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Friday, March 20, 2009

Video: Iranian Pop Band in London


Iranian pop band in London.

Video from the BBC. - February 27, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Facebook Adds Arabic and Hebrew

From BBC - March 12, 2009
 Facebook in Arabic

Facebook engineers are developing the site in a further 60 languages.

 I've developed online habits! I'm used to navigating Facebook in English and from left-to-right
Marwa, Iraqi Facebook user in London

Full Article.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Video: Women's Role the Mosque in Cairo

Video from BBC. - March 2, 2009
Women's unusual role in mosques in Cairo.

US to Sign UN Gay Rights Declaration

From the Associated Press - March 18, 2009

Sources: US to sign UN gay rights declaration

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration will endorse a U.N. declaration calling for the worldwide decriminalization of homosexuality that then-President George W. Bush had refused to sign, The Associated Press has learned.

U.S. officials said Tuesday they had notified the declaration's French sponsors that the administration wants to be added as a supporter. The Bush administration was criticized in December when it was the only western government that refused to sign on.

The move was made after an interagency review of the Bush administration's position on the nonbinding document, which was signed by all 27 European Union members as well as Japan, Australia, Mexico and three dozen other countries, the officials said.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because Congress was still being notified of the decision. They said the administration had decided to sign the declaration to demonstrate that the United States supports human rights for all.

"The United States is an outspoken defender of human rights and critic of human rights abuses around the world," said one official.

"As such, we join with the other supporters of this statement and we will continue to remind countries of the importance of respecting the human rights of all people in all appropriate international fora," the official said.

The official added that the United States was concerned about "violence and human rights abuses against gay, lesbian, transsexual and bisexual individuals" and was also "troubled by the criminalization of sexual orientation in many countries."

"In the words of the United States Supreme Court, the right to be free from criminalization on the basis of sexual orientation 'has been accepted as an integral part of human freedom'," the official said.

Gay rights and other groups had criticized the Bush administration when it refused to sign the declaration when it was presented at the United Nations on Dec. 19. U.S. officials said then that the U.S. opposed discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation but that parts of the declaration raised legal questions that needed further review.

According to negotiators, the Bush team had concerns that those parts could commit the federal government on matters that fall under state jurisdiction. In some states, landlords and private employers are allowed to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation; on the federal level, gays are not allowed to serve openly in the military.

It was not immediately clear on Tuesday how the Obama administration had come to a different conclusion.

When it was voted on in December, 66 of the U.N.'s 192 member countries signed the declaration — which backers called a historic step to push the General Assembly to deal more forthrightly with anti-gay discrimination.

But 70 U.N. members outlaw homosexuality — and in several, homosexual acts can be punished by execution. More than 50 nations, including members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, opposed the declaration.

Some Islamic countries said at the time that protecting sexual orientation could lead to "the social normalization and possibly the legalization of deplorable acts" such as pedophilia and incest. The declaration was also opposed by the Vatican.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cairo: A Woman's Place is in the Mosque?

A woman's place is in the mosque?

By Christopher Landau
BBC Religious Affairs correspondent, Cairo

The role that women play in mosques varies substantially around the Muslim world. Visits to two mosques in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, show just how different women's experiences can be.

The al-Seddeeq mosque, in a prosperous suburb of Cairo, stands in front of a park - unusual enough in an overcrowded city lacking much green space.

The large mosque, built in the last 20 years, forms an impressive focal point in the local community.

But it also represents one potential vision of the future for Egypt's mosques - where women are heavily involved in increasing aspects of the mosque's activities.

As I step inside, I hear sounds I had not been expecting - the raucous shouts of children playing.

About 250 young boys are surrounded by paint, glue, paper and old egg boxes - making artwork from recycled materials.

Earlier in the day, they had been learning to recite the Koran, but by late afternoon it was time for a more hands-on task.

There is nothing unusual about mosques offering educational programmes. But at al-Seddeeq mosque, all of the educational work is run by women.

A new role

On the day I visit, 35 female volunteers are involved - and 2,000 local children are on a waiting list to join the programmes.

Maha al-Mahy runs the mosque's work with children as well as educational programmes for women.

She is clear that women's role in the mosque will continue to develop, just as opportunities for women within Egyptian society also open up.

"Other things will be changed. Maybe we are going to have more work, more roles, in future," she tells me.

Would that mean, I asked her, that women might even fulfil some of the roles still only undertaken by men?

"Why not?" she answers. "Men are good - but also I think women can do what men do. Some roles, it's better for women than men."

But you do not have to travel far to find very different attitudes to women's involvement.

In a poorer part of Cairo, I am driven through crowded streets past several mosques.

Some of those we pass do not have any facilities for women to pray, let alone be involved in other activities.

But at one mosque, we meet Sabriah Ibrahim. She is the only woman involved with leadership - and in this poorer area, no local women are wealthy enough to be able to volunteer.

The mosque could hardly be more different from the gleaming marble structure of al-Seddeeq, in the more prosperous part of town.

Contrasting opportunities

Hemmed in by other buildings, it is a cramped building on a small site, with the men's prayer hall as the main focus.

There is one small office, which doubles up as an administrative base and the place from which clothing is distributed to those in need. But there is not the capacity to offer programmes like those that the al-Seddeeq mosque is able to offer to the hundreds of children in the area.

But perhaps the most striking contrast is in the role that women play in the life of the mosque.

"Most of the week, women don't come for prayer, they only come for the Friday prayer, or when there are lessons or certain activities," Sabriah Ibrahim says.

"But other than this, very few women come to the mosque, and most of them are older women."

The disparity between the two mosques I visited is striking.

In one, women play an active role and dream even of running those activities still the preserve of men - perhaps, one day, even leading prayers.

In the other, one sole woman tries to run women's activities, but in an area where there is little tradition of women being involved in their local mosque.

Some of the factors seem to be financial: Al-Seddeeq's volunteers are women who are wealthy enough to be able to choose to spend time at the mosque rather than needing to work; in the crowded streets of Old Cairo, few women have such an opportunity.

Later, I meet Dr Mohammed Abulaila, recently retired as head of Islamic Studies at Cairo's al-Azhar University.

He too believes that economic factors play a role in whether women attend mosques - put simply, poorer women are more likely to have to stay at home with their families.

But he stresses that Islam itself makes no distinction between men and women, when it comes to the importance of attending the mosque.

"Women, like men, are commanded to go the mosque," he tells me.

"There is no discrimination in Islam. Men are required to pray five times a day, and women as well."

The gap between Dr Abulaila's words and the reality for many women in Cairo is clear.

But religion is just one part of life where opportunities for women are changing dramatically.

In the city's mosques, that opening up of opportunity is happening at startlingly different rates.

Islam, like many other religions, is beginning to face questions about how long centuries of male dominance will continue.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Islamic Unity Conference Urges More Solidarity Among Muslims

From the Iranian Students News Agency

ISNA - Tehran
Service: Foreign Policy

TEHRAN, Mar. 16 (ISNA)-Participants in the 22th Islamic unity conference in Tehran wrapped up their 3-day session as they issued a statement calling for more solidarity among Muslims.

The conference which mainly discussed issues of Islamic nations and ways to eradicate challenges was hosted by Tehran from March 13 to 15 with the presence of 100 participants from 45 countries and 60 Iranian features.

The statement reiterated that Islamic nations face major challenges targeting their culture and entity and try to impede their scientific, economic and military progress.

It stressed that Islamic nations are suffering extremism, prejudice and ignorance which have triggered off division in the Islamic world and some provocative behaviors in the world.

The Participants put forward comprehensive plans to deal with the challenges through making Muslims more aware in different domains to perceive Islam, its teachings and goals to understand current realities in every field.

They also called for implementing Islam in all spheres, boosting the level of education of Muslims in all sections to reinforce their solidarity.

The participants then asked for boosting activities of Islamic organizations and employment of Muslims' political, economic and geographical capabilities to make them unified for achieving their goals.

Providing more welfare for Islamic minorities across the world, implementing Islamic statement on human rights, introducing the precious characteristics of Prophet Mohammad to avoid more insults against him by the West were among their plans.

They then called for Muslims of different Islamic schools to respect each others' views and ideas and condemned Zionist regime's recent savage attacks over Gaza Strip and stressed Palestinians should achieve their rights including establishment of an independent country.

They asked all Somalis parties to hold talks and cooperate for the development of the country without any bloodshed and conflict.

The statement also supported any measure which would help settlement of Darfur issue in Sudan and paves the way for a national reconciliation and condemned any move by the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

The statement backed Iran's stance for making progress in nuclear technology for peaceful purposes and slammed any complicated measure to hold back Iran from access to its certain rights according to international rules and regulations.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Picture of the Week: Displaced Pakistani's Wait for Food in Swat Valley

Displaced Pakistani people wait for food at a makeshift camp in the country's troubled Swat Valley

Related Story from the Associated Press.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)