Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Deepening Signs of a Civil War in Islam: Massacres of Sufis in Pakistan In The Name Of Pure Islam Reveals a Worsening Global Crisis

By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam
28 February 2017
Is this Islam? A woman in Peshawar had asked this question, crying over the blood-spattered dead bodies of her school-going children in December 2014. The proud killers of 132 innocent children and scores of female teachers were the Pakistan Taliban. The Taliban are student of Islamic madrasas, supposedly well-versed in the teachings of Islam. They claim to kill in the name of Islam. They claim to glorify Islam. They say they are trying to establish the sovereignty of Allah over the world.  So, the question is inevitable. Is this Islam, indeed?
Now Pakistan is once again in shock. Today the question is: Is this pure Islam or true Islam, as Salafis claim? Not for the first, nor for the last time, to be sure, over hundred devotees of Sufi saint Lal Shahbaz Qalandar in Sindh have been killed in the name of what Salafi-Wahhabis consider true, pure Islam. Salafi-Wahhabis abhor Sufism because they believe that Sufi practices resemble pre-Islamic polytheistic Hindu traditions. Any Muslim who strays from the path of what Salafis consider true Islam is an apostate and deserves to be killed. The murderer has been brainwashed by ulema of his sect into believing that he can be assured of a place in heaven if he kills apostates and kuffars.
Many Pakistanis claim the idea of Pakistan is that of a secular, democratic Pakistan. The idea of Pakistan as outlined by its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah, was flawed right from start. In an address to the Constituent Assembly, delivered on 11 August 1947, he urged forgiveness of bygone quarrels among Pakistanis, so all can be ". . . first, second and last a citizen of this State with equal rights . . .". Pointing out that England in past centuries had settled its fierce sectarian persecutions, he expressed his wish for a Pakistan in which "in course of time Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State."
But if that was the idea of Pakistan, what was the need for a separate state, away from India? Where does the two-nation theory fit into this idea of Pakistan? Clearly it was a hypocritical statement. No wonder the ideology of exclusivism, separation, intolerance on which Pakistan was created almost immediately won the battle. On the insistence of Jamaat-e-Islami founder-ideologue Maulana Maududi, an Objectives Resolution was adopted by the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan on March 12, 1949. The resolution proclaimed that the future constitution of Pakistan would be modelled on the ideology and democratic faith of Islam. The very first article in the resolution said: “Sovereignty over the entire universe belongs to Allah Almighty alone and the authority which He has delegated to the state of Pakistan, through its people for being exercised within the limits prescribed by Him is a sacred trust.”
Maulana Maududi was a Salafist. With the adoption of the Objectives Resolution, in accordance with his wishes, the Pakistani state itself became a Salafist state for all practical purposes. But the overwhelming majority of the people continued to be Sufi-oriented Bareilvis. Deoband had little influence in Pakistan at that time.
This is what created the division that has now led to a civil war-like situation. In Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that Pakistani state adopted so early on, there was no room for a tolerant and inclusive Sufism which would accord respect to all religions and follow the policy of Sulh-e-Kul (Genera Accord). Salafis consider followers of Sufi saints to be infidels at the same level as polytheists or idol-worshippers. In their understanding of pure Islam, these people deserve to be killed. It is the acceptance of Salafi-theology as Pakistan’s state ideology from the very beginning that has created an environment in which such regular massacres at a number of Sufi shrines across Pakistan have become possible. This is not the first time and Pakistan is not the first country where Wahhabism is spreading in this fashion. Indeed, the entire establishment and expansion of Wahhabism as a force to reckon with has been based on mass murders and destruction of shrines from early 19th century onwards.
Wahhabi vandalism started in 1802 when an army of 12,000 Najdi Salafi warriors called Ikhwan attacked Shia holy sites in the city of Karbala, slaying 4,000 of that city's inhabitants. In 1803 they attacked Makkah but the Makkaans, having known the fate of Karbala, surrendered to Saudi Wahhabi rule. The Wahhabi Ikhwan then smashed Sufi shrines and the graves of even the closest companions of the Prophet. In Madina, they not only destroyed common grave-sites, but even attacked the tomb of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). Since then the history of Islam has been a history of massacres of non-Wahhabi Muslims and destruction of holy sites. Presently the banner of forcible Wahhabi expansion is taken up by al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangawi, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc. 
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792), the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed declared all rationalist and mystic Muslims as mushrik or polytheists and thus “wajibul qatl” (deserving death). In a long discourse in Kashaful Shubhat, he explained why all Muslims despite their claim to believe in one God are polytheists whose lives and property are halal (permitted) for Wahhabi Muslims. He concluded his discourse: “… You now understand that these people's (non-Wahhabi Muslims’) accepting tauheed (oneness of God) does not make them Muslim; the fact that they expect intercession from others than God (Sufi saints) makes them liable to be killed and their property to be looted." --- Kashaful Shubhat, p.9, Maktaba al-salafia bil Madina Munawwara, 1969 CE)
Another Abdul Wahhab quote necessary to understand the current conflict is the following: “Even if the Muslims abstain from shirk (polytheism) and are muwahhid (believer in oneness of God), their faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims (which for him includes all non-Wahhabi Muslims). (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291).
While generally Indian ulema stay silent when such atrocities are perpetrated, this time a few have come up with denunciations. Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salafi, general secretary of Ahl-e-Hadith, has, for instance, condemned this incident vigorously. But the problem with Indian Salafi ulema who condemn such terrorist incidents is that while they condemn specific terrorist incidents, they do not denounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that they actually follow. This is a self-contradictory stance. No wonder it is also self-defeating. Denouncing terrorism means very little, if the ideology from which it emanates continues to be followed. From the time of the Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab - Muhammad bin Saud pact in 1744, Salafi-Wahhabis have been following this murderous ideology which calls all non-Wahhabi Muslims Mushrik (polytheist) and Wajibul Qatl (deserving death).
If Ahl-e-Hadith and other Salafi Muslims are sincere in condemning sectarian terrorism they need to also denounce and renounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that calls for murder, destruction and looting of property. They only need to do what Abdul Wahhab’s father and brother did. In fact, his brother Shaykh Sulayman ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab wrote a book refuting his arguments. Abdul Wahhab was able to propagate his ideas freely only when his father, a Qazi of the region, passed away. 
Although Sufi-oriented Muslims, rationalists, Shias, etc have been victims of Salafi-Wahhabi terrorism, it would be wrong to conclude that extremism is limited to Wahhabis. There is a consensus of ulema of all schools of thought on an extremist understanding of Islam. Take any popular book of Tafsir (interpretation), of the holy Quran, from Ibn-e-Kathir to Jalalain Shareef, or even later ones like that of Maulana Maududi. Quran’s original teachings of peace and pluralism, patience and perseverance, in early Meccan verses, are said to have been abrogated by the later war-time verses that were revealed at Mecca in a time when Islam was indeed facing an existential crisis and defensive war was unavoidable. Take Friday sermons read out in mosques anywhere in the world. Muslims are forever praying for victory over kuffar and mushrekin (non-believers and deviants, infidels and idol-worshippers. Not only that You will even find us Muslims praying to God to curse the non-Muslim and defeat them. In the case of Wahhabi-Salafi the curse applies to even the Muslims who may have a mystical bent of mind, as for them all non-Wahhabis are infidels and deviants, for whom the only punishment is beheading, here and now.
Would a Muslim-majority country allow a non-Muslim minority to keep cursing it all the time and praying for its defeat at the hand of non-Muslims, that too in peace time, when no battles are being fought. Muslim-majority countries indeed do not even allow worship places to be built by other religious communities, in some cases, and where they do, they put a variety of restrictions on them. The most bizarre, of course, is the prohibition for Christians to use the word “Allah” to denote God in the most technologically advanced Muslim country, Malaysia.
Many Muslims would be surprised to know all this as they do not know what they are hearing in Arabic in Friday sermons. Most have not read the Quran with meaning, much less it’s various tafsirs taught in madrasas. Then there is also the case of tampering of these tafsirs of Quran by Salafi-Wahhabis in recent decades. The translation of a very popular book with religious-minded Muslims, particularly Tablighi Jamaat, al-Nawawi's Riyadh al-Salehin, published in 1999 by Darussalam Publishing House, Riyadh, is a case in point. As if Riyadh al-Salehin was not sufficient in selecting extremist, xenophobic, intolerant material from Quran and Hadith, in its Book of Jihad, commentaries have been inserted art various places to give them an even more radical interpretation. The 11075-word Chapter on Jihad, for instance, doesn’t have a word to say about what we moderates call Jihad-e-Akbar (Greater Jihad), i.e., struggle against one’s own negative or evil inclinations, citing a saying of the Prophet (pbuh). This saying has been declared by most theologians as zaeef (weak), hence unreliable and inauthentic. On the other hand, Ahadith saying that struggle against non-Muslims should go on till eternity and that killing of even innocent civilians was allowed by the Prophet himself are found in sihah-e-sitta, i.e., all the six volumes of “authentic” Ahadith. The result is that the only basis for a Muslims’ relationship with a non-Muslim is considered in theology to be war.
In the case of Wahhabi-Salafi theology, even the basis of a Wahhabi’s relationship with a Sufi-oriented Muslim would be conflict and strife. No wonder our ulema stay completely quiet, when Khalifa Baghdadi and his followers from India declare in YouTube Videos telecast on world television, as they did last year, that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day; it has always been a religion of peace and strife.” What can the ulema say, after all. This is what they have learnt and this is what they teach.
Many a Muslims pins their hope on Sufis. It would be nice to do so. We will have some basis for optimism left. But we should not forget that in the last four decades, these petrodollar decades, there has been a Wahhabisation of Sufism itself. The Wahhabi takfiri ideology has penetrated all sections of the community. The 4 January 2011 murder of Pakistani Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer and the recent deification of his Barelvi-Sufi murderer by millions of Muslims can be cited as strong evidence for this phenomenon.
A bodyguard of Salman Taseer was told by the Mullah he followed that Taseer had become an apostate by opposing Pakistan’s (black) blasphemy laws and showing sympathy for a Christian lady (falsely) accused of blasphemy. This man Mumtaz Qadri used his service weapon to kill the Governor in cold blood. While the killer became a hero instantaneously, most Ulema were not even prepared to lead the funeral prayers of the slain Governor. Lawyers of Pakistan’s High court, supposedly educated people working to uphold the law, threw rose petals on the killer when he was brought to court. Courts found him guilty, as the killer was not contesting the facts of the case, and awarded him death sentence. He has been executed. But the government had to permit a shrine being built in his name. He has been declared a saint. Millions throng his shrine and seek his intercession with God to fulfil their own needs.
Is Jinnah’s idea of a secular and democratic Pakistan then quite dead, if it ever had any resonance with the Pakistani state which had accepted the Objectives Resolution with so much alacrity so early? Perhaps not quite. These same lawyers who threw rose petals on the killer were also in the forefront of fight against General Musharraf’s dictatorship and did eventually manage to throw him out of power. But the idea of Pakistan, or whatever is left of it, is scuttled by the ideology of Pakistan again and again.
However, the issue of Salafi-Sufi civil war does not concern Pakistan alone. Muslims are a global community. One can see manifestations of the same struggle everywhere. India too is not immune. We need to remain extremely vigilant Already there are signs of expanding radicalism. Even a few score Muslim youth, all well-educated, well-off, well-settled with good jobs, leaving everything to fight for the so-called Islamic State, should be enough to cause disquiet. But the greater worry is that most Indian Muslims are not worried. We are happy to wish these worrisome thoughts away by putting the blame on Zionism, Islamophobia, etc, for everything negative that happens in the community. If we do indeed wish to live peacefully in this inter-connected world, we will have to change course and rather urgently. 
- See more at: http://newageislam.com/radical-islamism-and-jihad/sultan-shahin,-founding-editor,-new-age-islam/deepening-signs-of-a-civil-war-in-islam--massacres-of-sufis-in-pakistan-in-the-name-of-pure-islam-reveals-a-worsening-global-crisis/d/110239#sthash.JO56SFmC.dpuf

Murderous Sectarianism in Islam: Salafi Ulema Should Not Only Condemn the Massacre at Lal Shahbaz Qalandar Shrine but Also the Ideology behind It

By Sultan Shahin, Founding Editor, New Age Islam
21 February 2017
The massacre of over a hundred devotees at Sufi shrine of Jhule Lal Shahbaz Qalandar at Sehwan in Sindh, Pakistan is neither the first such incident nor is it going to be the last. There are condemnations galore from Muslims of all hues including Salafi-Wahhabis. The general secretary of Indian Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, Maulana Asghar Ali Imam Mehdi Salafi, for instance, has condemned the incident in the strongest terms.
However, the problem is that contrary to all evidence Salafi-Wahhabis refuse to accept that it is their own theology that has created an environment in which such regular massacres have become possible. Indeed, the entire establishment and expansion of Wahhabism as a force to reckon with has been based on mass murders and destruction of shrines from early 19th century onwards.
Wahhabi vandalism started in 1802 when an army of 12,000 Najdi Salafi warriors called Ikhwan attacked Shia holy sites in the city of Karbala, slaying 4,000 of that city's inhabitants. In 1803 they attacked Makkah but the Makkans, having known the fate of Karbala, surrendered to Saudi Wahhabi rule. The Wahhabi Ikhwan then smashed Sufi shrines and the graves of even the closest companions of the Prophet. In Madina, they not only destroyed common grave-sites, but even attacked the tomb of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh).

Photo: Geo News
Since then the history of Islam has been a history of massacres of non-Wahhabi Muslims and destruction of holy sites. Presently the banner of forcible Wahhabi expansion is taken up by al-Qaeda, ISIS, Taliban, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Lashkar-e-Jhangawi, Al-Shabab, Boko Haram, etc. 
Muhammad ibn Abdul Wahhab (1703–1792), the founder of Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabi-Salafi creed declared all rationalist and mystic Muslims as mushrik or polytheists and thus “wajibul qatl” (deserving death). In a long discourse in Kashaful Shubhat, he explained why all Muslims despite their claim to believe in one God are polytheists whose lives and property are halal (permitted) for Wahhabi Muslims. He concluded his discourse: “… You now understand that these people's (non-Wahhabi Muslims’) accepting tauheed (oneness of God) does not make them Muslim; the fact that they expect intercession from others than God (Sufi saints) makes them liable to be killed and their property to be looted." ----- Kashaful Shubhat, p.9, Maktaba al-salafia bil Madina Munawwara, 1969 CE)
Another Abdul Wahhab quote necessary to understand the current conflict is the following: “Even if the Muslims abstain from shirk (polytheism) and are muwahhid (believer in oneness of God), their faith cannot be perfect unless they have enmity and hatred in their action and speech against non-Muslims (which for him includes all non-Wahhabi Muslims). (Majmua Al-Rasael Wal-Masael Al-Najdiah 4/291).
The problem with Indian Salafi ulema like Maulana Imam Mehdi Salafi is that while they condemn specific terrorist incidents, they do not denounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that they actually follow. This is a self-contradictory stance. You denounce terrorism and follow the ideology from which it emanates. From the time of the Mohammad bin Abdul Wahhab - Muhammad bin Saud pact in 1744, Salafi-Wahhabis have been following this murderous ideology which calls all non-Wahhabi Muslims mushrik (polytheist) and Wajibul Qatl (deserving death).
If Ahl-e-Hadith and other Salafi Muslims are sincere in condemning sectarian terrorism they need to also denounce and renounce the Wahhabi-Salafi ideology that calls for murder, destruction and looting of property. They only need to do what Abdul Wahhab’s father and brother did. In fact, his brother Shaykh Sulayman ibn 'Abd al-Wahhab wrote a book refuting his arguments. Abdul Wahhab was able to propagate his ideas freely only when his father, a Qazi of the region, passed away. 
Although Sufi-oriented Muslims, rationalists, Shias, etc have been a victim of Salafi-Wahhabi terrorism, it would be wrong to conclude that extremism is limited to Wahhabis. The recent murder of Pakistani Punjab’s Governor Salman Taseer and the deification of his Brailvi murderer by millions of Muslims shows that extremism is widespread across all sects of Islam. All Muslims who sincerely denounce terrorism need to introspect and brainstorm together how to weed out ideologies within Islam that lead to such massacres of Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
We also need to expose the hypocrites within Islam. There are people who denounce terrorism in public and teach in their madrasas that early peaceful and pluralistic verses of Quran have been abrogated by the later war-time verses asking us to kill the kafir and mushrik. Of course, war-time verses had come in a certain context which no longer exists and so these instructions can no longer apply to us. The first task before us is to come out of denial, accept that our theology and jurisprudence have been corrupted and then start thinking of changing our mindset, so that we can live as peaceful citizens of this inter-connected twenty-first century world. 
Sultan Shahin is the founding editor of a Delhi-based progressive Islamic website NewAgeIslam.com.
This article appeared first in Mail Today on 21 February 2017.

- See more at: http://newageislam.com/islam-and-sectarianism/sultan-shahin,-founding-editor,-new-age-islam/murderous-sectarianism-in-islam--salafi-ulema-should-not-only-condemn-the-massacre-at-lal-shahbaz-qalandar-shrine-but-also-the-ideology-behind-it/d/110142#sthash.GaJRLcBo.dpuf

Religious Authorities of Islam Must Delimitate Peaceful Islam from Terrorism Committed In The Name Of Islam – German Chancellor, Angela Merkel

By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
(Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009)
21 February 2017
German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s reference to Islam as a ‘peaceful religion’ in the just concluded Munich Security Conference (Feb 17-19) stands in sharp contrast to US President Donald Trump’s fear of Islam as a source of terrorism, that reflects glaringly in his speeches and recent travel ban. She said: “I expect from religious authorities of Islam to find strong language in order to delimitate peaceful Islam from terrorism committed in the name of Islam. We as non-Muslims cannot do this; it should be done by Islamic clergy and authorities." [1]
But this is easily said than done. Islamic clergy (Ulema) and religious authorities who frequently make the claim that Islam is a religion of peace, are conceivably doubtful of this claim in their own hearts for had it not been so, they would have already ‘delimitated’ the peaceful Islam from terror by outlawing ISIS and other Muslim terrorist groups – or at least by taking to raucous protests such as by massive and tumultuous processions and street marches carrying banners and shouting slogans against them. To the contrary when ISIS chief al-Baghdadi and his followers claimed that “Islam has never been a religion of peace, not even for a day,” and that “it has always been a religion of war and conflict” [2] they did not challenge them for conspiring against Islam and reducing Islam to a cult of violence. [3]
The problem is, the orthodox Islam takes the Prophet’s early biographical reports (Sira) as authentic historical document, regards the Hadith corpus as some form of revelation (Wahi) and venerates the Shariah Law of Islam as its divine Shariah. As these domains - all historically derived and product of human agency contain ample of materials to dismiss the claim to Islam being a religion of peace, Islamic clergy and authorities – barring exceptions, are tight-lipped against passing any legal opinion (fatwa) charging ISIS of crossing the limits of faith. A fanatically brutal terror outfit had emerged soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad that was otherwise obsessively dedicated to religious rites (prayer, Qur’anic recitation etc,) like ISIS /the radicalized Muslim terror outfits of this era. Caliph Umar outlawed it as ‘Kharijites’ – an epithet that means “those that exited from the faith of Islam”. In a supreme irony of history, the German Chancellor is notionally playing Caliph Umar of this era and trying to guide the Muslims at this darkest point in their history – when hatred of Islam and Muslims has reached the threshold of a flash point - let alone its other fallouts by way of prejudice, contempt, discrimination, rising hate crimes and looming religion based restrictions.
Angela Merkel’s remark may however be regarded as platitude and may not completely dispel the subconscious doubts of Islamic clergy and religious authorities regarding the peaceful character of their faith as preached by their Prophet and encapsulated in the Qur’an. This author, at the strength of his exegetic knowledge, has demonstrated this conclusively by piecing together Qur’an’s disjointed glimpses of the Prophet’s mission in his article referenced below [5]. Since the Qur’an was recorded in full light of history and is preserved verbatim by an unbroken chain of memorizers down the centuries since the Prophet’s era – its testimony is above debate. 
With his conviction in the peaceful character of his religion, the author, in one of his articles [6] has declared “the expulsion of ISIS from the pale of Islam in his personal capacity and called upon the Muftis and Ulema of different countries of the world where there is at least one mosque, to declare them as such and to have nothing to do with them and warn all members of the community to disown them and have no sympathy for them as their Islamic title may evoke.”
To wind up this SOS to the Muslim Ulema and religious authorities, the author would like to cite the following religious ruling (fatwa) from an internationally recognized Islamic scholar that can be used as an authentic tool to delimitate peaceful Islam from terrorism and eradicate violent extremism in the name of Islam – so called radical Islamic terrorism.
This article is complementary to my following recently penned article:
In one word, if the Islamic clergy and authorities fail to delimitate peaceful Islam from terrorism by outlawing ISIS / Muslim terror outfits operating in the name of Islam, they will grievously fail in preventing their religion of peace and harmony from turning into a cult of bestial violence and naked terrorism – at least in the eyes of the others.  And that may have terrible consequences for the global Muslim community and broader humanity. Hence this article from an insider, with exegetic knowledge, to lend support and give flesh to Angela Merkel’s proposal that purports to strip ISIS and other Muslim terrorist groups of any religious legitimacy – the biggest weapon in their hands to unleash terror against humanity.
1. aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/merkel-islam-source-terrorism-170218081154919.html]

4.  aljazeera.com/news/2017/02/anti-muslim-groups-tripled-trump-campaign-170216153335713.html
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. KhaledAbou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.
- See more at: http://newageislam.com/islam-and-the-west/muhammad-yunus,-new-age-islam/religious-authorities-of-islam-must-delimitate-peaceful-islam-from-terrorism-committed-in-the-name-of-islam-%E2%80%93-german-chancellor,-angela-merkel/d/110153#sthash.buV9NizL.dpuf

Who Speaks for Islam in India

By Arshad Alam, New Age Islam
22 February 2017
In the absence of a clergy within Islamic social order, it becomes difficult to identify representative voices within Muslim society. Questions will be asked about multiple voices speaking in the name of the community and representing themselves in ways that they think are Islamic. For some, it can be argued that such a state of affairs has made the question of legitimacy and authority within Muslim societies confusing. The absence of a clear cut hierarchy and an apex body of decision makers has not only produced a crisis of legitimacy but has also made the process of religious reform difficult. It is argued that it would have been much better for the state to deal with a body of Muslims rather than different maslaks and faith orientations within Muslims who have never ending arguments with each other. The problem is that if such an arrangement of power is made within Muslim society, then only the orthodox Ulema will find space within it.
The recent debate in India on the question of retention or abolition of triple is an important example in this regard. Simply put there are two different positions on this debate. Muslim feminists, progressives of all hues including some Ulema favour the abrogation of triple Talaq due to different reasons ranging from religious to secular. They are arraigned against a belligerent body of Muslim orthodoxy (a silently supported by other religious orthodoxies) who are dead against any change in the existing mode of Muslim divorce and argue that it will amount to interference in the Muslim personal law, an Anglo-Muḥammadan law which they think is akin to a sacred canon.
An acerbic attack has been launched by the orthodox on those who want change within the personal law of Muslims, particularly revocation of triple Talaq, Nikah Halala and polygamy. Since the movement for the revocation of these practices has been led primarily by Muslim women, they are at the centre of these attacks. Apart from calling them stooges of RSS and the government, some very personal remarks have been passed which only goes on to show that the orthodox would go to any extent to discredit those championing the cause of change within Islamic law. The orthodox has not even spared the government of the day accusing it of trying to subvert the ‘age old’ personal law of Muslims. The fine print in all this is that the orthodox Ulema are convinced that only they are the custodians of Islam in India and consequently only they can opine on what constitutes proper Muslim law and whether any change is possible within it or not.
But this position is absurd to say the least. Islam consciously eschewed the institution of clergy. Any Muslim can lead the prayer as Islam proclaims a direct relationship between Allah and the individual believer. A man or a woman has equal right to offer supplication to the Almighty. Moreover, the very fact that Islam places an obligation on all believers to acquire knowledge can only mean that it does not expect that some Muslims should be more knowledgeable than others. Quran, like most other religious scriptures, has been an open book. Multiple readings of the text have spawned a plurality of denominations within Islam and each of them has their own valid interpretation of Islam. This can only mean that the reading of Quran as is being done by Muslim feminists is as valid as those done by the Ulema. From an Islamic point of view then it is not correct to say that someone’s interpretation of Islam is not valid or untrue. It seems that the Ulema, in their attempt to become the champions’ defenders of Islam have forgotten the simple fact there has never been a singular reading of the Quran which has been acceptable to all Muslims.
This can mean only one thing: that what sections of the Ulema are arguing is patently anti-Islamic. They are innovating against the established traditions which hold that multiple readings of the Quran are possible and are valid. There is a reason why Islam did not establish a clergy in the first place. The Ulema in trying to usurp the role of the clergy are therefore doing a great disservice to the spirit of Islam. Islam’s wisdom and its beauty lies in its plurality and diversity of views. Sadly it is the so called custodians of Islam who are hell bent on destroying this historical and theological heritage.
Arshad Alam is a NewAgeIslam.com columnist

- See more at: http://newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/arshad-alam,-new-age-islam/who-speaks-for-islam-in-india/d/110167#sthash.nRkSLyq8.dpuf

The Donald Trump Phenomenon

By Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, New Age Islam
20 February 2017
Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States on November 8, 2016. During the election campaign as well as after entering the White House, he issued certain harsh statements about Muslim immigrants residing in America. This triggered criticism against Mr. Trump, not only by American Muslims but also from Muslims all over the world. According to Muslims, this development was clearly anti-Muslim and perhaps no Muslim has given a positive response in the matter.
Muslims believe that the Prophet of Islam is a complete model for them. This complete model, however, is not in terms of superiority of the Prophet, but rather in terms of his offering a guiding example in every matter. Whenever Muslims face a situation, it is their responsibility to search for a corresponding example from the life of the Prophet and then act upon it. If the Prophet is a complete model, then his life must provide a model for Muslims in every circumstance they face. There is indeed a model present in Prophet’s life with regard to the current situation as well.
The Prophet of Islam was born in Makkah, where he initiated his mission in 610 AD. After a period of thirteen years, he and his Muslim followers left Makkah for another town called Madinah. In this way, the Prophet and the Companions of the Prophet settled in Madinah as immigrant Muslims. Here they often had to face certain unpleasant situations from some residents of Madinah. For example, a tribal leader of Madinah, Abdullah ibn Ubayy, became a staunch opponent of the Prophet. Although he had pledged allegiance to the Prophet, Ibn Ubayy abhorred to see that immigrants from outside had taken a prominent place in his city.
Ibn Ubayy would often pass humiliating remarks at the Prophet and the Muslims who had come from Makkah. For example, once he made a statement which has been recorded in the Quran in these words: “Indeed, when we return to Madinah, [we] the ones most worthy of honour, will surely drive out from there the contemptible ones!” (63:8). The Quran or the Prophet showed no reaction at these demeaning words. On the contrary when Ibn Ubayy said this, the Quran simply stated: “All honour belongs to God, and to His Messenger and those who believe [in God]: but of this the hypocrites are not aware.” (63:8)
After migration, the Prophet lived in Madinah for ten years. Time and again he would face disparagement from those who had turned hostile to him. For instance, Ibn Ubayy once said to his Madinan followers about the Prophet and the Companions who had come from Makkah: Sammin kalba kayaquluka. It means, “Our example and the example of these Muslims from Makkah is as the saying goes, ‘Feed your dog and it will eat you up!’” (Seerah Ibn Ishaq).In spite of such provocations from Ibn Ubayy, the Prophet did not engage in retaliatory measures nor did he respond verbally to the hurtful talk from Ibn Ubayy and his supporters.
The approach followed by the Prophet and his Companions in this regard can be summed in these words: ‘Take it easy’. Neither did the Prophet take any practical steps nor did he react in words.
What was the reason for this unilateral avoidance on the part of the Prophet? The wisdom behind it was that the Prophet had a positive mission to work towards. Had he reacted to provocation from his opponents, it would have inevitably led to a chain reaction. By not reacting, the Prophet put an end to the provocation in the very first instance. In this manner, he found an opportunity to focus on a higher mission without wasting his time and energy on other issues.
The above policy of the Prophet can be summarized thus: ‘Avoid provocation and continue with your mission in a positive manner.’ This method of the Prophet proved to be successful and the result was that his mission spread peacefully all over Arabia.
The strange response by present-day Muslims is because they have made their Prophet only a matter of pride for their community. Due to this, they have ceased to take him as a role model. It is only by correcting this tendency of ours will we be able to lead an honourable life in this world.
- See more at: http://newageislam.com/islam-and-the-west/maulana-wahiduddin-khan,-new-age-islam/the-donald-trump-phenomenon/d/110179#sthash.vRjUaRrV.dpuf

Friday, February 10, 2017

Now The Die Is Cast, Disallow Hijab, Risk Jail, MURIC Warns

Pakistani Woman Dies in Fake Exorcism , Representative photo, FILE PHOTO © Mohsin Raza / Reuters

Writer Defames Emirati TV Women on Social Media
Threats Stalk Gang-Raped Muslim Women after India's Religious Riots
Results to Be Declared Null And Void in the Absence Of 10% Votes of Women: Pak Minister
Pakistani Woman Dies in Fake Exorcism after Being Brutally Tortured By ‘Healers’
Muzaffarnagar Gang-Rape: Amnesty Report Details Struggles of 7 Muslim Women Who Pressed Charges
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Now The Die Is Cast, Disallow Hijab, Risk Jail, MURIC Warns
FEBRUARY 9, 2017
Following the rejection of stay of execution on the use of Hijab with school uniform in Public schools in Lagos state by the Court a few days ago, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has said any school authority who disallows female Muslim students or pupils from using Hijab risks being jailed for contempt of court. The Director of the group, Professor Ishaq Akintola who described the rejection as “bold, convincing and reassuring, in a statement to Vanguard said the judgment has cemented people’s faith in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man. Asiyat Abdul Kareem (through her father), Moriam Oyeniyi and the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria had won appeal of case CA/L/135/15 against the Lagos State Government on 21st July, 2016 when all the five judges of the Lagos Appeal Court approved the use of hijab in Lagos public schools. The state government immediately approached the Supreme Court to appeal the case and also sought a stay of the execution at the Appeal Court. MURIC however appealed to the state government to allow sleeping dogs to lie. “There is a limit even for official ego. There must come a time when government scoops to allow the general will to prevail. But the law is on the side of the general will this time. “A government installed via democratic process cannot afford to disrespect a court judgment. This latest decision is legally binding and Lagos has no choice. Afterall, it is the center of excellence. According to Akintola: “The honourable path is for the center of excellence to walk its talk. The state government must instruct the Ministry of Education to tell school principals to allow female Muslim children to use hijab in public schools. “Without being immodest, we assure all and sundry that we know our rights. Any school authority who disallows female Muslim students or pupils from using hijab risks being jailed for contempt of court. We have been patient enough. Our children have listened to us. They eschewed violence. They obeyed the rules of decorum. Now the die is cast. “Muslims have been accused severally of resorting to spontaneous violence even though they have always been provoked. But the case is different this time around. Lagos Muslims went to court instead of going violent and the courts have decided. Lagos government must allow the law to take its due course. “Nigerians and indeed the rest of the world must see this as a test case for democracy and the rule of law in Lagos State. We want to know how democratic are our democrats? To be or not to be? That is the question. Whether Lagos will respect the courts and allow the students to use hijab as ordered by the court or whether the grandstanding, the stigmatization, the oppression and persecution will continue is left to be seen. The world is watching, Akintola stated. Read more at: http://www.vanguardngr.com/2017/02/now-die-cast-disallow-hijab-risk-jail-muric-warns/

Writer Defames Emirati TV Women on Social Media
The court adjourned the proceedings to prepare a defence for the next hearing on February 22.
An Abu Dhabi court of misdemeanours has heard a case of a writer who was accused of defamation for using social media to speak against Emirati women who work in the media.
The court adjourned the proceedings to prepare a defence for the next hearing on February 22.
The case is about a group of Emirati women working for local TV channels who lodged a complaint against the writer after he published words of insult, taunt, ridicule, slander and contempt against these women on social media.
The accused testified he writes articles in a local newspaper, where he discusses social issues of interest to the community.

Threats Stalk Gang-Raped Muslim Women after India's Religious Riots
Feb 9, 2017
By Nita Bhalla
NEW DELHI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Three years after religious riots in India, Muslim women who reported being gang raped during the violence are still waiting for their cases to be investigated while facing death threats and harassment for speaking out, Amnesty International said.
More than 60 people were killed and over 50,000 forced to flee from their villages when clashes between majority Hindus and minority Muslims erupted in the state of Uttar Pradesh in September 2013.
Seven Muslim women came forward to report complaints of rape during the riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli districts, but to date there has not been a single conviction, the Indian branch of the rights group said on Thursday.
Over the last three years, two of the women changed their statements following threats. One victim died during child birth in 2016. One case resulted in an acquittal, one trial is currently underway and in two cases, trials have not begun.
"The Uttar Pradesh government has failed to expeditiously investigate and prosecute the cases and deliver justice," said Amnesty International India (AII) in a report.
"Their failures continue to keep the survivors in a state of fear and insecurity, skeptical that they will ever get justice."
Government and police officials from Uttar Pradesh were not immediately available to comment on the reports findings.
The violence was triggered on August 27, 2013 when a Muslim youth was stabbed to death by two Hindu youths after being accused of sexually harassing their sister. A Muslim mob then stoned the two Hindus to death, government officials say.
Neighbours - Hindu and Muslim - turned on one another with machetes and set alight homes and places of worship.
"All three of them threatened me, saying that if I did not do what they asked, they would kill my son. They took turns to rape me," said one of the victims, named as Ghazala in report, who was raped in a sugarcane field in Shamli on Sept. 8, 2013.
Violence between Muslims and Hindus has been a defining feature of Indian politics since the separation of Pakistan in 1947, when hundreds of thousands of people were killed and millions displaced.
AII's research - based on police and court documents and interviews with victims, police and government officials - found that the police refused initially to register the complaints and then failed to investigate allegations.
The slow pace of the justice has meant victims and their families have been threatened and intimidated by the accused, AII said.
Due to India's under-resourced, archaic judicial system long delays in trials are common, but lawyers say delays in this case are due to discrimination against Muslim women who are accusing men from the dominant Hindu Jat majority.
"This is not because the system is inefficient. And it is not because the police and courts do not know how to work," said human rights lawyer Vrinda Grover at the launch of the report.
"This is a matter of institutional bias within the police."
The report comes at a sensitive time as Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous region, begins state elections on Feb. 11.
Religion and caste violence play a central role in politics in Uttar Pradesh and fanning communal tension often brings political gains to parties that claim to protect different religious and caste groups, analysts say.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, Editing by Katie Nguyen. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)

Results to Be Declared Null And Void in the Absence Of 10% Votes of Women: Pak Minister
ISLAMABAD: Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Marriyum Aurangzeb has said that results of elections in any constituency will be declared null and void if less than 10 % votes of women are cast in any constituency. .
She said that concerted and integrated efforts are being made at the federal and provincial levels to provide equal opportunities to the women voters. She was addressing a ceremony in connection with protection of women in Islamabad today. The Minister said the parliamentary committee which is framing the electoral reforms these days has agreed to ensure greater participation of women in the electoral process. A quota is being allocated to enable women to contest elections on direct seats. She said our society is changing and becoming more receptive to the rights of women. Marriyum Aurangzeb said education are the key for the empowerment of women. She said the government has launched education reform programs in the federal capital and currently in the process of reviewing the curriculum. She said efforts are being made to create greater awareness about women related legislation amongst the masses.

Pakistani Woman Dies In Fake Exorcism After Being Brutally Tortured By ‘Healers’
9 Feb, 2017
A woman in Pakistan has died during a fake exorcism, after her 'healers' tied her upside down to a tree, beat her with sticks, and fanned her with smoke and heat.
The incident began after Soraiya Begum, a resident of Dera Ghazi Khan, in Punjab province, began talking to herself.
Her unusual behavior led her husband to believe she had been possessed by 'djinns,' evil spirits described in Muslim mythology.
In an effort to fix the situation, the man contacted people who claimed to be 'pirs,' a word used to describe Muslim saints or holy men. The men said the woman was in need of an exorcism.
But instead of healing the man’s wife, the so-called pirs began a ritual which ultimately led to her death.
That ritual involved tying the woman to a tree and beating her with sticks before hanging her upside down and fanning her with smoke and heat, Geo TV reported.
On seeing the brutality, Begum's husband tried to step in and stop the exorcism, although the pirs paid no attention to his pleas.
Begum was pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital. Her husband has filed a complaint with police, who say they are conducting raids in a search for the men.
Dr. Mohammad Sultan, head of the department of psychiatry at Khyber Medical College Peshawar, told Geo TV that the woman was likely suffering from schizophrenia.
"It is sad that ignorance still prevails in our society about treatable medical conditions where people live normal lives if given the proper medical attention they require," he said.
Sultan went on to add that he "cannot understand" why people go to so-called faith healers rather than taking advantage of qualified psychiatrists who offer free treatment in the area.
The doctor said that people claiming to be pirs "take advantage of the lack of literacy and prey on the ignorant."
It's not the first time that Pakistan's self-proclaimed faith healers have made headlines in the country. Last year a teenage girl died after being tortured and raped during a fake exorcism. The teen was brought to a so-called pir by her mother, who wanted her "psychosis" to be cured so she could receive more marriage proposals, the Deccan Chronicle reported.
A mother and daughter were also killed by a fake pir in 2015, after they were taken to the alleged faith healer by a family member who wanted to rid their bodies of ghosts, Pakistan media outlet The News reported at the time. The false pir allegedly locked them in a room after burning a fire, causing them to suffocate. The women were actually suffering from gastroenteritis, according to autopsy reports.
Muzaffarnagar Gang-Rape: Amnesty Report Details Struggles of 7 Muslim Women Who Pressed Charges
10 Feb 2017
On September 8, 2013, a day after a massive gathering in a village outside Muzaffarnagar city in which Hindu leaders from the dominant Jat community addressed a crowd of over 1,00,000 people to save their Hindu daughters and ‘bahus’ from love jihad, 42-year-old Fatima was sexually violated by four men. The men, who belonged to the Jat community and were known to her, assaulted her in her own house in Fugana.
Yet, when she went to the local police station on September 20 to file an FIR, the police refused to do so. It was on October 9, 2013, when she went to file an FIR for the second time, after she was displaced from her own home, that the police eventually registered an FIR. In August 2014, after the police had filed charges against the accused men, two of the accused told other villagers to pass on a message to her family that they would be killed if she did not withdraw her accusation.
She filed a complaint in August 2014, alleging that the accused lured her with money -- if she complied, they would pay her Rs 15 lakh, and if she does not, she and her family will be killed.
Fatima is one of the seven courageous women who came forward to lodge a complaint in the aftermath of the violence, during which several women were allegedly violated. Intermittent delays and intimidation has marred the investigation.
Fatima’s account forms the leitmotif of the aftermath of the violence that left over 60 people dead, over 200 injured and several women sexually violated. In the three years since the violence erupted, there has not been a single conviction. A report, “Losing Faith: The Muzaffarnagar Gang-rape Survivors’ Struggle for Justice”, released by Amnesty India in Delhi on Thursday, details the cases of seven Muslim women who came forward to press charges.
“Despite changes to India’s laws in 2013 requiring trials in rape cases to be completed without unnecessary delay, trials have proceeded extremely slowly. The state government and successive central governments have also failed to adequately protect the survivors from threats and harassment — which in some cases led to them retracting their statements — and to provide adequate reparation,” read a statement from Amnesty International India.
Even FIRs in the cases were filed as late as February 2014 with the intervention of the Supreme Court after advocate Vrinda Grover submitted a writ petition in the matter. In one case, chargesheet has not been filed yet, and in another, the survivor recanted her statement after continued harassment, stated the report. In two of the cases, charges are not yet framed, while in one, the accused were acquitted. Trial is yet to begin in a case, while in another, a petition seeking the transfer of the case out of Muzaffarnagar was filed in April 2016.
In March 2014, the Supreme Court directed the Uttar Pradesh government to give each of the survivors Rs 5, 00,000 as compensation, in addition to other benefits, within four weeks. Six of the seven survivors received the compensation on May 20, 2014, eight weeks after the Supreme Court ruling, after repeated requests.
Makepeace Sitlhou, part of the Amnesty International India’s team sent to report on the investigation, said that there has been a “deliberate delay”. “In one case, the investigating officer took a complainant and paraded her in a marketplace of shops owned by Jat men as part of investigation,” she said. After a complaint with the National Commission of Minorities, the officer was removed.
She added that there has been little assistance of the survivors, with many of them even having to cook for the constables that guard them. After their displacement, a lot of the women have been pushed to ghettoised colonies in the area, she said.
Activist Rehana Adeeb said that rights workers work under severe pressure to get the women to speak. “There’s pressure from the authorities, from the accused, and even from the Muslim communities,” she said.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, who has been spearheading the legal fight to deliver justice to the victims, recounted several accounts of mischief on part of the accused and their counsels to delay the investigation. In one case, one of the survivors told the court that she does not remember the accused. “This is after she had named the accused in the FIR; she bucked under the continued delay and the absences of any support,” said Grover.
Grover said that the Muzaffarnagar cases were the first in which section 376 (2) (g) of the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, 2013 were applied. Under the amended act, rape committed during communal or sectarian violence will invite a punishment of not lesser than ten years of rigorous imprisonment. The charges were not applied in the original FIRs, leaving a window for the argument around consent, she said.
Arrangement for in-camera recording of rape testimonies was missing from the proceedings, added Grover. “This is also the first instance in my career where I had to request for police protection for my own self,” she said.
As part of its recommendations, Amnesty International India has demanded a vigorous pursuance of the cases to bring justice to the women, an investigation into the threats or harassment of survivors, provision for effective legal assistance and rehabilitation. They have also recommended for a robust law to respond to communal violence, an adequately resourced victim and witness protection programme and comprehensive police reforms.
A second report on the rehabilitation of the survivors will be released in the coming weeks, said Amnesty.

- See more at: http://newageislam.com/islam,-women-and-feminism/new-age-islam-news-bureau/now-the-die-is-cast,-disallow-hijab,-risk-jail,-muric-warns/d/110033#sthash.RFECdR40.dpuf

Egypt's Al-Azhar Entirely Rejects Proposal to End Verbal Divorce

Govt to push for eradication of bigotry in schools, mosques, Indonesian Students read the Quran. Source: AP.
Egypt's Al-Azhar Entirely Rejects Proposal to End Verbal Divorce
Nigeria: Scholars Back Emir Sanusi on Using Mosque as Classes
Indonesia: Govt to Push For Eradication of Bigotry in Schools, Mosques
ISIS Is Reportedly Calling Trump's Travel Ban 'The Blessed Ban'
Canada on Verge of Passing Ominous Anti-‘Islamophobia’ Motion

Arab World
Egypt's Al-Azhar Entirely Rejects Proposal to End Verbal Divorce
More Mass Graves Found In Iraq’s Anbar
New Syrian jihadist alliance vows to step up attacks against army
Russia air strike 'accidentally' kills 3 Turkish troops in Syria
Egypt FM: Relations with Saudi Arabia ‘deeply rooted’
Dozens of Iraqis shot dead as they flee Daesh press gangs
Heavy Infighting Reported among Terrorists in Hama
Saudi Arabia playing positive role against terror: Tatarstan
Nigeria: Scholars Back Emir Sanusi on Using Mosque as Classes
Kenya Court Blocks Govt. Decision To Close World's Largest Refugee Camp
ISS Today: Sailing from Byzantium – Turkey’s venture into Africa
Southeast Asia
Indonesia: Govt to Push For Eradication of Bigotry in Schools, Mosques
Racial and Religious Harmony in Indonesia's Capital Are About to Face a Major Test
Indonesia's police deny they are afraid to tackle hardline Islamic leader
Agus optimistic he will gain support from Muslim voters
Anies-Sandi attend mass prayer, Quran recitation before debate
North America
ISIS Is Reportedly Calling Trump's Travel Ban 'The Blessed Ban'
Canada on Verge of Passing Ominous Anti-‘Islamophobia’ Motion
Haqqani, Taliban Leaders Enjoy Freedom of Actions In Pakistan: US Commander
Collecting Human Rights Prize, Yazidi Lawmaker Calls Travel Ban ‘Unfair’
9/11 mastermind tells Obama attacks were America’s fault
Pitt instructor challenges Islam misconceptions at Murrysville Community Center
Muslim American Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad says she was detained by U.S. Customs
US General Calls for Review of Relationship with Pakistan
US may sanction Iran over Yemen, Hezbollah and Iraq
Don’t Build Walls, Pope Francis Says
Teacher Wins Berlin Compensation Case over Muslim Headscarf
Journalist convicted for bringing Syrian boy to Sweden
Why Forced Secularism in Schools Leads to Polarization
US Report Identifies Discrimination against Minorities in India
Raising New Army In Kashmir, Lashkar Turns To Rural Homes
RSS Leader Arrested For Murder of Convert
Islamabad Says 'Secret Nuclear City' In India; 'A Figment of Pak's Imagination,' Responds Government
Kerala ISIS case: Accused used farming to disguise group’s activities, says NIA
IS link: Zakir Naik's aide chargesheeted
India formally protests to China for blocking ban on Masood Azhar
NHRC offers healing balm to Basbariya Hindu-Muslim rift
IS Pamphlets Create Panic in Kurram Agency
Kidnapped Pakistani Blogger Breaks Silence
Members of UK ‘Sex Gang’ Face Deportation To Pakistan
‘Poliovirus from Afghanistan hampering eradication efforts’
South Asia
Bangladesh Orders Work On Proposed Rohingya Island
11 Taliban Insurgents Killed In Uruzgan Air and Ground Operations
Top US commander says more troops needed in Afghanistan
Who benefits from conflict in Muslim Countries, asks PM Hasina
ISIS leader involved in major Kabul attacks is killed: ARG
Ghani, Trump speaks over phone, discuss issues of mutual interest
32 Killed In Yemen Western Port Clashes
Turkey detains 4 ISIS suspects, seizes 24 suicide attack belts
Yemen keeps counter-terrorism operations with US despite raid
Iranians stage nationwide rallies to mark anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution
World seeing old US enmity towards Iran under Trump: Tehran
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau

Egypt's Al-Azhar Entirely Rejects Proposal to End Verbal Divorce
Cairo — Egypt's largest religious institution, Al Azhar, has thrown its weight behind the view that ending verbal divorce is both inadmissible and would not necessarily reduce divorce rates as proposed two weeks ago by the president.
Verbal divorce refers to undocumented divorce. Muslim men can divorce their wives without having to resort to legal justification or consult a court or cleric under the current law, prerogatives not enjoyed by Muslim women.
Al Azhar Observer, responsible for issuing expert opinion on matters, announced on Wednesday its concurrence with Azhar's highest clerical authority, Council of Senior Scholars', view regarding the inadmissibility of ending the practice of "verbal divorce".
The Council of Senior Scholars of Al Azhar declared on Sunday that verbal divorce is applicable and compliant with Sharia law. The Council advised that divorce should be documented as soon as it occurs in order to safeguard the divorced woman's rights as well as her children's rights.
The Observer added in its statement that a proposed draft law that imposes punishment for whoever does not document the divorce once it occurs verbally should be seriously considered.
Human rights defender Intessar al-Saeed held the view that legally obligating the documentation of divorce is necessary to safeguard women's rights, however it will not reduce divorce rates, as this is an issue "that requires studies by sociology experts."
Discussion on the subject was sparked on the 65th Police Day anniversary, when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi suggested that verbal divorce should not be authorised and left the issue in the hands of Al Azhar to decide on the validity of such matter. From there discussions led to Al Azhar's Sunday statement, which affirmed the validity of verbal divorce.
The president's suggestion to end verbal divorce by law stems from the current phenomenon of high divorce rates over recent years.
During his speech, Sisi said, "I asked the head of Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAMPAS) about the number of marriages that are authorized and he told me 900 thousand [per year] and that 40% of the marriages end up in divorce in the couple's first 5 years of marriage."
The Council of Senior Scholars then replied to the president saying, "The act of not documenting verbal divorce will have negative consequences on the divorced woman and her legal rights."
The Scholars followed up by claiming that making verbal divorce illegal will make no difference in reducing the divorce rate because if a husband who divorces verbally cannot take marriage seriously, he will not bother to go to the authorised religious figure to undergo the divorce process. The right move, however, in Azhar's opinion, is to combat the increasing divorce rates through public awareness campaigns with the cooperation of the media and religious figures.
The Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAMPAS) said in a study in September 2016 that divorce rates have increased in the past two decades in Egypt. The rate in 2015 increased by 83 per cent compared to that of 1996.
(Writing by Shorouk Fahmy, editing by Nourhan Fahmy)

Nigeria: Scholars Back Emir Sanusi On Using Mosque As Classes
Kano, Gombe and Bauchi — The Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, at an event Tuesday, advised northern governors to use mosque facilities to offer primary education instead of constructing more classrooms, especially in view of current economic crunch.
Reacting to the suggestion yesterday, most scholars backed the idea, advising, however, that mosques are sacred places that must be treated as such.
Renowned Islamic Scholars in Sokoto State, Dr. Mansur Ibrahim and Dr. Muhammad Sani Jos spoke for right interpretation of the suggestion.
Citing examples with missionary schools owned by churches, Dr. Ibrahim said, "We have some parents who cannot afford to send their children even to public schools but if we can have these schools managed by our mosques, such parents would send their children there."
On his part, Dr. Sani said Emir Sanusi II could only have meant putting classrooms around the mosques or utilizing mosques' facilities for education delivery and not outright conversion of mosques for primary education.
In Jigawa State, the Chief Imam of Takur Adu'a Commercial Central Mosque in Dutse, Imam Aminu Baba Waziri, said there was no harm in using mosques for human development, as mosques had long been used not only for worship but for other useful purposes.
Similarly, an Islamic Scholar and Imam of Masjidurrahmah Mosque in Bauchi, Malam Ibrahim Adam Disina said the idea of using mosques to teach children was good as long as the etiquettes regarding the sanctity of the mosques were observed.
He said in the history of Islam, mosques had served as schools, as courts as well as places where Islamic affairs were discussed. "Mosques are centres of learning," he asserted, adding, "Most of the renowned Islamic universities like Al-Azhar and many of its contemporaries were mosques before. So, teaching children in mosques is not a new thing in Islam."
He cautioned, however that certain measures must be taken to avoid things that might jeopardize the sanctity of the mosque as a place of worship.
The Muslim Council of Nigeria in Adamawa State views the idea as workable. The Secretary of the Council, Ismaila Modibbo Umaru said classes could hold in the mosques as suggested by the emir.
He Muslim communities could do well to support the educational system. "During the time of the Prophet, mosques were centres of learning and scholarship, so our mosques can be used as classes so long as their sanctity will be respected as places of worship," he said.
In Gombe State, the Chief Imam of Miyetti Jumu'at Mosque in the state capital Gombe, Sheikh Adam Albani, said the first ever school during the time of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him), was his mosque in Madina. He said leaving the mosques unkempt after the children close from school would be the problem, not using them as classrooms.
On his part, the Chief Imam of Gombe State University (GSU), Dr. Tahir Inuwa Ibrahim, expressed the view however that there could be a problem because fund would still be needed to add structures to regular mosque buildings.
In Kaduna State, the Chairman of the Council of Imams and Ulama, Shiekh Usman Babantune said using mosques to offer primary education instead of constructing more classrooms wwould not work in Nigeria.
He said, "There are certain categories of people that are expected to enter the mosques, including children who are disciplined and have good upbringing because it is a holy place. Maybe the Emir is comparing Nigeria with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries where children are taught inside the mosque. But in such countries, children are taught at an early age how to behave in the mosque and other holy places, so they grow up with that perception and have that discipline and they can easily receive education inside the mosque."
Yusha'u A. Ibrahim, Haruna Gimba Yaya, Balarabe Alkassim, Maryam Ahmadu-Suka

Indonesia: Govt to push for eradication of bigotry in schools, mosques
10th February 2017  
STRICT guidelines on Islamic educators and preachers will soon be implemented in Indonesia in a push by government to quash bigotry and maintain religious harmony in the country.
According to Jakarta Post, the Religious Affairs Ministry has announced policies that require all Islamic education teachers in public and private schools to have a Bachelor’s degree in Islamic Studies, as well as for preachers to follow guidelines on what they are not allowed to say in Friday sermons.
The move comes after a number of studies showed that the majority of Islamic educators were themselves intolerant.
A 2016 study by the Center for the Study of Islam and Society (PPIM) (reported by the Jakarta Post) revealed that 87 percent of Islamic education teachers were opposed to the appointment of non-Muslims as school principals, and nearly 90 percent of them refused to vote for non-Muslims as mayors or regents.
A troubling 78 percent of Islamic education teachers also supported organisations that demanded the implementation of sharia law in the country.
The ministry’s Islamic education director-general Komaruddin Amin told Jakarta Post that the ministry plans to distribute circulars to regional administrations and schools, requesting they no longer employ people without the appropriate qualifications.
“All teachers with insufficient educational backgrounds must be replaced. To avoid [students] being misled, we must not entrust those who are lacking competence to teach religious education,” he said.
Indonesia is currently experiencing a shortage of Islamic education teachers with 230,000 schools in need of one, according to the ministry (as reported by Jakarta Post), but the Indonesian Islamic Education Teachers Association (AGPAII) believes this policy is important as several of their members do not have formal education in Islamic studies and they fear this may be why they have failed to understand the need of promoting tolerance.
Another target of the ministry’s strategy is religious sermons being delivered in mosques.
The ministry has stressed that it will not directly intervene as it is not their “domain” but will work with mainstream Muslim clerics to create guidelines to act as a reference point for preachers on what they can and cannot say.
The move comes after complaints from some Muslims surfaced expressing concern that Friday sermons in several mosques had been inaccurate and inflammatory.
There have been mixed responses from Muslim scholars, with some criticising the move saying the government should not be telling preachers what they can say. Many others, however, have come out in support believing that the government is only trying to ensure that preachers are competent.
This should be welcome news in a country in which underlying religious and ethnic tensions have been in the spotlight recently.
Concerns about rising hardline Islamic sentiment have grown since Christian Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama was accused of blasphemy by hardline Muslim groups back in November of last year.
He has since been charged and is undergoing trial despite maintaining his position as a candidate in the ongoing Jakarta gubernatorial race.
More than 150,000 Muslims took to the streets of Jakarta in protest of the governor despite reports that Ahok’s supposedly inflammatory comments were in fact edited out of context and no offence was intended.
Some analysts believe that the decision to pursue the case against Ahok was a blow to democracy and diversity, as well as a test to Indonesia’s secular foundations.

ISIS is reportedly calling Trump's travel ban 'the blessed ban'
Feb 10, 2017
The terrorist group ISIS has reportedly branded President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration "the Blessed Ban" as it seemingly proves that the West is at war with Islam.
New York Times terrorism correspondent Rukmini Callimachi reported from Iraq that ISIS has been talking about Trump's travel ban, which bars refugees and citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries — identified as hot spots for terrorism — from entering the US.
"I reported here in Nov/Dec of last year," Callimachi tweeted on Wednesday. "Guess what's different on this trip? Everywhere I go, Iraqis want to ask about the visa ban."
Callimachi is in Mosul, ISIS' stronghold in Iraq that is slowly being liberated from the terrorist group.
She said a resident of western Mosul, which is still under ISIS control, told her translator in a phone call that ISIS is also discussing the ban.
"The resident said ISIS has been openly celebrating the ban," Callimachi tweeted. "They've even coined a phrase for it: الحظر المبارك — or 'The Blessed Ban.'"
Callimachi explained why: "ISIS sees this as *their* doing. They succeeded in scaring the daylight out of America."
"ISIS, according to this resident of Western Mosul, thinks their terror tactic worked. They frightened the most powerful man in the world," Callimachi said, referring to Trump.
ISIS has been silent on the ban on its official propaganda channels, but the group's supporters have been cheering it online. And the Pentagon noted on Tuesday that many Iraqi ISIS fighters are now trapped in western Mosul, the area of the city that Callimachi's source is from.
Terrorism experts opposed to the ban have said it will end up helping ISIS recruit more people as it pushes its message that the West is at war with Islam. US legal actions that seem to target Muslims could play into that narrative.
"The [ISIS] chatrooms have been abuzz about how this shows that there is a clash of civilizations, that Muslims are not welcome in America etc.," Mia Bloom, a terrorism expert and professor at Georgia State University, told Business Insider via email last week.
Callimachi notes that ISIS' language is similar to that used by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of ISIS' predecessor group Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Zarqawi "called the 2003 invasion of Iraq 'the Blessed Invasion,'" Callimachi said.
Trump defended the travel ban in a rambling speech to the National Sheriffs' Association on Wednesday morning. He accused judges of trying to overturn the executive order because of politics and pointed to immigration law that seems to support his travel ban.
"I think our security is at risk today, and it will be at risk until such time we are entitled and get what we are entitled to as citizens of this country," he said. "We want security. One of the reasons I was elected is because of law and order and security."

Canada on verge of passing ominous anti-‘Islamophobia’ motion
Feb 9, 2017
There is an ominous government development in favor of Islam north of the U.S. border.
A motion that threatens to later lead to a crushing of some core freedoms of all Canadians, resulting in an Islamist-favoring state next to the U.S., appears poised to overwhelmingly pass the House of Commons. This is happening at a time when the country's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, a firm internationalist, is far more amenable to Islam than any prime minister in the nation's history.
Parliamentary Motion M-103 is designed to advance the goal of adding to Canada’s hate crimes laws the undefined crime of “Islamophobia,” which would protect all Muslims and Islam itself from any criticism related to that religion and its Shariah law. The motion has been proposed by Islamic Member of Parliament Iqra Khalid.
All parties so far have indicated they will unanimously vote for M-103. Its passage in the House of Commons on February 16 would in effect set Canada on the path to imposing a form of Islamic Sharia blasphemy law on all of Canada.
The federal House of Commons motion would likely lead to extraordinary, historically unprecedented special protections for the tenets of one religion in Canada, Islam, a religion radically different from and, with some exceptions, generally very hostile to Christianity and all other religions as directed by later verses in the Koran.
The Canadian media source that has provided the most significant critical coverage of the M-103 development has been the online conservative news source, TheRebel.media. The staff of RebelMedia come from the former Sun Media television network. Most other, politically correct Canadian media have so far largely ignored or downplayed the alarming significance and dangers of M-103. Canada has relatively little diversity in news media reporting compared to its U.S. neighbor.
However, Wednesday’s main editorial in Canada’s National Post, by regular columnist Barbara Kay, a Jewish women, did express fear about the motion. Kay wrote,
“What I fear is that MP Iqra Khalid, who tabled M-103, may understand Islamophobia to mean what its original promoters, the 56 Muslim-majority bloc if the United Nations known as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), say it means. The OIC wants to see the Cairo declaration on human rights become the template for Islamophobia policies everywhere [in the world]. The Cairo Declaration asserts the superiority of Islam and defines freedom of speech according to Shariah law, which considers any criticism of Muhammad blasphemy.”
Kay also expressed her concerns in a February 7 article in the Post, “How long until my honest criticism of Islamism constitutes a speech crime in Canada?”
See Barbara Kay calmly further explain her fears and concerns in this RebelMedia video presentation:
Fundamentalist Islam (Islamism) was almost entirely foreign to Canada until large-scale Muslim immigration began only a few decades ago.
Experts say that it is more than just a religion. Islam has its own harsh - some label it “totalitarian” - legal code that governs the entire daily life of Muslims. Islamist Muslims give Shariah laws priority over secular state laws that may be in place in non-Islamist nations. In Islamist nations Shariah imposes severe penalties, including severe beatings or death sentences, for those who leave Islam, criticize it or violate its moral codes. In many Islamist nations it also poses mortal dangers to all non-Muslims.
The political religion of Islam, as followed by Islamist (fundamentalist) Muslims, has numerous aspects that violate traditional Canadian democratic and free speech principles and most of the rights provided for Canadians in their Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Not all Muslims follow the harsher, medieval proscriptions of Shariah from which they fled in their former repressive, violence-prone Islamist countries. That is to say, not all Muslims are Islamists, but too many are. See Muslims vs Islamists. Non-Islamist Muslims tend to more consistently be good citizens and positive contributors to Canada.
The Toronto Sun also published an article critical of M-103. Anthony Furey wrote,
“But Islamophobia soon morphed into a catch-all phrase to silence anyone critical of the religion. This applied even if they were denouncing extremism like Shariah law or groups like the Muslim Brotherhood.
It’s now become so bad that it’s even hurled at liberal Muslims in the West for speaking out against the ultra-orthodox values that caused them to flee their home countries in the first place. The term has been rendered meaningless and anyone serious about tackling genuine religious discrimination should toss it aside.
Yet now Canada’s MPs are poised to approve a motion that could very well set the government on the path to criminalizing so-called Islamophobia. This is nothing but trouble for anyone who takes issue with the unsavoury aspects of orthodox Islam.”
Furey notes about M-103,
“Scratch below the surface and it’s immediately clear this is hardly about religious discrimination in general. It singles out Islamophobia by name and nothing else. There’s no mention of, say, anti-Semitism at all.”
He continues, “This is an attempt to silence rational critics of political Islam.” He concludes, "There’s certainly evidence of an increasing climate of hate in Canada ... coming from within Islam. Supremacist groups like the Brotherhood and Hizb ut-Tahrir have a rising presence here. And yet this motion could handcuff us from standing up to them."
The Rebel Media’s Faith Goldy is an investigative journalist and Christian opponent of M-103. In “Free Speech, Not Sharia!” Goldy explains the dangers of M-103 and passionately appeals to Canadians to contact their MPs demanding that they oppose the motion:
Last January [2015], Khalid met with board members of Palestine House in Mississauga (near Toronto) and a “large number of members of the Palestinian  community,” including Palestinian political activists. Palestine House supports the Palestinian al-Quds Intifada, and its settlement program was defunded by the former Conservative Harper government  for allying itself with terrorism…..
See also Rebel Media video: "Trudeau's political pandering to radical Muslims."
Motion M-103: That, in the opinion of the House, the government should: (a) recognize the need to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear; (b) condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination and take note of House of Commons’ petition e-411 and the issues raised by it; and (c) request that the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage undertake a study on how the government could (i) develop a whole-of-government approach to reducing or eliminating systemic racism and religious discrimination including Islamophobia, in Canada, while ensuring a community-centered focus with a holistic response through evidence-based policy-making, (ii) collect data to contextualize hate crime reports and to conduct needs assessments for impacted communities, and that the Committee should present its findings and recommendations to the House no later than 240 calendar days from the adoption of this motion, provided that in its report, the Committee should make recommendations that the government may use to better reflect the enshrined rights and freedoms in the Constitution Acts, including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Arab World

More mass graves found in Iraq’s Anbar
Feb 9, 2017
Iraqi soldiers have found two mass graves containing the bodies of people slaughtered by the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group during the extremists’ control of a desert town west of the country.
“The Iraqi army found two mass graves in Rutbah containing the bodies of members of the security forces and of civilians,” a captain in the army's 1st division said Thursday.
Rutbah, a small town in Anbar Province, was retaken from Daesh in May last year.
The military official said the graves could have been dug as soon as Daesh took control of the town in mid-2014 and began executing civilians and security forces to wreak havoc.
The mayor of Rutba, situated about 390 kilometers west of Baghdad, said one of the graves was located in central parts of the city which used to dump waste and the other was discovered on a southern neighborhood.
Imad Meshaal said more than two dozen could be dumped in the graves, adding that the bodies have “bullet impacts.”
“We don't know the exact number of bodies because we are leaving this work to a forensic team but we expect there are about 25,” he said.
Rutba was a strategic location for Daesh terrorists due to its location on the road to Jordan.
Iraq managed to liberate key areas in the sprawling Anbar Province from Daesh last year, including the capital of Ramadi and the city of Fallujah, which is near Baghdad.
File photo shows Iraqi soldiers regroup on the front line against the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group near Fallujah, in Iraq's Anbar Province. (Photo by AFP)
After liberating key areas in Anbar, Iraqi forces began a long-anticipated operation to purge terrorists from Mosul, the country’s second largest city which was captured by the Takfiris in the summer of 2014.
The Iraqi military and allies have fully liberated the eastern part of the Mosul and the battle continues for the recapture of the neighborhoods on the western edge of the Tigris River.
Iraq has discovered dozens of mass graves in areas that have been retaken from Daesh.

New Syrian jihadist alliance vows to step up attacks against army
Feb 10, 2017
The head of a new alliance of Syrian Islamist factions, including a former affiliate of al Qaeda, has promised to escalate attacks against the Syrian army and its Iranian-backed allies with the goal of toppling President Bashar al-Assad.
Hashem al-Sheikh, leader of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which was formed last month, also said in his first video speech that the new grouping sought to "liberate" all of Syria's territory.
"We assure our people that we will begin our project by reactivating our military action against the criminal regime and we will raid his barracks and positions and wage a new battle of liberation," he said.
Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, or Body for the Liberation of the Levant, was created from a merger of Jabhat Fateh al Sham - formerly al Qaeda's Nusra Front - and several other groups.
The jihadist alliance has enlisted thousands of fighters who have defected in recent weeks from more moderate Free Syrian Army rebel groups, angered by their leaders' readiness to engage in a peace process with Assad's government.
Days before the alliance came into being, heavy fighting erupted in northwestern Syria between Fateh al Sham and more moderate rebel groups, threatening to further weaken the opposition to Assad in its biggest territorial stronghold.
Full report at:

Russia air strike 'accidentally' kills 3 Turkish troops in Syria
Feb 10, 2017
ISTANBUL: Three Turkish soldiers were "accidentally" killed and 11 wounded on Thursday when a Russian air strike targeting jihadists in Syria hit a building where the troops were deployed, the Turkish army said.
With Moscow and Ankara cooperating ever more closely on Syria, President Vladimir Putin quickly reached out to Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan to express condolences and promise better future coordination.
The Russian plane had been seeking to hit targets of Islamic State (IS) jihadists but "by accident three of our heroic soldiers were martyred when a building was bombed where our units were," the Turkish army said in a statement.
It said that of the 11 injured, one was badly wounded.
Putin contacted Erdogan to express his "sadness and condolences," it added.
"Russian officials have said that the incident was an accident," the army said, adding an investigation is being carried out by both sides.
In Moscow, the Kremlin said Putin had offered Erdogan his condolences and that the leaders had "agreed to enhance military coordination" in the fight against IS in Syria.
It said the incident took place in the flashpoint IS-held town of Al-Bab where both countries have been conducting air strikes.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian strike took place on Thursday morning due to a "lack of agreement of coordinates during strikes by the Russian air force."
Both sides appeared keen to move on from the incident, as was the case when an off-duty Turkish policeman shot dead Russia's ambassador to Ankara Andrei Karlov on December 19 in a crime that shocked both countries.
Then, Ankara allowed Russian investigators to work in Turkey and also gave the slain ambassador the honour of a ceremony on the tarmac of Ankara airport before his corpse was airlifted back to Russia.
The Russian defence ministry said Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov and Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar had in a call "agreed on closer coordination of joint actions".
Turkey had on August 24 began an unprecedented campaign inside Syria against IS and Kurdish militia which initially made rapid progress but has become mired in a deadly fight for the IS held town of Al-Bab since December.
The incident came with new CIA chief Mike Pompeo in Ankara for talks with Turkish officials on issues including Syria, on his first foreign visit since the inauguration of US President Donald Trump.
The fight for Al-Bab has been by far the bloodiest yet of Turkey's incursion inside Syria but the authorities have vowed to press on until its capture despite a mounting casualty toll.
Before Thursday's casualties were reported, the Dogan news agency said 66 Turkish soldiers have now been killed in the Syria operation since it began in August, mostly in attacks by IS.
Turkey and Russia have been on sharply opposing sides in the Syria conflict, with Moscow supporting the regime of President Bashar al-Assad but Ankara pushing for his ouster as the key to peace.
Full report at:

Egypt FM: Relations with Saudi Arabia ‘deeply rooted’
9 February 2017
Egypt's Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry stressed that relations with Saudi Arabia are strong and “deeply rooted”, denying claims of tensed ties between Cairo and Riyadh.
Shoukry said both countries are able to carry on with positive relations, as he spoke during a press conference in Amman, adding that communication channels between both countries had never closed, as quoted by AhramOnline.
Last year, just before Kins Salman’s trip to Egypt, Shoukry said that Saudi Arabia and Egypt have coordinated efforts in combatting multiple issues, especially on security.
Full report at:

Dozens of Iraqis shot dead as they flee Daesh press gangs
Feb 9, 2017
Takfiri Daesh militants have shot dead dozens of young men trying to flee the western quarter of Mosul to avoid being forced into the terrorist group’s ranks as Iraqi government forces and allies are preparing for a new stage of operations in the strategic northern city.
Local residents told English-language newspaper The Times on Thursday that at least 45 people, the youngest just 16 years old, were murdered by Daesh extremists this week.
The first mass killing happened on Monday, when 40 young men tried to swim from a partially destroyed bridge to government-held territory on the eastern bank of the Tigris River. Another five were shot dead the next day attempting the same escape.
The report added that the bodies of the victims were handed back to their relatives as a warning.
Abu Muqdad, from the Daesh-held al-Shifaa neighborhood, said four members of his family, including his nephew, had been shot dead.
“Daesh is trying to recruit young men by force. Many young people refused to join Daesh and like my nephew tried to escape. They wanted to swim to safety, but they were captured and executed immediately,” he said.
At least 750,000 civilians are estimated to be living under Daesh control in western Mosul. Many local residents are going through severe shortages of food and medicines, and are desperate to leave as the final battle for the liberation of Mosul is looming.
'Daesh's days are numbered'
“Life has become very hard. People are starving and waiting impatiently to get rid of Daesh. Daesh is watching people and trying to find any excuse to punish them,” Sammi Latif, another resident, said.
He added, “They know their days are numbered so they want to kill as many people as possible before they are defeated. The biggest crime for them today is fleeing toward the Iraqi army. The militants have the order to execute people without trial.”
Iraqi army soldiers, supported by pro-government fighters from the Popular Mobilization Units – commonly known by the Arabic name Hashd al-Sha’abi – and Kurdish Peshmerga forces, launched a joint operation on October 17, 2016 to retake Mosul from Daesh terrorists.
Full report at:

Heavy Infighting Reported among Terrorists in Hama
Feb 09, 2017
According to the sources, Jund al-Aqsa terrorists attacked the Free Syrian Army (FSA) bases in the Northern parts of Kafr Zita city and detained a number of its members.
Also, the terrorist group launched offensive against Jibhat al-Hamamiyat militants, detaining all its members and seizing all their weapons.
Jund al-Aqsa militants also set up outposts in Khan Sheikhoun-Rakaya road and they are on alert now, the sources said.
Jund al-Aqsa militants also took control of Jeish al-Nasr's positions in Kafr Zita in Northern Hama and deployed its forces in the region, detaining several members of Jeish al-Nasr and seizing their weapons and equipment.
Sources close to the terrorists said that the situation in Hama is worrying and Jeish al-Nasr has evacuated its forces from Taybat al-Imam city.
Certain sources affiliated to Liwa al-Aqsa- Jund al-Aqsa branch - also said that a number of Ahrar al-Sham and Heyat al-Tahrir al-Sham have been sent to the countryside of Hama city to fight against Jund al-Aqsa.
In a relevant development in Idlib on Wednesday, the al-Nusra Front (recently renamed to Fatah al-Sham Front) engaged in a fresh round of clashes with Ahrar al-Sham and other Turkey-backed terrorist groups, widening gaps amongst rival terrorists in Northwestern Syria.
A group of terrorists affiliated to the newly-formed Ahrar al-Sham Hay'at (the Levant Liberation Board) entered a government hospital in the town of Ma'arat al-Nu'aman in Idlib province, using force, and took several guards of the medical center that were members of Ahrar al-Sham hostages.
Full report at:

Saudi Arabia playing positive role against terror: Tatarstan
Fouzia Khan
10 February 2017
JEDDAH: Saudi Arabia is playing a positive role in fighting terrorism, Tatarstan President Rustam Minnikhanov said Wednesday.
He led a senior Tatar delegation that met with high-profile Saudi businessmen and leaders of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) at the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
Minnikhanov told Arab News that Tatarstan is doing its utmost against terrorism, and called for joint efforts because terrorism is a global issue.
He said it is important to tackle misconceptions of Islam because it is a peaceful religion.
The Tatar delegation and Saudi businessmen were welcomed by Russian Ambassador Oleg Ozerov and Consul General Ruslan Ramazanov in Jeddah.
Minnikhanov said the Russian federation, of which Tatarstan is a part, has a clear position that terrorism must be jointly fought by all means to preserve civilization.
“We will attempt to continue doing everything possible to further strengthen ties and cooperation between Russia and the Russian people with countries of the Islamic world. Our visit here is taking place in this framework,” he added.
Minnikhanov said the agenda of the trip was to meet with King Salman and other Saudi leaders, as well as ministers, the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and businessmen in order to develop trade and economic ties. “I believe that we are on the path to success,” he added.
Full report at:


Kenya court blocks govt. decision to close world's largest refugee camp
Feb 9, 2017
A court in Kenya has ruled against government's decision to close the world’s biggest refugee camp, saying refugees from Somalia will face serious risks if they are forced to return to the war-torn country.
Judge John Mativo said Thursday that Kenya’s internal security minister abused his power by ordering the closure of Dadaab, a camp near the border with Somalia that hosts more than 300,000 refugees.
Mativo said the minister and other officials had “acted in excess and in abuse of their power, in violation of the rule of law and in contravention of their oaths of office.”
The judge added that the “discriminatory” order violated Kenya’s constitution, adding that the order was also against international treaties that urge protection of refugees against being returned to a conflict zone.
Stressing that Kenya’s government had not proved Somalia is safe for the return of the refugees, Mativo ordered that the government’s refugee department, which processes asylum requests, had to reopen, saying its closure was “null and void.”
Major international rights groups, including Amnesty International, had severely criticized the government of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta for ordering the closure.
This photo taken on July 23, 2011 shows a general view of Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, in eastern Kenya. (Photo by AFP)
The Kenyan government insists that the closure of the camp is necessary to prevent attacks orchestrated by Somalia’s al-Shabab Takfiri militant group, which were allegedly carried out by recruits from Dadaab.
Critics say the government has yet to provide conclusive proof about its claims that the camp has been turned into a recruiting ground for al-Shabab.
Refugees were happy about the court decision, with some saying the measure eased pressure on them, especially after a presidential order in the US, which imposed ban on travel from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia.
Some others said the reopening of Kenya’s refugee department could allow registration of their babies as refugees.
Al-Shabab has claimed several attacks in Kenya, including a 2015 attack on Garissa University that killed 148 people, mostly students. The militant group said the attack was carried out in response to Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia.
Kenya sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants.

ISS Today: Sailing from Byzantium – Turkey’s venture into Africa
10 FEB 2017
Turkey is rather enigmatic at the best of times and even harder to fathom under its current leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Erdoğan’s shifting alliances with great powers in the Syrian conflict, for example, have been especially baffling to many pundits.
The motives of his Africa policy are also not so clear.
It’s true that Turkey has deep historical relations with North Africa, its traditional “Ottoman” hinterland. But it was only from 2005 that Turkey dramatically accelerated relations with sub-Saharan African, after Erdoğan came to power. That year, he secured observer status for Turkey at the African Union (AU).
In 2008, the AU declared Turkey a strategic partner. The first Turkey-Africa summit was held in Istanbul, the second summit in Equatorial Guinea in 2014 and the third is due to take place in Turkey in 2019.
Bilaterally, relations also soared – from 12 Turkish embassies in Africa in 2009 (five of them in North Africa) to the present 39 (plus a consulate-general in self-declared independent Somaliland), with another soon to open in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Conversely the number of African embassies in Ankara grew from about 10 to 32 during the same period.
Turkey’s official development assistance (ODA) to Africa meanwhile grew from only $52-million in 2008 to $783-million in 2013, almost one third of its global ODA. Turkey has also contributed troops and money to seven of the nine United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa.
By almost any measure, Turkey’s advance into sub-Saharan Africa has been remarkable. What’s it all been about?
The Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs offers the rosy suggestion that Turkey is just going home, the Ottoman Empire having been “itself an African state”.
The more prosaic explanation is that Turkey merely joined other big powers in the second scramble for African natural resources and markets.
To an extent, this has paid off. Two-way trade with Africa tripled between 2003 and 2015, to $17.5-billion (though some 65% of this was with North Africa).
In 2000, Turkish foreign direct investment (FDI) in Africa totalled about $750-million. By 2015, it had risen to anywhere between $5- billion and $8.4-billion. Turkish construction companies have profited most, winning over 1,000 projects worth $54-billion, constituting 21% of their international business, in the wake of the drive into Africa.
Even so, these economic returns, especially when one subtracts the North African components, don’t quite seem to justify the large investment in sub-Saharan Africa.
There’s something more than money involved.
Erdoğan is pursuing, also in Africa, his wider ambition of asserting greater Turkish leadership in the world, especially the Sunni world. This sense emerges in particular from his focus on resolving intractable conflicts and bringing development to two Muslim states, Sudan and Somalia.
Erdoğan’s Somalia diplomacy has been particularly remarkable. He has channelled an extraordinary amount of time, effort, money – a total of some $600-million, Ankara says - and, one must add, courage into trying to rescue the world’s most failed state.
In 2011, Erdoğan put his credibility and even his life on the line by becoming the only international leader to visit Mogadishu – opening an embassy there and also inaugurating regular flights by Turkish Airlines.
Turkey also started rebuilding and renovating infrastructure to pave the way to further stability in the country.
Ankara credits Erdoğan’s historic visit to Somalia with creating an “unequalled breakthrough in turning around the fate of this country”, by boosting international confidence in the country and helping to set it on its (precarious) road to democracy.
A little exaggerated, perhaps, and a little premature – but a remarkable effort nonetheless.
By asserting Turkish leadership in Islam, and also simply taking greater cognisance of trans-Saharan Africa, the Islamist Erdoğan distinguishes himself from the long Westward-looking and scrupulously secular Kemalist tradition that preceded him, and with which he is in constant conflict.
Ted Piccone of the Brookings Institution writes in his new book, Five Rising Democracies, that “In many ways Africa has become the laboratory for Turkey’s soft power agenda”.
Incongruously though, much of the soft power which Turkey has projected in Africa has been through the Gülenist movement. This shadowy network, founded and led by the exiled Muslim cleric Fethullah Gülen, strongly supported Erdoğan, politically and financially, and helped him defeat the military secularists until they fell out in 2013.
Erdoğan blamed the Gülenists for the failed military coup attempt against him last July, and he purged thousands of them from all institutions of society.
But meanwhile the Gülenist movement, better known on the continent as Hizmet (the Service) had built up a vast network in Africa. This includes about 110 schools, in 35 countries – mostly with significant Muslim populations – as well as business federations, an aid agency and a media empire.
Few Africans connect all this to Gülen. The schools, for instance, teach the local national curriculum, not an Islamic one and have various names, none of which identify them as Gülenist or Hizmet. Most locals simply call them “the Turkish schools” and value their high academic standards. For many Africans, they are the face of Turkey.
For many years, much of Turkey’s soft power in Africa – including development work, education outreach and business development, was effectively “out-sourced” by Ankara to the Gülenists – as Ertan Aydin, a member of parliament for Erdoğan’s AKP party and his former chief adviser, acknowledged at a seminar on Turkey-South Africa relations in Pretoria last month.
The Gülenists in Africa seem to have no political agenda.
But ever since his fall-out with the Gülenists in Turkey in 2013 – and much more so since the botched July coup – Erdoğan has been going after the various institutions in Africa.
Last month, Erdoğan conducted the latest of many trips to Africa, visiting Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar. One of his main aims was to urge the governments of those countries to shut down the alleged "terrorist" networks.
Full report at:

Southeast Asia

Racial and Religious Harmony in Indonesia's Capital Are About to Face a Major Test
Feb 09, 2017
In Kopi Es Tak Kie, a small café in Jakarta’s Chinese quarter, Glodok, the singsong of myriad Chinese dialects has for decades mingled with the more staccato Bahasa Indonesia. The business opened in 1927 as a street stall dispensing steaming mugs of coffee brewed from local java beans. After 10 years, it moved into its current whitewashed premises, where customers huddle around Formica tables to gossip beneath the din of clattering crockery.
Regulars whisper that Indonesia’s top gangsters used to congregate here to slurp noodles and to plot. Recently, though, the clientele has turned significantly more salubrious: photos of Joko Widodo, the Indonesian President popularly known as Jokowi, pepper the walls.
“He always has black coffee and local snacks like tempe [soybean cake],” says Latif Yulus, 67, whose grandfather opened Tak Kie after emigrating from China’s southern Guangdong province. “Jokowi is a nice person, patient; he speaks slowly and listens carefully.”
But what the President would have heard emanating from the streets of Jakarta recently grates with the cultural harmony on show at Tak Kie.
A virulent Islamist movement led by the Islamic Defenders Front (known after its Indonesian initials as the FPI) has taken to the streets in an attempt to oust Jakarta's governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. Popularly known by his Hakka nickname Ahok, the ethnic Chinese Christian previously served as deputy governor under Jokowi, whom he succeeded when Jokowi became President.
Ahok is now standing for another term, hoping to win a mandate in his own right. However, the FPI insists that no Christian — especially a Chinese one — should lead the capital of world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, citing a Quranic verse that warns against allying with Christians and Jews. The issue is particularly charged because the high-profile gubernatorial job is seen as a stepping-stone to national politics.
The FPI's campaign threatens to drive a wedge between Indonesia’s Muslim majority and its 3 million ethnic Chinese citizens. The famously blunt-speaking Ahok did not help the situation when he told a crowd on Sept. 27: “Ladies and gentlemen, you don’t have to vote for me — because you’ve been lied to by those using [the Quran’s] Surah al-Maidah verse 51. That’s your right.”
Ahok's citation of a Quranic verse, and his disputation of the hard-line interpretation of it, infuriated the FPI. A doctored recording of the governor’s speech — carefully edited to amplify the outrage of protesters — went viral. Led by firebrand cleric Habib Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, the FPI accused Ahok of blasphemy and organize three massive protests that paralyzed downtown Jakarta. Another is slated for Saturday.
The FPI is demanding that Ahok be jailed and also that Jokowi step down, since as his party is endorsing Ahok’s candidacy. Jokowi has met with FPI leaders in an attempt to quell their rancor, though many say this act simply legitimized their complaints.
Ahok has appeared in court to fight blasphemy charges while simultaneously campaigning for office in polls slated for Feb. 15. He is the most senior official ever to be charged with the offense and could face five years in prison. The blasphemy case, and the gubernatorial election, are being billed as a litmus test for Indonesia’s young, secular democracy, which is increasingly under threat from a radical Islamist right.
"The Ahok issue has been a rallying point that has brought many different strands [of radical Islam] together," Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, tells TIME. "That is why the demonstrations have been so big."
And increasingly militant. “The FPI is not a solid organization with one command system, like the police or military,” Indonesia’s national police chief Tito Karnavian tells TIME. “In Central Java, they have members who are also supporting ISIS groups.”
At one recent FPI demonstration outside the Jakarta Police Headquarters, many protesters appeared in camouflage gear. One jacket bore an embroidered AK-47 and the rubric “Defend Palestine.”
“The leader of Jakarta must be Muslim because he must give direction to the people,” said protester Muhammad Mahdi, 33. “But how can Ahok if he doesn’t follow our [Shari‘a] laws?”
Since the end of colonial rule in 1945, Indonesia’s leaders have sought to guard against religious extremism by rooting governance in the state ideology of Pancasila — belief in one God, a just and civilized humanity, national unity, democracy through deliberation, and social justice for all. But groups like FPI want to implant Shari‘a in Indonesia, placing religious doctrine above the rules written by government and courts.
“The Chinese community worry because FPI are growing bigger and more powerful,” says Latif. “We know that the FPI likes to attack people, sweeping businesses.”
Sweeping refers to the harassment of business owners by groups like the FPI, who seek to stop behavior that is contrary to Shari’a, such as the sale of alcohol or the employment of female staff who are not dressed according to conservative Muslim codes. The practice has often been employed by business rivals, who pay mobs under the cloak of Islamic righteousness, disguising what are essentially hoodlums for hire.
FPI’s own sweeping has even extended to shops that requested Muslim employees to don Santa hats in the run-up to Christmas. In cosmopolitan Jakarta, there are no end of potential targets. In Glodok market, rows of char siu pork hang outside shops selling Chinese liquor, as well as the tangerine trees, lanterns and trinkets synonymous with China’s Taoist Spring Festival.
Indonesia’s Chinese population has fallen victim to repeated pogroms over the years, most savagely in 1965 when an failed leftist coup against the dictator Sukarno sparked an anticommunist purge that claimed, depending on estimates, up to 2 million lives — predominantly of ethnic Chinese, irrespective of their political affiliation.
That massacre helped usher in the reign of similarly autocratic President Suharto, who put proscriptions on Chinese language and festivals. However, the “father of development” also cut business deals with Chinese tycoons; at his fall in 1998, Indonesia’s largest conglomerates were all controlled by ethnic Chinese.
More anti-Chinese riots followed Suharto’s toppling and, if left unchecked, many fear the actions of Islamist groups like FPI could trigger a bloody repeat. Especially as FPI’s anti-Ahok rhetoric has been echoed by secular, right-wing nationalists who fear the exploitation of Indonesian natural resources by Chinese firms, which they even accuse of inculcating a fifth column to spread communism.
“An alliance between the ultranationalist right and the hard-line Muslims could create more anti-Chinese sentiment than we’ve seen here since 1998,” says Jones.
Although most Chinese Indonesians are, like Latif, small-scale traders, and some are very poor indeed, there is a perception among many Indonesians that the community is fabulously wealthy. There are bitter complaints of reverse discrimination — apocryphal tales, for instance of even poor Chinese securing bank loans with greater easy than aristrocratic Javanese or Sumatrans.
Ahok’s rise has led to an unfortunate resurgence in these sorts of racial tensions and in identity politics. In early November, former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, whom Jokowi replaced, warned that Indonesia would “burn with the anger of those seeking justice” unless Ahok was prosecuted. (Yudhoyono’s presidential term, from 2004 to 2014, corresponded with an emboldening of Islamist movements hobbled during the postcolonial authoritarian period. Not entirely coincidentally, Yudhoyono’s son Agus is running against Ahok for the post of Jakarta governor and appears a chief beneficiary of the FPI’s ire.)
Until the blasphemy controversy erupted, Ahok looked certain to win re-election. The grandson of a Guangdong tin miner, he has won plaudits for cutting through red tape since assuming Jakarta’s top job in 2014. The city’s previously opaque finances are now published online, and he nixed a stalled — though increasingly expensive — monorail system, instead fast-tracking a Light Transit Rail project. Construction for the latter is ongoing throughout the sprawling city of 30 million that accounts for a sixth of national GDP, but where infamous snarled traffic is a tremendous drag on productivity.
Ahok has also developed a reputation as a straight talker with no tolerance for corruption or incompetence. City residents speaks in glowing terms to TIME of being able to contact their local authorities through social-media accounts set up by Ahok in order to report illegal trash piles (another notorious Jakarta problem) and then to see them miraculously cleared away. Videos of Ahok berating inept transport officials have gone viral, striking a cord with many tired by decades of endemic corruption, though his famously blunt style has also made him enemies beyond FPI.
Ahok’s program of bulldozing slums and rehousing the occupants elsewhere is rife with accusations of inadequate consolation and compensation. “Ahok has this image of the city becoming like Singapore — a clean, sanitized streetscape with concrete rivers,” says Elisa Sutanudjaja, the director of the Jakarta-based Rujak Center for Urban Studies and noted Ahok critic. “And with that view in mind he tried to clean out these communities.”
Sutanudjaja, who is also ethnic Chinese, blames Ahok for sowing communal division with his brusque manner. “Public officials have a certain standard not to provoke or offend people,” she says. “It’s not related to his ethnicity but about his position as a public official. It’s like having Donald Trump saying ridiculous things.”
Nevertheless, latest polls published by the newspaper Kompas on Thursday put Ahok at eight percentage points ahead of rivals. Whether he can stay out of jail is another story. But for now, it looks like Jakartans are rejecting the FPI’s invective.
A lot of Chinese aren't buying into identity politics either. “I still don’t know who I will vote for,” says Latif, hilariously. “Ahok is too loud, too rude. A lot of Chinese people don’t like him.”

Indonesia's police deny they are afraid to tackle hardline Islamic leader
Jewel Topsfield
JANUARY 16 2017
Jakarta: About 5000 members of the Islam Defenders' Front (FPI) turned up outside Indonesian police headquarters on Monday morning, to demand the removal of West Java's police chief.
But if the group, once considered fringe radicals, have become increasingly vocal, it is their leader, firebrand cleric Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, who some fear may have become too powerful for the police to touch.
Widely known as Habib Rizieq, he is being investigated over multiple reports of alleged blasphemy and slander, including his outlandish claim that the 100,000 rupiah note contains an image of the hammer and sickle, which is illegal in Indonesia.
A daughter of Indonesia's first president Sukarno has also reported him for allegedly insulting the state ideology, Pancasila, which carries a maximum sentence of five years' jail.
Habib Rizieq is yet to be named a suspect, however Jakarta police chief Muhammad Iriawan denied at a press conference that the police lacked the courage to do so.
He said Habib Rizieq would also be summoned soon over his claims regarding the banknote.
"We have the law about hate speech," Iriawan said. "The Central Bank has said it isn't a hammer and sickle. It's called retroverso, a system to protect the money."
Iriawan said Habib Rizieq would also be summoned for allegedly insulting Christianity when he told Muslims in a sermon on Christmas Day: "If Jesus is the son of God, who is the midwife?"
Iriawan said the mass protests deployed by the FPI were not a factor in police decisions: "The state cannot be pressured."
It was a poster ridiculing Pancasila at an army base in Perth that was the catalyst for Indonesian military chief Gatot Nurmantyo's decision to partially suspend defence ties with Australia.
The FPI and Habib Rizieq's Twitter accounts - @DPP_FPI and @syihabrizieq - were suspended ahead of FPI's march to Indonesian police headquarters on Monday morning. Police deployed 2800 personnel to secure the protest.
The FPI had called for West Java police chief Anton Charliyan to be sacked, alleging he had incited thugs to attack FPI sympathisers when Habib Rizieq was summoned last Thursday to be questioned over the allegations that he insulted Pancasila.
Sukmawati Sukarnoputri had reported him to police for allegedly insulting Pancasila and Sukarno.
There are mounting concerns about an Islamist challenge to Indonesian President Joko Widodo's government as sectarian tensions simmer ahead of next month's gubernatorial elections.
The incumbent, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, an ethnic Chinese Christian universally known as Ahok, is standing trial for blasphemy over allegations he insulted Islam.
He returns to court on Tuesday but the trial will drag on long after the February 15 elections.
hree mass protests - spearheaded by the FPI - were held last year demanding Ahok be jailed, with the final December 4 rally attracting an estimated 500,000 to 600,000 people.
Another demonstration is planned for next month.
Iriawan said police could still handle security at these mass actions. Pressed on if it was worrying, he said: "Not yet [but] it's heading that way."
Tobias Basuki from the Centre for the Strategic and International Studies said the Indonesian government saw that intolerance was on the rise and the FPI was leading political Islam.
Full report at:

Agus optimistic he will gain support from Muslim voters
February 9, 2017
Jakarta gubernatorial candidate Agus Harimurti Yudhoyono has expressed optimism over his chance to win the upcoming election by securing support from Muslim voters.
Agus said gaining support from Muslim voters was essential in securing the City Hall’s top post. He pledged to forge a close relationship with Muslim communities by accelerating development works in the province should he be elected governor on Feb. 15.
“Around 85 percent of Jakarta residents are Muslim. It’s logical to think Jakarta will not prosper if its Muslim people live without prosperity,” the candidate said.
He was speaking in front of thousands of clerics and members of several Jakarta-based Islamic organizations during a campaign event at Blok S Square in South Jakarta on Thursday.
A poll released by the Indonesian Survey Circle (LSI) in late January shows that the Agus-Sylviana ticket is backed by 39.6 percent of Muslim respondents, while the favorability level of its competitors, candidate pairs Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama-Djarot Saiful Hidayat and Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno, stands at 28 percent and 23.4 percent, respectively.
“Should Allah bless me to lead Jakarta, I will pay my fullest attention to Muslim-related activities, such as by allowing a mass prayer to be held at the Monas [National Monument] compound,” said Agus, who was accompanied by his running mate, Sylviana Murni.  
Full report at:

Anies-Sandi attend mass prayer, Quran recitation before debate
February 10, 2017
Indra Budiari
Jakarta gubernatorial candidate pair Anies Baswedan-Sandiaga Uno participated in a mass prayer and Quran recitation attended by thousands of Muslims at Sunda Kelapa Grand Mosque in Central Jakarta on Thursday evening, one day before they participate in the final candidate debate.
At the event, also attended by Muslim leaders including Ustadz Bachtiar Nasir and Habib Ali Assegaf, Anies delivered a speech saying that Moslem communities in Indonesia had set a good example as the most organized and peaceful Muslims in the world.
Mentioning two large rallies on Nov. 4 and Dec. 2 held to protest Jakarta Governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama’s alleged blasphemy, Anies deplored the fact that the National Monument compound in Central Jakarta was no longer available for religious activities.
He also asked Muslims to pray for him and his running mate, Sandiaga, so they could stay calm and deliver good answers during the candidate debate scheduled for Friday evening.
“Please pray for me so I can have a clear mind and answer [all debate questions] easily,” he said.
Full report at:

North America

Haqqani, Taliban leaders enjoy freedom of actions in Pakistan: US commander
Feb 10 2017
The top US commander in Afghanistan General John Nicholson has said the Taliban and Haqqani network leaders are enjoying freedom of action within Pakistan safe havens.
Gen. Nicholson is the commander of the US forces and the NATO-led Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan.
“The Taliban and Haqqani network are the greatest threats to security in Afghanistan. Their senior leaders remain insulated from pressure and enjoy freedom of action within Pakistan safe havens,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.
He said “As long as they enjoy external enablement, they have no incentive to reconcile. The primary factor that will enable our success is the elimination of external sanctuary and support to the insurgents.”
Gen. Nicholson also added that Russia has become more assertive over the past year, overtly lending legitimacy to the Taliban to undermine NATO efforts and bolster belligerents using the false narrative that only the Taliban are fighting ISIL-K.
“Similarly, neighboring Iran is providing support to the Taliban while also engaging the Afghan government over issues of water rights, trade, and security,” he added.
This comes as the Afghan officials have long been criticizing Islamabad for remaining reckless to act against the Afghan militant leaders using the Pakistani soil for planning and coordinating attacks in Afghanistan.

Collecting human rights prize, Yazidi lawmaker calls travel ban ‘unfair’
By Adelle M. Banks
February 8, 2017
WASHINGTON (RNS) Receiving a prestigious human rights prize, an Iraqi lawmaker who gained international attention for her oppressed Yazidi religious minority decried the Trump administration’s “unfair” executive order on immigration.
“Mr. President Donald Trump, Iraq is not a terrorist,” said Vian Dakhil as she received the Lantos Human Rights Prize at a Capitol Hill ceremony Wednesday (Feb. 8). “Iraqis are not terrorists. We are friends and allies. And we are looking forward to have exceptional relations with all people, especially with the United States of America.”
She drew a standing ovation from the crowd of more than 100 people, including politicians and diplomats, at the Rayburn House Office Building.
Dakhil’s presence at the ceremony had been in question due to Trump’s 90-day ban on travelers from Iraq and six other majority-Muslim nations. But she was able to fly out of Iraq on Saturday after she gained permission from the State Department.
The ban has been suspended by a U.S. District Court judge, whose decision is being weighed by an appellate court.
Dakhil, who stood by an English translator as she spoke in Arabic, told of the atrocities inflicted by the Islamic State group, including gang rapes of little girls. And she said the plight of her people continues, with thousands of women and girls in captivity and hundreds of thousands living in refugee camps in Kurdistan, a northern region of Iraq.
“Eighty percent of our villages and cities are completely destroyed,” she said. “We need a stand from the international community to get over this ordeal.”
In her earlier plea before her Parliament in 2014, Dakhil’s recounting of killings, rapes and other attacks by ISIS prompted former President Obama to authorize airstrikes and humanitarian aid to rescue thousands of trapped members of the religious minority.
“I speak here in the name of humanity,” she said at that time. “Save us! Save us!”
David Saperstein, former ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom, compared Dakhil to the heroine Queen Esther whose courage was depicted in the Hebrew Bible.
Full report at:

9/11 mastermind tells Obama attacks were America’s fault
Feb 10, 2017
WASHINGTON - The self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks wrote to former president Barack Obama to tell him 9/11 was a direct result of American foreign policy and the deaths of innocent people it has caused.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s 18-page letter was addressed to “the head of the snake, Barack Obama,” leader of “the country of oppression and tyranny.”
Defence attorney David Nevin provided a copy of the letter, which has not yet been posted on the US military’s website for Guantanamo proceedings. He told AFP that Mohammed began writing it in 2014. The letter is dated January 8, 2015, but reached the White House only two years later in the last days of Obama’s presidency, according to news reports, after a military judge ordered the Guantanamo prison camp where Khalid Sheikh is held to deliver it.
“It was not we who started the war against you in 9/11; it was you and your dictators in our land,” he wrote.
He says God was on the side of the hijackers on that fateful day when airplanes were guided into the Twin Towers in New York, the Pentagon and a field in Pennsylvania. “Allah aided us in conducting 9/11, destroying the capitalist economy, catching you with your pants down, and exposing all the hypocrisy of your long-held claim to democracy and freedom,” Khalid Sheikh wrote.
Listing many grievances over America’s “brutal and savage massacres” from Vietnam to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Khalid Sheikh focused his rage on the plight of Palestinians and US support for Israel and the “occupier Jews.”
“Your hands are still wet with the blood of our brothers and sisters and children who were killed in Gaza,” he wrote in the opening paragraph.
Along with the letter, Khalid Sheikh sent a 51-page manuscript entitled “Shall I Die when the Crusaders Carry out the Death Sentence? The Truth about Death.”
It is illustrated with an image of a noose.
Full report at:

Pitt instructor challenges Islam misconceptions at Murrysville Community Center
Feb. 9, 2017
For Aliya Khan of Pittsburgh, the idea of Islam is spelled out in its Arabic translation: “submission to God.”
That submission is not compulsory, and the horizontal structure of her faith means it is practiced differently all over the globe, she said.
Khan, who teaches classes on Islam at the University of Pittsburgh's Osher School of Lifelong Learning, spoke Thursday to about 60 people at the American Association of University Women's meeting at the Murrysville Community Center.
In addition to giving a quick primer on the tenets of a religion practiced by nearly a quarter of the world's population, Khan also worked to dispel some popular misconceptions.
She pushed back against the idea that Islam is incompatible with modern democracy.
“Many Islamic countries are monarchies, but that is more a function of post-colonialism,” she said. “It's not a question of religion. It's a question of politics.”
Khan hit on the similarities among Islam, Christianity and Judaism, three religions that trace their roots to Abraham.
Muslims consider the gospel of Jesus and the Jewish Torah important holy texts to be studied in concert with the Quran, she said, and Islam has more prophets than Muhammad, including those familiar to Western Christians — such as Jesus, Moses, Solomon and David.
Garth Clarke of Murrysville said the talk was a unique learning opportunity.
For me, I'm always interested in religion, even though I'm not religious,” he said. “I like to hear about anything newsworthy.”
The newsworthiness of Islam — that is to say, what mass media choose to cover — also was a topic.
Full report at:

Muslim American Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad says she was detained by U.S. Customs
By Cindy Boren
February 9
Ibtihaj Muhammad, who became the first female Muslim American to win an Olympic medal for the United States last summer in the Rio Games, said she recently was detained by U.S. Customs officials for two hours with no explanation.
A native of Maplewood, N.J., and a Duke graduate, Muhammad did not say where she had been traveling, stating only that she was held “just a few weeks ago.” Nor did she specifically link the holdup to President Trump’s travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries.
“I can’t tell you why it happened to me,” she said in an interview with the website Popsugar during the Makers Conference in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., “but I know that I’m Muslim. I have an Arabic name. And even though I represent Team USA and I have that Olympic hardware, it doesn’t change how you look and how people perceive you.”
Muhammad was the first American Olympian to compete while wearing a hijab and won a bronze medal in team sabre in Rio. Her airport experience made her more determined than ever to stay positive, she said.
[A fencing mask hid her hijab. Now, this Olympian wants to be seen and heard.]
“My human response is to cry because I was so sad and upset and disheartened — and just disappointed. At the same time, I’m one of those people who feels like I have to be strong for those people who may not be able to find that strength. I feel like I have to speak up for those people whose voices go unheard.
“It was a really hard two hours, but at the same time, I made it home. I try to remember to be positive and to try to leave all these situations, even if they may be very difficult, with love. I think that we will come out on top as women, as people of color, as Muslims, as transgender people, as people who are part of the disabled community — I think that we’ll come out on top.”
The Post has reached out to Muhammad for comment. Representative Donald M. Payne Jr., a congressman serving Muhammad’s home base in Maplewood, N.J., said in a Facebook post Thursday he was “sickened” by the news while taking a swipe at the current administration.
Last summer, Muhammad’s coach, Akhi Spencer-El, described the challenges Muhammad faces in an interview with The Post’s Rick Maese.
“Going through airports, oh man, she’s always the only one in the group that has to go through a ‘random’ check,” Spencer-El said. “Then we get to these tournaments, and you never know when you’re dealing with a person who might have bad feelings toward Muslims. And you think: That’s who’s deciding if you move on to the next round? In the beginning, it was really tough for her. She had to fight her way and prove to the world that she’s just as good, that she should be treated just like anybody else.”
Muhammad has been critical of Trump, pretending in a joking way during the Olympics that she didn’t know who he was, and tweeting once that “Friends don’t let friends like Trump.” In interview with Time, she said: “If Donald Trump had his way, America would be white, and there wouldn’t be any color and there wouldn’t be any diversity.” Shortly after the travel ban was put in place, she tweeted “#NoBanNoWall,” adding that “our diversity makes our country strong.”
Full report at:

US General Calls for Review of Relationship With Pakistan
09 Feb 2017
The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan said on Thursday that there was a need for a "holistic review" of the relationship with Pakistan, adding that it was supporting the Taliban and undermining the Afghan government.
"Our complex relationship with Pakistan is best assessed through a holistic review," Army General John Nicholson, who leads U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Full report at:

US may sanction Iran over Yemen, Hezbollah and Iraq
9 February 2017
The new United States administration, under President Donald Trump, is believed to be exerting pressure for imposition of new sanctions against Iran in response to their activities in the Middle East and fueling instability in the region.
The administration is said to be studying several aspects for the sanctions, which one includes the Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and their meddling in other countries in the region, specifically Syria and Iraq.
US officials were cited by Reuters news agency and the New York Times on Wednesday as saying that the Trump administration is considering a proposal for sanctions that mentions the Revolutionary Guards on the list of terrorist organizations, alongside the Muslim Brotherhood.
The plan to place sanctions on Iran has strong support within the White House. It is expected that the final plan will reviewed by US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson. Many US officials have accused the Revolutionary Guards of supporting proxy wars in the Middle East.
Hezbollah, Houthis and Iraq
The next step may be to impose sanctions on Iran for its support to some terrorist groups. A senior US official involved in the review of policy towards Tehran revealed that the new administration considers Iran a threat to US interests and is looking for ways to put pressure on them.
Full report at:


Don’t build walls, Pope Francis says
By Philip Pullella
February 8, 2017
Pope Francis said on Wednesday (Feb. 8) that society should not create “walls but bridges” to encourage good relations among people, adding it was wrong to be spiteful and say “I’ll make you pay for that.”
U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico and have the Mexicans pay for it. The Argentine-born pontiff did not mention Trump or that specific wall in his comments.
Speaking at his weekly general audience, Francis spoke of a Christian calling “to not raise walls but bridges, to not respond to evil with evil, to overcome evil with good.”
He then improvised and added: “A Christian can never say ‘I’ll make you pay for that.’ Never! That is not a Christian gesture. An offense is overcome with forgiveness, by living in peace with everyone.”
Last year, in response to an answer about then-candidate Trump’s views on immigration and his intention to build a wall on the border with Mexico, Francis said a man with those views is “not Christian.”
He said in an interview last month that he would not form an opinion of Trump until he first had a chance to see specific policies the new president would implement.
As Trump was taking office on Jan. 20, Francis sent a message urging him to be guided by ethical values, saying he must take care of the poor and the outcast during his time in office.

Teacher Wins Berlin Compensation Case Over Muslim Headscarf
February 10, 2017
Berlin: A German court has ruled that a teacher who didn’t get hired by a Berlin elementary school because she was wearing a Muslim headscarf will receive 8,680 euros (USD 9,250) in compensation for discrimination.
A higher labor court judge said today that wearing the headscarf wouldn’t have led to tension at the school. The plaintiff, who wasn’t identified, had appealed an earlier ruling by a court which had rejected her case. City education authorities can appeal the latest ruling.
Berlin has a so-called neutrality law which says teachers, police officers and judicial employees shouldn’t wear religious clothes.
Full report at:

Journalist convicted for bringing Syrian boy to Sweden
Feb 10, 2017
STOCKHOLM: A Swedish court on Thursday found a TV journalist guilty of human trafficking for helping a Syrian boy migrate to the country and gave him a suspended sentence.
In the spring of 2014, Fredrik Onnevall was filming a documentary about the response of European nationalist parties to the migration crisis when he met the 15-year-old boy in Greece.
Along with two colleagues, Onnevall helped "Abed", which is not his real name, travel to Sweden.
Scrawny and exhausted, the teenager was travelling alone and asked Onnevall to help him get to Sweden to join his cousin.
"It took 10 to 15 minutes maybe for me to get that question into my head, and to understand what he was asking me and to make up my mind," the 43-year-old journalist told AFP in an interview last month in the southern Swedish town of Malmo just prior to the start of his trial.
"Everything became more clear when it came down to that very question: 'What decision will I be able to live with in the future for myself?'," he said.
Onnevall's lawyers had called for an acquittal on the grounds that he acted out of compassion and concern for the boy's fate.
But the Malmo district court found him guilty of human trafficking and gave him a suspended sentence and ordered him to complete 75 hours of community service.
While the court noted the SVT team had acted for purely humanitarian reasons, it said "jurisprudence leaves little scope to acquit someone for that reason."
The journalist said he would appeal the ruling.
"This is no surprise because I was prepared for all scenarios," he told AFP.
"The district court is only the first legal step and I hope the appeals court will come to a different conclusion," he added.
His two colleagues, a cameraman and an interpreter, received the same sentence.
Since 2015 -- when the number of asylum applications in Sweden soared (from 80,000 in 2014 to 160,000 in 2015), requiring the country to halt its generous refugee policy -- the number of cases of people helping illegal immigrants come to Sweden has skyrocketed.
Full report at:

Why Forced Secularism in Schools Leads to Polarization
Feb 10, 2017
“No more playtime,” said the French presidential candidate Marine le Pen in a speech in December, as she called for an end to free education for the children of undocumented immigrants. “I tell them: If you come to our country, don’t expect to be taken care of.” Le Pen, who leads the far-right National Front party, could reach the final round of the French presidential election this May, and has routinely decried the multiculturalism—described with the nefarious term communautarisme, or “communitarism”—that she and her supporters believe is undermining the French social fabric.
It’s no surprise that, in an electoral climate increasingly defined around perceived threats to French identity, Le Pen chose to insulate schools from migrants, whom she has demonized throughout her political career. Announcing the start of her campaign on Saturday, Le Pen promised to rescue France from the “rule and threat of fundamental Islamism,” describing a Muslim agenda to impose gender discrimination, prayer rooms at the workplace, and a host of threats to national identity.
French schools, considered the ultimate incubator of French identity, have long been a battleground over questions of assimilation and religion, particularly pertaining to Muslim immigrants and their children. But following the January 2015 attacks at the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket—a massacre waged by French citizens that unleashed a wave of terrorist violence and has led to a seemingly indefinite state of emergency—schools have become even more central to debates over immigration, social cohesion, and national identity.
As France reeled from the attacks at Charlie Hebdo, politicians called for unity around what they saw as an assault on French ideals. Yet, as the nation paused for a moment of silence for the victims on January 8, 2015, many observers were alarmed when some Muslim students refused to participate, or openly sympathized with the attackers. In poor suburbs of Paris, some students argued that the attacks were staged with the aim of demonizing Muslims. “No, we are not Charlie,” they said, in reference to Je Suis Charlie, or “I am Charlie,” the slogan that became an international refrain of solidarity after the attacks. More than 200 such incidents were recorded that day. The attackers had denounced Charlie Hebdo’s depiction of the prophet Muhammad—a reason many of the students were reticent to align themselves with the publication. 
For Francois Hollande’s government, the refusal of certain students to side with Charlie indicated the failure of French schools to train citizens unified in their French identity, with implications not just for social harmony but for security. A major element of that identity is laïcité: the legally enshrined secularism that has formed the backbone of French social and political culture since 1905. Laïcité goes beyond the U.S. interpretation of separation of church and state in an attempt to create an almost post-religious society. Critics, however, contend that it has departed from its original intent and, in a tense social climate, disproportionately targets Muslims. Its proponents argue that it maintains neutrality, helping to forge a cohesive French society, and serves as a bulwark against the appeal of religious fundamentalism at a time when over 1,000 French people have traveled to Iraq and Syria to join the so-called Islamic State.
“Laïcité should permit social cohesion and allow a ‘vivre ensemble’ that transcends differences of origin or spirituality,” Béatrice Mabilon-Bonfils, a French sociologist who focuses on integration and social cohesion in public schools, explained in an email. “Yet it has been manipulated by the left and right—it’s at the heart of a moral panic, a defense mechanism that collectively identifies enemies.” For Mabilon-Bonfils, the interpretation of laïcité has never been so extensive or politicized as it is today, a transformation only compounded by an electoral campaign dominated by right-wing candidates who insist on a cultural battle between France and Islam.
The push-and-pull between laïcité and social cohesion is particular to the French context. But understanding these tensions is, perhaps more than ever, applicable to the United States under Donald Trump. A nationalist agenda that alienates swaths of society—either through rhetoric or policy—has concrete implications for national security; the exaltation of extremist groups like the Islamic State, which have used Trump’s Muslim ban as a rallying cry for their fundamentalist agenda, is a testament to this. These parallels should not be ignored.
* * *
Debates over French identity—and how its secular foundations interact with a growing Muslim population that, by some estimates, makes up 8 percent of the population (the French census doesn’t classify by race or religion)—have long played out in French schools. In 2004, a law banning religious symbols in public schools passed with 93 percent approval in parliament. Although the law applies to all religions, it was largely seen to target Muslims and has consistently been referred to as the “headscarf ban” since its passage.
But religious “neutrality” is a tenuous recipe for social harmony, particularly in France, where Christian holidays are observed and nuns seem to get far less attention for their wardrobe than do burkini-clad beach-goers—not to mention the concrete inequalities Muslims face, particularly in access to the job market. Anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked following Charlie Hebdo and have continued apace since, particularly following the subsequent terrorist attacks in Paris and Nice. If Muslim students, by virtue of their religious and ethnic identity, don’t feel French in their lives outside of the classroom, a reinforcement of so-called Republican values in schools will only deepen that sentiment of marginalization.
In refusing to profess solidarity with Charlie, then, Muslim students were in part rebelling against the imposed neutrality laïcité entails. Yet faced with signs of discontent among French Muslims, the government concluded that more secularism, not less, would be the solution. “We have to re-appropriate the concept of laïcité so we can explain to our young pupils that whatever their faith, they belong to this idea and they’re not excluded,” French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem said in a speech on January 22, 2015, as she announced 11 measures aimed to reinforce Republican values in schools. In a televised address, Vallaud-Belkacem, who herself is of Moroccan origin, denounced in earnest the politicization of laïcité, stressing its role as a force of unification rather than division.
Accordingly, the measures aimed to deepen the instruction and comprehension of—and adherence to—the principles of laïcité. If successful, Vallud-Belkacem said, the initiative could transform students into citizens, allowing them to transcend individual differences to become part of a collective and unified France. That implies that the students who rejected Charlie were, by virtue of their dissent, failing to properly exercise citizenship. Worse, according to some political observers, their questioning of the French values espoused by Charlie Hebdo veered on complicity with terrorism; the edict was aimed primarily at schools in heavily Muslim suburbs, increasingly seen as a potential source for recruits for radical movements.
But the majority of French nationals who have been tempted by groups like ISIS aren’t religious—or at least they don’t start out that way. Even if their families are Muslim, they’re overwhelmingly non-practicing; 70 percent of European jihadis have come from atheist, Catholic, or non-practicing Muslim families. In a 2015 interview, Dounia Bouzar, the director of a French NGO established in 2014 to combat radicalization, told me that the “jihadis radicalizing youths hardly talk about Islam at all ... Islam is just the final polish” and added that “the majority of youths radicalized in France have never set foot in a mosque, and others have never seen Muslims.” But the politics of laïcité preclude a frank classroom discussion about Islam, making it more likely for extremism to be confused with authenticity and doing little to dispel the stereotypes about Muslims that feed Islamophobia. 
The new measures overlook that reality, instead opting for a moralistic crusade in the form of “moral secularism” classes, laïcité training for teachers, and an annual day of laïcité. Students and parents are required to sign the so-called laïcité charter, which was introduced in schools in 2013—and denounced by Muslim groups in France—to affirm their commitment to the values it enshrines. Mabilon-Bonfils sees the measures as counterproductive and reactionary. “The aftermath of Charlie Hebdo gave rise to a sort of one-upmanship around a laïcité seen as a defensive response rather than a project for social cohesion in schools.”
Indeed, drawing on elements of a politicized ideology to reverse or resolve problems stemming from its very politicization is a flawed strategy. “For the majority of students, laïcité is a notion that evokes restrictions, interdictions, even vexations,” a Marseille schoolteacher told Le Monde in 2015. “It’s interpreted as, ‘schools don’t accept that we have a religion.’ They have the feeling to be relegated to the periphery because of their origin or religion.”
Full report at:


US report identifies discrimination against minorities in India
Feb 10, 2017
WASHINGTON: In India, hate crimes against religious minorities, their social boycotts and forced conversions have escalated dramatically since 2014, says a US government report.
The report — “Constitutional and Legal Challenges Faced by Religious Minorities in India” — examines the country’s constitution and national and state laws that discriminate against religious minorities and Dalits.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), which sponsored the study released on Wednesday, is a US federal government agency and its reports are issued by the US State Department as an official document.
The USCIRF urges the US government to put this issue at the heart of trade and diplomatic interactions with India.
“India is a religiously diverse and democratic society with a constitution that provides legal equality for its citizens irrespective of their religion and prohibits religion-based discrimination,” said USCIRF Chair Thomas J. Reese.
“However, the reality is far different. In fact, India’s pluralistic tradition faces serious challenges … (and) during the past few years, religious tolerance has deteriorated and religious freedom violations have increased in some areas of India.”
To reverse this negative trajectory, Dr Reese urged the Indian and state governments to align their laws with both the country’s constitutional commitments and international human rights standards.
The study notes that of India’s 1.2 billion people nearly 80 per cent are Hindus, with an estimated 172.2 million Muslims, 27.8 million Christians, 20.8 million Sikhs, and 4.5 million Jains. The Muslim population makes India the third largest Muslim country in the world, after Indonesia and Pakistan.
The study notes that of the 29 states in India, seven — Gujarat, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Odisha, and Chhattisgarh — have adopted anti-conversion laws that encourage inequitable practices against minorities.
The report claims that “both by their design and implementation”, anti-conversion laws “infringe upon the individual’s right to convert, favour Hinduism over minority religions, and represent a significant challenge to Indian secularism”.
State governments have used these laws to prevent Christian missions from providing humanitarian and development aid to certain communities, arguing that such assistance encourages “improper and unethical conversions”.
The report claims that since the inception of India in 1947, various efforts were made by the central government to pass nationwide legislation to control religious conversions in India.
The Special Marriage Act of 1954 includes provisions that deny converts to non-Hindu religions (e.g., Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) of certain rights and privileges. For instance, if either parent of a Hindu child converts to Christianity or Islam, that parent loses the right to guardianship over the child.
The Hindu Minority and Guardianship Act of 1956 disqualifies converts from Hinduism to be the guardians of their own children. Similarly, under the law, a Hindu wife who converts to Christianity or Islam loses her right to marital support from her husband. Conversion from Hinduism can even be a basis for divorce.
But the Freedom of Religion Acts, which are used to justify these practices, are not enforced when the religious minorities are converted to Hinduism, which instead is interpreted as Ghar Wapsi or homecoming.
This encourages reconversion by “use of force, fraud, or allurement is not punishable under the provisions of these acts”, the report alleged.
The Foreign Contribution Regulation Act (FCRA), passed in 1976 and amended in 2010, is used consistently against civil society organisations, charities, and other nongovernmental organisations (NGOs). Under this legislation, missionaries and foreign religious organisations must comply with the FCRA, which limits overseas assistance to certain NGOs, including ones with religious affiliation.
Recently, the Indian government has been accused of targeting human rights activist Teesta Setalvad and her husband, Javed Anand, for allegedly violating the FCRA and receiving funds unlawfully. Mrs Setalvad is renowned for her supportive endeavours for victims of the 2002 anti-Muslim Gujarat riots.
The report also examines India’s cow protection laws, which, it says, are often mixed with anti-Muslim sentiment.
One of the most recent and clear examples of Muslim persecution through the politics of cow protection is the killing of Mohammad Akhlaq by Hindu mobs in September 2015.
Mr Akhlaq, 50, was dragged from his home in the village of Bisara — 72 kilometres from Delhi — and beaten to death by an angry Hindu mob due to rumours that his family had been eating beef and storing the meat in their home.
Published in Dawn, February 10th, 2017

Raising new army in Kashmir, Lashkar turns to rural homes
February 10, 2017
Last Friday morning, Manzoor Ahmad Magray huddled in a corner of the mosque in the south Kashmir village of Nowpora Payeen, clutching a pistol and a grenade, thinking about whether his life might be redeemed by death. The police, waiting outside, sent in his father, an ageing agricultural labourer, to urge his son to come out; officers, as well as village notables, assured the teenager he would be treated well. This wasn’t the way his friends in the Lashkar-e-Taiba had taught him: the road to redemption and manhood went to death.
RBI Asks Banks To Track Demand Drafts Used To Convert Old Notes To New During Demonetisation
Ever since Pakistani authorities placed Lashkar chief Hafiz Muhammad Saeed under house arrest last week — he is yet to face criminal prosecution though — there’s been no sign that its training facilities for Kashmir jihadists are being shut down. That could yet become a possibility, though, if Pakistan’s fears of facing sanctions from the United States’ new administration are realised.
For that outcome, Pakistan’s intelligence services have already begun to prime organisations like the Jaish-e-Muhammad. But more important, they’re turning to a new generation of jihadists inside Kashmir, like Magray: in the main, children from underprivileged rural homes, who have grown up battling Indian forces with stones on the streets of Kashmir.
Last Friday, the prayers of an elderly father and the compassion of Jammu and Kashmir Police officers kept a young man from meeting his end. There are record numbers of young Kashmiris in the Lashkar ranks, though: men who have never trained in a jihad camp, have had no contact with Islamist seminaries, but could yet turn into the terrorist group’s new army.
Indian intelligence services monitoring Lashkar’s operations across the Line of Control say Saeed’s detention has had no on-ground impact on the group’s training facilities and bases. The Markaz Taiba camp near Mansehra — alma mater to 26/11 attacker Muhammad Ajmal Kasab as well as Muhammad Naveed, captured alive last year — is still running, sources told The Indian Express. The group’s other major facilities in the area, like the camp at Atter Sheesha, are also reported to be active.
The oldest Lashkar facilities near Muzaffarabad are also still running, Indian intelligence believes: Umm-ul-Qura (which trained several Indian nationals including alleged Indian Mujahideen operative Sadiq Israr Sheikh), Aqsa and the Abdullah Bin Masood camp, which offers specialised training.
Following the 26/11 attacks, several of these camps were shut down, amidst fears India might use air power to retaliate against the Lashkar. However, the camps soon resumed functioning again. Muzammil Bhat, a one-time Lashkar commander in Kashmir who played a key role in the planning and execution of the 26/11 attacks, is thought to have been given a large role in the group’s operations.
In November, following India’s strikes across the Line of Control, the Lashkar reorganised some of its organisational apparatus, juggling the guides who take groups into Kashmir, and making efforts to camouflage homes where groups shelter for the last stage of their journey more effectively. However, the impact of these changes is yet to be felt.
“Little infiltration has taken place this last month because of heavy snowfall,” an Indian intelligence official notes, “and there was dislocation before that because of the cross-Line of Control strikes after Uri. But we think the Lashkar will step it up a little after the snow settles down.”
The long-term plan, though, appears to be to make the Lashkar inside Kashmir autonomous of its Pakistani leadership. “The recruits we’ve arrested give us a picture of two Lashkars, almost,” says one police officer, “a Pakistani Lashkar which focuses on fidayeen strikes and attacks on the Srinagar-Jammu highway, and a Kashmiri Lashkar which has been told to recruit among local communities, intimidate local workers of the PDP or National Conference, and so on.”
Led by Abid Magray, a childhood friend of Manzoor Magray and resident of Nowpora Payeen, the Lashkar unit rarely left the small belt of Pulwama its members grew up in, police officers familiar with the case say. They had all joined together when protests against India began after Hizbul commander Burhan Wani was killed in 2016, and looked to their cohort of stone-throwing teenagers to draw from.
Few in the group, though, had a gun; none were trained in using one. There was no education in the tradecraft of insurgency, like surviving in jungle conditions, evading detection, using explosives or planning ambushes. “For now,” an Indian intelligence officer says, “the Lashkar is just flying its flag. The next stage will be getting resources to this fledgling army.”
The core Lashkar leadership in Kashmir, led in Kashmir by a jihadist code-named Abu Dujana, has offered neither training nor weapons to the group, police say; instead, it was left largely to its own means. “They did not consult even on their day-to-day plans,” an officer who questioned Magray said, “possibly because they did not want to be compromised.”
Bar the first two Lashkar commanders in Kashmir, Abu Maaz and Muzammil Bhat, who returned to Pakistan, the rest — Qari Saifullah, Abdul Reshman, Atif, a second Abdul Rehman and Qasim — died in combat in the state.
Full report at:

RSS Leader Arrested For Murder of Convert
February 9, 2017
Malappuram: An RSS leader has been arrested in connection with the murder of P. Faizal alias Anil Kumar months after he converted to Islam.
According to Indian Express report, police have identified Madathil Narayanan, a RSS pracharak and saha karyavahak in Tirur taluk as the key conspirator who scripted and executed Faisal’s murder.
After the murder, he had gone into hiding but on Tuesday surrendered before the Crime Branch investigating team.
Belonging to an upper-caste Hindu Nair family, Faisal, 32, had reverted to Islam a few months before he was murdered.
On November 19 last year, Faisal was on his way to the local railway station to pick up his parents-in-law, but was hacked to death by a gang of unidentified men who were later identified as Sangh Parivar workers.
So far, 14 other workers of BJP or RSS have been arrested in connection with the murder.
47 year-old Narayanan is a hardcore criminal who is also the first accused in the murder of a priest Ayyappan in 1998. The priest (Yasir) was also murdered after he embraced Islam.
A District and Sessions Court had acquitted Narayanan and five others, but the High Court found him guilty and sentenced them to life imprisonment. However, last July, the Supreme Court acquitted all accused including Narayanan.
Full report at:

Islamabad says 'secret nuclear city' in India; 'a figment of Pak's imagination,' responds government
Feb 9, 2017
NEW DELHI: India has termed as "figment of imagination" Pakistan's contention that it is building a "secret nuclear city", saying it is a "diversionary tactic" to deflect attention from issues like Pakistan-sponsored terrorism and harbouring of terrorists.
Pakistan on Thursday claimed that India has accumulated a stockpile of nuclear weapons which threatens to undermine the strategic balance of power in the region.
Foreign Office (FO) spokesman Nafees Zakaria made the remarks at the weekly press briefing while expressing concern over the "Indian defence buildup".
"India is building a secret nuclear city...It has accumulated a stockpile of nuclear weapons which threatens to undermine the strategic balance of power in the region," he claimed.
Zakaria also alleged that India has been conducting tests on inter-continental missiles which would "disturb the strategic balance in the region."
Reacting to his remarks, external affairs spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, "These are completely baseless allegations. The so-called secret city appears to be a figment of the Pakistan imagination. India has always been in compliance with all its international obligations. This is a very strange statement coming from a country that does not have a separation plan and has a strong record of proliferation which is well known to the world."
"India has very different credentials. So, clearly this shows a lack of comprehension. Furthermore, there is no doubt that this is a diversionary tactic by Pakistan which aims to deflect attention from the real issue at hand - the continued state sponsorship of terrorism by Pakistan and its harbouring of internationally designated terrorists," he said.
Questioned about comments by Pakistan Planning and Development Minister of Pakistan Ahsan Iqbal regarding peace talks with India after the ongoing state assembly elections in five states, he said it is not state elections in India but state terrorism by Pakistan which has stood in the way of a peaceful bilateral dialogue.
Full report at:

Kerala ISIS case: Accused used farming to disguise group’s activities, says NIA
Feb 10, 2017
Abdul Rashid Abdulla, wanted in connection with the Kerala ISIS case, used collective farming as a disguise to bring together and radicalise young Muslim men who allegedly went on to join ISIS. Abdulla had also voiced his support for the attack on the French magazine Charlie Hebdo in 2015, according to the charge sheet filed by National Investigation Agency.
The agency claimed that Rashid had been employed with Peace Foundation, Kozhikode, as head of its ‘other cognitive areas’ department since 2012, and that he would criticise democracy during discussions with colleagues. “They also supported the Charlie Hebdo attack in France and Abdul Rashid argued in support of it,” read the charge sheet.
Full report at:

IS link: Zakir Naik's aide chargesheeted
Feb 10, 2017
NEW DELHI: The National Investigation Agency has filed a chargesheet against Arshi Qureshi, an employee of controversial Islamic preacher Zakir Naik's NGO IRF, for allegedly spreading hatred against India, radicalising youngsters and providing support to IS.
Along with Qureshi, NIA has named in its chargesheet one Abdul Rashid Abdulla alias Rashi, who is absconding.
A Kasargod-based person had alleged that his son Ashfaq Majeed and his associates were indoctrinated into extreme jihadi ideology by members of Islamic Research Foundation. Arshi Qureshi, a guest relations manager with IRF, was arrested in July last year for radicalising Majeed and others from the Kerala IS module.
Around 22 men and women from these two districts in Kerala went to IS-held territory last year after they were radicalised. "Abdulla showed them videos of IS and also gave them lectures on violent jihad. He also financed the travel and stay of some of the missing youths," said NIA.
Full report at:

India formally protests to China for blocking ban on Masood Azhar
Indrani Bagchi
Feb 9, 2017
NEW DELHI: India has issued a demarche (diplomatic missive) to China regarding its continued block on a UN ban on Jaish-e-Muhammed+ leader Masood Azhar. The MEA confirmed on Thursday demarches had been served to the Chinese embassy in New Delhi and in the foreign office in Beijing by the Indian embassy.
China blocked once again, a joint move by the US, UK and France+ to proscribe Masood Azhar in the UNSC 1267 committee. The move, made on January 19, saw 14 members out of 15 agreeing to the ban, but China's block prevented it from happening. Responding to the Chinese foreign ministry statement that there was "no consensus", MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup told journalists, "if there is a change in the Chinese position, there will be consensus as well ..."
He also refuted the Chinese stand that India and Pakistan should talk to each other on the issue. "It is our understanding that this was a classic counterterrorism proposal meant to proscribe a dreaded terrorist leader Masood Azhar whose organisation the Jaish-e-Muhammed has already been proscribed by the UN 1267 Committee. We don't view this as a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan but as an issue of global counter terrorism. We hope that eventually China will also come around to accepting this view."
Meanwhile, India will be sending a delegation led by Gopal Baglay in charge of the Pakistan-Afghanistan-Iran desk in MEA, to a Russia-sponsored conference on Afghanistan in Moscow on February 15.
Full report at:

NHRC offers healing balm to Basbariya Hindu-Muslim rift
Feb 10, 2017
Feb 10, 2017- A National Human Rights Commission’s initiative to heal the rift between Hindu and Muslim communities in Basbariya settlement of Bidhyanagar VDC-2, Kapilvastu, has offered hope to its inhabitants, who were living in fear for the last few months.
The two communities had fallen out over a disagreement during a Durga Pooja procession in October last year, which has led to two incidents of clashes, an alleged lynching of a Hindu man by a mob of Muslim men on December 12, and mass desertion of Muslim families from the settlement.
To restore the harmony, the NHRC recently organised a public function for reconciliation in the settlement, where Hindu leader Darbari Yadav and Muslim leader Moid Khan appealed to the Basbariya residents to put their differences behind and encouraged to live in harmony and to respect one another.
NHRC member Mohna Ansari said the incidents of violence will be investigated and the guilty will be booked.
Police have already arrested eight suspects while arrest warrants have been issued against 16 others at large.
Full report at:


IS pamphlets create panic in Kurram Agency
February 10, 2017
DERA ISMAIL KHAN - Militant group Islamic State has threatened to target Shias living in certain northern areas of Pakistan. Hundreds of pamphlets containing threats have allegedly been distributed by IS in the Kurram Agency, threatening attacks in specific tribal areas, reported Voice of America (VOA) on Thursday.
"We have achieved our goals in Afghanistan and are now ready to confront Shia renouncers in Pakistani's tribal areas," the IS pamphlet in Pashto said.
Although distributed in Sunni majority areas too, the pamphlet threatens to target Shias in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), as well as in Dera Ismail Khan and Hangu cities in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. The areas mentioned in the pamphlet are home to a considerable Shia population.
VOA could not independently confirm the authenticity of the pamphlet.
A local government official acknowledged, on the condition of anonymity, that pamphlets were distributed, but said the government is investigating whether these came from IS or others. He said the areas mentioned in the pamphlets are under government control.
"We are on the front line of the war against militancy and, therefore, our security is tight," the official added.
The military has been carrying out an operation to clear out militants in the region since 2014. The government is demanding local tribes in the region surrender their weapons to decrease militancy. The weapons surrender is part of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
Faqir Hussain, an elder of a Shia tribe called Tori, expressed concern that the government is demanding Shias in the region surrender their weapons while facing such threats. "We would not have bought these weapons if we had no threat," Hussain told VOA. "I have told my tribe living on the border that they have to defend themselves."
The Tori tribe recently faced a suicide attack claimed by a splinter group of the Pakistani Taliban, which reportedly is supporting IS. Islamic State reportedly is attempting to establish a footprint in the Kurram Agency and has been recruiting local men into its ranks.
The Pakistani government says it will take action against those involved in distributing the pamphlets. "The government is going to take strict measures if IS has distributed pamphlets in Kurram Agency and other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa," lawmaker Tahir Iqbal, who is a member of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, told VOA. "The government will not spare anyone involved in printing or spreading hate material or pamphlets."
The terror group has also been active in parts of neighbouring Afghanistan for the past two years. Kabul has said many of the IS fighters in Afghanistan belong to the Orakzai tribe in Pakistan.
Analysts say the military operation in the tribal areas of Pakistan has cleared out the top layer of militancy, but the sleeper cells and sympathisers still exist and have the capacity to plan and attack. "It is almost impossible to fully prevent the spread of the group in the current circumstances," security analyst Said Nazir Mohmand, who is associated with the Islamabad-based Institute of Policy Studies, told VOA. "Such groups can easily be eliminated if there is peace in Afghanistan."
Top foreign ministry officials from Russia, China and Pakistan met in Moscow in December to discuss what they said was a "gradually growing" threat to their frontiers posed by Islamic State extremists in Afghanistan.

Kidnapped Pakistani Blogger Breaks Silence
February 09, 2017
ISLAMABAD:  A Pakistani activist abducted last month has broken his silence on his weeks-long disappearance, but is refusing to point fingers in a country where criticising extremism or the security establishment can make you a target.
Ahmad Waqass Goraya was among five activists who vanished in Pakistan in early January.
Human Rights Watch, opposition lawmakers and Pakistani activists have said their near simultaneous abductions pointed to government involvement in a country with a history of enforced disappearances.
Goraya was freed at the end of January along with at least three others and swiftly fled back to the Netherlands, where he has lived for the last decade.
"I felt I would never come back, I would never see my son and family," the 34-year-old IT worker told AFP during a phone interview in which he frequently became agitated.
Goraya, who like the other activists criticised religious extremism and the military establishment, refused to say anything about his captors or describe what happened during his ordeal, which began after he was abducted on January 4 shortly after leaving his family home in Lahore.
But he angrily rejected accusations that he was a traitor for daring to be vocal about alleged abuses of power in Pakistan, insisting he was a true patriot.
"Nothing was against Pakistan, nothing was against Islam, I was critical of policies because I want to see a better Pakistan," he said, adding in a later message: "We want a Pakistan with rule of law".
Goraya also said he fears that a virulent ultra right-wing campaign to paint him as a blasphemer while he was missing has followed him to Europe.
The charge, which engulfed Pakistani social media and was repeated by mainstream television hosts, is an incendiary one that can carry the death penalty in the conservative Muslim country.
Even unproven allegations have caused mob lynchings and violence.
At least 65 people including lawyers, judges and activists have been murdered by vigilantes over blasphemy allegations since 1990, according to the Center for Research and Security Studies.
Goraya said allegations of blasphemy had surfaced on social media sites frequented by the Pakistani community in the Netherlands, prompting him to seek police advice.
"I'm looking over my shoulder -- I have been warned by people it is a crazy world."
'Silencing Dissent'
Pakistan has had a history of enforced disappearances over the past decade, but they have mainly been confined to conflict zones near the Afghanistan border or to southwestern Balochistan province, where separatists are battling for independence.
Campaigners and opposition politicians believe the disappearances in January were part of a new strategy by the military -- which has ruled the country for nearly half its existence and wields de facto control over security policy -- to stamp out criticism and dissent online.
Full report at:

Members of UK ‘sex gang’ face deportation to Pakistan
Feb 10, 2017
LONDON: Four men convicted of grooming girls for sex in a case that fuelled racial tensions in Britain face deportation to Pakistan after a judge upheld a government decision on Thursday to strip them of British citizenship.
The ruling by an immigration tribunal clears the way for the men, all of Pakistani nationality, to be removed from Britain. They acquired British citizenship by naturalisation.
They were among nine men of Pakistani and Afghan descent convicted of luring girls as young as 13 into sexual encounters using alcohol and drugs. They were based in Rochdale, in northern England.
Among the four facing deportation is ringleader Shabir Ahmed, sentenced in 2012 to 22 years in jail. The other three are Adil Khan, Qari Abdul Rauf and Abdul Aziz. Ahmed, who was convicted of rape as well as other charges, remains in custody, while the other three men have been released on licence.
Khan, Rauf and Aziz were convicted on conspiracy and trafficking for sexual exploitation charges. Aziz was not convicted of having sexual intercourse with any child.
The judge at the hearing in the upper tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber, Mr Justice McClosky, described their crimes as “shocking, brutal and repulsive”.
His decision rejected claims concerning human rights laws and a complaint of “disproportionate interference” with their rights.
Full report at:

‘Poliovirus from Afghanistan hampering eradication efforts’
Feb 10, 2017
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has all but eradicated the poliovirus, but the constant movement of people across the border with Afghanistan makes it impossible to completely wipe out the debilitating disease.
In a recent meeting, the country’s polio managers informed international donors that the virus is continuously travelling from Afghanistan to Pakistan and revealed that a policy would be introduced to keep track of people who came into the country.
Under the policy, those coming from Afghanistan will be vaccinated again and again to ensure the virus is eradicated.
New tracking policy to ensure repeated inoculation of Afghan visitors on the anvil
The meeting, held recently in the federal capital, was also attended by representatives of the Japanese, Canadian, German, Australian and Italian governments, along with officials from the Islamic Development Bank, KfW Development Bank, JICA, USAID, Rotary International, WHO, Unicef, the US Centre for Disease Control and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, among others.
A participant of the meeting, who asked not to be identified, told Dawn there were three polio reservoirs in the country; Peshawar, Karachi and Quetta.
“The last polio case from Peshawar was reported in Feb 2015; in Karachi, the last case was reported in Jan 2015. But in Quetta, the latest case was reported on Dec 22, 2016. [The virus] is still active in this block,” he said.
“It is not that we have been failed to vaccinate the children of Quetta; we have made all possible efforts, but the virus is continuously travelling from Afghanistan into Pakistan. The poliovirus has been detected in Quetta, Pishin and Killa Abdullah, since people from Kandahar and Helmand usually travel here,” he said.
“We have taken up the issue with international donors and I believe they also understand the issue, since they are also supporting the anti-polio programme in Afghanistan and have access to all the relevant reports and data,” he said.
Dr Rana Safdar, who heads the National Emergency Operation Centre (EOC) in Pakistan, told Dawn that the same virus was found in the Quetta and Helmand blocks, which is known as a ‘shared transmission area’.
“We have been vaccinating children on the Pakistan side of this block, but due to security issues, the Afghan government has not been able to hold anti-polio campaigns in its territory. As many as 570,000 children are being missed in Afghanistan; they are the most common carriers of the poliovirus into Pakistan,” he said.
He confirmed that the issue was taken up with international donors.
“Along the border, there are 22 vaccination points on the Pakistani side and 20 on the Afghan side. Almost everyone crossing the border is vaccinated, but just one dose cannot eradicate the poliovirus from the human body,” he said, explaining the need for a tracking policy.
Full report at:

South Asia

Bangladesh orders work on proposed Rohingya island
Feb 10, 2017
DHAKA: Bangladesh has ordered construction to start at a desolate island where it wants to relocate tens of thousands of Rohingya refugees, an official said Thursday, despite warnings the site is uninhabitable.
The move comes as Human Rights Watch described as “ridiculous” claims by Bangladesh that shifting the Rohingya to a barren island prone to monsoonal flooding would improve their living conditions.
Bangladesh is seeking international support for its plan to relocate the Rohingya to Thengar Char in the Bay of Bengal, an idea that caused outcry when first mooted in 2015. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina deployed an aide to the remote island Wednesday, who ordered construction begin on a jetty, helipad and visitor facilities, the government official overseeing administration of Thengar Char told AFP.
Meanwhile, a Malaysian ship carrying aid for thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled a bloody army crackdown arrived in Yangon Thursday, where it was met by nationalist protesters. Health workers and activists crowded onto the deck of the Nautical Aliya as it docked at Thilawa port near Myanmar’s commercial capital carrying food, medical aid and clothing. Myanmar’s social welfare minister was among a delegation meeting the ship, which has been at the centre of a rare diplomatic spat with fellow ASEAN member Malaysia. Outside the docking area, dozens of Buddhist monks and demonstrators waited waving national flags and signs reading: “No Rohingya.” –AFP
“We want to let them know that we have no Rohingya here,” a Buddhist monk named Thuseitta, from the Yangon chapter of the Patriotic Myanmar Monks Union, told AFP at the docks.
Myanmar denies citizenship to the million-strong Rohingya, despite many of them living on its soil for generations.
Buddhist nationalist groups are especially strong in their vitriol, rejecting them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Hundreds of Rohingya are thought to have been killed in a brutal campaign launched by security forces in October, which the United Nations says may amount to ethnic cleansing.
Tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, bringing harrowing tales of murder and rape. Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya has sparked criticism from Muslim-majority Malaysia, in a rare spat between Southeast Asian neighbours.  Myanmar initially refused to allow the ship into its waters and has barred it from sailing to Rakhine’s state capital Sittwe.  Part of the aid will instead be unloaded in Yangon and transported overland to the north of Rakhine state, site of the military crackdown.
The rest will be taken to Teknaf port in southern Bangladesh, where almost 70,000 Rohingya have fled since October to escape the violence.
The government has also demanded that the aid be distributed to both Rohingya and Buddhist ethnic Rakhines.
The delivery comes days after a blistering report from the UN accused Myanmar’s security forces of carrying out a campaign of rape, torture and mass killings against the Rohingya.
Based on interviews with hundreds of escapees in Bangladesh, investigators said the military’s “calculated policy of terror” very likely amounted to ethnic cleansing.
For months Myanmar has dismissed similar testimony gathered by foreign media and rights groups as “fake news” and curtailed access to the region.
The UN’s top official on preventing genocide, Adama Dieng, said this week that a government commission tasked with investigating allegations of abuse was “not a credible option”.
Critics have rejected the state-appointed body, which is led by retired general and Vice President Myint Swe and includes no Muslims, as toothless and biased.
In a meeting on Wednesday Myint Swe admitted that “among the facts and accusations included in the (UN) report, there may be something special to be investigated,” state media reported.

11 Taliban insurgents killed in Uruzgan air and ground operations
Feb 09 2017
The Taliban militants suffered heavy casualties in the air and ground operations in southern Uruzgan province of Afghanistan.
According to the local security officials, the militants were killed in the vicinity of Tarinkot district during the operations on Wednesday.
Provincial security chief Noorzai said at least eleven Taliban insurgents were killed and more than ten others were wounded during the operations.
Noorzai further added that a vehicle in custody of the militants was also destroyed and several Improvised Explosive Device (IED) were confiscated.
The Taliban militants group has not commented regarding the report so far.
The local security officials did not disclose any information regarding the possible casualties of the Afghan security forces during the operations.
Uruzgan is among the relatively volatile provinces in southern Afghanistan where the Taliban insurgents are actively operating in some of its districts and often conduct insurgency activities.
Full report at:

Top US commander says more troops needed in Afghanistan
Feb 10, 2017
The top US commander in Afghanistan said Thursday he needs a “few thousand” more troops to better accomplish an integral part of the mission, and he complained that Russian meddling is complicating the counter-terrorism fight.
Gen John Nicholson didn't provide the Senate Armed Services Committee with an exact number of additional forces, but said they could come from the United States or other countries in the American-led coalition in Afghanistan, where the war is now in its 16th year.
He said they are necessary to properly train and advise the Afghan military and perform work now handled at greater cost by contractors.
There are currently about 8,400 US troops conducting counter-terrorism operations against insurgents and training the Afghan army.
Nicholson said he had discussed troop levels with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis and Gen Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Nicholson said he believes the Trump administration will be open to a level based on requirements, rather than a predetermined figure.
Republicans criticised President Barack Obama for trying, in their view, to cut the number too sharply before he left office Jan, 20. But the idea of sending more Americans to the war zone may not go over well with a public frustrated by the length and cost of the conflict.
Senator Elizabeth Warren, citing figures from the special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction, said the war is costing US taxpayers $13 million a day.
Nicholson also disclosed that a US special forces soldier was “severely wounded” in fighting Thursday in Sangin, the Taliban heartland in southern Afghanistan.
He said that because of troop level limits, the aviation brigade that deployed to Afghanistan was able to bring its helicopters, pilots and staff, but had to leave its mechanics behind at Fort Riley in Kansas.
Contractors were hired instead at a cost of “tens of millions of dollars,” forcing the soldier mechanics to sit at home, he said, and affecting the Army unit's readiness.
Nicholson said there is a 2-1 ratio of contractors to troops in Afghanistan.
In response to a question from Sen Claire McCaskill, Nicholson said he doesn't have enough troops to provide proper oversight of all those contractors.
Nicholson contended that Russia has been publicly legitimising the Taliban by claiming that the militants are fighting terrorists while the Afghan government is not. He called that a “false narrative” and argued that Moscow's goal is to undermine the United States and NATO in Afghanistan.
Afghan security forces have reduced by one-half the number of IS fighters and by two-thirds the amount of territory the extremists hold, according to the commander. He said declined to say in the open hearing whether Russia is providing support for the Taliban and in what way.
Full report at:
against the Kabul government, denied involvement.

Who benefits from conflict in Muslim Countries, asks PM Hasina
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has pointed a finger at arms producing nations for militancy, terrorism and conflict in Muslim-majority countries.
‘Murder, attacks and bombing’ are especially prevalent in Muslim majority countries, said the prime minister at a conference of imams on Thursday. "It was in these countries that weapons were being mostly used."
“But who produces these weapons?” she said. “Who benefits? They shed the blood of Muslims. They turn Muslim countries into battlefields. Who sells the weapons? I urge you to think about it.”
The prime minister was speaking at the inaugural ceremony of the National Imam Conference at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre on Thursday.
“Some believe in an evil version of Islam, and it is they who demean our religion through militancy and terrorism,” she said.
“The final judgment is up to Allah. He will decide who is on the right path and who is not. Why do they not have faith in Allah to judge them accordingly? Why do they kill and say it is for religion?... You must teach people that Islam is a peaceful religion that does not believe in believe in militancy. They will listen to you.”
“Islam preaches solidarity and brotherhood. Our Koran says religion is a personal matter.”
The prime minister urged the religious leaders to help out in the fight against drugs and militancy affecting children and youth.
“We will also try and ensure we can increase our income through economic means. We have discussed the possibility of an Economic Zone which shall be directed by Islamic scholars.
Hasina also discussed the growing global demand for Halal food.
“However, I believe The Islamic Foundation can check if these foods and drinks are truly being produced according to the requirements of Halal.”
The prime minister also spoke of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s initiatives regarding Islam and stressed the importance of religious education.
“We want to make education more public and more developed,” she said. “I believe education cannot be complete without the study of religion. This is why we have made religious education compulsory.”
The prime minister brought up the possibility of establishing an Arabic University.
She also discussed the provision of interest-free loans through the Imam-Muazzin Welfare Trust.
Full report at:

ISIS leader involved in major Kabul attacks is killed: ARG
Feb 10 2017
A top leader of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group who was involved in some of the major attacks in Kabul city has been killed, the ARG Presidential Palace said.
According to ARG Palace, Qari Munib was killed during a counter-terrorism operation conducted on 13th January in Achin district of Nangarhar.
Qari Munib was involved in some of the major attacks in Kabul city, including a deadly attack on protesters in Kabul and attack on Baqir-ul-Uloom mosque in west of Kabul city that left scores of people dead or wounded.
He was also involved in an attack on Nepali security guards in Kabul city late last year.
ARG Palace said the ISIS leader was targeted in line with the President Ghani and National Security Council’s instructions and in join coordination with the coalition forces based in Afghanistan.
The operation against Qari Munib was a part of the ongoing counter-terrorism operations being jointly conducted to ascertain, approach, and target top commanders of the terrorist groups in the country, ARG Palace said.
Full report at:

Ghani, Trump speaks over phone, discuss issues of mutual interest
Feb 09 2017
President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani and US President Donald Trump discussed issues of mutual interest during a phone conversation earlier tonight.
The Office of the President, ARG Palace, said the two leaders discussed counter-terrorism and other issues, including Afghanistan and regional security as well economy.
“President Ashraf Ghani and President Donald Trump discussed counter terrorism, Afghanistan and regional security, economy & other bilateral issues over the phone,” Shah Hussain Murtazvi, a presidential palace spokesman said.
This is the first official telephone conversation between the two leaders since the US presidential inauguration.
Trump spoke with President Ghani after he was declared as the US president-elect earlier in December last year.
He pledged US support to help develop the economy of Afghanistan, noting the vast potential Afghanistan has in natural resources.
Later, reports emerged suggesting that Trump had pledged more troops for Afghanistan in a bid to prevent further deterioration of security in the country
Full report at:


32 killed in Yemen western port clashes
9 February 2017
Thirty-two combatants were killed on Wednesday in the battle for a key coastal town in western Yemen between government forces and Houthi militias, officials said.
The deaths occurred as forces loyal to President Abedrabbo Masnour Hadi advanced into neighborhoods of Mokha and Houthis retreated to northern and western parts of the town, military sources said.
Loyalists backed by the Arab coalition entered the strategic port town in late January as part of their efforts to drive the militias away from the Red Sea coast.
The clashes on Wednesday killed 24 Houthis, including 12 whose bodies were taken a hospital in Mokha, medical officials said.
The other 12 were militias whose remains were found by advancing troops and later buried in Mokha, a loyalist military official said.
Eight soldiers were killed, military and medical officials said.
Mokha was Yemen’s main port serving as its export hub for coffee until it was overtaken by Aden and Hodeida in the 19th century.
Forces supporting Hadi, backed by the coalition, began a major offensive on January 7 to recapture the coastline overlooking the strategic Bab al-Mandab Strait.
More than 400 combatants have been killed since government forces launched their drive up the Red Sea coastline.

Turkey detains 4 ISIS suspects, seizes 24 suicide attack belts
Feb 10, 2017
ANKARA: Police detained four ISIS suspects who were allegedly planning to carry out a "sensational" attack in Turkey and seized 24 suicide attack belts, officials said Thursday.
The latest detentions came as CIA chief Mike Pompeo arrived in Turkey to discuss the fight against the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, making his first overseas trip since taking office.
The suspects were put under custody in an anti-terror operation in Gaziantep, near the border with Syria, according to Gaziantep provincial governor's office. Police found the suicide belts — made with 150 kilograms of explosives and fortified with metal pieces — as well as two automatic rifles, 14 kilograms (31 pounds) of TNT and other materials during the operation, it said.
There were no details on the suspects' nationalities, who were allegedly taking orders from high-level ISIS members in Syria. One suspect was wanted for membership in a terror organization, according to the governor's office.
Last year, Turkey suffered a series of deadly attacks carried out by ISIS or Kurdish militants and has stepped up anti-terrorism operations across the country. Some 750 people with alleged ISIS links were detained in a major police sweep in 29 Turkish provinces last week.
A Turkish official said Pompeo was to meet with his Turkish counterpart, Hakan Fidan, as well as President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim in Ankara. The talks will include plans for a possible operation to retake the Islamic State group stronghold of Raqqa, said the security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.
Pompeo's visit follows a phone call between US President Donald Trump and Erdogan.
Turkey is hoping for a reset in relations with the United States that were strained under the Obama administration over Turkish demands for the extradition of a US-based cleric, Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey has accused of orchestrating a failed coup. Turkey was also angered by US backing for Syrian Kurdish fighters, since it considers them terrorists because of their links to outlawed Kurdish rebels in Turkey.
Full report at:

Yemen keeps counter-terrorism operations with US despite raid
9 February 2017
Yemen said on Wednesday it had not suspended counter-terrorism operations with the US government, despite controversy over a US commando raid on al-Qaeda militants in which several civilians were also killed.
The raid in al-Bayda province, approved by new US President Donald Trump, resulted in a gun battle that left one Navy SEAL dead and an American aircraft a charred wreck. Local medics said several women and children were killed.
Yemeni officials told Reuters that Sanaa had not withdrawn its permission for the United States to carry out special operations ground missions but had made clear their “reservations” about the last operation.
A statement by the Yemeni embassy in Washington said the government “stresses that it has not suspended any programs with regards to counterterrorism operations in Yemen with the United States Government”.
The Yemeni government “reiterates its firm position that any counterterrorism operations carried out in Yemen should continue to be in consultation with Yemeni authorities and have precautionary measures to prevent civilian casualties.”
Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi has met with the US ambassador to Yemen and “made clear his reservations about the problems with the last operation,” a senior Yemeni official told Reuters.
US to work with Hadi
The State Department said the United States would continue working with Hadi “and his representatives to ensure that this important partnership remains solid in order to ultimately eradicate” al-Qaeda and ISIS from Yemen.
The Jan. 29 commando raid was only the second publicly acknowledged ground attack by US forces in Yemen.
Full report at:

Iranians stage nationwide rallies to mark anniversary of 1979 Islamic Revolution
Feb 10, 2017
In their millions, Iranians have filled the streets countrywide to relive the day 38 years ago when the nation’s hard-fought Islamic Revolution against the former US-backed regime became victorious.
On Friday morning, people from all walks of life started out the commemoration rallies in different cities and towns across Iran to celebrate the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
On, February 11, 1979, the Iranian nation’s struggles and protests against the tyrannous monarchial Pahlavi regime came to fruition under the leadership of Imam Khomeini, the religious and spiritual leader who is known as the “great architect of the Islamic Republic.”
In the capital, Tehran, President Hassan Rouhani is set to address the demonstrators at Azadi Square, preceded by celebratory parachuting and aerobatics.
Senior officials are also joining the marches in Tehran.
This year’s rallies are of higher significance and look set to be one of Iran’s biggest as they coincide with a political maelstrom in Washington kicked up by US President Donald Trump and his political point men against Tehran.
Both on the election trail and soon after taking office in January, Trump leveled serious threats against the Islamic Republic, including a pledge to “tear up” the nuclear accord between Tehran and P5+1 states, including Washington itself.
The president also branded the country as the “terrorist state number one.” He has also imposed fresh sanctions and issued an executive order blocking Iranians, among nationals from six other Muslim-majority states, from travelling to America.
The Muslim ban has currently been suspended by US courts, but Trump is pushing to re-impose it.
Full report at:

World seeing old US enmity towards Iran under Trump: Tehran
Feb 9, 2017
Tehran has once again slammed Washington’s recent belligerent rhetoric and measures against Iran, saying the world is currently witnessing age-old enmity of the United States towards the Islamic Republic under the administration of President Donald Trump. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi made the remarks on Thursday in response to the latest anti-Iran claims by White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer.
The Iranian official said the news coming out every day on Trump’s decisions, false remarks by some new US officials, in addition to widespread anti-Trump protests both at home and abroad “clearly show a change of president in the US.”
After taking office, the new US president ordered sweeping travel bans against a number of Muslim-majority countries, including the Islamic Republic. The order was followed by widespread domestic and international backlash.
Qassemi further said, “There may have been changes inside the US, but what seems to have remained unchanged is the US hostility toward Iran and the Iranians.”
The Iranian nation and government have also remained unchanged in terms of their resolve and determination to pursue independence, Qassemi said, adding that Iranians are resolved to continue the path of “dignity, wisdom and vigilance” in the face of enemy plots as well as excessive demands by the White House officials.
On Tuesday, Spicer claimed that “Iran is kidding itself if they don’t think there’s a new president in town.”
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington on February 7, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
He further accused Tehran of trying to violate a nuclear deal signed by Iran and the P5+1 group of countries – the US, Russia, China, Britain and France plus Germany – in July 2015.
Spicer’s claims came hours after Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei said the Iranian people would be responding to Trump’s anti-Iran threats on the upcoming anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. 
“Trump says, ‘Fear me!’ No. The [Iranian] people will respond to these remarks [during nationwide demonstration] on Bahman 22 (February 10) and will show what position the Iranian people assume vis-à-vis threats,” the Leader said, referring to the date on the Persian calendar coinciding with the victory anniversary of the February 11, 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Full report at:

- See more at: http://newageislam.com/islamic-world-news/new-age-islam-news-bureau/egypt-s-al-azhar-entirely-rejects-proposal-to-end-verbal-divorce/d/110032#sthash.TSEeE9Q4.dpuf