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9 Dec, 2013

Visit Malaysia Year 2014 set for Jan 4 Launch

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 09 December 2013 (05 Safar 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.


Visit Malaysia Year 2014 is the nation’s biggest and grandest tourism celebration with Malaysia Truly Asia’s endless wonders of events, festivals and activities all-year round. This is the perfect time to see, feel and experience Malaysia! The fourth Visit Malaysia Year will bear the theme “Celebrating 1Malaysia Truly Asia” to reflect the diversity in unity of all Malaysians. The Proboscis Monkey has been chosen as the mascot. VMY 2014 will be the biggest and grandest ever tourism celebration with hundreds of events and festivals all lined up to welcome the world. Overall, it is hoped that VMY 2014 will contribute to the Government’s target to receive 36 million tourist arrivals and RM168 billion in receipts by 2020, as outlined in the Malaysia Tourism Transformation Plan (MTTP) 2020. Click here for full details on the VMY 2014 website.



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 ASEAN 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.





Visit Malaysia Year 2014 set for Jan 4 Launch

PUTRAJAYA, 1 December 2013 – The Minister of Tourism and Culture Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz and senior officials of Tourism Malaysia met between Dec 1-6 for the annual Tourism Malaysia Directors Conference 2013. The 6-day event involved 67 overseas directors, state directors, and marketing officers of Tourism Malaysia, as well as PR agencies.

With the theme VMY 2014 – Sharing With The World, the core objective of the conference is to accelerate marketing efforts in promoting next month’s Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014, as well as to ensure the arrivals target of 28 million tourists with a revenue of RM76 billion (USD24 billion) is fully realised.

Another key agenda of the conference was to deliberate and finalise details of the grand launch of VMY 2014, as well as to launch Tourism Malaysia Integrated Digital Marketing Programme, which is specially developed to support VMY 2014 promotional efforts.

The official launch of VMY 2014 is scheduled to take place on 4 January 2014 at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. The VMY 2014 Secretariat has also developed an official website, www.vmy2014.com exclusively featuring comprehensive information and details of this much anticipated event.

Programmes during the conference include proactive sessions and meetings with the Minister of Tourism and Culture, the Secretary General of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, and the top management of Tourism Malaysia including its Chairman, the Director General, the Deputy Director General (Planning), the Deputy Director General (Promotion), and various Division Directors, as well as the General Manager of the VMY 2014 Secretariat.

Other discussions during the conference include Tourism Malaysia’s Promotional Plan for 2014/2015, latest updates on Malaysia’s tourism development and tourism products, current performance, on-going promotional efforts, marketing strategies and also activities to be carried out on a global scale .

To update all the overseas and state directors, as well as marketing officers, on the prevailing market trends, Tourism Malaysia has invited various organisations to share their presentations during the conference, namely Pullman Hotel, Performance Management and Delivery Unit (PEMANDU), Iskandar Malaysia, Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB), Touch ‘n Go, Genting Malaysia Berhad, EMKAY Group, and i-City, as well as the Mayor of Kuala Lumpur.

For the first time, there was an Immersion Workshop to create a platform to encourage all the directors and marketing officers to work closely with travel trade members, as well as to exchange information and ideas pertaining to the development of the country’s tourism industry.

There will also be a session with advertising agencies engaged by Tourism Malaysia including Naga DDB, Sen Media, SMASCOM, M&C Saatchi, and Impact Creations. In addition, a State Directors Meeting will also be held to discuss the development of the domestic tourism industry.

Tourism Malaysia has also lined up several product updates in between the conference to expose the overseas directors, state directors and marketing officers to some of the latest tourism offerings in the country. The product updates include bicycle rides and bird watching in Putrajaya, and a visit to the Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery in Klang and I-City in Shah Alam.

On 6 Dec, overseas PR agencies proceeded to Melaka to have a special session with Tourism Malaysia’s Director of Communications & Publicity Division, and also enjoy a tour of Melaka city.

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Veteran Indian actor Naseeruddin Shah relishes sameness of Pakistan and India

LAHORE, 2013-12-04 : Veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah on Tuesday focused on the sameness of India and Pakistan rather than the dissimilarities and expressed his desire to live and travel here for longer periods.

“There are more similarities than the differences between Pakistan and India. I wish to travel all over Pakistan. If I ever get such an opportunity, I will remain in Pakistan for a year. But we are a victim of political gimmicks,” the iconic artiste from India who is in Lahore these days said this at Faiz Ghar, Model Town, while addressing a select audience.

Mr Shah, along with his theatre team, Motley, was invited to Faiz Ghar by Faiz Foundation Trust for a ceremony to accord the group patronage of the Trust.

Answering questions by audience, Shah expressed his views on the difference between theatre and film and the way he felt about Faiz. He also mentioned delicious food of Lahore and hospitality of Lahorites.

To a query that whether he found theatre difficult as compared to other performing arts, Shah said had this question been asked about film he would have listed a lot of difficulties but as far as theatre was concerned he never found it difficult, rather it had always been a source of enjoyment and pleasure to him.

He said doing theatre was such a joy that could not be found in films. The kind of enthusiasm and team spirit one enjoyed doing theatre could not be experienced while doing a film, he added.

What he felt about Lahore and Faiz Sahib was another question to which he said he always felt overjoyed visiting Lahore. “It is a matter of great pride and honour for me if in any respect my name gets associated with a poet like Faiz Ahmed Faiz,” said Mr Shah.

He said Lahore’s traditional dishes, sweets, weather, besides affection and love of its people, were close to his heart.

Earlier, the veteran actor recited Faiz’s poetry including his poems ‘Aaye Haath Uthain Hum Bhi’ and ‘Aaj Kay Naam Aur Aaj Kay Gham Kay Naam’.

FFT Chairperson Saleema Hashmi on the occasion said Faiz in his writings well elaborated the role and responsibilities of an artiste. She read some of the letters written by Faiz to his wife Alys and shared memories of his father.

Dr Arifa Syeda said she was happy to know that this year Mr Shah was going to stage stories of Munshi Prem Chand because these stories “are the stories of life”. She hoped when next year Shah would bring his theatre to Pakistan, he would also consider stories by Pakistani writers for stage.

Moneeza Hashmi said hopefully Shah Sahib would come to Lahore next year too for stage performances and dedicate a night for reciting poetry of Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz.

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Air Astana Completes Delivery Of New Airbus A320 Fleet

5th December 2013 – Air Astana has taken delivery of the last of six new Airbus A320 family aircraft, with the latest aircraft being the third to be equipped with Sharklets and configured in a 16 business class / 132 economy class configuration. The new fleet was ordered from Airbus during the official visit of Nursultan Nazarbayev, President of Kazakhstan, to France in 2008 and has been funded through the airline’s own financial resources, without any state funding.

“Air Astana embarked on a major fleet renewal programme five years ago and I’m now delighted that all six of the Airbus A320 family aircraft ordered at that time are now in service. The A320 is a remarkably fuel efficient, reliable, comfortable and safe aircraft, with the latest “sharklet” equipped aircraft bringing further aerodynamic efficiencies,cost savings, and reduced carbon emissions” said Peter Foster, President of Air Astana.

Air Astana commenced regular flight operations on 15 May 2002 and currently operates a network of over 60 international and domestic routes from hubs in Almaty, Astana and Atyrau. Air Astana operates an all-western fleet of three Boeing 767-300ER, five Boeing 757-200, twelve Airbus A320 family aircraft and seven Embraer E-190. Air Astana became the first carrier from Russia, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and Eastern Europe to be awarded the prestigious 4-Star rating by Skytrax in its World Airline Awards 2012 and was named The Best Airline in Central Asia and India. Both accolades were repeated in 2013.

Air Astana is a joint venture between Kazakhstan’s national wealth fund Samruk Kazyna and BAE Systems, with respective shares of 51% and 49%.

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Tourism Malaysia Directors Forge Closer Ties With Media

PUTRAJAYA, 5 December 2013 – The participants of Tourism Malaysia Directors Conference 2013 forged closer ties with members of the media today through a one-day product update. The tour was organised by Tourism Malaysia to provide a hands-on experience of the country’s latest tourism offerings, besides promoting healthy living.

The participants of the conference, comprising Tourism Malaysia overseas directors, state directors, marketing officers, and its PR agencies, started the day with the media in a healthy way by cycling from Putra Square in Putrajaya to Upper Bisa Wetland for birdwatching.

More than 50 species of birds have been recorded at the Upper Bisa Wetland area and its main attraction is the waterbirds. About 12 species of these waterbirds have been found here and up to a few hundred waterbirds can be seen nesting during the main nesting season from June to December.

After that, the participants proceeded to Pullman Putrajaya Lakeside Hotel for a basic health screening, which covered blood sugar level, cholesterol, blood pressure and Body Mass Index (BMI), offered by the National Heart Institute. It is aimed to raise the awareness among the participants on the risk of heart disease. Besides the health screening, they also attended a talk by the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council (MHTC).

After the health session, they were treated to lunch by Malaysia Airports Holdings Berhad (MAHB) at Marina Putrajaya, where they also enjoyed a presentation on KLIA2 by its Senior General Manager of Operation Service Dato’ Azmi Murad.

The participants then proceeded to the Sultan Abdul Aziz Royal Gallery at Klang to learn more about the rich history and heritage of the Selangor Sultanate. The last destination of their tour was i-City in Shah Alam, where a dinner was hosted by its Director Monica Ong. After that, the participants visited the latest attractions in I-City, namely Snow Walk, Red Carpet Interactive Wax Museum, Trick Art Museum, Water World and House of Horror.

The Tourism Malaysia Directors Conference 2013 is being held from 1 to 6 December for the Minister of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and senior officials of Tourism Malaysia to meet for annual consultations. Among the objectives of the conference are to brief the participants on Tourism Malaysia promotional plan and to accelerate marketing efforts in promoting next month’s Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014.

The grand launch of VMY 2014 is scheduled to take place on 4 January 2014 at Dataran Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur. An official website, www.vmy2014.com, has also been developed to exclusively feature comprehensive information and details of this much anticipated event.

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Tourism Malaysia Launches Integrated Digital Marketing Programme

KUALA LUMPUR, DEC 2: Tourism Malaysia revealed its integrated Digital Marketing Programme today as a complementary marketing effort to its existing Visit Malaysia Year (VMY) 2014 global marketing and advertising campaign.

It was launched by YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Tan Sri Abdul Aziz, Minister of Tourism and Culture, during the Tourism Malaysia Directors Conference 2013.

YB Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri says, “The global media consumption is rapidly shifting towards the digital world and so it’s only apt that we follow suit and go where the future lies.”

Tourism Malaysia Director-General, YBhg Dato’ Mirza Mohammad Taiyab says, “Throughout the VMY 2014 promotional campaign this year, Tourism Malaysia has been leveraging its digital assets to optimize presence in the digital sphere, increasing and maintaining a strong relationship with fans and followers and ultimately converting them into actual tourists or repeat visitors.”

He adds, “Statistics up to September 2013 show a record of 18,756,476 tourist arrivals, a 3.3% increase compared to the same period last year.”

The integrated digital marketing programme encompasses the following:

• YouTube Brand Channel

• Web TVs – Trulyasia.TV & My Tourism TV (MyTTV)

• Social Media – TM Official Facebook (Local/Domestic & International)

• Twitter – TM Official Twitter

• ShareMY – travelling via Social Sharing

• TM Official Website & TM Official Mobile Travel App – The Malaysia Trip Planner

The digital marketing programme has also shown impressive results. Tourism Malaysia recorded over 12.5 million total views across all their YouTube video content on the YouTube channel including more than 9.4 million minutes of online videos watched this year. Among the YouTube videos that recorded over 2 million views each were Visit Malaysia Year 2014 Promotional TV commercial which yielded 2,425,024 views; Eco and Adventure (2,746,016 views); Eco and Culture (2,464,602 views); Undeniable Malaysia (2,411,159 views); and Shopping and Food (2,152,181 views).

Several digital media campaigns conducted on Google Search, Online Display, Mobile and YouTube have also recorded impressive exposure and engagement.

On the social networking front, ShareMy is Tourism Malaysia’s latest initiative to encourage the exploration of Malaysia as a tourist destination in the online social realm.

The first of its kind for Malaysia, ShareMy is an ever-growing library of information and experience on everything Malaysian, shared and accessed by users from any part of the world. For example, a Russian living in Moscow could search for what fellow Russians like to eat in Malaysia. Or a Malaysian in Bintulu could learn of the sights to see in Ipoh.

Meanwhile, TrulyAsia.TV uses the powerful and engaging medium of video and the Internet to show entertaining videos and live events on Malaysia, reaching out to potential visitors who want to have a preview of what Malaysia offers.

TrulyAsia.TV has also won three awards and was nominated for another:

• Winner: APICTA Award – Best of Tourism and Hospitality

• Winner: GoMobile Innovation Awards – Best Mobile Content and Application

• Winner: GoMobile Innovation Awards – Best Overall Application

• Nominated: World Summit Awards for e-Culture and Heritage Category

The other WebTV is Malaysia Tourism TV (MyTTV), an online platform developed in December 2012 as an internet TV portal which covers various interesting information on tourism in the country. MyTTV Channel’s programs highlight a variety of beautiful attractions in Malaysia featuring the major tourist spots that are filled with rich heritage, wonderful nature, and local life happenings.

Tourism Malaysia’s digital assets also include the award-winning Tourism Malaysia official website that has features and facilities to deliver better contents and experiences to its visitors such as multilingual function, hotel and airline booking function, online mobile application to assist visitors with itinerary planning and personalized website content according to country of origin.

Planning a memorable holiday is made simple with the Malaysia Trip Planner, the official travel app from Tourism Malaysia. This application, launched in July 2013, gives travelers personalized, inspiring and practical information on Malaysia, and all you can see and do. The application organises travel plans into an itinerary that has all of the visitor’s trip details in one place. Moreover, it provides extensive information on Malaysia’s various attractions and enables quick and easy sharing with friends via Facebook and Twitter.

Tourism Malaysia also utilises Facebook to reach out to audiences as well as to promote the destination. The “Malaysia Truly Asia” Fan Page, created by Tourism Malaysia in February 2010, has reached nearly 58,000 likes/fans. Meanwhile, the “Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia” (CC1M) Facebook, launched in 2011 specifically for local/domestic visitors, has almost reached 1.9 million likes/fans.

Meanwhile, Tourism Malaysia Official Twitter with almost 190,000 followers has also proved to be an important avenue for Tourism Malaysia’s promotion and publicity efforts.

For more information regarding Tourism Malaysia Integrated Digital Marketing Programme, kindly contact Ms. Harliza Ahmad, Assistant Director, Advertising Division, at harliza@tourism.gov.my or +603 8891 8734.

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UNESCO supports construction of ˈSports for Allˈ development center in Iran

Tehran, Dec 8, IRNA – Minister of Youth and Sports Mahmoud Gudarzi said on Sunday that the UNESCO will help Iran build a ˈSports for Allˈ development center.

In a meeting with Secretary General of the International Sport for All Federation (FISpT), Wolfgang Baumann, and Head of the FISpT, Ju-Ho Chang, in Tehran on Sunday, Gudarzi said Iranian officials are mainly focusing on generalization of sports in Iran.

“We welcome any plan that will help develop sports for all,” he added.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran attaches high importance to sports for all and we welcome any idea that will lead to generalization of sports in the country.”

He said that in turn, Iran will help the world publicize sports.

Ju-Ho Chang referred to Iranˈs performance with regards to development of public sports, thanking Iranian officials to that end.

Meanwhile, Baumann said during post-Islamic Revolution era, the Iranian people have shown unprecedented interest in public sports and Iran’s support for development of public is praiseworthy.

He highlighted significance of both professional and championship sports, saying, “Now, it is clear to everybody worldwide that public sports has a special position.”

He lauded Iran’s initiative of public rally, saying it serves as a model in education of public sports.

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Archipelago Takes Over Green Savana Hotel in Sentul City, Indonesia

AsiaTravelTips – Archipelago International has taken over the management of the Green Savana Hotel in Sentul City in Indonesia. The hotel is being rebranded Hotel NEO+ Green Savana Sentul City.

Located in Sentul City, the NEO+ Green Savanna is a three-star hotel and conference center, located just 20 minutes from the centre of Bogor, as well as enjoying an address close to to Sentul’s Jungle Land Adventurer Theme Park and the Sentul Highlands Golf Club.

The hotel boasts an eco-friendly design, seamlessly merging into Sentul’s natural mountainside landscape with its grass roofs and open-air swimming pool and jacuzzi.

The 70 spacious guestrooms and suites soak up the surrounding emerald vista, each one beckoning with outdoor seating areas to simply sit back and enjoy the view.

Inside, air-conditioned rooms await, equipped with luxury bedding, large flat screen TVs and mini bars that encourage lazy days in the comfort of these stylish cocoons.

Business travelers are also well-catered for, with 3 meeting rooms located in a separate, designated conference center, complete with a large outdoor team-building park.

The take-over of the Green Savana Hotel compliments and initiates Archipelago International’s dynamic projects for Sentul City in the future. The group plans to open a 220 room Aston Resort & Conference Center in 2014, followed by 240 rooms and suites at a four-star lifestyle The Alana Hotel in 2015.

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Gulf Air Launches Double Miles Promotion

AsiaTravelTips – Bahrain’s Gulf Air has launched a Double Miles Promotion to coincide with the launch of its newest routes.

The promotion gives its frequent flyer program (FFP) members the opportunity to fly to Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai, Thiruvananthapuram in India or Mashhad in Iran and earn double miles.

Kavita Sharma AlJassim, Gulf Air’s Senior Manager of Customer Experience, commented on the promotion, “We constantly strive to make every facet of our FalconFlyers’ travel experience more rewarding. This FFP promotion celebrates the launch of our newest destinations and gives our members the opportunity to travel to them while earning even more miles.”

Gulf Air launch flights to Al Maktoum International on 8 December 2013. Starting on 14 December 2013, Bahrain’s national carrier will operate four weekly flights to Iran’s second most populous city, Mashhad, while flights to Trivandrum International Airport will commence on 15 December with 5 weekly flights.

The double miles offer is valid for 2 months from the date of the destination launch.

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Emirates Launches Airbus A380 Flights to Los Angeles

AsiaTravelTips – Emirates has launched the world’s longest Airbus A380 service with flights between Dubai and Los Angeles.

The flight, crossing the Russian Federation, the North Pole and Eastern Canada, has a published duration of 16 hours 20 minutes.

The Emirates’ A380 is one of the most comfortable and well designed aircraft flying today. Its generously proportioned Economy Class, exclusive mini-pods in Business Class and Private Suites in First Class are hugely popular with passengers from every corner of the globe.

On the top deck of the aircraft, First Class passengers can freshen up in one of two Onboard Shower Spas, whilst First and Business Class travellers can mix and mingle in the popular Onboard Lounge – enjoying a drink and exchanging tales at 40,000 feet.

Passengers in all cabins have access to WiFi, 1,500 channels of inflight entertainment and gourmet-chef prepared meals, served by highly trained, multi-lingual cabin crew.

Generous luggage allowances are available to customers: 30 kilogrammes in Economy Class, 40 Kilogrammes in Business Class and 50 kilogrammes in First Class.

Premium passengers can also enjoy dedicated lounges and chauffeur-drive transfers at many destinations across Emirates’ network.

The airline started flying to Los Angeles in 2008 with the Boeing 777-200LR. The introduction of the 489-seat A380 service, powered by US made GE GP7200 engines, is a direct response to demand with over one million passengers travelling between Los Angeles and Dubai so far.

Emirates 23rd A380 service will operate daily as EK 215 departing Dubai at 08:20 and arriving at Los Angeles International Airport at 12:50 the same day.

The return flight, EK 216, departs Los Angeles at 16:00 and arrives in Dubai at 19:50 the following day.

The double decker has 14 First Class Private Suites, 76 lie-flat beds in Business Class and 399 spacious seats in Economy Class.

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IHG Signs Holiday Inn & Suites in Jakarta

AsiaTravelTips – InterContinental Hotels Group and PT Duta Anggada Realty have signed an agreement to develop Holiday Inn & Suites Jakarta Gajah Mada.

Located in bustling Jalan Gajah Mada in North Jakarta, the 447-room Holiday Inn & Suites Jakarta Gajah Madah will not only feature hotel rooms, but also serviced apartments for guests who want to book extended stays at the hotel.

The mixed-use development is opposite the LTC Glodok Mall, a short drive away from Jakarta’s Central Business district.

Clarence Tan, IHG’s Chief Operating Officer, South East Asia & Resorts, said, “Indonesia has seen very strong economic progress and industry trends have really fuelled the demand for our Holiday Inn brand. The Holiday Inn & Suites Jakarta Gajah Mada will be our first property in Indonesia to answer the increasing demand for travel in Jakarta, especially those who now need to stay for longer each time they visit.”

Indonesia is currently the largest development pipeline for IHG in South East Asia with over 20 hotels slated to open in the next few years. This includes six Holiday Inn and more than 10 Holiday Inn Express hotels to cater to the country’s growing midscale market.

Holiday Inn & Suites Jakarta Gajah Mada is expected to open in 2015.

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Texas Islamic Center Makes A Difference

OnIslam & Newspapers Thursday, 05 December 2013 CAIRO – An Islamic center in Irving city in the southern US state of Texas has turned into a shining minaret of true Islam, being praised for leading relief efforts, interfaith events and dispelling some of the myths and untruths about Islam in the area.

“Imam Zia and the members of the Islamic Center of Irving are some of the best neighbors and citizens any community in America would be proud to have,” Anthony Bonds, Irving community activist, told North Dallas Gazette. “They are devoted to God and they show divine compassion for people in need.”

Bonds’ words were not the normal response Islamic centers get in the United States, especially in Texas. However, the Islamic Center of Irving (ICI), located within Dallas County, was not a normal center too.

The over 40,000 square foot facility located at 2555 Esters Road is comprised with a Mosque, community center and K-12 private school equipped with a library, computer lab, cafeteria and 16 classrooms in addition to 14 portable classrooms.

Working for years in the community, the ICI has turned into as place where many Muslim residents of Irving, not only learn about their faith, but also feel safe from some of outside prejudices they may encounter.

The center also served interested non-Muslims who feel curious about learning the truths about the Islamic faith; helping them dispel some of the myths and untruths about Islam.

In addition to the mosque and Islamic school, which has received accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), the Center provides a broad range of services that range in counseling, tutoring and facilitating religious lectures about Islam.

“We are planning to expand the facility to an additional 96,000 square feet to house a floor with a multi-purpose room and 16 additional classrooms,” Imam Zia Sheikh of the Islamic Center of Irving (ICI) said.

The United States is home to an estimated Muslim minority of seven to eight million. The latest US census in 2010 says that Irving is home to about 200,000. According to Imam Sheikh, Muslim residents make up approximately 30,000 to 40,000 of that population.

The ICI services were not limited to its members of the Muslim community. Over the past years, it has extended its services through its various community outreach initiatives.

A few of their previous outreach programs have included opening their Center for the displaced residents affected by Hurricane Katrina; sponsoring health fairs with the American Muslim Women’s Physician Association; and collaborating with Northwood Baptist Church of Keller to help rebuild homes of tornado victims.

They also have partnered locally with Greater Days of Service, an interdenominational organization that renews neighborhoods and provides home restoration of properties for homeowners.

“….the community Ramadan dinner they host every year has been attended by community leaders… overall I think they are a contribution to the City especially in the area of humanitarian contributions, so from my perspective they really have tried to make a difference…,” remarks Irving City Councilman Dennis Webb of Place 3.

The center has also partnered recently with Texas Organizing Project to host a health care workshop in the effort to educate the public on the Affordable Care Act that became effective in early October.

The center’s good reputation in the outreach fields has contributed to the recent success of Texas Organizing Project’s largest health care workshop in Dallas County. Supported by the ICI’s strong promotional efforts, the event was attended by more than 150.

“Their reputation throughout the community especially in the non-profit world of services is really stellar,” Brianna Brown, Lead Health Care Organizer of Texas Organizing Project, said.

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Russian Muslims Restore Tatars Mosque

OnIslam & News Agencies Thursday, 05 December 2013 MOSCOW – After years of legal debates, Russian Muslims have finally restored the 15th century Khan Mosque in Kasimov town, east Moscow, deemed as the oldest mosque in central Russia. The news was announced on Wednesday, December 4, by the spiritual directorate for Russian Muslims (The Muslim Spiritual Directorate (MSD) system in Russia), Radio Free Europe reported.

Along with Khan Mosque, the MSD has declared regaining the shrines of Shakh Ali Khan and Muhammad Avgan Sultan in Kasimov. Before handing it back to Muslims, Khan Mosque has been controlled over the past centuries by the Kasimov regional museum until.

Under the Museums’ autonomy, Muslims were banned from praying in the worshipping house since it was open as a public museum in the 1930s. Erected by Tatars in the 15th century, the mosque in Rayzan is deemed as the second-oldest mosque in Russia after Dzhuma Mosque.

The 13th century Dzhuma Mosque is located in the city of Derbent in Russia’s North Caucasus Republic of Dagestan. Khan Mosque’s date backs to the Qasim Khanate of the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1702, the original body of the mosque was demolished upon Peter’s the Great request, fortunately the minaret was preserved.

By 1768, a new building was constructed next to the wide stone minaret. In the 19th century, an additional floor was added to the mosque by the local Tatar nobles in 1835.

The un-decorated walls of the mosque’s minaret resemble the minaret of the well-known Huaisheng Mosque in Guangzhou, in South China, which was rebuilt during the 14th century and again in the 17th century.

Huaisheng Mosque believed to be built by Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas, the uncle of Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him).

Islam is the country’s second-largest religion, behind the Russian Orthodoxy. There are some 23 million Muslims in the Russian Federation concentrated in the north of the Caucasus, representing roughly 15 percent of its 145 million population.

According to Russia Today, experts say that, by 2050, Muslims will make up about half of Russia’s population, making it one of the world’s largest countries.

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Muslim Cricketer Named Aussie Sportsman

OnIslam & News Agencies Monday, 02 December 2013 SYDNEY – An Australian cricketer of Pakistani origin has been named as ‘Australia Muslim Sportsperson’ of 2013 at the eighth annual Australian Muslim Achievement awards.

“I am extremely humbled to be named the Australian Muslim Sportsperson of the Year,” Fawad Ahmed was quoted by IANS news agency on Monday, December 2.

“I am fortunate that Cricket Australia, Cricket Victoria and Melbourne University Cricket Club have helped me fulfill my dream in Australia and have embraced my history, tradition and religion,” jubilant Ahmed added.

Competing with Roosters NRL player Sonny Bill Williams and Richmond AFL player Bachar Houli, Ahmed gained the prestigious award.

The nomination was announced during a celebration ceremony in Sydney on Sunday which was organized by Mission of Hope.

“I hope my story inspires other young people to achieve success on and off the field,” the Muslim cricketer added. During the ceremony, the Mission has praised the iconic role of the Muslim community in Australia.

Through 2013, Ahmed’s success stories put him on top of the award candidates. Earlier this year, the spinner represented Australia in One Day Internationals and Twenty20 Internationals against England.

The Muslim Cricketer took three wickets in three One Day International (ODIs), and three more in two T20 International with best figures of three for twenty-five. During Australia’s ‘A Tour of Africa’ in July and August, Ahmed gained fifteen wickets in three matches at 22.66, and in 8 Bupa Sheffield matches for the commonwealth Bank Bushrangers.

Ahmed recorded thirty wickets at 31.03 in 2013, so far.

Receiving the news of Ahmed’s award, Cricket Australia officials have expressed pride for Ahmed ‘s success. “It shows that Fawad has achieved outstanding things both on and away from the cricket pitch, and we are very proud of him,” said James Sutherland, CA Chief Executive Officer.

“To see the strength of candidates in the field shows the immense impact Ahmed has had on the many Muslim communities across Australia.” Last July, Ahmed became an Australian citizen after Cricket Australia (CA) backed him.

Cricket Australia have agreed to allow Ahmed to compete without wearing the logo of a beer sponsor on his playing shirt, last September, due to his Muslim faith. Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.

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‘Being Me’ Celebrates Aussie Muslim Women

OnIslam Staff Sunday, 01 December 2013 CAIRO – Correcting misconceptions about the role of women in Islam, an Australian conference opens on Sunday, December 1, in Sydney, in a mission to increase Muslim women awareness and address the challenges facing them in the society.

“Through the Being Me Conference on 1 December 2013, we strive to provide a platform where women from different walks of life and aspirations are given opportunities to learn, teach, share, and inspire,” a statement published on Muslim Village says.

This would consequently “empower others and themselves by identifying and exploring the true role of a Muslimah to benefit those they love and all of humanity hence ultimately please their Lord.”

Planned for the first time in Australia, Being Me conference opened its doors early on Sunday to welcome Australian Muslim women. The one-day conference features a number of national and international speakers, who will provide various perspectives into a Muslim woman’s life.

The speakers include international writer, entrepreneur and life coach Sister Zohra Sarwari, amazing teacher and student of Islamic Sciences Sister Faiza Matthews, psychologist and medical student Dr Sara Hassan and co-founder of the First Islamic School in Sydney Sr Silma Ihram.

Adding to the phenomenal speaker line-up are Sh Alaa El Sayed from Canada and Sh Yahya Ibrahim from Perth, Australia. At the conference, attendants will explore the roles of Muslim women, discuss the struggles of the changing environment, as well as address their daily challenges.

“We want to show you that Muslim Womanhood is something worth celebrating and that Muslim women have been great throughout time. We will showcase achievements and successes of empowered women of the past and the present and inspire women of today by focusing on our role models: mothers’ of believers, scholars (of past and present), visionary women throughout time. This will create a voice and platform for the neglected and marginalized half of the society!”

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population. Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.

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Bradford Mosque Breaks Barriers

OnIslam & News Agencies Sunday, 01 December 2013 BRADFORD – Opening its doors for the first time to all faiths, Keighley’s biggest mosque has welcomed scores of Muslim and non-Muslim visitors as part of Bradford’s participation in UK’s interfaith week-long events.

“I was extremely pleased and overwhelmed with the turnout,” Mohammed Saleem, the organizer of the event, told Keighley news on Saturday, November 30.

“Islam is misunderstood in the West, often due to the wrongdoings of an individual or group who are Muslims by name but not by nature.”

Held on last Wednesday, the open day was organized by the Keighley Muslim Association (KMA), and co-organized by Bradford Council’s Children’s Services through the Diversity and Cohesion Service.

The interfaith event at Emily Street’s Markazi Jamia Mosque drew scores of Bradford residents who were accompanied by their kids.

Attendants were also offered tours inside the mosque, meals, Qur’anic and Islamic poetry recitation as well as a Q&A session about Islam.

“I’d like to thank all those who helped with the event and supported it by attending,” said Saleem, the Keighley Muslim Association’s community relations and education officer.

“A sinful act by any Muslim individual doesn’t mean Islam is wrong, it is these individuals who have wronged themselves. Islam is peaceful, like other religions.”

On the sideline of the mosque’s open day, a special event was held to honor young winners of Qur’an recitation competition among Keighley youngsters.

The winners were able to perform their recitation skills at the mosque’s open day.

Performing at the competition, Mohammed Hassan Ramzan, a 16-year-old University Academy Keighley pupil, came first in the speech category.

The first place at Qur’an recitation went to Mohammad Hammad Ramzan, 11, who attends Bingley Grammar.

Hussnein Javed, 12, from Bingley Grammar, finished top in the devotional poetry section.

“Students deserve the appreciation of their parents and the wider community, as they worked hard to compete,” Saleem said.

“It was tough for the judges to decide the winners, as all the students performed extremely well and showed off their ability and potential. I congratulate all the students and teachers for their efforts.”

Gathering people of different faiths under one roof, the event showed the importance of integration and accommodation of Muslims in the British community.

“We need to understand and accommodate our differences, while building on what we have in common,” Lord Mayor of Bradford Councilor Khad-im Hussain said. “The purpose of religion is to shape human beings so they can serve humanity. Anything that doesn’t do that does not deserve to be called a religion.”

Damian Moore, the deputy head of the Holy Family Catholic School, shared a similar opinion.

“The Islamic community makes an invaluable contribution to the town’s economic and social status. And we were delighted to enhance the already strong friendship that exists between our school and the mosques.”

The mosque’s first open day won applaudits from Bradford Muslims. “Events like these are very much needed in communities such as Keighley,” Utley resident Anayat Mohammed, 50, said. “This can only be good for Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths.”

Bishop of Bradford the Right Reverend Nick Baines, who couldn’t attend the event, has also praised the interfaith gathering.

“I applaud this initiative of welcome and hospitality that brings people of different faiths together,” Baines said. “Knowing people is always better than knowing about people.”

Held for the fifth consecutive year, the “Interfaith Week” opened last November 17 in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The event, the largest gathering for interfaith work in UK, has set three goals including; strengthening good interfaith relations at all levels.

Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million. In 2011, think tank Demo found that Muslims in the United Kingdom are more patriotic than the rest of population.

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Malawi Christians Embrace ‘Healthy’ Halal

OnIslam Correspondent Saturday, 30 November 2013 LILONGWE – A growing number of Christians in Malawi have turned to use halal food, claiming it falls in line with the teachings of the Holy Bible which emphasizes on strict hygienic standards for “healthy living,” and opening a niche market for Muslim products.

“We, Christians fully embrace this concept,” Father Barnabas Salaka, a senior Priest of the Anglican Church in Malawi serving in the southern region of the country, told OnIslam.net.

“At first we were so hesitant to accept this concept, because we were afraid that it was a deliberate ploy initiated by Muslims to influence Christians to embrace Islam. But over the years, we have realized that it’s for our own good, both health and religious wise. Even the Holy Bible has some teachings which emphasize on good hygienic standards for Christians to live healthy lives,” he added.

In the recent years, Christian leaders in Malawi alongside their followers have fully embraced the concept of halal being promoted by the Muslim community in the largely Christian dominated southern African nation.

“There is no single true Christian who could have qualms with what halal is all about. This is in line with what the Holy Bible guides us to do,” Father Salaka added. “The Bible forbids us to eat food which is contaminated and which is offered to idols. It guides us to maintain strict hygienic standards; therefore, there is nothing harmful with this principle of halal.”

Same as Father Salaka, his counterpart, Pastor Emmanuel Mbaisa, founder and overseer of Pure Gospel Church in the country, agrees.

“The concept of halal has promoted good hygienic standards, and it’s this aspect which influenced even non – Muslims to embrace the concept. This is one of the areas of Islam, which make the religion to be a way of life.

“As a Church leader, I have been in full support of this concept because of its hygienic approach and I have been in the forefront encouraging my followers to adopt best practices of hygiene as promoted by the principles of halal.”

Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity. Official statistics indicate that Muslims account for 12% of the country’s 14 million people. But Muslim Association of Malawi puts the figure at 36% following the outcome of the census it had conducted a few years ago.

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Aussie Muslims Rejoice 2013 Achievements

OnIslam & News Agencies Wednesday, 04 December 2013 SYDNEY – Reflecting on the important role of Muslims in Australia, the annual award ceremony has been held to celebrate the remarkable achievements of 2013 role models in their community.

“These awards celebrate the important role that Australian Muslims have played in Australia’s past and present and will continue to play in the future,” Maha Najjarine, Mission of Hope’s President and coordinator of the Australian Muslim Achievement Awards (AMAA) 2013, told Muslim Village on Wednesday, December 4.

“This is a great way to foster the community spirit and inspire our younger generations to become future leaders,” Najjarine added.

The awards were announced in a ceremony held last Sunday with entertainment and special guest appearances by former MasterChef contestants Amina ElShafei and Samira ElKhaffir, and 2013 winner of Channel 7’s The Mole, Hilal Kara-Ali.

In the 8th Annual Australian Muslim Achievement Awards (AMAA), 16 Muslim individuals and organizations were honored for their efforts to serve the society. The awards include Youth of the Year, Woman of the Year, Man of the Year and Lifetime Achievement.

Other categories included the nomination of Afghan refugee Akram Azimi as the Young Australian of the Year for his work as a mentor for young Indigenous people.

Offering role models for the Muslim community, the ceremony was also praised for celebrating the significant accomplishments of Australian Muslim individuals and organizations and raising their profile in Australian society.

The awards were sponsored by Fresh Poultry, Human Appeal International Australia and Pharmacy4Less.

The awards were also instrumental in raising the profile of Australian Muslims, both at an individual and organizational level and promoting their achievements.

The AMAA awards also recognized efforts of non-Muslims who have helped foster mutual respect and understanding, by awarding AFL Auburn Tigers Captain and primary school teacher Kirrily Boyd, the prestigious Abyssinian Award.

The award was named after the people of Abyssinia who provided shelter from prosecution to the first Muslims over 1400 years ago.

Islam is Australia’s second largest religion after Christianity. Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.

At the ceremony, 16 celebrated award categories were announced to raise the profile of Australian Muslims and promote their achievements.

Getting the title of ‘Man of the Year’, Oguz Taskun, was recognized for his tireless efforts as director of humanitarian aid organization World Orphan Fund.

The Women of the Year Award went to Tasneem Chopra for her work to facilitate Muslim women’s full participation in Australian society through programs and services designed to empower while promoting social justice.

For 23 year old Ahmad Al Rady, who received double nominations for Youth of the Year and Creative Artist of the Year, the event was cause for celebration as he walked out with Creative Artist of the Year.

Ahmad is the co-founder of the Bankstown Poetry slam, widely known as the biggest slam in Australia, and hopes to continue working to raise the importance of the arts in the community.

“This award is a testament to the importance of the arts – one of the most powerful platforms to give people a voice – and to write history with,” said Ahmad.

Another memorable winner was Maha Abdo-Krayem, the 2012 Lifetime Achievement Award winner, who was honored for her work in 30 years of service to the community through her role as the Executive Officer of the United Muslim Women Association.

The title of the ‘Community Organization of the Year’ went to the Crescent Institute while ‘Business of the Year Award’ went to Hijab House, the local shop that originated in Centro Bankstown.

The best community initiative award was granted to Activ8 Youth Mentoring Program. The program was established in 2012 and specifically caters for disengaged/at risk Muslim youth, predominantly from an Arabic-speaking background, at Auburn Girls High School and Granville Boys High School.

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Saudi, Chinese scientists decode date-palm tree DNA

RIYADH, Agence France Presse, 8 December 2013: Scientists from Saudi Arabia and China said on Sunday they have completed mapping the genome of the date-palm tree, whose fruit is a staple food in many regions. Scientists from Riyadh’s King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology and China’s Shenzhen-based BGI have been working on the project since 2008.

The sequencing could help increase productivity as well as prevent and help in the treatment of diseases affecting date palms, Saudi research institute head Mohammed Al-Suwail told reporters. The palm is widely cultivated in the Middle East and North Africa. Saudi Arabia has 450 varieties of the 2,000 species known worldwide, according to scientists.

There are about 100 million date palms in the world, of which 10 percent are in Saudi Arabia, which contributes 14 percent of the world production of dates. In 2010, 20 scientists from both centers decoded the entire genetic makeup of the single-humped camel, camelus dromedarius, the omnipresent native of the Arabian peninsula.

Unlocking the genetics underpinning the camel’s immune system could lead to potential medical discoveries, and the genome data can also help scientists understand better how the mammal produces its highly nutritious and medically valuable milk.

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Madrassas in India attract Hindu students

Calcutta, Monday, 28 Muharram 1434/ 02 December 2013 (IINA) – Clad in white and blue salwar kameez (traditional Indian dress) and translating an Arabic verse from her Islamic studies textbook into Bengali, 15-year-old Puja Kshetrapal could pass for a Muslim. But she, along with almost half of the 200 tenth graders in Chatuspalli High Madrassa in Orgram village in India’s West Bengal state, are Hindus.

“Although it is called a madrassa (Islamic seminary), people in the area view it like a good regular school. So, my parents chose to send me to this institution,” Al Jazeera channel reported quoting Puja as saying. Anwar Hossain, the headmaster of the Orgram madrassa located 125km north of the state capital, Kolkata, says that it is mostly its modern curriculum that has made the institution increasingly popular in the Hindu-majority society. “Ordinary people believe that a madrassa is a place where students are taught only religious subjects, and that it has no connection with modern education,” Hossain said.

“For some years we have been working to change their notion. We are teaching our students all general subjects as their counterparts are studying in regular schools,” he said. “After studying in our madrassa, children can plan their career in any field of their choice. This is the main reason why more than 60 percent of more than 1,400 students at the madrassa are non-Muslims now.” Even, 11 of the 32 teachers in the madrassa are Hindu, Hossain added.

Madrassas are usually thought of as Muslim-only schools where children study only theology and end up as religious teachers or clerics. After 9/11, many in the non-Muslim world viewed South Asia’s tens of thousands of madrassas with suspicion, regarding them as a breeding ground for radical strains of Islam. But in recent years, defying the stereotype, nearly 600 government-recognized madrassas in West Bengal have introduced a mainstream school curriculum, and non-Muslims are studying in almost all of them.

Currently, about 15 percent of the students in the state’s modernized madrassas are non-Muslims, and many of them are expecting to become engineers, doctors, scientists and other professionals. Orgram and other madrassas in the state have undergone modernization offering courses in physics, chemistry, biology, geography, mathematics, computer science, English language and literature and other regular subjects. Islamic studies and the Arabic language course form a small part of the curriculum.

Funded by the state, the madrassas which are located mostly in rural Bengal charge no fees, and offer free school uniforms and mid-day meals, making them especially attractive to students from poor and lower middle-class families. Examples of Muslim students who attended the madrassas and are now successful in their careers have spurred many non-Muslim families to send their children to the madrassas, many say. “In Hindu-dominated society until some time back, madrassas – identified as Muslims only institutions – carried a stigma. Non-Muslims and even many Muslims used to stay away from them,” Dr Khandkar Fariduddin, an eye surgeon and an alumnus of a modern madrassa told Al Jazeera.

“But, now that they have known that a madrassa student can also become a doctor, engineer or other good professional, they are shedding their inhibitions and sending their children to these modern madrassas,” he said. “Now the modern madrassas are part of mainstream education infrastructure in West Bengal.”

In 2006, the federal government-appointed Justice R Sachar Committee recommended in its report on Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India that the madrassas in the country needed to be modernized in efforts to boost development in the backward community. In 2007, West Bengal became the first state to begin the modernization of the traditional madrassas with support from the federal government as part of the Prime Minister’s 15-Point Program for Minorities.

Two years later, the process of modernization of the madrassas earned West Bengal international accolades. The Brookings Doha Center, which is located in Qatar and is sponsored by the Brookings Institution of Washington, in 2009 identified Bengal’s madrassas as models for modern education and suggested that Pakistan should emulate them. “Madrassas have a noble history of use in furthering the cause of science and learning in medieval Islam, but that tradition has been largely forgotten in Pakistan because of a relatively uneducated theological establishment taking over the administration of most madrassas,” said the Brookings study, Pakistan’s Madrassas: The Need for Internal Reform and the Role of International Assistance.

The report noted that in West Bengal, “because of the higher quality of education at the madrassas, even non-Muslims were actively enrolling in them.” Mohammad Fazle Rabbi, president of West Bengal Board of Madrassa Education, said that the modernization of the madrassas had benefitted the society immensely and that the process would continue.

“The modernisation of the madrassas was originally aimed to expose an increased number of Muslim children to modern education and to empower the backward community. But our madrassas have ended up helping Muslims as well as non-Muslims,” Rabbi told Al Jazeera. “They are not viewed as Muslim-only institutions any more…rather are serving the society as a whole.”

When the local government began introducing mainstream school curriculum in West Bengal in 2007, several Muslim leaders resisted the government action, terming it as an attack on the madrassas and Islam. But now several community leaders have come out in the open in support of the modernization and other provinces like Maharashtra, Bihar and Kerala have also started revamping the curriculum of their traditional madrassas.

“We cannot achieve anything substantial until the madrassa system is modernized following the latest trends in the education sector the world over. So, the ongoing modernisation of the madrassas is in the interest of our community,” All India Muslim Women’s Personal Law Board President, Shaista Amber, told Al Jazeera. “Muslims should actively support this process of reform of madrassa education.”

Viewing the introduction of contemporary curriculum to the madrassas as “a fusion between the faith and modern systems of knowledge, especially of science”, North Eastern Hill University professor and social activist Prasenjit Biswas said that along with others, the Muslim community is benefitting immensely from the “attractive educational and cultural innovation”.

“Madrassa students learning science would locate themselves at the borderlines of natural sciences and faith as a practice. The fusion results into something like opening of the mind towards newer developments and also turning an open and enlightened mind towards the sacred,” Biswas said.

“This would generate a balanced and refined personality who can negotiate between differences of approach and stand as a bridge between Islam and modernity.” Non-Muslim students studying in these madrassas have a special opportunity to get an exposure to Islamic as well as the modern western knowledge systems, and it is creating a new positive orientation to their life by combining the best of both the worldviews, he said.

“Madrassas based on strong intellectual traditions that draw from other cultures and religions can help overturn the historical divide between Hindus and Muslims, as easy access to Islamic tradition combined with other such traditions shall build up inter-cultural and inter-religious bridges,” Biswas said.

Agreeing to the view of Biswas, Prince Haldar, a 12th grade Hindu student at Orgram madrassa, said that his madrassa education had helped him better understand Islam and had brought him closer to Muslims. “Before I came to study in this madrassa, I was told that Islam was a militant religion and Muslims could not be friends of Hindus. I also heard that Muslims were biased against other religions,” Prince told Al Jazeera. “But now after studying in this madrassa for five years I have found that people have many incorrect beliefs about Islam and Muslims.”

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Nigerian bags first prize in Makkah Qur’an contest

Makkah, Wednesday, 01 Safar 1434/ 04 December 2013 (IINA) – Kabiru Abubacker Mousa from Nigeria won the top prize in the King Abdul Aziz International Qur’an contest, which was held at the Grand Mosque in Makkah recently. Kabiru won the first prize (SR100,000) in the first category while Mohammed Najm Abdul Kalam Azad from Bangladesh (SR80,000) won the top place in the second category.

Abdul Kareem Abubacker (SR60,000), Ameen Mohammed Aftab Alam from Saudi Arabia (SR30,000) and Khaled Mohammed Jobi from Mauritius (SR25,000) were the top winners from the remaining three categories. Second place winners were: Adel bin Mahmoud Ghulam Al-Khair from Saudi Arabia (SR90,000), Abdullah bin Ahmed Al-Khalaf, also from Saudi Arabia (SR70,000), Saeed Ahmed from Bangladesh (SR50,000), Akram Mohammed Al-Maleeki from Yemen (SR25,000), and Suwaid Bilal Ishaq (SR20,000). Third prize winners were: Naeem Balout from Lebanon (SR80,000), Rakan Ibrahim Khidr from Iraq (SR60,000), Abubacker Sulaiman Buji from Nigeria (SR40,000), Habibullah Sirajul Islam from Bangladesh (SR20,000) and Sham Saeed Sham from Tanzania (SR15,000).

A total of 150 contestants from 61 countries took part in the competition. Islamic Affairs Minister Saleh Al-Asheikh distributed the prizes to the winners. The minister highlighted the resurgence of Islam all over the world, despite smear campaigns by its enemies. He cautioned about moves to create divisions among the Ummah by proponents of destructive thoughts.

Abdullah Basfar, secretary-general of the Jeddah-based International Qur’an Memorization Organization (IQMO), said that the King Abdul Aziz competition is the mother of all international Qur’an contests.” He said it encouraged 20 Arab and Muslim countries to hold similar international contests. More than 6,000 students from different parts of the world have taken part in the King Abdul Aziz contest since its inception 35 years ago. They included Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais, head of the Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, and Ali Al-Thubaity, the imam and khatib of the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah.

Speaking about the contest’s significance, Basfar said it encourages Muslim youth to learn and memorize the Holy Qur’an, follow the way of life shown by the Qur’an and Sunnah and keep them away from extremism and violence. Basfar said his organization was holding 35 countrywide contests, and three regional contests for Europe, Africa and Asia. “We also hold special contests for girls,” he said. Mansour Al-Sumaih, secretary-general of the King Abdul Aziz competition, said it had attracted contestants from all over the world. “They will return as messengers of peace and goodness to their respective countries.”

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King Abdullah Pilgrims City in the offing

(IINA) Wednesday, 04 December 2013 – In an interview with Okaz/Saudi Gazette, Hajjar said studies have been completed for the project and it will be presented soon to Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah for approval. The project, situated 10 km southwest of Makkah, on Jeddah-Makkah Expressway, will be implemented on an area covering two million square meters.

The minister said the city aims at receiving and grouping Haj and Umrah pilgrims and providing them all the facilities and services in one place with the easiest accessibility even in the rush Haj and Umrah seasons. He said that extensive studies, covering all the economic and environmental aspects of the city, will be carried out immediately after getting the approval from the King.

“The city will house all the facilities and departments related with the activities of the ministry in a single site. This will be a sustainable city with several unique features, including facilities for purification of water, using solar energy, basement parking lots, isolated thermal system, central air-conditioning and covered pedestrian paths,” he said.

According to the minister, the city will have service and utility buildings for all the agencies and departments concerned with Haj and Umrah, as well as field service offices and stations for metro and buses, housing for pilgrims, centers for Civil Defense, police, Passports Department, as well as a Haj and Umrah museum, and airline offices.

King Abdullah has approved setting up of a similar pilgrims’ city in Madinah at a location, 4 km from the Haram. “These cities will reduce pressure and rush at the Central Haram Areas,” he added. Hajjar said a total of 48 Umrah service companies have been licensed for this Umrah season, which begins on Wednesday. These firms will offer services in cooperation with about 2,000 foreign agents.

“The ministry or any other agencies are not levying any fee for issuing Haj and Umrah visas. What the pilgrims have to pay are the expenses for their housing, transportation, food and other services. Hajjar said the government’s initiative to curb Haj and Umrah overstayers has yielded excellent results. “During the year 2005 (1426H), there were 480,000 overstayers out of the total number of Umrah pilgrims, which was less than three million. However, in the year 2012, which witnessed the highest number of Umrah pilgrims totaling 5.43 million, the number of overstayers fell to 14,000 (0.24 percent),” he said while attributing this mainly to bringing the service under the global electronic network.

“This contributed substantially in controlling the pilgrims’ movements as well as in simplifying procedures for pilgrims. Before introducing this digitized system, the process of issuing Umrah visas took more than two weeks but now it is possible to issue visas within a few minutes,” he said, adding that this helped considerably in improving the services and facilities offered to the pilgrims. The minister said the extended Umrah program would have a positive impact in further boosting domestic tourism. The Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA), which introduced the program, wants to benefit from the huge presence of Umrah pilgrims by making them aware of the tourist and archeological sites, especially Islamic historical places.

There are many pilgrims who want to visit these places, he said. Under the program, pilgrims from 65 countries will be allowed to convert their visas into tourist visas so as to enable them to spend some more time in the Kingdom and visit historical places and tourist attractions. According to Hajjar, the ministry held several meetings in coordination with the SCTA to work out the integrated system to link Umrah and tourist visas. “We have taken all measures to prevent overstaying of pilgrims, and the pilgrims will be offered housing, transportation and food during their extended stay,” he said.

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Maldives Islamic Bank introduces loan scheme for students

Sun.mv – November 29, 2013 – Maldives Islamic Bank (MIB) has introduced a loan scheme for the education sector, under which education sector personnel will be given a credit limit of MVR 100,000. An agreement was signed in this regard between the Education Ministry and MIB on Thursday, by Education Minister Dr Aishath Shiham and Managing Director of MIB Haris Haroon.

Marketing and Sales representative of MIB Mohamed Shafau Hassan said that people can purchase items such as furniture, vehicles, and construction material under this scheme on credit via the bank.

“Furniture loans will have to be repaid in 11 months; motorbikes in 3 years, and construction material in 18 months. This service will be available at shops with which we have agreements,” he said. He said that the employee will be required to have an account with the bank as the amount will be deducted from his salary, and that profits for the bank vary between MVR 900 and MVR 10,000 depending on the items.

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Gan Airport land reclamation project resumes in Maldives

Sun.mv – December 2, 2013 – The project to reclaim land to extend the runway of Seenu Gan Airport has resumed after being suspended for several weeks.

Managing Director of State Trading Organisation (STO) Adam Azim told Sun Online today that the project was halted to find a way to complete it without further delays.

“Agreements have been made between us and the government to ensure that the project is completed without further interruption. The contractor has said that it can be completed on schedule,” he said.

The project, which has been commissioned to Dubai’s Gulf Cobla, was halted due to financial difficulties.

“We couldn’t get oil because of outstanding payments to the contractor. But this problem has now been solved,” Azim said. He said that efforts are ongoing to obtain a loan from Bank of Maldives (BML) for this project.

Only thirty percent had been completed when the MVR 11.7 million project, awarded to Gulf Cobla to be completed in five months, was halted three weeks ago.

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Former Swat valley princess promotes education

Centralasiaonline.com 2013-12-05 SWAT, Pakistan – Efforts to revive Swat after the Taliban’s 2007-2009 reign of terror are enjoying a boost from royalty.

Musarrat Ahmed Zeb, a princess of the former Swat royal family, vows not only to rebuild the schools the Taliban blew up but to build new ones so that every boy and girl in the Swat Valley can obtain an education.

“There needs to be more high schools, especially for girls,” Musarrat, daughter-in-law of the last wali to rule the Princely State of Swat, told Central Asia Online in an exclusive interview, adding that most parents in Swat would send their daughters to schools, colleges and universities if the facilities existed nearby.

Musarrat, a member of the National Assembly and mother of two sons and two daughters, was married to the late Miangul Ahmed Zeb, son of Miangul Jahan Zeb. Jahan Zeb, who died in 1987, ruled the Princely State (which includes the present Swat District, Shangla and Buner) from 1949 to1969.

Musarrat praised the wali’s commitment to education and women’s rights. “Wali sahib was fond of education,” Musarrat said of her father-in-law. “He established primary schools in every village and middle schools for every three or four hamlets. He established the first girls’ high school in Swat.”

“Wali sahib made education (primary and middle) compulsory for every child,” Musarrat recalled. “That’s why most of the elderly ladies (in Swat) are literate.”

Musarrat has a long record of commitment to female education, founding four schools in different parts of Swat to teach women embroidery, stitching, knitting and other skills before the TTP took control of Swat in 2007. “The Taliban forced three of them to close,” she said. (The last one in Saidu Sharif closed last year because Musarrat had too many other commitments.)

“I encouraged the women of Swat by telling them that there is no darkness in life,” she said. “I told them to stand up and use their talent and skills for the welfare of others as well themselves.”

The work of repairing education in Swat will be considerable. The Taliban during their reign of terror bombed about 200 schools in Swat District, and about 400 total in Malakand Division. And the recently appointed chief of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Mullah Fazlullah, a native of Swat, has regularly railed against girls’ education in his radio broadcasts and ordered the October 2012 attempt to assassinate girls’-education activist Malala Yousafzai in Mingora.

Still, progress has been made. After the military drove out the TTP from Swat in 2009, it became possible to promote higher education there, Musarrat said, adding that she worked with other locals in founding Swat University in Mingora. It was announced in 2009 and opened in 2011.

Swat also obtained a cadet college in Guliabad, she said. The college held its first passing-out parade November 21. “The government is committed to promoting education in Swat,” guest speaker and KP Assembly Speaker Asad Qaisar said during the parade. “Also, the government is making all-out efforts to provide all possible facilities to valley residents.”

Musarrat’s ambitions for helping Swat extend to healthcare, the environment, hydro-power and tourism. “The area needs more hospitals as well as more facilities in the healthcare units that it already has,” she said. She personally paid for additional blood centrifuges for Swat hospitals when a dengue fever epidemic swept through the district this past September. Musarrat also sponsors a number of charitable organisations working on health care, especially against the genetic blood disease thalassaemia.

She encouraged road reconstruction to bring tourists back to Swat. “All (of Swat’s) roads and bridges need to be rebuilt by summer to attract people,” she said.

The army and KP government have supported a number of festivals, sporting tournaments and concerts in recent months to promote Swat’s image, she said. “Peace has been restored. People from around the country and world should resume visiting Swat. But the KP government should do more too to improve the lives of the local people, who suffered the most.”

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Chechens help fund mosque in Arab village in Israel

World Bulletin / 29 Nov 2013 – Muslims from Chechnya have helped fund the building of a new mosque in an Arab village in Israel. The mosque was named after Chechnya’s former leader Akhmad Kadyrov, who was assassinated in 2004, in the village of Abu Ghosh.

Abu Ghosh residents say their forbears were Chechens who came five centuries ago to then Ottoman-ruled Palestine. “We were raised to accept and welcome everyone, no matter what their race or religion,”said Salim Jabr, the former Abu Ghosh mayor and chief fund-raiser for the $10 million mosque.

The building has four minarets – a number typical of mosques in the Caucasus but otherwise unseen in Israel or the Palestinian territories, where one or two is the norm.

The slender spires reach up 52 meters (171 feet) around a gilded dome that sits above a marbled prayer hall capable of taking in 3,000 worshippers. The previous village mosque held only 150, Jabr says – insufficient for a population of 6,500.

Turkish artisans provided woodwork and filigree for the mosque, gratis. There’s a contemporary Israeli touch, too, in the roomy, ventilated bomb shelter built into a lower floor.

Jabr says 85 percent of the village’s farmland was seized to make way for new Israelicommunities and military camps. Abu Ghosh is now in a legal dispute with a neighboring ultra-Orthodox Jewish village for control of a British-era fort. “We’re not giving up on it,”Jabr said. “It’s ours, and it leads right into the heart of our village.”

Arabs, the vast majority of them Muslim, make up one fifth of Israel’s citizens. Many of them identify themselves as Palestinian.

Villagers contributed some funds for the mosque, Jabr said, but 60 percent of the budget came from Chechens who conditioned their donations on the construction of four minarets.

Jabr has been to the Chechen capital Grozny 10 times, he said, adding that the republic in Russia’s turbulent Caucasus region had offered citizenship to anyone from Abu Ghosh.

Ramzan Kadyrov (the son of the former president Akhmad Kadyrov), the current Chechen leader, might fly to Israel for the as-yet unscheduled opening of the mosque, a spokesperson for the administration in Grozny said.

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First film of Turkish cinema’s 100th year

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – The first film of the 100th anniversary of Turkish cinema will be released on Jan. 1, 2014. The film’s script was written by director and actor Yilmaz Erdoğan and stars Tolga Çevik and Ezgi Mola.

According to a written statement, directed by Kıvanç Baruönü, the film’s shooting has been recently finished in the central Anatolian Cappadocia region, a famous tourist attraction in Turkey. Çevik and Mola are accompanied by Murat Başoğlu, Erkan Can, Ersin Korkut, Ayşenur Yazıcı and Nusret Çetiner in the film.

The film “Patron Mutlu Son İstiyor” (A Happy Ending for the Boss) is a romantic comedy and features the adventures of a scriptwriter, who writes a love story, which has a happy ending, upon the demand of his boss. Sinan, played by Çevik, is sent to Cappadocia in order to write a romantic comedy.

Haunted by writer’s block, a demanding boss and a tight deadline, he tries to seek inspiration from the beautiful daughter of the hotel owner, Eylül, played by Mola. The first night they meet, Sinan hears that Eylül is engaged to the famous actor Faruk. Once a good friend, Faruk had become Sinan’s arch nemesis after stealing away his ex-girlfriend. Sinan doesn’t understand how the kind Eylül could be with such a narcissistic man as Faruk.

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Turkey’s Baksı Museum wins 2014 Council of Europe Museum Prize

STRASBOURG – Hurriyet – The Council of Europe Museum Prize for 2014 has been awarded to the Baksı Museum in the eastern Black Sea province of Bayburt, by the Committee on Culture, Science, Education and Media of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE).

The museum is an example of the personal vision of its founder, Hüsamettin Koçan, and 160 contemporary artists around him, who aspired to bring a high standard of art and design to an under-developed rural area of Northern Anatolia. Koçan aimed for it to bridge the gap between the center and the periphery, helping the local population to remain culturally and economically rooted in their territory and to sustain cultural memory by reviving traditional weaving and textile manufacturing.

“This museum, its governance and the activities associated with it, provide a very inspiring model of how the principles of the Council of Europe Faro Convention on the value of cultural heritage for society can be adopted to fit locally,” Museum Prize rapporteur Vesna Marjanovic said.

The Council of Europe Museum Prize has been awarded annually since 1977 to museums judged to have made a significant contribution to the understanding of European cultural heritage.

Winning museums are presented with a bronze statuette, “La femme aux beaux seins” by Joan Miró, which they keep for a year, as well as a diploma.

The prize is decided by the PACE on the basis of a shortlist presented by a jury of the European Museum Forum, and forms part of the European Museum of the Year Awards.

Recent winners include the Museum of Liverpool, U.K. (2013), the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum in Cologne, Germany (2012) and the Portimão Museum in Portugal (2010).

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American girl sings in Arabic, wows audiences

ZOUK MOSBEH, Lebanon – Agence France-Presse – Young American Jennifer Grout doesn’t speak a word of Arabic, but has taught herself to sing the Arab world’s best-known, most difficult songs, and could even win its major music competition.

Her blonde hair loose and without a sign of make-up, the 23-year-old appeared before a panel of judges to audition for the Arabs Got Talent show.

When Egyptian film star and panel member Ahmed Helmy asked her in Arabic what her what her name was, she didn’t have a clue what he was saying. But then she began to play the oud and sing a classic by Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum, “Baeed Annak” (Far from you).

She stunned the audience, enunciating every word to perfection as her voice effortlessly navigated the quarter-notes that make Arabic music so distinctive. Grout, who grew up in a musical home in Boston, Massachusetts and has studied piano and violin since the age of five, only discovered her passion for Arabic music three years ago.

Listening Fairouz

As a 20-year-old student in Boston, Grout says she “came across an online article about Fairouz,” whose unique, angelic voice rings out on radio stations across the Arab world every morning. “I listened to her and watched a video of her, and I was just really intrigued and mesmerised by her voice. So I decided to start exploring Arabic music more,” Grout said.

Ever since, she has learned to sing not only songs by Umm Kalthoum, whose voice is still considered the Arab world’s finest three decades after her death, but also Syrian star Asmahan and the compositions of Egypt’s Mohammad Abdel Wahab.

Quietly confident, Grout’s is a rare presence on the hugely popular Arabs Got Talent, which usually hosts artists more likely to choose pop music, either Arabic or Western. The final of the show will be held on Dec. 7, when Grout will compete for first place against 11 other contestants.

Voters will call in to name their favorite, and Grout says that, if she wins, she will use the opportunity to get more exposure. “I guess I would just see what opportunities rise out of this. Hopefully this will give me enough exposure to get performance opportunities, because that’s really all I want to do, if I can, for the rest of my life,” she said.

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Spain Regulates Halal Food

OnIslam Staff Thursday, 05 December 2013 CAIRO – In a bid to normalize, regulate and control the Halal market in Spain, the Cordoba-based Halal Institute has cooperated with the Spanish standardization authority to develop new regulations related to the growing halal market.

“This is the first time that a Technical Committee on Standardization, addresses technical and religious aspects,” a press release obtained by OnIslam.net quoted Hanif Escudero, the director of Halal Standardization, as saying.

In a meeting held last week, the Halal Institute of the Islamic Board of Spain, based in Cordoba, together with the Spanish Association for Standardization and Certification (AENOR), to agree on the recently developed standardization activity related to halal food.

The meeting was held with the support of the main Islamic federations, consumers, manufacturers and the Administration. Escudero noted that the Technical Committee on Standardization AEN/CTN 308 ‘Halal’ is the body created for this activity, whose Secretariat functions will be carried out by the Halal Institute, on behalf of the Islamic Board of Spain.

The Halal Institute is the Islamic and scientific organization dedicated to normalize, regulate and control the Halal market in Spain.

Escudero added that the Halal Institute of the Islamic Board was the driving force behind the development and signing of the Cooperation Agreements of 1992 (26/1992) and the registrant of the Guarantee Mark Halal (2466790 M 0. Halal).

It is, as has been pointed out, “a global concept that refers to the set of practices and behaviors that are acceptable according to the Shariah/Islamic Law,” he added.

In addition, as indicated by the responsible for the Halal Institute, the normalization process now begun also implies a historical event.

“In the sense that, after 20 years since the signing of the Cooperation Agreements (26/1992), it seems that the subject of Halal will be the first aspect in which there will be a normative progress,” the press release said.

“In other words, we now have an example to follow in aspects that the Cooperation Agreement itself restricts or even left undefined.”

Spain has a Muslim minority of 1.4 million, making up about 3 percent of the country’s population, according to the Islamic Commission of Spain.

Islam is the second religion in Spain after Christianity and has been recognized through the 1967 law of religious freedom.

The new agreement was passed as the halal market continues to hit new successes in the Spanish market. “The Halal market, at international level, grows by 10/12%, while in Spain has a main consumer segment close to two million consumers, and a market revenue of 620 million euros generated by more than 240 industries, with 500 certified products and more than 600 retail stores,” the responsible of the Halal Institute said.

In the meantime, Aenor technical committees of normalization working bodies announced their willingness to the participation of all interested parties to develop the referred UNE Standards, which are voluntary and demanded by society.

In this sense, the first objective of this new Technical Committee on Halal Standardization “will consist in following-up to a European standard draft on Halal food requirements, the use of additives, animal slaughter and welfare, the traceability or labeling.”

In addition to the follow-up of this European project, the Halal Institute, as Hanif Escudero has pointed out, “has brought up the idea of organizing several working groups to assume other areas, as is the case of beverages, tourism, cosmetics or finances. Emerging sectors in which Spain must also be a reference.”

Another of the reasons for organizing various working groups is that the Committee of the Whole ‘is a broad, representative and also diverse body.

The director of Halal Standardization has concluded that, “the working groups are a necessary tool in order to take advantage of the working meetings and all the efforts and dedication put in by the members of the Committee.”

Halal food is consumed not only by 1.5 billion Muslims around the world, but also by at least 500 million non-Muslims in the $2 billion global industry.

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Las Vegas mall modeled on Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar

LAS VEGAS – The Associated Press – Las Vegas, where the only design rule is that everything must mirror something else, is getting a new outdoor mall modeled on Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar.

Construction began this week on the Grand Bazaar Shops outside of Bally’s Las Vegas. The two-acre (0.8-hectare) outdoor mall is expected to open next fall in the heart of the Strip.

Developer Larry Siegel describes the project as a sanitized, glitzed-out version of a traditional Middle Eastern market.

It will feature a spice market, a butcher shop, and the first Swarovski store to allow customers to haggle over crystals.

Other hyper-specific themes rolled out on the Strip this year include an Eastern European glass factory theater and a China-themed casino complete with live pandas.

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Project set to uncover underground city life in Cappadocia

NEVŞEHİR – Anadolu Agency – With a new project, the Kaymaklı Underground City in Cappadocia is being revived and will become more attractive for tourists with thematic exhibits and bee wax sculptures. The places of business around the underground city will also be removed to prevent visual pollution

Life in Cappadocia hundreds of years ago is to be brought into the present with a new project foreseeing the establishment of a thematic exhibition and bee’s wax sculptures in the Kaymaklı Underground City.

The Kaymaklı Underground City, which is 20 kilometers away from Nevşehir and opened to visits 50 years ago, was formed as a result of the improvement of underground shelters established by people, who lived in the region thousands of years ago to protect themselves from enemies. The shelters were restored and developed over centuries and the underground city has been formed.

Life in the underground city, which receives much interest from local and foreign tourists, will be revived with bee’s wax sculptures to be made by Belgian sculptor Dirk Claesen.

Kaymaklı Mayor Halit Elma said that the underground city, which was visited by approximately 2,500 tourists per day, was one of the most important centers in Cappadocia in the central Anatolian province of Kayseri.

When compared to other underground cities, the mayor said, Kaymaklı was preferred by tourists thanks to the site’s large area and ease of visiting, and tourists wanted to see how life there had been thousands of years ago.

Elma said that they had developed the project to promote the underground city to tourists more effectively, adding, “Our purpose is to show the life here centuries ago and contribute to the region’s tourism.

The project at the same time will ease the work of guides. Daily life in the underground city will be told with a thematic exhibition and bee’s wax sculptures.”

Elma said that the project was carried out in collaboration with the Nevşehir Museum Directorate, and added, “There are good examples of this abroad and we have invited bee’s wax maker Claesen. He will come to the region in the coming days and we will talk to him about the details of the project. The project is set to finish in 2014.”

The mayor said that besides the changes inside the underground city, they would also rearrange its surroundings. Within the scope of the underground city’s restoration and its “Vicinity Rural Design Environmental Arrangement Project,” they had also decided to remove the business places at the entrance of the underground city that created visual pollution.

He said that the business places would be moved to new places arranged next to the city. “We established 33 new places of business. Seventy percent of the project has been completed. We were awarded by the Union of Historical Towns last year for this project. The total cost is 5.5 million Turkish Liras. We will finish the work soon and open it in the new season.”

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Bangladesh river cruiser makes maiden voyage

DHAKA, Dec 6, 2013 (BSS) – International standard cruise vessel M V Flamingo with capacity of carrying 300 tourists made its maiden voyage today on the River Buriganga.

This is the first ever made in Bangladesh luxurious cruise vessel with 110 feet in length and 32 feet in width having 21 air conditioned attached bath cabins, spa and massage center, gymnasium, restaurant and conference room with the capacity of accommodating 150 people.

The vessel, operated by Reggae Entertainment and Tourism Ltd, has the capacity to onboard 300 tourists in daytime and 50 tourists in nighttime.

Chief Executive Officer of Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) Akhtaruzzaman Khan Kabir inaugurated the cruise vessel as the chief guest while President of Tour Operators’ Association of Bangladesh (TOAB) Toufiq Uddin Ahmed was present as the special guest.

Reggae Entertainment and Tourism Ltd Managing Director AKM Jamal Uddin Jasim and Chief Executive Officer Taslim Amin Shovon also spoke at the onboard inaugural function. Kabir said more and more investment from the private sector along with the government is needed in tourism sector for flourishing this high economically potential sector.

The BTB chief hoped that this kind of luxurious cruise ship will help attract more foreign tourists in the country. The Flamingo will be operated on Buriganga for daylong river cruise as well as from Dhaka to Sundarbans for five day tours.

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Workshop on children, women development held in Faridpur

FARIDPUR, Dec 5 (BSS)-A daylong workshop on “Children and Women Development” organized by District Information Office was held on Wednesday in the conference room of the Deputy Commissioner(DC) here.

DC Abu Hena Morshed Zaman was the chief guest and Civil Surgeon Dr Sirajul Haque Talukdar was the special guest in the workshop chaired by ADC(Gen) M Jahangir Hossain.

The DC said according to many social indicators released by a number of international organizations in our country, women empowerment, growth rate, per capita income, education and health management facilities have made tremendous progress.

However, he said that still we could not come out from the curses of early marriage, dowry, cruelty to women and religious dogmatism that have slowed down our progress towards attaining the MDG in 2015.

Morshed Zaman stressed the need for building a homogenous society with the support of strong political will and also consensus of the people’s leaders for moving forward the trend of progress.

Civil Surgeon Dr Talukdar said child mortality rate and maternal mortality rate have reduced remarkably in the country and urged all concerned to help attain the MDG by 2015 in the field of child and woman welfare.

In his presidential address M Jahangir Hossain discussed the importance of birth registration, sanitation and environmental condition in the country.

The workshop divided into three sessions was participated by selected representatives of different organizations and government departments.

Among others, BSS Correspondent Prof M Shahjahan, NGO activists Asma Aktar Mukta, Azaharul Islam, MA Jalil, Senior Information Officer Jabed Iqbal and BTV Correspondent Mantu Das Gopi took part in the discussion.

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UNESCO declares Jamdani as part of intangible cultural heritage of humanity

DHAKA, Dec 04,2013 (BSS) – Jamdani has been inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The decision was taken at the 8th meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage that began on 2 December in Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan.

The committee examined 31 proposals received from various countries for inscription on the UNESCO’s Representative List of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. It approved 23 proposals and rejected 8 proposals.

Bangladesh’s nomination titled ‘Traditional art of Jamdani weaving’ was approved by the committee unanimously.

Intangible Cultural Heritage includes oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festivals, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe or knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts. Earlier, Baul songs was inscribed on the representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity in 2008.

A delegation composed of Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to UNESCO Shahidul Islam, Bangla Academy’s Director General Professor Shamsuzzaman Khan, Bangla Academy’s Director Shahida Khatun and Jamdani expert Dr. Firoz Mahmud is representing Bangladesh to the conference.

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Bid to spread Chittagong Hill Tracts message of peace

DHAKA, Dec 1, 2013 (BSS) – Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina today said her government is pledge-bound to maintain peace all over the country including in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area. “We want to spread this trend of peace across the world,” she said in a message on the eve of the 16th anniversary of signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord.

Sheikh Hasina sought cooperation of all for full implementation of the peace accord. She congratulated all living in the CHT region and the countrymen on the occasion.

On December 2, 1997, the historic CHT Peace Accord was signed between the CHT Affairs National Committee and the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) that stopped bloody conflicts in the country’s southeastern hilly region, it said. “It’s a rare incident in the world history as the peace accord was signed without the help of third party,” the Prime Minister said.

This peace accord brought an end to the long term bloody skirmishes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) region and established the trend of peace and development there, she said. Sheikh Hasina said that the CHT peace accord acclaimed globally and helped the country achieving the prestigious UNESCO Peace Prize as recognition of restoring peace in the conflict- ridden area.

The post 75 governments, the Prime Minister said, had created conflict between Bangli and the hilly people for their self- interest instead of maintaining stability there. As a result, she said, the whole hilly region had been turned into an unrest zone as the then governments misused the state resources.

After forming the government in 1996, Sheikh Hasina said, “We have successfully discussed the issue with both the parties and able to reach a peace agreement resulting to all return to the normal life”. In 2001, she said, the BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power by opposing the historic peace agreement and tried to destabilize the hilly region further but their ill efforts went in vain.

In light with the CHT accord, the Prime Minister said, “We have formed CHT Affairs Ministry and CHT District Council for ensuring overall development of this region.

In the last five years, Sheikh Hasina said, the government has implemented a massive development works in different sectors including education, health, electricity, communications and mobile networks.

During the period, she said, various initiatives undertaken by the government for protecting the languages and cultures of different tribal and small ethnic groups residing in the region along with taking initiatives for solving land related dispute.

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Two Bangladeshi villages declared “early marriage-free”

RAJSHAHI, Dec 02, 2013 (BSS)- The village of Govindapur under Paba Upazila of the district had been declared free from child marriage on November 27 last year. Since then, not a single child marriage has been solemnised in the remote village which is now being familiarized as free from early marriage.

In pace of the remarkable success, two more adjacent villages-Jhinaipukur and Ashgram- were declared child marriage free on Thursday last. Sources said the villagers took the matter of announcing the Govindapur village as child marriage free in positive manner. Now the girls are studying in school and colleges as the parents and guardians are not interested to the marriage before 18.

If someone goes to the three villages under Damkura Union, around 12 kilometers off the Rajshahi city, he or she will find three separate signboards inscribed with “a village free from early marriage” at the entrance of the respective villages.

People of the villages have declared their village as free from early marriage when the issue of child marriage is being adjudged as obstacle towards social development in almost villages of the region.

Damkura Union Parishad in association with a non-government development organisation- Center for Mass Education in Science (SMES)- took the initiative and declared the villages as free from early and child marriage on November 28 last.

Abdib Hossain, a Member of the Union Parishad, said around 90 to 95 percent people of the villages are educated and they are more aware than any other surrounding villages. For this reason, the village people extended their whole- hearted support towards the announcement.

Taslima Begum, a housewife of the village, observed that early marriage always led to sufferings to both boys and girls. Early marriage destroys life of the couple. Early-marriage victim females become weak physically and mentally. Earlier, many people don’t know the matter. But, at present the guardians have started realizing the grave issues.

“This is our preliminary steps. We got spontaneous support from the villagers. We will work more for declaring all the adjacent villages free from child marriage in days ahead,” said Ismat Ara Noyan, Organizer (Gender) of SMES.

Shahjahan Ali, Chairman of Damkura Union Parishad (UP), says the public representatives face manifold problems in checking child marriage as many people became unhappy on them over the issue. But the intensive works of SMES contributes a lot towards the process.

He says the village level educational institutions especially high schools and colleges need to be more effective and girls- friendly to make the effort sustainable.

Paba Upazila Nirbahi Officer Razzaqul Islam told BSS that such concerted efforts of local government and a non-government organization brought a desired result in preventing child marriage. He said step has been taken to build a model village free from child marriage in each of all Union Parishads under the upazila in phases in future.

Dr Amir Hossain, Deputy Director of Department of Family Planning, says early marriage and the early pregnancy in particular have been posing a serious threat to the family planning activities especially in the rural areas.

In Rajshahi, the rate of tendency of becoming mother in early age is more than any other districts due to various reasons like poverty, illiteracy and lack of awareness. In that case, the endeavor will undoubtedly encourage many other villages towards standing against the child marriage, Dr Amir expects.

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Forum to gather feedback for regional airline services policy

Borneo Bulletin December 06, 2013 – The Ministry of Communications will be conducting a seminar and forum as a platform to gather public feedback and opinions towards the formulation of a policy in the establishment of regional airline services registered in Brunei. The seminar and forum are set to be held at the Dewan Amar Pahlawan of the Ministry of Communications in Jalan Menteri Besar on December 10, at 1.30pm.

Three panel speakers from airline industry-relevant agencies will be presenting their papers related to the title of the forum. In view of this, the Ministry of Communications invites the public to attend and participate in the forum. Interested parties can register by submitting their names via e-mail to hazman.mohamed@mincom.gov.bn on or before December 9, 2013, based on a first-come-first-served basis.

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British Mosques Go Green

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 03 December 2013 LONDON – A British Muslim organization has launched an award scheme to encourage mosques to become eco-friendly, educating them to participate in environmental beneficial activities.

“We see in the Qur’an how elevated the natural world is, compared to our traditional cost-profit conceptions of it, and this awareness of the divine nature of creation implies that we should protect it,” political journalist and academic Myriam Francois-Cerrah told E2B Pulse, the UK Carbon Reduction network, on Monday, December 2.

“We do get overly focused on minor issues and have not been concerned with the greater priority of protecting the environment.”

Sponsored by Muslim Agency For Development Education (MADE), the eco-award scheme was launched last Saturday to encourage UK mosques to be eco-friendly.

The award is a part of Green Up My Community! Campaign, which is co-organized by MADE in Europe and the Forum of European Muslim Youth and Student Organizations (FEMYSO).

The campaign aims at encouraging Muslims to think-green by boosting their eco-awareness to affect their choices of food, transport and clothing.

The first award, supported by the City Bridge Trust, was announced at an event titled ‘Signs For Those Who Reflect; The Forgotten Sunnah’.

About 150 prominent Muslims figures attended the event which was held at Ecology Pavilion, Mile End, in London.

Free copies of the Green Up My Community! campaign toolkit, which included vital instructions to keep environmental sustainability, were given to the attendants.

At the event, Shaykh Shams, an expert in Islamic Law, and one of the founders of Ebrahim College, highlighted Islam’s instruction for environmental sustainability.

“Islamic principles teach us to shun the idea of living a life defined by materialism, in favor of one where we are less interested in the trappings of wealth, and more interested in moderation in every aspect of our lives,” he said.

A handful of mosques in London have swiftly taken action after announcing the award including; East London Mosque, Palmers Green Mosque and Al Manar Mosque. Located in the middle of Manchester, Al-Markaz Al-Najmi Mosque will be used as a model for eco-friendly mosques by the award scheme.

In 2010, Al-Najmi mosque was inaugurated as Manchester’s first eco-mosque built with wood from renewable sources and reclaimed stone, with a coast of £3.5m.

Plans for fully-green mosque are also set for University of Salford’s mosque which will be running using solar panels, a bio-garden for recycling and geo-thermal energy, with the coast of £10m. “This project is about educating the next generation about the importance of environmental principles,” said Usman Ali, Chair person of the Salford eco-mosque.

“In addition to systems that recycle water from bathroom facilities, the building also incorporates outdoor piping to harness the sun’s heat in order to warm water, while the temperature of the mosque will be regulated with biomass heating systems.”

“43 students were involved in the project and, I have to say, they all produced absolutely wonderful designs,” Mark Alston, Head Tutor of Salford eco-mosque. “Quite a lot of the students looked at how to bring water into the building, and also how this could enhance the building.”

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Indonesia dominates world’s palm oil market

Sun, December 1 2013 London (ANTARA News) – Growing demand for Indonesias palm oil and its domination of the world market was an attracting topic in a conference held at the Indonesian Consulate General in Hamburg, Germany, on Saturday.

Chairman of the Indonesian Palm Oil Council Derom Bangun told more than 100 delegates to the conference that palm oil is gaining domination from soybean oil and competes with other vegetable oils such as canola oil and sunflower oil.

Indonesia is currently the worlds largest producer of palm oil and therefore, any issue related to the commodity would be important for the country, Bangun said in the the Oil World Outlook Conference, organized by ISTA Mielke GmbH (Oil World), a company operating in data analysis and information about world market of edible oils.

Bangun spoke about latest information about development of palm oil industry in Indonesia to counter many negative issues about the industry notable in Europe, Minister Counselor at the Consulate General Andi D. Yudyachandra said.

Bangun said palm oil industry provides livelihood for millions of Indonesian farmers, adding 42 percent of 9.1 million hectares of oil palm plantations in the country are owned by smallholders.

He denied accusations that Indonesia has destroyed its tropical forests to provide space for oil palm plantations. The government has issued regulation to protect the environment including the forests such as by zero burning regulation in opening new plantations.

The government has also extended moratorium banning conversion of forests into new plantations, Andi quoted Bangung as saying.

Bangun said he was confident that palm oil would continue to dominate vegetable oil market in the European Union despite restriction and attempt to boycott Indonesian palm oil based products like bio-fuel.

Palm oil has an advantage such as in texture being remaining solid under room temperature compared with other vegetable oils which are liquid in form, he said. In addition, oil palm trees are more efficient in the use of land, he said.

He cited based on data from Oil World 2011, oil palm plantations totaled only 12 million hectares or 5 percent of a total of 253,923,000 hectares of lands used by plants producing vegetable oil as against soybean accounting for 41 percent, canola accounting for 13 percent, sunflower for 10 percent and other plants for 3 percent.

He said Indonesia, which is set to produce 42 million tons of crude palm oil in 2020, or up from an estimated 29.5 million tons in 2014, carries great weight in the vegetable oil world.

One of the big challenges being faced by Indonesian palm oil producers is to include palm oil in the APECs commodity agenda to be accepted as an inclusive and sustainable commodity.

Indonesia is especially interested in having palm oil in the agenda as palm oil concerns the welfare of many Indonesian farmers and to reduce poverty in rural areas.

Indonesian Consul Marina Estella Anwar Bey said palm oil is a prima donna commodity for Indonesia and the European Union is the third among 10 largest markets for the country’s palm oil. Marina said a number of issues have restricted entry of Indonesian palm oil to the European Union market such as report of destruction of forests and habitat of orangutans by oil palm plantation companies.

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Indonesia remains top of investment destination list

Wed, December 4 2013 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – HSBC Indonesia predicted that Indonesia will still chalk up positive investment growth in 2014 despite discouraging trend of economic slowdown.

The investment would continue to grow because of good handling of inflation and trade balance by the government, HSBC Indonesia Managing Director of Global Markets Ali Setiawan said in a seminar on “HSBC Global Economic Outlook 2014” here on Wednesday.

“Bank Indonesia has taken a series of steps and the government has been consistent in its policy in dealing with structural problem and redressing trade balance,” Ali said.

He said foreign investors are still interested in doing business in Indonesia notably Japan. He said Japan still places Indonesia top of investment destination list.

“Indonesia has done good job in the eye of international community. Indonesia is the most interesting not only for Japanese investors . European and US investors also are similarly interested,” he said.

Investment market is still big in Indonesia, he added, citing Java is still; open for new investment such as in infrastructure.

“In infrastructure sector we are still lagging behind neighboring countries. Fundamentally Indonesian economy is still growing, therefore, there was cause for much concern,” he said.

The government, however, needs to be more transparent and consistent in carrying out its policies, he said.

HSBC Economist Su Sian Lim said Indonesia and other ASEAN countries have basically shown strong economic performance. “Huge domestic demand and relatively low unemployment rate are an advantage from the point of retail and household shopping as well as business sector,” Su San said.

She said steps taken by Bank Indonesia followed with fiscal policy of the government through the finance ministry aimed at narrowing current account deficit, controlling exchange rate, curbing inflation and maintaining foreign reserve have worked well. “It has to be acknowledged that oil fuel price adjustment in June 2013 had helped reduce current account deficit,” she added.

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Turkish coffee among UNESCO’s Intangible Heritages

06 December 2013 – TODAY.AZ – Turkish coffee has been included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List as part of the eighth session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Baku.

A variety of traditional elements have been proposed to be included in the Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, during the five day meeting of 780 delegates from 116 countries. Turkish National Commission for UNESCO Chairman Professor Ocal Oguz said the Culture and Tourism Ministry was continuing its works on protecting and preserving cultural heritage in Turkey. “Turkish coffee was recommended for the list through the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism,” adding that Turkish coffee has accepted to the list.

Oguz added that many other assets of Turkey’s culture such as the wedding dinner keıkek, whirling dervishes, grease wrestling in Kırkpınar and shadow theatre had been included in the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list in previous years.

“The representative list is important as it makes Turkish cultural assets more recognized by the international community,” he said.

Oguz stressed that Turkish coffee was more than just a drink, stating that “it is known as ‘Turkish coffee’ all around the world not only because of its commodity, but also because of its style, preparation method and traditional presentation.”

The List of Intangible Cultural Heritage is established by UNESCO whose aim is to better protect, safeguard and promote important intangible cultural heritages worldwide to showcase cultural diversity and creative expression.

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Azerbaijan to speed up Islamic banking

06 December 2013 – TODAY.AZ -A meeting of the Economic Policy Committee of the Azerbaijani Milli Majlis (parliament) held discussions on Dec. 6 over the draft law ‘On approval of the foundation agreement with the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation’.

During the discussions, it was noted that this document will support the financing and stimulation of trade with Islamic countries and the member states of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC).

The signing of this document will have a positive impact on Azerbaijan’s economy, the committee’s chairman Ziyad Samadzadeh said.

“This draft law will encourage Azerbaijan’s imports and exports from 36 OIC member countries. Its implementation in the country will contribute to the development of Islamic banking and enhance the ability of local banks to raise loans for these purposes,” he said. The draft law was recommended for discussion at parliament’s plenary session.

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Azerbaijan’s “Chovgan” is Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO

04 December 2013 – Azerbaijani game “Chovgan”, which is played riding Karabakh horses, has been included in the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of UNESCO at the request of Azerbaijan.

This decision was made at the 8th Session of UNESCO Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage, which runs in Baku on December 2-7.

Chovgan, the original form of the polo sporting game that dates back thousands of years, is still played in Azerbaijan, but the modern version of the sport has not yet managed to gain a foothold in the land on the Caspian Sea.

Chovgan originated in the middle of the first millennium A.D. as a team game. It has been very popular for centuries both in Azerbaijan and Central Asia. Fragments of the game were portrayed from time to time in ancient miniatures, and detailed descriptions and rules of the game were also reflected in ancient manuscripts.

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Know the most influential Muslims of 2013

03 December 2013 – TODAY.AZ – The new list of the most influential Muslims has been declared. Tens of Muslim political leaders are included in the list. The publication is amassed by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Centre in Amman, Jordan.

The declaration is issued each year by the RISSC in collaboration with Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center at Georgetown University for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the United States of America.

Top 10 List of 500 Most Influential Muslims of 2013 includes:

King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, The Saudi King and Guardian of the Two Holy Mosques

Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey, His Excellency Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Ayatollah Hajj Sayyid Ali Khamenei, He is a supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran

King Abdullah bin Al Hussein, King of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan

King Mohamme, King of Morocco

Sultan Qaboos bin Sa’id al Sa’id, Sultan of Oman

Professor Dr Sheikh Ahmad Muhammad al Tayeb, Grand Imam of the Al Azhar Mosque, Grand Sheikh of the Al Azhar University

Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hussein Sistani, Marja of the Hawza and Najaf, Iraq

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia

Sheikh Dr Ali Goma’a, Grand Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt

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Brunei Open Bazaar showcases products by local SMEs

Borneo Bulletin December 04, 2013 – The Kuala Belait and Seria Municipal Department recently launched the monthly Open Bazaar at Tudong Saji building in Kuala Belait.

The open bazaar saw around 20 small and medium entrepreneurs selling dry food, clothing, local products and home accessories among others.

The bazaar will run for a month until December 29 and it will take place every Sunday.

The bazaar was launched by the department’s Chairman Awg Haji Ishak bin Haji Abu Hanifah.

The launching began with a warm-up aerobic exercise followed by a banner release to mark its opening. The guest of honour then visited the booths and mingled with the business operators.

The bazaar aims to attract shoppers in the Belait District and other districts as well as neighbouring city, Miri.

Besides selling new items, the bazaar also encourages operators to sell used items at affordable prices. It also hopes to stop ‘Garage Sale’ activities in residential areas and urge them to take part in the bazaar instead.

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Dubai Bids To Break Fireworks World Record

DUBAI, Dec 5 (NNN-Xinhua) — With a spectacular fireworks performance in the forthcoming New Year celebration, the Gulf Arab emirate Dubai aims to break Kuwait’s record in fireworks displaying and get its place in the Guinness Book of World Records, Dubai daily Gulf News reported on Wednesday.

The pyrotechnical display will take place over the man-made World Islands and The Palm island Jumeirah at Dubai’s offshore.

It will attempt to break the previous record set by the emirate of Kuwait when the Northern Gulf state marked the 50th anniversary of its constitution in November 2012, said the report. The display in Kuwait a year ago used 77,282 fireworks and stretched over five kilometers lasting one hour and four minutes.

The Gulf state United Arab Emirates holds 131 world records, and most of them were set in the emirate of Dubai.

The last entry of the sheikhdom into the Guinness Book happened in November 2012 when American hotel chain Marriott opened the J. W. Marriott Marquis hotel which is 355 meters in height, the tallest hotel in the world.

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Mozambique Approves Terms For Port And Railway Project

MAPUTO, Dec 5 (NNN-AIM) — The Mozambican government has approved the terms under which a new port at Macuse, on the coast of the central province of Zambezia, and a railway linking Macuse to the Moatize caol basin in Tete province, will be leased to a private operator.

The operator has already been chosen after Thai group Italthai Engineering won an international tender launched earlier this year.

The document approved at a meeting of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet), “establishes a legal basis that allows the concession to a private operator of the construction, operation, maintenance and management of the Moatize-Macuse railway and the commercial operation of the freight and passenger rail transport service”. The terms for the lease on Macuse port are couched in almost identical language.

The Moatize-Macuse railway will be 525 kilometres long and building it will cost about 3.5 billion USd.

The Macuse port and railway are of vital importance as an alternative route to the sea for coal exports from Moatize. Currently, the coal companies depend on the Sena railway from Moatize to the port of Beira, which can currently handle no more than 6.5 million tonnes a year. But the projection for coal exports is that they could reach 100 million tonnes a year by 2025.

Work is under way to upgrade the Sena Line to increase its capacity. The improvements should increase the average speed at which trains can travel along the line. According to the Transport Ministry, by the time the work is finished, in late 2015, the Sena line will be able to carry 20 million tonnes.

Another alternative is a railway across southern Malawi that will link up with the existing northern line, and carry coal exports to a new coal terminal at Nacala-a-Velha. This railway is being financing by the Brazilian mining giant, Vale.

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Multiple Tombs Hidden In Egypt’s Valley Of Kings

CAIRO, Egypt, Dec 6 (NNN-MENA) – Multiple tombs lay hidden in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, where royalty were buried more than 3,000 years ago, awaiting discovery, say researchers working on the most extensive exploration of the area in nearly a century.

The hidden treasure may include several small tombs, with the possibility of a big-time tomb holding a royal individual, the archaeologists say.

Egyptian archaeologists excavated the valley, where royalty were buried during the New Kingdom (1550–1070 B.C.), between 2007 and 2010 and worked with the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research to conduct ground-penetrating radar studies.

The team has already made a number of discoveries in the valley, including a flood control system that the ancient Egyptians created but, mysteriously, failed to maintain. The system was falling apart by the time of King Tutankhamun, which damaged many tombs but appears to have helped protect the famous boy-king’s treasures from robbers by sealing his tomb.

The team collected a huge amount of data that will take a long time to analyse properly, wrote Afifi Ghonim, who was the field director of the project, in an email to LiveScience. “The corpus was so extensive it will take years, maybe decades, to fully study and report on,” wrote Ghonim, an archaeologist with the Ministry of State for Antiquities in Egypt, who is now chief inspector of Giza.

The project is part of “the most extensive exploration in the Valley of the Kings, since Howard Carter’s time,” he said, referring to the Egyptologist whose team discovered King Tut’s tomb in 1922.

“The consensus is that there are probably several smaller tombs like the recently found KV 63 and 64 yet to be found. But there is still the possibility of finding a royal tomb,” wrote Ghonim in the email. “The queens of the late Eighteenth Dynasty are missing, as are some pharaohs of the New Kingdom, such as Ramesses VIII.”

That sentiment was echoed by the famous, and at times controversial, Egyptologist, Zahi Hawass, at a lecture in Toronto this past summer. Hawass was the leader of the Valley of the Kings team.

“The tomb of Thutmose II, not found yet, the tomb of Ramesses VIII is not found yet, all the queens of dynasty 18 (1550-1292 B.C.) were buried in the valley and their tombs not found yet,” said Hawass, former minister for antiquities, during the lecture. “This could be another era for archaeology,” he added in an interview.

Ghonim said that it is hard to say how many tombs remain undiscovered but it is “more than just a couple.”

Locating tombs in the Valley of the Kings is difficult to do, even with ground-penetrating radar, a non-destructive technique in which scientists bounce high-frequency radio waves off the ground and measure the reflected signals to find buried structures.

Radar instruments and related computing power have vastly improved in the last couple of decades, scientists say. Even so, it “is difficult to avoid false positives in a place like the Valley of the Kings. There (are) many faults and natural features that can look like walls and tombs. Our work did help refine the technology for use here and it does have a place.”

In one instance, radar work carried out by a previous team suggested that tombs dating from the Amarna period (the period within the New Kingdom in which Tutankhamun lived) could be found in a certain area of the main valley. The team excavated the spot but didn’t find any tombs.

When the undiscovered tombs — those that do exist — are unearthed, they may not hold their original occupants. For instance, KV 64, a small tomb discovered in 2011, by a University of Basel team, was found to hold a female singer named Nehmes Bastet, who lived around 2,800 years ago. She apparently re-used a tomb that was created for an earlier, unknown, occupant.

Still, Ghonim said, they could indeed find a tomb whose original occupants are buried within. “It is not impossible however for one or more to be intact,” he said. And if they do find such pharaohs, they may also find their brains, as work by Hawass and Dr. Sahar Saleem of Cairo University suggests the Egyptians didn’t remove the brains of their dead pharaohs in the mummification process.

One important challenge that Egyptian antiquities in general face is the need to bring tourists back to Egypt. In June, at a lecture at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum, Hawass explained such tourist money not only helps Egypt’s economy but also provides much needed funds for excavation and conservation.

The flow of tourists has been disrupted at times since the 2011 revolution, as the political turmoil has kept many foreign visitors away. The lecture by Hawass was given a few weeks before the ouster of Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.

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Nigeria Approves Country’s First Deep Sea Port

LAGOS, Dec 5 (NNN-XINHUA) — The Nigerian government has approved the development of the country’s first ever deep sea port to be built at the cost of 216 billion naira (about 1.354 billion USD).

The Lekki Deep Sea Port, which received anticipatory approval about 10 years ago, is expected to be completed in four years, Minister of Information Labaran Maku said in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, Wednesday.

Its completion will end the present congestion at various ports in the country, including the Lagos Apapa port, he told reporters at the end of the Federal Executive Council (Cabinet) meeting presided over by Vice-President Namadi Sambo.

The government had taken over the project under a public-private partnership arrangement, while the federal government also renegotiated the concessionary period in favour of Nigeria from 50 years down to 45 years, he added.

The Nigerian government is expected to have 20 per cent equity in the port, which is designed to handle the largest vessels in the world, while the Lagos State government will have 18.15 per cent, while the private investors will have 61.85 per cent, Maku said.

Designed to handle 4.0 million tonnes of cargo, the minister said, the port is expected to be the deepest in West Africa and cover an area of 90 hectares with provision for expansion.

He said the Nigerian Ports Authority, over the 45 years, is expected to reap more than 9.3 billion USD made up of 2.6 billion USD from marine services and royalty and 6.7 billion USD from share of profits from the investments.

Minister of Transport Idris Umar said the port will create over 162,000 jobs and help to facilitate the de-congestion at the various ports built initially to handle 60,000 tonnes but which are now handling over 100,000 tonnes.

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Sudan, Ethiopia Agree To Border Free Trade Zone

KHARTOUM, Dec 5 (NNN-SUNA) — Sudan and Ethiopia have agreed on the establishment of a free trade and economic zone on the border between the two countries, half of it is to be inside Sudan and the other half in Ethiopia, with the aim of attracting investments of both countries.

At a joint press conference here Wednesday with the visiting Ethiopian Prime Minister, Haile-Mariam Desalegn, President Al-Bashir of Sudan said the proposed free trade zone will push ahead the economic and trade relations between the two countries, pointing the large potentialities enjoyed by Sudan and Ethiopia.

He added that talks between the two sides were held in an atmosphere of fraternity and harmony that reflected the level achieved in relations between Khartoum and Addis Ababa, indicating that the Sudanese and Ethiopian sides had signed 12 agreements and memorandums of understanding on co-operation in the trade, investment, electricity, local and federal government, Customs, youth, sports, banking and other fields.

Meanwhile, the president affirmed Sudan’s keenness to contribute to realization of security and stability in the Horn of Africa region, adding that Sudan’s distinguished relations with Ethiopia and Eritrea qualified it to play a role for ending the tension in relations between the two countries.

President Al-Bashir voiced appreciation for the firm stance adopted by African countries concerning the so-called International Criminal Court which is regarded by African leaders as a mechanism of neo-colonialism.

President Al-Bashir and the Ethiopian Prime Minister also signed a framework agreement on co-operation between Sudan and Ethiopia by the end of meetings of the Joint Sudan-Ethiopia Higher Committee held earlier.

The Sudanese and Ethiopian Foreign Ministers also signed the minutes of the meetings of the Joint Higher Committee. They also signed a number of agreements, MoUs and executive programmes on co-operation between Sudan and Ethiopia.

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World’s Islamic Financial Market Swells To US$1.7 Trillion

KUWAIT, Dec 5 (NNN-KUNA) — Volume of the global Islamic financial market has reached USD 1.7 trillion, revealed the Central Bank of Kuwait Governor, hoping the Sharia-abiding services will grow further and turn much more competitive worldwide.

Volume of the financial Islamic services market, measured by assets’ volume, has exceeded USD 1.7 trillion, making a record jump from only USD 150 billion in middle of the 90s, said Dr. Mohammad Al-Hashel, in a statement he addressed to the opening session of the World Islamic Banking Conference (WIBC 2013) that opened in Manama, Bahrain, on Tuesday.

Number of financial institutions has exceeded 600, operating in 75 states, said the CBK governor in his statement at the Manama-hosted conference, excerpts of which were released in a statement, issued by the CBK in Kuwait on Wednesday.

“Although such developments are encouraging, they remain short of what we aspire to with regard of the ambition to make more progress and growth in the Islamic financing industry and bolster this sector competitive status at the international level,” Dr. Al-Hashel said.

Dr. Al-Hashel was a keynote speaker at the convention, themed “transformations to boost international Islamic financing competitiveness.” He was invited to the conference by his Bahraini counterpart, Rasheed Mohammed Al-Maraj, considering Kuwait as a pioneer in Islamic finance services.

In contrast to the positive figures reflecting growth of the Islamic financial markets, Dr. Al-Hashel noted that Islamic funding has remained at the ebb, estimated at only one percent of the global financing.

The number-one Kuwaiti banker presented several ideas to tackle the Islamic funding weakness, proposing special laws aimed at encouraging such services, boosting supervisory and regulatory systems, giving a role for academic and research institutions.

Underlining pivotal role of the Shariaa supervisory authorities, Dr. Al-Hashel called on the financial institutions to innovate and develop new services.

Funding should be available to all consumers, regardless of religious beliefs, and such an approach would make the Islamic financing services competitive vis a vis the classic financing systems.

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Yemen’s WTO Membership Accepted

BALI (INDONESIA), Dec 5 (NNN-Saba) — The World Trade Organization formally accepted on Wednesday Yemen as a new WTO member and its “accession” to the WTO.

At a ceremony to celebrate the decision, WTO director-general Roberto Azevêdo congratulated the Yemen government for the domestic reforms it is undertaking after 13 years to finally become a WTO member.

“We celebrate accessions both because of what it means for the individual country, but also because of what it means for this organization,” he said

Yemen will be the 35th least developed country in the WTO.

“This group makes up a fifth of the whole WTO membership. It is an important constituency — and, as we have seen in recent days, it is one that is increasingly making its voice heard,” said the Director-General.

Industry and Trade Minister Saaduddin Bin Taleb expressed Yemen’s gratitude and excitement at finally becoming a WTO member.

“Sometimes things change for countries and fortunes change. But the very essence of a country and the history and the civilisation remains. Ours has been trading for the last at least five or six hundred years, in fact, since the spice route,” he told the assembled ministers from the WTO’s current membership.

“We aim to take back that road again and to connect with everybody in the world. … I hope that after a few months, we will have a new Yemen born.”

The Yemeni Parliament will have six months, until June 2, 2014 to ratify its accession package. It will then inform the WTO and 30 days later it will officially become a member.

Meanwhile, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states have welcomed the decision to accept Yemen to become member of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

On the fringes of the 9th ministerial meeting of WTO in Bali, Indonesia, and after meeting with GCC ministers of commerce, Kuwaiti Minister of Commerce and Industry Anas Al-Saleh said that Yemen was finally able to finish negotiating terms to join the world trade body.

He added that the GCC states affirmed the right of all countries to join WTO without any hurdles.

He noted that the GCC states support the least developed countries on their call to extend the transitional period of the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to year 2021.

The agreement recognizes the plight of the least-developed countries and the need to ensure their effective participation in the world trading system, and to take further measures to improve their trading opportunities.

On WTO’s Agriculture Agreement, developing countries have submitted a suggestion to cancel any support given to agricultural exports of advanced countries; this support has a negative impact on agricultural produce in developing countries.

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Manila signs ‘power-sharing’ accord with Muslim group

Agence France Presse, 8 December 2013, MANILA: The Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) on Sunday signed a crucial power-sharing accord, paving the way for a final peace agreement, government statements said.

The accord, signed by negotiators from the government and the MILF in Kuala Lumpur, is another step toward finally ending a decades-long fighting between government troops and Muslim groups in the south that claimed an estimated 150,000 lives.

“The signing of the Annex on Power Sharing ensures the achievement of a genuine and viable autonomy for the Bangsamoro (Filipino Muslims),” Teresita Deles, the head of the government peace panel, said in a statement.

“It has been a very difficult round but we were able to overcome a lot of obstacles,” she added.

President Benigno Aquino’s spokesman Herminio Coloma said the president had been informed of the signing of the annex and had congratulated both parties.

The two sides in October last year had signed an initial pact on ending the conflict, in preparation for a final agremeent.

Under the plan, the 12,000-strong MILF would give up its quest for an independent homeland in the southern island of Mindanao in return for significant power and wealth-sharing in a new autonomous region there.

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