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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World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 
Updated 9 sec ago
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World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 

World Water Forum opens in Bali to address resource shortage, management 
  • Saudi Environment Minister Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli leads Kingdom’s delegation in Bali
  • Saudi Arabia is set to host the next edition of World Water Forum in Riyadh in 2027

JAKARTA: The 10th World Water Forum, a gathering aimed at fostering international collaboration in global water management, opened on Indonesia’s island of Bali on Monday.

The World Water Forum will run until May 25, as hundreds of international participants join the conference to address global water and sanitation challenges. 

The 10th edition held under the theme “Water for Shared Prosperity” saw several heads of state and ministers in attendance, including Tajikistan Prime Minister Qohir Rasulzoda, Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe, Fiji President Wiliame Katonivere, and Saudi Minister of Environment Water and Agriculture Abdulrahman Al-Fadhli. 

President Joko Widodo called attention to the “central role” of water for human civilizations as he opened the forum on Monday. 

“Water scarcity can also trigger war and become the source of disasters. Too much water or too little water both can turn into problems for the world,” Widodo said in his opening speech. 

“The 10th World Water Forum is very strategic to revitalize real collective action and commitment to realize an integrated management of water resources … Water isn’t merely a natural product, but a product of collaboration that unites us and therefore we must have collaborative efforts to preserve it.” 

Loic Fauchon, president of the World Water Council, also called for global action. 

“This 10th World Water Forum should mark the turning point towards concrete action,” he said. 

The World Water Forum is held every three years and organized by the World Water Council and a host country. 

This year, the multi-day event will also see Saudi Arabia participate in a special session focusing on its role as the next host of the international conference under the theme “Action for a Better Tomorrow.”

The Kingdom will host the 11th World Water Forum in 2027 in Riyadh. 


Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia

Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia
Updated 8 min 49 sec ago
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Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia

Pentagon vows to keep weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces a renewed assault by Russia
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is committing to keep US weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces one of its toughest moments against a renewed assault by Russia

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin committed Monday to keeping US weapons moving to Ukraine as Kyiv faces one of its toughest moments against a renewed assault by Russia.
Austin and as many as 50 defense leaders from Europe and around the world were meeting Monday to coordinate more military aid to Ukraine, as Kyiv tries to hold off a Russian offensive in the northeast while launching its own massive assault on the Russia-occupied Crimean Peninsula.
“We’re meeting in a moment of challenge,” Austin said, noting that Russia’s new onslaught of Kharkiv showed why the continued commitment by the countries was vital to keep coming. Austin vowed to keep US weapons moving “week after week.”
The US announced no new aid packages Monday, even as Ukrainian forces continue to complain that weapons are just trickling into the country after being stalled for months due to congressional gridlock over funding. Pentagon officials have said that weapons pre-positioned in Europe began moving into Ukraine soon after the aid funding was approved.
It’s unclear how much of that has reached some of the front lines, where Russian troops have intensified their assault.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday during a visit to China that Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region aims to create a buffer zone but that there are no plans to capture the city.
Ukrainian troops have been fighting to halt Russian advances in the Kharkiv region, while also increasing their offensive attacks in Crimea, including on military infrastructure sites on the Black Sea coast and in the Russian-occupied city of Sevastopol.
Ukraine has also struggled to get enough troops to the front lines, as the war drags on into its third year and fighting takes its toll. In an effort to increase troop numbers, President Volodymyr Zelensky signed two laws, allowing prisoners to join the army and increasing fines for draft dodgers fivefold. The controversial mobilization law goes into effect on Saturday.
In the three weeks since President Joe Biden signed the $95 billion foreign aid package, the US has sent $1.4 billion in weapons pulled from Pentagon stockpiles and announced it was providing $6 billion in funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. USAI pays for longer-term contracts with the defense industry and means that the weapons could take many months or years to arrive.
In recent packages the US has agreed to send High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and rockets for them, as well as munitions for Patriot and National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems, artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank munitions, and an array of armored vehicles, such as Bradley and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
The US is also providing additional coastal and riverine patrol boats, trailers, demolition munitions, high-speed anti-radiation missiles, protective gear, spare parts and other weapons and equipment.
The State Department has also approved a proposed emergency sale of High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) to Ukraine for an estimated $30 million. State said Ukraine has asked to buy three of the rocket systems, which would be funded by the government of Germany.
The US has now provided about $50.6 billion in military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded in February 2022.


Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai
Updated 14 min 57 sec ago
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Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

Bollywood celebrities head to polls as India’s giant election reaches Mumbai

NEW DELHI: A-list actors in India called on voters to cast their ballots on Monday, as the country’s massive general election reaches Bollywood capital Mumbai, entering its fifth phase. 

More than 968 million people are eligible to vote in India, as the world’s largest electoral exercise began on April 19 in a seven-phase election spread out over over six weeks, with ballots set to be counted on June 4. 

Voter numbers have slumped compared to previous polls, with the first four phases of the election held on April 19, April 26, May 7 and May 13 seeing a turnout of 66.95 percent, 66.7 percent, 65.7 percent and 69.1 percent, respectively. 

In India’s financial capital Mumbai, located in Maharashtra state, Bollywood stars were among the voters queuing since early morning to cast their ballots on Monday, as millions vote in the fifth phase of the election, where 49 seats are up for grabs across six states and two federally administered territories. 

“I came here at 7 o’clock in the morning when the polling booth opened,” actor Akshay Kumar told reporters after casting his vote. 

“I want my India to be developed and strong. I voted, keeping that in mind. (Indians) should vote according to what they think is best for them.” 

Actor Rajkummar Rao said that voting was a “big responsibility” for the nation. 

“It’s very, very important. If, through us, people can get influenced, it’s the best we can do to make people aware of the importance of voting. It’s our moral responsibility toward the nation. I appeal to all of you to come out and vote,” he said. 

Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan had also urged Indians to use their right to vote over the weekend, taking to X — where he has more than 44 million followers — to make the public call. 

“As responsible Indian citizens we must exercise our right to vote this Monday in Maharashtra. Let’s carry out our duty as Indians and vote keeping our country’s best interests in mind,” Khan said. 

This election sees Prime Minister Narendra Modi chasing a rare third straight five-year term in power, targeting 400 out of the 543 parliamentary seats for the National Democratic Alliance led by his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has been in power since 2014. 

Analysts say Maharashtra will likely be a swing state as it sends the second-highest number of representatives to the lower house of parliament after Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 lawmakers. It may affect the BJP’s initial strong projections in the polls. 

“There are many social issues that are going to be crucial in the state. For instance there is an agrarian distress, the issue of  reservation for the local Maratha community, the general issues like price rise and unemployment that are going against the  establishment,” said Shailendra R Kharat, political science professor at Pune University. 

Though the BJP swept 42 seats in the state in the 2019 elections, Kharat said he expects the ruling party alliance to get only 30 at most. 

Ashok Wankhede, a political analyst based in Maharashtra, said the BJP has not been able “to carry the trust” of the people.

“Maharashtra is the state where the BJP-led alliance is losing the most. This is going to be a major swing state,” he told Arab News. 

“To talk about 400 seats is a war cry. The fight in this election is open and it’s not going to be easy for the BJP to form the government. The last four phases of the election have not been very promising for the BJP.”


Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
Updated 37 min 18 sec ago
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Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid

Russian jailed for 25 years over army office arson bid
  • Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened
  • Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion

MOSCOW: A Russian court on Monday sentenced a man to 25 years in jail for planning to set fire to a Siberian military enlistment office in 2022, the year Moscow launched its military operation in Ukraine.
Rights groups have called jail term against Ilya Baburin a record sentence, and stressed that the arson never happened.
Russia saw a wave of arson attacks on army offices however after the Kremlin announced an unpopular military mobilization drive in September 2022.
A military court in Novosibirsk handed down the sentence. Prosecutors accused Baburin of seeking to help the Azov battalion, a branch of the Ukrainian military branded a terror organization in Russia.
Baburin “created a plan to set the military commissariat in Novosibirsk on fire,” prosecutors said.
They said he recruited somebody to throw a Molotov cocktail at the army office but the unnamed person instead reported him to the FSB security service.
Baburin was acting on Ukrainian orders and that he had “established contact” with members of the Azov battalion, prosecutors said.
TASS news agency published footage of Baburin in court, wearing a tracksuit and smiling inside a glass cage for defendants.
“I did not set anything on fire,” Baburin said in court, according to the independent Dozhd TV channel.
He accused the FSB of trying to “gain points” during Moscow’s Ukraine campaign and of “investigating absurd crimes.”
Baburin, who was arrested in September 2022, was found guilty of a string of offenses, including “terrorism” and “treason.”
His lawyer Vasily Dubkov argued in court this month that “nobody was harmed,” according to a transcript of a statement delivered in court and published by the Perviy Otdel rights group.
“Baburin does not look like a spy giving out state secrets and did not have or hand out state secrets,” Dubkov said.
Separately, a military court in Saint Petersburg on Monday sentenced a cadet to eight years in prison for attempting to set railway infrastructure on fire last year.
The court said Timur Kursanov was undergoing military service at an army institute and had taken orders from an unnamed person online who wanted to “involve him in arson acts in exchange for money aimed at destroying transport infrastructure.”
The court said he was arrested during a failed attempt to set fire to a railway intersection in Saint Petersburg in May last year.


Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
Updated 53 min 13 sec ago
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Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port

Ship that caused deadly Baltimore bridge collapse has been refloated and is moving back to port
  • The disaster killed six construction workers and snarled traffic into Baltimore Harbor
  • Several tugboats are escorting the Dali on its 2.5-mile path to the marine terminal

BALTIMORE: The container ship that caused the deadly collapse of Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge was refloated Monday and has begun slowly moving back to port.
The Dali has remained at the collapse site since it lost power and crashed into one of the bridge’s supporting columns on March 26, killing six construction workers and snarling traffic into Baltimore Harbor.
The ship appeared to start moving shortly after 6 a.m. as crews started to maneuver it out of the wreckage. It started and stopped a few times before slowly backing away from the collapse site.
Officials said it would move at about 1 mph on the roughly 2.5-mile (4-kilometer) trip, a fraction of the speed it was traveling when it lost power and crashed into the bridge. Pieces of the bridge’s steel trusses protruded from its bow, which remained covered in concrete from the collapsed roadway.
Officials have said they plan to unload the ship’s containers and complete some short-term repairs while it’s docked in Baltimore.
Monday morning’s high tide had been expected to bring the best conditions for crews to refloat and start moving the ship, according to a statement from the Key Bridge Response Unified Command.
Several tugboats were escorting the Dali on its path to the marine terminal. The work is expected to last at least 21 hours.
Crews conducted a controlled demolition on May 13 to break down the largest remaining span of the collapsed bridge.
The Dali experienced four electrical blackouts within about 10 hours before leaving the Port of Baltimore for Sri Lanka and hitting the bridge, according to a preliminary report issued by the National Transportation Safety Board.