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16 Sep, 2013

Indonesia Plans “Muslim Miss World”: Young Women Have a Choice

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Muqbil

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 16 September 2013 (11 Dhul Qa’dah 1434). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.


Registration Fee: ONLY US$100. Great Opportunity for Muslim Entrepreneurs: Attend the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit, Kuala Lumpur, 11-12 October

For only US$100, you can get a chance to hear some of the world’s best entrepreneurs, speakers, investors and policy-makers at the 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit to be held in Kuala Lumpur between 11-12 October. More than 3,000 delegates from over 50 countries are projected to attend the event, originally initiated by U.S. President Barack Obama to create “the next generation of dreamers, creators and builders.” GES was launched as a global platform “to empower entrepreneurs with the skills and resources necessary to compete and thrive in the 21st century”. First held in Washington in 2010, it was subsequently held in Turkey and Dubai. This year’s Summit is organized by the Malaysian Ministry of Finance (MoF) under the patronage of the Prime Minister, with the theme “Empowering and Connecting Entrepreneurs”. Spearheading the Steering Committee is Tan Sri Mohammed Irwan Serigar Abdullah, Secretary General of the Treasury at MoF. “We are very excited about the 4th GES and the other events that will lead up to it,” he said. As Malaysia heads towards a developed and high income nation by 2020, Malaysian innovators and creators are the main components that will drive the economy towards this vision. The GES brings together expertise and experience in Businesses, Social Works, Women’s Issues, Public Policies and Education. President Obama is scheduled to deliver the keynote address and he will speak about the importance of entrepreneurship, particularly for young people, in driving economic progress. According to Ben Rhodes, President Obama’s Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications (Digital News Asia, August 06, 2013), “Malaysia is a perfect venue for a global entrepreneurship summit. It has an economy that is growing; an economy that is an engine of growth for this region; and one that is increasingly connected to the global economy.”

For further info, pls click here: http://www.geskualalumpur2013.org/



The World Tourism Conference is to be held in Melaka, Malaysia, between 21-23 October 2013. The Conference covers a wide range of sectors in the global tourism industry represented by a formidable list of speakers for example the cruise sector (Ms. Christine Duffy, CEO Cruise Lines International Association), the aviation low cost carrier sector (Mr Azran Osman Rani, CEO, Air Asia X, Malaysia), the mega-events sector (Hon. Christopher Rodrigues; Chairman, VisitBritain, United Kingdom), travel technology (Mr. Rob Torres, Head of Travel, Google, USA), youth tourism (Mr. David Chapman, Director General, The World Youth Student & Educational Travel Confederation) and ecotourism (Mr Zhang Xinsheng, Chair of International Union for Conservation of Nature). The Conference which is the third in the series, is organised by the Malaysian Ministry of Tourism and Culture in collaboration with the World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO). As a contribution to the global tourism industry, all registered delegates are subsidised by the Organisers of which the delegate fee is only USD100 for foreign delegates and RM100 for Malaysian delegates. The conference includes 2 days of Plenary Sessions, lunches, refreshments and a technical tour either the Homestay Programme or the Heritage Walk/River Cruise. There is no delegate fee for spouses if they do not join in the Plenary Sessions. It will be a great networking event for the tourism industry as a whole. The official website is www.WTC2013Malaysia.com and registration can be made online at http://www.discoverymice.com/WTC2013MALAYSIA/registration.html


Malaysia will host the upcoming ASEAN Tourism Forum 2014, to be held in Sarawak, Malaysia from 16 to 23 January 2014. The ATF is a cooperative regional effort to promote the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) region as one tourist destination where Asian hospitality and cultural diversity are at its best. This annual event involves all the tourism industry sectors of the 10 member nations of ASEAN: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Adopting the theme “ASEAN – ADVANCING TOURISM TOGETHER,” the ATF 2014 will explore the sustainable development of tourism and look at how tourism initiatives and plans can further support this decades mantra of “Tourism conserves, preserves and protects.” It will be a timely platform to think and act on implementing innovative and sustainable energy initiatives that will ensure the preservation of the natural environment for future generations. Each year, the hosting of ATF is rotated among the member countries. ATF 2014 marks the 33rd anniversary of this event since its inauguration in Malaysia in 1981. Kuching, Sarawak is all geared up to welcome over 1,600 delegates which includes some 150 ASEAN tourism ministers and officials, 800 ASEAN exhibitors, 400 international buyers, 150 international and local media as well as 100 tourism trade visitors. The ATF aims to: Project ASEAN as an attractive, multi-faceted single destination; Create and increase awareness of ASEAN as a highly competitive regional tourist destination in the Asia Pacific; Attract more tourist to ASEAN member countries; Promote intra-ASEAN travel; Strengthen cooperation among the various sectors of the ASEAB tourism industry. For the travel trade, ATF also provides a platform for the selling and buying of regional individual tourism products of ASEAN member countries, through the 3-day TRAVEX event. For further details, pls click here.

For more information about what makes Malaysia one of the most popular destinations in the Islamic world, as well as on planning your next holiday or MICE event in Malaysia, please click: http://www.tourism.gov.my/ or http://www.tourismmalaysia.gov.my

facebook: http://www.facebook.com/friendofmalaysia

twitter: http://twitter.com/tourismmalaysia

Blog: http://blog.tourism.gov.my


Watch Islamic Travel Newswire Executive Editor Imtiaz Muqbil’s landmark TEDx lecture on “Peace through Tourism” on YouTube — the first travel industry journalist in Bangkok invited to speak at this prestigious forum. CLICK HERE.




India Presents Nai Duniya Awards for Excellence in Urdu Journalism

Vice President’s Secretariat, 13-September, 2013 – The Vice President of India Shri M. Hamid Ansari presented the ‘Nai Duniya Awards for Excellence in Urdu Journalism” to outstanding Media persons in Urdu Journalism at a function here today. The awards instituted by Urdu Weekly Nai Duniya will be given every year in different categories. Addressing on the occasion, Shri Ansari called for inclusion of Technology in the promotion of Urdu language among new generation students in schools. He said that the Urdu language was about to perish but due to efforts of a few scholars it has got a new lease of life. He mentioned that the Hindi film industry should be given due recognition in the promotion of Urdu language through numerous scripts and songs. He congratulated all the awardees for doing exemplary work in Urdu language

The awardees include : Daily Siasat, Hyderabad was presented Azmat-e-Sahafat Award for Best Urdu newspaper; Daily Inquilab was presented Waqar-e-Sahafat Award for Best Editorial content; Urdu Rashtriya Sahara was presented Adaab-e-Sahafat Award for Best Reporting; Urdu Times, Mumbai was presented Tazeen-e-Sahafat Award for Best Layout and Design; Shri Vinod Mehta, Editor, Outlook was presented Qaumi Yakjahti Award for Contribution to National Unity and Integration; Shri Sanjiv Saraf, Rekhta was presented Farogh-e-Urdu Award for the Development of Urdu Language; Late Shri Asghar Ali Engineer posthumously awarded for Writing for National Integration in Urdu; and Shri Ahmed Saeed Malihabadi was presented Life Time Achievement Award for Contribution to Urdu Journalism.

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China Mosques Promote Reproductive Health

IslamOnline 12/09/2013 CAIRO – Retaining mosque’s historical role as a social minaret, mosques in China’s central city of Wuzhong are offering services of reproductive health education, achieving unprecedented success in spreading health awareness in the district.

“Followers now expect more from mosques, such as health knowledge and services,” Wu Xuexing, an imam at Qinqiao Mosque, who also serves as deputy director of Wuzhong Family Planning Association, told China Daily on Thursday, September 12.

A decade and half ago, the China Family Planning Association started in 1999 to involve imams and mosques in Wuzhong, which belongs to Ningxia Hui central autonomous region, to educate Muslims about reproductive health.

“Muslims respect and listen to imams, so working with the religious leaders helps substantially when we try to institute a reproductive health plan and improve reproductive health for them,” Gou Qingming, deputy director of the association, told China Daily.

The project, which benefited nearly one-Million Muslim, has installed facilities in more than 500 mosques, including reproductive health service room and demographic cultural library.

Results of mosques health education were outstanding.

According to a recent local-survey, reproductive health awareness among Wuzhong inched up from 46% in 1999 to 97% in 2011.

The classes also helped in bringing down ratios of female reproductive tract infection from 77% in 1999, to 43% in 2011.

At the city mosques, Muslim women get free medical examinations, including breast cancer screenings.”Muslims, particularly the women, have benefited a lot from the project,” said Wu.

“Thanks to the efforts, we began to know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and how to conceive and raise a healthy baby,” Ma Qiaomei, who attends physical checkups in the mosque, said.

Islam encourages its followers to marry, procreate, and populate the earth. Yet, it allows family planning and the use of contraception as long as the conditions set by Islam in this regard are observed.

Family planning is allowable as long as the method employed is not irreversible as the case in vasectomy for example.

Emphasizing the role of Muslim women in the Islamic society, female imams have been involved in Wuzhong mosques reproductive health education. “They like to share private problems with us,” Wang Xiuyan, a female imam, told China Daily.

“It would be hard to imagine in the past that women would feel so at ease in receiving condoms and contraceptive drugs in the mosque,” Wang, who receive nearly 60 female at the mosques on a daily bases, added.

Achieving a huge success, the project is scheduled to be expanded to the provinces of Shaanxi, Gansu and Qinghai, as well as the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region, Gou said.

Moreover, Hutubi county Imams, have started to give reproductive health lectures to Uighur Muslims in mosques.

“Our advocacy will help them cultivate a lifestyle of good hygiene and health,” imam Yang Jie of Hutubi said.

Before the Islamic civilization developed hospitals a couple of centuries later, the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him) was a place for care of the wounded in wars and similar crises.

The illiterate used to learn how to read and write in the mosque of the Prophet (peace be upon him). Muslims have also developed their whole Islamic civilization based on the education they got in mosques.

The only activity that was forbidden in the mosque in addition to the forbidden immoral acts was buying and selling and related things.

According to official data, China has 22 million Muslims, most of them are concentrated in Xinjiang, Ningxia, Gansu, and Qinghai regions and provinces.

Smaller Muslim communities can also be found throughout interior China.

Unofficially, Muslim groups say the number is even higher, stating that there are from 65-100 million Muslims in China — up to 7.5 percent of the population.

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Tehran to host 4th Int’l Non-Alcoholic Drinks Exhibition

Tehran Times – 08 September, 2013 – The Fourth International Drinks Exhibition of Iran will open on September 12 at the Tehran Permanent International Fairgrounds. Four foreign companies from Switzerland, Spain, Germany, and Japan, plus 114 Iranian companies will attend the exhibition. The participant will display their latest products, such as non-alcoholic beverages, fruit juices, mineral water, dairy drinks, and medicinal herb extracts, as well as related machinery during the four-day event.

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Tourism Malaysia Boosts Awareness of VMY 2014 In Singapore

SINGAPORE, Sept 10 (NNN-Bernama) — With the celebration of Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 just around the corner, Tourism Malaysia organised a special Travel Seminar and Business session in Singapore today to boost awareness of VMY 2014 among travel trade members and media in the country.

The one-day programme at the Four Seasons Hotel provided a platform for invited travel trade members in Singapore to network with Malaysian hotel and tourism product owners, in an effort to encourage greater cooperation and formation of more tourism products and tour packages, particularly during VMY 2014.

The programme kicked off with a travel mart with members of the Malaysian delegation and their Singapore counterparts engaging in a table top session.

Earlier, they listened to a briefing on VMY 2014 and a presentation by the Asean Tourism Association (ASEANTA) on the Asean Tourism Forum (ATF), which Malaysia is hosting next year from Jan 16 to 23 in Kuching, Sarawak.

The prestigious event, which will be attended by tourism ministers, senior officials, tourism industry players and international media, is set to kick off VMY 2014 with a bang.

Leading the Malaysian delegation was Tourism Malaysia Director-General Mirza Mohammad Taiyab who also hosted the Malaysia Evening at the hotel Monday evening. The dinner aims to thank local travel trade members and media for their continued support and assistance in promoting Malaysia.

During the dinner, Maznah will also launch ‘Yours Truly’, a Tourism Malaysia Singapore newsletter, in an effort to provide industry players in Singapore with information on the latest tourist attractions and tourism developments in Malaysia.

The Malaysian delegation comprised 18 participants from hotels, resorts and product owners. Among the participating hotels and resorts are Best Western Premier, Sunway International Hotel and Resorts, YTL hotels, Lotus Desaru Beach Resort and Spa, and Langkawi Lagoon Resort.

It is also attended by Sunway Lagoon, Desaru Fruit Farm, Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, Mountain Torq Sdn Bhd, as well as Firefly and MAS.

In the coming months, Tourism Malaysia is scheduled to participate in two prestigious travel fairs in Singapore namely Travel Malaysia Fair (Nov 1–3) and the Malaysia Truly Asia Fair (Oct 11–13) as part of its promotional efforts for VMY 2014.

Singapore remains the top tourist generating market for Malaysia. Arrivals from Singapore continued to soar in the first half of 2013 with an increase of 7.9 per cent, from 5.8 million tourists in the same period of 2012 to 6.3 million tourists this year.

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Pakistan to adopt Malaysian economic development model

ISLAMABAD, Sept 11 (APP): Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal on Wednesday said that Pakistan could learn a lot from the Malaysian experience of performance, deliverance and monitoring in the public sector. Addressing a press conference here along with visiting Malaysian Minister for Performance, Dato Sri Idris Jala after one-day “Big Fast Result Seminar”, he said that success models of other countries would be replicated to transform the state-owned enterprises into profitable organizations.

Ahsan Iqbal said that the Malaysian Minister was on a two-day visit to Pakistan and attended the special meeting of the Federal Cabinet, in which he shared his country’s experience of development, performance, management and delivery.

The visiting minister has also met the management of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and apprised them about turnaround of the Malaysian Airline into a profitable organization within two years, which was facing the worst-ever losses, he added.

The minister said that PIA was facing Rs. 3 billion loss per month and its losses have reached Rs. 36 billion per year for its 16,000 employees due to mismanagement and corruption.

Minister for Planning and Development informed that every aircraft has about 700 staffers as compared to 120 member staff in other international airlines.

He said that the national airline has faced huge losses during last government when it restored its 6000 employees with their previous dues, besides inducting new employees.

The Prime Minister has already warned the management of the airline that no more bail out package would be provided from the tax payers money.

He said that the PM had given the management three points for turning around the organization by either finding a strategic partner or privatizing it or completely closing it down to save Rs 36 billion of nation.

Ahsan Iqbal said that visiting minister also met with federal secretaries which would help to improve the performance of government and civil services in the country. He said that Malaysia has proved that progress and development could be achieved by formulating better policies and planning and implementing these polices in letter and spirit.

To a question, he said that unfortunately from 1999-2013, no proper programme for development was formulated which resulted in different crisis and challenges including energy shortfall which was a major impediment in economic growth and progress.

He said that to overcome these challenges, Ministry of Planning and Development was established and efforts were underway to formulate 2025 programme in which about 5000 professional youth would be involved under young development programme to get benefit from their talent.

Speaking on the occasion, Malaysian Minister for Performance, Idris Jala said that Pakistan required political stability, conducive climate for investment for economic development.

He said that there were good policies and action plan for development but it needed proper implementation to translate these planes in practical development with spirit of accountability, transparency.

Pakistan is rich in natural resources and has a rich culture, heritage and traditions which can be translated into national progress and development, he added.

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Turkey’s largest museum complex to open soon

ŞANLIURFA – Anadolu Agency – A big project in the field of culture and tourism is being realized in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, the main city of which is regarded as the world’s oldest city due to the “temple center” and the remains in Göbeklitepe. When finished, the Haleplibahçe Museum Complex, which will include an archaeology park and mosaic museums over an area of nearly 200,000 square meters, will be the largest such complex in Turkey.

The Warrior Amazon Women mosaics, which were unearthed a few years ago during the foundation excavation of a themed park project and are estimated to date back to the 5th and 6th century A.D., caused a stir in the archaeology community. The mosaics were located in the grounds of an official’s palace in the Roman period and experts classified these mosaics as among the world’s most valuable.

The Haleplibahçe project was changed after the discovery over fears that the findings could be damaged during the transportation. The new project, the Haleplibahçe Museum Complex, was initiated and accelerated with an order from the Ministry of Labor and Social Security.

Şanlıurfa Museum Director Müslüm Ercan said the Haleplibahçe Museum Complex was seen as one of the most prestigious projects realized by the Culture and Tourism Ministry. He said that works were almost completed, adding that 80 percent of the outer façade of the complex had been finished and installments in the inner space would be finished soon. “We are now focusing on merchandizing works,” he said.

Ercan said they would start carrying artworks to the museum in three months. “Visitors who want to come to this museum need to spare a lot of time. The complex is the largest one in Turkey in terms of its size. Turkey does not have any other museum covering an area of 200,000 square-meters. A 30,000 square meter area of this huge space is the closed area of the archaeology museum,” he said.

He added that works were continuing in the mosaic section of the museum complex. “Works are also continuing in the mosaics section where people previously visited. The cover coat is about to be finished and the mosaics will open to visitors again after a simple restoration process. The archeopark and the mosaic museum will form a whole together. Visitors of the complex will also be able to see the historic Şanlıurfa Fortress and the Balıklıgöl, which are very close to the complex,” he said, adding that hotels and other facilities were also close to the complex area.

“Minister of Labor and Social Security Faruk Çelik and Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik are closely following the project. We want to finish it and open it to visitors soon. A team of seven people from the ministry has visited the complex. We are working on merchandising with these people,” Ercan said.

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Souk Okaz may be transformed into tourist city

Saudi Gazette – 11 September, 2013 – Emir of Makkah region Prince Khaled Al-Faisal opened the 7th Souk Okaz Cultural Festival here on Tuesday evening. Several prominent figures, including senior Saudi officials, as well as writers, cultural figures, and artists from the Kingdom and abroad attended the opening session.

Souk Okaz, which represents a unique and important tourism landmark in the Kingdom, was re-created on the same location where it used to be held in ancient times.

Prince Khaled, who is also chairman of the festival’s supervisory committee, announced that the period of the festival will be extended in future in line with the recommendations of an ongoing study.

“We have also plans to transform the Souk into a full-fledged tourist city,” he said while addressing a press conference at the headquarters of Taif University prior to the opening of the festival.

Prince Khaled said the festival is a window on culture.

“The Souk presents a suitable venue for displaying creativity, demonstration of ideas, culture, literature, and tourism. It also reflects the true picture of development achieved by Saudis in various fields,” he said.

Prince Khaled said that Souk Okaz is an opportunity to take advantage of the achievements of others in the fields of culture and thoughts.

“The term souk is not restricted only to trade or purchase or sale but covers an occasion to exchange ideas, cultures and dialogue as well. We can feel proud that King Abdullah is the first international figure who initiated the culture of dialogue locally, regionally and globally,” he said.

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Indonesia to hold “Muslim Miss World”: Young women have a choice

Jakarta, Saturday, 09Dhul Qaada 1434/ 14 September 2013 (IINA) – The Miss World beauty contest, which has attracted fierce opposition by hard-line Islamic groups in host country Indonesia, is now facing another challenge — a rival pageant exclusively for Muslims.

The Muslimah World contest to be held on Wednesday in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, is “Islam’s answer to Miss World,” the pageant’s founder Eka Shanti said Saturday. “Muslimah World is a beauty pageant, but the requirements are very different from Miss World — you have to be pious, be a positive role model and show how you balance a life of spirituality in today’s modernised world,” Shanti said. The pageant is the latest backlash against Miss World, which has already dropped the bikini from its beach fashion round and has attracted more than a month of protests by Muslim hardliners demanding the show be scrapped. Radicals have set effigies of the organizers alight and deemed the contest “smut” and “pornographic,” according to AFP.

The 20 Muslimah World finalists were chosen from more than 500, who took part in online rounds, reciting Qur’anic verses and telling stories of how they came to wear the Islamic headscarf, a requirement for the pageant. The finalists, from Iran, Malaysia, Brunei, Bangladesh, Nigeria and Indonesia, will parade Islamic fashions in what Shanti says is an opportunity to show young Muslim women they do not need to show their “immodest” parts – including their hair and bare shoulders – to be beautiful.

But Shanti said she did not support hard-liners’ calls to cancel the Miss World contest, acknowledging that Indonesia was a diverse country with many faiths. “We don’t just want to shout ‘no’ to Miss World. We’d rather show our children they have choices. Do you want to be like the women in Miss World? Or like those in Muslimah World?” Shanti said.

After repeated protests, government officials announced last week that the Miss World final would be moved from the outskirts of the capital Jakarta to the resort island of Bali, where the contest began last week with no opposition from the Hindu majority there. The organizers, however, were not party to the decision and have said it would be “impossible” to make the last-minute change. Despite the decision, protestors from the Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia demonstrated in the central Java city of Yogyakarta Saturday, its spokeswoman saying, “Miss World is not welcome in Indonesia at all.” The decision to move the final round was the latest victory for Islamic fringe groups, who are wielding increasing power and have succeeded in getting several events they deem un-Islamic changed or cancelled in recent years.

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GCC Islamic banking industry to go global at WIEF in London

Saudi Gazette – 10 September, 2013 – Senior dignitaries from the World Islamic Economic Forum set the stage Monday for the forthcoming 9th WIEF conference introducing the theme of “Changing World, New Relationships”.

Former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia and now, Chairman of the WIEF, Tun Musa Hitam, outlined the role of WIEF within the wider Islamic finance community at an exclusive event held in Dubai ahead of the conference which will be held in London on Oct. 29- 31, 2013.

Hitam said, “The forthcoming 9th World Islamic Economic Forum will be a great opportunity to build bridges towards peace and prosperity between the Muslim and non-Muslim world through the common language of business. The WIEF will showcase the very best that the Islamic world has to offer as a lucrative trade and investment hub.”

The forum has run since 2004 and has been a strong advocate of Islamic Finance in Muslim and non-Muslim communities around the world with Dubai an increasingly influential driver of Islamic trade and developing Islamic economy.

Ashruff Jamall, Global Islamic Finance Leader at PwC in Dubai, said “demand for Islamic finance is expected to grow rapidly and more than double in the next four years. Strategically, Dubai is very well placed to capitalize on the huge growth opportunities this creates, and maintain its pioneering status, not just in Islamic finance but in other industries such as tourism, leisure and food. The forum will be an excellent opportunity for key players to build relationships and share best practice.”

The core objective of the forum is to enhance the economic well-being of the people of Muslim nations and Muslim communities worldwide through increasing trade and business opportunities amongst them, as well as the world at large.

The forum will also package the Muslim world as a lucrative trade and investment caucus that is able to attract foreign investors and business partners from various countries worldwide. The meeting will also enable networking and foster strategic alliances through the exchange of ideas, information and knowledge.

It is the first time the event will meet outside the Muslim world. The forum has previously been held in Malaysia, Kazakhstan, Indonesia, Kuwait and Pakistan. In addition to helping communities in need and supporting big and small companies, entrepreneurs and start-ups, the forum is committed to encapsulate the emergence of new economic linkages between nations across borders, religions and cultures in a fast changing world.

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Doha to host major airport forum

The Peninsula – 10 September, 2013 – Some 100 senior delegates from airports around the world will gather at the ASQ Airport Forum for Asia, Middle East and Africa which opens at Oryx Rotana Hotel today.

The three-day event hosted by the Doha International Airport (DIA) will explore best practices related to passenger satisfaction.

This is the annual meeting of participants in the Airport Service Quality (ASQ) Programme. The forum will share expert insights on how airports may improve the quality of service provided to passengers, as well as to address the challenges and opportunities in relation to passenger satisfaction.

The key topics on the agenda include airport security, smoking policies, airport cleanliness, wireless Internet provision, and a look at what passengers want from a retail perspective.

“In order to stay ahead of the game, airports now need to create capacity fast, either through new innovations or by expanding existing infrastructure,” said Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who will be speaking at the event.

He said the concept of airport cities, which once was unheard off is now a common goal for many airport development projects around the world. Airport designs now have to be tailored towards their key airline customers. “Furthermore, airports are increasingly becoming retail and cultural destinations because passenger expectations demand it,” Al Baker said.

As Doha continues to expand as a major international travel and transit hub, DIA is becoming an increasingly busy airport.

In 2012, passenger traffic at DIA grew at a rate of 16.87 percent compared with 15.16 percent in 2011. The airport catered to more than 21 million passengers during 2012 and the number of passengers passing through DIA in 2013 is expected to grow to nearly 25 million.

The ASQ Airport Forum is organised by Airports Council International (ACI), the airport sector’s foremost voice on a global level, consisting of some 597 member airports and airport authorities, and operating in over 1679 airports in 177 countries or territories. ASQ is a comprehensive ACI initiative to help airports in their continuing efforts to improve the quality of service experienced by passengers.

It provides a range of core benchmarking programmes ranging from customer satisfaction to performance and commercial services, in addition to customer service certifications.

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Malaysia Airlines flight links Muscat to Kuala Lumpur

Times of Oman – 11 September, 2013 – Travellers from Oman flying to Malaysia are set to benefit with Malaysia Airlines restarting daily flights between Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines has added Dubai back to its network with effect from August 5. The Dubai-Kuala Lumpur return service operates daily via MH163 and MH162 using the Boeing 777-200 aircraft that has a total capacity of 282 seats, equivalent to 3,948 seats weekly.

In conjunction with the re-introduction of service, Malaysia Airlines is offering super attractive promotional fares for passengers boarding from Muscat. Round trip economy class fares start at only OMR250, all-inclusive. Round trip business class fares start from as low as OMR974, all inclusive. Muscat, Dubai and vice-versa are conveniently connected with Oman Air services.

MH163 departs Dubai daily at 4.10am to arrive at Kuala Lumpur at 3.25pm. The return flight MH162 departs Kuala Lumpur daily at 11.30pm to arrive at Dubai at 2.20am the next day.

Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, Malaysia Airlines Group Chief Executive Officer, said, “Dubai was one of the routes suspended as part of our route rationalisation exercise in January 2012.

We continuously monitor the market demand, and are happy to be able to add back Dubai into Malaysia Airlines’ network to extend our reach and strengthen our offering to the customers.”

Malaysia Airlines offers direct non-stop service to Kuala Lumpur with onward connections to destinations in Philippines, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, among others, from Dubai. Malaysia Airlines received its five-star Airline Certification at the Skytrax World Airline Awards 2013, joining an elite group of airlines for its truly consistent and high quality of product and service. These are some of the reasons why customers experience a level of service like no other when travelling with Malaysia Airlines.

Malaysia Airlines has been steadily growing its reach and capacity this past year. The introduction of the A380 fleet in July 2012 now sees the new aircraft put on busier routes to London, Paris and Hong Kong.

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Big Growth in Saudi University Students in Ireland

DUBAI, September 15, 2013 /PRNewswire/ — Education in Ireland, the organisation responsible for marketing the Irish higher education sector to international audiences, has reported a dramatic increase in the number of Saudi students opting for third level education in Ireland. The figure has risen from approximately two hundred students in 2009 to 1,738 students studying and preparing to study in Ireland this year, the majority of which are under the King Abdullah Scholarship Scheme.

Mr. Sulaiman Al Hamdan, CEO of National Air Services (NAS) who has four children studying in Ireland says, ”the main reasons we chose Ireland for our children were because it is a safe place, where the people are warm and friendly and it has a top quality education system with many of the leading establishments equal to, if not better than, others in Europe. For some reason people in the MENA region looking to study abroad often overlook Ireland and they do not realise how many benefits it has. It is also very well connected by air making it easy to travel home or explore other European cities.’’

According to UNESCO, the King Abdullah Scholarship Scheme has over 400,000 students studying worldwide and the number coming to study in Ireland is expected to grow under the scholarship scheme. Ireland is in the top-ten worldwide for its higher education system, according to the IMD World Competitiveness Yearbook 2011 and it consists of a number of world-renowned names in the university sector, institutes of technology and private independent colleges.

Ms. Wijdan Mubarak Al-Omaim, who is studying mammography at UCD, believes coming to Ireland to study has allowed her to fulfil her dreams and achieve the career she always wanted. Wijdan is proud to be the first female, Saudi student to have achieved the MSc degree in mammography and currently she is researching her PhD in Mammography, at the Department of Radiology, UCD, where she will be the first female Saudi to have achieved this level of higher education in the field. She looks forward to making her contribution in her specialist area on her return to her homeland.

”Ireland has some of the leading colleges in the world and UCD is among the very best so I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to study here. Ireland is a beautiful country and I have only had positive experiences. Everybody is very respectful and I would recommend both Dublin and Ireland to anyone looking to study abroad. My family have always given me their support and I give thanks to them and to my friends in my second home Ireland. Also it is thanks to the King Abdullah Scholarship and the quality of teaching here at UCD, that I have been able to achieve my dreams.’’

Terry McParland, Manager, Education in Ireland commented on the increased popularity Ireland has witnessed from Saudi students recently: ”Ireland has a strong education ethic and it is amongst the world’s best education providers. Our education establishments have been very well received by students from the MENA market and we currently have around 2,500 students from region studying in Ireland, with Saudi overtaking other MENA countries by a considerable margin. It is excellent to see the ties between our two countries strengthened in this way.’’

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DTCM opens fourth office in China

Khaleej Times – 11 September, 2013 – In a move to further strengthen ties with China, the Dubai Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) recently announced the opening of a fourth office in the country, as the Emirate seeks to stimulate further increases in the number of visitors travelling to Dubai.

The announcement came on the first day of a four day visit by a delegation of important buyers from the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions (Mice) sector.

DTCM – whose ultimate vision is to position Dubai as the world’s leading tourism destination and commercial hub – already has offices in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou. The new office, opening in mid-October, is located in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province in Southwest China, and one of the most important economic, transportation and communication centers in the country.

Dr Ahmad Belhoul, CEO of strategy and tourism sector development at DTCM said: “The Chinese travel sector is one of the fastest growing sectors in the world and worth in the region of $ 100 billion (Dh367.3 billion). Last year it ranked in our top ten source markets for visitors for the first time and already in 2013 we have seen growth in year-on-year figures. The opening of the Chengdu office provides an important resource to grow visitors from the Sichuan region and for our partners in the city to access this market.”

In 2012 approximately 250,000 Chinese visitors stayed in the Emirate, either on holiday or on business visits. In the first half of 2013, Dubai attracted more than 143,000 Chinese visitors – an increase of 16 per cent when compared to the same period of 2012.

Commenting on the reasons for the increasing numbers, Belhoul stated: “This can be attributed to a range of factors, not least the growth in the emerging middle-class of the country and that this is a generation of first-time international travelers. With sight-seeing and shopping high on the agendas of these leisure travelers, Dubai is an ideal destination; while for business travellers, through its superior Mice offering, Dubai provides access to the wider Menasa region and also to the markets of Africa and South America.”

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Mega rail project to get WB technical support

Oman Tribune – 09 September, 2013 – The mega rail project connecting GCC countries will be provided technical assistance by the World Bank. The bank, however, does not have any proposal to back the project financially. This information came out during the inauguration of the Oman Land Transport Infrastructure conference on Sunday.

World Bank Resident Adviser for Gulf Cooperation Council Secretariat General (GCC-SG) Ramiz Al Assar said it would be for the national governments to finance the project. They may consider the build-operate-transfer (BOT) and public-private partnership (PPP) modes for the project, he suggested.

It would be for the governments to go in for procurement of rolling stock and then involve private players in the construction. Al Assar said similar projects elsewhere are providing land connectivity among countries crossing regional frontiers. They are even looking at connecting continents through building corridors. For this project, linking Africa could be an option, he added. There had to be a uniform operational regulation across the region.

On the issue of pricing, Al Assar felt that it was to be left to the market and as support to passengers, the governments could look at cross-subsidy.

Despite going way ahead on the concept of sustainable integrated multi-modal transportation, there were still some challenges like identifying the networks, deciding whether to go for diesel-powered engines or those run on electricity and border crossing.

Al Asala Engineering and Contracting LLC chairman Salman Rashid Al Fennah Al Araimi favoured nations inviting firms to take up manufacturing within the country. “For Oman, this will not only generate employment but will also contribute to the overall development,” he added.

The meeting chaired by Switzerland-based Rail Working Group chairman Howard Rosen had experts speak on rail initiatives in Qatar, construction and maintenance of lines in arid regions.

The conference focusing on infrastructure is to conclude on Tuesday.

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Iran to set up exclusive trade fair in Armenia

Tehran Times – 09 September, 2013 – Iran will hold an exclusive trade fair in Armenia’s capital of Yerevan from October 19-22, IRIB reported. Iranian manufacturers, traders, exporters, and merchants will put their latest products and services in different fields on display.

In July, Iran and Armenia signed an agreement to expand bilateral trade ties. Armenian-Iranian trade turnover valued at $ 317.7 million in 2012, according to the National Statistical Service of Armenia. Armenian export hit $ 97.8 million.

Armenia mainly exports to Iran ore fuel, oil products, bitumen, wax, plastics and plastic products, and aluminum products. Iran mainly exports to Armenia ore fuel, oil and oil products, bitumen, wax, plastics and plastic products, fertilizers, salt, limestone and cement.

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Egypt offers 33 billion-pound investment opportunities to Saudis

Arab News – 10 September, 2013 – Egypt is offering Saudis investment opportunities valued at 33 billion Egyptian pounds, including e-trade, financial services, justice and education. It is encouraging Saudi businessmen to explore and exploit these opportunities through partnerships with Egyptians or as individual investors.

The vast investment scope figured during a meeting between Minister of Communications and Information Technology Mohammad Jamil Mulla and his Egyptian counterpart Atef Hilmi in Riyadh. Investment areas included the construction of a broadband infrastructure, development of techno cities in Al-Ma’adi, Asyout and Al-Mansourah, and building a center for gigantic data that uses marine cables, as well as developing the Valley of Technology in Al-Isma’eliah, said the Egyptian minister.

Hilmi and his accompanying delegation visited the headquarters of the Saudi Communication and Information Technology Commission, where they met its Gov. Abdullah Al-Darrab and a number of its officials.

The visiting Egyptian delegation watched a power point presentation about the Kingdom’s telecommunications and its experience of liberalizing the sector and efforts in spreading information technology and telecommunication services in different parts of Saudi Arabia, including its remote areas.

The delegation also looked at the tasks of the computer emergency response team (CERT) and gave a similar presentation, showing the efforts of the Egyptian government in this field and discussing further cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt signed a memorandum of understanding between the National Center for Digital Certification (NCDC), and the certification center in Egypt to exchange expertise and forge cooperation, in addition to issuing digital certificates in both countries. The agreement was signed by the ministers of communications on behalf of their countries.

According to Mulla, Saudi businessmen are looking for investment opportunities in other countries and are looking for relevant qualities to encourage them to make these investments, and noted that Egypt provides many of these opportunities. He expected Saudis to be the first to invest in Egypt.

Mulla said there are similarities between information technology activities in the various Arab countries, and cooperation can be forged in various matters, especially in connecting citizens.

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IDB approves $747m for new projects

Saudi Gazette – 10 September, 2013 – The Board of Executive Directors of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) has approved $ 747 million development financing for Lebanon, Iran, Yemen and six African member countries, namely, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Senegal and Tunisia. The approval was given during the meeting of the board this week at the IDB’s headquarters in Jeddah. Financing was also extended to Muslim communities in six non- member countries (Botswana, Fiji, Kenya, Sri Lanka and Tanzania) for supporting education projects.

Tunisia is the highest beneficiary which received $ 200 million for the Rades-C Combined Cycle Power Project. Iran received $ 190 million for a Sanitation Improvement Project that will benefit six cities in Fars region while Egypt received approval for $ 109 million for an agricultural Project that will focus on the rehabilitation of Irrigation and drainage pumping stations Burkina Faso will receive a project financing of $ 100 million for the construction of new airport to serve the capital Ouagadougou. $ 72 million will go to Lebanon for the development of Lebanese University through construction of two public health faculties.

Senegal will receive $ 38 million for a floods impact mitigation project in the capital Dakar to minimize the impact of recurrent floods which affects about 300,000 people in the country resulting in the loss of lives and properties. The rest of the projects are $ 24 million to Cameroun to support the development of primary and secondary health services in the most deprived areas of the country, and $ 14 million for a bilingual (Arabic-French) lower secondary school education project in the Republic of Chad

“These important projects will go a long way in addressing the development needs of our member countries. They are multifaceted projects that cover health, education, agriculture and community wellbeing,” said IDB President. Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ali.

“Ours is a development bank, always thinking and strategizing to uplift the standard of living through well-prepared projects in our member countries,” he added, while addressing the members of the board representing the 56 member countries of the Islamic Development Bank.

The Board also discussed the preparation for the 40 year anniversary of IDB (to be celebrated on the occasion of the next Annual Meeting of the Bank in June 2013) , as well as the plan for the Saudi Arabia project for utilization of Haj meat project during this year Haj operation. IDB has been entrusted with the implementation of this project ever since it was launched in 1982.

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Dhaman to host Arab investment conference

The Peninsula – 08 September, 2013 – The Arab Investment & Export Credit Guarantee Corporation (Dhaman), in collaboration with Arab Planning Institute (API) and Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority, will host “Arab Investment Meeting: Investment Attractiveness Gap” on December 11–12, 2013 at The Arab Organisation Building, in Kuwait.

The meeting will be attended by many leaders from the region, and officials involved in foreign investment and development planning in Arab countries from private and public sectors, as well as specialists and experts in the field of foreign investments.

The two-day meeting, convening under the theme “Investment Attractiveness Gap”, will address the practical ways to face the existing challenges and make use of the investment opportunities through partnership projects supporting development.

The forum aims to open the door for dialogue on a number of issues, including Exchange of information and experiences between the foreign investors in the Arab countries and the planning authorities in these countries; assess the inter-Arab and foreign investment situation and in the Arab world and reforms to be brought in to attract investments to the region.

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UAE to spend $25b on rail projects

Khaleej Times – 06 September, 2013 – The UAE plans to invest $ 25 billion in its railway infrastructure, accounting for 10 per cent of the entire MENA region’s investment in the sector, as part of its ten-year development plan. The UAE National Transport Authority (NTA) has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with exhibition firm Terrapin to partner in the hosting of the Middle East Rail Congress in Dubai from 2014.

The first edition of the annual event, to be held at the Dubai World Trade Centre on November 4, 2014, is expected to bring in thousands of participants including major industry leaders from the region and across the world to share better practices and will help the UAE become a hub for the railway industry.

The second edition of the Middle East Rail Congress, to be organised in 2015, will bring together ministers of transport of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other Arab states. The third edition of the event, to be held in 2016, will attract even a larger number of participants, including 300 of exhibitors, and ministers from a large number of countries of the region and beyond.

The MoU was signed in Dubai by Nazim bin Taher, Acting Director General of NTA, and Matthew Williams, Managing Director of Terrapin, in presence of Dr. Abdullah bin Mohammed Belhaif Al Nuaimi, Minister of Public Works and Chairman of NTA. Al Nuaimi, in statements following the signing ceremony, said that the UAE plans to invest $ 25 billion in its railway infrastructure, accounting for 10 per cent of the entire MENA region’s investment in the sector, as part of its 2020-2030 ten-year development plan.

“Since the projects are to be completed within the next six to seven years, we need to have some spare amount of money for new technologies and new products that enter the market,” he told reporters.

The first phase of the 1,200km Etihad Rail, which runs from Shah and Habshan to Ruwais, is almost complete, confirmed Abdulla Mohamed Al Nuaimi, Minister of Public Works and chairman of the NTA.

“We hope to inaugurate phase one by the end of this year and phase two has also already started,” he said.

Etihad Rail, which will be developed in three phases, is also part of the wider GCC railway network that aims to connect all the six Gulf States.

“The plan is to connect the entire GCC region by 2018,” stated Al Nuaimi. “However, in the UAE, we are probably ahead of the other states. Oman announced last week that it will be launching its railway network by 2017 and hence that would expedite our connection with Oman. Saudi’s railway development is also in the pipeline – they have started the implementation process. We are hopeful that by 2018, it will be completed.” Details such as immigration, customs and other logistical matters are currently being discussed by a GCC-wide committee to ensure that all the systems are in place, said Bin Taher.

Within the UAE, the NTA is also in the process of creating a new federal law to govern and regulate the sector.

“The federal law will cover all the operators of all the rails within the UAE and will look into issues such as operations, safety and implementation,” explained Al Nuaimi.

The first draft has already been sent for approval, and the law is expected to be in force next year, he said.

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New Doha airport to operate from early 2014

The Peninsula – 05 September, 2013 – The New Doha International Airport (Hamad International) will begin operating from early next year, Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, said yesterday. He said when the plans to open the new airport would be announced, Qatar’s Airways would also announce further expansion of its network. He was responding to a question about the New Doha International Airport’s opening plans at a news conference that was held in the Chinese city of Chengdu, the sixth Qatar Airways’ destination in China which Qatar Airways has begun serving.

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Baku-Tbilisi-Kars Railway to be commissioned in 2014

11 September 2013 – AzerNews – Despite the complexity of the relief on the territory of Georgia and Turkey, the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will be put into operation in 2014, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Transportation Musa Panahov said on Sept.10. According to Panahov, it is planned to send the first technical trains and locomotives within the framework of this route by late 2013.

“Construction work is being held in rather difficult conditions: both in Turkey and in the Georgia the mountain relief is very complex, which creates some problems,” Panahov said. “But, despite this the work continued successfully.”

The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway is being built in accordance with an inter-governmental agreement reached by Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. The railway will increase the flow of containers and other types of cargo from Asia to Europe.

Azerbaijan has allocated a $775 million loan for the construction of the Georgian section of the railway. Funding for the project from the State Oil Fund is carried out in accordance with the 2007 presidential decree on taking measures within the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project.

It is planned to construct a new 105 kilometer branch railway as part of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project. In addition, reconstruction work will be carried out on the Akhalkalaki-Tbilisi-Marabda railway in Georgia, which will increase its capacity to 15 million tons of cargo per year. It is envisioned to build a center in Akhalkalaki for the transition of trains from the existing train tracks in Georgia to the European ones.

Around 30 million tons of cargo a year are to be transported via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway line, which will become a direct route to the European rail network.

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New Airports in Azerbaijani regions to speed up their development

11 September 2013 – TODAY.AZ – The sixth airport has been recently opened in Azerbaijan. Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev attended the opening ceremony in Yevlakh.

The Nakhchivan International Airport, which meets the modern standards was commissioned in 2004. The airports in Ganja, Zagatala, Lankaran and Gabala were commissioned one after another from 2006-2011. A new air-terminal complex will be commissioned at the Heydar Aliyev International Airport in the near future.

Azerbaijan’s transport sector is one of the fastest growing sectors of the country’s economy. The accelerated passenger and cargo transportation is one of the more important principles of the development of the economy as a whole. Moreover, along with high technology and the development of human resources, this sphere is one of the most important within the country’s economic diversification and development of non-oil economy.

Opening airports in the regions of the country also contribute to the development of Azerbaijan’s tourism potential.

President Aliyev said during the opening of the airport that the reopening of Yevlakh Airport is a very significant event that demonstrates the development and strength of the country. “This also demonstrates that all important infrastructure facilities have been reconstructed, restored and modernized,” the president added. “The new airport will play a very important role in restructuring of Azerbaijan’s transport infrastructure.”

The Yevlakh Airport, designed in the Soviet era for small planes, will be able to receive any aircraft after reconstruction.

Thanks to its geopolitical position on the crossroads of Asia and Europe and North and South, Azerbaijan has always been a crucial transport center. Today, thanks to the current transport policy, investments and the creation and modernization of new infrastructure, the republic has turned itself into not only a transport center, but also an initiator of the largest regional projects. At the time, Baku was one of the initiators of creating transport corridor TRACECA, general secretariat of which is in Azerbaijan.

At the initiative of Azerbaijan, and through financing from the republic, the ambitious Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway project is under construction. The commissioning of this route will facilitate significant growth of cargo flows from Asia to Europe and link the Caucasus with European Union countries by using Turkish Marmaray tunnel.

Jointly with Russia and Iran, Azerbaijan prepares implementation of “North-South” railway transport corridor project which will give opportunity to deliver cargoes from Europe to Persian Gulf countrues and India.

Construction of the largest commercial sea port in the Caspian Sea is underway in the republic. Creation of port infrastructure will significantly increase the effectiveness of cargo transportation through Caspian Sea and will be the part of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project. In addition, a shipbuilding plant will be built in Azerbaijan which will give opportunity to meet demand for ships in the future not only in Azerbaijan, but also in the entire Caspian region. Currently, Azerbaijan has the largest commercial fleet in the Caspian Sea.

Great work has been carried out in reconstruction of republican and local highways.

Azerbaijan perceives the significance of developing its transport sector for economic gain all around the republic. The main indicator of this is the volume of domestic investment which significantly exceeds foreign borrowings in recent years. After the completion of construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, a new port and shipbuilding plant, as well as a number of other large infrastructure projects in coming years, we can expect the next qualitative leap in Azerbaijan’s economy.

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Indonesia Supplies 43% of World’s South Sea Pearls

BALI, Sept 9 (NNN-ANTARA) — Indonesia is the world`s largest producer of the South Sea Pearl with 43 percent of the world supply, Minister of Marine Affairs and Fisheries Sharif C. Sutardjo has said.

“Indonesias world trade value is ranked ninth with an export value of US$ 29.4 million or 2.07 percent of the total value of the worlds pearl exports, which reach US$1.4 billion,” the minister said in press statement made available to Antara here on Monday.

He said Indonesia’s trade value is still below those of Hong Kong, China, Japan, Australia, Tahiti, the United States, Switzerland and Britain. The Indonesian pearl export destinations are Japan, Hong Kong, Australia, South Korea, Thailand, Switzerland, India, New Zealand and France, minister said at the Pre-Launching of the Indonesian South Sea Pearls Book, in Nusa Dua, Bali, over the weekend.

Sharif asserted, the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (MMAF) is optimistic to be able to increase the value of pearl exports given Indonesia has and masters the instrumental supporting factors, such as the area of cultivation, the labors, the equipment and technology supports.

To realize these targets, the MMAF has completed six development projects which the oyster broodstock center development in Karang Asem, Bali and the establishment of the Non-consumptive Product Development Directorate under the MMAF`s Directorate General of Processing and Marketing of Fishery Products (PMFP).

Others are the establishment of Indonesian Pearl Sub-commission on the Fisheries Product Commission under the coordination of PMFP DG, the Initiative of the pearl Indonesian National Standards (SNI) Issuance (now already issued), the partnership between MMAF and Indonesian Association of Pearl Cultivation (ASBUMI) to annually conduct the Indonesia Pearls Festival as one of the media to improve the quality, quantity and the marketing of pearls in the domestic and international markets.

“To protect the Indonesian pearl producer, MMAF has issued the Ministerial Regulation No.8 / 2013 on the Pearl Quality Control Logged into the Territory of the Republic of Indonesia,” said Sharif.

Indonesia is a producer of South Sea pearls Pearl (SPS) derived of Pinctada Maxima shells both naturally or cultured.

The cultivation centers of Pinctada Maxima in Indonesia spread in a number areas, such as Lampung, Bali, West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, North Sulawesi, Southeast Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Gorontalo, Maluku, North Maluku and West Papua.

“The Indonesian SPS is unique. It can be seen from its pearls color and its dazzling, eternal sparkle and so its very popular in the international market, and is usually traded in the form of loose and jewelery,” explained Sharif.

Pearl, Sharif continued, is one of the leading commodities of marine and fisheries sector. Its proven by the markets increasing demand and the year-to-year pearl`s price keeps increasing.

Therefore, as the efforts to improve the competitiveness of the Indonesian pearls, MMAF is excited to welcome the publication of Indonesian South Sea Pearl book in order to strengthen Indonesia`s South Sea Pearls branding domestically and internationally.

“On this occasion, MMAF appreciates and congratulates the author of Indonesian South Sea Pearls book, Mrs. Ingrid Sutardjo and Mrs. Nunik Anurningsih as they promote the South Sea Pearls to the world,” concluded the Minister.

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Malaysia To Spend RM160 Billion More For Rail-Related Projects

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 (NNN-Bernama) — The government expects to spend a staggering RM160 billion more for rail-related projects towards 2020, Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak announced Tuesday.

Since 1990, the government had invested over RM50 billion, he said. “Now, more than ever, we are seeing a massive expansion of the rail network in Asia, including in Malaysia.

“In a sense, it is a resurgence of rail, as rail not only helped build many nations in their fledgling years, but now there is renewed interest in rail,” Najib, who is also Finance Minister, said when opening the International Conference and Exhibition Rail Business Asia 2013.

The global demand for passenger and freight rail equipment, infrastructures and related services had swelled from US$169 billion in 2007 to a projection of US$214 billion by 2016, he said quoting estimates by the Worldwatch Institute in Washington.

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Inaugural Flight Of South Sudan Airline Lands At Khartoum

KHARTOUM, Sept 9 (NNN-SUNA) — The inaugural of South Sudan Airline touched down at Khartoum International Airport Sunday to be received by top leaders of Sudan’s business community, led by Saud Al-Birair, the Chairman of the Sudanese Businessmen’s Union.

The Chairman of South Sudan’s South Supreme Airlines Company was on board of the company’s first flight, accompanied by a number of the board, the Chairman of the South Sudan Businessmen’s Union, a delegation of the Trade Industry and Agriculture Chamber, and members of the South Sudan Businessmen Union.

The visiting delegation held in Kenan Hall at Khartoum airport talks with members of the Sudan Businessmen’s Union, in the presence of South Sudan Ambassador in Khartoum.

The Chairman of Sudan Businessmen Union, Saud Al-Birair, indicated that the launch of the inaugural flight between Juba and Khartoum was in context of the co-operation spirit between the Sudan and South Sudan following the recent visit of South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to Khartoum.

He indicated that the arrival of the first plane of South Sudan in Khartoum reflected the commitment to implement the co-operation agreement signed between the private sectors in the two countries in the trade domain. South Sudan’s Airline will launch three flights every week between Khartoum and Wau and Juba in South Sudan.

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New cultural monuments discovered in Azerbaijan

06 September 2013 – AzerNews – New cultural monuments have been found during an archaeological expedition in Azerbaijan’s Gabala city, which was the capital of Caucasian Albania many centuries ago. The expedition was held with the support of SEBA (Seoul-Baku) Azerbaijan-Korean Cultural Exchange Association.

According to Associate Member of the Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences (ANAS), Head of the Institute of Archeology and Ethnography’s Gabala archaeological expedition, Ilyas Babayev, during the researches in the Gala area of Gabala, whose age refers to Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, a cultural layer relating to the 9-10th centuries was found.

Babayev said that during the researches water supply and sewerage systems, fragments of buildings, various ovens, clay and glass vessels and jewelry made from copper were found. Tombs, which were found in the Gala settlement, indicated that people were buried in the courtyard. Hand grenades filled with gunpowder are among the interesting findings.

According to ANAS, the archeological researches continue.

Moreover, an archaeological expedition of the ANAS Institute of Archeology and Ethnography during its work in the Sheki, Gakh and Oguz regions, has discovered new monuments dating back to the ancient period of Caucasian Albania. This archaeological expedition conducted excavations on the territory of the Yonjali settlement and the necropolis located in the Fazil village of Azerbaijan’s Sheki region. During the excavations several graves were discovered at the necropolis.

As a result of the excavations an opportunity to trace the history of the ancient Albania in the Caucasus emerged. It was established that the entire upper part of the necropolis is a cemetery. The history of this cemetery is similar to the period of the Khojaly-Gadabay culture.

Earlier, it was reported that during archaeological research in Galatepe village of Azerbaijan’s Agdjabedi region, a 9-meter deep cultural layer, including a wall made ??of bricks dating back to II century BCE to II century AD, a public building occupying space of 56 square meters, a hall and a street were discovered. These finds show the high development of brick architecture in Azerbaijan in the ancient period. The base of the 9-meter deep column made ??of limestone, hearths, a layer of ash, remains of burnt wood, red ceramics with rich patterns, flooring plastered with clay, and 40 centimeters wide reinforced soil were found.

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Azerbaijan’s tourism potential highlighted by Japanese TV

09 September 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Japanese television channel Sky Perfect has aired a program on Azerbaijan`s tourism potential. The program was made by Japanese journalists as part of cooperation between the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Japanese Ishii Brothers company. The program will be broadcast on Nico Nico Douga video sharing website and Internet TV channels throughout September. Work has also been started to make a travel guide on Azerbaijan as part of cooperation with Ishii Brothers.

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Azerbaijan, Iran eyes to connect railways

09 September 2013 – TODAY.AZ – The issue of connecting the railways of the two countries was discussed during the meeting between Azerbaijani Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov and his Iranian counterpart Abbas Akhoundi, Iranian news agency IRNA said on Saturday. The sides discussed issues of bilateral cooperation in the transport sector during a meeting in Istanbul, highlighting its importance in the development of economic relations between the two countries. A delegation led by Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov is on a visit to Istanbul. The eleventh Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communication Forum dedicated to the investment opportunities in the global transport was held there.

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Shahdag tourism complex prepares to welcome visitors

06 September 2013 – AzerNews – Preparations at the Shahdagh tourism complex in Azerbaijan are in full swing for the upcoming winter season and new services will be offered to visitors.

The spokesman for the Ministry of Culture and Tourism Intigam Humbatov said that as in the previous season, this year suitable conditions will be provided for skiing and other services will be rendered.

“It is too early to speak about the new services of the tourism complex, however, the public will be provided with detailed information later,” Humbatov said.

It was reported that work is underway on the construction of a new hotel and new ski trails are being laid.

During the winter season, visitors will be provided with the following types of activities: ski slopes, cableways, paintball, etc. The date of the opening of the winter season is yet unknown, according to the Shahdagh complex.

According to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism, it is planned to commission three hotels by the end of the year. The construction of Shahdagh hotel is underway at public expense, while the other two are being built by a private investor, Pasha Holding.

Furthermore, an agreement has been signed between the Shahdagh tourism complex and Andorran company PGI Management. According to the agreement, the management of Zirva, Gaya Residence hotels and Shahdag Hotel & SPA located on-site has been transferred to PGI Management for three years.

The facility is located 30 km north of the town of Gusar, in the region’s Daghlig Alayan village. Since the ancient times this territory has been situated along the main trade routes. Rich and versatile nature, crystal-pure air, and the favorable climate (in winter the temperature falls to minus 20-22 degrees and in summer the temperature does not exceed 20 degrees in the evening), etc. provide the opportunity for running a modern tourism complex meeting world standards.

The construction of the summer and winter tourism complex began in September 2009. The management of the Shahdag winter & summer tourism complex under the Ministry of Culture and Tourism is involved in coordinating the work there.

A number of facilities have already been opened at the Shahdagh Tourism Complex. Zirva Hotel and Gaya Hotel were opened for accommodation. There are 40 hotel rooms, 3 rooms for the staff, restaurants, a bar, a cafe, a pub, a billiard room, shops, a conference hall, rental of ski stock, a ski school, a medical station, parking for cars and other facilities in Zirva Hotel. In the Gaya hotel there are 26 rooms for accommodation, a fitness club, a restaurant, a bar and a cafe.

There are 4 overhead ropeways for ascending to ski slopes, and especially for small skiers there is a carpet path they can use. Ropeways in the complex are of different types: with chairlifts, rope tow and there will also be gondola ropeways. Alpine skiing tracks are of various levels of complexity — for children and beginners, and also for those who already have good skills.

All ski tracks are served by generators of artificial snow. This equipment allows to guarantee high quality of ski tracks and also to extend the skiing season. In 2013 it is planned to open one more 4-star hotel to recieve new visitors. There will be 173 hotel rooms of different categories, including presidential apartments and 2 VIP suites, 3 conference halls for various functions, 6 restaurants, a spa center, a swimming pool, a kindergarten, rental of ski stock, a ski school, underground parking and other facilities.

The purpose of this resort is multifaceted and not confined to economic components. Its construction pursues social and political aims as well. For example, the development of winter sports and tourism in the country, favorable conditions for high-level recreation for both locals and foreign tourists, etc. So, about 5,000 employees will be involved in the complex service.

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Nigeria: Visa to Shift Focus On Nigeria’s Tourism Sector

Vanguard – 12 September 2013 – The global payments technology company, Visa Incorporated is focusing on shifting its investment into Nigeria’s tourism sector and West African region.

“Another of Visa’s focus areas in Nigeria and the West African region is to continue to boost tourism and cross border spend, Group Executive for Visa’s CEMEA (Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa) region, Mr. Kamran Siddiqi said.

Siddiqi said this during his official visit to the country, saying, “Growing acceptance of Visa cards in Nigeria is making travel to the country easier. We are collaborating with many key players in the tourism industry.”

Meanwhile, Nigeria’s report on Visa’s Tourism Outlook shows that Nigerians enjoyed a 25 percent increase in spending by international travelers using the visa cards in 2012, while international visa cardholders increased tourism spending from $95.2 million in 2011 to $119.5 million in 2012, even as total transactions rose by 31.1 percent from 553, 747 to 727, 113.

Speaking on financial literacy and cashless payments drive in the country, the Group Executive, hinted that visa is dedicated to increasing financial literacy among the unbanked through strategic partnerships and educational programs. In the past decade, Visa has helped bring financial literacy education to millions of people in more than 30 countries. He said: ” Nigeria is a very important market for us. It is exciting for me to be here to support the progress visa has made in driving financial inclusion and making electronic payments more accessible to everyone everywhere.

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Uganda: Little-Known Gem to Become Accessible

Voice of America – 9 September 2013 – Kampala — For decades, conflict and insecurity made Uganda’s Kidepo National Park all but inaccessible to tourists. Even today, expensive flights and terrible roads put off all but the most adventurous visitors. But Ugandan authorities have now mounted a plan to open up the park to the wider world.

This year CNN ranked Kidepo National Park – a remote stretch of savannah in northeastern Uganda – as the third best park in Africa. On its website, the American network raved about the park’s wildlife and picturesque setting.

But another draw is Kidepo’s exclusivity, it said, as only a handful of visitors have ever been there.

Until about five years ago, Kidepo was a virtual no-go area. But now the Ugandan government is determined to open it up to the world.

The park lies just north of Karamoja, a region that has long had a reputation for lawlessness and violence. To the west lies the land terrorized for decades by the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

Its location means that Kidepo has been essentially cut off from the capital for decades, although longtime tour guide Amos Wekesa, who now runs his own tour company, said he used to take visitors there all the same.

“These were extreme risk-takers. I used to take people there under such circumstances, but we always had to make sure we were in a convoy. We had security with us. We could gather in Kotido and have 20 cars following each other. It was a very volatile environment at that time,” said Wekesa.

In the past five years the people of Karamoja have been largely disarmed, and the LRA has moved into neighboring countries. Stephen Masaba of the Uganda Wildlife Authority said millions of dollars are about to be poured into marketing Kidepo and improving its infrastructure.

“Security has tremendously improved, and that’s why we’re able to do a lot of these things. We are getting out of the long historical bad days, and we are slowly but surely getting there – putting in place systems that give you access, putting in place gate systems, putting in place systems that can enable you to enjoy. We hope this will turn around the fortunes of Kidepo,” said Masaba.

Wekesa said this represents a shift on the part of a government that has, until now, focused more on agriculture than tourism development.

“They realize that we are earning a lot of money, and we have a treasure. This is one of the greatest countries in the world in terms of biodiversity. But we have not been able to tap into it, and they realize we should tap into it,” he said.

But there are still challenges. Even with improved security Kidepo is difficult to reach. Flights from the capital are expensive, and according to tour guide Noel Bayo, bad roads mean it can take two days just to reach the gate.

“When they get to Kidepo they love the place. But of course, you can understand their frustrations when you get stuck on the road and they have to push, and it’s muddy. This is where the frustration creeps in,” said Bayo.

The government says it has plans to upgrade the roads around the park. Already, says Wekasa, tourism numbers have been rising, even if fewer than two percent of Uganda’s visitors make it to Kidepo every year.

“The thing is, it was starting from nowhere. So the percentages have been so high – 100 percent, 200 percent. Everyone that goes to Kidepo thinks it’s the most beautiful national park they have been to. I’m sure in the next five years it will grow by 1000 percent,” he said.

By then the park might lose some of its prized exclusivity. But that is exactly what the Ugandan government is hoping for.

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Bangladesh to build modern mosques in each district

DHAKA, Sept 6, 2013 (BSS)- Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today announced that her government would build or developed a beautiful mosque with modern facilities in all district headquarters for preaching and expansion of Islam, the religion of peace.

“We have also a plan to build such a mosque at all upazila headquarters in phases and in the way we have renovated Baitul Mukarram National Mosque,” she said while inaugurating this year’s Hajj programmes at Ashkona Haji Camp in Uttara here this morning.

Sheikh Hasina said the present government, after assuming office, had taken steps to develop and build a minaret at the Baitul Mukarram National Mosque and requested the Saudi King to provide support to this end.

Following our request, she said, the Saudi King came forward to give financial assistance in renovating the national mosque. “As a result, Baitul Mukarram National Mosque has now been established as the best beautiful mosque,” she said.

Thanking the Saudi King and government for their assistance in renovating the national mosque, the Prime Minister also sought their cooperation in constructing and developing a mosque in every district and upazila headquarters.

“Our woks on building or developing a mosque in each district and upazila would be better if they widen their helping hands,” she said. In this connection, she said the present government is setting up schools, colleges and universities across the country for development of education.

“We have also made a massive development of the madrasa education including introduction of honours course as Bangabandhu established Madrasa Education Board,” she said.

The Prime Minister said her government has given attention to the development of madrasa education so that the students can get religious education side by side with ‘parthib’ (worldly) education.

Sheikh Hasina thanked the Saudi government for its steps to change the ‘aqama’ (work permit) for Bangladeshi workers and legalize the illegal Bangladeshi workers in the kingdom.

Listing various steps her government taken for the development of Islam, the Prime Minister said: “It is our responsibility to preach and expand Islam, the greatest religion of the world, and we have been performing our responsibility with utmost sincerity.”

The Prime Minister mentioned that her government believes in communal harmony which is also a lesson of Islam. Quoting a verse of Sura Al Kafirun-Lakum Dinukum Waliyadin—, she said the people would perform their respective religion and great Prophet Hazrat Muhmmad (PBUH) has given this teaching to us.

“We want that communal harmony exists in the country, and Bangladesh would be build as a peaceful nation in the world by maintaining it (communal harmony),” she said.

With State Minister for Religious Affairs Advocate Shahjahan Mian in the chair, the function was addressed by Post and Telecommunication Minister Advocate Sahara Khatoon, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Muhammad Faruq Khan and Saudi Ambassador to Bangladesh Dr Abdullah Al Nasser Abdullah Al Bushairi.

Secretary of the Religious Affairs Ministry Kazi Habibul Awal delivered the welcome address.

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Media help sought for development of Rangpur region

RANGPUR, Sept 7, 2013 (BSS) – President of the Board of Editors of the Dainik Ajkaler Khabar and Chairman of Deshbandhu Group Golam Mostafa has sought cooperation of the mass media for accelerating development of the backward Rangpur region.

He was addressing a views-sharing meeting organised by Rangpur bureau office of the Dainik Ajkaler Khabar with the local journalists at Cecily restaurant in the city as the chief guest last night.

Editor of the Dainik Ajkaler Khabar and Member of the Board of Directors of Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS) Faruk Ahmed Talukder addressed the meeting as the special guest.

A large number of journalists of the print, electrician and online media from Rangpur and other adjoining districts participated in the meeting presided over by Rangpur Bureau Chief of the daily Shakil Ahmed.

President of Rangpur Press Club AKM Fazlul Haque, its former President and valiant freedom fighter Sadrul Alam Dulu, President of Rangpur Reporters’ Club Salekuzzaman, Salek, President of Rangpur City Press Club Sarifuzzaman Bulu, attended.

Senior Reporter of BSS Mamun Islam, senior journalists Aftab Hossain, Mostaf Sarwar Anu, Ali Ashraf, Bablu Nag, Liyakat Ali Badal, Mamunur Rashid, Abedul hafiz, Merina Lovely, Nuruzzman, Rafikul Islam, Sajjad Hossain Bappi, Omar Farooque, Swarup Bakshi Bachchu (Dinajpur), Uttam Sarker (Gaibandha), Yusuf Alamgir (Kurigram), Ashikur Rahman Defense (Lalmonirhat), Lavlu (Panchagarh), also spoke.

In his speech, Golam Mostafa elaborately narrated the tremendous prospect and resources prevailing in Rangpur region with possibilities and ways for exploring those to improve the life standard of the people from all walks in the region.

He asked the journalists for extending cooperation in conducting comprehensive infrastructural educational, industrial, communication, housing, health and other sectors of uplifts with private sector initiatives and investments to turn Rangpur into a modern and developed region with international standard and facilities.

He also presented a comprehensive development package with concrete plans for uprights of the whole region through private sector initiatives when the media workers highly appreciated the initiative and committed for extending their all-out supports.

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Nigeria: Arik Air Introduces Mobile Booking

Daily Trust – 11 September 2013 – Arik Air has introduced a new mobile booking service for the convenience of its passengers. The announcement follows Arik Air’s decision to partner with mobile commerce firm, SlimTrader, to provide the service as part of changes in the coming months, aimed at revamping its technology offering and enhancing the airline’s customer experience, Arik Air said.

Dr. Michael Arumemi-Ikhide, Arik Air’s Global Chief Executive Officer, said “the popularity of mobile commerce has increased massively in Africa of late and we decided to introduce the service to empower our customers.”

He said the new features provide customers with a convenient way to book and pay for flights, along with access to important travel information, using their mobile phones and tablets. The flight booking service is currently available to anyone with a Nigerian bank card.

“Mobile penetration far exceeds the reach of the internet in Nigeria and West Africa and this new mobile gateway enhances our customers’ ability to search, select, book and pay for our services. The adoption of such innovations positions us as a 21st Century operator, using cutting edge technology to improve ease of service and customer interaction,” he explained.

“We will be making a number of additional upgrades to our technology offering over the coming months in a bid to further enhance the service we offer travelers who fly with us,” he assured.

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Sierra Leone: Salone to Attract More Tourists in Two Years

Concord Times – 11 September 2013 – The Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs told Concord Times Monday that Sierra Leone will start experiencing massive improvement in the tourism sector within two years. He made this statement after returning from a five-day meeting in Zimbabwe, where he said two important issues were deliberated on at the assemblage of global stakeholders of tourism: the issue of visa facilitation for tourists worldwide and the promotion of airline connections to all touristic destinations in the world.

Peter Bayuku Konteh was accompanied by both the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Tourism and the Chairman of the National Tourist Board to the 20thSession of the United Nations World Tourism Organization Assembly (UNWTOA) in Zimbabwe and Zambia this year. The assemble was well attended by some 700 delegates from 145 countries, including three heads of state from Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia, and 49 tourism ministers, as well as over 900 media houses.

He said majority of the delegates were in agreement that countries that want to attract tourists should implement the idea of visa on arrival, which is cheaper and faster to process, albeit sensitive because countries that implement the idea of visa on arrival often experience an influx of tourists to their destinations.

Minister Konteh singled out few countries that have succeeded in their implementation of visa on arrival, including Georgia which has less than 3 million inhabitants but recorded over five million tourists last year, and Egypt prior to the crisis had over twelve million tourists visiting the country on holidays.

He explained that issues of promoting connectivity could be dealt with by engaging airlines to encourage them to reach remote parts of the world by not paying taxes, so as to make tickets cheaper and to attract more tourists.

Minister Konteh however said the government of Sierra Leone was yet to pay her dues to UNWTOA, but that a payment plan had been formulated which would take effect within two weeks, and by extension the country would start benefiting technically, logistically and financially from the organisation.

He voiced his optimism that after showcasing Sierra Leone’s touristic potential at the meeting, within the next two years tourists will start coming to the country in droves. He said the ministry was conceptualising a National Tourism Policy, as well as enhancing institutional capacity building.

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Uganda: Rubirizi District Is Nature’s Paradise

New Vision – 9 September 2013 – Uganda is the pearl of Africa, but one would not be wrong to call Rubirizi district the pearl of Uganda. With over 50 crater lakes dotting the terrain, the area is also surrounded by three central forest reserves under the care of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the beautiful scenery of Queen Elizabeth National Park. The crater lakes in the districts include Lake Mafuro, Rwijongo, Nyanza ebiri (the twin lakes), Nyamusingiri, Rutoto and Mugogo. Over 50% of Queen Elizabeth National Park lies in Rubirizi district.

The key tourist areas of the park found in the district include the Ishasha Sector – famous for treeclimbing lions and the Kyambura Gorge. Parts of Lake Edward and the Kazinga Channel that connects lakes Edward and George also fall in this district. Other tourist attractions include natural forests of Karinju, Kasyoha- Kitomi, Imaramagambo and Strong Rock basement in Nkombe area in Rutoto sub-county.

The major economic activities include agriculture, trade and commerce, transport, stone quarrying, sand mining, mineral mining, construction, tourism and lumbering. Locals also earn from fishing in the numerous crater lakes, as well as the Kazinga Channel and Lake Edward, on the eastern part of the district. But Ritah Murungi, the district natural resources officer, says the district gets over 70% of its local revenue from tourist activities, with most tourists being foreigners.

Most of the locals earn their income directly and indirectly from the tourism and hotel industry here. Murungi’s wish is to see more Ugandans visiting the district to enjoy the beauty in this corner of Uganda’s nature paradise.

The district chairperson, David Kisembo, says much as the district has a lot of tourism potential, most of the locals have not invested much in tourism. Most of the hotels are owned by foreigners. A shining example of the crater lakes is the 50km-deep Lake Kamunzuku, commonly known as the Transparent Lake, which is about 50km deep and has an oceanblue colour. Poaching of the wildlife in the areas is on the decline, thanks to sensitisation efforts.

“The most at risk animals are hippos which are common in most of the crater lakes and it is difficult to protect them because the lakes are not in protected areas. I am told that in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a skin of a leopard costs over sh1m, so they are on high demand. But, we are discouraging the residents from the practice and some of the poachers have started realising the importance of conservation and they are handing over their hunting tools,” Kisembo said.

Tree climbing lions can only be found in Queen Elizabeth National Park

How to get there:

Rubirizi district was curved out of Bushenyi district in 2010. To get there from Kampala, one can go through Fort Portal to Kasese. The journey from Kasese to Rubirizi costs sh6,000 by taxi. From there, one can take a boda boda to Kichwamba where most of the lakes are located. The journey costs about sh1,000. One can also get to Rubirizi district, through Mbarara town (a 90km journey). A sensible option is to book with a tour provider who can organise transport, accommodation and tour guides not just for the crater lakes, but also other tourist attractions in the area.

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Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police set up female-only service desks

Centralasiaonline.com, 2013-09-11 SWABI, Pakistan – Women in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) are benefitting from police counters staffed by women, for women, officials told Central Asia Online. Fifty-six police stations throughout the province will have the women’s desks, KP government spokesman Riaz Ahmad announced July 26. In Peshawar, they have been established at Hayatabad, West Cantonment, Chamkani and C Division police stations.

“The number (of desks) will be increased in the next phase so that women can feel good in front of the female staff at any police station,” KP Inspector General of Police Ihsan Ghani said. Already 116 female police have been deployed to the desks at police stations and major hospitals in Mardan, Swabi, Swat and Abbottabad. Most of those staffing the positions are educated and experienced policewomen who have expressed the desire for more responsibility.

“We have some of the best shooters, excellent investigators and brave commanders,” one female police officer told Central Asia Online. “We have the skills and the training,” she said. “We just need an opportunity to prove ourselves.”

“Women avoid going to police stations due to the local culture,” Peshawar-based female teacher Atiqa Siddiq explained. “Even educated women were hesitant to visit the police station even when it was direly needed. The female counters will provide them a friendly environment.”

The KP police have already noticed a difference.

“Most of the women used to hesitate when going to any police station,” Afshan, a female police officer at the rural Kalu Khan Police Station in Swabi District, told Central Asia Online. “Now they know about the female counters … and they are coming to lodge complaints.”

Despite the rapid arrival of positive results, much has to be done.

“We are planning to improve the culture at the police station so that male and female complainants have no hesitations to lodging their complaints,” Ghani said, noting that he ordered police stations to respect the desks and to make sure they were provided with sufficient supplies.

The Swabi District police station has received three complaints by women so far, reports indicate. Lahore Police Station has registered five cases, already charging the accused under the relevant section of law. At the Topi Police Station, women have filed six complaints. And at Kalu Khan Police Station, four cases have been lodged.

The counters are helping those in need, Sub Inspector Amir Hamza, the individual in charge of the complaint cell in Swabi District, told Central Asia Online, recalling a recent success story. “One woman lodged a complaint in the Topi Police Station against her spouse, who had taken away her son,” he said. “Police returned the boy to his mother.”

In another case – one that Afshan worked on at her Kalu Khan-based desk – she was able to help a woman in her late 20s whose husband had allegedly been beating her. “I just wanted to live peacefully in my home,” Gulnaz told Central Asia Online, in explaining why she felt compelled to go to police. “The response of the police was prompt and fruitful.”

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Afghanistan celebrates historic football victory

Centralasiaonline.com – 2013-09-12 KABUL – Afghans poured into the streets September 11 and 12 to celebrate a historic football victory. The men’s football team flew back to Kabul September 12 after defeating India in the final of the South Asian Football Federation (SAFF) Championship in Kathmandu, Nepal, September 11.

“Now the situation is changing in my country,” football fan Farid Ahady said. “Instead of attacks and war, we have peace and you can see people everywhere very happy. … It is a very big celebration for us. They (the team) struggled to ensure that Afghanistan would be known for something other than war and attacks.”

Apparently some of the players were aware of the importance of the win to Afghanistan’s national psyche. “I would like to congratulate our country for winning the title,” midfielder Yusef Mashriqi told goal.com. “Hopefully it will bring peace and unity there, even if just a small percentage more.”

Many Afghans watched the game on live TV in public squares, tea houses and restaurants.

After the final whistle sounded, the players walked around the Nepali field wearing Afghan flags and danced in a circle, while in Afghanistan, in the ultimate form of flattery – imitation – flag-carrying youth hit the streets to dance in celebration. “I am very happy; it is a great moment for me to celebrate an Afghan football victory,” Jalal Ahmad, a Kabul schoolboy, said. Sport can provide a positive image of Afghanistan to the world, he said.

India, the SAFF defending champion, had won six titles. But Mustafa Azadzoy and Sandjar Ahmadi’s goals ensured a 2-0 Afghan victory and the country’s first SAFF crown. The victory avenged a 4-0 defeat by India two years ago.

Afghanistan took the lead in the eighth minute when Mustafa Hadid, from midfield, kicked the ball to Ahmadi on the right side. He evaded a few defenders before passing off to Azadzoy, just outside the goal, who shot it past the near post.

Ahmadi scored late in the second half to seal the win.

The team headed to the Kabul football stadium for a September 12 welcome-home ceremony, attended by officials and thousands of fans. Jubilant business leaders announced prizes for the team, especially for goal-keeper Mansoor Faqiryar, who was key in thwarting Nepal and India and was named the tournament’s most valuable player.

The Afghan team, sidelined for decades by civil war and insurgency, ranks 139th worldwide, according to FIFA.

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Turkmen rockers work to gain public acclaim

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-09-11 ASHGABAT – Turkmen rock musicians, though generally unrecognised, continue to perform whenever they can, counting on the Turkmen appreciation of live music to help them break through.

“There are now six rock bands in Ashgabat,” Ahmed Babahanov, leader of the Ashgabat rock group Alta, said. “Some bands get together for a short time before breaking up, and others last for years, such as the group Relicts. In my hometown of Turkmenabat, there is only one group now.”

Some of the Turkmen rock groups try to use their music as a way to inspire good feelings. “Music should evoke positive emotions,” said Babahanov, who said his group’s songs focus on such things as everyday life, love and positive or lyrical subjects. “We are inspired by the successes of our compatriots,” he said in explaining his group’s focus. “Everyone knows the … Turkmen jazz-rock group Gunesh, which has found a niche on the international scene, and the group Saint Sharbel, which does its best to sing about cheerful subjects.”

Turkmen rock musicians often hold down separate jobs, because achieving commercial success is difficult. “It is quite hard to earn money from rock music, and the expenses are high,” Anton Gainullin, another Ashgabat rock musician, told Central Asia Online. “The equipment and instruments are costly; recordings, rehearsals and staging of concerts also require a lot of money.”

Even if a group takes care of business-related tasks itself, the musicians still need another job to support themselves. “Alta does not have a manager or producer, and we do everything ourselves,” said Babahanov, who also works as a drilling engineer. “The rock musicians who want to support themselves solely from music … work in restaurants and bars, playing pop music and the blues.”

Even though rock concerts are relatively rare in Turkmenistan, musicians say rock has a bright future there, provided they begin writing songs in Turkmen. “Sadly, sometimes there are no more than two big concerts a year,” Babahanov said. “When we lived and played in Turkmenabat, we performed every two months and brought in about 300 to 350 people to each concert. This is quite a lot for a small town. In Ashgabat concerts are less popular, attracting only 100 to 150 people.”

The challenge is to create songs that resonate with the people. For example, lyrical songs in Turkmen are “highly popular,” Gainullin said. “There’s a space for rock musicians to fill, but nobody’s done it yet.”

Babahanov agreed. “Not a single rock band has tried to sing in Turkmen (mainly they use Russian and English), but doing it could bring popularity,” he said.

Nobody is hindering them from performing the types of music that they like, the musicians said, but there are challenges within the profession. “There is a problem with turnover in bands,” Gainullin said. “People quit because they focus on their main job, start a family, emigrate and other reasons.”

“In Ashgabat, it’s a big problem finding a place for rehearsals,” Babahanov said. “It’s the capital, and there’s a shortage of space for any purpose. … Now we are rehearsing in a storeroom inside a factory.”

Rock music struggles to gain notice because TV doesn’t show it, Maurys B., a former employee on state TV musical programmes, said. “(The stations air) only folk music,” he said. “How is rock ever going to become popular among Turkmens?”

Still, he said things could change if there were broader support, politically and among the people, that would encourage mass media to showcase the newer styles of music.

Musicians would also benefit if they had more opportunities to perform in Ashgabat, even if they gave free concerts, he said. “But this is difficult. There is a lot of red tape, and we need to simplify licensing and registration.”

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Saudi Arabia achieves 96% literacy rate

Riyadh, 06 Dhul Qaada 1434/ 11 September 2013 (IINA) – Saudi Arabia has made rapid strides in increasing its literacy rate, with 96 percent of the Kingdom’s population being declared literate.

“The Kingdom has made remarkable achievements in its relentless struggle against illiteracy and has scaled down the illiteracy rate from 60 percent in 1972 down to four percent today,” Abdul Rahman Al-Modairis, director-general of education in the Eastern Province, said in a statement on the eve of the World Illiteracy Eradication Day, which is celebrated globally on Sept. 8. The Kingdom put in place a syllabus for adult education in 1956 and began implementing it in 1957, he said, adding that about 99 percent of children, including girls, are now school-going and that one or two new schools are being opened daily in the Kingdom.

“We look for the day when the Kingdom will achieve a total eradication of illiteracy,” he said. Al-Modairis said that 21 adult education centers have been opened in various parts of the province in which 600 people are studying. This is in addition to 72 adult women literacy centers, in which 1,550 women are expected to join. There are special programs for people in locations where no adult schools have been opened, he said. He added that the government has opened a number of night schools and intermediate and secondary schools for men and women who could not complete their school education in the past.

A major feature of the 1956 adult education syllabus was to reduce the period of education to three years. The government issued the Adult Education and Illiteracy Eradication Regulation in 1972, defining the general policy for education and literacy drives. The regulation pointed out that it was the duty of the public and the private sectors to educate people of age. The next major move made by the government to support the literacy drive was to establish the General Secretariat for Adult Education in 1984. Qur’an schools also played a major role in making people literate in the Kingdom.

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“Heart of Chechnya” mosque, Kolomna Kremlin became symbols of Russia

islam.ru / 9 Sep 2013 – “Heart of Chechnya” mosque and Kolomna kremlin were selected as the winners of the competition of Russian symbol by unanimous opinion of the organizers, the press service of the organizing committee of the “Russia 10” contest reports.

Recall, the vote of this competition has caused a great scandal, because a lot of SMS-votes cast in favor of the “Heart of Chechnya” mosque were off-record due to technical problems. The head of Chechnya accused the mobile operators “Beeline” and “Megafon” in the fraud and demanded to remove the mosque from the number of participants of the competition.

“We have decided to recognize the “Heart of Chechnya” mosque and Kolomna kremlin as early winner. As the number of votes cast for each of the objects in the semi-final were in ten times higher than the number of votes cast for any other object of the contest. The organizers considered it correct to recognize the “Heart of Chechnya” mosque and Kolomna kremlin early winner of the contest,” – according to the “Russia-10” website.

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Muslim businessmen of Samara want to build region’s highest mosque

islam.ru / 10 Sep 2013 – Some muslim businessmen of Samara have expressed a desire to buy the “Burevestnik” stadium and to build a religious institution on its place. Federation of Trade Unions of the Samara region due to lack of funds for maintenance of the object sold the buildings and constructions. However, not so long ago, the mayor of Samara Dmitry Azarov announced his intention to return the object to property of the city. According to local media reports, a group of major businessmen of Samara are also going to buy the object.

Entrepreneurs have addressed with such a proposal to Alexey Shapovalov, who is the present owner of the stadium.

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“Hand-written Quran in spiritual life of Tatar people” exhibition in Kazan

islam.ru / 12 Sep 2013 – “Hand-written Quran in the spiritual life of the Tatar people” exhibition will be held on September 17 at 3:00 am in the foyer of the Kul Sharif mosque in Kazan. Rare and unique copies of handwritten Qurans, which are kept in the centres of writing and musical heritage of the Institute of Language, literature and art named after G. Ibragimov. During the exhibition will be held a round table on “The Quran is a treasure of spiritual heritage of Muslims” topic on September 18 at 10:00 am in the Center of writing and musical heritage named after G. Ibragimov. The event will be attended by renowned scientists, religious leaders of Tatarstani Republic, representatives of the Consulate of the Islamic Republic of Iran in Kazan.

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Pakistan Adds Prayer Section On Trains

IslamOnline 05/09/2013 ISLAMABAD – Crossing Pakistan in long-distance trips every day, hundreds of thousands of Muslim commuters will soon have their long-demanded prayer section as railway authorities have launched a plan to redesign all trains to accommodate Muslim worshippers.

“It was a long-time and legitimate demand, which should have been met much earlier,” Saad Rafiq, the federal minister for railway told OnIslam.net. “But, it’s never too late. Thousands of passengers -both male and female- will Inshaullah soon have designated area to offer prayer onboard in each railway car,” the minister added.

“Redesigning of the railway cars has already begun soon after the decision was announced. I have directed the railway authorities to accomplish the task as soon as possible,” he maintained.

The redesigning of the railway cars, according to authorities, will be completed in phases. Long-route trains are being redesigned in the first phase. “Redesigning of hundreds of railway cars is not an easy task, especially when you are running out of money. It will take time,”Saad said. “But let me assure you, it will take time but not long time- a few months,” he maintained.

Demanded be Muslim commuters for years, the authority has taken the decision to re-design the railways cars in order to carve out the proposed prayer sections. The prayer section will have a digital compass to tell the passengers about the direction of Qibl’ah with the moving train changes its direction.

Saad, a senior leader of ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML) that has formed the government in the wake of a victory in May 2013 general elections, has accepted the railway ministry as a challenge as rampant corruption, bad governance, and lack of efficiency have brought this important mean of transport to a virtual collapse.

Numbers of railway passengers have ostensibly reduced during last five years due to lack of facilities, and inordinate delays.

“I have taken this as a challenge. I admit that it is not an easy terrain to ride, but it is not impossible either, he observed. Creation of a passenger friendly atmosphere is the most-wanted requirement for the rejuvenation of railway.”

Railway authorities think that designation of special prayer section in railway cars will help attract the passengers who use other means of transport. Thousands of passengers do not prefer to travel by train because they do not want to miss their prayers,” a senior railway official, who asked for anonymity, told OnIslam.net. They prefer buses especially on long routes because they take a break for every prayer.”

He said the proposal for allocation of prayer section in railway cars had been by the pending for a long time due to reasons better known to the previous governments.

Perhaps, the so-called enlightened governments did not want themselves to be tagged with fundamentalism,”the official said in a lighter vein referring to the governments of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf and left-wing Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). “We can attract thousands of passengers, especially belonging to northwestern parts of Pakistan, through this step,” he said referring to Pashtuns who are considered more religion-inclined than any other community in Pakistan.

They usually travel by bus in order to avail the opportunity of saying their prayers on time. The railway official hopes that the provision of prayer section will also reduce the incidence of delays of trains.

It has been a permanent complaint that passengers pull the emergency chain to stop the train at various railway stations as their colleagues of family members offer prayer on the platform,” he observed.

Timing is very crucial in railway journey. Even two-minute delay can disturb the entire schedule of the journey, particularly on a long route,” he remarked.

The ministry decision won applaud from Pakistani commuters including traders and students as well. “I have hardly travelled by train because I did not want to lose prayer on time and with Jammat,” Manzoor Hussein, a Karachi-based trader told OnIslam.net.

Being a trader, travel is a routine affair for Hussein, but he always preferred to travel by bus or car. “The bus drivers always give you a 15 to 20-minute break to pray. They manage things in an order whereby passengers can offer prayer, and they get their vehicles rechecked and refueled at a same time. Although, train is more comfortable and safer mode as compared to bus or car due to law and order problem in various areas, however, I did not use that due to unavailability of a proper place for prayer,” he added.

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Euro Muslim Debate Integration Challenges

IslamOnline – 06/09/2013 SARAJEVO – The Bosnian capital is hosting the first summer school for Islamic studies, in a bid to offer participants new insights on Islamic traditions, finance and co-existence in Europe. “We are dealing with different issues of Islamic tradition, through Islamic finance and economics, to the challenges of co-existence in Europe,” Ahmed Alibasic, the director of the Center for Advanced Studies in Sarajevo, told the Anadolu Agency (AA) on Friday, September 6.

Hosted at the International University of Sarajevo (IUS), the International Institute of Islamic Theory (IIIT) picked Bosnia as the venue for its first summer school.

The school aims to offer participants new insights into everything that young Muslim intellectuals need to operate in European intellectual and cultural environment

According to Alibasic, European Muslims were facing two major challenges Among the basic challenged for Muslims to be integrated in modern European societies, and a challenge for every Muslim to remain faithful to his/her tradition and values.

He also expressed the hope that it will continue to be held in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey and Central Asia. The summer school, the first summer school of this kind, runs from 24 August to 7 September.

The calls about integrating Muslims in Europe appeared following 9/11 attacks on the US. Amid such debates, many professors quoted the way Islam is practiced in Bosnia-Herzegovina as the answer for European Muslims.

Bosnia, a small country on the Balkan Peninsula, is home to three ethnic “constituent peoples”: mainly Muslim Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats.

Out of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s nearly 4 million population, some 40 percent are Muslims, 31 percent Orthodox Christians and 10 percent Catholics. Living with such diversity, a Muslim institution was created which was modeled on the structures of Christian churches. Afterwards, the role of the Grand Mufti, the leader of Bosnian Muslims, was established.

The IIIT’s first summer school will offer students the opportunity to listen to the world-famous and prominent professors and philosophers.

As part of the summer school program, prominent academic and writer Tariq Ramadan held a lecture in which he discussed the concepts of Islam and Islam practice in daily life. “The time when Muslims should apologize because they are Muslims has gone,” said Ramadan. “We in Europe work not to promote Islam but to promote coexistence and richness of diversities.”

Other professors and philosophers include Jorgen S. Nielson, Israr Ahmad Khan, Mustafa Ozel, Jonathan AC Brown, Fathi Malkawi, Fathi Malkawi and Abdelwahab El-Affendi. Prominent figures such as Anas Al-Shaikh-Ali, Hisham Al-Talib, Mehmet Asutay, Muhammad A. Aziz, Jamal Barzinji, Beddy Ebnou, Kathleen Roche-Nagi as well as other local doctors and professors, would attend the event as well.

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Islam Program Pursues Coexistence in Malawi

IslamOnline 08/09/2013 LILONGWE – In an attempt to correct misconceptions about Islam and Muslims, a leading Islamic organization in Malawi has introduced a program to educate Christian teachers on the true nature of the second largest faith in the largely dominated Christian southern African nation.

Islam in Malawi has been subjected to various forms of stereotyping and misconceptions by Malawians of other faith groups due to among others, lack of knowledge of what Islam is and is not,” Sheikh Ahmed Chienda, Programme Coordinator of the Islamic Information Bureau (IIB), told OnIslam.net.

It’s for this reason, that we have been compelled to introduce this program for non-Muslim teachers to educate them on various aspects which they don’t understand about our religion.

Few Christians in Malawi have the zeal to learn about Islam. Most of them think, by doing so, they will automatically embrace Islam. Due to this attitude and little knowledge, Christians have distorted certain aspects about Islam. They have associated Islam with all sorts of negative things,” said Chienda.

This deliberate distortion has created a fertile ground for many misconceptions and prejudices and these have contributed to rising levels of discrimination against Muslims. We are continuously being discriminated against in many ways at various levels of the society due to the little knowledge Malawians of other faith groups have of Islam.”

Introduced by IIB, the program seeks to remove the misconceptions and stereotypes about Islam and to foster peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians in the country through workshops and other initiatives.

And at the same time, we are educating people on what is Islam and what’s not,” Chienda said.

The idea of the program followed a decision issued by the Malawi government a few years ago in which it introduced Religious and Moral Education (RME) in its primary schools to offer school children an opportunity to learn various religions, including Islam.

Yet, the absence of qualified teachers who have enough information about Islam limited the impact of the ambitious program.

But the most unfortunate thing about this subject is that, the teachers, who most of them are Christians don’t know anything about Islam, as a result it has not yet registered its intended impact, therefore, through this program, the teachers are able to learn Islam and in turn, the knowledge is passed on to the children,” Chienda said.

Children from Christian families are therefore able to know and understand much about Islam at a very tender age.”

Applied across the country, the program has won plaudits from Christian teachers and religious organizations as well. “We are getting very encouraging remarks from people across the country confessing that the picture they had about Islam was a wrong one based on wrong information,” Chienda told OnIslam.net. “This is a clear indication that this program was having a greater impact on people.”

Targeting primary school teachers, Chienda said they were picked because “they are channels through which information and knowledge can pass. We would like this knowledge the teachers are acquiring to trickle down to the grassroots and transform people’s mindset.”

A regular participant to these workshops, Ruth Chikatentha, a now retired primary school teacher said her negative attitude towards Islam and Muslims has now changed through the program. “I grew up hating Muslims and Islam. This was due to the information my parents used to give me about this religion. I have been growing believing that Islam was not a religion at all. It was not real. This had cultivated in me seeds of hatred,” Chikatentha, a self-confessed devout Christian told OnIslam.net.

“Contrary to what my parents were telling me about Islam at a tender age, I have now come to discover the truth and beauty about Islam. I have discovered through this program that Islam is the way of life and it is religion of peace. Much of the negativity this religion is subjected to is as a result of lack of knowledge,” she added.

Describing the initiative as a “great milestone” towards promotion of peaceful co-existence between Muslims and Christians, Chikatentha said she has taken up an initiative to educate fellow Christians on the “beauty of Islam.”

“This program has turned me into an ambassador of promoting peaceful co-existence between these two major religions in Malawi, because I have now known what Islam is all about” she said. “The combination of Islam and Christianity makes me a complete creation, because I’m able to understand and respect other people’s religious beliefs.”

Sister Mary Banda, a Catholic Sister and teacher whose denomination is the largest Christian grouping in the country, has also praised the program for changing her “wrong perception” of Islam. “I have always perceived Islam as a violent religion with no regard for human life. But through this program, I should confess that this perception was wrong,” Banda told OnIslam.net.

This has changed my understanding of Islam and how I can relate to Muslims as fellow human beings. Much of our criticism towards Muslims has been very unwarranted and resulting from lack of knowledge. I have now discovered the truth that I will live with forever.”

The program has won itself plaudits from prominent religious organizations in the country, including the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a quasi-religious grouping which commended the program as a “basis of peaceful religious co-existence”.

Understanding each others’ religious beliefs is the basis for peaceful co-existence in any society,” Bishop James Tengatenga, Chairperson of the grouping, told OnIslam.net. This program therefore fulfils that role. If all faith groups in the country had adopted such an initiative, there would be no serious religious disputes resulting from religious differences.”

Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity. It accounts for 23% of the country’s 14 million population. But the Muslim Association of Malawi ( MAM), the country’s mother body for Muslims, puts the number at 36 percent according to the census it conducted a few years ago.

Unless Muslims and Christians could co-exist peacefully, it is going to be very hard for any meaningful development to be realized,” said Chienda.“Therefore, our program aims also at enhancing the development of the country where all Malawians regardless of their beliefs shall take part without being discriminated against on the basis of religion.”

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Filipino Bill Bans Anti-Muslim Media Bias

IslamOnline – 09/09/2013 MANILA – Rejecting media bias against the Muslim minority, a Filipino lawmaker has proposed a new bill to prohibit the mention of religious or ethnic affiliation in media reports of criminal suspects. “It may be said that there is already the practice in media of labeling criminal suspects according to their religious or ethnic culture,” Pangalian Balindong, Rep. of Lanao del Sur 2nd District, told Inquirer.net on Sunday, September 8.

Thus they are described as Muslim terrorists or Muslim bandits which smacks of being highly discriminatory.” In a statement released Sunday, Balindong said he filed House Bill 1447 to prohibit the use of the words “Muslim” and “Christian” to describe suspects of unlawful acts.

He added that the manner of reporting from media entities has become offensively biased even if the suspect has yet to be proven guilty. The bill also prohibits any person to use in mass media any word that would denote religious, regional or ethnic affiliation to describe any person suspected of or convicted for having committed criminal or unlawful acts.

Balindong warned that such labels were affecting the Muslim minority. “Why then is our media doing the same to our Muslim countrymen?” Balindong asked. Indeed, our Muslim brothers are a minority among the Filipino majority, but should be treated with the same respect and privileges as any other Batangueo, Visayan or other Filipino citizen,” he added.

The person found guilty of this will face imprisonment of not less than six months or a fine of not more than P10,000 or both at the discretion of the courts. If the violator is the editor-in-chief in the case of print media and the news editor in the case of broadcast media and other forms of mass media, a fine of not lower than P50,000 shall be imposed.

If a juridical entity is a violator of this Act, a fine not lower than P50,000 shall be imposed for every violation and the penalties shall be doubled for the second and succeeding offenses as provided under the bill. Muslims make up nearly 8 percent of the total populace in the Philippines, which Islam reached in the 13th century about 200 years before Christianity.

Mindanao, the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines, is home to more than 5 million Muslims. The mineral-rich southern region has been the scene of a decades-long conflict to establish a Muslim homeland. More than 120,000 people have been killed since the conflict erupted in the late 1960s.

Last October, the Philippine government unveiled a peace deal with MILF, the country’s largest Muslim group, to establish a Muslim homeland in the south. The new region will be called Bangsamoro — the term for those who are native to the region. It is expected to include five provinces under the existing autonomous region plus parts of Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato provinces.

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Muslim Rapper Inspires Youth

IslamOnline – 11/09/2013 WASHINGTON – For young American Muslim Mo Sabry, his life as a famous rapper began when he started to produce “anaasheed,” or songs with religious Islamic themes, offering a halal alternative to American hip-hop which focuses on sex and alcohol.

There’s too many songs on the radio these days encouraging girls to do bad things,” Sabry told the audience attending the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Voice of America reported on Tuesday, September 10.

Born to Pakistani immigrants, Sabri grew up in Johnson City, Tennessee. He entered the career of hip-hop singing after the focus on sex and alcohol in many hip hop songs turned him off. For the past year, Sabri has been singing about pious themes in a genre not exactly known for godly messages.

Now, he is one of a growing cadre of young Muslim American musicians who write songs with religious Islamic themes that are beginning to appeal to a broader audience. The decision to enter the music field has changed his life altogether.

Sabri cites Hasidic artist Matisyahu, who gained a wide following rapping to reggae about Jewish spiritual themes such as the hope for the return of the Messiah, as his main source of inspiration. I just liked how he did not have to succumb to any of the pressures of writing music, and he was different,” Sabri said. “He had uplifting songs that were spiritual.”

Music is an issue that has been hotly debated by scholars of the past and the present. According to Muslim scholars, music that is deemed to be free of un-Islamic and unethical themes and messages, the same is true of musical instruments so long as they are not used for the above, have been considered as permissible.

At ISNA convention, the young rapper made a performance for “Heaven Is Where Her Heart Is,” a song about a virtuous girl who travels to Mecca for the holy Muslim pilgrimage. Receiving applaud from young Muslims, the song is not the most successful for the 22-year-old Muslim heartthrob. One of Sabri’s latest songs got more than one million views on YouTube. He says the song, “I believe in Jesus,” was written to show the people of east Tennessee that Muslims revere him.

In the song, Sabri points out that “In the West, they call him Jesus, in the East they call him Isa, Messiah, Christ,” and he asks, “Why does our religion always have to cause division? I grew up in an area that did not really have any Muslims, and I was able to see that they were all more similar than different,” Sabri said.

For me, I was like, ‘I want to reach out to my neighbors and show that Muslims and Christians as a whole can experience what I experienced.’” Sabri said he wanted his song to correct misconceptions about Islam, confirming that Muslims view Jesus as a prophet.

There’s so much misinformation about Muslims, to think that a Muslim can’t talk about Jesus, or can’t love Jesus, is just the wrong idea, and my goal is to dispel that idea,” he said. Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the great Prophets of God and that he is the son of Mary but not the Son of God. He was conceived and born miraculously.

In the Noble Qur’an, Jesus is called “Isa”. He is also known as Al-Masih (the Christ) and Ibn Maryam (Son of Mary). Muslims believe that Jesus will come back to earth before the end of time to restore peace and order, fight the Anti-Christ (Al-Masih Al-Dajjal) and bring victory for truth and righteousness.

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Irkutsk region opens first mosque in prison

islam.ru | 05 Sept 2013 – For the first time in the Irkutsk region Mosque is opened within the detention facility, the press service of the Penitentiary Service of the Irkutsk region reports.

Mosque in prison number 27 in Vihorevka is built by convicts. For two years they built the building and arranged the interior. The mosque is designed for 40 parishioners and built by the Muslims contribution of the area. In total there are 50 Muslims who are serving sentences.

The opening of the mosque was attended by the Mufti of the Irkutsk region Farid Hazrat Mingaleev, as well as representatives of the Muslim community Bratsk region. The new mosque performed the first prayer, and the guests presented to prisoners a signed gift – a watch that shows the time of prayer.

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Saudia to transport over 700,000 Haj pilgrims

Jeddah, 05 Dhul Qaada 1434/ 10 September 2013 (IINA) – Saudi Arabian Airlines will transport 631,500 foreign pilgrims and 76,028 domestic pilgrims during the current Haj season.

The national carrier will operate a total of 1,653 services to carry the pilgrims, said Abdullah Al-Ajhar, Assistant Executive Director General of Saudia for Public Relations. He said that Saudia’s first Haj flight landed at Prince Muhammad International Airport, Madinah from Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. The last flight will leave Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport for Dhaka on Nov. 18 (Muharram 15), he said. “About 53 percent of Haj flights (432 in number) will land at the Jeddah airport while the Madinah airport will receive 390 flights (47 percent). The airline will operate 511 departure services from Jeddah and 320 services from Madinah,” he said.

Al-Ajhar said that Saudia leased 30 new big aircraft to operate Haj services smoothly without affecting the scheduled services.

“The national carrier is issuing boarding passes for arrival and departure flights from the pilgrims’ embarkation point itself and there is no need for them to approach any sales outlets in the Kingdom to reconfirm the tickets. This will enable the pilgrims to concentrate on their rituals,” he said, adding that the airline is keen to provide a bouquet of premium services on board the flights to enlighten the pilgrims on the rituals and their comfortable stay in the holy cities.

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Foundation stone laid for first mosque in Slovenia

Ljubljana, 10 Dhul Qaada 1434/ 15 September 2013 (IINA) – The foundation stone of Slovenia’s first mosque was laid at a former industrial site in the capital Ljubljana yesterday, more than four decades since the first official petition was submitted by Muslims seeking their own place of worship.

The initiative has been beset by administrative hurdles and a lack of political will in the mainly Catholic country of two million people, of which some 50,000 are Muslims. Several thousand people attended the ceremony, including Slovenia’s centre-left prime minister, Alenka Bratusek, and Ljubljana Mayor Zoran Jankovic, who helped lay the first stone. A handful of women in the crowd wore headscarves – an unusual sight in the Alpine ex-Yugoslav republic, a member of the European Union squeezed between Croatia, Italy and Austria. “This means the world to me,” said Sahra Kacar, 44, who was born the same year as the first official petition to build a mosque in Ljubljana was filed. “We will have a proper place to pray, rather than using various public halls.”

The most prosperous of Yugoslavia’s six republics, Slovenia saw an influx of people from across the region – including Muslims – seeking work over the past 50 years, particularly with the collapse of their joint state in the early 1990s.

Slovenia broke away in 1991 and its economy boomed, while the likes of Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo descended into war. The proposal for a mosque had been held up by reluctant local officials, some of whom tried to force a referendum on the matter in 2004. Some 12,000 people signed a petition calling for a plebiscite, but Slovenia’s Constitutional Court ruled it would be unconstitutional on the grounds of religious freedom. “We are happy to be starting this civic project in Ljubljana, which will thus become a better-known and a more pluralistic city,” Mufti Nedzad Grabus, the highest representative of Slovenia’s Islamic community, told the ceremony.

Construction of the mosque is expected to begin in earnest in November and is projected to take three years at a cost of some 12 million euros ($15.9 million). The Islamic community will foot most of the cost, thanks to a large donation it expects from Qatar. While the plan for a mosque had stirred debate, the concerns have been overshadowed by financial turmoil facing the country. The project comes during Slovenia’s worst financial crisis since independence in 1991, which threatens to make the country the latest member of the 17-nation euro zone to seek a bailout from the EU and International Monetary Fund.

“I personally am not against the mosque but I do know people who are still against it,” said a 30-year old designer who lives near the site of the new mosque and gave her name as Ana. “But the mosque is no longer that high on the political agenda because the attention is now focused on the economic crisis that is crippling Slovenia,” she said.

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