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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Have a healthy Ramadan

This year Ramadan is to fall during the month of August, which is the hottest month of the year, so good preparation is vital.

Throughout the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims from all around the world abstain from eating and drinking from the hours of sunrise to sunset. Ramadan is a very special time for Muslims, when community and family come together.

This year, as it falls in August this means that schools are closed and there will be extra family time spent together enjoying traditional dishes and a sense of togetherness.

Preparation the week before

Start by planning meals and making shopping lists so that you have your Ramadan eating plans sorted out ahead of time. This means that you can settle into a relaxed routine once Ramadan starts. A healthy body will carry you through the period when you are fasting. So start today to make your body strong by cutting out junk food and eating three balanced healthy meals a day. If you are unsure of what makes a balanced healthy eating plan e-mail me for my healthy eating guide.

Now is also a good time to cut down on the amount of tea, coffee and other fizzy drinks that contain caffeine. Try to limit yourself to only two of these per day so that during Ramadan you do not experience withdrawal symptoms such as headaches. Start now to make sure your body is hydrated, by drinking 8 to 10 glasses of water through the day.

Ramadan is also a time to take care of yourself so that you feel well. It is not a time to think of losing weight but being calm and healthy. If you have any new health issues throughout the last year prepare for Ramadan by discussing these with your doctor and take his advice on how best to help your body cope with fasting.

Take good care of yourself

Keep up good eating habits by eating balanced meals with fruit and vegetables.

Try not to eat too quickly when breaking your fast.

Start gently with traditional dates or figs and a glass of water or a simple soup or rice pudding with apricot jam.

Be sure to aim for 2 liters or more of water daily and lots of fresh fruit juices. Try to drink enough to avoid dehydration and headaches during the day. If you are not drinking enough water your urine will be dark; this means you need to drink more water. Drinking lots of water will help you avoid constipation.

Avoid drinking more than two cans of cola or two cups of coffee or tea as they can keep you awake at night, and they also have a diuretic effect on the body. If you give them up completely in Ramadan you will experience withdrawal symptom such as headaches

Exercise. It is important for the circulation to maintain some kind of exercise. Get into the habit of taking an evening walk along the beach or in the park after Iftar, or just to get some fresh air.

Sleep well. A good night’s sleep is necessary to ensure balance the next day especially for those who go to work or study. Lack of sleep can express itself in the form of nervousness, bad headaches and digestive problems.

Take an afternoon nap as this will give you energy and refresh you so that you can enjoy your evenings.

Suhoor: I highly recommend eating this pre-dawn meal before you start your day of fasting. While you may want to pass to catch some more sleep, remember that you can always take a nap in the afternoon while you are fasting, but you won't be able to eat or drink. To make it easier, prepare a light breakfast before going to bed so you can quickly eat and go back to sleep. Try to eat a meal that will give you energy to enjoy your day and experience Ramadan to the full. As the weather is warm drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration.

Source: The Arab News

Ramadan a time of change, a time for reverence

The month-long Muslim holiday, full of prayer and fasting, begins Monday.

The Muslim holy yet festive month of Ramadan, during which believers fast from dawn and dusk, pray more ardently than usual, and redouble their charitable efforts, begins Monday.

The exact date and time is always a matter of lively discussion in the Islamic world, because it depends on the initial sighting of the new moon, which varies by location.

Fawad Siddiqui, a 32-year-old Hialeah born-and-bred actor, remembers when debates on the subject got so “vitriolic’’ at the mosque where his family worshipped that someone would call the cops.

Muslims from the Indian Subcontinent tend to rely on direct observation, he said, while in the Arab world, governments “make a pronouncement. They want it to be streamlined and a little neater.’’

But Friday, following afternoon prayers at the Islamic Center of Greater Miami in Miami Gardens, which his family helped establish, Siddiqui said that people don’t get so wrought up about it anymore, and not just because sophisticated astronomical observations can pinpoint the moment.

“Nine-eleven rubbed over the nuances,’’ said Siddiqui, whose parents emigrated from Pakistan. “Nine-eleven put everything in perspective.’’

That’s good news in South Florida’s culturally diverse Muslim community, he said, noting how many nationalities were represented among Friday’s worshippers.

But distinctions within the community are largely lost on non-Muslims, as some of the loudest voices — “demagogues who try to paint it as a monolith’’ — preach suspicion and distrust, he said.

In his pre-Ramadan sermon, the Islamic Center’s spiritual leader, Imam Ahmad Akcin, addressed the matter broadly, defining the fast not just as abstinence from food, but as a commitment to humility and reverence.

“When anybody approaches you to fight with you, you must say: ‘I am fasting. I cannot respond to your provocation.’’’

Violence, he said, “spoils our piety.’’

Encouraging several hundred worshippers to embrace the discipline that Ramadan demands, he stressed the health benefits of fasting on the digestive system and its spiritual benefits on the psyche, which, ideally, should linger once the holiday ends on the last day of Islam’s ninth month: Eid al-Fitr on Aug. 31.

“Ramadan gives you peace and tranquility,’’ Akcin said. “Personal hostility is at a minimum.’’

Kadiatou Traore, a 21-year-old nursing student from the West African country of Mali, was among the first worshippers on the women’s side of the mosque, separated from the men by walls made of gauzy fabric.

She was looking forward to the holiday because of the fast, and because the community gathers each evening to pray and eat supper as one big family.

Seated on thick green carpeting, she explained that she grew up with a Christian mother and a Muslim father, explored both faiths, and ultimately chose Islam because “it makes me feel closer to God.’’

Ramadan “is good for my diet,’’ said Traore, who lost 20 pounds last year when she gave up fast food.

“It’s a time of change,’’ she said. “It makes me feel like I can do anything.’’

Starting with puberty, Muslims are supposed to fast all day during Ramadan, but there are exceptions for pregnancy and certain medical conditions.

Daa’iyah B. Sabir, 75, who prays at Masjid al-Ansar in Liberty City, said she has to eat because she’s diabetic, but must fulfill her religious obligation by feeding someone else, not difficult considering “there are so many poor people on the street. I’ll give them a dinner or money to get one.’’

Born Methodist in North Carolina, she joined the Nation of Islam in 1957.

Ramadan “is a blessing because you get to see all the believers for 30 days,’’ she said. “You’re praying more, and being more conscious of what you’re all about.’’

She feels pity for those who fear all Muslims because some have committed acts of terror.

“They don’t understand us and they put us all in that category,’’ she said. “I do know who I am.’’

Azhar Pirzada, a semi-retired clinical biochemist on the board of trustees at the Islamic Foundation of South Florida — a prayer hall and K-8 school in Sunrise led, until recently, by a Christian convert from Oklahoma — said that 400 to 600 people come to pray each night during Ramadan, then share a “feast.’’

Sometimes, a single person will sponsor the meal, which costs about $10 a head. Sometimes multiple donations pay for it, “because Ramadan is a time when you are supposed to do more charity...If you can’t give money, you can donate your time and effort more than you would normally do.’’

It’s a time when Muslims should look inward at their own character, he said.

“I cannot change the world until I change myself,’’ said Pirzada. “We have to win people through love.’’

Asad Ba-Yunus, a Miramar lawyer who became an unofficial spokesman for the South Florida Muslim community after taking on the defense of Miami Imam Hafiz Muhammad Sher Ali Kahn, an accused terror suspect arrested in May, said that all 30 mosques in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties came together this year to plan Ramadan open houses.

“The claim against us is that we’re violent terrorists,’’ said the New York-born Ba-Yunus, 36, whose family came from Pakistan, “so we’re trying to engage elected officials, county officials, and the public, to come in and visit with us — be part of fast-breaking and get to know your neighbors.’’

He said that the community is striving to create a more positive image by staging blood drives, feeding the homeless, doing beach clean-ups and other volunteer projects.

To deal with the angry stares and occasional verbal assaults, “I have to compartmentalize,’’ he said. “If I dwell on what others perceive, I would constantly be dealing with the fear of repercussions. But life is all about pleasing God, so it doesn’t matter if people despise me.

“Allah is always with me.’’

To locate a nearby mosque that is hosting a Ramadan community open house, check:

Source: The Miami Herald

Programs for Somali children and teens aim to create confidence and cultural pride

Amal Issa and Sahra Kaahiye grew up in Edmonton during a time when there were only a few hundred Somali families in the city and everyone knew everyone else.

“We were raised here and raised in this community and it did everything for us,” said 21-year-old Kaahiye, a recent graduate of the respiratory therapy program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

“It was very tight-knit,” said Issa, 22, a recent University of Alberta graduate and youth support worker.

Now Kaahiye and Issa help run an empowerment workshop for Somali teenage girls in the city.

“As we grew up, we took over the leadership roles,” Kaahiye said. “Now we want to do something for the community.”

Earlier this summer, Issa, Kaahiye and another woman, Aurelia Uarsama, got together to begin brainstorming about initiatives they could launch for Somali youth in Edmonton.

The women realized there was a void that needed to be filled for young girls in Edmonton.

“The girls started talking about their experiences in high school, and they said they had no leaders and mentorship programs to enrich their lives,” Uarsama, 40, explained. “It just came up so naturally. We never thought that we would go so far with it. It was really a success.”

Uarsama, Kaahiye and Issa, developed the workshop in June, putting in hours of unpaid, unfunded efforts to get the project off the ground. By July they had identified about a dozen girls between the ages of 12 and 16 for the one-month workshop that met twice a week. The acronym for their initiative, Individual Distinctive Youth Leadership Program, IDYL, carries another meaning in Somali ­— complete, or whole.

“The junior-high aged girls, it’s a really critical time in their development. It’s when they form their identity and their values. It’s a way of starting really early and not only dealing with the effects of the choices they make, but trying to influence them to make positive choices from the very beginning,” Issa said.

Over the month, the women watched the girls come out of their shells. Most of the girls hadn’t met one another before the program. A first workshop was filled with icebreaker activities designed to get the girls to open up. By the end of the month, the barriers were down, many girls forging new friendships and becoming more vocal.

The community can be isolated and marginalized, Uarsama said, which is why reaching out to young people is so crucial. Often, young Somalis only interact with other Somalis, and much of the programming available isn’t specifically for girls.

“What we wanted to do with this program is really tell them, ‘Hey, you’re part of this social fabric. You’re 100-per-cent Canadian. You need to be aware of your civil role and the civic entitlement that you have,’ ” said Uarsama, a U of A Masters student whose research focuses on what it means to be a Somali woman in higher education.

“We talk about being Canadian because a lot of the community can be marginalized.”

During one Thursday night session, they were tasked with learning about their names — what it means and who they were named for.

“My name is Intisar and it means successful,” said one girl, clad in a long flowing head scarf. Her mother told her she was named for her grandmother, she said.

Uarsama showed the girls photographs of Somali women going back more than 100 years. The intention was to relay to the girls the important role women play in Somali society.

“We wanted to show them that they come from a strong African, Somali background. And with that, they need to feel privileged about having immigrated here,” she said. “We want them to fulfil their role in education and make something for themselves, to be able to help their society here and the country back home.”

Throughout the seven workshops the girls also learned life skills like budget balancing and goal setting. They talked about stereotypes and empathy, using skits to mirror real-life situations they might face over the next few years.

“We wanted them to know they wouldn’t have to put themselves in one role and accept it,” Kaahiye said. “We didn’t want them to put themselves in a box.”

They’re hoping funding will be renewed.

Their workshop is just one of several programs in the city designed for at-risk or immigrant youth. Some are grassroots. Others are run by Edmonton Public Schools, the City of Edmonton and social assistance agencies such as the Edmonton Mennonite Centre for Newcomers.

At Balwin School, for instance, in the city’s northeast, a summer camp gives youth, many of them Somali, a safe place during summer break. The camp, with a sports program and academic help, is run by Edmonton Public Schools with the support of a handful of city agencies.

“A large number of kids who attend are from ethno-cultural communities in the area and there are lots of Somalis living in the neighbourhood,” said Ann Nicolai, community co-ordinator for the Schools as Hubs program.

“Many of the families here are working pretty hard for their needs. If you’re working all the time you may not have the resources to enrol your children in another program.”

About 80 kids from Kindergarten to Grade 9 arrive at Balwin daily. On a late July afternoon, kids from Kindergarten to Grade 3 screeched while playing games in the school gym while other, older students bedazzled clothing using feathers and beads. The smell of fresh Bannock wafted from the school’s kitchen and a group of children played soccer outside.

The summer camp is an extension of an after-school program at Balwin and Boyle McCauley schools also implemented by Edmonton public school board.

After meeting with Somali parents worried about their children’s education, the board started a five day a week after-school program, says spokesperson Karen Bardy. The program combines homework help, recreation and language training. Also, “cultural coaches” — two young Somali-speaking men — are brought into the schools as mentors.

Many students have had their education interrupted at some point in their lives and need extra help.

“If you’ve been living in a refugee camp ... getting ongoing education can be a real challenge for families,” said Nicolai

The idea, she explained, is for the school to become a natural destination, a place students will look forward to attending daily. “If you have a really good program where kids are being engaged, kids like to come to school,” she said.

Having Somali role models and mentors is crucial, says Uarsama.

“We tried to use a very holistic approach, because they need Somali people telling them they are important,” Uarsama said.

“It’s very important to know where you come from. They’ve realized they come from a strong society and they’ve become more confident,” she said. “It’s like they found what they are looking for.”

The City of Edmonton is also about to launch a new program to target the younger set, kids 12 to 18, says Harry Oswin, who works in community building in the city’s community services department.

The program will focus on four fronts, teaching kids life skills and getting kids involved in sports and recreation facilities. That also means getting more sports aimed at girls, he said. The program will include leadership training and career development, including public speaking, interview skills.

A fourth aspect will involve setting up a “ community corps” to get Somali and other immigrant kids involved in volunteer projects, from helping at the food bank to Habitat for Humanity, said Oswin.

“Often children of immigrants don’t know the opportunities out there,” he said.

Oswin says he’s impressed with the vibrancy of the Somali community and it’s important to remember that the vast majority are not touched by crime, he says.

“I see a lot of young people who want to make a difference, who want to get along,” said Oswin.

Mana Ali, a community spokesperson, says the community is very grateful for the city’s support for these initiatives that will help vulnerable youth.

“We are very grateful to Mayor Stephen Mandel who has taken so much interest,” she added.

Source: The Edmonton Journal

Job centre becomes haven for young Somalis

Just off Fort Road, in an old, street level office, young men and women huddle over a bank of new computers updating resumes while others check a job board covered in postings.

This summer, young Somali adults found new and friendly place learn some job hunting skills — writing resumes, interview skills how to handle conflict in the workplace. Most important, they also connect with potential employers.

Anxious to address high unemployment among 18-30 year olds, the community proposed a job skills centre and applied for a federal grant.

“Access to jobs is number one right in the community,” says Amal Issa, 22, co-ordinator of the centre, home of the Somali Canadian Education and Rural Development Organization.

“Then there are a whole range of issues with gang violence and drugs.”

Issa is quite excited about the new program funded by Service Canada on a three month grant.

Ten applicants, after doing their skills course, got placements in workplaces. That’s the key for many Somalis, she says, explained, because getting real-life work experience can be a challenge for this group.

“I think it’s very important because a lot of the time, youth feel better coming to a place like this because we understand their issues better than another centre.”

She also sees youth who have had trouble with the law walk through the centre’s front doors, looking for help. Sometimes they need help finding a volunteer placement necessary for their probation terms. Other times, they’re just looking for a place to spend time, away from street corners.

“That’s why there’s so much of a need for safe spaces like this. It’s very alluring, if you’re not getting hired, and someone offers you money to deliver a package.”

Unfortunately, a funding hiccup from Service Canada has the program in limbo for now — even as demand for the service rises. The centre has applied for renewal of their grant and is waiting for a final decision from Service Canada in the coming weeks.

Source: The Edmonton Journal

U of A campus radio DJ helps Somali community find its voice

By Mariam Ibrahim,

Jaamac Jaamac’s wedding day nearly four years ago was supposed to be a day for celebration.

Instead, he mourned the loss of a friend — the same friend who was supposed to emcee his wedding reception.

Farhan Hassan, 27, and Kasim Mohamed, 28, were gunned down on Sept. 2, 2007 outside the Fulton Place Community Hall during an after-hours party. Neither man had ties to gangs or drugs, police said at the time.

“My cousin called me at 6 a.m. and he said, ‘Farhan is dead.’” Jaamac recalled. “From that day, things went wrong.”

In the years that followed, 12 more Somali-Canadian men would be killed in the Edmonton area.

With barely a fraction of the crimes solved, Jaamac said fear in the community has been growing.

Jaamac, 36, has hosted Edmonton’s only Somali radio show for more than six years.

His one-hour Somali-language show delivers diverse news to Somalis in the city, with a focus on issues facing the community in Edmonton and Canada. His show is a forum for debate among Somalis in the city, who often call in to discuss the hot-button issues of the week.

Some weeks the discussion turns to the disproportionate number of homicides affecting the community, which numbers between 10,000 and 15,000.

He says he has heard different arguments from people phoning in on the subject.

“Some say these kids (who were killed) moved here from Toronto or Ottawa and they’re not connected to this community,” he said. “I heard people who have a counter-argument to that, saying we’re all new here; we all moved from somewhere else.”

He said the perceived lack of co-operation with police among Edmonton’s Somali community is unfair. Many people who call in attribute many of the homicides to the victims’ involvement in drugs or gangs, he said.

“Those people who have information are probably criminals themselves,” he said. “We know the code of silence exists with criminals.”

But the perception remains, he said, and his full-time job driving a taxi gives him the opportunity to hear from Edmontonians about the killings.

He senses there is a public perception that Somalis accept criminality or don’t help police because police in Somalia were corrupt. “But when other people involved in crimes don’t co-operate with police, the blame doesn’t go beyond them,” he said.

“Now as a taxi driver, I’m on the defensive all the time. When people ask me where I’m from, and I say, ‘Somalia,’ I’m ready to get a negative reaction,” he said.

Jaamac left his native Somalia in 2002, resettling in Calgary after a few months in Kenya.

Almost as soon as he arrived in Calgary, Jaamac pushed ahead on fulfilling his dream of becoming a journalist, a passion he has pursued since he was a 14-year-old boy growing up in Mogadishu listening to a government-run radio station and BBC’s Somalia service.

“I memorized every show and every broadcast,” Jaamac recalled. “I was listening to shows constantly. Then I developed a sense that I wanted to do it too, that I could do it.”

He eventually got a gig as an assistant for a Somali radio sports commentator in Mogadishu and later developed a radio program aimed at deterring Somali youth from joining the fighting in the country’s civil war, which has raged since 1991.

Earning $9 per hour as a dishwasher in Calgary, Jaamac paid $34 for a weekly one-hour slot on a cable radio station. He slowly gained a small following, but he realized his show would be limited in Calgary. The community there was smaller than in Edmonton and there were fewer businesses to canvass for support.

“Calgary is a very tough city to open a business in,” he said. “I needed more listeners.”

He set his sights on an open time slot at CJSR, the University of Alberta campus radio station. By 2005, Jaamac was in Edmonton, and in May, his radio show debuted. It was a tough go at first he said, especially because of the time slot he had — Sundays at 11 a.m.

“It’s really tough to get Somali listeners on a Sunday morning. It’s not like Somalis go to church,” he explained with a laugh.

His show has since moved to the 8 p.m. slot on Sundays, which helped spur its popularity.

Jaamac, married with a two-year-old daughter, drives a cab full-time and manages the minimum five hours of prep work his show demands each week.

“During the week, while I’m driving my taxi, I find time to take notes, interview people,” he said. Jaamac says he began the radio show because he was always interested in journalism and media, but over time his motivations have changed.

“When I first started, I wasn’t doing it for the Somali community. I did it for myself. I liked it,” he explained. “But then the sense of community started building up. I started realizing what I was doing wasn’t just for me.”

Now he views his show as a service for people in the community, many of whom may not pay attention to mainstream media reports. The show has been crucial to getting information to Somalis, especially those who have difficulties with English. During the H1N1 crisis three years ago, Jaamac hosted guests who provided advice on how to avoid infection.

“We started bringing in people we thought were important to speak to the community,” he said. “When I stop for coffee or food at Somali restaurants, people stop me and thank me.”

He says the community can be very isolated, with a culture gap existing between Somali parents who came to Canada and their children who were raised here.

“This is a closed society. There is a culture gap. The youth have a Canadian way of living and speak English,” he explained. “Their parents are Somali-speaking and live a Somali way of life.”

He acknowledged some Somali youth are struggling in Edmonton, with many dropping out of school, but said youth in many minority groups often face similar challenges.

But there are real contributions this community has brought to Edmonton, too, he said, like the dozens of Somali businesses that have popped up around the city. And, he said, many young Somalis, mostly women, are graduating from university and moving on to professional careers.

“And there’s a high number of young men and women who are contributing to this society and are filling unwanted jobs in this city,” he said.

“There are a lot of positive things happening in this city. And although there are a lot of organizations doing good work, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Source: The Edmonton Journal

Somali refugee worries about family struggling with famine

Mana Abdalla is the mother of eight. The youngest is only six months old and is usually on her hip. Her oldest child, 15-year-old Omar, often translates for her.

At Denver's East 13th Avenue Community Garden, each family has a small patch. It helps feed Abdalla's family, but there is not much the Somali refugee can do with the garden to help her family back in her native country.

"She feels really, really bad because her dad lives right there and he's going through the same problems," Omar said.

A massive famine has swept through the Horn of Africa due to a drought affecting more than 11 million people in parts of Ethiopia, Djibouti, northeastern Kenya and especially in Somalia.

In Abdalla's homeland of Somalia, life was already hard enough. She left 14 years ago because of the violence. There was constant fighting between government forces and Islamist militants, who often abuse civilians.

"If you have food and you cook it, you don't even serve it to your family. They just come and take it," Omar translated for his mother. "Like, they're just gonna kill your brother in front of you, rape your sister in front of you."

After leaving Somalia, Abdalla spent seven years in a Kenyan refugee camp before finally getting a visa to the U.S.

Now, hundreds of thousands of Somalis are once again crowded into refugee camps in Kenya. Many are barely alive when they get there - if they get there. They're forced to make the dangerous trek out of southern Somalia because the militants won't let humanitarian aid groups come to them.

Despite that, every day, thousands more arrive at the refugee camps and aid workers are struggling to keep up with demand for food and medical care.

"It makes me feel bad because that could have been me over there. Without the government bringing us here, that could have been me dying like that," Omar said.

He says he is grateful for the chance to be a regular American teenager.

"My little brothers come out here [to the garden] everyday," he said.

If you would like to help those in East Africa, here are some resources:

UNICEF: Text FOOD to UNICEF (864233) to donate $10, enough to feed a child for 10 days or provide 321 sachets of nutrient powder to boost infant survival and development.

Red Cross: Make donations online at or by calling 1-800-HELP-NOW.

Doctors Without Borders: Donate here or by calling 1-888-392-0392.

Save the Children: Click here for ways to give.

The World Food Programme: Donate $10 by texting the word AID to 27722 or make a donation online.

World Vision: Donate online.

The International Rescue Committee: Donate online.

Oxfam International: Donate online.

Source: KUSA-TV - Multimedia Holdings Corporation

Arrival of Somali sheep to cut prices

Imported livestock are unloaded from a ship at the port of Jeddah.

JEDDAH: A shipment of more than 21,000 livestock and 2,000 camels from Somalia arrived at Jeddah Islamic Port on Saturday.

The shipment is one of many yet to come and is expected to cover the needs of the livestock market for the month of Ramadan.

Suleiman Al-Jabri, head of the livestock committee at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI), expected livestock prices to decline.

Al-Jabri announced that shipments carrying more than a million livestock would arrive in the next few days at Jeddah port to cover local market needs for the month of Ramadan and until Haj.

"The availability of imported livestock in the market will help reduce prices by 10 percent," he said. He praised the role of the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Commerce in monitoring the local market.

Al-Jabri denied any increase in livestock prices with the start of Ramadan. He said prices were declining in the past few days after permission was granted to import livestock from Somalia.

He added that the livestock committee sent recommendations to the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Commerce on the importance of supporting livestock businessmen and importers as it would help reduce prices.

"There was an agreement to support livestock businessmen in light of the global price increases and because of the declining value of the dollar. This forced many traders to temporarily stop importing from countries like Australia because their prices are not suitable for the local consumer. There was a shortage of livestock in the local market, which forced prices to increase. The price increase drove some traders to import frozen meat, which was also not suitable for consumers," he said.

He said the long-term support demanded in the letter sent to the ministries called for facilitating veterinary examinations at Saudi seaports.

The letter urged the authorities not to reject any livestock shipments because some of the animals were found sick, especially as quarantine facilities are available at the port.

Any returned shipment will cause huge losses for importers.

He also highlighted the importance of the government supporting investors in establishing agriculture projects and processing units outside the Kingdom that has agricultural capabilities. He also called for providing easy loans for such investments.

Source: The Arab News

The meaning of being an American and Muslim

Ramadan — the month of fasting that begins tomorrow for Muslims across the world — is a time of prayer and reflection in the Islamic tradition. But several hundred Muslims from New Jersey and neighboring states got an early start on the reflection this year. Men and women of all ages and ethnicities — but united by their religion and U.S. citizenship — gathered at a Somerset hotel two weeks ago for a symposium on their joint obligations to faith and homeland.

The evening’s guest was Tariq Ramadan, the Swiss-born grandson of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and one of Europe’s most prominent and controversial intellectuals. Ramadan, an Oxford professor with degrees in Western philosophy and Islamic jurisprudence from Swiss and Egyptian universities, is an outspoken proponent of Western Islam and pluralist societies. While the multicultural nature of the United States makes the Muslim American experience rather different from the European one, in recent years, Islamophobia has been on the rise in America.

In 2004, Ramadan was en route to the United States to start a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame when the State Department revoked his visa. The Bush administration questioned a $1,300 donation Ramadan had made to a European organization with ties to the Palestinian group Hamas, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization. Six years of legal fights later — during which the American Civil Liberties Union used Ramadan’s case to argue against the constitutional legitimacy of the Patriot Act — he obtained a visa to enter this country in 2010. His New Jersey visit was one of his first U.S. trips after the controversy.

Ramadan’s arguments against isolation and assimilation have upset many both in the West and in Muslim-majority countries, but his belief that one can be fully European (or fully American) and fully Muslim is taking hold, especially among younger generations. With the number of Muslim Americans slated to double over the next two decades — with many more born on U.S. soil — Ramadan’s call for a diverse society in which Muslim citizens are active participants inspires many.

"I’m an American, I’ve always been an American," said Sana Khan, 29, a Clifton native who came to hear Ramadan’s talk. Khan, who is of Pakistani descent and married to a Palestinian-American, said that after 9/11, some Muslim Americans retired to their communities while others went out of their way to prove they are Americans.

"We needed someone like (Ramadan) to remind us that being Muslim doesn’t separate us from being American, and being American doesn’t separate us from being Muslim," she said.

What follows are some excerpts from Ramadan’s address — from his thoughts on integration to his lessons on civic responsibility.

On consistency

"If you have a duty as American citizens, it is to make it clear that when you are for justice within, you are for justice everywhere. If you are for dignity here, you are for dignity everywhere. And the best thing that you can bring to the United States of America is a sense of consistency: Just reconcile yourselves with your own values. If you are serious about democracy and you are serious about dignity, you should be serious about these things everywhere. Because the blood of an Afghani is as valuable as the blood of an American. Very often, our fellow citizens don’t get it right, mainly because this is our responsibility. We are not clear with our message. We appear as if we only care when Muslims are oppressed. That we only care when it’s about us. We should change this and show that we care when it has to do with human beings everywhere."

On integration

"Thirty years ago, we had scholars telling us, ‘Protect yourselves from the surrounding societies, because these are not your societies.’ But this is not going to be our future. We are going to stay here. And it’s not a question of protecting ourselves; it’s contributing to our societies. Our perception should change. If you want to get it right as Muslims, and you want to get it right as citizens, the first challenge is to change your mind. It’s to get it right. If your perception is wrong, and you still speak about ‘them’ and you still speak about ‘this’ society, which is not ‘your’ society, your thoughts are not going to be the right ones. We need now to understand that, after 30 years, from protection we have to come to contribution. Our best protection in this country will be our gifts to this country. So ask yourselves, what kind of contribution are we making?"

On agents of peace

"Islam is about peace. Are you agents of peace in the United States? Are you agents of reconciliation in this country? Are you helping this country meet its ends? As Muslims and as citizens, this is your goal. Because one of the main objectives of Islam is to spread peace. Exactly the opposite of what is said about our religion, it’s as if every time we speak about Islam, we speak about violence. It’s a critical year that is coming up. With the coming elections, you will see that Islam is going to be a topic, a hot topic. It’s going to be used. The tea partiers are creating the ‘other,’ and the other are the Muslims: ‘Yes, you are Americans, but you are too Muslim to be truly Americans.’ And it’s your job now to get it right: not to react to these, but to get the best response to such a propaganda. How are you going to do this? Just by going out and saying to people, ‘You know what? We’re nice’? You are not here to appear as nice as you can. You are not here to be tolerated. You are here to be a driving force in American society. You are here to be agents of reconciliation."

On 9/11

"The Muslim community, instead of being obsessed with being well-perceived, first have to start with feeling good within. Feel confident. Feel reassured that your values are universal values. You want good citizens? You need to love your family, love your neighbor, serve the poor. All these values are within Islam. We need to reassess this essence. First is mutual respect. So let us respect the people, be respected by the people. Don’t be scared to be Muslims. Don’t try to please people with the image of Islam. Try to be Muslims and be respected as Muslims. Be assured Americans, be confident Americans."

On critical citizenship

"There is no contradiction between being a Muslim and being an American. Being a citizen means that, at the age of 18, you should be able to vote, to decide for yourself. You should be intellectually independent, financially independent, socially independent. You should try to find your way. Now, look at Islam. It’s exactly the same. At the age of reason, you have to try and be religiously independent, intellectually independent. A citizen in this country should be intellectually, religiously, socially independent. This is expected of all citizens and it is expected of all Muslims. But there is no way to be independent if you have no courage. A citizen, a true American citizen, when his or her government is doing something right, he or she supports it, and when the government is doing something wrong, he is criticizing or she is criticizing. …You have to be loyal to your country. And now you are American. The only right way to be loyal to your country is to be critically loyal. There is no contradiction between being a Muslim and being an American — if and only if you get it right. So let us try to be the best we can and serve the best we can and love the best we can."

Source: Star-Ledger

UN Sanctions Kenyan, U.S. Citizen Over Links to Part of Local Al-Qaeda Net

The United Nations Security Council imposed travel bans and asset freezes on a Kenyan-born man and a U.S. citizen over their links to al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda linked insurgency group.

Hassan Mahat Omar, a 32-year-old Imam, was sanctioned for engaging in acts that threaten peace, security or stability in Somalia, the council said in a statement on the UN’s website yesterday. Omar is a leader of Masjid-ul-Axmar, an informal al- Shabaab affiliated center in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, and is involved in recruiting new members and soliciting funds for al- Shabaab, it said.

The council also imposed the bans on Omar Hammani, a 27- year-old man from Alabama who it said is a “senior member” of al-Shabaab. Hammani is involved in recruitment, finance and payroll for foreign fighters in Somalia and is described as an explosives expert, it said.

The bans bring to 11 the number of groups and individuals targeted by the UN over the conflict in Somalia. The list includes al-Shabaab, which has waged a four-year insurgency against the Horn of Africa’s Western-backed government, and Hassan Dahir Aweys, who heads an alliance of groups opposed to Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s administration.

Somalia has been mired in a civil war for two decades and hasn’t had a functioning central government since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

To contact the reporter on this story: Paul Richardson in Nairobi at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at

Source: Bloomberg

Somali Refugees: Waiting for Food and Hope

After many families make the long, perilous journey from Somalia to the refugee camps in Kenya, they are in for another excruciating wait.

This morning as we pulled up to the refugee compound, hundreds of refugees were already gathered in front of a giant red gate waiting to register at the camps.

Off in the distance, even more families emerged from the tinder dry desert, having just finished the over 100-mile journey. One mother was balancing all of her family's belongings and her baby. Another mother we met said it had been five days since she and her children had something to eat.

Not far off are fresh mounds of dirt – the nameless graves for the refugees who did not survive.

Once the refugees get through the gate they are brought inside to be registered. Fingerprints are taken and then families receive yellow bands and are given a ration that is intended to last 20 days. However, it can take two months before families can enter into one of the refugee camps.

"It is a problem," said William Spindler, the UNHCR director.

Today the UN said that if families run out of food, they are allowed to come back for more. But few waiting in these desert outskirts know that.

More than 1,000 refugees arrive and register every day.

The camp has now swollen to 400,000 refugees, which is equal to the population of Cleveland or Minneapolis.

Beyond the swelling refugee camps here in Kenya, the UN warned this week in emergency meetings that more than 10 million people could face starvation across the horn of Africa unless they get food and quickly.

Source: ABC News

Saturday, July 30, 2011

US Muslims prepare for summertime Ramadan fasting

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan falls during the long, hot days of August this year, and Muslim Americans are getting ready to accommodate the daylight fasts required during Ramadan with adjustments in their schedules and eating habits.

It can be even tougher for Muslims in America than for their counterparts in majority-Muslim countries, where business slows down during Ramadan and people take it easier during the day, says Dr. Elizabeth Rourke, an internist at Boston Medical Center.

"In the U.S., everyone is required to do what they would do ordinarily, the entire month," Rourke says, "so it makes the fast much more demanding for American Muslims."

Mubarakah Ibrahim, a personal trainer, hopes to cram all her clients in the morning when she has the most energy. She'll serve vegetables as the first course when her family breaks their fast in the evenings to make sure they get their nutrients for the day. And she'll buy her four kids - ranging in age from 10 to 17 - shiny new water bottles as a reminder to hydrate during the hours they're not fasting.

"We know spirituality can get you through anything," says Ibrahim, who lives in New Haven, Connecticut "But the choice really is, you can suffer through it and still do it, or you can do it and do it efficiently without making your health suffer."

Ramadan requires daily fasts of food and water during daytime hours. Typically observers eat a meal before dawn and break their fast at sunset. The fast-breaking meal - which varies by ethnic group but traditionally starts with a handful of sweet dates - is seen by many Muslims as an opportunity to gather with family and friends.

This year Ramadan begins Aug. 1, when the period from dawn to sunset in the continental U.S. can range from around 14 to around 16 hours, depending where you live. The Islamic calendar follows the lunar cycle, which is shorter than the sun-based Gregorian calendar, so Ramadan creeps up 11 days every year. Ramadan can last 29 or 30 days, again depending on the lunar cycle.

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the most important duties in Islam, one that even the not-so-religious typically observe. Children are not required to fast until they hit puberty, though many start building up to it when they're younger with half-day fasts. Also exempt are the elderly, women who are pregnant or nursing, and people with chronic medical conditions. But even for healthy Muslims, the daily fast from dawn until sunset can be grueling.

Rourke teaches medical residents about Ramadan and its implications for patients - how to adjust medication regimens to fit the daytime fast when possible, how to advise patients on avoiding dehydration, how to enlist help from a local religious leader if someone who shouldn't be fasting expresses the intention to do so.

Even for a totally healthy person to sustain that fast for a long period of time during a time where it can be very hot, it's a very demanding thing to ask of your body," Rourke says.

Sheikh Ali, a college student from Boca Raton, Florida, tries to ease his body into Ramadan mode by fasting intermittently the prior month, a practice of the Prophet Muhammad that some people emulate.

The premed chemistry major also extols the benefits of eating a high-fiber breakfast, like whole grain cereal, especially in the pre-dawn meal before fasting to help keep him feeling full.

Still, many Muslims say they won't do much differently this year and they're not too worried about the summer Ramadan.

"Once you've done it for this long," says Natasha Chida, a medical resident at the University of Miami who's been fasting since she was in middle school, "it's not really something that's physically difficult, it's just about continuing to learn self-restraint."

Beyond abstaining from food and drink, Muslims try to avoid negative words, thoughts and actions while fasting. Ramadan is seen as an opportunity to improve oneself, spiritually and personally.

Rizwan Jaka, a technology manager in Washington, D.C., puts the fast in perspective by reflecting on and empathizing with those in need, one of the main purposes of fasting.

"In the end, we have to realize that people go without food and water on a regular basis," Jaka says. Whatever hardships people feel during their fast, he adds, "we've got it easy compared to people who don't have access to food and running water."

Source: The Associated Press

Security Council extends mandate of monitoring group for Somalia and Eritrea

29 July 2011 – The Security Council today extended the mandate of the United Nations panel of experts monitoring compliance with sanctions related to the conflict in Somalia for another year as it also agreed to expand the group’s mandate to better enforce the sanctions.
In a resolution adopted unanimously, the Council asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to re-establish the eight-member Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia for a period of 12 months starting today.

The panel, which monitors compliance with the embargoes on the delivery of weapons and military equipment to Somalia and Eritrea, is now also tasked with investigating any seaport operations in Somalia that could generate revenue for the Islamist militant group known as Al-Shabaab that controls some Somali territory.

More broadly, the Monitoring Group must investigate all activities – including in the financial and maritime sectors – which generate revenue that is then used to break the Somalia and Eritrea arms embargoes.

It is also required to examine “any means of transport, routes, seaports, airports and other facilities used in connection with violations” of the embargoes.

The resolution calls on the Monitoring Group to compile a draft list of individuals and entities that engage in activities inside and outside Eritrea relating to the embargoes that could warrant further measures by the Security Council.

It is also tasked with devising ways to boost overall compliance with the embargoes and to identify areas where the capacities of countries in the region can be strengthened so as to fully implement the embargoes.

The resolution was adopted a day after the Monitoring Group issued a report which found that the Eritrean Government planned a massive attack on an African Union summit being held in Addis Ababa, the capital of neighbouring Ethiopia.

The report, which is over 400 pages, also points to Eritrea’s continuing relationship with Al-Shabaab, the Islamist militant group that controls some parts of Somalia’s territory and has been waging a fierce battle against the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) there.

While the Eritrean Government acknowledges that it maintains relationships with Somali armed opposition groups, including Al-Shabaab, it denies that it provides any military, material or financial support and says its links are limited to a political, and even humanitarian, nature.

However, evidence and testimony obtained by the Monitoring Group, including records of financial payments, interviews with eyewitnesses and data relating to maritime and aviation movements, all indicate that Eritrean support for Somali armed opposition groups is not limited to the political or humanitarian dimensions.

Source: UN News Centre

The Economics of Somali Piracy

By Mark Leon Goldberg

On May 5, 2009 the MV Victoria was sailing off the Gulf of Aden with a shipment of rice destined for Saudi Arabia when it was seized by Somali pirates. The crew of 11 Romanians then endured 75 days in captivity. After tense negotiations between the pirates and shipping company the shipping company agreed to pay a $1.95 million ransom (which was delivered by airdropping a package into the sea.)

So what did the Somali pirates do with that sum? A new report from the UN shows how the pirate business model is evolving into a very complex system.

Pirate finances are usually managed by a ‘Committee’, who organize an operation and are responsible for managing all the costs. The Committee members usually consist of a chair, the two principal investors, the commander of the sea-pirates and the commander of the terrestrial guard force. The Committee is supported in the financial aspects of its work by an accountant who is usually rewarded with a share equal to that of a guard.

Ransom payments must cover two types of expense: the ‘cost’ of the operation and the ‘profit’. After a ransom drop, pirate leaders deduct the operational expenses or ‘cost’ from the total amount of ransom, before distributing the remaining money or ‘profit’ to participants in the operation. The profit is generally lower than the cost and is divided between the investors (30%), the guard force (30%) and the sea-pirates (40%).

Operational cost
The ‘cost’ of an average pirate operation typically includes the following:

- Committee members: usually 5 persons who collectively receive 5% of the total ransom amount for their work in the Committee, in addition to the return on their

- Provisions for pirates and crew, both on board the hijacked ship and onshore, including food, drink, clothes, qaad, vehicles, equipment, weapons, outboard engines, fuel, etc.

- Shahaad: a Somali social obligation to share wealth, whether in cash, or by showing generous hospitality, estimated at as much as 20% of the total ransom amount;

- Somali cook(s);

- Accountant(s);

- Logistics coordinator;

- Interpreter or negotiator

- Payoffs to other local militia groups (to date only in Harardheere)

- Pirate leader and investor.

- Variable cost, paid back at up to 300% of cost. Off duty expenses like cigarettes, phone cards and prostitutes are usually not included in the ‘cost’.

- 2 shares equivalent to a guard force share

Investors in an operation share roughly 30% of the profit, according to their individual contributions. The remainder of the profit is distributed in the form of ‘shares’ to the participants. An individual can play multiple roles in an operation, organization and therefore collect multiple shares or fees.

The report goes on to detail how pirate leaders are also active investors in the Khat business. Khat (or Qaad) is a mild stimulant, grown regionally, that may or may not have addictive qualities. What’s more, young pirates addicted to Khat incur huge debts to pirate investors in order to keep up their habit. Indentured Piratude?

A large proportion of the ransom money is invested by pirate leaders in the ‘qaad or ‘miraa’ trade through Somali businessmen in Nairobi. Aircraft that fly qaad from Kenya into Somalia often return to Nairobi with cash — an important channel for piracy proceeds to leave the country.

Pirate leader Mohammed Abdi Hassan ‘Afweyne’, for example, is said to run such a business for the piracy network in Harardheere/Hobyo.

Most young pirates chew qaad as a way of passing the time, staying alert and socializing with their fellow pirates. They may spend weeks or months trying to hijack a ship, guarding the crew on board a hijacked ship, or providing protection onshore. Since few can afford the daily consumption of qaad for such extended period, qaad is usually provided to them on ‘credit’ by the pirate leaders, investors, and businessmen who control both the pirate network and the qaad business. Accounts are meticulously recorded, and the return for the qaad suppliers is huge, especially because they may charge the pirates as much as three times the market prices for qaad bought on credit.

In practice this means that a pirate pays up to US$150 for one ‘kilo’ of qaad, which normally sells for US$50 on the streets of Harardheere.

The symbiotic dynamic between piracy and the qaad trade clearly offers some pirate leaders a way both to invest their proceeds and to generate additional profits, which can be invested outside Somalia.
So how much does this cost the shipping company? As mentioned earlier, the MV Victoria paid a $1.95 million ransom. But that was only represented part of their losses from the 75 day ordeal. Again, from the UN Report:

The MV Victoria hijacking is illustrative of the costs typically associated with an act of piracy. The total cost of the MV Victoria hijacking represents €3,219,885.80, which are broken down as follows:
Direct costs of the hijacking
-Company costs (travel, communication, hotel, meetings, etc.)
- Cash stolen by the pirates on board the hijacked vessel
•-Communications from the vessel
- Lawyers
- Private security risk company (negotiations, ransom delivery, debrief etc.)
- Ransom payment
- Charter of a tug boat after the hijacking
- Port and agent’s fees
- Repairs (hull, machinery, equipment, computers, etc.)
- Medical costs

In the case of the MV Victoria, these direct costs amounted to €2,585,161.27.

In addition, the shipping company suffers the indirect costs deriving from the loss of hire of the vessel. In the MV Victoria’s case these involved 141.5 days, corresponding to a total cost of €634,724.53
All in all, this is a very profitable business — with a lot of stakeholders making a lot of money. For example, the report finds information about a shadowy freelance translator/negotiator that reportedly pulls in $500,000/ year.

The good news, such as it is, is that the Al Shabaab militant group–which is currently preventing humanitarian relief from reaching famine stricken areas in southern Somalia– is not directly involved in the piracy business. The report shows that their main source of income is extracting rent on the export of charcoal and import of sugar.

Still, relief vessels have been attacked in the past. (The Maersk Alabama, for example, was carrying World Food Program aid.) As the international community ramps up its effort to confront the famine crisis, the international community ought to remain vigilant against these threats.

Source: UN Dispatch

US blacklists 2 members of Somali insurgent group

The U.S. Treasury is putting two members of the Somali insurgent group al-Shabab on a terrorist blacklist.

The move against Omar Hammami and Hassan Mahat Omar would freeze any assets they hold in the United States and lock them out of the U.S. financial system.

Hammami is a U.S. citizen known as Abu Mansur al-Amriki. He is among foreign fighters in Somalia that U.S. military officials have said they would like to see killed or captured.

The Treasury Department said that Omar is Kenyan.

Source: CBS News

Somali: More aid needed; Troops gain new ground

African Union and Somali forces traded barrages of fire at a new front line in Mogadishu on Friday, as AU forces gained new territory. The country's president appealed for more international aid, saying the government can't feed all the overwhelming number of Somalis suffering from famine.

The African Union military force fears that al-Shabab militants may try to attack the camps that now house tens of thousands of famine refugees in the Somali capital, disrupting the distribution of food aid. A new offensive to push the militant front line farther back from the camps began Thursday.

A battlefield commander, Col. Paul Lokech, told The Associated Press on a visit near the front line Friday that a Pakistani fighter was commanding the al-Shabab troops battling his forces nearby, and that the militants were "active." Al-Shabab counts hundreds of foreign fighters among its ranks. Speaking of the Pakistani, Lokech said: "Don't worry, I'll get him."

Mortar fire and guns rang out nearby, as the militants put up more resistance than the AU forces had expected.

"They're worried about the ground they've lost," Lokech said.

The African Union and Somali troops have been fighting a concerted offensive against al-Shabab all year, and have gained a large swath of new territory in Mogadishu. But the fight took on a new importance in recent days as tens of thousands of famine refugees began squatting in squalid, hunger-filled refugee camps here.

President Sheik Sharif Sheik Ahmed said Friday that his government has created several refugee camps, but that his country needs urgent support because it can't support the level of aid that is needed. Ahmed also said the military has weakened al-Shabab, and that "soon they will be defeated."

The government spokesman went even further, saying the famine response from aid agencies "is too slow" and that the crisis is even more severe than the U.N. has said. He noted that diseases are spreading through the camps, including measles.

"The current famine situation in Somalia actually demands urgency, not only assessments and far-off responses, because many Somali children are dying in the country on a daily basis for lack of help," said Abdirahman Omar Osman. "We are asking the international community to increase their efforts and help these people facing misery. We believe the famine is bigger than the U.N. said."

The drought and the famine it's caused in Somalia have affected more than 11 million people, including 2.2 million Somalis who live in al-Shabab controlled territory in south-central Somalia where aid groups can't deliver food. Thousands are crammed into squalid refugee camps in the capital.

Though the masses arrived in hopes of finding food, many are not yet being fed, leading to an untold number of deaths in the camps.

A second U.N. plane landed in Mogadishu on Friday with more than 20 tons of nutritional supplements on board. A Kuwait Air Force transport plane also landed in the capital and offloaded sacks of food.

The World Food Program said with its second delivery Friday it has airlifted nearly 31 tons of ready-to-use food into Mogadishu. A WFP plane with 10 tons of peanut butter landed Wednesday in Mogadishu, the first of several planned airlifts in coming weeks.

WFP says it is supplying a hot meal to 85,000 people daily at 20 feeding centers in Mogadishu, but many refugees can't find the feeding sites or don't know about them.

"Our feeding centers continue to operate in spite of the difficult security situation and WFP is moving stocks out of our warehouse in Mogadishu to feed growing numbers of internally displaced Somalis who have fled the famine zone to the capital," the U.N. agency said Friday.

The AU offensive that began Thursday has seen AU troops move up the east side of Mogadishu's largest market — Bakara. The troops now control three sides of the market — the west, south and east — and AU force spokesman Lt. Col. Paddy Ankunda said Friday that the gains mean that tactically speaking the AU essentially controls the market.

Forces are now moving toward the city's large sports stadium, from which al-Shabab fires artillery, Ankunda said.

Putting a face on the young conscripts that fight for the ragtag force that is al-Shabab, three militant fighters surrendered to AU forces and were being questioned on Friday. The three are teenagers: ages 14, 15 and 17.

Also Friday, the World Bank said it did not renew funding for a project to help more than 1 million Kenyans to withstand recurrent droughts after some money could not be accounted for.

Johannes Zutt of the World Bank said the group chose not to give new funding to the Kenyan government for the Arid Lands Natural Resource Management Program until it accounts for $4.1 million that was used. The unaccounted money was part of $120 million the bank gave to the project from 2003 to 2010.

Critics say mismanagement and endemic corruption in Kenya's government are partly to blame for the hunger situation in Kenya where the U.N. anticipates that 3.5 million people will need food assistance in coming months. Tens of thousands of Somalis have also trekked to neighboring Kenya and Ethiopia, hoping to get aid in refugee camps.

The Kenyan government says it is looking into the fraud allegations.

Associated Press reporter Abdi Guled in Mogadishu, Somalia and Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya contributed to this report.

How to help:

Source: The Associated Press

Somali man recalls horrors of fleeing famine

When al-Qaida-linked militants learned that Ahmedhashim Mawlid Abdi and his family were planning to flee Somalia's famine, they threw the 40-year-old father of seven in jail for two days.

Over the next 17 days, as they made their escape, a gang of gunmen robbed them of the little food they had, Abdi's pregnant wife was raped in front of him, and his 7-year-old son died of starvation and disease. They were even attacked by a lion.

When they finally made it to the Dagahaley refugee camp in neighboring Kenya, their struggles were far from over. Food rations in the overcrowded camp are "just enough to survive on," Abdi said. And the future is uncertain.

As Somalia's famine unfolds in the middle of a war zone, some 2.2 million people are in peril in an area controlled by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab that is inaccessible to aid groups.

In an extended interview conducted in Somali with The Associated Press, Abdi describes the drought-ravaged region he and his family escaped and the plight facing him and tens of thousands of other refugees in camps in Kenya and Ethiopia.

Q: What your life was like in Somalia?

A: We were nomads and lived off our sheep and goats and cows. During the rainy seasons we drank their milk, and during the dry seasons we sold some of them and used the money to buy food, milk and sugar from the local market. We were also farmers.

Conditions have changed. Several seasons passed without enough rain. It is God's act, not human's. The current drought in Somalia has affected us in every possible way. It affected our animals and farms and our lives. The ongoing conflict in our country has also added to our problems. When two elephants fight, it's the grass that suffers.

Q: What did you do after you lost all your animals and the rains still did not come?

A: We fled to the nearest town, Afmadow. We have a Somali saying that goes: A town has many ways to give you a new lease on life. But Afmadow was in a completely different situation when we arrived. It was in the hands of al-Shabab. The militants harassed anyone they believed was opposed to them. I did odd jobs, like fetching firewood from the bush and building houses. But when the going got tough, I decided to flee with six children. I left two more children — a 4-year-old girl and a 20-year-old — with relatives.

Q: Did al-Shabab prevent you from fleeing the country?

A: Yes. We sneaked out in the middle of the night and headed to an area far away from our actual direction so the militants couldn't trace us. They put me in jail for 48 hours after they suspected me of leaving the town to head to Kenya.

Their logic is: Kenya is a Christian country and if you go there, you're a Christian. I was released after local elders intervened. They kicked and slapped me on the face. They even dragged me like a corpse. They said to me: 'You are an apostate,' a word that angered me very much.

Q: Tell me about the perils you faced?

A: We faced hunger, thirst, danger and exhaustion. It took us 17 days to arrive here (at Dagahaley refugee camp). One night a lion almost ate me before I scared it away with my flashlight. Along the way, I carried my 5-year-old daughter on my back and 10 kilograms of rice. My wife also carried a 2-year-old daughter on her back. She was four months pregnant. Luckily, we found relatives on the way and they relieved us of the goods by allowing us to offload them on the donkey-pulled cart.

Q: What was the worst thing that happened?

A: The worst experience we faced was when gunmen ambushed. The gang robbed us of the little food we had with us and raped our women in front of us as if they wanted us to witness their horrors. The gang was made up of 15 gunmen and we were five families. They raped all the five women. While some men raped the women, others kept watch over them. That ordeal was the worst I have ever faced in my life. I once thought of looking for ways to get a gun to take revenge.

Only three days after that I lost my 7-year-old boy to hunger, exhaustion and disease. He came down with a severe fever and cold but got no treatment. He died at night as we rested. His mother cried a lot, but I accepted God's will. I didn't cry.

Q: How do you see your life as a refugee here?

A: The refugee life is not easy. What I found here is different from what I was thinking of before I came here. I thought a refugee's life in Kenya was like a paradise. I thought that there will be plenty of food. But the rations we receive are just an amount on which we can survive. Not a satisfactory one, but in fact better than the destitution in Somalia.

Q: How do you see your future now?

A: I have high hopes that things will improve. No condition is permanent. I believe in God and pray that he improves my life. I'm hopeful that my children will also get a proper education and help me in the future.

Q: Are you thinking of returning to Somalia at any time soon?

A: Yes, if — and only if — it becomes safe. I will return to Somalia only if a full peace dominates there. It is my country and the country of my father and grandfathers. But if it remains as it is now, I will go to any other place where I can find peace.

Q: What is your advice to other Somalis still in the country?

A: I say to them: Believe in God and pray a lot to save you from the problems you're currently facing. No place is better than your home country.

Q: Any word for the international community?

A: The world should take the Somali problem seriously. It was dragging on and on without any solutions. The world should help Somalis. They have suffered enough.

Source: The Associated Press

Friday, July 29, 2011

Concerns Raised over Al Qaeda Ties in Somalia

By John Waage
CBN News Sr. Editor

The killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan was a major milestone in the fight against al Qaeda.

But U.S. security officials are concerned that the terror group may be rebuilding in Somalia and that some of its members have American passports.

ABC News reports that before bin Laden was killed, he told al Qaeda's affiliate in Somalia, al Shabab, to focus on U.S. targets.

The link between al Qaeda and Somalia was one of the topics for today's terrorism hearing on Capitol Hill. New York Rep. Peter King is looking into radical Islam in America.

The reason: more than three dozen Somali Americans have been training and fighting in that country's civil war, including three suicide bombers.

"I would say that beyond al Qaeda's senior leadership in Pakistan, its presence in Yemen, probably the next most significant terrorist threat may emanate from the al Qaeda presence in Somalia," White House counter-terrorism advisor John Brennan said.

Somali Americans come from all over the United States, including California, Texas, New York and Virginia.

Many are considered a concern because they hold U.S. passports and they know the country well.

U.S. intelligence has also found a link between the Somalis and al Qaeda operatives in Yemen, which planned the foiled underwear bombing plot on Christmas Day in 2009.

Source: CBN News

Somali pirates release UAE-flagged tanker

Ship freed without any ransom payment

The UAE-flagged oil tanker MV Jubba XX was released on Wednesday after it was hijacked by Somali pirates on July 16 in the coast of Yemen, announced the National Transportation Authority (NTA).

NTA was also reassured about the safety of the oil tanker's 17 crew members after it was released. As a result of the UAE's good reputation and its strong relations with various countries, the tanker was released without any concessions or ransom payments.

By coordinating with the relevant bodies, NTA tracked the movement of the ship, which was being directed to Somalia by the pirates.

After the ship was hijacked, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Public Works and Chairman of NTA, immediately issued orders to investigate the incident, contact the ship's owners, and ensure the safety of the crew and release of the oil tanker.

Multi-national crew

The tanker is owned by Sharjah-based Jubba General Trading Co and has sailors from Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Sudan, Myanmar, Kenya and Somalia.

The MV Jubba XX and its crew were seized on July 16 while carrying 3,500 tonnes of oil products from Umm Al Quwain port.

Source: The Gulf News

Kenya's Refugees: A Dangerous Trek for a Better Future

Today, we made our way to the desolate, scorched landscape that is the final stretch of road between Somalia and the refugee camps in Kenya. It is a well-worn route that has been traveled on foot by tens of thousands of people desperate for food.

Mothers carrying their young children on the path to freedom have faced not only blistering heat, but also bandits who line the entire journey. Many have been forced to leave loved ones behind, too weak to complete the trek.

On the road today, we met a mother who had been walking for 10 days. Her children had run ahead to the tents that pepper the horizon.

Tent cities have sprouted up as far as the eye can see. They are filled with families waiting to get into the refugee camps.

The refugees now spill out into the desert and doctors have started coming to them. The doctors are noticing that its not just the babies and toddlers that are going hungry, it's the older children, too. The famine is so severe, malnutrition is affecting 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds.

If they can just get the nutrients they need, most would be able to make a quick recovery.

Inside a maternity ward, a mother who gave birth to her baby on the road sat with her newborn. She said other mothers who were making the long journey saw her go into labor and helped deliver the baby girl.

That mother and her newborn were doing well at the refugee camp. There were likely thousands more coming after them, families making a dangerous trek not only to find food but to find a future for their children.

Source: ABC News

Calls for aid agencies to channel famine relief through Somali NGOs

Working with local organisations could help get humanitarian aid to the famine-striken areas of Somalia under the control of al-Shabaab, says Somali NGO forum

Large international aid agencies should work through local NGOs in Somalia to ensure that supplies reach areas controlled by al-Shabaab, the Islamist insurgents, Somalis based in London said on Thursday.

Somalia is the worst affected country in the east Africa crisis that has left more than 11 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. The UN last week declared a state of famine in two areas of southern Somalia, largely under the control of al-Shabaab: Bakool and Lower Shabelle.

Some areas of Mogadishu are also under the control of al-Shabaab, which is considered a terrorist group by the US because of its links with al-Qaida. On Thursday, AP reported that African Union forces killed six people in an offensive aimed at protecting famine relief efforts from attacks by the militants. Al-Shabaab fighters have already killed men who tried to escape the famine with their families, saying it is better to starve than accept help from the west.

Amid renewed fighting in the capital, the Somali Relief and Development Forum – an umbrella group of nine Somali NGOs – urged international relief agencies to tap local expertise to funnel aid to distressed groups in the country despite instability on the ground.

"There are divisions within al-Shabaab and there are Somali NGOs that are able to work around al-Shabaab and bypass them, but there is hardly any international engagement with these local NGOs," said Mustakim Waid, a spokesman for the forum, which is about to launch a drought appeal.

The UN's World Food Programme has said it cannot reach more than 2 million Somalis now facing starvation in the areas controlled by al-Shabaab. WFP officials say they will try to access the al-Shabaab areas over the next week, but that they will consider dropping food from aircraft as a last resort if they cannot.

A UN report obtained by Reuters said some UN agencies working in Somalia suspected local organisations they funded and funnelled supplies through were paying money to al-Shabaab, which the group called "taxes".

The report details incidents of al-Shabaab officers demanding bribes from UN and aid agency officials to allow them to work in rebel areas and, in some cases, burning food stocks and medicine when cash was not paid out.

"The single greatest obstacle to humanitarian assistance in Somalia during the course of the mandate has consistently been the denial of access by armed opposition groups, principally by elements of al-Shabaab," Reuters quotes the report as saying. The UN monitoring group report on Somalia and Eritrea paints a picture of intimidation against aid groups going back as far as 2008.

Since January, a combination of drought and insecurity in Somalia has driven more than 96,000 Somalis into Kenya, more than 74,000 into Ethiopia and around 2,500 into Djibouti – countries that are themselves suffering from the worst drought to hit the region in 60 years, according to the UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Refugees are dying of causes related to malnutrition either during the journey or shortly after arrival at aid camps.

The drought and famine have deepened discord among al-Shabaab leaders that has been apparent for some time. Some have supported a lifting of the ban on operations of international aid agencies, while others, such as its top commander, Ahmed Cabdi Godane, reportedly opposed the move on the grounds that NGOs might provide intelligence for US drone air strikes.

Last week, an al-Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage, accused the UN of ulterior motives, and said that there was no famine. Some clan elders in affected areas have criticised Godane for not allowing aid agencies through despite their full support for al-Shabaab. Waid suggested that international agencies should engage such elders through local NGOs as part of the effort to get help through to Somalis.

"Al-Shabaab is crumbling from the inside," said Waid. "Some are trying to get food aid in, others taking a hard line, stopping people from leaving the areas they control."

International NGOs in Somalia face heavy restrictions on their activities but one group, Islamic Relief, perhaps has more freedom than others. It has been working within a 30-mile radius of the capital, Mogadishu, but has been able to travel deeper into central and southern Somalia on an assessment mission and is confident it can swiftly step up its existing operation to reach more people.

Amid fears that the drought will get worse before the rains in September and October, the UN is intensifying efforts to raise money. The UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon on Wednesday telephoned top officials from Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. He told them that only half of the $2bn needed for the emergency has been raised so far.

"The people of Somalia – both those facing risk, vulnerability or displaced inside the country and the thousands who are outside as refugees – have never needed protection and humanitarian assistance with the urgency that we have today," said George Okoth-Obbo, director of the UNHCR's Africa Bureau.

Source: The Guardian

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Virtues and Important Rulings of Fasting and Praying in Ramadan

This is a concise advice regarding the virtues of praying and fasting in the month of Ramadan and the virtue of racing towards righteous actions with an explanation of some important rulings which may have gone unknown or unnoticed to many people.

It has been firmly reported that the Prophet (sallAllahu alaihi wasallam) used to greet his companions with the coming of Ramadan and inform them that it was a month in which the doors of mercy and Paradise were opened, the doors of the hellfire were locked, and the devils were chained, as he (sallAllahu alaihi wasallam) said,

"Whenever the first night of Ramadan arrives the doors of Paradise
are opened and none are closed, the doors of the hellfire are locked
and none are opened, the devils are shackled, and a caller calls out, 'O
seeker of good embark (upon goodness), and O seeker of evil abstain
(from evilness)', and Allah frees inhabitants from the fire, and that is
every night." [At-Tirmithi and Ibn Majah].

To read full article, click the below link:

Somalia famine: The long walk

Source: Channel 4 News

Somali-Canadian women recruited by terror group, U.S. politicians told

Terrorist recruiters are targeting young Somali-Canadian women to take up arms, the head of the Canadian Somali Congress told U.S. politicians Wednesday.

In testimony before the House of Representatives Committee on Homeland Security, Ahmed Hussen suggested the reason may be the increased police and security-service attention that's been paid to the recruitment of "dozens" of young Somali-Canadian men from Ottawa and Toronto in recent years.

"Lately, the recruiters have turned their attention to the facilitation of young Canadian Somali women into joining al-Shabab," Hussen said in a prepared statement.

Al-Shabab is the radical Somali youth militia now fully integrated with al-Qaida and which Canada and the United States have banned as an outlawed terrorist group.

Much of the youth recruiting is believed to be through the Internet and an online mix of religious tracts, rap music, videos and recruiting pitches delivered in English. Visiting extremist clerics are another propaganda source.

The fear, said Hussen, is that al-Shabab will employ Canadians and other westerners to extend its reach outside the war- and famine-ravaged East African nation —where it is battling a weak western-backed government to turn the country into an Islamic state.

"There is no shortage of foot soldiers and young men that al-Shabab can recruit in Somalia," Hussen said during questioning by committee members. "Why would they spend all this money, effort and (put themselves) at great risk to recruit westerners, people who hold Canadian, U.S. and British passports?

"It's because we think they have aspirations beyond East Africa. They've proven that by attacking Uganda," he said, referring to an attack last July where two suicide bombers killed 79 people gathered to watch the FIFA World Cup final on television in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

U.S. officials are increasingly expressing concern, too, too, particularly after capturing an al-Shabab commander who, it's alleged, had been a liaison with al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), an active Yemeni group that has tried to strike the U.S.

New York Republican representative Peter T. King, presiding Wednesday over the third in a series of controversial congressional hearings examining the radicalization of Muslim-Americans, said committee staff investigators have determined that 40 Americans and 20 Canadians have joined al-Shabab in Somalia.

Critics charge that King's focus on Muslim-Americans plays into the hands of extremists who say Washington is wrongly targeting Islam for the 9/11 terrorism attacks.

King said three Canadians (whom he did not identify) and at least 15 Americans have been killed in fighting. Previously, only one Canadian death was suspected, that of Mohamed Elmi Ibrahim, a University of Toronto student whom al-Shabab said was killed "in battle" last year. He was the first of six Somali-Canadian men who reportedly disappeared from the Toronto area in 2009.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, 18 people have been charged in a scheme to recruit young people from the Minneapolis area to travel to Africa and join al-Shabab. Eight defendants have been arrested, and six have pleaded guilty.

Fourteen people, including several U.S. citizens, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Minneapolis last August on terrorism charges for travelling to Somalia and joining the group.

Canada's first arrest related to al-Shabab was in March, when police detained Mohamed Hersi, 25, as the Canadian was waiting to board a flight from Toronto to Cairo. Police alleged his ultimate destination was Somalia and al-Shabab. He is free on bail awaiting trial on two terrorism-related offences, including counselling a person to take part in terrorist activity.

Hussen could not be reached for comment after delivering his testimony. He has said previously that in addition to the "Somali Six" from the Toronto area, he has been told two young Ottawa men, as well as two young women, also left for the Horn of Africa nation.

His prepared text Wednesday, citing unnamed Canadian national security officials, referred to "the disappearances of dozens of young Canadian Somali males who had travelled to Somalia to fight for the al-Shabab."

In his testimony, Hussen portrayed Canada's estimated 200,000 Somalis as struggling to fit into mainstream Canadian society since fleeing civil war in the late 1990s.

Almost 85 per cent of Somali-Canadians are under the age of 30, with unemployment in Ottawa and Toronto hovering around 40 cent in the group. Many young men have dropped out of school. Those who do persevere often can't find jobs in their professions, he said.

"A minority becomes alienated and fall victim to a narrative that turns them against Canada and the United States — the very countries that have sustained them and also gave refuge to their parents as they fled the brutal civil war in Somalia. This dangerous and constant anti-western narrative is fed to them by radicals in our community who do not hesitate to use these vulnerable youth as gun fodder in their desire to establish a base for the al-Qaida terrorist group in Somalia," he told the committee.

Police and security intelligence work is not enough to counter the threat, he said, nor is working only with religious leaders.

"You need to target the young professionals, people who are coming up, people who are dedicated to the values that have made this country great. Those are the people who have the credibility to turn back against the messaging that leads to radicalization.

Although he spent many years in Toronto, Hussen was living in Ottawa when he founded the Canadian Somali Congress, one of the only national associations claiming to represent Somali-Canadians.

The organization does advocacy work and partners with other agencies, including Jewish Family Services of Ottawa, to organize professional internships for young Somali-Canadians.

Hussen often appears in the media, whether to talk about the issue of Somali pirates, violence claiming the lives of Somali youth living in Alberta or, more recently, pressing the Canadian government to increase its immigration quota from Somalia in light of the worsening famine there.

Source: The Ottawa Citizen

Local Members of Somali Community on Drought Crisis

Terror threats are coming at a very difficult time for millions of Somali people. That country, as well as other parts of east Africa are dealing with the worst drought crisis in decades.

And neither the country's government nor aid agencies can fully operate in some areas, because they're controlled by militants connected to Al Qaida. Even so, some local Somalis are doing everything they can to help.

"I have family over there and I contact (them) all the time..." said Omar Hassan of Rochester.

Omar Hassan of Rochester says things have never been worse in Somalia than they are right now. The reasons: two decades of civil war, three years of drought, and the terrorist group Al Shebab which he says controls nearly 80 percent of the country. He says the best he and other members of the local Somali community can do is send money.

"80 percent of what we're sending right now is money," he said. "Because it's the easiest and the quickest way to reach those people."

However, Hassans two sons have even taken to Youtube asking for help. They posted this video on Tuesday.

"You guys gotta donate food. $1 can make a difference," they say. "There's thousands of people dying in Somalia each day..." "Please speak awareness. Help Africa and especially Somalia."

Meanwhile, other local Somalis like, Abdiaziz Maahaay, are collecting food. He's headed to Somali next week, along with a cargo container full of food. He believes the best course of action is to try and rehabilitate the 3 million Somalis currently dying of starvation.

"You can not talk about peace if you don't have plate to eat. You can not talk about anything before you have satisfaction for your stomach because you have every day to burn calorie. And you don't even have the calorie," said Maahaay. "What are you going to say? Nothing at all."

But Hassan says the problems won't go away until his native country somehow finds the peace that has eluded it for the past 20 years.

"I mean that's the only way you can sleep (at) night time. That's the only way you can get up in the morning and get something to feed your family," he said. "So we need peace."

The two men hope the rest of the world starts to pay closer attention to what's happening in Somali. And they're asking for help of every kind, from monetary donations to transportation to missionaries. We have for the Somali American Health Care Foundation here on our website. Just click on featured links underneath the news tab.

Source: ABC 6 News

FEWS NET Collects and Interprets Data on Somali Famine

Project provides early warning and vulnerability information on emerging food security issues.

The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is a US-funded project that compiles data on food security issues. It collaborates with national and international partners in sharing useful information with experts and policy makers.

“We collect market data on food prices…from household economies, food production data, livestock information,” says FEWS NET project manager John Scicchitano. He says multiple partners work together to collect and analyze the data “to provide early warning and vulnerability information.”

The FEWS NET project looks at emerging food security issues like areas getting little or no rainfall, increasing food prices etc. Some of that information is collected by experts on the ground or by using satellite imagery on areas that are inaccessible.

Scicchitano says the information is used by “the many actors that need to make food security decisions and determine food assistance needs are around the world.” In Somalia, where food needs were forecast months in advance, aid to the region was held back due to lack of security and the reluctance of the Alshabab to allow food delivery to those in need.

The FEWS NET official says food policy issues are complex, and that they often require experts working together on related issues like land distribution, climate, security and food prices. He says experts from the different specialties distribute information they have collected and then posted it on the FEWS NET website.

“We’ve got to package this in a way that is understandable to the food security community,” He says.

The data is then made available to other organizations, including NGOs, UN agencies and some host governments. For example, says Scicchitano, “It does allow USAID to make early decisions so that food reaches people on time.”

FEWS NET has people working in regions around the world where any signs of food shortages are closely monitored. Scicchitano says FEWS NET will continue to strengthen early warning and food security networks by developing capacity and building consensus around food security problems and solutions.

Source: VOA News

Kenyan policeman killed by Somali rebels

A Kenyan policeman was killed near the Somali border on Wednesday in a bomb attack by the same rebels who are being blamed for blocking food aid to Somalia's famine victims, government officials said.

Three other policemen were injured in the attack when a remote-controlled device was detonated beside a tree where they stop for a break at the same time every day.

"We have lost one of our officers in Mandera this morning at around 11.30am and three have sustained injuries," Philip Ndolo, commissioner of Kenya's northeastern province police, told Reuters.

Ndolo said the bomb was triggered by mobile phone from the Somalia side of the border.

A heavy contingent of Kenyan security forces have been deployed at the border and analysts say they may be planning a joint offensive with the Somali government against al Shabaab rebels hiding in the area, which is now government-controlled.

The drought gripping the region straddling Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia is the worst for 60 years, some aid groups say, and is affecting more than 12 million people. In the worst-hit areas in Somalia, famine has been declared and 3.7 million people are at risk of starvation in the country.

Much of southern and central Somalia is controlled by the al Shabaab Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda who imposed a ban on food aid in 2010. They have since lifted the ban but maintained the embargoes on the U.N food agency and several other aid agencies.

About 1,500 refugees a day are streaming over the Somalia border and into Kenyan refugee camps in search of food.

Source: Reuters