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Sunday, June 28, 2015

Muslim Scholars Reject China's Ramadan Ban - Asia-Pacific - News -

Muslim Scholars Reject China's Ramadan Ban - Asia-Pacific - News -

A leading international Muslim scholars union has criticized China's apparent ban on fasting the holy month of Ramadan in the Muslim dominant Xinjiang district, urging the Asian country to respect Muslim faith.
"Continuous religious and ethnic persecution over Muslims, especially in China's Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, is against Chinese and international law," the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS) said in a statement released last Thursday, June 25.
The Union went on to condemn Chinese government policies in the district including forcing restaurants to sell food on Ramadan days as well as forcing parents to sign on banning their children from observing the fasting month.
The statement offered no explanation as to exactly what laws it was directly referring to.
It added that the policy "is also contrary to the fourth Geneva Convention in 1949 approved by China," and called the apparent ban "a clear violation of one of the most important principles of modern international law."
The Union called on the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and other international organizations to protect Muslims.
Moreover, the IUMS warned that China's failure to offer more freedoms to Uighur Muslims will give scholars a sign to spread news among Muslims worldwide which would result in severe effect on the Chinese economy.
Every year, Chinese authorities have repeatedly imposed restrictions on Uighur Muslim in the northwestern region of Xinjiang every Ramadan.
In Ramadan, adult Muslims, save the sick and those traveling, abstain from food, drink, smoking and sex between dawn and sunset.
Earlier in December, China banned the wearing of Islamic veiled robes in public in Urumqi, the capital of the province of Xinjiang.
The law in the predominantly Muslim region came as Beijing intensified its so-called campaign against “religious extremism” that it blames for recent violence.
Earlier in 2014, Xinjiang banned the practicing of religion in government buildings, as well as wearing clothes or logos associated with religious extremism.
Last May, Muslim shops and restaurants in a Chinese village in northwestern Xinjiang have been ordered to sell cigarettes and alcohol or face closure.

Footprints: Strangers in a strange land - Pakistan - DAWN.COM

Footprints: Strangers in a strange land - Pakistan - DAWN.COM

PAKISTAN hosts about 400 Somalis including Luul Yusaf Ali who has been residing in the country with her daughter Idil since 2013. Even though her UNHCR card indicating her refugee status helps her to a certain extent, her situation is pitiable.—Photo by writer
PAKISTAN hosts about 400 Somalis including Luul Yusaf Ali who has been residing in the country with her daughter Idil since 2013. Even though her UNHCR card indicating her refugee status helps her to a certain extent, her situation is pitiable.—Photo by writer
AS the power cuts off, light from a large window illuminates Luul Yusaf Ali’s one-room apartment in a narrow alley overlooking the Islamabad High Court. The neighbourhood isn’t exactly upscale, but Luul and her daughter Idil have made it a home.
Two mattresses and a water cooler are their most extravagant possessions; they were left to them by a widow. The rest of their belongings are arranged neatly to one side; a few clothes, a pink and black prayer mat, two copies of the Quran in Somali, some toiletries and Luul’s medicines.
Luul lost her 12-year-old son Abdullah Ali when the fighting broke out in their hometown of Mogadishu in 2008. After fleeing the conflict in her homeland in 2013, the mother came to Karachi in the employ of a Somali family, while the daughter followed later that same year. Luul used to clean the apartments of Somali students to earn a meagre living, but with her deteriorating health, that is no longer possible.
For them, getting away from Somalia has not meant escaping the oppression they faced back home. Both mother and daughter only step out of their house when their three Somali student flatmates are not at home. The 16-year-old Idil has faced harassment at their hands before and now, Luul does not let her daughter leave unaccompanied.
It is a hapless existence; there is no integration with their Pakistani surroundings. There is nothing for them to do so they stay indoors as much as possible.
Luul’s own condition is deteriorating. Speaking in Somali through Ahmed Mukhtar — an interpreter and agitator from the Somali community who has been in Pakistan for nearly 20 years — she narrates her painful road to where she is now. Beaten and robbed by the warring militias in Mogadishu and raped by a Somali man in Karachi, her only concern now is to keep her daughter safe.
It also appears that the socio-economic inequalities of Somali society have found their way to the back alleys of Islamabad; Luul says that most of the men who harass Somali women are from the ethnic majority clans in Somalia.
Mukhtar, 42, says that Somali women who live without the protection of a male relative face sexual harassment, mostly from Somali men — both refugees and students. “Some form of rape takes place,” he says and explains that some of the women give in to the men’s demands in exchange for food or money.
Even though the International Catholic Migration Commission — an organisation that works with UNHCR — gives refugees free medicine, Luul’s situation is dire. “I cannot take my medication because I have not eaten for over 24 hours now.”
This is hardly surprising. Without a source of income, she only has the Rs10,800 allowance afforded to her by the UN refugee agency. Of that, the room rent alone is Rs8,000.
In many cases, the allowance is discontinued by UNHCR. It is a cruel twist of fate that keeps many of these refugees from improving their living conditions. “Assessment officers look at what we are eating and look at the cleanliness of our bed linen and decide our fate. The cleaner the bed linen, the higher the chances of the allowance being discontinued,” says Mukhtar.
He says that Zakat from Pakistani businessmen could help the Somalis this Ramazan, but Luul is not as optimistic. As the power comes back, I see my interviewee’s face clearly for the first time. She quickly moves to wipe her cheeks; she has been silently sobbing the entire time.
When asked to comment on the plight of these refugees, UNHCR claimed that there was little to no donor interest in the Somalis. “Donors are focused on refugees who face life-threatening conditions. Somalis are in the ‘protracted refugee’ category and not a priority. Third-country resettlement [in their cases] is very strict as just one per cent cases out of all 55 million refugees in the world are allotted resettlement.”
Other than Afghans and about 400 Somalis, Pakistan also hosts nearly 150 refugees from Iran, Iraq and Chechnya. Refugee-friendly legislation may help them win more rights in Pakistan, but until then, they will always struggle to fit in and become integrated with Pakistani society.

Terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia, Kuwait and Somalia kill over 140 -

Terrorist attacks in France, Tunisia, Kuwait and Somalia kill over 140 -

Jihadist attacks in France, Tunisia, Kuwait and Somalia have left over 140 people killed, causing worldwide panic in just a few hours. Western authorities severely condemned the aggressions.
In France, a delivery man with known Islamist connections beheaded his boss and left the body, daubed with Arabic writing, at the site of a US-owned gas factory in southeast France before trying to blow up the complex.
The assailant rammed his delivery van into a warehouse containing gas canisters, triggering an initial explosion, and was arrested minutes later as he tried to open canisters containing flammable chemicals, prosecutors said today.
Police found the head of the victim, the 54-year-old manager of the transport firm which employed the suspect, dangling from a fence.
"There is no other link other than to say that terrorism is our common enemy," said President Francois Hollande, returning to Paris from an EU summit in Brussels.
"There should be no doubt as to our country's ability to protect itself and remain vigilant," he said, announcing a tightening of national security to levels he said were unprecedented in recent decades.
Hollande said there were inscriptions on the headless body, and police sources said they were in Arabic, but officials did not reveal their content.
In Kuwait, a suicide bomber killed 27 people when he blew himself up inside a packed Shi'ite Muslim mosque in Kuwait city during Friday prayers, the health ministry and witnesses said, the first attack of its kind in the major oil-exporting state.
The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for the attack, which also wounded 227 people according to the interior ministry, in the district of Sawaber in the eastern part of the Kuwaiti capital.
Parliament member Khalil al-Salih, who was at the mosque when the attack occurred, said worshippers were kneeling in prayer when the bomber walked into the Imam al-Sadeq Mosque and detonated his explosives, destroying walls and the ceiling.
The mosque preacher was quoted by state news agency KUNA as saying that the attack targeted worshippers at the back of the mosque, towards the end of the Friday prayers.
It was the first suicide bombing at a Shi'ite mosque in Kuwait and worst militant attack in the country for many years.
Islamic State named the bomber as Abu Suleiman al-Muwahed and said in a statement posted on social media that he had targeted a "temple of the rejectionists" -- a term it generally uses to refer to Shi'ites, whom it regards as heretics.
Islamic State had urged its followers on Tuesday to step up attacks during the Ramadan fasting month against Christians, Shi'ites and Sunni Muslims fighting with a U.S.-led coalition against the ultra-hardline jihadist group.
In Tunisia, a gunman disguised as a tourist opened fire at a hotel with a weapon he had hidden in an umbrella, killing 37 people, including British, German and Belgian tourists, as they lounged at the beach and pool in a popular resort town.
Terrified tourists ran for cover after the gunfire and an explosion erupted at the Imperial Marhaba in Sousse resort town, 140 km (90 miles) south of the capital Tunis, before police shot the gunman dead, witnesses and security officials said.
In Somalia, Al Shabaab militants detonated a car bomb and battled African Union troops at a peacekeepers' base south of Mogadishu, the latest in a series of attacks in Somalia, military officials and a rebel spokesman said.
In another attack, al Shabaab killed a senior military commander in the port city of Kismayu, a Somali official said.
The attack on the camp in Leego came as residents gathered for morning prayers, the latest in a series of assaults since the Islamic holy month of Ramadan began a week ago.
Such attacks during Ramadan are a hallmark of the Islamist militants fighting to overthrow the Western-backed Mogadishu government
The Leego attack started with a car bomb ramming into the base, going past soldiers who tried to stop it by firing at it, Somali Major Nur Olow said.
Also in Syria, Islamic State fighters killed at least 145 civilians in an attack on the town of Kobani and a nearby village, in what a monitoring group described as one of the worst massacres carried out by the hardline group in Syria.
Islamic State pressed a separate assault to capture government-held parts of the northeastern city of Hasaka, blowing up a security building and triggering a government appeal for all residents to take up arms. The United Nations said 60,000 people were reported to have fled the attack.
Islamic State's twin attacks which began on Thursday showed the group returning to the offensive in Syria after two weeks of defeats at the hands of Kurdish-led forces, supported by US-led air strikes. Earlier this week the Kurds advanced to within 50 km (30 miles) of Raqqa city, the group's de facto capital.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Being eco-friendly in the holy month | Arab News

Being eco-friendly in the holy month | Arab News

FASTING during Ramadan involves refraining from food, liquids and sex from dawn to sunset as well as focusing on prayers, charity, helping others, and on good deeds. However, this is the easiest part of fasting. The responsible attitude of a Muslim during Ramadan is very crucial for the correctness and acceptance of his fast, Insha Allah.
In fact, Ramadan offers a real chance to inculcate a positive change in our attitude toward the environment. Without doubt, adopting an eco-friendly lifestyle in general and especially during Ramadan is not only a social responsibility, but also a religious duty as man’s existence and well-being is dependent upon a healthy environment.
In Islam, man’s relation to the earth is seen as that of a custodian mainly responsible for improving the quality of life and guaranteeing a healthy environment. “Now, behold! Your Lord said to the angels: I am placing upon the earth a human successor to steward it” (Qur’an, 2:30).
It is required that man should work toward the conservation of earth, ensuring sustainability of natural resources for future generations. In short, to be a Muslim is to pray (worship) and to be a custodian (to develop earth). This is very clear in the literature on the fundamentals of Islamic religion.
Recently, in environmental science, the concept of “ecological footprint” is used frequently as a metaphor to depict the amount of land and water area a human population would hypothetically need to provide the resources required to support itself and to absorb its wastes and emissions, given prevailing technology.
Footprinting is now widely used around the globe as an indicator of environmental sustainability. It can be used to measure and manage the use of resources throughout the economy. It is commonly used to explore the sustainability of individual lifestyles, goods and services, organizations, industry, regions and nations.
The idea of footprint is already rooted in Islamic culture and values and there are many examples and verses in the Qur’an and Sunnah that urge Muslims to reduce their footprint and ask them to live lightly on earth. The Qur’an describes believers of Allah as those who “walk on the Earth in humility” (Qur'an, 25:63).
When asked about how the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to live in his house, the Prophet’s wife, Ayeshah, said that he used to repair his shoes, sew his clothes, and carry out all such household tasks without complaint or want for more (authenticated by Al-Albani).
The idea behind this was to show Muslims that menial tasks were not degrading for Allah’s Prophet (peace be upon him). Reusing and repairing things instead of always buying new is not a sign of poverty, they are a sign of power. By performing household duties, the Prophet (peace be upon him) was saying we can build foundations on less ‘stuff,’ we are in control of what we consume, and we do not need more.
Of course, every individual is in control of what he uses, what he eats, what he does, and where he goes. Every person will leave an ecological footprint.
Your ecological footprint, in simple words, is related to your consumption and the total amount of pollution and emissions that you produce in life by using energy, especially fossil fuel, through transportation, use of electricity, consumption of certain food, clothes that require transportation and industrial fertilizers and so on.
Muslims should seize the opportunity of the holy month of Ramadan as a time to reduce, for instance, their carbon footprints by recycling, carpooling, using public transportation more often, reducing energy and water consumption, and investing in clean energy.
Also, we need to re-think many of our current consumption patterns from a sustainability point of view. In other words, our consumption has to be “green” and that means doing something that protects and supports the environment and doing things that take into consideration the carrying capacity and ecological footprint. That, in turn, means that natural resources should be able to support current as well as future generations.
Muslims should go beyond fasting and really look at the broader consequences of responsibilities toward earth and humanity. The month of Ramadan is a golden opportunity to consider reducing their footprint through deeds that are non-polluting, non-wasteful, and are not damaging to natural resources. Reducing footprint will simply mean achieving sustainable development and ensuring better quality of life for future generations as well.
Let us seize the opportunity that Ramadan offers and adopt exemplary behavior that really reduces our footprint and hope that this responsible pro-environmental lifestyle will continue all year round. There is an opportunity for real change, not only in Ramadan, but also afterward.

The writer is a research fellow in the Environmental Research Program of the Gulf Research Center.

The A to Z of the holy month of Ramadan | Arab News

The A to Z of the holy month of Ramadan | Arab News

We are blessed to benefit from yet another holy month in our lifetime. Ramadan is here and we all are spiritually charged and excited to receive unlimited bounties. It is the time of the year when we try to please Allah and are rewarded with the limitless mercies of Allah. If you haven’t felt the thrill yet, then read on. Listed below are the A to Z of Ramadan, the benefits, wisdoms and lessons one learns from the fasting bonanza.

As-Siyam or fasting means to “abstain from something.” In Ramadan, one should abstain from food, drink, marital relations and other actions that displease Allah, from dawn to dusk with the explicit intention of doing so for the sake of the Almighty.

The blessings and benefits of Ramadan fasting are too many to be listed. Some of these include: The blessed Holy Qur’an was revealed in this month, the doors of the heaven are opened, while the doors of the hell are closed and the devils are chained.

The benefits of charity to the poor and needy are tremendous. Ibn ‘Abaas said, “The Prophet (peace be upon him) was the most charitable among the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Jibreel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month.” (Bukhari). The Prophet said, “He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, without nothing being reduced from the fasting person’s reward.” (Tirmidhi)

Ramadan is a great time to make dua (supplication). A dua list will ensure that you will not miss out on any important dua that you want to make to Allah during this holy month. The Messenger of Allah said: “The dua of the fasting person will not be refused.” (Reported by Bayhaqi)

With the sighting of the moon at the end of the month comes the Eid Al-Fitr. It’s like the cherry on top of the cake as it’s a celebratory time that includes buying new clothes, parties, rides for kids and exchanging gifts with family members and friends.

Ramadan is the best time to forgive and be forgiven. The Prophet said, “Every son of Adam sins and the best of the sinners are those who repent.” (Ibn Maajah) Allah provides many opportunities to repent to Him and seek His forgiveness.

The Prophet said, “Whoever does not abandon falsehood in word and action, then Allah has no need that he should leave his food and drink.” (Bukhari) We must pay attention to the purification of our manners. Backbiting and slandering is forbidden and it is like eating the flesh of one’s dead brother. Therefore stay away from Gheebah to realize the true spirit of fasting.

Fasting overhauls the body during the holy month. It speeds up the metabolism and improves brain function, because it boosts the production of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor. It encourages Muslims to take care of their health and to build strong bodies. The Prophet said, “A strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone.” (Muslim)

It means seclusion and staying in the mosque with the intention of becoming closer to Allah. The Prophet would perform I’tikaf for 10 days every Ramadan. In the year that he died, he performed it for 20 days.

It is one of the ultimate goals of all Muslims. Ramadan is essentially a shield from the hell-fire. The Prophet is reported to have said about Ramadan, “An angel calls out: ‘O you who intend to do good deeds, have glad tidings. O you who intend to do evil, refrain, until Ramadan is completed. (Ahmad and Nasa’i)

Kibr is when a person feels a sense of superiority and behaves high-handedly with others. The Prophet said: “Never can the person who possesses a speck of pride inside his heart enter Paradise.” One should refrain from pride and self-glorification in Ramadan to please Allah. The act of fasting itself helps us to attain humility and get rid of arrogance.

Laylatul Qadr
The Night of Qadr is greater than 1,000 months of continuous worship; that’s over 83 years. Many will be freed from the hell-fire and granted Jannah on this night. Believers should therefore increase their ibadah, especially during its last third part when Allah descends to the lowest heavens asking for those who seek His forgiveness.

Using the miswaak is Sunnah when fasting and otherwise. However, a fasting person must be careful not to swallow anything.

One should be extremely mindful of his intention of fasting and do it only for Allah. The Messenger of Allah said, “Whoever fasts one day seeking the pleasure of Allah, if that is the last day of his life, he will enter Paradise.” (Ahmad, 5/391) The intention of fasting must be made before Fajr and during every night of Ramadan. It need not be spoken.

Obligatory deeds
The reward of an obligatory deed in Ramadan is multiplied by 70 while a non-obligatory action commands the reward of a fardh (obligatory action) in this blessed month. This is a once-in-a-year opportunity to upgrade our rewards collection, thereby improving ourselves.

Allah legislated fasting for gaining Taqwa (piety), “O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you as it has been prescribed upon those before you, so that you may attain Taqwa.” (2:183) Taqwa in this case means to make a shield between oneself and Allah’s anger and hellfire. The purpose is met when at the end of the fasting day we are able to fear Allah SWT more and as a result are able to protect ourselves from the hellfire.

Qiyam Al-Layl
Numerous Qur’anic verses and prophetic narrations mention the excellence of the night prayer and the merit of those who perform it regularly. Abu Huraira said, “I heard the Messenger of Allah say, “The one who does Qiyam in Ramadan with faith and sincerity, all his/her sins will be forgiven.”

There is in Paradise a door called Rayyan. It is for the fasting Muslims. Only those who fasted the month of Ramadan will be able to enjoy the bliss of Paradise inside that area.

Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal taken before the time of Fajr. The Messenger of Allah encouraged us to take suhoor by saying, “Have suhoor, for in suhoor there is blessing (barakah).” (Reported by Bukhaari).

Special prayers after Isha during Ramadan are called Taraweeh. It is strongly recommended that both men and women attend the prayer in congregation as Taraweeh is a means for forgiveness of the sins. Abu Huraira said: Allah’s Messenger said, “He who prays during the night in Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past (minor) sins forgiven.”
The one who does Umrah in Ramadan will attain a reward equal in amount to that of Haj.

Many young Muslims are clueless about what they should do in Ramadan. It is therefore important to have a vision, not only for the month of Ramadan but after that as well. Goals should be set and a routine that will help you achieve those goals should be followed. Be it feeding 10 people, volunteering for charity work or reading the Holy Qur’an, list it on paper and start doing it.

By purifying oneself for prayer, a person expiates all of his sins and his prayer is considered an extra reward for him, which in turn is multiplied several times for it being Ramadan. A believer must try to do ablution to remain pure as much as he can in the blessed month. If a person makes wudu’ well, all his sins between two salats (between the salat he will perform and the subsequent one) will be forgiven.) — Bukhaari

X-ray your life
Ramadan is a good time to introspect whether or not your life is being led according to the Qur’an and Sunnah. It is an exercise in improving the self and setting goals for the present and the future. This month should also make us reflect on the endless bounties that God has bestowed on us and thank Him profusely for the same. It is also time for Tawbah (repentance with a pledge not to repeat) for the past sins.

The number of orphans worldwide has reached an all-time high.
Muslims should follow the example set by the Prophet Muhammad himself who said holding his index and middle fingers together upright, “I and the person who looks after an orphan and provides for him will be in paradise like this.” They should come together to care for, provide for, and support orphans who cannot otherwise help themselves in the holy month of Ramadan.

Zakat Al-Fitr
The Prophet enjoined Zakat Al-Fitr so that those who observed fasting are purified of their bad deeds and thus, are able to perfect their fasting, and so that the poor and the needy are able to arrange for their basic necessities of food and clothing. It should be distributed before the Eid prayer.

We need to be generous with charity | Arab News

Islam: We  need to be generous with charity | Arab News

As Ramadan has arrived this is the time to exceed beyond one’s normal deeds with more voluntary acts, increasing them in a gradual manner.

Then whoever can perform itikaf (confinement of oneself to the mosque) they spend all of their time in good deeds until the end of Ramadan, while those who cannot, exert themselves to spend their days performing good deeds and their nights in prayer.

After celebrating Eid Al-Fitr, the six fasts of Shawwal should be performed and good deeds should remain part of our routines until the following Ramadan.

The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) and his Companions (may Allah be pleased with them) would perform various good deeds in Ramadan. Some of the deeds that have been mentioned in association with fasting and Ramadan will now be mentioned, all of which are highly recommended acts of worship to be performed.
Allah the Most High combined fasting with eight other deeds when He described the successful believers: “The believers whose lives Allah has purchased are those who repent to Allah, who worship Him, who praise Him, who fast (or go out in Allah’s Cause), who bow down (in prayer), who prostrate themselves (in prayer), who enjoin (people) what is good and forbid (people) from what is bad, and who observe the limits set by Allah. And give glad tidings to the believers.” (Qur’an, 9:112)

Ramadan is also the month of Qur’an as Allah the Most High said: “The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong).” (Qur’an, 2:185)

Abdullah ibn Amr (May Allah bless him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said: “Fasting and the Qur’an will intercede for a slave on the Day of Judgment, the fasts will say, ‘my Lord I prevented him (or her) from food and desires so let me intercede,’ and the Qur’an will say, ‘I prevented him (or her) from sleeping at night so let me intercede,’ then they will intercede.” (Ahmed) It was said that the salaf would spend the days of Ramadan reading the Qur’an and the importance of studying the Qur’an cannot be emphasized enough. A single ayah recited with contemplation (tadabbur) may be better than reciting many ayaat (verses) of the Qur’an without contemplation.

Scholars differed regarding whether it is better to recite more or recite less with contemplation.
Although as isolated deeds they both may be equal, the latter will benefit you for the rest of your life and thus the effects of understanding the Qur’an will elevate you further in the Hereafter.

Abu Jumrah once said to Abdullah ibn Masud ‘I am fast in my recitation and perhaps I would recite the Qur’an once or even twice in a single night’, Abdullah (may Allah bless him) replied ‘For me to recite one surah is more pleasing to me than if I did that which you do, if you do so then make sure that you recite so that your ears hear what you recite and your heart pays attention.’ (Ibn Al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, Zaad Al-Maad, Maktabah Al-Risalah)

Ibn Abbas (may Allah bless him) narrated: “Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) was the most generous of people and he was the most generous in the month of Ramadan, when Jibreel would meet him. Jibreel used to meet him every night of Ramadan to teach him the Qur’an.” (Sahih Bukhari, Muslim)

This Hadith emphasizes the need to be generous in giving all kinds of charity in Ramadan, in addition to studying the Qur’an. It is also important to feed others, especially those with less. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever gives a fasting person (food or drink to break their fast), they will have similar to the reward of the one who fasted, without any decrease for the one who fasted.” (Ahmed, Tirmidhi)

It is upon us all to fear Allah, and direct our best efforts in and out of the month of Ramadan toward obeying Him. Allah the Most High commanded us: “So keep your duty to Allah and fear Him as much as you can; listen and obey; and spend in charity that is better for yourselves. And whosoever is saved from his own covetousness, then they are the successful ones.” (Qur’an, 64:16)

No one is burdened with more than they can take, however it is through the performance of good deeds and the attainment of taqwa that we will earn the reward prepared for the muttaqin.

Umrah visa’s validity limited to two weeks | Arab News

Umrah visa’s validity limited to two weeks | Arab News

Published — Sunday 9 June 2013
The Haj Ministry has decided to limit the validity of Umrah visas to only 14 days because of the ongoing work to expand the mataf — the cicumambulation area.
According to a circular sent to Umrah agencies in the Kingdom and Saudi missions abroad two days ago, the new rule becomes effective Monday.
“Yes, we have received a circular from the Saudi Embassy in New Delhi informing us that Umrah pilgrims will only be given 14-day visas from Shaban 1,” said Mohammad Abdul Razzak, a travel agent in Hyderabad, India.
He said it would come as a shock to hundreds of Indian Muslims who visit Makkah and Madinah during Ramadan. “Naturally, everyone who visits Saudi Arabia for religious pilgrimage would want to stay in Makkah and Madinah for as long as they can,” he said. “However, we are told by our counterparts that it is very congested out there in Makkah and that the hotels are heavily booked for the coming two months.”
Rahman Azim, who works for an Umrah operator in Jeddah, said the rule is for all nationalities. “There is a good reason for the decision. It will lead to more people performing Umrah because of the constant movement of foreign pilgrims,” he said.
According to Azim, the new step is being described in travel circles as 14-14-14. “Once the Umrah visa is issued, it will remain in the system for 14 days, meaning it should be stamped within 14 days of the issuance,” he said. “Once it is stamped, the person should travel within 14 days, and then once the pilgrim is in the Kingdom, he should leave within 14 days.”
According to local Umrah tour operators, their quotas have also been slashed by 50 percent. “We were given half of what we used to get in the past,” said Nusrat Javed, an employee at a Makkah tour operator. “This has led us to cancel our hotel bookings which we had done in advance in anticipation of a surge in demand.”
Munir Rahman told Arab News from Lahore that he obtained a one-month Umrah visa last week. “But when we applied for an Umrah visa for my mother two days ago, we were told it would be valid only for two weeks,” he said.

Is another Somalia in the making? | Arab News

Is another Somalia in the making? | Arab News

Since its start, not much was expected from the UN-sponsored peace conference on Yemen, which was held in Geneva at the behest of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Talks focused exclusively on negotiations between the Yemeni forces fighting for power while representatives of concerned countries were sidelined.

The opposition, more specifically Houthi militias and ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh, considered it an opportunity to become an internationally recognized legitimate party. Meanwhile, the legitimate Yemeni government found itself compelled to remain on good terms with the United Nations as it will need the latter’s help later on.

However, the outcome of the Geneva talks will have no repercussions in Sanaa and will not halt the collapse of the Yemeni government. This fragmentation comes as the result of the multiplicity of forces and conflicts, the political vacuum and the absence of a central government. Yemen is heading toward a civil war complemented by an additional conflict between external powers, similar to the Somali conflict. In fact, the Somali civil war broke out in 1991 and continues to rage until now. Neighboring countries intervened and the United States sent forces but failed to secure an end to the fighting. In the end, all parties abandoned Somalia and few cared about its people who were left to fight the flames of conflict alone.

Yemen’s situation is going from bad to worse and will not improve if the fighting parties do not accept a political solution that will unite them in one system with similar rights. It is the same GCC-EU proposal that the Houthis accepted three years ago then decided to forgo at Iranian instigation.
Alongside the three main forces, Houthis, Saleh and the legitimate government, there are southern separatist forces faced by other forces, northern tribal forces and of course lurking Al-Qaeda elements who will try to seize territories in much the same way Daesh in Syria and Iraq has done.

The Houthis and Saleh will not govern Yemen because of the ongoing fighting. Each party initially felt it was winning by spoiling the chances of the other, especially the Houthis. They had many advantages in the former government, before the coup, as well as influence exceeding their political clout. However, their involvement in the power play and their desire to take over the country spoiled the whole plan. No one will make any gains in an atmosphere of chaos. Over time, if the Yemeni parties fail to reach an agreement, Yemen’s war will be forgotten like Somalia.

The region is full of crises and raging fires. It would be a falsehood to mislead Yemenis into thinking that the world desires a peaceful solution for them. In parallel, whoever thinks that Iran, Russia and western nations will remain permanently supportive is also at a height of self-delusion. If the crisis extends for one or two more years, Yemenis will realize that everyone walked away to deal with other issues and that even the UN secretary-general and his envoy will no longer answer their calls, in a situation similar to what Somalia faced.

We urge the various Yemeni leaderships, whether legitimate or militia, to think of the future. Fearing a permanent state of collapse, we urge them to seek a political solution that will unite all parties in a viable and sustainable system. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to repair broken glass.

Henry Vilas Zoo home to new Somali wild asses | News -

Henry Vilas Zoo home to new Somali wild asses | News -

The Henry Vilas Zoo Friday welcomed two Somali wild asses, a critically endangered species.
The Somali wild asses became zoo residents through a Giving Tuesday fundraiser last December. The Vilas Zoo is one of only nine institutions that have the species, and there are only 60 in captivity in North America and 600 or fewer in the wild.
“We are pleased to welcome the Somali wild asses to the Vilas Zoo after a successful Giving Tuesday fundraising campaign that helped to support their arrival,” said Allison K. Prange, executive director of Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo. “This is a powerful example of the zoo’s leadership in conservation.
Friends of the Henry Vilas Zoo also announced the launch of Wild Ass Coffee, which will be available at Barriques. Proceeds of its sale will go to the Henry Vilas Zoo Animal Welfare Fund.
“Barriques is excited to be a part of supporting the Henry Vilas Zoo and its efforts in animal conservation,” said Finn Berge, co-owner of Barriques. “The coffee blend is 100 percent sustainably grown heirloom Arabica beans sourced from small family farms, primarily in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia."
The coffee is available at each Barriques location and online through its website.

Welcome to Somaliwood, Ohio: where Somali movie magic comes to America | Film | The Guardian

Welcome to Somaliwood, Ohio: where Somali movie magic comes to America | Film | The Guardian

In a strip mall 20 minutes north of the metropolitan area of Columbus, Ohio, the Banadir Business Center sits wedged between a Somali-run restaurant and the office of Immigration and Citizenship Services. Up two flights of stairs, through a labyrinthine network of yellow-walled hallways wending past several tailors, two barbershops, a Persian rug emporium and a small cafeteria, intrepid searchers will find a room serving the unlikeliest of purposes.
Chipped walls are crammed to capacity with hand-labelled cassette tapes, posters vaunting and denouncing Somalia’s political climate, and dozens of DVDs, from Shaw Brothers kung fu classics to ethnographical documentaries. A glass case contains stacks of CDs for sale from local and internationally renowned Somali singers. Three clunky computer monitors on a single desk make up a crude mission control in the corner, and a TV plays stock footage from a traditional Somalian wedding on a loop. A couple of cans of grape-flavoured Faygo sit on the shelves. The door reads “UTANGA STUDIO” in black electric tape. These are the offices of Olol Films, the No 1 producer of Somali-language motion pictures in Columbus. This is the cluttered, beating heart of Somaliwood.
The man sitting behind the desk is film-maker Samatar Haji. (“Just Haji,” he explains. “If you ask anyone for Samatar, they won’t know who you’re talking about.”) At a cursory glance, he’s no different than any other movie nut. He enjoys a good potboiler, citing the Denzel Washington-led Equalizer remake and TV’s The Blacklist, Chicago PD and Law and Order: SVU as recent viewing highlights. He loves too many movies to pick a favourite, but he knows damn well that he hated 2013’s Will Smith vehicle After Earth.
“It was so bad!” he laughs. “And I was very frustrated, because I know if they gave me a fraction of that money, I could’ve done so much more.”

But Haji’s path to being a cineaste has been anything but typical. As a 19-year-old émigré, he left Somalia in 1996 with his father and stepmother. After spending a couple of months at the New Jersey home of humanitarian Steve Colson and receiving assistance fromSaid Samatar, his uncle and late Rutgers University professor who was an authority on Somali culture, he relocated to Atlanta for eight years. He finally moved to Columbus in 2004, and it was there that Haji’s fledgling career as a director began in earnest.
He had fostered a passion for cinema since first arriving in the US. “It doesn’t matter if I’m having the baddest day of my life,” Haji says. “All I need to do is pick up a DVD or go to the movies and I feel good.” But he didn’t dare to try his own hand until arriving in Columbus and immersing himself in the thriving local Somali diaspora. Haji estimates that somewhere around 50,000 Somali Americans call Columbus home, the largest population in America second only to Minneapolis (where a handful of enterprising directors have taken a similar path to Haji’s). Here, Haji would be able to cobble together a crew and cast comprised entirely of fellow Somalis, though he had already met his most vital collaborator before arriving in Columbus.
Haji did not receive directorial credit for any of the four narrative features and two documentaries he has produced since arriving in 2004. That distinction went to his professional partner and close personal friend, Abdisalam Aato. The pair have always shared in their all-consuming love for film, fantasising about a day when their names might be the ones that roll first in the credits. They were regular fixtures at the AMC theater in Atlanta. Haji characterises their obsession as all-consuming, a familiar refrain from anybody who’s devoted their life to the art of cinema: “In Atlanta, we don’t go to clubs, we don’t go to bars – we’d only go to movies.”
Though he works now as the senior strategic communications adviser to the Somali prime minister in Mogadishu, Aato and Haji split the work 50/50 on set back in Columbus.
“Abdisalam’s got the pretty face,” Haji says. “You know cop movies, good cop and bad cop? Abdisalam was the good cop, and I was the bad cop. Our actress comes to set wearing the wrong dress, and Abdisalam smiles and puts her in a good mood. Then I tell her that she needs to change, even if she likes that dress more.”
Haji and Aato’s productions represent the purest form of DIY film-making. Not a single iota of outside influence has touched their films; each feature was written, shot, edited and digitised in Columbus with their own hands, using their own money as a budget and public locations or friends’ houses for sets. Naturally, they worked with non-professional actors, which presented its own set of unique challenges.
“You gotta get everyone to sign a contract,” Haji warns. “There have been times when we’d pay an actor to be in our movie, then the day comes, and he wouldn’t show up. We’d have to find him.” Both Haji and Aato are complete autodidacts, on top of it all. It’s not as if they could’ve cut their teeth at a Somalian film school, after all.
“In Somalia, you’re gonna get in trouble if you think about making a movie,” Haji says. “The local government supports you, but other people, like [al-Qaida-affiliated militant group] al-Shabaab, they will definitely without blinking kill you. You don’t want your name out there. You talk about making a movie, they’ll shoot you.”
So Haji had no choice but to bring Somali culture with him to America. His films cross-pollinate traditional Somali entertainment (such as riwaayad, a type of elaborate stage show still popular in his native country) with Hollywood’s fixation on the trappings of genre. Familiar elements of horror, thrillers, and drama gain novelty through Haji’s vision. Their Xaaskayga Araweelo, for instance, filters the traditional Somali folk legend of the Arawelo – a warrior queen’s spirit said to castrate deadbeat husbands and fathers – through a distinctly American slasher sensibility. A man marries the woman he believes to be the love of his life, only to discover that she’s got murderous intentions once it’s too late. The end result is a cultural fusion informed by Somali moral values and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre in equal measure.
His work is vital, not the least because it provides a counter to the narrative assigned to Somalis by a white-run Hollywood. At the barbershop next door to Olol Films’ headquarters, the typical neighbourhood chatter turns to the topic of Somalis in the movies. “If you’re Somali, you can play one character,” says Farah, a friend of Haji’s. “You can be a pirate, or a terrorist, or a criminal, but it’s all the same character.”
There’s no such thing as a typical day at Utanga studio. When not chasing down wayward actors, Haji might be scouring Columbus for a region-free DVD player so that he can watch a new Balinese import, or cobbling together a budget for his next endeavour by shooting local weddings and directing music videos for Somali singers. Today, he’s plotting his next feature. He says he’s considering another narrative film, and that he wants to get the gears turning for production during the summer. When needled for details, he relents:
“I like stories about single mothers. In the Qur’an, Muhammad says that a man must be a good father to his children and help his wife with chores. Muhammad was the first to wash his wife’s clothing. I was thinking about a modernised version of that. A man sits around shooting bull with the other men all day. Then maybe he learns why he must be a better husband and part of his family, the lessons from Muhammad. A little bit of here, and a little bit of home.”

Ex-local Somali journalist faces deportation, death threat | Minnesota Public Radio News

Ex-local Somali journalist faces deportation, death threat | Minnesota Public Radio News

Somali newsman
Liban Dirie, pictured here on Nov. 4, 2011, is in danger of being sent to Somalia, where terrorists have threatened to kill him. When he lived in Minnesota, Dirie, also known as Ilyaas Maow, worked to stop the recruitment of local Somali youth by al-Shabab. 

AMISOM Trains Somali Government Officials in Election Management - AMISOM

AMISOM Trains Somali Government Officials in Election Management - AMISOM

Senior officials of the Federal Government of Somalia have completed a two-week course on elections management, at the Kofi Annan International Peace Training Centre, in Accra Ghana.
The training facilitated by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), aimed at equipping the participants with the principles and processes in elections management, ahead of planned elections in 2016.
“We are trying to support Somalia in capacity building in areas like training the Somali army, training their police, training the civil society in preparing them towards elections 2016, which is supposed to be supported by the African Union Commission, other regional bodies and the international community. A training like this is very important for the Somali population as we support them towards peace and stability,” said AMISOM’s Civil Affairs Officer Christopher Gwan’garia.
The participants described the course as timely, saying they had benefitted greatly from the training.
“We’re very hopeful that the lessons learned, the experiences and the knowledge we have acquired from this course will help us draft and craft our elections system,” said Mohamed Abdi Rageh.
Another participant Omar Mohamed Maalim said, “this course is meant  to increase our knowledge in elections because we’re expecting to hold elections in the coming year of 2016 in Somalia.”
On her part, Hallima Moalim Aden said she had found the training useful and with fresh perspective. She added that the course had improved her perspective and understanding of the electoral processes.
“I have gained more, I have just learned the legal framework, the overview of managing elections and the principles and standards of elections and other related issues concerning elections,” she said.
The training comes shortly after another also facilitated by AMISOM for officials of the Federal Government of Somalia on Conflict Management and Mediation, at the same institute in Accra, Ghana.

'Becoming Chinese': Meet the first Somali with a Home Return Permit | South China Morning Post

'Becoming Chinese': Meet the first Somali with a Home Return Permit | South China Morning Post

Ali Mohamed Ali, the Hong Kong government's official - and only - Somali translator tells Jenni Marsh about being a voice for new refugee arrivals in the city, and "becoming Chinese".

NO MORE NORMAL I was born in Mogadishu in 1968 and my father is an optologist, who trained in Italy. Back then Somalia was a military dictatorship under Mohamed Siad Barre.
We had free health care and schooling but not much freedom of speech. Compared to the chaos you have now, however, Somalia was a nice place to live. A "normal" African country.
Compared to the chaos you have now, Somalia was a nice place to live
When I finished high school, I went to Delhi, in India, to study insurance. When I returned to Somalia, civil war had broken out. It was a mess.
Somalia has the longest coastline on the African continent, bigger than South Africa's, and my family had started a seafood business. We were selling live lobsters to Dubai, so I moved to the UAE.
The El Nino phenomenon was causing biological and physical changes to the environment that affected fish distribution in the oceans and made it harder for fishermen in Somalia to dive down and catch the lobsters. We folded the business and I moved into logistics.
WEST ISN'T BEST I have five sisters and four brothers and they are all over the world: London, Norway, Canada. When I visited my siblings and saw what kind of jobs they were doing - cab driver, security guard - I decided I was not interested in the West.
I decided to go East; there was far more opportunity. After five years in Dubai, in 2002, Hellmann - the logistics giant I worked for - wanted a man in Hong Kong to do their African business. I snapped up that chance. They put me up in a fancy five-star hotel. I'd never meet my target clients there.
So for that first year, I lived in Chungking Mansions. My clients are all ethnic Somalis living in Kenya, visiting Hong Kong and shipping Chinese-manufactured garments back home.
For that first year [in Hong Kong], I lived in Chungking Mansions
FOUND IN TRANSLATION I am the Hong Kong government's only Somali-speaking translator. There are maybe 65 to 70 Somalis in Hong Kong, but, apart from me, the rest are mostly refugees or asylum seekers.
Since 2003, I have been helping any Somali who comes into contact with the police, the court system or immigration. Somalia is a failed state so people are just fleeing. I have to translate their story to immigration: most often they seek asylum from ethnic clan persecution or terrorism, like al-Shabab.
Many people might disagree, but I think Hong Kong is a good place for refugees. Some Asian countries don't respect the UN - Thailand and Malaysia, for example. But in Hong Kong if you show documents to the police to prove you are an asylum seeker, they respect that. And, although it's too small, the government does give an allowance to asylum seekers. You don't have that in mainland China.
I am the first Somali in the world to "become Chinese" - that's what the Somali embassy in Beijing told me
NEW PASSPORT In 2009, I became a Chinese citizen. I believe I am the first Somali in the world to "become Chinese" - that's what the Somali embassy in Beijing told me when I handed them back my passport.
I applied for a home return permit (a travel document that allows Hong Kong and Macau residents entry to the mainland; above) as soon as I got permanent resident status in Hong Kong. People think it's hard to do but you could do the same, if you were to renounce your passport. Somali passports are not easy to travel on, so I didn't mind.
I don't speak Mandarin. I have no relation in China. But I have a return to home permit.
The South China Morning Post runs many op-eds calling the Hong Kong Immigration Department racist, because certain Africans and Indians are being denied visas. I say, "Look at me: I'm not Chinese, I don't speak Mandarin. I have no relation in China. But I have a return to home permit." I went to Canada last year and the immigration officer there was looking at my documents and at me and saying, "This is bizarre, bizarre …" Three times he said it. I was the first Somali he'd seen holding an SAR passport.
LONG-DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP I have known my wife, Naima, all my life. We grew up in the same neighborhood and went to primary school together. In 2003, we got married in Indonesia; a Muslim country.
I could not marry a Chinese woman; Somali men must marry another Somali.
Naima lived with me in Hong Kong for a time, but at the moment she is in Canada, where the rest of her family now live. We have two children, a girl and a boy, aged seven and nine. They visit me during the holidays and, at Chinese New Year, when the factories close, I go to Canada. At some point, though, we will have to live together. We cannot be separated forever.
I could not marry a Chinese woman; Somali men must marry another Somali
WHEN OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS The rise in Somali piracy means business is getting harder. There is now a security surcharge for freight going to East Africa. What's more, Hong Kong is losing out to Guangzhou. Now China is opening up, anybody can get a visa. I'm a typical Somali; I'll go where the opportunity is. In a few years time, maybe Vietnam will pop up and overtake mainland China. If so, I'll move there.
I would miss Hong Kong, though, and its freedoms. In 2010, it took me half an hour to register my company here. Can I go to London and start a logistics company that easily? I sit in on many court cases, most often common assault. I'm sure in other countries, they'd say, "This guy is a refugee and he has beaten up a citizen of this country, lock him up." But there is rule of law here; it's impartial.
I'm sure in other countries, they'd say, "This guy is a refugee and he has beaten up a citizen of this country, lock him up."
Even with religion. I am Muslim and attend Kowloon Mosque, on Nathan Road. But sometimes the Chinese suppliers in Sham Shui Po will say, "Ali, it's time for you to pray." They have all their Chinese gods but will still offer me their prayer mats. They joke, "Will you ask your god to bless my business?"

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Keeps Key Housing Discrimination Protections Intact

Supreme Court Keeps Key Housing Discrimination Protections Intact

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Thursday that housing policies and practices with discriminatory outcomes can be challenged under the Fair Housing Act, even if there was no intent to discriminate.
At issue in the case, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project, was the validity of a theory known as disparate impact, and specifically its application under the Fair Housing Act of 1968, passed just a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Though the FHA protects against many forms of discrimination, disparate impact is seen by fair housing advocates as a particularly vital tool for fighting racial inequality, as it permits lawsuits to be brought against policies that disproportionately affect people of color, even when no overt racial motive can be proven.
The case stemmed from a disparate impact claim filed by the ICP, a Dallas-area nonprofit that promotes racially and economically diverse communities. The group discovered that between 1995 and 2009 the TDHCA had been allocating almost all affordable-housing tax credits to developments in poorer minority neighborhoods, while denying credits to those in wealthier white neighborhoods. The ICP argued that this had the effect of preserving racial segregation by preventing low-income, largely minority residents from moving to white communities.
The nonprofit sued on the grounds that the outcome of this policy was racially discriminatory, even if the Texas housing agency's intent was not. The organization provided statistical evidence of this disparate impact in court. Under rules laid out in 2013 by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the TDHCA was then given a chance to demonstrate that its allocation of credits served a nondiscriminatory business interest, which it couldn't achieve by less discriminatory means.
While the TDHCA established a legitimate interest in its distribution of credits, it failed to prove that it was pursuing this interest in the least discriminatory manner. The agency lost in both federal district court and in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which held that the proper disparate impact standard had been applied.
Supporters of disparate impact have noted that policies or practices that disproportionately affect minorities may still be found legal, so long as they can meet the HUD criteria. When the TDHCA couldn't, however, they responded by petitioning the Supreme Court, asking the justices to rule on the overall permissibility of disparate impact claims under the FHA.
Thursday's ruling came as something of a surprise following a string of Supreme Court rulings under Chief Justice John Roberts that have scaled back other civil rights laws and cast doubt on the the use of racial preferences by public universities. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the liberal bloc of the court in writing the majority decision.
“Recognition of disparate impact liability under the FHA also plays a role in uncovering discriminatory intent: It permits plaintiffs to counteract unconscious prejudices and disguised animus that escape easy classification as disparate treatment,” wrote Kennedy, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Justice Samuel Alito penned the dissenting opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
Critics of disparate impact argue that the doctrine unfairly targets private institutions and policymakers by punishing them for otherwise facially neutral policies or practices. They've also suggested that disparate impact makes the private sector vulnerable to costly lawsuits in which defendants are given a significant burden of proof.
During oral argument before the Supreme Court in January, Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller, who represented the TDHCA, also raised concerns that lenders and policymakers might actually feel pressured to consider race-based criteria in order to avoid the sort of adverse effects to some races that might invite disparate impact claims. While Kennedy cautioned that such an outcome would indeed raise constitutional concerns, supporters of disparate impact have claimed that such issues can be remedied without having to resort to race-conscious decisions in favor of minorities.
Fair housing advocates had argued that the issue of disparate impact has long been settled. Since 1974, 11 federal circuit courts have upheld an interpretation of the FHA that allows for disparate impact claims. Moreover, in 1988, when Congress amended the law, it chose not to add language ruling out such claims, but did include language that implied their use. Kennedy noted this precedent in his decision.
Progressive groups hailed Thursday's ruling as a key step toward combating housing segregation.
"Even unintentional housing discrimination denies families access to the social, economic, and health benefits of appropriate housing opportunities," said Michele L. Jawando, vice president of legal progress at the Center for American Progress, in a statement. "We are at our strongest when our communities are more diverse and inclusive. Upholding the disparate impact standard respects decades of precedent and marks an important milestone for equality and inclusiveness in America."
Disparate impact claims have been used in a number of high-profile cases regarding equal access to housing. In 2011, for example, mortgage giant Countrywide Financial -- now a Bank of America subsidiary -- settled a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department alleging that it had discriminated against hundreds of thousands of Hispanic and African-American customers by offering them subprime mortgages and charging them higher fees and rates on loans, while offering better mortgage rates and lending terms to white customers with similar financial profiles. In its disparate impact lawsuit, the Justice Department needed only prove that Countrywide's policy had a discriminatory effect, not that the unit had intended to discriminate. The case ended in a record $335 million settlement.
The Supreme Court had agreed to consider the issue of disparate impact in two cases over the previous four years, though both were settled by the defendants -- civil rights groups -- just weeks before they were set to go before the justices due to concerns that the court would hold that the FHA does not allow disparate-impact lawsuits. Fair housing advocates had considered the Supreme Court's eagerness to hear a third case on the issue of disparate impact as a sign that the justices might not issue a favorable ruling.

Supreme Court Allows Nationwide Health Care Subsidies - The New York Times

Supreme Court Allows Nationwide Health Care Subsidies - The New York Times

The Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that President Obama’s health care law allows the federal government to provide nationwide tax subsidies to help poor and middle-class people buy health insurance, a sweeping vindication that endorsed the larger purpose of Mr. Obama’s signature legislative achievement.
The 6-to-3 ruling means that it is all but certain that the Affordable Care Act will survive after Mr. Obama leaves office in 2017. For the second time in three years, the law survived an encounter with the Supreme Court. But the court’s tone was different this time. The first decision, in 2012, was fractured and grudging, while Thursday’s ruling was more assertive.
“Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for a united six-justice majority. In 2012’s closely divided decision, Chief Justice Roberts also wrote the controlling opinion, but that time no other justice joined it in full.   
Demonstrators expressed their support for the Affordable Care Act outside of the Supreme Court on Thursday. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
In dissent on Thursday, Justice Antonin Scalia called the majority’s reasoning “quite absurd” and “interpretive jiggery-pokery.”
He announced his dissent from the bench, a sign of bitter disagreement. His summary was laced with notes of incredulity and sarcasm, sometimes drawing amused murmurs in the courtroom as he described the “interpretive somersaults” he said the majority had performed to reach the decision.
“We really should start calling this law Scotus-care,” Justice Scalia said, to laughter from the audience.
In a hastily arranged appearance in the Rose Garden on Thursday morning, a triumphant Mr. Obama praised the ruling. “After multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, the Affordable Care Act is here to stay,” he said, adding: “What we’re not going to do is unravel what has now been woven into the fabric of America.”
The ruling was a blow to Republicans, who have been trying to gut the law since it was enacted. But House Speaker John A. Boehner vowed that the political fight against it would continue.
“The problem with Obamacare is still fundamentally the same: The law is broken,” Mr. Boehner said. “It’s raising costs for American families, it’s raising costs for small businesses and it’s just fundamentally broken. And we’re going to continue our efforts to do everything we can to put the American people back in charge of their health care and not the federal government.”
The case concerned a central part of the Affordable Care Act that created marketplaces, known as exchanges, to allow people who lack insurance to shop for individual health plans. Some states set up their own exchanges, but about three dozen allowed the federal government to step in to run them. Across the nation, about 85 percent of customers using the exchanges qualify for subsidies to help pay for coverage, based on their income.
The question in the case, King v. Burwell, No. 14-114, was what to make of a phrase in the law that seems to say the subsidies are available only to people buying insurance on “an exchange established by the state.”
A legal victory for the plaintiffs, lawyers for the administration said, would have affected more than six million people and created havoc in the insurance markets and undermined the law.
Chief Justice Roberts acknowledged that the plaintiffs had strong arguments about the plain meaning of the contested words. But he wrote that the words must be understood as part of a larger statutory plan. “In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.”

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Ramadan Wishes Spark War in France - Europe - News -

Ramadan Wishes Spark War in France - Europe - News -

A popular French food website has came under racist comments' attack after posting recipes for Muslims' Ramadan, in an incident that reflects the surge of Islamophobia in the European country.
“In France, even recipes cause Islamophobic reactions,” wrote one of social media users, International Business Times reported on Tuesday, June 23.
The controversy erupted after France's leading food website, Marmiton, wished a "Happy Ramadan to all" and decided to cook lamb couscous or chicken tajine suggestions to celebrate the holy month.
Marmiton Ramadan wishes has sparked a row online with more than 1,450 comments debating the issue.
“Happy Ramadan to 'ALL'????????????????" wrote Facebook user Anne Piraux-Flabat, using a total of 16 question marks, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported on
"I am not Muslim and I don't count on becoming one," she added, following up with six exclamation marks.
Another reader, Cyril Richard, showed his love for purely French cooking: "Long live cassoulet, sauerkraut, pork cutlets, ham and saucisson.”
Other users slammed the website for excluding the option of tapas, pizza and chow mein.
"Fascists even on their plate -- what a shame!" wrote Dav Du Bled.
The latest online debate comes at tense time for the country’s six million Muslims who have been facing increasing hatred since Paris attacks last January.
The National Observatory Against Islamophobia said over 100 incidents have been reported to the police since the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 7-9.
The observatory also noted that more than 222 separate acts of anti-Muslim behavior were recorded in the first month after the January attacks.
In April, the National Observatory Against Islamophobia warned of an unprecedented increase in Islamophobic attacks in France during the first three months of 2015, rising by six-fold than in 2014.
Islamophobic actions soared by 500% compared to the same period in 2011, according to the observatory.
Mixed Reactions
Despite fierce criticism, the website has been defended by many readers who slammed the Islamophopes users.
“Sad state of France right now: French cooking website deluged with hate after wishing happy Ramadan/posting recipes,” one Twitter user wrote.
“But many, many more messages of peace and tolerance. There is hope!” another one replied.
Deeply saddened by the offensive posts, the site co-founder, Christophe Duhamel, waded into the debate to defend the goodwill gesture.
“We are a cooking site. It's the only subject that interests us and it's the only subject we talk about," said Duhamel who has issued an open letter appealing for tolerance.
"For 16 years of our existence, we have taken all major festivals, religious or not, as opportunities to discover new recipes.
"Our religion is sharing, discovery, openness -- in short, everything that is integral to cuisine," he said.
Ramadan is the holiest month in Islamic calendar.
Muslims dedicate their time during the holy month to become closer to Allah through prayer, self-restraint and good deeds.
It is customary for Muslims to spend part of the days during Ramadan studying the Noble Qur'an.
Many men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.
France is home to a Muslim community of nearly six million, the largest in Europe.
French Muslims have been complaining of restrictions on performing their religious practices.

Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11 - The New York Times

Homegrown Extremists Tied to Deadlier Toll Than Jihadists in U.S. Since 9/11 - The New York Times
   In the 14 years since Al Qaeda carried out attacks on New York and the Pentagon, extremists have regularly executed smaller lethal assaults in the United States, explaining their motives in online manifestoes or social media rants.
But the breakdown of extremist ideologies behind those attacks may come as a surprise. Since Sept. 11, 2001, nearly twice as many people have been killed by white supremacists, antigovernment fanatics and other non-Muslim extremists than by radical Muslims: 48 have been killed by extremists who are not Muslim, including the recent mass killing in Charleston, S.C., compared with 26 by self-proclaimed jihadists, according to a count by New America, a Washington research center.
The slaying of nine African-Americans in a Charleston church last week, with an avowed white supremacist charged with their murders, was a particularly savage case.
But it is only the latest in a string of lethal attacks by people espousing racial hatred, hostility to government and theories such as those of the “sovereign citizen” movement, which denies the legitimacy of most statutory law. The assaults have taken the lives of police officers, members of racial or religious minorities and random civilians.
Non-Muslim extremists have carried out 19 such attacks since Sept. 11, according to the latest count, compiled by David Sterman, a New America program associate, and overseen by Peter Bergen, a terrorism expert. By comparison, seven lethal attacks by Islamic militants have taken place in the same period.
If such numbers are new to the public, they are familiar to police officers. A survey to be published this week asked 382 police and sheriff’s departments nationwide to rank the three biggest threats from violent extremism in their jurisdiction. About 74 percent listed antigovernment violence, while 39 percent listed “Al Qaeda-inspired” violence, according to the researchers, Charles Kurzman of the University of North Carolina and David Schanzer of Duke University.