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3 Feb, 2014

Carpet-making enjoys a revival in Kyrgyzstan

Compiled by Imtiaz Muqbil & Sana Shamsi

A compilation of progressive, positive, inspiring and motivating events and developments in the world of Islam for the week ending 03 February 2014 (03 Rabee’ al-Thaani 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



The Minister of Tourism and Culture Malaysia, Dato’ Seri Mohamed Nazri Abdul Aziz, declared the 33rd ASEAN Tourism Forum (ATF) a resounding success. “From humble beginnings 33 years ago, we are now on the threshold of realising our goal of One Vision, One Identity, One Community for ASEAN by 2015. I would like to take this opportunity to extend my sincere gratitude to the State Government of Sarawak for its unwavering support and cooperation.” The closing ceremony was held at the Borneo Convention Centre Kuching (BCCK). Sarawak Minister of Tourism and Housing Development of Sarawak, Datuk Amar Abang Haji Abdul Rahman said, “The ATF 2014 has provided us with an excellent platform to showcase the state’s tourism attractions and position Sarawak as the Tourism Gateway to Borneo.” The presence of over 1,600 delegates, including 100 foreign and local travel trade media, offered Malaysia an opportunity to showcase its diverse tourism products, particularly those in Sarawak and Sabah, and raise awareness of the celebration of Visit Malaysia Year 2014. The Travel Exchange (TRAVEX) attracted a total of 450 booths set up by 353 exhibitors. Director General of Tourism Malaysia, Dato’ Mirza Mohammad Taiyab, also promoted Visit Malaysia Year 2014 during the ASEAN NTOs Media Briefing. Various awards were also presented, namely, the 27th ASEANTA Awards for Excellence in Tourism and the ASEAN Green Hotel Award. The latter is held biennially and is presented to hotels for their efforts to be environmentally-friendly and adopt energy conservation measures. A total of 86 hotels from 10 ASEAN countries received the honour, with ten being Malaysian hotels including the Mandarin Oriental, Riverside Majestic Hotel, and Shangri-La’s Rasa Ria Resort.


The internationally renowned “1001 Inventions” is on display at the National Science Centre in Kuala Lumpur. The award-winning exhibition, which was declared the world’s best by the European museums Industry in 2011, is welcoming visitors until 28 February 2014. 1001 Inventions has already received more than three million visitors at blockbusters residencies in London, New York, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Istanbul, Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dhahran and recently began a new European tour in Sweden. The exhibition highlights a thousand year period of history when Muslim Civilisation led the world in scientific, technological and cultural achievement – known as the “Golden Age of Muslim Civilisation.” Ahmed Salim, Producer and Managing Director of the brand, said: ”1001 Inventions features a diverse range of exhibits, hi-tech games, interactive displays and dramatisation that bring to life historic role models from Muslim Civilisation who will serve as an inspiration for ASEAN young people to pursue careers in science and technology.” The exhibition has been immensely popular in Europe, America and the Middle East, where a dual language Arabic-English version enjoyed blockbuster residencies across the Arabian peninsula. 1001 Inventions was voted the world’s best touring exhibition by the Museum and Heritage Excellence Awards in London in 2011, and currently has more than three million online fans on Facebook, Twitter and other social media. 1001 Inventions is a partnership with Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives. Open 9am-5pm daily.


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.

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.




11 countries to be represented at Karachi Literature Festival

KARACHI, 1 Feb 2014 (Dawn) : The 5th Karachi Literature Festival to be held on Feb 7, 8 and 9 at the Beach Luxury Hotel will have 100-plus sessions featuring 200 speakers from 11 countries, announced the founder of the festival and OUP Managing Director Ameena Saiyid at a press conference at a hotel on Friday evening.

Informing the media on the different events that are going to take place during the three-day festival, Ms Saiyid said that all kinds of activities related to literature, including 28 book launching sessions, art and music had been planned.

Rajmohan Gandhi, Kamila Shamsie and Reza Ali Abidi will be the keynote speakers. Special prizes for books in three categories — fiction, non-fiction and books promoting peace — will also be awarded.

While writers and poets from countries like India and the UK have regularly been part of the festival, it’s for the first time that a writer each from Canada and Brazil will be seen at the event. Keynote speaker Mr Gandhi is slated to be in no fewer than three sessions.

A new addition to the packed programmes is a translators’ workshop.

Ms Saiyid said on the national level all four provinces of Pakistan would be fully represented. In this regard, she especially mentioned Baloch literature and landscapes. Classical dancer Nahid Siddiqui would perform on the opening and closing day of the three-day event. Touching upon the growth of the festival over the past five years, she said the first edition was attended by 5,000 people while the fourth in 2013 by 50,000.

Dr Asif Farrukhi, co-founder of the KLF, said the festival had become an annual forum for exchange of ideas and people were becoming increasingly excited and inquisitive about it as they often hounded the organisers to know which writers were coming to the event and which session would be held. He said the festival was ‘our state of the union, state of the mind, of books’.

About the translators’ workshop, he said four experts and two Pakistani resource persons would partake in it. The purpose was to make Pakistani literature get recognition that it deserved. He told the media that a book by renowned Sindhi poet Imdad Husaini, who was present in the hall, would be launched during the festival.

Also present at the press conference, German Consul-General Dr Tilo Klinner announced the three short-listed books promoting peace and harmony. They are: ‘The Thistle and The Drone’ by Akbar Ahmed, ‘Jerusalem – A Journey Back in Time’ by Iftikhar Salahuddin and ‘What’s Wrong with Pakistan’ by Babar Ayaz. Dr Klinner said the literature festival was a lighthouse of hope and aspirations. “You can’t fight a negative narrative with negativity,” he said, while highlighting the need for having a positive counter-narrative for Pakistan.

Critic Muneeza Shamsie announced the short-listed books in the fiction category. They are: ‘The Blind Man’s Garden’ by Nadeem Aslam, ‘Thinner than Skin’ by Uzma Aslam Khan and ‘How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia’ by Mohsin Hamid.

Media person Ghazi Salahuddin announced the short-listed books in the non-fiction category. They are: ‘What’s Wrong with Pakistan’ by Babar Ayaz, ‘The Thistle and the Drone’ by Akbar Ahmed and ‘Pakistan’s Experience with Formal Law’ by Osama Siddique.

Alliance Francaise, Karachi, Director Jean-Francois Chenin, Khalid Wyne of HBL and Ali Habib of NIB Bank also spoke.

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Saudi Arabia, India plan to double trade in five years

New Delhi, Ministry of Finance, 29-January-2014 – Union Finance Minister of India Mr P. Chidambaram visited Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from 27th January to 28th January, 2014 to co-chair the 10th India-Saudi Arabia Joint Commission Meeting (JCM).

During the meeting of JCM, Mr Chidambaram and the Commerce & Industry Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia called for strengthening of cooperation in accordance with the Delhi Declaration and Riyadh Declaration. They called upon the public and private sectors to further enhance cooperation and build real partnerships in a manner that serves the interests of the two countries in different fields. They also reviewed the progress in various sectors including Trade and Investment; Oil and Gas; Pharmaceuticals, Higher Education; Civil Aviation; Tourism and Media and Culture; Security Affairs; Information and Communication Technology, Vocational and Technical Training; Textiles, Engineering Affairs, Health & Family Welfare; Agriculture Research and SMEs.

Mr Chidambaram discussed the importance of Saudi investment in India and presented specific projects in India including Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC); OpaL Petrochemical Complex, Gujarat; Petrochemical Complex at Mangalore, Karnataka; IOCL’s LNG Project at Ennore, Tamil Nadu; Paradip Refinery/ Petrochemical Project of IOCL at Paradip; and Kochi Petrochemical Project of BPCL.

The JCM inter alia agreed on (i) Promoting cooperation in the field of oil, gas and minerals through the Joint Technical Team (India Saudi Energy Consultations); (ii) Encourage Saudi private sector companies to invest in oil and gas sector in India; (iii) Participation of Indian pharmaceutical entities in Saudi Arabia; (iv) Discussions on the mandatory requirement to get ‘classification’ for Indian companies to make them eligible to participate in Saudi projects; (v) Finalization and signing of framework agreement between “SAGIA” and “Invest India”; (vi) Discussions on the modalities in a time bound manner for setting up of India Saudi Investment Fund and identifying nodal points; (vii) More efforts in technical cooperation and exchange of expertise including through early convening of the Joint Working Group on Higher Education; (viii) Organize cultural days in both countries; and (ix) Strengthening cooperation in all security fields and exchange of information, especially in organized crimes, money laundering and drug smuggling.

During the Joint Commission Meeting, the Indian side proposed cooperation in (i) Development of IT Parks; (ii) Development of Telemedicine network, similar to the Pan-African project, in knowledge sharing, consulting in super specialty Medicare from premium Indian hospitals; and (iii) Promotion of Indian ICT products and services. Both sides also decided to explore the possibility of setting up of a Business SME Task Force to come up with concrete suggestions to promote SME cooperation. Both sides also discussed the proposal of Saudi Council of Engineers exchange information and experience with the Indian side on (i) Accreditation System for engineers; (ii) Training and development of engineers; (iii) Licensing of engineering and consultation offices; and (iv) Engineering Arbitration and disputes solving.

Mr Chidambaram also addressed the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and had an interactive session with the Saudi businessmen at the Council of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry. The meeting attended by a large number of Saudi and Indian businessmen discussed a series of measures to promote trade and investment relations. Hon’ble Minister recalled the increase in bilateral trade which stands at US $ 43 billion in 2013 and announced his vision to double the trade within the next five years. He also urged Saudi business to invest in infrastructure and petrochemical projects in India. It was conveyed that a major business delegation from the Council of Saudi Chambers would accompany Crown Prince His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud during his visit to India in February 2014.

Earlier, Mr Chidambaram called on His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister and His Royal Highness Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Second Deputy Prime Minister. During the calls, both sides recalled the Delhi Declaration signed in 2006 during the visit of the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to India and the Riyadh Declaration of 2010 signed during the visit of Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh to the Kingdom. Both sides also reviewed progress made in the India – Saudi Strategic Partnership which called for deeper engagement in political, economic, security and defence areas. The forthcoming visit of Crown Prince His Royal Highness Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to India was also discussed.

Mr Chidambaram returned home today after completion of his two day successful visit to Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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Arab orchestra hits the right notes in US

Al Jazeera, 30 Jan 2014 – – They came from all corners of the United States and as far away as the Middle East to perform in their world premiere concert, in front of a full house at the Atlanta Symphony Hall in the US state of Georgia.

Founded in 2009, the National Arab Orchestra was originally a small chamber music group called the Michigan Arab Orchestra and included an oud (Arab lute), qanun (Arab zither), violin, nay (Arab reed flute), and riqq (Arab tambourine). But now, founder and music director Michael Ibrahim said the ensemble has “grown into a full orchestra made up of Arabs and non-Arab musicians”.

The orchestra’s goal is to “promote music through education and performance with an emphasis on preserving the musical traditions of the Arab World”, said Ibrahim.

Its debut concert in Atlanta included English subtitles so non-Arabic speakers could understand the lyrics. The playlist included classical love songs from legendary Arab artists such as Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Mohamed Fawzy, Umm Kulthum, Wadih el-Safi, Farid al-Atrash, Sabah Fakhri, and Fairouz.

The National Arab Orchestra recently won a $100,000 grant to run an after-school music programme for inner-city youth in Detroit. Maggie Hasspacher is one of the teachers working for the programme. While she teaches choir to 25 students and brushes up on her Arabic language skills, she admits: “It’s a strange position for me, a classical bassist and jazz singer. But I love Arabic music and I love teaching, so I couldn’t be happier.”

The NAO hopes to use this programme as a model to replicate across the US, and eventually overseas.

Another non-Arab, Katie Van Dusen, has played violin in the orchestra since its founding. She discovered Arabic music in college and instantly fell in love. She said her participation in the orchestra has been “an amazing conduit… I know that it has presented many opportunities for me to learn and teach others about a culture they may have misconceptions about”.

Others say playing with the orchestra has allowed them to remain engaged with their heritage. Vocalist Ghada Derbas, who was born in Beirut and is half-Palestinian, half-Syrian, grew up with a family of singers and said she became a musician because of her father. “My father always listened to legendary composer and singer Mohammed Abdul Wahab and wanted to pursue a musical career, but his family objected,” she said.

However, unlike her father’s experience, Ghada was encouraged by her mother to pursue a musical career. “She enrolled me in the Higher Institution of Music in Beirut, where I eventually performed with respected artists such as Ali Al Kurdi, Kathem al Saher, Assi Al Hellani and Wael Kfouri.”

For qanun player Jamal Sinno, who had his share of living in a civil war-ravaged Lebanon, “music is what helped me keep it together”. One song by Mohammad Abdel Wahab, “Yamsafer Wahdak” – or “The Lonely Traveller” – is especially poignant for Sinno, who works as an engineer during the day. “I left Lebanon alone when my musical career was just getting started, so when I play that song it transports me back in time when I was forced to say goodbye to my friends and family in order to start a new life in the US.”

Sinno’s story is shared by many Arabs who left everything behind due to political conflict and instability in their home countries. For many, the bittersweet melodies and lingering sadness in Arab music stir a sense of nostalgia for the homeland that they don’t experience listening to Western music.

The first generation of immigrants is usually the closest to their native culture, and finds it easiest to pass along traditions to their children. Victor Ghannam, an Arab American who was born in the US, said he was able to preserve his heritage through music – and the generosity of his father.

“I began playing the guitar at four,” he said, but soon after, “my father bought me an oud, which was his favourite. He was a lover of Arabic music. I’ve been playing ever since.” While he plays multiple instruments as part of the orchestra, mainly the oud and qanun, Victor’s experience has allowed him to travel around the world and collaborate on Arab and fusion albums – as well as work on TV series such as Hercules, Xena Warrior Princess, Legendary Journeys, and most recently, Spartacus.

Roberto Paolo Riggio, a violinist, said playing with the orchestra “offers another approach to building bridges by preserving and highlighting the beauty and treasure of Arabic culture – itself bearing cosmopolitan influences throughout its history… It helps Arab Americans to rediscover the richness of their own heritage, and to preserve their own strong voice within the multi-cultural fabric of American society.”

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Second Penang Bridge To Open in February

GEORGE TOWN, Jan 28 (Bernama) — The Second Penang Bridge is to be officially opened by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak next month, said Penang Federal Action Council chairman Datuk Zainal Abidin Osman.

The date had yet to be fixed, but discussions on that were going on, he said.

Zainal Abidin said the second bridge was expected to reduce congestion on the existing Penang Bridge by 25 per cent.

“Right now, the toll system and the physical safety features of the bridge were being tested by the Malaysian Highway Authority,” he told reporters after chairing a meeting of the council, here.

The 24-km bridge – 17km over the sea and seven kilometres over land – was designed with environmental sustainability in mind and links Batu Kawan on the mainland to Batu Maung on the island.

The RM4.5-billion bridge, a federal government project, is the longest in Southeast Asia and is expected to be able to handle 100,000 vehicles daily.

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MAS Expects Healthy Revenue From Vancouver Route

VANCOUVER, Jan 30 (Bernama) — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) expects a healthy revenue contribution by utilising a codeshare with Japan Airlines (JAL) on the Vancouver route.

MAS recently signed a codeshare agreement with its Oneworld partner JAL to place its code on JAL flights from Tokyo to Vancouver.

“We do expect a healthy revenue rom the codeshare,” said Roslan Ismail, MAS’ Regional Senior Vice-President for North Asia and North America, to Bernama.

MAS passengers can now book through-journeys to the Canadian city by transferring to a JAL flight at the Narita Airport in Tokyo.

“This is our initiative towards enhancing air connectivity with key priority markets overseas aimed at increasing tourist arrivals into Malaysia and in conjunction with the Visit Malaysia Year 2014 (VMY2014),” he said.

Asked whether MAS has a plan to operate a direct flight from Vancouver and Kuala Lumpur, Roslan said: “We do not have any plans at this moment.”

He said the codeshare offered seven weekly flights from Vancouver to Narita and 11 weekly flights between Kuala Lumpur and Narita.

Roslan said the VMY 2014 is expected to bring in more tourists into Malaysia and with the codeshare agreement “we do hope we can help increase tourists’ arrivals to Malaysia.”

“Tourism Malaysia is aggressively promoting Malaysia as a destination all over the world and this would help increase our numbers as well,” he added.

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MAS Offers Special Chinese New Year Giveaways

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 30 (Bernama) — Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is ringing in the Year of the Horse, with special giveaways on flights from Kuala Lumpur to selected destinations, from Jan 29-Feb 2.

It includes destinations in Sabah, Sarawak, ASEAN, China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In a statement, the national carrier said guests will receive specially designed red ‘Ang Pow’ (money packets) adorned with the MAS Wau design, mandarin oranges and lunar-red meal boxes.

Even the inflight menu gets a festive touch with offers of smoked duck breast with marinated jellyfish appetiser, steamed cod and rice, and green tea bavarois dessert.

“We hope to add to the joy of travelling back to family and friends for Chinese New Year with our specially designed inflight experience.

“The giveaways and menu should also give our guests from overseas a new experience of this important celebration, as part of our Malaysian Hospitality,” Customer Services Director Datuk Mohd Salleh Ahmad Tabrani said.

Travel during this festive season is expected to be at its peak and guests are encouraged to arrive at the airport early for their check-in.

Passengers can beat the long queues by checking in online, via MHmobile, or self-service check-in at kiosks.

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Malaysia boosts foreign trade opportunities for its SMEs

BANGALORE, Jan 29 (Bernama) — Small and medium enterprises’ (SMEs) inclusion in trade and investment missions led by the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI) is a good move in making them visible to “what’s happening in the global front.”

“A lot of times people don’t recognise SMEs’ capabilities. Perception has always been that SME products are of low quality and are inconsistent. We want to change that perception,” SME Corp chief executive officer Datuk Hafsah Hashim said.

Of the total business establishments in Malaysia, 98.5 per cent are SMEs, she said.

“It’s very often that only the big companies that would participate in such missions, but the ones that actually need the doors to be opened to them are the SMEs,” she told reporters after a networking session between Indian businesses and Malaysian SMEs.

Hafsah said the 30 SMEs that are participating in the trade and investment missions to Bangalore, Karnataka and Chennai are the “cream of the crop”.

The mission is headed by International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed.

Hafsah said: “So far, they like what they saw and a lot of discussions are coming through.”

She said SME Corp would continue to use the “model of screening” SMEs that want to participate in such missions to ensure quality of firms that showcased to the world.

“One of the agenda of the delegation is to look at collaboratins in the knowledge know-how as well as look into the possibility of working with Indian partners to assess the market,” KAT Technologies Sdn Bhd executive chairman, Datuk Khairol Anuar Tawi, said.

He said participating in such missions provided credibility for the SMEs.

“Given that the companies are screened first that gives confidence of the companies’ credibility and thus, it is easier to trust, the first challenge in any new market.

“Hence, it’s a good platform for entrepreneurs to latch on and grow, said Khairol, who is one of the participants.

KAT is one of the largest distributors of mobile pre-paid top ups and starter packs. It distributes top ups and starter packs worth RM65 million a month.

“India is a large market for telecommunications. If there is an opportunity to expand here, we will, or if there is a technology that Indian companies have and can enhance our operations back home, that would also benefit us,” he said.

It is understood the Indian government is further liberalising the Indian Railways, hence providing opportunities for railway sectors parts and components suppliers to participate.

Green technology is another area that India is focusing on in which Malaysian firms can part take.

The mission is organised in conjunction with the Confederation of India Industries (CII) 19th Partnership Summit and the 6th Malaysia-India CEO Forum (MICEOF).

At the MICEOF meeting this time, additional focus was given to SME cooperation between India and Malaysia.

Hafsah, who was invited to be a member of MICEOF, took the opportunity to brief members of the meeting on the status of SME development in Malaysia.

She also proposed areas of cooperation between India and Malaysia which would bring mutual benefits to both countries, in particular capacity-building programmes, joint ventures and partnerships as well as business linkages between SMEs of both countries.

Participants of the Malaysian SMEs also took time to visit four companies, namely Precision Automation & Robotics India (India) to expose Malaysian SMEs to automation solution provider; Thermax Ltd, an engineering solutions to the energy and environment sectors; Infosys, the biggest solution provider in the world and Castwell Autoparts, a company famous for its high precision engineering.

They not only exchanged ideas and expertise but also took the opportunity to participate in the networking sessions arranged for the companies.

The SME delegation also visited Pune, the eighth largest city in India and the second largest in the Maharashtra State.

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Jordan to enforce smoking ban in public places

Amman, Sunday, 25 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 26 January 2014 (IINA) – In Jordan, a country where smoking is so popular that motorists can be seen puffing away on miniature water pipes in traffic, the government now wants to enforce a Western-style smoking ban in restaurants, cafes and other public places.

The ban, coming from a law passed in 2008 but not full enforced, also would see the government revoke the licenses of all 6,000 coffee shops that serve shisha by the end of this year. But business owners and smokers are criticizing the push, saying it goes against the culture of a country where smoking is seen as an attractive sign of manhood and elderly Bedouins roll their own cigarettes in public. “We are caught between a rock and a hard place whereby the government is trying to force a closure of our businesses,” said Mazen Alsaleh, who owns 14 coffee and hookah shops around the country. “I am not defending the hookah or smoking, but we must defend our investments.”

The pastime of smoking shisha — also known as nargile, hubbly bubbly, hookah or by other names across the Middle East — is engrained in Jordanian culture from the time of the Ottoman Empire. Mourners receive cigarettes at wakes, while delivery companies only supplying hookahs have sprouted across the country.

The World Health Organization estimated last year that nearly half of Jordan’s men smoke tobacco on a daily basis, while a third of young men do. Women smoke at a much lower rate. While smoking is culturally embraced, it’s also aided by low-cost cigarettes. A pack of local cigarettes sells at $2, while foreign tobacco is slightly more expensive. Last year, local tobacco manufacturers reduced their prices by up to 15 percent to compete with cheap cigarettes smuggled in from neighboring Syria. Health Ministry statistics show that Jordanians spend the equivalent of $1 billion annually on tobacco.

Health Minister Ali Hyasat, who is spearheading the effort to enforce the smoking ban, said the measure was meant to “save lives, not businesses.” “This is costing us lives, as our records show that many Jordanians die of cancer directly linked to smoking each year, and more than $1 billion annually on health care programs to treat smokers,” Hyasat told The Associated Press.

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750,000 visitors as Jeddah Heritage Festival ends

Jeddah, Monday, 26 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 27 January 2014 (IINA) – Curtains came down on the 10-day Jeddah Heritage Festival on Saturday, and the organizers said it was a huge success with over 750,000 people visiting the festival.

This is the first of its kind festival held in Jeddah to raise awareness among the public about the rich heritage of the port city. The festival gains significance in the backdrop of the UNESCO rejecting the Kingdom’s request for inclusion of Jeddah’s Balad heritage district in the World Heritage list in the past on ground that the authorities didn’t taken any appropriate action to preserve the heritage or create awareness about it. The event, which was inaugurated by Makkah Governor Prince Mishal bin Abdullah, was also attended by Prince Mishal bin Majed and Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiques (SCTA).

Professor Abdullah Al-Dalawi, president of Jeddah Heritage festival committee, said over 750,000 people had visited the festival in Balad. He also termed it as a grand success in which all stake-holders played an important role. Mazin Beterjee, vice chairman of Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) hailed media’s role in the heritage festival, and said the organizers should make efforts to highlight the heritage issue consistently not only with the local media but also international. The Kingdom has intensified its efforts to get the historical Jeddah district included in UNESCO’s World Heritage list including fulfilling all the criteria for applying again for listing in 2014.

This will be third site from the Kingdom seeking UNESCO recognition. Earlier, it had succeeded in getting Madain Saleh included in the World Heritage list as the first archaeological site in 2008 followed by Al-Darayia in 2010. In both cases, the sites met UNESCO’s selection criteria. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Amri of SCTA in Makkah region told Arab News on the sidelines of the festival that they were hopeful that the UNESCO will consider the application this year. “The UNESCO inspection team can inspect the heritage site any time,” he said. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) — an organ of the UNESCO — had earlier rejected the Kingdom’s application to list Balad area stating that it was neglected, besides lack of public awareness of the importance and value of heritage sites, with residential houses coming up around such sites.

Floods and fire accidents had also damaged some of houses which are part of the heritage site. In 2010, seven such buildings were fully damaged and another 33 partially damaged in a fire incident. Al-Qadi’s house, a prominent landmark, was also destroyed in that fire. In the past three decades, over 200 old houses were destroyed in various fire accidents in Balad area.

The number of historic houses has declined from 557 to 350 in recent years, according to Jeddah Municipality and SCTA officials. Since then, authorities with the support of SCTA chairman Prince Sultan bin Salman and Jeddah Municipality, are making serious efforts to popularize Jeddah’s historic Hijaz heritage and also initiated several measures to conserve and renovate the heritage buildings in Balad.

Elaborate efforts are being made to popularize the heritage festival with active participation of private sector and also involving the younger generation of the city. Old Jeddah has been an open museum for generations. Its traditional Hijaz heritage reflects the history of Jeddah. It is located in the city center and comprises many historical places. The city’s most distinctive features are the Jeddah Wall, which was built to protect the old city against Portuguese attacks; the small districts that hold stories of the beautiful bygone days; and a number of historic mosques and markets still visited by the people.

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Saudi girl designs aircraft interiors

Jeddah, Monday, 26 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 27 January 2014 (IINA) – A young Saudi woman has designed the interiors of three aircraft belonging to Cairo-based Nesma Airlines, an Egyptian company that was set up in a joint venture with Saudi investors.

Arwa Salim also designed the logos and chose the colors for the aircraft’s fuselage, Makkah Arabic daily reported. Salim, who has been working for Jeddah-based Nesma Holding Group for seven years, said it was not an easy job.

“Graphic designs and decorations require creative artistic talents and knowledge about various cultures,” said Salim, who studied graphic design at a Jordan university. She said she had difficulty from the outset in selecting the most appropriate colors for the airplane interior and fuselage.

For the latter, she decided to go with grey, representing Nesma Holding Company, and yellow, representing Egyptian culture. She said: “It was a tough job for me because I had to bring out the company’s airplanes in terms of colors and make them distinctive from other global airliners. “I was jumping with joy when I learned that my designs had been approved by the authorities.” She attributed her success to Nesma Airlines and her self-confidence. Salim said she feels pride every time she sees a Nesma Airlines aircraft soaring in the sky with the yellow and grey logo on its body.

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Dubai’s Park to include plants found in Qur’an

Dubai, Monday, 26 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 27 January 2014 (IINA) – The civic body for Dubai’s Qur’an Park announced yesterday that the project will include 51 of the 54 plants mentioned in the holy book, including garlic, onion, lentil, barley, wheat, ginger, pumpkin, watermelon, and tamarind, Gulf News daily reported.

“We have already planted 31 types of plants during the second phase of the project’s construction, and have 20 more left. The only three plants we have not planted are not available on Earth,” said Mohammad Mashroom, Director of General Projects Department. “We will construct an observatory where a glass building will accommodate 15 plants and other flowers, which will open up the minds of visitors to have a better understanding of the Quran,” he said.

The plants showcased will be marked by plaques describing the plants characteristics, including their medicinal purposes. “The area allocated for the miracles of Quran will include an air-conditioned tunnel, which will reflect and explain the miracles and stories from the holy book,” Mashroom explained.

The religiously themed park, a Dh26 million ($7 million) project, is set to open in September 2015, a year after its original launch date. In a statement released on Sunday, Eng Hussain Nasser Lootah, Director General of Dubai Municipality, explained that the first stage included leveling the ground, which was carried out by using construction waste and other reusable waste material, a process which saved the municipality Dh12 million ($320,000).

“The total area is 64 hectares and in the next six months we will focus our efforts on completing the remaining 32 hectares and complete the other facilities,” he added. The project is currently in its third and final stage of development. The park will be located in Al Khawaneej and will include children’s play area, outdoor theatre, desert garden, palm oasis, and a lake, in addition to running and cycling tracks.

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Saudi minister calls on Arabs to invest in Mauritania

Jeddah, Tuesday, 27 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 28 January 2014 (IINA) – Saudi Finance Minister Ibrahim Al-Assaf headed a group of government officials and businessmen to Mauritania to participate as a guest honor at the first Mauritanian Investment Forum.

The minister said in his speech that the world has passed a financial crisis that put the world economy at risk. The Arab countries are not apart from the world economy and therefore they suffered. However, through cooperation and planning, they overcame the problems they faced regarding the increase in unemployment rate and weak economic growth. Al-Assaf explained that Mauritania has enjoyed an improvement in its liquidity rate and has increased its supervision on its economy based on a 2013 report issued by the International Monitory Fund, with the improvement rate anticipated at 6.5 points out of 10.

The main elements for a successful investment is to benefit from the national resources and the infrastructure, said the minister. He also stressed on the important role of the private sector which he said can insure more investments, and noted that what the private sector is providing in the region still falls behind expectations. The minster explained that they Saudi government and businessmen are interested in investing in Mauritania, and he called on Gulf and Arab investors to head toward Mauritania for further investments.

On a side interview, Al-Assaf said that Saudi businessmen have experience in different sectors including agriculture, nurture, and mining. He added that Saudi investors have high sense of social responsibility, which he said will have a positive impact on Saudi investments in Mauritaina. “There are high expectations and signs that encourage investments in Mauritania.” Al-Assaf said that Arab countries need to enhance their support for intra-investments through setting regulations, and in the same time work on the Arabic free trading zone to attract international investments. He also stressed on the importance of investment forums and gatherings, which he said is capable of shedding light on investment opportunities and enhancements of sustainable development.

Abdul Aziz Al-Hanani, IDB vice president, insured that the bank will be supportive to investment projects in the Mauritania and elaborated that they will be working closely with the government to develop the infrastructure projects, enhance Islamic finance, and advance intra-economy between North African countries which he said is expected to increase by 34 percent. Al-Hanani added that they will also present to their executive directors council a project to expand the electricity station in Mauritaina and export extra remaining power to Senegal.

Mauritania will be able to export to Morocco and European countries renewable energy as it enjoys natural solar resources, he added. The Mauritanian Minister of Economic Affairs and Development Sidi Ould Tah said there are seven causes that will attract foreign investments to his country. This include political security, government support for foreign investments, the already initiated infrastructure projects, establishment of vocational centers, economic growth being the highest in MENA, new laws and regulations which protects the rights of foreign investors, and the national resources and the geographical location being a bridge for different continents.

Al-Ragji company has lately signed an agreement with the Mauritania government. The agreement provides two rented lands to the Saudi investor to start new projects including agriculture, nurturing and fishing for a total capital of $1 billion. Al-Assaf vowed more financial assistance to Mauritania.

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Abbas presides over Palestinian mass wedding

Ramallah, Wednesday, 28 Rabi Al-Awwal 1434/ 29 January 2014 (IINA) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has presided over a mass wedding of 218 couples in the parking lot of a five-star hotel in the West Bank.

It’s the first time he is copying a social outreach tactic perfected by his political rivals from the Islamic militant group Hamas as he courts flagging popular support. With unemployment in double digits and the cost of living rising, couples unable to afford a traditional wedding jumped at the chance of Tuesday’s all-expenses-paid party. Abbas’ office paid more than $1 million. Each couple also received $4,000. The brides wore colorful embroidered Palestinian robes and carried bouquets of white roses.

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Japanese Univs Offer Halal Food

OnIslam & Newspapers Sunday, 26 January 2014 CAIRO – A growing number of Japanese universities are offering halal meals in their menus to cater to the needs of the growing number of Muslim students.

“I’d been making my own meals until now, so this is helpful,” a 21-year-old student from Malaysia, eating a halal curry dish, told The Mainichi on Sunday, January 26. The student was at the student cafeteria at the University of Yamanashi, where new items labeled with Halal stickers were added to the menu.

The cafeteria has offered a total of 10 types of halal meals since December 2013. He is one of approximately 180 foreign students at the school, some 50 are Muslims from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh.

Serving Japanese universities, the Tokyo Business Association of University Cooperatives purchases chicken and beef approved as halal by the Malaysian government for the Kanto region. Catering to Muslim students’ needs, the cafeteria prepared Muslims’ food in the same area of non-Muslims, though using different pots and plates to serve the halal meals.

“Countries and sects vary on what food they consider appropriate,” the cafeteria manager, Tetsuya Tanahashi, said, “and so we held numerous discussions with foreign students.”

The Yamanashi University was one of at least 19 universities who have incorporated halal options into their menus, according the National Federation of University Co-operative Associations (NFUCA). The meals are prepared and served in accordance with Islamic law, which stipulates the correct method of draining animal meat of blood and prohibits the consumption of pork products and alcohol.

The University of Tokyo was the first to incorporate halal meat into its meal options in 2010 using meat ordered through the association, and four universities in the region have followed suit.

Setting a goal to double the number of foreign students by 2020, Japanese authorities introduced halal meals to attract Muslim students. “Because many of the emulsifying agents used in Japan are derived from pork, Japan is known among Muslims as a country where they are unable to eat,” Takeshi Ito of the nonprofit organization Japan Halal Association (JHA) said.

The Japanese government has set a goal of bringing 300,000 foreign students into the country by 2020, about twice the number of the current 140,000.

But, the number of Muslim students from Indonesia and Malaysia in the 2012 academic year basically remained unchanged from the previous year at 2,276 and 2,319, respectively. “Whether or not a place offers suitable eating options is a big factor in deciding where to study,” Ito added.

Ikhwan Farid, a Malaysian student at the University of Yamanashi, was the one who proposed incorporating halal options into the school cafeteria menu. “After studying computer engineering, I want to contribute to linking Malaysia and Japan in the future. But having to eat grilled mackerel and udon noodles every day at the cafeteria is rough,” he said.

“Once halal food becomes more widespread, it’ll be easier for younger people to come to Japan.” Islam began in Japan in the 1920s through the immigration of a few hundreds of Turkish Muslims from Russia following the Russian revolution.

In 1930, the number of Muslims in Japan reached about 1000 of different origins. Another wave of migrants who boosted the Muslim population reached its peak in the 1980s, along with migrant workers from Iran, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Japan today is home to a thriving Muslim community of about 120,000, among nearly 127 million in the world’s tenth most populated country.

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Chicago 2013 Muslim Achievers Honored

OnIslam Staff Sunday, 26 January 2014 CAIRO – Offering a true image of US Muslims, the Council of Islamic Organizations in Greater Chicago (CIOGC) has announced the names of 2013 Muslim achievers in different walks of life, celebrating their valuable contributions to Chicagoan and American community.

“In terms of my success, I really believe that a lot of this is due to the Islamic values that I learnt growing up, being hard work, ethical integrity compassion for other people,” Mahrukh Hussain, who works as US General Counsel, vice president of McDonald’s corporation and top achiever of law, said in a short documentary posted by CIOGC on YouTube.

“Those are the things that led to my success and what I am today,” Hussain added.

Her name was announced as one of top 2013 Muslim achievers, recognized by CIOGC in the areas of art, business, the corporate sector, education, law, medicine, and public health.

These outstanding achievers are only part of a large number of “achievers” in Chicago and across the US, who are enriching American society on a daily basis with their valuable contributions.

Serving over 400,000 Muslims in the greater Chicagoland area, the Muslim advocacy organization wanted to offer a correct image of patriotic American Muslim who strives to serve their community.

“I think without necessarily advertising it, I think when non-Muslims see Muslims in leadership roles they associate those sorts of values with Muslims in general,” Hussain said. “I think it is important that we all strive to do that.”

Along with Hussain, Anas Osman, Google’s director of sales strategy and operations for Americas, was recognized as top achiever in corporation. Osman was also included in the “40 under 40” list published by Crain’s Chicago Business. Away from his work, he has founded an educational non-profit organization.

Dr. M Wasiullah Khan, the founder and chancellor of East-West University in Chicago, was named top achiever in education in recognition of his efforts in education younger generations.

Adding to his credits, he has many published articles and a book, Education & Society, as well as working with many Pakistani Muslim associations. Seeing her work as a means to enhance image of Islam, Sadaf Syed, an Al-Jazeera photojournalist has been leading a campaign against stereotypes against women in Islam.

Travelling across the US to photograph Muslim women in different successful professions, she publishing her research in a photo book titled “iCOVER: A Day in the Life of a Muslim American COVERed Girl.”

She has also worked with the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) #MyJihad campaign to correct misconceptions about the Islamic term. “Knowing that we all are covered in this world is really important that utilize our strengths to beatify Islam,” Syed said in the video.

“I find myself lucky that Allah has given me the consciousness and ability to use my work to help enhance the image of Islam,” she added. In recognition of her work, the talented young lady was invited by President Barack Obama to an iftar dinner at the White House during last Ramadan.

Ahmad Adam was recognized as top achiever in Business for his success as an entrepreneur who has offered healthy halal food to American Muslims and non-Muslims. “For the past 18 years, I have been trying so hard to perfect serving our community,” Adam said.

Founding his Crescent Foods company in 1995, he faced skyrocketing demand for halal food. “Halal has a divine brand to serve not only the Muslim community but the community at large,” he added.

Achievers included Dr Teepu Siddique, professor and neurologist at Northwestern University and Northwestern memorial hospital, as top achiever in medice. Dr Siddique was honored due to his efforts in discovering the mutated gene responsible for juvenile inherited ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig disease.

Salim Al Nurridin, the founder and CEO of Health Care Consortium of Illinois, a health and human service agency, was named as top achiever in public health.

The United States is home to a Muslim minority of between six to eight million. A recent survey found that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world. It also showed that US Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society.

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Billboards Raise Islam Awareness in US

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 28 January 2014 MICHIGAN – A new billboard campaign has been launched in Michigan to present the true message of Islam and to support stronger interfaith relations in the US.

“We want to make sure that we work on the commonalities that there may be between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and other faiths,” Dr. Sabeel Ahmed, the director of the Gain Peace campaign, told Public News Service on Tuesday, January 28.

“If they are activists in the church or in the synagogue, we would like to work with them for the betterment of the society.”

Gain Peace is a national organization supported by the Islamic Circle of North America. Launching the new campaign, the organization aims to reach Michigan residents through billboards, newspapers, television, and radio ads.

Gain peace campaign aims to reach Michigan residents through its multimedia campaign that will include disseminating Islam message through billboards, newspapers, Television, and Radio ads.

The billboard includes two questions; “What Is Islam?” and “What Are The Muslims?” It also includes a phone number for those interested in getting more information about Islam as well as a free copy of the Noble Qur’an.

Prompted by the increasing Islamophopia after 9/11, the campaign aims to defy misconceptions about Islam in a state that has one of the largest Muslim populations in US. Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.

An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.

Another US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith. The campaign directors have denied accusations that they were trying to convert Americans to Islam.

Sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America, Gain peace campaign has received a positive feedback since its launch; “Not only (do) we have our Christian friends and our Jewish friends calling,” Ahmed said.

“We’ve also had a few atheist people who are calling, and they want to know who is doing this, and they want to engage with us about discussing topics within Islam,” he added.

Away from Michigan, Gain peace organization has launched another Islamic outreach campaign in Chicago. The campaign will use Chicago’s transportation to convey messages about Islam through ads. About 105 buses and 275 trains will carry ads of various messages of Islam. Giant ads will be displayed outside and inside buses, along with ads inside trains.

The ads will include the contacts of the organization to allow residents an easy access to ask questions about Islam or get a free copy of Qur’an.

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Cardiff Digs for True Islam

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 28 January 2014 CARDIFF – A Welsh center for the study of Islam has announced plans for a series of lectures to be organized at Cardiff University to introduce the true image of Islam and Muslims over the coming two months.

“Islam is the second largest religion in the world, and indeed in the UK,” Professor Sophie Gilliat-Ray, director of the centre, told News Wales on Monday, January 27. “There is a huge amount of interest in the place of Islam in the UK, and here in Cardiff, where there is a long history of Muslim settlement,” she added.

The lectures’ program:

February 18: Plural Identities and the Islamisation of Public Space in Britain; Professor John Eade, of the University of Roehampton;

February 25: Muslim Family Life in Britain: Between Ideals and Reality; Ajmal Masmoor, Imam, broadcaster and relationship counsellor;

March 4: Muslims in Prison: Breaking the Myths; Mike Kavanagh, Head of Chaplaincy for the National Offender Management Service, and Ahtsham Ali, Muslim Adviser for HM Prison Service;

March 11: Casting Islam – UK Television and the Muslim Narrative; Navid Akhtar, Executive Director or Gazelle Media;

March 18: A Day in the Life of an Imam in Cardiff; Mufti Bilal Syed in conversation with Dr Mansur Ali, of Cardiff University;

March 25: The Role of a Mufti in Modern Society; Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam.

The public lecture series, organized and hosted by the Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK, takes place at Cardiff University, throughout February and March. It was announced in a bid to correct misconceptions surrounding Islam, the second largest religion in UK and Wales.

The lectures, offered by a variety of renowned religious and community figures, will be launched next February 11 with a lecture by Professor Mona Siddiqui, of the University of Edinburgh.

Professor Siddiqui will talk on “Friendship and Hospitality – Challenge or Route to Integration?”

Subsequent Tuesdays will have other lectures by other professors and renowned figures including; Professor John Eade, of the University of Roehampton, Mike Kavanagh, Head of Chaplaincy for the National Offender Management Service, and Navid Akhtar, Executive Director or Gazelle Media.

The talks begin at 7pm each Tuesday in the Glamorgan Building, Cardiff University, King Edward VII Avenue.

“We have arranged a particularly broad and fascinating range of topics,” said Professor Gilliat-Ray. “The talks should be of interest to a wise audience, including members of the Muslim community, and others who are interested to learn more.”

Cardiff, the largest city in Wales, is home to 25,000 Muslims. Britain is home of a sizable Muslim minority of 2.7 million.

The Centre for the Study of Islam in the UK (Islam-UK Centre) is based in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion, globally recognised for its research. It has a wealth of teaching expertise and a lively programme of research activity.

The Centre has a strong and positive relationship with the local Muslim community and local Muslims form part of the Centre’s advisory committee.

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Berlin Names First Muslim Spokeswoman

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 28 January 2014 BERLIN – A German Muslim young woman has made history after being hired as the first Muslim deputy spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in the West European country.

“You might not see it from my appearance, as I don‘t wear a head scarf,” Sawsan Chebli, deputy spokeswoman of the Foreign Ministry told Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA) last weekend in Berlin. But I do pray. I do fast. I don‘t eat pork and I don‘t drink alcohol,” added Chebli who describes herself as a pious Muslim.

Chebli, 35, a German Muslim of Palestinian origin, was hired last week by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the new foreign minister, as a deputy spokesperson for chief spokesman Martin Schaefer. Breaking the German Foreign Ministry’s decades-long tradition, Chebli’s appointment has set aside the rules that underscore spokespersons’ career experience in diplomacy and aristocratic surnames.

The Muslim diplomat held previous posts with the social Democratic Parliamentary caucus, besides dealing with ethnic minorities for the state government of Berlin.

Born in Berlin, Chebli, whose parents moved to Germany in the 1970s, received the German citizenship at the age of 15.

Chebli, who has a political sciences degree, has worked for six years at the parliament of Germany (Bundestag). Welcoming her new post as the first Muslim deputy spokesperson, Chebli said, “I hope that someday, that religion or ethnicity will be not in the foreground and will be perceived as normal.”

Last September, a Turkish-born German woman made history in German election, becoming the first ever Muslim lawmaker in the Bundestag.

Germany has Europe’s second-biggest Muslim population after France, and Islam comes third in Germany after Protestant and Catholic Christianity. It has between 3.8 and 4.3 million Muslims, making up some 5 percent of the total 82 million population, according to government-commissioned studies.

Germans have grown hostile to the Muslim presence recently, with a heated debate on the Muslim immigration into the country. A recent poll by the Munster University found that Germans view Muslims more negatively than their European neighbors.

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Australia’s Muslim Students Make History

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 28 January 2014 SYDNEY – The first group of Muslim students have completed masters in Islamic studies from Australia’s Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilization of Charles Sturt University, expressing joy and excitement over the accomplishment.

“By God throughout this course, which has been organized by the ISRA brothers and sisters, I feel that God has preferred me for that kind of study,” the class’s most senior and well-respected graduate Sheikh Sayed Kandil told Muslim Village on Monday, January 27.

“I have been hailed throughout this study for being the youngest student at 83 years old, may God reward you all,” he joked.

Kandil is one of first group who obtained Masters in Islamic Studies course orgarnized by the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilization (CISAC) in collaboration with Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA).

Graduates were diverse, not only in age, ranging from 25 to 83, but also representing different cultural backgrounds including; Lebanese, Pakistani, Turkish, Afghani, Anglo-Celtic and Egyptian.

Their professional backgrounds have also varied, including finance, law, education, business, language and academics.

Overjoyed graduates expressed gratitude to the center for its professionalism, offering them a valuable education.

“I’d like to thank the staff at ISRA for their professionalism and patience. I’d like to thank the teaching staff for not only teaching us the knowledge they shared with us, but also for the practice they implemented in their lives, that was an example in itself,” Ruveyda Ozturk, a law student, said.

“But the beauty about it all was that everybody contributed to each other’s understanding and I felt that was really the enriching part of the program,” Ahmet Keskin, CEO of Affinity Intercultural Foundation, added.

Tamana Daqiq, a lawyer and one of the graduated, shared similar appreciation to ISRA. “For me personally ……..what stands out is that this course has given me a renewed perspective of knowledge, as a vehicle, as a tool to change things and to serve,” she said.

“So I’d like to thank ISRA and all the hard working staff for giving me this experience and I hope that we are all able to serve this religion, serve this country and hopefully serve God by way of that.”

Chancellor of Charles Sturt University congratulated the graduates over the new achievement. “You are now better placed with your higher education to contribute to making Australia a better place,” Lawrence Willet AO said.

Director of the CISAC Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp added that the new graduates have acheieved a milestone towards putting first foundations for the study of Islam in Australia. “This is a great achievement not only for the graduates, but for the whole CISAC team and CSU,” he said.

“We could not be more proud to achieve such a milestone, it means firm foundations have been set for the study of Islam as a faith tradition in Australian universities to meet the needs of Australian Muslims of this great nation.

“I know the University’s staff and students and the wider community join me in congratulating our graduates and wishing them every success in their future endeavors,” he added. Established in 2009, CISAC has been collaborating with ISRA to deliver quality Islamic education for Australian Muslims.

With ten years of prior experience in the field of Islamic education behind them, ISRA and CISAC were born with the signing of a partnership with Charles Sturt University making them the first and only Islamic institution delivering accredited university courses on Islam, in Australia.

Following the success of the Islamic Studies courses, CISAC and ISRA Australia have this year launched the Masters of Classical Arabic degree and expect an influx of new enrolments.

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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Nigeria Muslims Mark Hijab Day

OnIslam & News Agencies, 31 January 2014 CAIRO – Seeing their hijab as a sign of modesty, honor and respect, Nigeria Muslim students will join thousands of Muslims worldwide to celebrate World Hijab Day second anniversary, to support Muslim women religious freedoms worldwide.

“We are joining all other organizations in the world to mark this year’s World Hijab Day,” Hajia Hafsah Badru, the Amirah (Female coordinator) of Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN), said in a statement cited by the Daily Trust on Friday, January 31.

“Hijab is modesty, hijab is an honor, hijab is a shield against evil which has permeated all the facets of our lives especially among the women folk,” she added. On February 1, one million Muslim and non-Muslim women wearing a traditional Islamic head scarf are going to march on the streets of 116 countries to mark the second anniversary of World Hijab Day.

The event, held for the second consecutive year, was first suggested by New York Muslim woman Nazma Khan to encourage non-Muslim women to don the hijab and experience it. It was designed as part of a bid to foster better understanding and counteract controversies surrounding hijab as a Muslim choice.

Moreover, it was urged to counter anti-hijab campaigns and laws in different countries which were spearheaded by France’s ban on hijab.

Announcing their support for the event, the group called “all women both Muslims and non-muslims, young and old to come out en mass and celebrate this event together.”

She confirmed that wife of the Vice President, Hajia Amina Sambo will address a gathering in Abuja to mark the day.

Established in 1954 in Lagos, the MSSN is the largest Muslim group in Nigeria. It has branches at many higher educational institutions in the west African country. The MSSN uses the electronic media and literature to disseminate its beliefs. In the 1970s, it became affiliated with the World Assembly of Muslim Youths.

Nigeria, one of the world’s most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.

Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria’s 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

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Oldest mosque restored in Novosibirsk

islam.ru / 28 Jan 2014 – The oldest mosque of Novosibirsk, which were built in 1916, has been restored. The renovation works began in 2011, when the building was under the threat of collapse. About 80% of it was rotten. During restoration the builders laid new foundation, replaced the old rotten planks on new, and built a ground floor, which was equipped with heating. It was used “Angarskaya Sosna” a special type of wood, with diameter of 30 centimeters. It is worth to note that it was also applied the method of manual cutting of twentieth century.

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Kyrgyzstan creates fund to promote Islamic education

World Bulletin / 29 Jan 2014 – Amazbek Atambayev, the president of Kyrgyzstan, has announced his intention to create a new fund to help promote religious projects in his country.

The fund, which has been given the name ‘Iman’, meaning ‘Faith’, is part of a plan that will run until the year 2017 to help the development of religious culture in the central Asian country through the education system.

The head of Kyrgyzstan’s religious affairs department, Orozbek Moldaliyev, stated that the quality of religious education in the country needed to be improved, adding that no religion teaches terrorism or separatism.

Kyrgyz theologian Kadir Malikov also stated that the fund will play a role to help raise Muslim scholars to counter the propaganda of ill-informed preachers.

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TSE to issue halal food certificates in Europe

AA / 29 Jan 2014 – The Turkish Standards Institution (TSE) announced on Sunday plans to begin issuing halal food certificates in Europe to address growing demands by Muslim-Turkish consumers in Europe.

TSE executives said during the 2nd European Halal Conference in Cologne they will soon begin accepting applications in Germany, home to nearly five million Muslims mostly of Turkish origin.

TSE has completed more than 200 applications in Turkey so far and issued 205 halal food and beverage certificates. These certificates take the general standards developed by the Standards and Metrology Institute for Islamic Countries (SMIIC) as a reference.

Director of TSE’s Product Certification Center Dogan Yazar said the institute has been carrying out very sensitive research during the evaluation of certificate applications and stressed that Islamic experts participated in the process from beginning to end.

Yazar explained that their experts focused on the technical details while Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs experts addressed the religious matters.

“Religious Affairs has the last word in our final decision,” Yazar stressed. “Even if the application passes all the technical research and tests but experts from Religious Affairs have even the slightest suspicion on any data, we will not issue a certificate for the application.”

TSE will be cooperating with the Cologne-based Turkish-Islamic Union for Religious Affairs (DİTİB), one of the largest Islamic organizations in Germany, which is in close cooperation with the Turkish Directorate of Religious Affairs.

On Sunday TSE started giving seminars to DİTİB members who will evaluate halal food and beverage applications in Germany. TSE’s partner in receiving applications in Germany will be TSplus.

The growing halal food and beverage market in Germany is estimated to have an annual value of five billion euros. Around 400 firms in Germany are producing halal foods and beverages, and the number of halal products in the market has reached four thousand throughout Europe.

Halal food certificates created confusion among Muslim and Turkish consumers in the past due to the lack of unified standards and the different halal food certificates issued by various unrecognized organizations.

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Old mosque of Osh city to be reconstructed

islam.ru / 30 Jan 2014 – Kazi of the Osh city Ubaydulla – aji Sarybaev have announced that the old Juma mosque named after Imam Al Bukhari will be reconstructed. The reconstruction is scheduled to begin this spring. According to the project the building will have five floors.

“Construction work, which will begin this spring, will be sponsored by a local businessman who has decided to remain incognito,”- said kazi. In April last year kaziyat of the city also was going to build a madrasa for muslimas, which would be accommodated for 120 people.

The mosque named after Imam Al-Bukhari is one of the oldest mosques in Osh city. The council of representatives of the city and regional of the Spiritual Administration of Kyrgyzstan Muslims are located here.

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Norway wealth fund bans investing in 2 Israeli firms

Presstv / 31 Jan 2014 – The world’s biggest sovereign wealth fund in Norway has put two Israeli firms on its blacklist over their contribution to the construction of illegal settlements in the occupied East al-Quds (Jerusalem).

Norway’s Finance Ministry announced the decision on Thursday and named the companies as Africa Israel Investments, an Israeli real estate developer, and its construction subsidiary, Danya Cerbus.

The huge sovereign wealth fund deplored the firms for “contributing to serious violation of individual rights through construction of settlements” in the occupied East al-Quds.

The move is a renewal of a three-year ban on investing in these firms that was repealed by Government Pension Fund of Norway in August last year. The announcement comes several weeks after one of the Netherlands’ largest pension asset managers said it was divesting from five Israeli banks because they finance illegal settlements.

In December, Romania barred its citizens from working for Israel’s illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli regime’s settlements and their expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal under international law.

Recently, the European Union asked Tel Aviv not to announce new settlement constructions, warning that the settlements’ expansion poses an acute threat to the progress of the so-called peace talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel.

EU member countries usually condemn Israel whenever its regime announces new buildings in and around settlements; but, the condemnation is merely a political gesturing, which the occupying regime never pays attention to.

Over half a million Israelis live in more than 120 settlements built since Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East al-Quds in 1967.

The United Nations and most countries regard the Israeli settlements as illegal because the territories were captured by Israel in a war in 1967 and are thus subject to the Geneva Conventions, which forbid construction on occupied lands.

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Thailand plans to promote itself as World’s Halal Kitchen

Ekkarat Mukem / Eat-halal.com / 1 Feb 2014 – Muslim products offer Thai businesses a major global opportunity Thai entrepreneurs are keen to tap the growing market for halal products and services, both at home and globally.

Plans are getting under way to promote Thailand as the World’s Muslim Kitchen, with a project to establish a halal industrial estate in Songkhla, while the major tourist cities of Phuket and Chiang Mai are also preparing to capitalise on the growth in halal industries. Previously, halal food in Thailand was produced by Muslims and was intended for consumption by Muslims, so the products did not need halal certification.

Halal means “allowed under Islamic rules”. Over the years, the Muslim population in Thailand has increased, creating a rising demand for halal food. Non-Muslim manufacturers have spotted and carved a niche in the expanding domestic and global halal markets. Since Thailand is a non-Muslim country and many halal food manufacturers are non-Muslims, it is difficult for halal food exports to be widely accepted by consumers in Muslim countries.

They have tried to produce food products and services to meet the halal standards and religious requirements and to win the trust of Muslim consumers. Halal certification began in Thailand in 1948 when non-Muslim food manufacturers asked the Office of the Chularatchamontri to certify their products. In 1982, the Central Islamic Council of Thailand began issuing halal certificates. In 1996, the halal certification logo was registered with the Department of Commercial Registration, which was later renamed the Department of Business Development.

A survey in 1997 showed that about 200 companies were issued with halal certificates. About 800 companies received the certificates in 2002, with 6,000 halal-certified products. In 2006, 1,700 companies were issued with halal certificates for more than 50,000 products.

Anumat Ahmad, deputy secretary-general of the Central Islamic Council, said many countries are competing for a market share in halal products and services. The world’s total halal market value is estimated at US$3 trillion (96 trillion baht) annually, and the value is expected grow by 4.44% a year until 2016.

He said the growing world Muslim population is a major driver of growth of the halal industry. Increasing demand for products and services that meet the religious requirements and halal standards at every stage of the process have prompted producers and suppliers to make more investments in research and development of their products and services. Mr Anumat said halal does not only focus on food ingredients, but also covers a wide range of other products such as cosmetics and pharmaceutical products and other kinds of industries and services such as fashion, financial and banking services, medical services, restaurants and tourism.

He said Thailand has plenty of agricultural produce with immense potential to become the World’s Muslim Kitchen and is recognised for its quality tourism facilities, resources and services.

“If we make serious efforts to upgrade ourselves and be one of the leaders in the halal markets, we will benefit a lot from halal businesses,” Mr Anumat said.

He said the Thai halal industry needs support from the government and relevant agencies to gain a foothold in the global halal market by developing products and marketing strategies, after-sales services, or even amending regulations and financial laws to allow foreign companies to make investments in terms of halal financial products in the country.

“Malaysia has placed a great emphasis on the halal market and has come up with an industrial master plan running from 2006-2020 to develop its industries. Becoming a leader in global halal food and services is part of the plan,” Mr Anumat said.

He said Songkhla, which is the economic engine of the South, is a strategically located province bordering Malaysian and it is also located as a hub for Asean countries. With its geographic advantage, the province is expected to link between the upper and lower Asean countries, with warehouses to be built and goods and services to flow through the province.

“When industries thrive, workers will move to Songkhla and there will be growing demand for food, housing, medical services, tourism and education,” Mr Anumat said.

Plans are afoot to promote the province as a hub for transport to prepare for the formation of the Asean Economic Community (AEC) next year as well as to establish a halal industrial estate to supply halal products to nearby predominantly Muslim provinces in the South and to neighbouring countries, he said.

“Setting up the halal industrial estate in Songkhla will also help ease the southern violence as it will create jobs for local people to improve their livelihoods,” Mr Anumat said.

Sorratham Chinda, deputy chief of the Phuket provincial administration organisation, said tourism in the province is expected to grow further after the AEC’s formation with the arrival of more Muslim tourists.

“Halal tourism is new to the country’s tourism industry. The PAO has realised its importance and has organised the Andaman Halal consumer fair for five consecutive years to promote halal tourism,” Mr Sorratham said.

Chalermchart Nakharangkul, chairman of the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce, said Thailand’s halal food exports have great market potential. There are more than 1.8 billion Muslim people around the world, or about 25% of the world’s population, and they consume halal food products worth an estimated $700 billion annually.

Asean countries have a population of about 600 million, with Muslims making up 46%, Mr Chalermchart said. He said Thailand’s halal food exports are worth only $275 million annually, or 0.18% of the total global value of halal food.

He stressed the need for the Chiang Mai Chamber of Commerce to promote the use of local products and resources and improve halal marketing standards to cater to the Asean and the global markets. Mr Chalermchart said Chiang Mai is a major agricultural products manufacturer as well as a producer of processed food and handicraft products for export. It is also a world-renowned tourist spot. As it is located in the upper North, it serves as a crucial link with other countries in the North.

Recently, Malaysian businessmen planned to invest in large-scale halal industries worth several billions of baht in Chiang Mai. Thanpisit Yana-alee, president of southern-based Raya Products and Supply Co, a producer of instant coffee products, said his products are halal-certified, targeting Muslim customers. The company has a production base in Songkhla manufacturing other kinds of food products.

The company supplies its products to customers in Satun, Songkhla, Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat. It also plans to expand its markets further this year, Mr Thanpisit said. He is now negotiating with Malaysian and Omani businessmen for joint ventures to expand exports to Asean countries. While the AEC will result in more trade competition, halal food industries still offer bountiful opportunities for businesses, Mr Thanpisit said.

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Mystery of Trabzon’s hidden haven still not solved

TRABZON – Anadolu Agency – The Çal Cave in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, which is known as one of the world’s largest caves, of which only eight kilometers have been so far reached, remains a mystery.

The cave, which is located in Düzköy district’s Çal area 1,050 meters above sea level, draws attention with its stalactites and stalagmites, as well as its stream, small lakes and waterfalls. Following an examination carried out many years ago by a committee from the Karadeniz Technical University to solve the cave’s mystery, the Trabzon Special Provincial Administration constructed a wooden walking route and added lightning to the cave and opened it to visitors in 2003. Since then the cave, has been visited by tens of thousands of local and foreign tourists.

The cavern is divided into two sides 200 meters after its entrance. It has a 150-meter walking route on its left side and a 400-meter route on the right side. A fault line on the ceiling of the cave can be clearly seen by visitors, but other parts of the cave have not been explored so far. These parts are closed to visitors because they have no lighting or walking route.

The cave is estimated to have been formed over 8 million years. Nedim Şener, who manages the cave and has traversed for up to 16 hours with a flash light to attempt to solve the cavern’s mystery, said the cave had been open to visits to increase the income level of the region.

He said nearly a one-kilometer part of the cave was open to visits. “I want to increase this part to 1.5 kilometers because the closed parts are where magnificent things abide. We have walked for 16 hours to determine the length of the cave and reached only eight kilometers of it. There are lakes, waterfalls, gaps and bats in these closed parts. You need to leave traces when walking in order to get back.”

Şener said the cave was 300-400 meters underground, cool in the summer and hot in winter.

“According to university research, the reason why this place has beautiful weather is water comes from the cracks on the walls. It provides an air stream. The cave is a water channel and it is 8 million years old,” he said. Provincial Culture and Tourism Director İsmail Kansız said they had not touched the natural structure of the cave and made improvements for visitors to move easily. “The end of the cave has not been able to be discovered yet.”

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Acclaimed artist Julianne Moore to promote Turkey

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – The Culture and Tourism Ministry is working with four world renowned photographers. Meanwhile, Turkey’s new official promotional film is being shot in LA with Julianne Moore

The Culture and Tourism Ministry has pushed the button to promote Turkey all around the world with a different project; through the eyes of internationally acclaimed photographers.

According to a written statement made by the ministry, efforts have been initiated for the “Home of” project. For the project, the ministry is working with four world renowned photographers as well as four Turkish photographers, who will be included in the project in the coming days.

American documentary photographer Steve McCurry (picture below), who is known for his “Afghan Girl” photo, which was on the cover of the National Geographic, the leading name of advertising photography, Mark Edward Harris, art ambassador and successful photojournalist Hazel Thompson, and the photographer of rock stars, Robert M. Knight pressed the shutter within the new promotional project. The photos taken by these four photographers in various Turkish regions will be used this year abroad.

McCurry, who has more than 40 international awards, made shootings in Pamukkale and Istanbul, while Harris worked in Denizli-Pamukkale, Edirne, Erzurum, Şanlıurfa-Harran, Van, Mardin, Adıyaman, Istanbul and Cappadocia.

Thompson was in Amasya, Istanbul’s Yerebatan Cistern, Safranbolu, Çorum-Hattusha, Sivas-Divriği Ulu Mosque, Trabzon’s Sümela Monastery, Hagia Sophia, Antalya’s Termessos, Karain, Damlataş, Düden, Manavgat, Kurşunlu, Aspendos, Perge, Side, Kale, Alanya Castle and Burdur’s Sagalassos.

Knight, who has worked with rockers like Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Steve Vai and Carlos Santana this time photographed Çanakkale, Istanbul, İzmir, Cappadocia and Pamukkale.

At the same time, Turkey’s new promotional film is being shot in Los Angeles with Hollywood actress Julianne Moore. The shooting will be finished next week and the film will be shown in Turkey in February.

In addition to acting, Moore has written a successful series of children’s books. Moore will also come to Turkey in the coming months for the promotional film.

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Adana’s breathtaking Varda railway bridge popular after James Bond movie

ADANA – Anadolu Agency – The historic Varda Railway Bridge in the southern province of Adana’s Hacıkırı village was a filming location for scenes for the latest James Bond film, “Skyfall” the longest film series in the world that celebrated its 50th year in 2012. The 200-person production team came to Turkey in January 2012 for three months.

The 172-meter-long and 98-meter-high bridge was featured in the opening 15-minute part of the series’ 25th film along with Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Museum and the Aegean province of Fethiye.

The steel case stone masonry-type bridge was built in 1888 within the scope of a contract between the Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamit II and German Emperor Kaiser Willhem in order to complete the Baghdad-Hedjaz Railway line.

Known as Koca Köprü among locals, the bridge was also called the German Bridge because it was built by Germans.

The bridge is remembered for a scene when the actor Daniel Craig is falling from the train. After the film, the bridge is now very popular among local and foreign tourists, as well as photography aficionados. In Adana, groups of people get on trains in the morning and get off the Hacıkırı station to visit the bridge and its surroundings.

As the number of its visitors increased, the Varda Bridge is a new income channel for villagers. Some offer local tastes of Adana in their cafes around the bridge.

One of the locals, Mustafa Avcı said especially on weekends, he was spending time on the bridge after “Skyfall.” He said they were doing their best to host visitors and offer them tea and gözleme (Turkish appetizer).

“I have been in the region for 11 years. Following the film, there are people coming from the U.S., Britain, Russia and France. The bridge is very important for the development of our village,” he said.

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Bangladesh bid to upgrade female literacy

DHAKA, Jan 31, 2014 (BSS) The government is going to launch the second phase Learning and Earning Programme at upazilas to create 55,000 freelancers at the grassroots level in the middle of February, Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Secretary N I Khan said.

Talking to BSS, he said of the total number of freelancers 20,000 would be women who will also get basic IT Literacy training at union and upazila levels alongside the outsourcing training.

“We have put emphasis on creating women freelancers as they could earn money staying with their family and would be empowered as well,” he said.

The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (ECNEC) on 25 January approved the Learning and Earning Project involving Taka 180 crore aiming to create employment opportunity for the unemployed educated people especially youths at the upazila and union levels.

N I Khan said the government is working to turn country’s 4516 Union Information Service Centers (UISCs) as mini outsourcing center and the freelancers to be developed under the Learning and Earning programme will have opportunity to work in the UISCs.

“Our next step would be to develop entrepreneurs from the freelancers and then promote the entrepreneurs to develop as Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) professionals who would make contribution to earn foreign currency,” he said adding a programme will also be launched soon to create master trainers who will train the selected to develop as freelancers, entrepreneurs and BPO professionals across the country.

The ICT Secretary said Bangladesh has earn 20 million US dollars from the outsourcing sector last year and earning would go up at least double in 2014 as the already-developed 15,000 freelancers under the government’s first phase Learning and Earning programme have started making contribution to enhance earning alongside the individual level freelancers.

“Bangladesh ranked 3rd in the top ten list of Odesk, the global marketplace for freelancing, outsourcing job surpassing the Philippines, Pakistan and Russia in last year and it’s position would go up further this year due to creation of more freelancers and entrepreneurs,” N I Khan said.

N I Khan who saw the bright prospect of ICT sector in the days to come said creation of freelancers project would initiate a new era in the country as the young people of villages would get opportunity to earn foreign currency through outsourcing, which will make them self- dependent.

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Carpet-making enjoys a revival in Kyrgyzstan

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-01-27 BISHKEK – Kyrgyz artisans are reviving the long-neglected art of carpet making. The number of carpet workshops nationwide has risen from fewer than 10 at the beginning of the 1990s to several hundred now amid surging worldwide demand for the colourful crafts.

“Traditional carpets are produced mainly from felt,” Meritorious Cultural Figure Amadai Isakova, chief of the Kyyal state embroidery workshop in Bishkek, told Central Asia Online. “Their size varies from 30cm to 2-3 metres around the perimeter.”

The craftswomen at her business, which has operated since 1969 and survived the decline in this skill throughout Kyrgyzstan during the Soviet era, use machines, but still the work is labour-intensive. “This is very meticulous work,” she said. “You need a lot of time to set up the composition, which means the product ends up being expensive.”

According to a state plan, her shop is expected to sell products worth 60,000 KGS (US $1,200) every month. On average, a rug measuring 50cm x 50cm costs 1,200 KGS (US $24).

“We buy the raw material locally; high-quality Kyrgyz felt is rare and very expensive. We take what we can and blend it with synthetics, which is necessary because natural felt has many moths,” Isakova said. In Soviet times, her shop made kolpaki (traditional hats), but the company has re-invented itself to carpets because of changing demands, she said.

Batken Oblast particularly has witnessed a boom in carpet weaving by hand in the past three years, Asar Mukhanov, deputy director of the Kara-Balta Kilem Co., said.

“There are quite a few small workshops that make felt carpets by hand,” he said. “However, nobody can provide accurate figures for how many carpets are produced that way in Kyrgyzstan each year.” His company, he said, uses machinery and can produce 60,000 sq. metres of carpet per year.

Issyk-Kul and Naryn oblasts also are strong in mechanised carpet weaving, Dinara Chochunbayeva, director of the Association for the Support of Crafts in Kyrgyzstan, said. During the resurgence, some in the industry have taken advantage of favourable loans and other benefits to entrepreneurs, the Economy Ministry said in a report.

Kyrgyz carpet making is rooted in the nomadic way of life the Kyrgyz used to have, Aijamal Iyakova, a Kyyal artisan, told Central Asia Online in an interview, and felt carpets took on an importance.

“The women were on the move all the time; if they were going to make applied art, it had to be essential in the yurt,” Iyakova said. “They needed carpets of different sizes to keep the yurt warm, and to give their dwelling some aesthetic appeal. Also, the patterns on the carpets scared off evil spirits.”

Today’s revival is driven by economics, Iyakova said, with carpets being a good profit-making enterprise. “Very often the quality suffers,” she said. “Some people know the craft, and some don’t; they have no artistic training.”

But because a lot of people are doing it, the designs are becoming more complex, Iyakova said. Indeed, today’s Kyrgyz craftspeople have earned recognition for their trade.

“For two years in a row, our craftspeople have been recognised as the best at the international craft fair (in Moscow), which draws craftspeople from 145 countries. In two days, they can earn up to US $16m (797.2m KGS),” Chochunbayeva said.

Kyrgyz products are particularly popular in Kazakhstan, where monthly exhibitions pay off for carpet makers, Isakova said. “Our products are often bought by banks, restaurants and cafés. Business owners often buy them as gifts for foreign partners,” she said.

Aitolkun Mamytova, an employee in a Bishkek shop that sells Kyyal and other producers’ carpets, told Central Asia Online, the carpet industry is a trending business right now.

“Many know of the belief that certain carpets protect against evil spirits,” she said, “and they make a point of buying those.”

Unemployment and the money-making opportunity are driving Kyrgyz to make a significant contribution to their own culture, she added.

“However you look at it, this has boosted the development of folk applied art,” Mamytova said. “The market has resurrected what died out in Soviet times.”

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Tajik mosques open their doors wider to women

Centralasiaonline.com 2014-01-30 DUSHANBE – Devout women in Tajikistan soon will have more public religious freedoms than they have had in years as the country looks to reverse a fatwa that restricted women’s ability to attend mosques.

“Traditionally, many women in Tajikistan pray at home, because they feel more comfortable there,” Isrofil Hajibulloh, an imam from Khujand, said. “But if women want to pray at the mosques, they should be allowed to do so.”

Tajikistan has 3,980 mosques, but few are designed to allow men and women to worship separately, a practice Islam generally requires. Because of that lack of gender separation, the Tajik Council of Ulema in 2005 issued a fatwa that limited women’s access to mosques.

The fatwa was not strictly enforced, and women who had reached a certain age were still allowed to attend morning and evening prayers, Nurullo Khidoyatov, the imam-hatib of a Friday-only mosque in Isfara, said.

But now, the Ulema Council wants to let all females attend mosques more liberally in an acknowledgement that women should have broader access, Khidoyatov said.

Although women have continued practicing their religion at home even after the fatwa was issued, many are looking forward to the broader religious freedoms.

Dushanbe resident Gulchekhra Najmiddinova recalled attending a local mosque before the fatwa took effect. In that mosque, a curtain separated the men and women, she said. “The imam-hatib began his sermon, and we listened to him from behind the curtain,” she said. “If anything wasn’t clear, we asked our (female) attendant.”

With such a simple solution to meeting Islamic gender guidelines, some women never really understood the need for the fatwa. If all the country’s mosques could have enacted similar conditions, the barriers to women worshipping never would have needed to exist, Najmiddinova said.

That’s the logic with the Council of Ulema’s reversal of the fatwa, Saidmukaram Abdukodirzoda, the council chairman, said. With the broader push for accommodations to allow gender separation, the fatwa becomes moot.

The arrangements can be as simple as a curtain, as was the case at Najmiddinova’s mosque, but some mosques will offer separate rooms or more-permanent partitions. Though construction efforts would cost money, the Ulema Council said it would offer financial support for such measures.

The changes are expected to open mosque attendance to more women by the end of the year. Women’s opinions on mosque attendance vary. Even with the changes, some women said they will continue to practice their religion in private.

“I pray five times a day,” female parliamentarian Saodat Amirshoyeva said. “But I do this on my own, because I want to be alone with God.” For her, the main objective is closeness to Allah, and that, she said, can be achieved anywhere.

But others said Tajik women need the support that a religious community provides. Widespread labour migration by brothers and husbands often causes great stress for women left behind, and being able to meet for prayers in public provides more moral support, Zarafo Rakhmoni, a female member of the Supreme Political Council of the Islamic Renaissance Party of Tajikistan (PIVT), said.

The Ulema Council also is planning to encourage female students at religious schools to become imam-hatibs and later help them to find work at mosques.

Female imam-hatibs will be able to work with female worshippers once the mosques have women-only sections, according to the council.

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AS prepares to launch seaplane services

Sun.mv January 27, 2014 – Island Aviation Services (IAS) has begun construction of the necessary structures to launch seaplane operations from Ibrahim Nasir International Airport.

Head of Administration at IAS Ali Nashaath told Sun today that the company started construction of the seaplane station one week ago. He assured the services will launch in March as scheduled.

“Site preparation is now ongoing. A jetty is being built and a terminal will have to constructed. We have started work,” Nashaath said.

In an interview to Sun in early January, Ahmed Shafeeu, former Fisheries Minister and newly appointed chairman of IAS said the company has acquired the necessary lands to build their stations, and ordered aircrafts to launch seaplane flight operations in March.

Stating that it is the company’s most immediate objective, Shafeeu said, “It is one of our most desired targets to establish seaplane services, to provide easier transportation for the public.”

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Qatar agrees to establish Islamic university in Maldives

Sun.mv January 30, 2014 – Prime Minister and Minister of Interior of the State of Qatar Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani has pledged to provide budget support and establish an Islamic university in the Maldives. The assurances were conveyed during a meeting with Vice President Dr Mohamed Jameel Ahmed today.

The Prime Minister also agreed to increase scholarships to the Maldives and arrange placements for Maldivians to study in Qatar. A special effort will be made to direct Qatari investments to Maldives, the Prime Minister said.

During a meeting with Minister of Public Health Abdullah bin Khalid Al Qahtani, Vice President Jameel requested support to build a tertiary hospital in the Maldives, in addition to securing supplies and medication to the atolls. Minister Abdullah responded positively to the requests, said the President’s Office.

In his meeting with Minister of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs Ghaith bin Mubarak Al Kuwari today, Vice President Jameel asked to facilitate short courses in Islamic and Quran studies from Qatari institutions. Minister Ghaith agreed to provide the necessary support and said he will put a personal effort to establish an Islamic university in the Maldives.

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Astronomy museum to take Anatolian province to stars

KIRŞEHİR – Anadolu Agency – The Central Anatolian province of Kırşehir will soon be home to an astronomy museum sited on an ancient madrasah built over 700 years ago.

Kırşehir Mayor Yaşar Bahçeci said the Cacabey Madrasah was one of the most important tourist sites in the city and that the Open Air Astronomy Museum would be established as part of a project to rearrange Cacabey Square.

“The Cacabey Madrasah is one of the important structures in the country. Our ancestors established an astronomical university in 1272 in the Seljuk era to observe space. We have arranged the square here and the museum is a part of it.”

Bahçeci said the madrasah, which served as a mosque, would display the prototypes of tools used in that era.

“We will display 20 tools invented and used by scientists from the Turkish Islamic civilization. All these objects are in the Turkish and Islamic Civilizations Museum in Istanbul’s Gülhane. We have 20 of them. They will have Turkish, English and Japanese explanations,” he said, adding that the works of nearly 800 years would be shown in the museum.

Preparations for the museum are set to be finished by the end of the year.

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Ballet on life of sultan to premiere in Antalya

ANTALYA – Hurriyet – The Antalya State Opera and Ballet (ANTDOB) will stage a new ballet work, “Murad V.” The libretto of the show was written by musicologist Murat Arıcı and the choreography was conceived by Armağan Davran and Volkan Ersoy. The ballet will be on stage at the Haşim İşcan Culture Center on Feb. 15 and 18.

The show was first promoted last year in Istanbul. “The Murad V ballet is a very important turning point following a number of works recently completed by the Ankara State Opera and Ballet, State Opera and Ballet General Director Rengim Gökmen said, adding that the company had been making new works for the past 64 years.

Sultan Murad V (Sept. 21, 1840 – Aug. 29, 1904) was the 33rd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire and reigned from May 30, 1876, to Aug. 31, 1876, when he was replaced by his brother Abdülhamid II. He was born in Istanbul’s Topkapı Palace. His father was Abdülmecid I and his mother was Valide Sultan Shevkefza.

Murad V became the sultan when his uncle Abdülaziz was deposed, but he reigned for only 93 days before being deposed on the grounds that he had mental problems. The sultan was known to be highly influenced by French culture. He died at Çırağan Palace and was buried in Istanbul on Aug. 30, 1904.

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Direct International flights from Sylhet airport in March

SYLHET, Jan 29, 2014 (BSS) – Direct international air flights will begin from Sylhet Osmany International Airport from March with completion of a refueling station.

About 70 per cent of the construction of refueling station has already been complete. The rest of the construction will end in next one month, hoped Assistant Project Director Shakil Masud Osmany Airport Manager Hafiz Uddin said international flights remained stopped despite having all facilities in the airport, as there was no refueling station.

Frustration had developed among the people of Sylhet as direct international flights remained suspended from the airport for long. However, the refueling station is being constructed at the initiative of Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith.

Shakil Mahmud said refueling of aircrafts is expected to begin in March as about 85 percent of required imported equipment reached the station. The remaining 15 percent equipment have reached Chittagong seaport.

As part of the election pledge of the finance minister to ensure all facilities of an international airport in Sylhet, the grand alliance government decided in June 2010 to construct the refueling station at Osmany Airport.

The project was scheduled to end in June 2013. But was extended by one year as the work did not end in time. After the extension of duration, the project increased Taka 2 crore. The total project cost is now Taka 53.15 crore.

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China to help develop Cox’s Bazar airport

DHAKA, Jan 29, 2014 (BSS) – Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Rashed Khan Menon today said that an initiative has been taken to make Cox’s Bazar Airport an entrance to South-East Asian countries meeting international standards.

“Government has taken necessary steps to make Cox’s Bazar Airport an entrance to South-East countries by transforming it into an international airport”, the minister said.

He said this while speaking with Chinese envoy in Bangladesh Li Jun at his secretariat office, according to a press release.

The Minister highlighted the importance of building a low-cost transport system in the country to facilitate business sector.

The Chinese ambassador said that his government had decided to assist Bangladesh government in developing the airport considering its importance to increase tourism business in the country.

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Egypt Eyes More Chinese Tourists As Travel Advisory Lifted

ASWAN, Egypt, Jan 29 (NNN-MENA) – The Egyptian Tourism Ministry is expecting more than 3,000 Chinese tourists in Feb, after China has recently lifted the travel advisory for Egypt, Tourism Minister, Hisham Zaazou said.

“I am happy with the return of Chinese tourists to Egypt. I personally will receive some 500 Chinese tourists, to thank them for choosing Egypt as their tourist destination,” Zaazou told China’s Xinhua news agency.

Zaazou said, he is contacting the Chinese authorities regarding the facilitation offered to Chinese tourists, by granting them entry visas after their arrival in Egypt.

Egypt is suffering a sharp decline in tourist arrivals, due to three years of turmoil, which led many countries to ban its citizens from visiting the country, for their own safety.

“Tourists are not a target of any attacks based on domestic issues,” Zaazou said, referring to the recurrent anti-government protests of supporters of ousted Islamist President, Mohamed Morsi and relevant terrorism and violence.

“Tourist sites are completely safe,” the minister added, pointing out that his ministry started to broadcast online, live streaming videos of tourist resorts and sites like Sinai’s Sharm el-Sheikh, the Red Sea’s Hurghada and Upper Egypt’s Luxor and Aswan.

Tourism is one of the main sources of national income in Egypt. About four million Egyptians work in the industry. In 2010, it brought the country about US$13 billion, as over 14.7 million tourists visited Egypt.

Since the political chaos, following the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the number of annual tourists decreased to 9.8 million. It returned to 11.5 million in 2012 after Morsi was elected as president, and declined again to 9.5 million in 2013 following his ouster.

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Nigeria Commended for Improved Facilities At Lagos Airport

This Day – 28 January 2014 – The Programme Chairperson of one of the world’s leading capacity building institutes in the United States of America, Empowerment Plus, Prof. Sheila Wall has commended the Federal Government on the infrastructural improvement in the nation’s airports, especially the Murtala Muhammed Internatuonal, Lagos.

Wall also hailed the Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah for the remodelling of the Lagos airport, which she said, showed so much improvement compared to the last time she visited Nigeria.

Wall gave the commendations while speaking to journalists in Lagos. “I am impressed with what I saw in Nigerian airport now compared to what it was seven years ago when I led a team of scholars to Nigeria. I was totally dismayed by the infrastructural deficit of Nigerian airports that I saw seven years ago. The then terminals exposed the disturbing level of total neglect. The navigational facilities were death traps and one of my colleagues described the situation as airspace safety catastrophe,” she said.

Wall, however, described the current state of infrastructure at the airport as a great milestone for the Ministry of Aviation, saying this a complete turnaround. “I hope the authorities will sustain this level of development in other key sectors of the economy,” she stated.

To attract favourable rating by international community, she said that Nigerian leadership must see the need for operational infrastructures as a road map to address developmental challenges.

Asked to comment on the recent scandal of car purchase involving Oduah, Wall said, “You know that your people who were benefiting from the deplorable conditions of Nigeria airports will not be happy to welcome this achievement. There must be a premeditated, choreographic and coordinated scripts to derail this good improvement Probably those who have siphoned the money meant for airports upgrade in the past were fighting back and the leadership may end up being smeared. Your Minister of Aviation and her team needed to be commended and not crucified for making a difference. This is a clear indication that Nigerian will get it right with capable hands on deck.”

While urging Nigerian media to promote Nigeria, she said, “You have to promote good things about your country. It is an essential obligation for you as journalists to be balanced, ethical and investigative in your reports. You have to report or write about good things recorded in your country not only bad things. Some of these stories are relied upon by academicians, scholars, researchers and policymakers in presenting the key indicators or position of your country before the international community.”

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Indonesia’s Cultural heritage serves as charm for tourism

Sun, January 26 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Cultural heritage if preserved and developed by the government and the local communities will serve as a charm for the country’s tourism, a cabinet minister said. Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Mari Elka Pangestu made the remarks in the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Sunday.

“Cultural heritage will continue to serve as a charm for tourism as long as it is protected, preserved and appreciated by visitors and developed for the benefit of the local communities,” she said.

The minister said that the local communities should also gain benefit from the development of cultural heritage, particularly from the development of human resources and its multiplier effect in such sector as culinary business, souvenir and hotel businesses.

She said that local cultures could also be developed by protecting original and traditional matters for obtaining appreciations from many people. “In telling about cultural heritage, it is important to reveal creative people who once lived in Indonesia in the past era and those who are still living nowadays,” she said.

She said that the greatness of the Borobudur Temple which has been recognized by the UNESCO as a worlds cultural heritage did not only serve as the biggest Buddhist temple in the world but also as the legacy of the Indonesian peoples creativity that had taken place since the ninth century.

The minister said that productive and creative human resources in Indonesia made creative economy as a source of new competitiveness for the country.

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Madura set to become Indonesia’s largest sugar-producer

Mon, January 27 2014 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – Known for a long time as a salt-producing area in Indonesia, the island of Madura in East Java province is now set to become the largest sugar-producing center in the country. For Indonesians, Madura is known as the island of salt. Early last year, the local government planned to set up a salt institute in Pamekasan district.

Researcher at the Marine Study Center at Trunojoyo University in Bangkalan, Moh Mahfud said the institute would be set up in cooperation with the university to function as a national salt research center.

He said the government has identified a four-hectare plot of land for setting up the salt institute to increase salt production on Madura island, particularly in the Pamekasan district. The company PT Garam, headquartered in Surabaya, which is the capital of East Java province, is the only state-owned firm producing and marketing salt.

The company has 5.7 thousand hectares of land in the districts of Sumenep, Pamekasan and Sampang on Madura island, used for salt production. In addition, the island is set to become the largest sugar-producing center in Indonesia.

“Madura is known as a salt-producing area, but now, it has greater economic prospects in becoming the largest sugar-producing center in the country,” Indonesian Sugarcane Plantation Research Center (P3GI) spokesman Aris Toharisman said in Surabaya on Monday.

Aris noted that a recent study has indicated that Madura island has 250 thousand hectares that can be used for sugarcane plantation and to construct 10 new sugar factories, each with a capacity of milling 10 thousand tons of sugarcane per day.

“Today, there are around 200 thousand hectares of sugarcane plantation in East Java with 31 factories capable of producing 1.2 million tons of sugar per year,” he said.

He added that Madura can become an industrial sugar center. The sugar mills can be integrated with a sugarcane-based industrial complex producing bio-ethanol, electricity, paper, organic fertilizers, animal feed and other commercial products.

According to him, the integration can be achieved on Madura Island because the average milling capacity of each sugar mill in Java is only 3.5 thousand tons of sugarcane per day, which is not enough to meet the sugar demand.

“Madura currently has 1,500 hectares of sugarcane plantations. This year we hope to increase it by 4,000 hectares because it is supported by the land development program and the State Budget funds,” Aris said.

He pointed out that a new sugar mill will be built in Madura in 2016, and the sugarcane plantation area is predicted to increase by 10 thousand hectares.

In an effort to tap the sugarcane potential in Madura, sugar producing company PT Perkebunan Negara X (PTPN X) plans to build an integrated sugar mill in 2014.

The Companys President Director Sudibyo was quoted by the Jakarta Globe as saying that PTPN X is also expanding the area under sugar plantation in Madura to 3.5 thousand hectares over the next two years.

He noted that after the plantation area reaches 3,500 hectares, the company will start building a sugar processing plant with a production capacity of 6,000 metric tons per day.

According to him, the plant will also produce bio-ethanol which can be used as a fuel additive, organic fertilizers derived from sugarcane waste and 25 megawatts of electricity.

Compared to Java islands potential of sugarcane plantation, Madura is more promising because it has adequate infrastructure support such as roads, ports, electricity, communication lines and the Surabaya-Madura (Suramadu) bridge.

Extending 5.4 kilometers over the narrow strait of Madura, the Suramadu bridge is the longest in Indonesia and connects the islands of Madura and Java. It is a combination of three types of bridges, with overall length of 5.4 thousand meters with a width of approximately 30 meters.

This two-way, eight-lane bridge, each lane being 3.5 meters wide, has two 2.75-meter-wide emergency lanes also. It also has a special outer lane for motorists on either side, the Flyover Causeway Road overpass or a bridge that connects the road through shallow waters on both sides. This flyover has 36 spans over 1.4 thousand meters on the side of Surabaya and 45 spans over 1.8 thousand meters on the side of Madura.

A magnificent island with so much to offer, Madura has great potential to become a tourist hub in the coming years. It has great roads, most of them being renovated for a smoother ride and for investors to turn the island into the largest sugar-producing center in Indonesia.

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Omani products exhibition to be held in UAE

Times of Oman – 30 January, 2014 – The next edition of the Omani Products’ Exhibition (OPEX) is scheduled to be held in the United Arab Emirates in September. Through such exhibitions in the past, the Sultanate has been successful in introducing the most important industries in Oman to several companies and consumers, at the same time highlight the abundance, variety and quality of products.

At an event held yesterday to celebrate the success of OPEX, held recently in Qatar, Ayman Abdullah Al Haseni, head of the Organising Committee for the Omani Products’ Exhibition, said, “We take pride in uniting the efforts of the public and private sectors in organising the Omani Products Exhibition at Doha Qatar. Through this exhibition, we were successful in introducing the most important industries in Oman to several companies and consumers, and highlight the abundance, variety and quality of our products.”

“It is worth mentioning that the Government of Oman continues to support the private sector and considers it an important pillar of economic development. The existing coordination between the public and private sectors has resulted in boosting the collective efforts made for the improvement and promotion of Omani products as part of the integrated strategy of non-oil export development,” he added.

More than 80 Omani companies participated at the Omani Products’ Exhibition held in Qatar.

The event was graced by Dr Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy, minister of commerce and industry, who honoured the local business community. The Organising Committee comprises the Public Authority for Investment Promotion and Export Development (Paiped), the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry (OCCI) and the Public Establishment for Industrial Estates under the patronage of Dr Ali bin Masoud Al Sunaidy.

The OPEX, held from November 17 to 20 last year at a Qatar trade show, offered thousands of visiting businesses an exceptional opportunity to view and experience Oman-made products and services.

According to Nasima Al Balushi, director-general (Export Development Directorate) at Paiped, who is also the OPEX committee member, Oman produces an array of high quality premium products which are in demand across the globe. When my colleagues and I led the mission to Qatar — which is a key growth market — it was clear throughout the trip that Oman-made products are hugely valued by international businesses, retailers and consumers.”

“We were delighted to know that the show was received with great enthusiasm in Doha. We always knew there was a real need for an Omani products event like this in Qatar but the way it was positively received was beyond even our greatest expectations. The show’s success is due to the Omani companies that participated, the great turnout we had at the exhibition and the continuing support that the OPEX Organising Committee receives from public and private sector partners. We now have a solid foundation from which we can assist local companies to further explore and penetrate the Qatar market,” Nasima added.

“Key to any successful local enterprise development campaign is the attitude that the SMEs are the country’s backbone and that Oman must do whatever it can to help them thrive. In this regard, events like OPEX are extremely important to our business community and can yield significant commercial returns for those that participate,” she said in her concluding remarks.

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Rixos Bab Al Bahr opens on Al Marjan Island

Khaleej Times – 30 January, 2014 – Turkish hospitality chain, Rixos Hotels has announced the opening of the first of its kind ultra ‘All Inclusive – All Exclusive’ Rixos Bab Al Bahr on Al Marjan Island in Ras Al Khaimah. The opening marks the arrival of Rixos Hotels’ second property in the region, after the milestone opening of Rixos The Palm, Dubai, in March 2012.

The resort will have a captivating vibe of a wonderfully relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Traditional Turkish cuisine, the famous Turkish coffee and tea rituals, and other distinctive Turkish elements will be served as part of the celebrated Rixos Turkish hospitality culture.

Open as of February 15, the property reaffirms the luxury hotel chain’s commitment to expanding in the UAE and the region.

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Bahrain to launch $ 4.4bn projects

Emirates 24/7 – 30 January, 2014 – Bahrain will embark on projects worth nearly $ 4.43 billion involving the construction of thousands of houses and power facilities to benefit from a $ 10-billion aid package approved by its partners in a Gulf alliance three years ago, according to the country’s deputy prime minister.

Sheikh Khaled bin Abdullah Al Khalifa said the projects which would be launched shortly are intended to upgrade the island nation’s infrastructure and support the economy.

Quoted by the London-based Saudi Arabic language daily Asharqalawsat, he said around 49% of those funds, or nearly $ 2.18 billion, would be allocated to the construction of 2,548 houses in 2015, about 1,443 units in 2016 and 5,241 in 2017. The remaining funds of around $ 2.24 billion, would be channeled into other projects covering the water and power sector.

He said all the 9,232 housing units would be financed by three Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) funds—the Kuwaiti fund for Arab economic development, the Saudi development fund and the Abu Dhabi development fund.

“Bahrain is in the process of launching projects worth nearly $ 4.43 billion to be financed through the GCC aid programme,” he said.

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Dubai hotels report record profits in 2013

Khaleej Times – 31 January, 2014 – Hotels in Dubai reported the highest profit levels in the region in 2013 for the fourth consecutive year, and ended the year with occupancy above 80 per cent as rates surged, according to the latest HotStats survey of full service four and five star hotels in five Mena markets by TRI Hospitality Consulting Middle East.

In December, Dubai continued to record strong performance levels reflecting the continued growth experienced throughout the year. Although the market witnessed a 4.5 percentage points decline in occupancy to 79.5 per cent, a 9.1 per cent rise in Average Room Rates (ARR) to $ 368.22 drove Revenue Per Available Room (RevPAR) growth of 3.2 per cent to $ 292.70, the report said.

Data compiled by STR Global also shows that hotel sector in Dubai and the UAE in general has been on an upswing. With Expo 2020 in the offing, Dubai plans to double its visitor numbers from 10 million to 20 million in seven years.

Philip Wooller, area director of Middle East and Africa for STR Global, said it would be a fascinating journey for Dubai. Announcements will soon be released for all the new projects in the run up to the event, Wooller said. “The numbers alone suggest the hotel supply will need to nearly double from the existing 68,000 rooms to 120,000 rooms.”

In December, the Middle East/Africa region reported positive results with a 3.0 per cent increase in occupancy to 59.5 per cent, a 4.2-per cent increase in average daily rate to $ 180.65 and a 7.3-per cent increase in revenue per available room to $ 107.44.

According to HotStats, average rates and RevPAR for Dubai hotels in December exceeded levels witnessed throughout the year and helped push year to date figures up 6.5 per cent and 7.6 per cent, respectively. Bottom line performance levels in December were boosted by a 2.8 per cent rise in Total Revenue Per Available Room (TRevPAR), which was driven by increased MICE revenues and coupled with lower operating costs. Gross Operating Profit Per Available Room (GOPPAR) for the month increased 3.9 per cent to $ 260.00 and helped drive year to date figures up 10.3 percent to $ 206.05, the report said.

Peter Goddard, Managing Director of TRI Hospitality Consulting, said occupancy levels in December 2013 were marginally lower than December 2012, which is attributed to an increase in supply compared to the same period last year; however average rates were maintained by the minimum stay agreements imposed by hotels during the festive season. “A combination of stable demand and increased confidence in the market resulted in hoteliers applying more aggressive yielding strategies which resulted in average rates rising 6.5 per cent to $ 324.44 in 2013,” said Goddard.

Jeddah witnessed growth in all key performance indicators for the month of December as corporate demand surged in the city. The combined effects of a 5.2 percentage point rise in occupancy to 73.3 per cent coupled with a 1.9 per cent increase in ARR drove RevPAR up 9.7 per cent to $ 171.05 in Jeddah

Doha hotels experience stronger demand, however rates and profits continue to fall. “Doha Hotels continued to struggle to elevate key performance indicators which remained under pressure during December, despite a 3.1 percentage point rise in occupancy to 63.3 per cent. On-going rate reductions resulting from high levels of competition fuelled a 20.8 per cent decline in ARR to $226.99 which in turn, drove RevPAR down 16.8 per cent to $ 143.71,” the report said.

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Innovations in agriculture forum to be held in Abu Dhabi

Khaleej Times – 31 January, 2014 – A sustainable agriculture programme with cheaper and subsidised organic fertilisers for farmers developed by the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority (ADFCA) will be launched at the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture (GFIA), which will be held from February 3 to 5.

“The programme for offering subsidised organic fertilizers is aimed at assisting local farmers in their efforts to sustainably increase the quantity, quality and profitability of local agricultural production. This programme is one that the Abu Dhabi farmers stand to benefit immensely from,” said Mohammed Jalal Al Rayssi, ADFCA’s Director of Communication and Community Service. He said farmers from the emirate can register for substantially subsidised organic fertilizers. In addition, it will also cover qualification and application details for the new agricultural investment fund. A seminar about commercial opportunities for livestock production will also be conducted.

Events at the forum will highlight the sustainable agriculture initiatives and innovations being planned and deployed across the world. The multi-faceted event includes an exhibition with over 125 exhibitors, and a delegate conference comprising keynote sessions, panel discussions, an African Ministerial discussion and 150 innovation presentations by 180 speakers.

The forum is held under the patronage of Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE, Minister of Presidential Affairs and Chairman of the ADFCA.

Netherlands was named as official ‘Country of Honour’ for GFIA. The Netherlands will have three separate pavilions in GFIA’s Exhibition Hall and is government-supported by Dutch Agro-Food. The pavilions include the Dutch Poultry Centre, Wageningen International, and Greenport International.

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270km of Makkah rail installed

Arab News – 31 January, 2014 – The Saudi Railways Organization (SRO) has embarked on installing rail tracks for the Haramain Train project, said Transport Minister Jubarah Al-Suraisry, who is also SRO’s chairman.

“The contractor has received the second phase of the project, which extends 270 km in the fifth and sixth phases of the project,” said Al-Suraisry. The first round of equipment operating on the rail tracks was recently inaugurated.

“This entails installing the rails and the cement pillars on the track itself,” he said, adding that the first phase of work on the project is progressing on schedule.

“Other construction work is being implemented on several intersections on Qubaa road, Ali bin Abi Taleb road in Madinah and the intersections on the Haramain road within the borders of the Jeddah governorate,” he said.

The construction of more than 535 rainwater conduits and 55 overpasses has so far been completed.

The minister inspected the work being implemented in the second phase of the project, which includes the installation of electricity towers and the cables being extended along the train track. The inspection tour began from Madinah station, where the minister watched a visual display of the construction work at the station.

It is expected that the first group of trains will soon arrive, after which they will be assembled and installed. The trains will undergo a trial run to ensure their efficiency, as well as that of the command and control mechanisms.

The minister inspected the entire track, starting from Madinah until Rabigh station, and was briefed on the reports submitted by contractors citing the work they have accomplished so far.

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Tourism potential of Dima W’attayeen assessed

Oman Daily Observer – 31 January, 2014 – Ahmed bin Nasser al Mehrzi, Minister of Tourism, yesterday met with officials and locals at the Wilayat of Dima W’attayeen in the Governorate of North Al Sharqiyah, as part of his visit to the wilayat to highlight its tourism potentials and discuss the issues related to tourism projects in the wilayat and in the governorate in general.

At the meeting which was attended by Shaikh Yahya bin Hamoud al Maamari, Governor of North Al Sharqiyah, Al Mehrzi reviewed the future plans of the ministry in promoting tourism.

Abdullah bin Salim al Hajri, Acting Director of the Tourism Administration in the Governorate of North Al Sharqiyah, gave a visual presentation during which he highlighted the ministry’s plans and programmes in the wilayat and the available opportunities for the tourism investment.

The meeting was attended by Shaikh Abdullah bin Salim al Ghailani, Wali of Dima W’attayeen; Khalfan bin Nassir al Hasani, member of the Majlis Ash’shura, members of the Municipal Councils, shaikhs and local people.

The Minister of Tourism also paid an inspection visit to a number of tourism sites in the wilayat to view the existing projects being executed by the ministry and the proposed places for the tourism investment.

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Top hotel brands looking to Qatar

Gulf Times – 01 February, 2014 – Business tourism accounts for about 70% of room occupancy in Doha hotels while most of the rest is made up of visitors from other GCC states, a senior Doha hotelier has said

Mashhoor al-Refai, the general manger of Concorde hotel Doha, said that Qatar had managed to attract a number of the top brands in the hotel industry, making the local market “more competitive and demanding”.

“This is a healthy phenomenon and the current and future outlook in the market encourages expansion and demands the introduction of more sophisticated facilities,” he said, stressing the various projects underway in the country would further boost the demand for hotel rooms.

“Conference and event halls are also in high demand now,” he said. “For instance at Concorde, almost all our event halls are constantly pre-booked, and the situation is the same with almost all the brand hotels in Doha.”

Prospects of the hotel industry looks “extremely bright” in Qatar with the number of hotel rooms in the country expected to rise from the current 13,000 to 45,000 in 2017.

“Several hotels under different star categories are being built in Qatar to meet the huge demand generated by the FIFA World Cup 2022 that Qatar is hosting.”

Al-Refai said that Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) had played a key role in enhancing the state’s tourism potential through various tools. These include: QTA working closely with the municipality to offer more services and facilities for tourists, organisation of various festivities, improving the country’s tourist infrastructure and encouraging all hotels in the country to take part in international and local tourism fairs and exhibitions to promote their products.

“QTA makes such process easy and hassle-free, it also gives immense support. Further, QTA has recently opened offices in Paris and London with highly-qualified staff and this would reflect positively in promoting the country as a promising tourist destination,” he stressed.

The introduction of more taxis, expansion of public transportation, new shopping centres and better roads and related infrastructure have greatly contributed to attracting more tourists.

Besides business and family tourism, al-Refai felt there was a growing trend in the industry for offering more sport and leisure tourism products.

Asked whether the demand for hotel rooms would be sustained after the FIFA 2022 World Cup, he affirmed that the demand would continue because the strategy adopted for the country’s future supported more growth and expansion outside Doha.

“A documentary was broadcast recently by BBC focusing on the country’s vision on this. There is massive investment to support a sustainable development. In addition, when the main infrastructure, road works and public transportation projects are fully accomplished, new demand will be created for varied types of tourism and other businesses,” explained al-Refai, reaffirming his belief that more focus would be given to leisure and entertainment tourism.

Describing his experience since the launch of Concorde hotel in Doha two years ago, he said that he anticipated an annual growth of 10% this year.

Due to the highly-challenging market demands, Concorde has introduced various tailor-made services that provide guests a congenial home-like atmosphere with further stress on the safety and security procedures for families with children.

Concorde has won the World Excellence Award for 2013 from TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel website, specialised in listing the classification of hotels around the world through the voting of guests. It has 210 rooms and suites and a swimming pool. It is a five-star hotel with a boutique and two restaurants and 600sqm of varied halls suitable for holding all types of events and celebrations.

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Malaysia to hold Herbal Asia Expo

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 29 (NNN-Bernama) — The Herbal Asia trade show and conference returns to Kuala Lumpur in September this year, with organisers providing 400 booths and targeting 30,000 visitors.

The eighth edition of the exposition, a platform for herbal product manufacturers, raw material suppliers, traders and retailers, will be held on Sept 4-6 at the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (Matrade) convention hall.

It is organised by Matrade Cooperative Bhd, Bumiputera Manufacturers and Services Industry Association of Malaysia (PPIPBM), Kuala Lumpur Malay Chamber of Commerce and Gitex Global Exhibition and Services.

Matrade Cooperative deputy director Md Silmi Abdul Rahman said at a media conference here today he expects sales to triple to RM15 million compared to the previous event held in 2011.

Organising chairman and PPIPBM secretary general Dr Mohd Noor Ali Akhbar said the show will help in efforts to achieve revenue of RM3.25 billion from the national herbal industry by 2020.

Themed “Go Herbal, Go Green, Natural Is Now!”, the fair will also feature a herbal-themed fashion show, according to project director Safinah Yaakob. For more information, visit www.herbalasia.biz or the PPIPBM office, 9th floor, Menara Matrade on Jalan Duta.

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Nigerian Airline Moved 2.7 Million Passengers In 2013

LAGOS, Jan 31 (NNN-PANA) — Arik Air, West and Central Africa’s largest carrier, has announced a steady growth in the number of passengers it carried between 2012 and 2013, according to latest figures released here Thursday by the airline.

The figures showed that the airline moved 2,745,400 passengers in 2013, representing 18.6 per cent increase over the 2012 passenger figure of 2,315,247.

Arik’s spokesman, Adebanji Ola, told aviation correspondents that ”The month of March 2013 was significant in that the airline recorded the highest passenger figure for the year with a total of 260,132 passengers carried across its wide network of 30 destinations.

”This was against the 171,794 passengers carried in the same month in 2012,” the statement said. It added that a significant increase was also recorded in April when 249,854 passengers were carried, representing about 33.7 percent increase over the 2012 figure.

Arik Air has so far flown 13,471,414 passengers from inception on Oct 30, 2006 till Dec 31, 2013, the statement said.

Arik Air Managing Director, Chris Ndulue, in his remarks, attributed the steady growth to the airline’s continued adherence to safety standards, unequalled extensive domestic coverage and good service delivery.

Ndulue commented: ”We have gone through a rapid expansion over the years while the last two years have been used to consolidate on the new markets.”

He said: ”In 2014, the airline plans to increase its market share in Nigeria,” adding ”With the addition of three new aircraft to our fleet last year, we are set to continue our expansion programme by launching new routes to Abidjan and Dubai before the end of the second quarter.”

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Bahrain Perfume industry set to register major growth

Gulf Daily News – 31 January, 2014 – The fragrance and cosmetics market in Bahrain is on a threshold of a major growth curve, according to a study by Euromonitor International.

Sales in the kingdom’s market are expected to hit $ 29.9 million by the end of the current year amidst positive growth trends in other parts of the GCC.

With such a growth potential on offer especially in the perfume industry in the region, Rasasi Perfumes, a leading fragrance brand across the GCC, is targeting a strong growth in its retail presence in Bahrain with its launch in Saar Mall, the company top official has said.

“We plan to open new stores during the year and beyond,” Rasasi Perfumes managing director Salim Kalsekar said.

Rasasi currently operates eight stores in Bahrain across Bahrain City Centre, Hidd Mall, Seef Mall and Saar Mall.

According to Mr Kalsekar, Rasasi’s expansion is part of its strategic growth plans to remain at the forefront of the beauty retail industry by consistently expanding its reach across the region and making it more accessible to its customers.

“The average spend on perfumes is relatively higher in the Gulf than in other parts of the world as fragrances and perfumes are an important part of the Gulf lifestyle coupled with a high disposable income,” he said.

“Bahrain is a key growth market for us in the Gulf region, and we see a massive growth opportunity in the country.

“Our objectives through this aggressive expansion in Bahrain are aimed at being more accessible to our customers and meet their varied requirements,” he added.

He said Rasasi’s business has grown steadily over the years since its inception nearly 34 years ago.

It today operates over 115 stores across the region – in Qatar, the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

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