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Muslims in Egypt collect money to help build Church

Fides News Agency

Shibin El Kom (Agenzia Fides) – A Coptic church will rise thanks to monetary donations from Muslims in the Governorate of Al Manufiyya, located in the north of Cairo, in the region of the Nile Delta. This is reported by Coptic sources consulted by Agenzia Fides. The church is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and the concrete solidarity manifested by Muslim believers is also considered as a result of the wave of emotion registered in the Country before the massacre of Copts in Libya committed by jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State (IS).

When Coptic Orthodox Bishop Benyamin opened the collection of donations intended for the church, the suggestion of some leading Muslim members in the area to offer a contribution, was taken seriously especially by young people and children.
Bishop Benyamin stressed that the initiative developed in the Governorate is a message addressed to the whole world.
Analysts and commentators have called for the recurrence of similar initiatives in other areas of the country.

The Governorate of Al Manufiyya is also known for being the birthplace of Egyptian Presidents Anwar Sadat (killed in 1981 in an attack attributed to the group of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad) and Hosni Mubarak, who was forced to resign due to the riots in February 2011. (GV) (Agenzia Fides 27/04/2015)

Muslims form protective ring around Synagogue in Norway


More than 1000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo's synagogue on Saturday, offering symbolic protection for the city's Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark last weekend.

Chanting "No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia," Norway's Muslims formed what they called a ring of peace a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen last weekend.

"Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that," Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the protest's organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo's only functioning synagogue.

"There are many more peace mongers than warmongers," Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. "There's still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds."

Norway's Jewish community is one of Europe's smallest, numbering around 1000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labor party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 percent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.

French Muslims come out in denouncement of ISIS


Hundreds of Muslims have gathered near the Grand Mosque in Paris to condemn the execution of the French tourist, Herve Gourdel, by Islamic State-linked jihadists and the rise of Islamophobia caused by it.

The demonstrators were holding up placards, reading “"Tribute to Herve Gourdel” and "God is merciful" as well as signs with NotInMyName hastag. 

The crowd chanted “Islam for peace,” with French officials and representatives from the Parisian Arab community present at the event. 

"We French Muslims say stop to barbarism, stop to terrorism," Dalil Boubakeur, head of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, said during the rally. 

He called Friday’s demonstration a "vibrant expression of our desire for national unity and of our unwavering will to live together". 

"Islam is a religion of peace… orders respect for life "
, Boubakeur is cited as saying by Channel NewsAsia website.

Muslim protesters spoke of the suffering that has been inflicted on families by the Islamic State, but also about their fear of leaving their homes due to a rise in Islamophobia. 

“I've lost my whole my family. It's obscurantism. My two brothers, my father, my mother, whenever I hear that someone has been murdered I lose my voice. I'm sick! I can't anymore. I have seen how he has been slain. I was sick,” a woman in the crowd told RT’s Ruptly video agency.

Gourdel was beheaded by an Algerian group, Jund al-Khalifa (Soldiers of the Caliphate), on Wednesday. 

The 55-year-old mountaineering guide was abducted in the Kabylie region of northeast Algeria while hiking with two friends Sunday. 

The Frenchman’s kidnapping occurred after Islamic State called on its supporters to attack citizens from Western countries joining the US-led coalition against the jihadist movement. 

Gourdel became fourth Westerner to be executed by IS and its followers as they previously beheaded two American journalists and a British aid worker. 

The #NotInMyName campaign on social media was initially launched by UK charity Active Change Foundation (ACF), following the murder of British aid worker David Haines. 

It’s aimed at denouncing the Islamic State and reminding people worldwide that the terrorist organization doesn’t represent Islam as a whole.

Japan's rich Muslim past and present

Al Jazeera

Tokyo Camii, or the Tokyo Mosque, is a curious sight, both stunning and subtle. Despite the grand Turkish design, the mosque hides between apartment blocks in the quiet residential neighbourhood of Yoyogi Uehara.

Construction of the current incarnation of the mosque was completed in 2000, but the mosque has a much longer history. It was in the 1930s when Japan first saw a significant resident Muslim population and the first mosques were established. The Nagoya Mosque was built in 1931 and the Kobe Mosque in 1935 by Indian-Muslim migrants.

Tatar Muslim migrants escaping the Russian revolution made the largest ethnic group in Japan by the 1930s and established the original Tokyo Mosque in 1938.

Hans Martin Kramer, a professor of Japanese Studies at the University of Heidelberg and an expert on religion in Japan, considers this to be the most prominent mosque in Japan, one that was “not only supported by the Japanese government, but also financed by Japanese companies, most notably Mitsubishi, and its opening ceremony was attended by dignitaries and diplomats from both Japan and the Islamic World”.

While the Tokyo Camii does not have the same support and contacts with Japanese government and large conglomerates in contemporary times, the mosque was rebuilt using funds from the Turkish government and is both a religious venue and an ethno-cultural space hosting wedding ceremonies, fashion shows, plays, exhibitions and conferences.

Marriage and conversion

Away from the tourists, marble floors and ornate interiors in a small alley around the corner from Tokyo Camii is Dr Musa Omer at the Yuai International School. The school is loud, unpretentious, chaotic and teeming with children. It is a Saturday and the school has activities and classes from 10am until 8pm. While the leadership at the school is looking towards offering full-time education in the near-future, it is currently limited to offering Saturday classes ranging from Islamic studies and Arabic, to karate and calligraphy.  

The school is run by the Islamic Centre of Japan (ICJ), a post-WWII Muslim institution established in 1966. Omer – an advisor to the Saudi Ambassador and who has twice served as the Sudanese Ambassador to Japan – is its acting chairman.

On this day, Omer is preparing to marry a young couple in his small office – a Saudi man and a Japanese woman. Omer works on the marriage certificate and answers questions simultaneously. Like the atmosphere in the school, the wedding is informal and relaxed with both the bride and groom dressed casually. She is converting to Islam and will move to Saudi Arabia soon.

In a brief interlude, the woman is asked whether this is her first introduction to Islam, and she replies that it isn’t. Her relationship with the Saudi man started online two years ago and they decided to get married. Omer, with long-established links to the Saudi embassy, was contacted to assist the couple in arranging the wedding.

As the Japanese bride converts, she joins a tiny group of Japanese Muslims. In the absence of official statistics on Muslims in Japan, demographic estimates range from between 70,000 to 120,000 Muslim residents with about 10 percent of that number being Japanese, in a country with an overall population of more than 127 million.

According to the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the population of foreign workers in Japan has nearly doubled in the last 20 years, and reached more than two million at the end of 2011.

Yoshio Sugimoto describes how the population of foreign workers, which includes Muslims from Pakistan and Bangladesh for example, increased in the late 1980s and early ’90s as visa waiver programmes were introduced by the Japanese government to address an ageing workforce and a shortage of labour.

Monitoring mosques

Omer, on the other hand, came to study architecture on a Japanese Embassy scholarship in 1970 after founding the Japan-Sudan Friendship Society in 1964 in Khartoum, Sudan. He speaks with pride at how Islam has grown and laid institutional foundations in Japan.

“There were just two mosques in Tokyo when I came over in 1970,” he says. Now there are 200 mosques and musallahs, or temporary sites used to pray.

Omer is an influential figure in the institutionalisation in post-WWII Japan with deep roots in the country, privileged position as a former diplomat, and contacts in the Gulf. He has helped various groups raise funds to establish mosques and institutions. Despite that, the Islamic Centre of Japan itself does not have a mosque of its own.

Activities for children in the school, which was established in 2011, are far more important than a mosque, he says. “You can pray anywhere.”

The ICJ has had to cut its annual spending by almost half since the early 1990s, and currently only employs one full-time staff member, down from 25, with its funds coming primarily from donations by individuals in the Gulf.

Some researchers have highlighted negative stereotypes of Islam that Muslims have been confronted with in Japan since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

Despite the Tokyo Metropolitan Police being absolved of any wrongdoing by the Tokyo District Court in January, the UN Human Rights Committee has expressed concerns in a recent report about the systematicsurveillance of Muslims and mosques in Japan.

Police stationed agents at mosques, followed individuals to their homes, obtained their names and addresses from alien registration records, and compiled databases profiling more than 70,000 individuals,” according to an article in the Asia-Pacific Journal Japan Focus. “In some cases, the police actually installed surveillance cameras at mosques and other venues.”

Islam’s footprint

Omer says he prefers to look at the environment in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks as one that “opened doors to speak to people” in Japan about his faith with heightened “interest” in Islam.

While Islam may not have the same footprint in Japan as other religions such as Buddhism and Christianity, knowledge of it and the Prophet Muhammad here can be traced back to the 8th century.

Serious and sustained engagement with the Muslim world began for Japan as a part of its global outreach in the early Meiji period (1868-1890), with trade and information gathering missions sailing towards the Ottoman Empire and the Middle East.

Verifiable accounts of Muslims entering Japan can be placed in the same period with records of Indian merchants and Malay-Indian sailors working in ports in the Japanese cities of Yokohama and Kobe. 

The Tokyo Mosque, Omer, the Islamic Centre of Japan, and the children of the Islamic school are the contemporary chapter of this old and under-researched history of Islam and Japan.

Turkey’s top Muslim cleric condemns ISIS as un-Islamic

Hurriyet Daily News

The jihadist militants who have been committing atrocities in the name of Islam cannot belong to the faith, Turkey’s top cleric has declared, while also voicing his desire to visit the Gaza Strip together with religious scholars when conditions permit.

“When pronouncing the name of these kinds of formations, please abbreviate. Use the abbreviated names because its long name has a very sacred and a very holy name like Islam,” said Mehmet Görmez, the head of the Directorate for Religious Affairs (Diyanet), speaking at a press conference on Aug. 19.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which has been responsible for atrocities across northern Iraq and Syria, recently renamed itself the Islamic State (IS).

Tens of thousands of Yazidis have fled their ancient homeland of Sinjar in northern Iraq and other villages to escape a dramatic push by the militants, who regard the ethnic minority as devil worshippers. According to Görmez, such incidents cannot be explained through concepts belonging to Islam’s own history and civilization or concepts from the Quran.

“These can only be explained maybe through words and concepts of medicine and psychiatry. They are societal [sicknesses] which are formed by combining injured consciences and fatal identities with ignorance under the shadow of insanity and violence. It is not possible to find these [sicknesses] in Islam or in any sect of Islam,” he added.

“What Islam outlined is sustaining their lives like everybody and as equal citizens, their freedom to live their faith and that they do have the same rights and responsibilities like any citizen. Understandings and views other than this are alien for religion and Islam,” said Görmez, the highest religious authority in Turkey, which, although a majority Muslim country, has been a secular state since the 1920s.

Visiting Gaza 

Meanwhile, 52.9 million Turkish Liras have been collected as part of an aid campaign for Gaza coordinated by the Prime Ministry’s Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TİKA), Görmez said.

“God willing, as soon as the gates are opened, I will be extremely honored and glad to visit [Gaza] along with a huge delegation of scholars,” he said.

When asked about tensions between local Turks and Syrian refugees living outside of refugee camps, which have boiled over into violent protests recently in the southern province of Gaziantep, Görmez suggested that such problems emerged from “organizational mistakes.”

“By reviewing the organization, God willing, I hope these problems will decrease,” he said.

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