and received prompt medical treatment".
It gave no details on the sailor's injury and also did not comment on news reports that a sailor had lost a finger and that Chinese personnel also boarded a Philippine vessel and seized several guns and inflatable boats.
The Second Thomas Shoal lies about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the western Philippine island of Palawan and more than 1,000 kilometres from China's nearest major landmass, Hainan island.
Beijing claims almost the entirety of the South China Sea, brushing aside competing claims from several Southeast Asian nations including the Philippines and an international ruling that its stance has no legal basis.
It deploys coast guard and other boats to patrol the waters and has turned several reefs into militarised artificial islands.
It has in recent months stepped up moves against Philippine vessels in the area around Second Thomas Shoal.
This month, Manila accused Chinese boats of illegally seizing food and medicine airdropped to the Philippine outpost in the area.
It was the first time supplies had been seized, the military said.
Chinese personnel on the boats later dumped the items in the water, Philippine Navy spokesman for the West Philippine Sea Commodore Roy Vincent Trinidad said.
It was not clear if they belonged to the Chinese coast guard or navy, the military said.
China in response insisted the Sierra Madre was illegally grounded on the reef and urged the Philippines to "stop making trouble".