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24 Mar, 2014

Reconstruction of World Heritage mausoleums starts in Timbuktu

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 24 March 2014 (23 Jumaada al-Awwal 1435). Pls click on any of the headlines to go to the story.



The Islamic Tourism Centre in Malaysia has launched a vibrant new website presenting Malaysia as a prime destination for Islamic tourism and a global halal hub. The website offers a wealth of information on Mosque trails, Islamic Museums, Ramadan & Eid-ul Fitr, Muslim-Friendly Tour Highlights, as well as a Muslim Visitor’s Guide, Halal Directory and Souvenirs Directory. Located strategically at the heart of Southeast Asia, Malaysia is well-known for its natural beauty and diverse cultural landscape. At its social core are three of Asia’s oldest civilisations – Malay, Chinese and Indian – as well as the ethnic communities of Sabah and Sarawak, resulting in a unique and inspiring blend of cultures. With an abundance of halal food, prayer facilities and Islamic attractions, Malaysia perfectly caters to the needs of Muslim travellers. The ITC plays a pivotal role in bringing Malaysia to the forefront of Islamic tourism. It works with industry players to build their capacity in Islamic tourism, thus ensuring that the needs of Muslim visitors are better served. ITC has also taken several initiatives in standardising industry’s best practices through research, seminars, workshops and industry outreach programmes. Now is the perfect time to experience the country’s multitude of Muslim-friendly tourism products – Islamic architectural heritage, halal gastronomic delights, vibrant Islamic festivals and world-class Islamic events – all guaranteed to give visitors an incredible time.

Click here to see the fabulous new 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.



Sabah’s Danum Valley – Abode Of Naturalists And Tourists

LAHAD DATU, SABAH, March 14 (NNN-Bernama) — Danum Valley Conservation Area (DVCA) — about 82 km from Lahad Datu town in Sabah state Borneo – is a nature’s heritage that not only hosts nature’s flora and fauna but also naturalists and tourists.

While researchers come to study the living forms and enjoy the pristine panorama of the 170 million old primeval rainforest, the visitors come to unwind in true natural settings far away from the hustle and bustle of the outside world.

Due to the uniqueness, the conservation area receives at least four scientists every month from various countries like Australia, United Kingdom, Germany and Netherlands to carry out various scientific studies and not to mention the loads of tourists who appreciate nature.

Located on the edge of Danum Valley Conservation Area, the Danum Valley Field Centre (DVFC) established in 1986 has evolved into one of the foremost rainforest research establishments in South East Asia.

It extensive facilities include permanent research, well-equipped analytical laboratories, computer and email facilities, a library, climatic station data, phenology monitoring data base, trained field staff, and an extensive jungle trail that lures international and local naturalists.

A visitor from Germany, Franklyn Monte who came with a group of researcher said they went through an amazing experience in Danum Valley as it was different from other world heritage.

“The rain forest is one of the oldest in the world and in the morning you will find the place just stunning.

“We woke up before sunrise everyday to enjoy the jungle scenery with many animals in the canopy. Though, the accommodation was relatively very basic, but that did not bother us at all. It made our experience even more authentic. Danum Valley Field Center is not a tourist resort, it is a research and scientific facility allows visitors to explore the best of Borneo’s nature.

“We loved it and certainly we will come back again in the near future”, he said.

There is something therapeutic being surrounded by big and tall trees and singing birds and insects along the journey, this is especially for nature lovers.

“We were lucky enough to see few otters in one early morning on the river banks. Many birds, which we had never seen before and a variety of primates including, the red leaf monkey and the silver leaf monkey with babies, the amazing gibbon, the shy buck, butterflies and wild orchids and the wild orang utans that we got so close to was fascinating.

“The giant hornbills were another highlight and so is the elusive pygmy elephants. The jungle noises were amazing and something we felt from out of this world,” said Monte.

Meanwhile, Danum Valley ranked 3rd from the 98 attractions in Sabah by Trip Advisor with the place named the third most recommended World Heritage Site to visit.

A local and nature lover, Martin Chen, 42, said this was fantastic news and proved that the conservation area was a unique must-see destination.

Tourists consistently mentioned Danum Valley as one of the world’s heritage as a primary reason for visiting, and once here they find wild animals and flora and fauna, which are the most impressive aspects in eco-tourism.

This vote provided further proof of just how important the world heritage site for the next generation, and how efforts to preserve and promote serve as the key to Danum Valley’s future success, said Rezal Abdul Latiff, a local visitor.

Being a local, Rezal said rain forests were not alien to him and to many Malaysians, but what was really unique was that Danum Valley remained untouched.

Most of the trees there were of the ‘skyscraper’ variety and thus incredibly awe inspiring.

“We had many amazing tracks through the forest, which cuts through incredibly thick jungle. There is a challenging and difficult trail called the “Nagatak Trail” or the “Disappearing Trail”, which was so overgrown”, said Rezal adding that visitors should engage a to avoid getting lost.

One solo traveler I chatted casually said; “I used to think the forest being a collection of trees, but I came away astonished that the forest is basically functions very much like a single living organism.

“I did not visit Danum Valley for the wild animals, but I was lucky enough to spot many wildlife like orang utan, flying squirrel, mousedeer, samba deer, a flying lemur, hornbill, an owl, singing sharma and a small herd of Borneo elephant.

Some it is not surprising when they say a trip to Danum Valley Conservation Area is a trip of a lifetime.

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Istanbul listed as one of the most ‘walkable’ cities

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet – Istanbul is listed among the “12 totally walkable cities to visit,” according to sheknows.com. Stone Town topped the list, while Austin and Sydney followed the Tanzanian city. After Seattle, Dublin and Vientiane, comes the city on the Bosphorus with the following summary: “Istanbul bridges the divide between Europe and Asia, so it just takes a quick walk to traverse between the city’s metropolitan city center and its historic district. Make sure you check out the Grand Bazaar for a sampling of to-die-for spices, jewelry and artwork.”

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Malaysian Entrepreneurs Get Thai Invite

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia March 21 (NNN-Bernama) — Thailand has invited Malaysian entrepreneurs to participate in the business-matching programmes at the various trade shows in the country.

Its Ambassador to Malaysia, Krit Kraichitti, said the entrepreneurs did not have to worry about the political unrests in Thailand, as the violence was expected to ease soon. “We believe the political dust will be settled by May,” he told Bernama in an interview.

It was reported earlier the caretaker government has lifted an emergency decree which has been in place since Jan 22, and replaced it with the less harsh Internal Security Act to cope with the anti-government protests in a move to boost confidence among the locals as well as the international community.

Krit said to facilitate exhibition visitors, a number of incentive programmes had been developed. “The programmes include ‘Connect Businesses’ campaign, the newly-launched group visitor campaign which is highly beneficial for Asean countries.

“The campaign aims to incentivise business-oriented entrepreneurs to attend and participate in business-matching programmes at international trade shows in Thailand,” he said.

He said each trade visitor could earn US$100 upon achieving three business-matching meetings.

Krit said the eligible bodies that may apply for this programme included trade promoters, chambers of commerce, business trade associations, overseas industrial publications, overseas non-profit organisations and Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions travel agents.

Malaysia has been ranked first as Thailand’s leading exhibition visitor country since 2009, he said.

He said in 2013, Thailand attracted 191,319 exhibition visitors, a 16.4 per cent growth from previous year. “We expect to see a potential growth of 30 per cent in exhibition industry in Thailand for 2015,” he said.

Among the international trade shows this year to drive the exhibition industry of Thailand namely are Manufacturing Expo 2014, Thailand LAB 2014, GBR Expo Asia 2014, PROPAK Asia 2014 and EcoLightTech Asia 2014.

Others include Unicity Global Convention, which is expected to attract 20,000 participants, Herballife Asia Pacific World Team University (12,000) and Jeunesse Expo Annual World Conference 2013 (5,000).

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Malay, French translations of Friday sermons at Grand Mosque, Makkah

Arab news / 21 Mar 2014 – The project for translating Friday sermons at the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah is rapidly expanding to include languages other than Urdu and English. Live translation into the Malay and French will be launched from Friday at the Grand Mosque in Makkah.

Malay is spoken in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei, while French is widely spoken across the African continent. The Malay and French translations have followed suit after Urdu and English translation services were introduced.

Services are available near the King Fahd gate, which has been designated for non-Arabic speakers. Headsets and small audio devices are provided. The device is connected to an FM frequency that broadcasts the translation of the Arabic sermon delivered by the Grand Mosque preacher.

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London Hosts Islam Awareness Week

OnIslam Staff Monday, 17 March 2014 CAIRO – Attracting visitors from around Britain, London hosted the opening ceremony of the 21st year of Islam Awareness Week on Sunday, March 17, concentrating on the concept of charity and what it means in Islam, in a bid to promote social cohesion rather than dwelling on differences.

“Charity is more than just about giving money. It is about giving your time, your talents and yourself to others in so many different ways. It is about caring for your neighbors and the neighborhood in which you live,” a brochure published to promote Islam Awareness Week 2014, published on the IAW website, reads.

“Indeed this is an Islamic duty enjoined on all of us and, through positive action, Muslims can contribute to the wellbeing of the people and places around them,” it added.

Opening under the theme, Charity Begins At Home, Islam awareness week focuses on the concept of charity and what it means in Islam.

In its 21st anniversary, the event will focus on social action, showcasing some projects led by Muslims around the country.

These projects include food banks, soup kitchens, women’s refuges and more. “Our aim is to motivate and inspire more people to get involved in this much needed work with people of all faiths and from different backgrounds,” the brochure says.

Parallel events will be held across different cities in UK, including Bradford, Sheffield, Halifax and Leicester. A Scotland version of Islam Awareness Week also runs from March 10-23, covering different interfaith, sports and religious events.

Islamic Society of Britain initiated Islam Awareness Week (IAW) in 1994, to raise awareness and remove misconceptions surrounding Britain’s second largest faith group.

IAW has been taking place in many towns and cities across the UK and since the year 2000, a theme has been chosen which highlights an issue which is of common concern across communities.

Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million.

According to Islamic Shari`ah, a capable Muslim pays 2.5 percent mandatory payment and spend it to help the poor and the needy.

Last July, a survey by JustGiving charity website has found that Muslims top charity givers in the UK, compared with other faiths.

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Al-Azhar, Vatican Unite Against Slavery

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 18 March 2014 VATICAN CITY – Combating modern-day slavery, Al-Azhar, the Roman Catholic Church and Church of England have launched a network to end human trafficking that traps millions of poor people across the globe.

The network is a “strong appeal against the egotism of rich countries, against materialistic societies which must stop all forms of aggression against the human being,” Mahmoud Azab, who signed the agreement for al-Azhar’s Grand Imam Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, told AFP on Tuesday, March 18.

The anti-slavery network, Global Freedom Network, was launched on Monday in a historical meeting at the Vatican that united Muslim and Christian efforts against human trafficking.

The new effort aims at pressuring governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to end the supply chains of millions of slave and child labor by 2020. “Physical, economic and sexual exploitation of men, women and children” trapped 30 million people worldwide in slavery, read the joint statement by the faiths groups.

Associated with the Walk Free foundation, a charity founded by the mining billionaire Andrew Forrest, the network would bring together “millions of churches and mosques to gather in one great army to fight the war against slavery,” Forrest hopes.

“Modern slavery and human trafficking are one of the greatest scandals and a tragedy of our age, which touches every part of the world in some way,” said David John Moxon, who represented Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, head of the Church of England and the spiritual leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The network objectives include getting G20 condemnation of modern slavery and convincing 50 major corporations to eradicate supply chain of slave labors.

It also aims at achieving a $10-million fundraising effort from 160 governments to combat slavery.

“I consider that being very badly paid, having a very, very low salary is part of slavery,” Azab was quoted by Reuters. “Profiting from the needs of human beings, taking all their effort and energy without paying or paying very little, is part of slavery,” the imam added.

Reviving relations

The anti-slavery historical agreement marks a revival of the strained relations between Al-Azhar and the Vatican, spoiled during the papacy of Benedict XVI.

“I think it’s the first time we have worked together like this,” Bishop Marcelo Sanchez Sorondo, who signed the document for the Vatican, said at the signing ceremony, adding that interfaith relations required careful study and treatment.

“But for other questions, human questions, the common values of humanity we can work together and this can be important for the theoretical path,” the Bishop added.

In 2011, Al-Azhar, the highest seat of learning in the Sunni Muslim world, has frozen the inter-religious dialogue with the Vatican over Pope Benedict XVI’s insults against Islam.

Benedict called on the Egyptian government to protect Copts following a deadly church attack in the northern coastal city of Alexandria on New Year’s eve, which killed 21 people.

In 2006, relations between Muslims and the Vatican strained after Pope Benedict quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor that everything Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessing be upon him) brought was evil and inhuman.

According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the annual profits of modern slavery are more than $32 billion.

Slavery was never praised or encouraged in Islam. Freeing a slave has always been regarded as one of the most meritorious of all acts, and many passages of the Qur’an require it, particularly as a means of expiation for serious faults.

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Connecticut Schools Approve Muslim Holidays

OnIslam, Tuesday, 18 March 2014 CAIRO – A US advocacy group has welcomed the decision by Connecticut’s New London Public Schools to recognize two Muslim holidays in its calendar for the coming year.

“We welcome the inclusion of Islamic holidays in the school calendar because it will serve to enhance the learning environment for Muslim students,” CAIR-CT Executive Director Mongi Dhaouadi, who is also a New London Public Schools parent, said in a statement obtained by OnIslam.net on Tuesday, March 18.

In its calendar for the year 2014-2015, the school included certain Muslim holidays as days when observing students can be excused for absences. It also asks teachers not to schedule tests on those dates.

This list included two religious holidays; Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. “While school is in session on the following dates, teachers are asked to be mindful of these religious holidays and to refrain from scheduling tests or major activities on these dates,” a note to the listings states.

“Also, in accordance with Board policy, students will be excused from school if they observe these holidays.”

Eid Al-Adha, or “Feast of Sacrifice”, is one of the two most important Islamic celebrations, together withEid Al-Fitr. Elsewhere across the United States, home to a Muslim minority between 6-8 million, recognizing Muslim religious holidays is gaining ground.

In Boston, leading schools Cambridge Public School District issued a decision in 2010 to recognize Eid Al-Fitr andEid Al-Adha, which marks the end of hajj.

Several cities in New Jersey close schools on Muslim holidays. Dearborn, Michigan, where nearly half of the 18,000 students are Muslims, is believed to be the first city to close school on Muslim festivals.

CAIR offers a booklet, called “An Educator’s Guide to Islamic Religious Practices,” designed to help school officials provide a positive learning environment for Muslim students.

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US Team Dons Hijab in Solidarity with Player

OnIslam & News Agencies Tuesday, 18 March 2014 AURORA, Colorado – Protesting referees’ decision to ban their colleague from playing while donning hijab, the football team of a high school in Aurora, Colorado, decided to don Islamic headscarf in solidarity with their friend.

“Wednesday March 12 was our first game. That was when the referee said (Samah Aidah) couldn’t play due to her hijab, which they said was dangerous,” Divine Davis, a member of Overland High School football team, told Aquila Style website on Monday, March 17. “The next day, we all wore the hijabs.”

The news hit twitter after Davis posted a photo for the whole team smiling in their dark blue uniforms while donning hijab. The picture was posted with the following tweet, “The refs wouldn’t let Samah play with her hijab so today we all wore one for the game #lovemyteam #letsamahplay.”

According to Davis, the picture was taken before the game. “We took this picture before the game and Samah was able to play,” Divine said. She decided to post the picture on Twitter simply because she wanted to “show my Twitter friends what (they) did.”

Headscarves were banned from FIFA competitions in 2007, with FIFA saying that they posed too great a risk of injury to the head or neck. On March 1, 2014, FIFA officials decided to allow the Islamic headscarf in matches.

To the surprise of the stumbling team, their picture went viral and elicited a wave of positive responses from across the globe.

Twitter user @KiranMK0822 tweeted, “Thanks for standing up for what’s right! And thanks from a hijabi who plays badminton with the hijab on!”

“Shot out to Overland girls soccer for standing up for what’s right! Very Proud of you young ladies!” @KingNegronidas wrote.

“@DivineDavis from fairview high school to you guys, much respect. You guys have a lot of class great character. Way to stand ^ 4 whats right,” @GaelynCrowder added.

Twitter user @samreennnnn wrote: “@DivineDavis You all might have been players. But you guys just became a team.”

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.

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New ‘Mohamed Ali’ Boxing Star Rises in UK

OnIslam & Newspapers Thursday, 20 March 2014 CAIRO – A new Muslim boxing star has risen recently after young teenager Mohamed Ali launched a promising professional career in boxing by qualifying for the World Youth Championships for the second time.

“I don’t say this about most lads but within another three years I think he will go pro,” Mike Jelley, the man who discovered and nurtured the teenage starlet Amir Khan, told The Telegraph an Argus earlier this month. “I don’t blame Ali if he does because I think he is good enough. He will be ready then,” he added.

The 17-year-old Muslim teenage from Keighley, Bradford, was qualified to the world championship after winning the 52kg division at the Three Nations in Edinburgh.

The starlet was granted a chance to participate in the Great Britain squad for Sofia after defeating Welsh and Scottish opponents.

The qualification gives Ali an opportunity to be professional within three years after competing in the Championship next month.

The tournaments will start by mid-April in Bulgaria where Ali will arrive on April 10. “He is a lovely lad who just works and works. Sometimes he trains too hard because he wants to do so well and you have to hold him back a bit,” added Jelley.

“He wants to go in the ring and knock them all out, which is impossible. He has got to learn to step off the gas at times but that will come – but he’s a smashing boxer.”

In his second participation at the World youth championship, Jelly aims victory for the Keighley starlet. “Last year he faced the Russian who went on to win the gold medal in the first round and only lost on a count back,” he said. “It’s the luck of the draw but Ali’s got every chance of doing very well.”

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Islamic Finance Thrives in Kenya

OnIslam Thursday, 20 March 2014 NAIROBI – From humble beginnings, the Islamic financial institutions have been growing rapidly over the past years, attracting increasing attention and interest from both Muslims and non-Muslims, many of whom are being exposed to its principles and practice for the first time.

“Islamic banks have now enabled Muslims and other Kenyans to benefit from banking services without violating the principles of their faith,” Prof. Njuguna Ndung’u, the Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya, told OnIslam.net.

“The presence of the banks has also made possible the pooling of huge resources for investments to benefit Kenyans,” he added.

Islamic banking was introduced in 2008 in Kenya when the first two Islamic Banks, Community Bank (FCB) and Gulf African Bank (GAB), opened their doors. Islamic finance has evolved rapidly into insurance, investments, and pensions which are in line with the Islamic law that forbids dealing in interest or usury.

Today, these two banks handle millions of dollars worth of financial muscle, representing the growing strength of Islamic ideas of economics in Kenya.

In March last year, the World Bank through its investment arm the International Finance Corporation invested US$5 million into GAB to strengthen its capacity to support small and medium-sized businesses.

“The investment was a demonstration of confidence in the operations and future of Islamic banking in Kenya,” says GAB CEO Abdalla Abdulkhalik.

He adds that owing to the success of the two Islamic Banks in terms of attracting deposits from the Muslim community, other commercial banks have quickly opened up Islamic segments to compete for the Muslim wallets.

Currently, 10 out of the 42 commercial banks in Kenya have created such segments to cater for what they call the “Muslim niche segment.”

There are nearly ten million Muslims in Kenya, which has a population of 36 million. Islam forbids Muslims from usury, receiving or paying interest on loans. Transactions by Islamic banks must be backed by real assets, not shady repackaged subprime mortgages.

Shari`ah-compliant financing deals resemble lease-to-own arrangements, layaway plans, joint purchase and sale agreements, or partnerships.

Many Kenyans, especially non-Muslims who pay monthly contributions to their insurance companies, were jolted with pleasant surprise when they learnt about the Islamic insurance (or Takaful) model, where they could receive a share of profits the firm makes.

“In conventional Insurance, the fat profits made by insurance companies are taken by the shareholders of those companies,” says Ahmed Bashir, CEO of Takaful Insurance of Africa, the only islamic insurance firm operating in Kenya. “But in Islamic insurance, the profits are shared between the company’s owners and the customers who purchase insurance,” he added.

Plans are afoot to launch the first pension scheme in line with Islamic principles by mid this year. Current pension scheme invest money into sectors involving interest, alcohol, gambling and other things that Islam prohibits.

Islamic Finance has gained such strength in Kenya that the Central Bank of Kenya, the state Banking regulator, has launched international certificate training in the field, to produce the human resources needed to support the fast-growing sector.

The Bank’s training arm, the Kenya School of Monetary Studies, will offer the training in partnership with the International Center for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF).

Overall, there is developing consensus that Islamic finance has lots of potential to unlock economic value in Kenya and other parts of the world as its principles and best practices are implemented.

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Doha Hosts Conference on Islamic Ethics

OnIslam Staff Friday, 14 March 2014 CAIRO – The Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), a member of Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies (QFIS), will be hosting its second annual international conference on ‘Ethics in a Changing World: Contemporary Perspectives’ this weekend.

“We are pleased to introduce the program of CILE’s second annual international conference on “Ethics in a Changing World: Contemporary Perspectives,” CILE website said in a statement released on Thursday, March 13.

The conference will be held on 15th and 16th March at the Auditorium of Georgetown University in Qatar. It consists of four themes namely, Media, Environment, Psychology and Gender, and the relationship of each to religion and ethics.

The event would be attended by a number of keynote speakers including: Tawakul Karman, Nobel Prize Laureate, Reem Maghribi, Former Arab World Program Leader at Greenpeace, Malik Badri, UNESCO expert in psychology, and Wadah Khanfar, Former Director-General of the Al Jazeera Network.

Other internationally renowned speakers include Dr. Tariq Ramadan, Executive Director of CILE, who will deliver the closing speech on Sunday. The conference will be broadcasted in live streaming in Arabic, English and French on www.cilecenter.org, CILE website said.

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Reconstruction of World Heritage mausoleums starts in Timbuktu

Residents of Timbuktu today launched the reconstruction of World Heritage mausoleums damaged by the armed extremists who occupied the north and centre of Mali in 2012.

During the occupation, the extremists began to destroy the mausoleums – important edifices that bear witness to the golden age of Timbuktu as an economic, intellectual and spiritual centre in the 15th and 16th centuries. These buildings are also exceptional examples of earthen architecture whose regular upkeep by residents was deliberately stopped by the insurgents. Sixteen of them are part of the World Heritage site.

Their reconstruction is expected to last one month and will be carried out by a local group of masons under the supervision of the Imam of Djingareyber. The project has been financed by Mali and UNESCO with contributions from Andorra, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Croatia and Mauritius as well as logistical support from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

During today’s ceremony, Mali’s Minister of Culture, Bruno Maiga, laid the first earthen brick on the mausoleums of Sheik Baber Baba Idjè and Sheik Mahamane Al Fullani, in the presence of David Gressly, Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations, and Moustapha Dicko, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.

The Minister of Culture described the event as a sign of the renaissance of the ancient culture of Mali and said: “The ceremony comes to crown the joint efforts of the government of Mali, UNESCO and other technical and financial partners to safeguard the cultural heritage of Mali, particularly in the north and centre of the country.”

The Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, described the launch of the reconstruction as a significant day for UNESCO: “The rehabilitation of the cultural heritage of Timbuktu is crucial for the people of Mali, for the city’s residents and for the world. The name of Timbuktu sparks the imagination of millions of people in all parts of the planet and it is a happy day for us at UNESCO when we see the support we have helped mobilize for the people and culture of this part of the world crowned with success.”

Albert Gerard Koenders, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and Head the MINUSMA, declared that “Protecting civilians also implies safeguarding their history and their identity. Today’s start of the reconstruction of Timbuktu’s mausoleums is important as they constitute an inalienable feature of the city’s identity whose very purpose is to protect its inhabitants.”

Diplomats from the European Union France, South Africa and Switzerland also participated in the ceremony.

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1.7m tourism jobs for Saudis pledged

Jeddah, Thursday 20 March 2014, Arab News – The Kingdom’s tourism industry will create 1.7 million job opportunities for young Saudi men and women within the next six years, said Prince Sultan bin Salman, president of Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA).

Speaking at Jeddah Economic Forum on Wednesday, Prince Sultan also said the government and the people of Saudi Arabia pin great hope on the tourism sector that contributes 2.6 percent of the gross domestic product.

The SCTA chief disclosed plans to introduce a number of new tourism programs to create jobs for citizens.

The “Live Saudi” program aims at helping the youth to explore tourism potentials of their country while “Youth Tourism” help young Saudi men and women to participate in group-tourism programs.

“By the year 2013, the tourism sector provided 751,000 jobs with Saudis holding 27.1 percent of them,” the prince told the forum attended by more than 1,000 delegates including businessmen and government officials in addition to a large number of young Saudi men and women.

“Tourism represents the second largest economic sector, after banking, in providing jobs for Saudis,” the SCTA president said, adding that the tourism sector would soon become the largest Saudi employer.

Top executives from Saudi Aramco and Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) shared their job creation strategies with the delegates.

Khalid Alohali, deputy governor of SAGIA, said the Kingdom had introduced several measures to boost public-private sector partnership.

Motassim Al-Ma’ashouq, vice-president of new business development, Saudi Aramco, said young citizens were being given prominent roles to run and manage the oil giant’s critical facilities. He highlighted the opportunities provided to Saudis to advance their careers at a time when Saudi Aramco making strides in the field of refining and petrochemical industry.

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EU/Jordan: €180 million Macro-Financial Assistance package signed

Brussels, 18 March 2014, European Commission Press release – Today, Olli Rehn, Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Euro, signed, on behalf of the European Union, a €180 million Macro-Financial Assistance (MFA) package for Jordan, together with a Memorandum of Understanding and Loan Facility Agreement with Jordan. The agreement was co-signed by the Jordanian Minister of Finance, Dr Umayya Toukan, and by the Governor of the Central Bank of Jordan, Dr. Ziad Fariz.

“The EU is helping Jordan to weather the severe impact of the regional economic and political crisis. We support the continuous efforts towards macroeconomic stabilisation,” said Vice President Rehn. “This assistance will help ease Jordan’s financing constraints and support its economic reforms, for the sake of improving the living conditions of the Jordanian people.”

The financial assistance, in the form of a medium-term loan, will be provided during the course of this year in two instalments: €100 and €80 million. This assistance is part of the EU’s comprehensive efforts to help Jordan address the consequences of a number of external economic shocks, notably related to the conflict in Syria and the disruption in gas imports from Egypt. These factors have influenced the build-up of significant imbalances regarding Jordan’s balance of payments and fiscal situation.

The assistance complements the increased financial resources provided by the EU to Jordan under the European Neighbourhood and Partnership Instrument, the EU SPRING programme to support partnership, reforms and inclusive growth in the EU’s southern neighbourhood, as well as humanitarian and other forms of assistance. The MFA is linked to a three-year economic adjustment and reform programme agreed between Jordan and the IMF in 2012 and to a number of economic policy conditions as set out in the Memorandum of Understanding.

Macro-Financial Assistance is an exceptional EU crisis response instrument available to the EU’s neighbouring partner countries. This operation is complementary to assistance provided by the IMF. MFA loans are financed through EU borrowing on capital markets. The funds are then on-lent with similar financial terms to the beneficiary countries.

The assistance package for Jordan was proposed by the European Commission on 29 April 2013 and adopted by the European Parliament and the Council on 11 December 2013 (Decision 1351/2013/EU).

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Hijab design takes centre stage at Tokyo Fashion Week

AFP Tokyo, March 22, 2014 – Among the aspiring Asian designers competing for the limelight at Tokyo Fashion Week, one of the most striking was an Indonesian label’s bid to blend a traditional Muslim headscarf with haute couture.

The twice-yearly show, which wraps up on Saturday, saw NurZahra roll out its autumn/winter collection “Layers of Fidelity”, turning the modest hijab into sophisticated fashion.

The label — whose name means “the luminous light” in Arabic and takes from Fatimah Zahra, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed — wanted to prove that the female hair-and-neck-covering wrap, common in the Islamic world, could still take on playful elements.

“The modest hijab is not actually a restriction” in fashion, designer Windri Widiesta Dhari told reporters after her stylish designs hit the catwalk.

“It’s how you cover yourself and look more elegant in a way that has a loose fit.”

The wearing of the Islamic veil, limited historically to conservative Gulf monarchies, gained ground, including in sports, since the 1979 Iranian revolution and the creation of an Islamic republic.

Use of the veil spread quickly as Islamist movements grew in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings.

Indonesian fashion designer Windri Widiesta Dhari greets visitors at the end of her brand’s Nur Zahra 2014-2015 autumn/winter collection show at Tokyo Fashion Week. (AFP photo)

France has outraged many Muslims with a law against full face-covering veils, while the use of the hijab in sport, including football, has sometimes stirred cultural clashes.

But Dhari sees the traditional scarf as not just a modesty covering, but also a stylish, comfortable accessory.

“We want to inspire people to think that wearing hijab is not something difficult, and could be worn by anyone,” she said.

Her collection also bucks a contemporary design trend for simplicity and minimalism.

Blending cotton or silk into her hijab, she includes natural dye prints that rely on a traditional Japanese tie-dye technique called shibori and the Indonesian batik method.

With patterns ranging from mini mandalas to Turkish geometrics, Dhari plays with multiple layers of fabric to freely shape her silhouettes.

Another eye-catching element of the collection was a hat that spreads wide in the back, a throwback to the sixties with elements resembling a long-ago royal head piece.

“The concept of the hat was actually inspired by the style in one from 1963,” Dhari said. “I was looking for vintage hats that could be used to cover your hair and also your neck.

“I used that inspiration and then mixed it with a traditional ethnic concept, so it becomes something very unique.”

Tokyo has long been the centre of cool, renowned the world over for its far-out fashions that see young women donning gothic-inspired “Lolita” outfits and chiseled young men with highly coiffed haircuts.

But at the latest Tokyo Fashion Week, it was newcomer brands from several Asian fashion houses outside Japan, such as NurZahra, which breathed fresh air into the show in the Japanese capital.

Another Indonesian brand, Major Minor, hit the runway for the first time, showcasing styles incorporating mainly monochrome tones and simple silhouettes.

The opener of the event was Thai brand Sretsis — “sisters” in reverse — led by designer Pim Sukhahuta, who works alongside two female siblings.

Among their offerings was a cartoon-like print — girls’ faces dotting the fabric — that meshed touches of American high-school and Japan’s “Lolita” themes.

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Solicitor Aina Khan to speak at Converge Muslim Mediation Awareness Conf

London, United Kingdom (PRWEB UK) 21 March 2014 – Aina Khan, Islamic Solicitor and Head of Duncan Lewis Islamic Law Department will be speaking at Converge’s Muslim Mediation Conference on 21/03/14.

Aina Khan will be speaking at the Muslim Mediation Awareness event held by family resolution service Converge at Regents Lake Banqueting on 21/03/14.

The conference, which is aimed at referral agency professionals, mediators and the general public aims to raise awareness about mediation as an integral part of scriptures and traditions and to provide an opportunity to understand how mediation works and where it can be accessed.

Furthermore, the conference will explain how mediation can allow the religious and cultural sensitivities of parties’ to be addressed and facilitate mutually acceptable terms being agreed, as well as how mediation can lead to legally binding agreements that are enforceable through the English Courts.

Aina Khan is an Islamic Solicitor and Head of the Islamic Law Department at Legal 500 recommended law firm Duncan Lewis Solicitors. She is recognised as the leading specialist in Islamic Law in the UK.

Aina regularly makes TV, radio and press appearances. She has also advised parliamentarians and academics on Islamic Family Law and frequently speaks at the Houses of Lords and Commons as well as lecturing at Universities in the UK and abroad.

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Chechen leader opens $10m mosque in Israeli Arab village

ABU GHOSH, Israel, Associated Press, 24 March 2014: The president of Russia’s republic of Chechnya has inaugurated a new, $10 million mosque in an Arab village in Israel.

Ramzan Kadyrov said on Sunday that it was an honor to visit “this good and holy land” during a stop in the village of Abu Ghosh.

Isa Jabar, the village’s mayor, says Chechnya donated $6 million for the mosque. He says some villagers trace their ancestry to 16th century Chechnya and the Caucus region.

The mosque was built in the Ottoman Turkish style, the favored architectural style in Chechnya. It features four minarets, making it the only mosque of its kind in Israel.

Abu Ghosh, near Jerusalem, enjoys good ties with its Jewish neighbors and is a popular culinary destination for Israelis.

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US$286 million Pledged For Rebuilding Afghanistan Infrastructure

Wednesday, March 19, 2014, Kabul (BNA) The governments of the United Kingdom (UK), the United States (US) and Japan will continue their support for improving and maintaining Afghanistan’s key roads, power plants, and other infrastructure by providing an additional $286 million to the Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund (AITF).

The AITF, managed by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) on behalf of the Government of Afghanistan and donors, helps the country build and run infrastructure to promote security and drive development. Contributions to the fund will help ensure that 90% of the population has access to regional and national roads by 2017. In addition, the AITF will help ensure the proportion of households with access to grid electricity nationally will increase to 50% by 2017.

Noting the support ADB is providing to Afghanistan, Finance Minister Dr. Omar Zakhilwal said: “ADB, besides its generous grant assistance to Afghanistan, administers the Afghanistan Infrastructure Trust Fund (AITF) that envisions to provide significant critical financial contributions in pooled resources through our country systems in an efficient and accountable manner, funding important infrastructures that are aimed to put Afghanistan on a path to self-reliance.” Minister Zakhilwal also thanked and encouraged donors to continue financing AITF.

“These important contributions to Afghanistan’s infrastructure will promote economic growth, private sector investment, and better public service delivery,” said Joji Tokeshi, Country Director for ADB in Afghanistan. “Most importantly, many thousands of Afghans will benefit from better access to electricity, transport, and employment opportunities.”

The additional contributions, which were announced at a ceremony at the Afghanistan Ministry of Finance, include $213 million from the United Kingdom, $60 million from the United States and $13 million from Japan.

“Over recent years, UK support to the AITF has brought major improvements to Afghanistan’s infrastructure; we are proud of this,” said a senior DFID official in Kabul. “I want to see these improvements continue for years to come. The Department for International Development is committed to supporting this program and investing in Afghanistan’s future.

“The US government’s contribution to this fund is just one example of our long-term commitment to supporting Afghanistan’s development. Our partnership with the ADB provides an important mechanism for improving the lives of the Afghan people and driving Afghanistan’s economic growth,” said USAID Mission Director to Afghanistan, William Hammink. “The Government of Japan sees infrastructure development as an important pillar of its assistance to Afghanistan, and we hope our contribution to the AITF, in the transport and energy sectors, will promote further development in the country,” said Hiroshi Takahashi, Japanese Ambassador to Afghanistan. ADB, based in Manila, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth and regional integration. Established in 1966, it is owned by 67 members – 48 from the region.

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Pakistani Minister calls for “soft image” building through art

LAHORE, Mar 23 (APP): Federal Information Minister Senator Pervaiz Rashid has said that there is the need to build the soft image of the country through art and rich culture. Speaking at the inauguration of art and photography exhibition ‘The Art of Healing’ by Maryam Aftab and Zarmina at the Nairang Art Gallery here Sunday, he said society and the state cannot be deprived of its cultural heritage.

To a query, the Information minister said the government was committed to present the true color of Pakistan to the World through the promotion of art and culture and preserve the cultural heritage of the country.

“Gone are the days when some misled people tarnished the true identity of Pakistan,” he responded.

Pervaiz Rashid said the government was committed to the portrayl of true identity of the country through cultural activities.

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Ground breaking of Rs 44 bln Islamabad-Rawalpindi Metro Bus project

RAWALPINDI, March 23 (APP): Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif performed on Sunday the ground breaking ceremony of Rs 44.21 billion Rawalpindi-Islamabad Metro Bus Service (MBS) project here, aimed at providing a fast and quality transport service for commuters. Punjab Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif, federal ministers, members of national and provincial assemblies and senior government officials attended the ceremony. The Prime Minister unveiled a plaque for the project that would be completed in 10 months. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, addressing the large gathering, vowed to bring about a positive change in the lives of common men.

“People will soon see this change,” he said and mentioned a number of similar other development projects. These included the motorway up to Karachi, Islamabad-Muzaffarabad train service and the new Islamabad international airport, which would be completed next year.

He said the government was also working on a plan to end power loadshedding and would add 22,000 MW electricity in next four years.

The Prime Minister said the Metro Bus project was a reflection of his government’s commitment towards providing the best possible services for the people of Rawalpindi and Islamabad.

He said though the deadline for the completion of the project was short and it was no ordinary feat, but he had firm faith in the abilities of the chief minister to accomplish this gigantic task within a short period of 10 months.

Referring to the earlier agreed upon 50-50 fund sharing formula for the project between the provincial and federal governments, he assured support of the federal government after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif pointed out that the cost of project in Rawalpindi would be much higher, and the formula needed to be revised.

Earlier, Shahbaz Sharif said the day was conspicuous as the nation was celebrating Pakistan Day and the provision of a bus service for the people of Rawalpindi and Islamabad was a great service for them.

Shahbaz Sharif said 175,000 people daily commuted on the Lahore metro service and they belonged to all segments of society.

He said there would be no compromise on the quality of construction and it would meet international standards.

A documentary shown on the occasion pointed there will be no environmental impact of the project as no green area will be affected during the construction of the project and it will not violate the master plan of Islamabad.

The total cost of the project also includes a signal free interchange at Peshawar Mor Islamabad at a cost of Rs 4.7 billion that will also be completed in record period of 10 months. Federal and provincial governments will contribute 50 percent each of the total cost.

Currently an estimated 0.5 million people daily commute between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The service will cater to around 150,000 people daily.

A documentary showed the route of the Metro Bus Service that will start from Flashman Hotel Chowk on Murree Road and will end at Pak Secretariat covering a total distance of 23.2 k.m. passing through the Murree Road. From Faizabad Rawalpindi, the bus will ply on IJP Road, 9th Avenue and Jinnah Avenue, Blue Area and culminate near the Pakistan Secretariat.

The portion of Metro Bus Service in Rawalpindi from Flashmans Hotel to Faizabad having distance of 8.6 k.m. will be elevated, while in Islamabad 14.6 k.m will be on ground, starting from Faizabad to Pak Secretariat via IJP Road and 9th Avenue.

The track will also have 24 modern stations for the passengers. Of these 10 will be on Murree Road while 14 in Islamabad.

Initially, 60 buses will ply on the Metro Bus track from Rawalpindi to Islamabad carrying over 150,000 passengers. About 29 kanals land will be acquired for the project, of which about 20 kanals will be acquired on Murree Road, Rawalpindi.

The Prime Minister was informed that in future if the load of passengers increases the metro track can be used for Metro Train by laying train tracks.

The project was given a green signal by Prime Minister in January this year and following the approval of the project by provincial cabinet, the work has been initiated on the project that would provide international standard mass transit system for the citizens of twin cities.

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Islamic Ministers adopt Jeddah Declaration on Advancing Youth and Sports

Jeddah 18/03/2014 (ICESCO NEWS) – At the close of its second session today, the Islamic Conference of Ministers of Youth and Sports adopted the Jeddah Declaration on Advancing Youth and Sports Causes in the Muslim World.

The Declaration calls for supporting the development of national youth and sports policies with the active participation of the youth and for adopting a cross-cutting, holistic approach encompassing various areas such as education, politics, healthcare, culture, sports and economy, and aiming to develop integrated programmes under such policies.

It urges the bodies in charge of education in the Member States to incorporate the principles of ‘Civic Education’ and ‘Human Rights’ into the various stages of education, in order to consolidate the core values of citizenry and coexistence among all members of society, and promote a culture of human rights among young people, in line with the Islamic referential framework and with the relevant Islamic and international instruments.

To this end, the Declaration stresses the need to encourage more direct engagement initiatives involving the youth, national leaderships and senior officials to build up the capacities of the youth and encourage them to participate effectively in community life, and to advance their causes through development plans that meet their needs and aspirations.

In the same vein, the Declaration calls on NGOs and civil society institutions to benefit from youth capacities and sports and cultural activities in promoting the values of patriotism, dialogue, tolerance and selflessness among youth in Member States and spreading the culture of charitable work and volunteering as Islamic values.

The Jeddah Declaration calls for protecting youngsters and adolescents against growing internet-based transnational electronic crimes, especially in the social media.

It also highlights the need for increasing the media’s interest in youth-related contemporary issues, and giving them more space in State-run and private TV and radio stations for talk shows, documentaries, arts broadcasts and cultural and awareness-raising programmes dealing with youth issues and problems.

The Declaration urges due attention to Muslim youth outside the Islamic world and support for the efforts of Islamic cultural centers and Arab-Islamic education institutions based outside the Islamic world to educate Muslim adolescents on moderation, middle stance, tolerance and constructive dialogue with others and accordingly offer the true alternative to the misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.

It equally recommends providing material and moral incentives and conducive conditions for youth researchers and innovators and those with special needs in the Member States, and harnessing their scientific and applied capacities to build the desired knowledge society.

The Declaration particularly invites sports and youth institutions, olympic committees and sports federations in Islamic states to support Palestine’s positions at international sports organizations.

Besides, the Member States are urged to engage positively with the Youth Council of Islamic Countries (YCIC) and support its efforts and programmes in the service of youth and sports causes in the Muslim world, in cooperation with the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, the OIC General Secretariat, ISESCO General Directorate and relevant Arab, Islamic and International bodies.

In its capacity as the conference Secretariat, the ISSF is mandated to follow up on the implementation of the provisions of the Declaration, in collaboration with relevant parties in the Member States, and in coordination with the OIC General Secretariat, ISESCO and the YCIC.

Finally, the Declaration invites the ISSF and ISESCO to develop programmes and activities under the joint agreement and action plans aimed at empowering the youth and enhancing their developmental role, and to continue their efforts in preparing researches and collecting relevant data and indicators in coordination with Member States, youth-related organizations and bodies, including ISESCO and, in particular, the Islamic Conference Youth Forum for Dialogue and Cooperation and relevant partners at the national, regional and international levels.

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Travel via Queen Alia Airport up 17.3%

Amman, Mar 22 (Petra) – Travel via the Queen Alia International Airport (QAIA) has increased and achieved “positive results,” as was clear from figures up until the end of last February, the Airport International Group (AIG) said on Saturday.

It said in a statement that the number of passengers at the new air facility rose by 17.3% by the end of February this year, or 1,083,000 passengers compared to 923,000 during the same period in 2013.

The AIG, which operates the airport, said average aircraft movement was up 11,079 or 8.3% during the same period.

AIG Chief Executive Officer Kjeld Binger said the fixed growth reflects the QAIA’s commitment to provide world-class services and application of best practices in the aviation industry.

Binger said although the new airport has been in service for less than a year, it had already won two prestigious international prizes.

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African Development Bank to lend Tunisia $2.1 billion

Tunis, Thursday 19 Jamada Al Awwal 1434/ 20 March 2014 (IINA) – The African Development Bank will lend the Tunisian government $2.1 billion in 2014 and 2015 to support the North African country as it pushes through reforms to open up its battered economy, the bank said on Wednesday.

A caretaker government has taken over until elections later this year, ending months of crisis in Tunisia, which is still recovering from the aftermath of its political upheaval three years ago. But high living costs and a lack of economic opportunities are still major concerns for many Tunisians. “AfDB will support the improvement of governance, by backing reforms and capacity building in order to create an enabling business climate for private sector development and jobs both in the regions and nationwide,” the bank said in a statement.

Tunisia, which is still heavily reliant on European tourism, is one of the three main clients of the bank and has already received $1 billion loans from it, in 2011 and 2012. Tunisia plans to raise around $2 billion by issuing foreign bonds including $1 billion with guarantees from Japan, the central bank governor told Reuters in interview last month.

The country has already secured $1.2 billion in loans from the World Bank, another $500 million from the International Monetary Fund and $690 million from the European Investment Bank to support its democratic transition in 2014. Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said this month that external borrowing needs this year would be nearly double previous budget estimates at around $8 billion, mainly due to rising public sector pay.

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Exhibition of handicrafts held in Tatarstan

islam.ru / 17 Mar 2014 – “Iman Yorti” Muslim youth organization organized “Enje” fair exhibition of craft works of Muslimas of Tatarstan. The exhibition was held in “Yardem” mosque of the city of Kazan.

The event was attended by more than 15 Muslimas of different districts of Tatarstan. The team of jury was consisted of national artist of Tatarstani republic Golzada Safiulina, the director of “Yardem” rehabilitation center Malika Gilmutdinova, a designer Najiya Galimova, poetess Liliya Salahutdinova.

Different kinds of handicrafts were presented at the exhibition. There were embroidery and knitwear, flowers, painted wooden souvenirs.

The works of blind Muslimas, who have been trained in the “Yardem” rehabilitation center were also presented in the exhibition.

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Maldives Tourist arrivals up by 5.7% in February

March 20, 2014 – Tourist arrivals has increased by 5.7 percent in February 2014 compared with the corresponding period in 2013.

Statistics published by Ministry of Tourism show that tourist arrivals for February 2014 and February 2013 were 110,705 and 104,645 respectively – adding up to an increase of 5.7 percent.

The statistics show that tourist arrivals for February 2014 was highest from China, but at 33,213, it was a decrease of 1.1 percent compared with the corresponding period last year.

A total of 55,780 tourists visited Maldives in February 2014 from Europe, while 48,765 came from Asia, and 2,915 came from the US.

Tourist arrivals for this year at the end of February 2014 stood at 216,001, an increase of 11.6 percent compared with the corresponding period last year.

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Dosti-Ekuverikan art exhibition held in Maldives

March 17, 2014 – An art exhibition was inaugurated at the National Art Gallery last night, consisting of paintings from the art competition conducted during the India-Maldives friendship week dubbed Dhosti-Ekuverikan week in January.

The art exhibition was inaugurated by High Commissioner of India to the Maldives Rajeev Shahare. The High Commissioner also handed-out prizes to the winners of the art competition. Speaking at the event, Shahare noted the support shown by citizens from both countries and thanked the Maldivian government and senior government officials for their support in marking the friendship week a success.

A total of 1600 drawings were submitted to the competition from 20 different schools. The High Commission of India, Maldives also organized a food festival, a film festival, yoga workshops, a cultural evening, a music festival and a quiz event during the friendship week, which was marked from 20 to 27 January.

A 4-member medical team consisting of 3 senior Ophthalmologists also conducted free eye camps in Indira Gandhi Memorial Hospital (IGMH) and Hulhumale’ Hospital from 24 to 26 January.

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Turkey, Russia sign tourism action plan

MOSCOW – Anadolu Agency – Turkey has signed a new tourism agreement with Russia which will see the two countries run joint projects over the next two years. Turkey’s Culture and Tourism Ministry signed a joint action plan with the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism on March 16 to encourage cooperation between 2014 and 2016.

Turkish Culture and Tourism Ministry Undersecretary Özgür Özaslan and Russian Federal Agency for Tourism (ROSTURIZM) Chairman Aleksandr Rodkov announced the deal on the sidelines of the “Intourmarket 2014 Moscow: International Trade Fair for Travel and Tourism.”

The joint action plan aims to encourage and boost tourist traffic between Turkey and Russia, set up a joint working group, increase travel safety and comfort and further develop cooperation in international organizations. As part of the new plan, a forum will be hosted in Turkey later this year to gather investors from both countries.

According to ROSTURIZM statistics for 2013, Turkey is the top holiday destination for Russian people. Rodkov said the number of Russian tourists traveling to Turkey exceeded 4 million in 2013, “a 26 percent increase in one year. Likewise, 2013 saw a 28 percent rise when it comes to the number of Turkish tourists, which amounted to over 385,000,” he said.

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Turkish film festival rolls into Boston

BOSTON – Hurriyet – Continuing its tradition of highlighting contemporary Turkish cinema and Turkish filmmakers, the 13rd Boston Turkish Film Festival will be held between March 20 and April 26. The festival will open with Reha Erdem’s “Jîn” at the Museum of Fine Arts, although 19 other films will also be featured at the event, including some making their North American premieres.

The 2014 Boston Turkish Film Festival Award for Excellence in Turkish Cinema will be bestowed on director Reis Çelik at an award ceremony scheduled for after the screening of “Film Against All Odds” (İnadına Film Çekmek).

The festival will also pay a tribute to legendary actor Tuncel Kurtiz, who passed away last year. Three films with Kurtiz, “Tales of Intransigence” (İnat Hikayeleri), “Film Against All Odds,” and “Happy Family Journal” (Mutlu Aile Defteri) will be screened.

During the festivities, award-winning films of the 18th Boston Turkish Festival Documentary and Short Film Competition will also be rescreened. The event will also include a post-awards panel discussion moderated by film critic Peter Keough.

A special concert series in the music program of the festival in April will be given by the Tanini Trio on April 12, pianist Ayşegül Durakoğlu on April 19 and guitarist Cem Duruöz on April 26.

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Historical building in Istanbul reopens as a library

ISTANBUL – Doğan News Agency – In its 100th year, Kadıköy’s historic Şehremaneti building, which served as the Kadıköy Municipality building for many years, is now a library

The historic Şehremaneti building in Istanbul’s Kadıköy neighborhood, a prime example of cultural heritage in the city, has been restored and turned into the Kadıköy History, Literature and Art Library (TESAK).

“This is a library open to the public, and it will also host events like seminars and meetings. We want this place to be a place of attraction just like a university campus. It depends on the people of Kadıköy and book lovers as well,” said İlber Ortaylı, a prominent Turkish historian and a consultant for TESAK, noting that Istanbul used to have more libraries.

“Actually Istanbul always had libraries throughout history. Libraries have existed since the 18th century. Most of them were in Suriçi (Fatih), but they have been closed down,” he said.

The library, which will have room for 120,000 books, was opened on March 15 following its restoration by Kadıköy Municipality.

Kadıköy Mayor Selami Öztürk said they had done many things to improve the cultural and artistic life of the neighborhood, erecting cultural centers and sculptures everywhere. “Kadıköy is in a position to lead Istanbul’s cultural life,” he said.

The Şehremaneti building, which has so far served different functions, was restored in 1984, becoming the Kadıköy Municipality Assembly Building, Öztürk said.

“Later on, it moved to a new building in Kozyatağı, and we decided to turn this building into a specialized library. This library is open to everyone. Its garden will also be organized for people to come and have a drink and read books. If the other buildings owned by the Treasury are handed over to us, we will have a nicer venue. Also, here the erection of a statue of the intellectual Celal Esad Arseven, who served as Kadıköy Municipality Department Chief in 1913-1914, is important for Kadıköy’s cultural life,” the mayor said.

Among the attendees of the ceremony was Nilüfer Gülsoy, who donated the 30,000-book collection of her late father, former Turkish President Celal Bayar, to the library. Gülsoy said one of her dreams had come true thanks to the library.

The Şehremaneti Kadıköy Building, which is located right opposite the dock for the ferry to Beşiktaş, was built by Armenian architect Yervant Terziyan between 1912 and 1914 and subsequently witnessed many historical events. After undergoing a restoration process in 1995, the building served as the Kadıköy District Governor’s Office and then as a building for the municipality. On the 100th year of its establishment, the building was reopened as a library. In addition to Gülsoy’s books, a number of other valuable works have also been donated to the library, which will also host talks and various events.

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New painting museum opened in Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe Palace

ISTANBUL – Anadolu Agency – A portion of the Dolmabahçe Palace’s crown prince area, where the sultans’ sons were residing in the time of Sultan Abdülmecid, has been turned into the National Palaces Painting Museum after a seven-year restoration process. The museum will be open to the public on March 22.

Speaking about the museum, the National Palaces Painting Collection official and the Painting Museum curator, Gülsen Sevinç Kaya, said the museum was made up of 11 sections.

Kaya said the first section of the museum was a room displaying the portraits of the sultans Abdülmecid and Abdülaziz.

“In this section, named ‘Westernization in the Ottoman,’ the traces of change in the military and social life in the Ottoman Empire from the beginning of the 18th century can be seen. This was the library of Abdülmecid. There are paintings of Istanbul from local and foreign painters around this section. The most magnificent part of the structure has been dedicated to famous painter Ivan Aivazovsky. In the Turkish painters section, there are paintings by the second and third generation of westernized Turkish paintings such as Şeker Ahmed Paşa, Süleyman Seyyid, Osman Hamdi Bey and Halil Paşa,” she said.

Another museum official, Recep İmat, said the museum displayed 202 paintings. “Visitors will be able to see the whole details of the historic structure during their visits. The place previously belonged to the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and it was the Painting and Sculpture Museum, but it moved from here to the Karaköy neighborhood. This museum was established by the National Palaces,” he said.

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Mahathir praises Bangladesh’s development

DHAKA, March 15, 2014 (BSS) – Former Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Bin Mohamad highly appreciated Bangladesh’s development in recent times in various areas, particularly in the field of infrastructure.

Mahathir’s appreciation came as he paid a courtesy call on Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her Gonobhaban residence here this evening, PM’s special assistance Mahabubul Hoque Shakil told reporters.

“Bangladesh’s success in different fields, particularly in developing its infrastructure, is remarkable,” he said.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, her government has attached importance not only to the capital but also to all areas of the country for development.

The government is particularly working for strengthening the rural economy to stop migration of rural people to urban areas, she said.

Sheikh Hasina also mentioned her government’s steps for expansion of education in rural areas, improvement of healthcare services and development of communication systems.

The government also reached the internet facilities to the rural people as part of the government’s vision to build a Digital Bangladesh.

PM’s son Sajib Wazed Joy, PM’s advisor on international affairs Dr. Ghohar Rizvi, state minister for foreign affairs Shahriar Alam, PM’s Principal Secretary Abdus Sobhan Sikder, Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque and Malaysian envoy in Bangladesh Norlin Othman, among others, were present.

The Prime Minister hosted a dinner in honour of Dr Mahathir and his spouse Dr Siti Hasmah bt Hj Mohd Ali at Gonobhaban.

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Dhaka WASA to develop sustainable water supply system

DHAKA, March 15, 2014 (BSS) – Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (DWASA) has targeted to increase surface water supply to develop a sustainable water supply system and reduce dependency on groundwater.

“We plan to reduce dependency on groundwater to 30 percent from the current 78 percent of the total water supply by 2021 to ensure sustainable water supply, Taqsem A. Khan, Managing Director of DWASA told a meeting here on Saturday.

Officials from the DWASA and Asian Development Bank (ADB) met with international and local prospective bidders to discuss plans for an ADB-funded project to develop a surface water supply system for the fast-growing Dhaka city, where groundwater is depleting rapidly.

About 50 representatives from 25 firms participated in the event.

DWASA also organized a visit to the project site, including the intake location at Meghna River at Bishnondi, the water treatment plant at Gandharbur, and the existing Saidabad water treatment plant on March 14.

The ADB approved $250 million in concessional loans for the Dhaka Environmentally Sustainable Water Supply Project in October 2013.

The participants were informed about the largest bid package under the project that entails design, build, and operation of the water intake, raw water transmission pipeline, and the water treatment plant. The bidding process is expected to start in April.

The project will help expand the coverage and quality of water supply to nearly 11 million people in Dhaka by developing a new raw water intake at the Meghna River, about 22 kilometers east of the city, with a pumping station that has the capacity to provide 2 billion litres of water a day.

The ADB project will also fund a treatment plant at Gandharbpur capable of handling 500 million litres of water a day, and install raw and treated water transmission pipelines. These initiatives are expected to reduce groundwater extraction by 150 million litres a day and help the city water authority raise its overall surface water supply to 1.9 billion litres a day by 2021.

The project will cost nearly $675 million. On top of its loan, ADB will also partially administer a $100 million loan from Agence Française de Développement.

The European Investment Bank is also providing a co- financing loan of $100 million while the Government of Bangladesh will provide almost $225 million.

Dhaka has been drawing heavily on groundwater but the current rate of extraction is no longer sustainable with the water table falling by 2-3 metres a year. In addition, the Sitalakhya River – the city’s main source of surface water – is becoming increasingly polluted.

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First 3D Animation Trailer Released in Brunei

19 March 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: Cinematicpro Services has released a trailer on Facebook on March 5, obtaining more than 800 likes an d300 shares, of a 3D animation series, ‘Sam, the Inventorbot’, showing the promising potential of Brunei’s animation industry.

They were given a grant to create the trailer after winning the 1st ANIMASI Challenge hosted by the Authority for Info-communications Technology Industry (AITI).

The story is about the struggle of the life of a robot child that has extreme brilliance upon an insertion of a computer chip into him by his father in order to hide the chip by the evils that plans to build super soldiers. The scene was set at Planet Robo, where a disparity between the rich and poor are emerging. An underground market is also surfacing under the control of a ruthless bot.

The Managing Director of Cinematicpro, HjKhairulazhar bin HjRosli said that they never gave up their dream of producing the country its first 3D animation series. It took 12 months to complete the trailer.

They started with pre-production stages, before adding the animatics and voice-overs, followed by animation blocking. They finally did the lighting and rendering process and placing it all together in compositing software.

HjKhairulazhar hoped for it to gain international audience and support. Cinematicpro Services would need a huge financial backup for a full production, although the process would be very feasible.

One of the staff will be heading to Hong Kong to pitch the project to overseas broadcasters, supported by BEDB and iCentre.

The public can view the trailer on www.facebook.com/sammtheinventorbot.

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Water Park For Children Debuts In Brunei

Friday, 21 March 2014 Brudirect.com – Bandar Seri Begawan: Located at the ground floor in Gadong (former Justoy Castle), Westpark Kiddieland II, a new waterpark will be officially open its door to the citizens of the sultanate which is marked as Brunei 1st Children Water Park.

The park is suitable for children to have fun water activities especially during the school holidays. Waterslide, water shed, ladders and a variety of water tunnels along with a giant bucket would pour water from time to time to mimic a mini waterfall are available at the waterpark.

Built with safety for children as their top priority, a professional contractor was hired all the way from China, of the Guangzhou Family of Childhood Toy, to help install the facilities of the waterpark to ensure everything was safe and proper for the children to play. Operating hours for the Westpark Kiddieland II is from 10am to 10pm daily.

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“India On Nile Banks” Festival Festival held

15 March 2014 – Egypt State Information Service – The Ministry of Tourism, in partnership with the Indian embassy in Cairo and Ministry of Culture, will sponsor the second session of “India on Nile Banks” festival during the period from 1 to 20 April, 2014. A huge music show titled “Bollywood… a story of love” will be organized in the Cairo Opera House during the period from 3 to 6 April 2014. More than 35 male and female dancers will participate in the show. During the festival, a number of activities will be organized with the purpose of showing various aspects of the Indian culture.

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Niger: Niamey – Museum Like a Palace

21 March 2014 – Daily Trust – Niger — The Niamey museum or Musée Boubou Hamma as it is popularly known, is a memorable place, and is a pleasant surprise to the visitor. It looks like a Hausa or Tuareg palace, and if a few palace Dogarai or guards were present, they would have helped to strengthen this impression a bit more.

A museum can be a lovely fun filled environment, devoid of shadows or what is dour. Niamey makes this point in a beautiful way. The landscape which rises and falls helps to create this impression. You move from one nicely designed building to the next, and each building seems to have its own special way of greeting you, given the designs on the outside, which seem quite happy. Then there are stirring designs on the walls of the many buildings present, and all of these make up the museum.

Apart from the designs the buildings present elaborate craftsmanship on their tops, which remind the visitor of some royal buildings in northern Nigeria. If you visit this season, you will find that a fresh coat of paint has been applied to the buildings, which are decorated with the best of traditional architecture, making every where look very new and fresh.Most people expect a museum to look old and boring, but this one impresses with its joyful royal atmosphere.

The Boubou Hamma Musée Niamey is a huge contradiction, for it goes against the expectation that the museum should be old, and that it should bore. This is a fresh useful development. There are two basic colours here, and these are white and blue.

Amanda Gavin writing in Niger in miniature states “Its founders intended for the museum to portray a miniature portrait of Niger, and simultaneously to anchor the new national capital, Niamey.”

The royal complexion of the museum is also supported by the section which houses artisans of multiple talents who are skilled in producing gold and silver objects. In this section there is a permanent glow and glitter. The museums 100 million year old skeleton of a dinosaur, adds to the impression of a palace, because it’s a relic of quite royal status among those who are keen on ancient remains. Within this palace-like environment are housed many aspects of Nigerienne life, culture and history.

In addition, there is an exhibition on Uranium mining, as well as oil exploration in the country. Niamey’s museum with the look and attributes of a palace, is a celebration of much of the country’s past as well as its present.

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N. Sulawesi supplies 70% of world need for nutmeg

Mon, March 17 2014 Manado (ANTARA News) – North Sulawesi Province supplies about 70% of the world demand for nutmeg, a local plantation official stated.

“North Sulawesi should maintain its position as the worlds largest nutmeg supplier,” Refly Ngantung, the secretary of North Sulawesis Plantation Services, stated here on Monday.

He elaborated that the Worlds annual need for nutmeg accounted for about 20 thousand tons.

The major nutmeg producer districts in North Sulawesi are Sitaro Islands, Sngihe and Talaud. Their production, among others, is exported to countries in Asia, Europe and Africa.

“The exportation of nutmeg is the most stable among those of other North Sulawesis commodities. The province routinely realizes the exportation of this commodity with a relatively stable volume,” he observed.

In the meantime, North Sulawesi Province exported seven commodities to the United States in 2013, stated Head of local Trade and Industry Affairs Office Olvie Atteng.

“The seven commodities are palm cooking oil, coconut cooking oil, canned fish, copra, coconut powder, fresh fish and palm fat acid,” elaborated Olvie Atteng.

Olvie added that 54,228 tons or US$44,882 million worth palm-cooking oil were exported to the U.S. Meanwhile, coconut cooking oil exports reached 51,369 tons worth US$77,723 million.

Copra exported in 2013 reached 222 tons or US$2,395 million and the coconut powder exports reached 20.6 tons worth US$23,373.

“In addition to the plantation products, other commodities that have high demand in the U.S. are fisheries products such as canned fish and fresh fish,” Olvie pointed out.

Canned fish exports to U.S. were 1,052 tons or US$11,231 million, while fresh fish exports reached 59.1 tons worth US$629,209.

Olvie hoped that the commodities from North Sulawesi will find new markets to earn as much foreign exchange as possible. The Trade and Industry Affairs Office will facilitate the exporter to realize that hope.

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Egypt Expects 3 Million Russian Tourists in 2014

CAIRO, March 18 (NNN- dailynewsegypt.com ) — Minister of Tourism Hisham Zazou expects the number of Russian tourists visiting Egypt to reach 3 million by the end of 2014, he said during a tourism conference held in Moscow on Monday.

Around 2.4 million Russian tourists visited Egypt in 2013 and spent 23.7m tourist nights, taking the lead in the list of nationalities visiting Egypt. On Sunday, a number of private Egyptian airlines, including Almasria Universal and Nesma, announced their intentions to launch new routes to and from Europe in order to boost the flow of tourists to the country.

Last week, Zaazou signed an agreement with a number of Indian travel companies to encourage a target of 1 million tourists to Egypt by the end of 2017. EgyptAir, in cooperation with the Egyptian-Indian Friendship Association, would facilitate the flights from New Delhi and Mumbai to Cairo starting in May, a ministerial statement noted.

On Monday, the Egyptian Ambassador to the Kingdom of Jordan Khaled Tharwat participated in a press conference, held at the Egyptian General Authority for Tourism in Oman, to discuss approaches to activate ecotourism between the two countries.

During the conference, Jordanian tourism companies agreed to visit Egypt with the aim of promoting joint tourism between the two companies. On the same day, the Egyptian ambassador to Jordan held an exhibition for Egyptian handicrafts at his house, under the auspices of the Ministry of Foreign Trade, Industry and Investment.

The exhibition comes within the framework of the Egyptian embassy’s efforts to support Egypt’s economy and promote the country’s products. The exhibition aims to open a new market for the Egyptian products, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in an official statement. The event was attended by a number of “prestigious personalities in Jordan along with members of the diplomatic corps.”

On 15 March, the Ambassador also inaugurated the annual exhibition for Egyptian products in Jordon at the Four Seasons Hotel. A large group of textile, wood, silver and carpet producers and designers participated in the two-day event. In December, then Minister of Foreign trade and Industry Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour announced plans to establish a Handicrafts Export Council in order to increase exports and strengthen competitiveness in the international market.

“Handicrafts are considered one of (the economy’s) ‘vital industry sectors,” said Abdel Nour. “The sector’s major importance comes as it is a heavily labour-intensive and a major employer, it also does not require large funds to operate.”

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Iran Cradle Of Tourist Sights

TEHRAN, March 21 (NNN-FNA) — Thousands of tourists each year arrive here in Iran to see the country’s natural beauties and get more familiar with sub-cultures while enjoying an unforgettable vacation.

March 21 marks the start of Spring and the turn of the new Iranian year, and to commemorate the occassion we invite you to join us in an electronic tour of Iran with one province covered for you each day.

The province of Razavi Khorasan is in the north-east of Iran. It borders with Afghanistan in the east and Turkmenistan in the north. It was a part of former province of Khorasan which in 2004 was divided into three provinces of “North Korasan”, “Razavi Khorasan” and “South Khorasan”.

Mashhad is the capital of the province; Ghouchan, Dargaz, Chenaran, Sarakhs, Fariman, Torbat-e Jam, Taybad, Ferdows, Ghayen, Khaf, Rashtkhar, Kashmar, Bardaskan, Neyshabour, Sabzevar, Gonabad, Kalat and Khalil Abad are other cities of South Khorasan.

This province envelopes many historical and natural attractions, such as mineral water springs, small lakes, recreational areas, caves and protected regions, and various hiking areas.

Besides these, Khorasan encompasses numerous religious buildings and places of pilgrimage, including the shrine of Imam Reza, Goharshad mosque and many other mausoleums and Imamzadehs which attract visitors to this province.

The Cultural Heritage of Iran lists 1179 sites of historical and cultural significance in all three provinces of Khorasan.

Iran is also home to the Holy Shrine of Imam Reza, the most beautiful religious complex in the world. It is the largest mosque in the world by dimension and the second largest in capacity.

This complex is the center of tourism in Iran. The shrine itself covers an area of 267,079m2 while the seven courtyards which surround it cover an area of 331,578m2 – totaling 598,657 m2 (6,443,890 sq ft).

Mofakham Mirror House: This building is in the city of Bojnurd, and belonged to Sardar Mofakham, one of the officials in the late Qajar period. As the name indicates, this building boasts of its mirror work and tile design.

Belqeis Ancient City: This city which is actually the ruins of the old city of Esfarayen, is located 3 km. from the present city, and to the right of Sabzevar – Esfarayen Road. Earthen ware discovered in this area dates back to the Safavid era, and it is believed that this city had been constructed much before this period.

Qarhsoo River: This river flows in the valley of Esfarayen. It originates from south of Aladaq Mountains and to the north from Shah Jahan Mountain Ranges. After saturating the Jajrum plain, it flows from north to south and joins the Kalshoor River in the south of Sabzevar. Finally at the end of its course it enters the salt desert which seeps up its flow. This river too has its own special attractions.

Ali Abad Tower: This tower is located in the village of Ali Abad 42 km. from the city of Kashmar. The tower has been erected on the fort and the minaret of which resembles a tower, and its facade comprises of decorative brick inlaying. The dome stands 18 m. tall, the interior of which is octagon. This tower is on historical records.

Ferdowsi Tomb, Toos: The tomb of the great poet Abolqassem Ferdowsi, can be accounted for a place of ‘worship’ so to be called by the lovers of Farsi Literature. This renowned historical site has brought fame for the city of Toos. The construction of this tomb began in the year 1928 and work came to an end in 1934. In the year 1964 a few changes were made in the structure. The internal walls of the tomb are adorned with sculptures depicting scenes from the ‘Shahnameh’.

Goharshad Mosque: This mosque was constructed by Goharshad (the wife of Shahrokh Teimoori), in 821 AH. The mosque has a large courtyard in the center with four porticos. Beautiful inscriptions in Thulth script (the work of Shahrokh’s son) adorn the walls. The most important section of this mosque is its southern portico which boasts of arches and valuable inscriptions. Alongside this portico stand solid minarets with thickness of 6 m., with the same height of the portico itself, which help in supporting the ceiling and prevent the roof from collapsing.

Koohsangi Recreation Place: This is one of the most beautiful spots and is situated on the southern fringes of the city. To the front of this hillock stands a summer house with a large pool – this pool runs 100 m. in length and 60 m. in width. This pool is fed by subterranean waters (Qanat) from the Gonabad area. Running alongside are paved paths and trees which enhance the beauty of this area which are also famed as “Dalan-e-Behesht” (The corridor to Paradise).

Hakim Omar Khayam Nayshaburi Tomb: One of the eye-catching sites is the garden which envelopes the resting place of the great scholar, mathematician, philosopher and poet, Hakim Omar Khayam. The said garden belonged to him. The exact date of his death have not been specified and it is known to be within the years 506 – 530 AH. Later another monument was erected about 100 m. north of the tomb to commemorate this renowned personality. This structure is a high tomb made of iron and stone, consisting of ten bases, which have geometrical shapes and are connected to each other.

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IMF Ranks Sudan Second Among Islamic Nations In Micro-Finance

KHARTOUM, March 19 (NNN-SUNA) — The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has ranked Sudan second, behind only Bangladesh, among 19 Islamic states in terms of the number of customers benefiting from micro-finance, according to the Acting Governor of the Central Bank of Sudan, Al-Gaili Mohammed Al-Bashir.

He cited the report of the Consultative Group to Assist the Poorest of the IMF for 2013 as praising the efforts of the Central Bank of Sudan in the development of the micro-finance sector and including it in the System of Combating Poverty and Economic and Financial Development.

He said when addressing a Roundtable on Regulatory and Supervisory Framework for Islamic Micro-finance at the Sudan University of Science and Technology here Tuesday that the IMF predicted in its report the emergence of Sudan in the spotlight globally in the field of Islamic micro-finance in light of the current growth rates of the sector.

The report, he added, also praised the partnership project between the Jeddah-based Islamic Development Bank (IDB) and the Central Bank of Sudan in helping the micro-finance foundations in aspects of technical and institutional support, software and funding, considering it as a model to be applied in all member states of the IDB.

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EIB Gives Morocco 1.65 Dirhams Loan To Finance Roads

RABAT, March 21 (NNN-MAP) — The European Investment Bank (EIB ), the European Union’s non-profit long-term lending institution, has granted Morocco a loan of 1.65 billion dirhams (about 204 million US dollars) to finance its road network modernization programme.

The loan, granted to La Caisse pour le financement routier (CFR), will help finance the expansion and strengthening of about 1,650 kilometres of roads.

The loan agreement was signed here Wednesday by Minister of Infrastructure, Transport and Logistics Aziz Rabbah and EIB Vice-President Philippe de Fontaine Vive, in the presence of Minister of Economy and Finance Mohammed Boussaid.

De Fontaine Vive and Boussaid welcomed the co-operative ties between Morocco and the EIB, and re-affirmed their shared commitment to further developing them.

The road network modernization programme is part of the integrated development policy implemented by the Ministry of Infrastructure, Transport and Logistics to improve the transport sector in order to strengthen the competitiveness of the economy.

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For Palestinians, Arab Idol Offers Welcome Escape

RAMALLAH, West Bank, Palestine, Mar 19 (NNN-WAFA) – Hundreds of Palestinian youths lined up outside a luxury hotel at the crack of dawn for a chance to compete in the Arab world’s premier talent show, hoping to follow the unlikely example of last year’s winner and sing their way out of a life of conflict and poverty.

It was the first time that the top rated “Arab Idol” show has come to the Palestinian territories, marking an important milestone for an area that is not accustomed to celebrating.

“We have to put Palestine on the map. This is the first Arab contest to come here and recruit people, and the other programmes will follow,” Mohammed Assaf, the feel-good winner of last year’s competition, said.

Assaf, a young wedding singer for a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, became an overnight sensation across the Arab world, thanks to his bright smile, warm tenor and personal story of overcoming adversity.

Assaf said he had to plead with Gaza’s Islamic Hamas rulers to let him leave the territory, then bribe Egyptian border guards, to enter the country en route to Lebanon to compete. A fellow Palestinian gave up his slot during the audition phase because he believed Assaf had a better chance at winning. Many of Assaf’s songs touched upon the Palestinian struggle for independence.

Assaf said his success helped persuade the producers of Arab Idol to hold Monday’s tryout. “I told them, ‘Look at me. I won, and there are hundreds of other gifted singers in Palestine and they need to get the chance like their other Arab fellows,'” he said.

Some 500 hopefuls showed up for Monday’s tryout, huddling in a large tent outside the Grand Park Hotel, waiting for their turn to perform. Each contestant was given one minute to sing in front of the cameras, and the tryout ran from 7 a.m. until well into the evening.

Most of the singers, aged from 15-30, said, they were inspired by Assaf. All expressed the hope of leaving behind their lives of dead-end jobs and conflict with Israel. The Palestinians seek the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, for an independent state.

Musafa Ayyash, 22, who makes his living as a construction worker in a Jewish settlement near Bethlehem, said, he left his house at 4 a.m. to make sure he would get a chance to compete.

“I have a good voice, I sing in the house, I sing for my friends, and they all told me I should come, and I will try my luck,” he said. “This could change my whole life. I do a very difficult job. I work in construction to earn $600 a month. If I get a chance and win, then my whole life will change.”

Nidal Basma, 23, a physiotherapist from a village near Ramallah said, he struggles to get by on a salary of $500 to $600 a month.

“I can’t live a good life with such a small salary. If this show gives me the chance to enter the world of singing, I might become like Assaf, who was nobody and now has become a star in the Arab World.”

MBC, the pan-Arab TV station that airs the programme, sent a five-member production crew from the show’s Lebanon headquarters for the tryout. The team entered the West Bank, whose border with Jordan is controlled by Israel, on French passports. The producers were not permitted to speak to the media.

Mohammed Zumlot, the chief executive of the hotel, said, the station told him it had never considered entering the Palestinian territories because it considered the West Bank too unstable. But after taking into account the current strife across the Arab world — including an Egyptian military coup, a civil war in Syria and unrest in Lebanon — the station changed its mind, Zumlot said.

“They asked if we have private security companies, space, halls, media companies, and to their surprise everything was available,” Zumlot said. “I told them we have the Israeli occupation, but we have life, we have nightlife, hotels, companies everything.”

“When I signed the contract, they told me you are the most stable and peaceful country in the region, referring to Syria, Lebanon and Egypt,” he added.

While the contest brought some rare excitement to the streets of Ramallah, not everyone got to celebrate. Assaf said, a request to allow singers from Gaza to travel through Israel to the West Bank for the competition was denied. Maj. Guy Inbar, a defence official, said the request was not even considered because the Gaza-Israel border crossing is closed due to heavy rocket fire out of Gaza last week.

During last year’s competition, the head of the jury, Lebanese singer, Ragheb Alama, nicknamed Assaf “the Rocket from Gaza,” in reference to the frequent rocket fire from Gaza at Israel.

For Assaf, though, the competition was simply about bringing a small piece of normalcy to a strife-torn region.

“Being under occupation doesn’t prevent you from singing and playing soccer and creating a good life. I’m singing in the Arab world and tell our story wherever I go,” he said.

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Art Dubai Puts Focus On Central, South Asia

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates, Mar 20 (NNN-WAM) – The 8th edition of the annual Art Dubai, which runs from Mar 19 to 22, features 85 galleries from 34 countries, along with 500 artists, who gather at the popular holiday resort, Mina A’salam in the Gulf Arab emirates.

According to Art Dubai director, Antonia Carver, over 300 galleries applied for a booth at this year’s exhibition, which features, beside the traditional platforms for modern and contemporary art, for the first time, the “Marker” platform, a section of invited art spaces and galleries focusing on Central Asia and the Caucasus. It also hosts a new gallery programme, devoted to Middle Eastern and South Asian modern art from the 20th century.

“Since its inception, Art Dubai has given numerous local Emirati and Arab artists the chance to expose their art works and to enhance their careers,” said Carver, when speaking to the media to announce the fair’s features.

Carver added that there is also a focus on cinema and arts, in cooperation with the Dubai international film festival and a platform for kids and arts.

Art Dubai also gives investors the chance to inform themselves about the latest trends in paintings and sculptures. “With the art scene rising in Dubai, the need for education and awareness on how to deal with art properly and how to manage art in a private portfolio also rises,” said Salma Shaheem, the head of Middle Eastern market, at The Fine Art Funds Group, Dubai branch.

She warned of investing high sums in contemporary art, as this segment “is the least reliable and prices fluctuate.” According to Shaheem, the global art market has a value of approximately 65 billion U.S. dollars, whereas 30 percent of art objects are in China, while 29 percent are in the Unites States and 22 percent in Britain.

“Art Dubai and the Dubai culture authority, currently examine how we can bring in the art scene to the upcoming World Expo in 2020,” said Carver. The sheikhdom won the bid to host Expo 2020.

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100 Exhibitors To Take Part Oran’s 5th Tourism Fair

ORAN, ALGERIA, march 17 (NNN-APS) — Some 100 exhibitors will be taking part in the 5th International Fair of Tourism, Travel and Transport, “Siaha 2014”, to be held from April 3 to 5 at the Mohamed-Benahmed Convention Centre in Oran, in northwestern Algeria, the organizers say.

This event, to be held under the theme “Algeria: Priority to hospitality”, has attracted the participation of exhibitors from Malaysia, Thailand, India, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, Malta, Spain, Switzerland and Algeria.

This annual event will allow Algerian and foreign travel agencies to display their products. Airlines, maritime and rail transport companies, car dealers, bus lines, banking and insurance establishments will also have the opportunity to demonstrate their tourism services.

The visitors to SIAHA 2014, organized by the communication agency Astra in collaboration with the National Algerian Office of Tourism and Algeria’s national airline, Air Algérie, will be also able to obtain information about the latest offerings of spas, thalasso-therapy centres, training institutes and schools of tourism.

Stands are reserved for public and private investment projects and for the promotion of Algerian tourism products.

Workshops involving various economic operators, conferences, art performances, tourist trips to archaeological sites of Oran are also planned.

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Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda Jointly Market Gifted Tourism

15 March 2014 – The New Times – Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya have designed a joint marketing strategy to promote the newly-launched East African single tourist visa to attract more tourists.

This was announced yesterday at a joint media conference addressed by Rwanda Development Board chief executive Valentine Rugwabiza, Ugandan High Commissioner to Rwanda Richard Kabonero and his Kenyan counterpart in Kigali John Mwangemi.

The officials said it was imperative for the visa to be publicised worldwide. The development comes after the three countries shared a pavilion at the recent Internationale Tourismus-Börse (ITB) exhibition in Berlin, Germany, last week.

The countries are now eying the upcoming trade fairs to market the visa to international tourists.

Rica Rwigamba, the head of tourism department at RDB, said the EAC visa will be showcased in one booth in May at Indaba Trade Fair in Durban, South Africa, as well as at world trade market in London scheduled for November.

She said they have developed a joint marketing platform that will help identify all the necessary areas to market the visa.

“We are also looking at Eastern Europe, China to market the project and attract more tourists and investments,” Rwigamba said, adding that they are also counting on national annual events, including Kwita Izina, a gorilla naming ceremony in Rwanda, and Martyrs Day celebration in Uganda.

Other celebrated days in Kenya will be targeted as well, to market the project and attract more tourists, she said.

Amb Rugwabiza said the positive reception at the Berlin event gave a new impetus to the three countries to expand the marketing strategy.

At the fair, the tripartite states were ranked among the top five exhibitors where each showcased different iconic tourist attractions and traditional dancers revealing diversity of the East African destination.

Rwanda emerged best exhibitor from the continent, Kenya third and Uganda fifth. “What we needed was to make a survey and see how the world reacts to this project and the response was clear; we now need to embark on attracting more investors and tourists in our region for the development of our economies,” Rugwabiza said.

The three states were evaluated among nearly 200 exhibitors with 11,000 booths, according to numerous criteria such as interactivity, authenticity, creativity, sustainability, design of the stand and service quality.

Amb. Kabonero said it was important to facilitate free cross-border movement by removing all barriers. “The introduction of the East Africa tourist visa in Berlin is an indication of the commitment of the three countries to market themselves as a single tourist destinationm,” he said.

“The recognition of the three states is further suggestive that the destination will indeed attract a great number of travellers since they will benefit from the multiple entry visa provision.”

Tourism in East Africa is among the major foreign exchange earners, with enormous employment opportunities in the region. Rwanda Development Board projects the tourism industry to contribute more than 15 per cent of GDP by 2020.

The visa spearheaded by Rwanda saves potential tourists time and the rigorous process of having to move from one embassy to the other to apply for different visas to travel across the East African region.

Kenya’s Mwangemi said his country was looking at attracting more tourists from South Korea, China and other parts of Asia to visit the region. He added that Kenya was looking at expanding the tourism sector by diversifying to other tourist attractions, including the golfing, conference tourism which he said will add immensely to the partner states tourism products.

“We need to diversify from the traditional tourist attractions and come up with new products on the market to attract more tourists,” he said.

Meanwhile, Manzi Kayihura, the president of Rwanda Tours and Travel Association, dismissed the claims that the project will create unnecessary competition within the three countries.

Some tour operators in Ugandan recently expressed their worries about the project, saying Rwanda and Kenya could attract more tourists because of their vibrant marketing strategies.

“We are marketing the region as three countries, nobody should worry about competition,” he said.

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Jeddah Chamber initiative to create 37,000 jobs

Al Arabiya TV – 21 March, 2014 – Al-Masfaq, a new Saudi initiative, will provide 37,000 jobs for young Saudis and offer support for small enterprises, chariman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry said on Thursday.

“Our objective is to provide 37,000 jobs for young Saudis and support small enterprises, whether they are startups, businesses facing funding issues or requiring restructuring, or successful operations preparing to expand,” Sheikh Saleh Kamel, Chairman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry to the 14th Jeddah Economic Forum.

The new initiative started by the Jeddah Chamber also aims at increasing investments between organizations of Islamic cooperation and managing business deals across Saudi Arabia and other Islamic countries, boosting trade between them.

“We find it strange that information on trade between Islamic countries is very limited and many investors and business owners do not have access to it,” expressed Sheikh Saleh Kamel. “There is a need to strengthen ties with the private sector and explore investment opportunities available in the countries of the Islamic world.”

According to the chief, the Al-Masfaq initiative would also support the establishment of a recruitment agency that would regulate the labor market and explore job opportunities for Saudi nationals.

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‘Qatar issues tender for Metro trains and tracks’

Gulf Times – 20 March, 2014 – Qatar has issued a new tender for phase one of its Doha Metro, a key infrastructure project in the Gulf country as it prepares to host the 2022 World Cup.

Three sources, who did not wish to be identified since the information is not public, said the tender, issued earlier this month, is for the rolling stock, systems, depot facilities, trackwork and other aspects of Doha Metro.

The tender, which could go over 8bn riyals ($ 2.2bn) according to one source, would be the final one for phase one of the metro. “It’s a big one and all major global companies are bidding for the deal,” said one industry source.

The Qatari authorities are expected to award the contract in the next five months. Qatar awarded four design-and-build contracts worth about $ 8.2bn for phase one of the Doha Metro last year.

The contracts were given to local and international companies including Italian construction firm Impregilo and France’s Vinci Construction among others.

Many projects have been slower to get started than the business community expected. In the fiscal year that ended last March, actual government spending rose only 2.2%, undershooting the budget plan for the first time since 1990.

But the government appears determined to pick up the pace, and a planning ministry report in December said state spending would climb 11.6% in calendar 2014.

The new airport, which cost around $ 15bn to construct, is expected to open for commercial operations later this year.

Qatar’s government is expected to sign contracts for construction projects worth as much as $ 50bn this year as it builds infrastructure needed to host the soccer World Cup in 2022, the central bank governor was quoted as saying on Tuesday. The projects will be in transport, energy and other sectors, HE Sheikh Abdullah bin Saud al-Thani said at a conference held by regional media group MEED, according to QNA.

Sheikh Abdullah did not give details of the contracts, but his comments appeared to confirm that Qatar would begin stepping up infrastructure spending sharply this year.

After it won the right to host the 2022 World Cup four years ago, Qatar announced plans to spend some $ 140bn on projects including a new airport, port facilities, railways, stadiums and other infrastructure.

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Qatar to sign projects worth up to $ 50billion

Khaleej Times – 20 March, 2014 – Qatar’s government is expected to sign contracts for construction projects worth as much as $ 50 billion this year as it builds infrastructure needed to host the soccer World Cup in 2022, the central bank governor was quoted as saying on Tuesday.

The projects will be in transport, energy and other sectors, Shaikh Abdullah bin Saud Al Thani said at a conference held by regional media group Meed, according to the official news agency QNA.

Shaikh Abdullah did not give details of the contracts, but his comments appeared to confirm that Qatar would begin stepping up infrastructure spending sharply this year.

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Bahrain and Tunisia agree to spur trade

Gulf Daily News – 20 March, 2014 – Bahrain and Tunisia yesterday agreed to boost economic co-operation. This came as Prime Minister Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa held talks with his Tunisian counterpart Mehdi Jomaa.

They agreed to step up financial and banking co-operation between the two countries through their respective central banks, and accelerate economic and trade co-operation by attracting, promoting and marketing products of the two countries.

The two leaders also agreed to promote investment opportunities, take advantage of the tourism, trade and cultural potential that exist in the two countries.

Bahrain and Tunisia agreed to activate bilateral agreements signed between the two countries to further boost diplomatic co-operation. The need to invest Arab capital in Arab countries was also emphasised, with the two leaders stressing that Arabs must benefit from these investments.

Mr Jomaa backed the government of Bahrain, under the leadership of the Premier, in its fight against terrorism and maintaining its security and stability. He also invited the Premier to visit Tunisia.

Meanwhile, a trade delegation led by Tunisian Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Wided Bouchamaoui visited Bait Al Tijjar. She called for forging a strategic partnership between the two countries to boost trade and investments, pointing out the favourable investment climate in both countries.

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Dubai allocates 5% of annual budget to empower entrepreneurs

Al Arabiya TV – 21 March, 2014 – The government of Dubai allocates five percent of its annual budget for the development of young entrepreneurs, the director of finance at Dubai Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) said on Thursday.

“We started 12 years ago and several UAE nationals had good business ideas but were hesitant to set up the business,” Fareed Karmostaji, director of finance at the Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development said at the 14th Jeddah Economic Forum.

“So we launched an initiative defining the legal framework for those to operate their new business from home initially then take it to the wider market after three years,” he added.

He explained that licensing fees for new startups in the emirate are waived for the first three years, while the required financing is completed within a month.

The development organization also works closely with schools to encourage young entrepreneurs to pursue their business ideas and offer them the opportunity to test the experience of setting up their own businesses.

“Mohammed bin Rashid Establishment for SME Development has set a curriculum for leadership among schools students in addition to launching several initiatives such as ‘the young entrepreneur’ which aims at teaching business leadership principles to the youth by providing them with small projects at shopping malls,” Karmostaji said.

Dubai SME works closely with Dubai’s government, land owners and individual owners to provide preferential rates to entrepreneurs, as well as offering a priority in leasing with a 20 to 30 percent reduction on rates.

In regards of financing the businesses, Karmostaji explained that new enterprises in the small and very small category can benefit from funding between 5,000 and 250,000 dirhams, which would be settled over the course of seven years.

Financing for established businesses range between 250,000 and 3 million dirhams.

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UK’s Feminist Muslim Women

OnIslam & Newspapers Sunday, 16 March 2014 CAIRO – A growing number of British Muslim women have been engaging themselves recently in defending women issues, correcting a misconception about Islam’s contradiction with feminism.

“An awful lot of Muslim women have felt excluded from the debate about women’s rights and this project really focuses on bringing ordinary women into a debate about Islamic feminism that has so far only really been heard in academic circles,” Latifa Akay of social enterprise Maslaha told The Observer.

“This is really taking off. Islamic feminism is not a new thing, which will probably surprise most people, but Muslim women have the same core concerns as white, secular, British women: the workplace, discrimination, childcare,” Akay said.

“There has been a dire lack of spaces for women within Islam to have these kinds of conversations and they have felt very much that their religious beliefs exclude them because religion is seen as patriarchal.”

Akay is one of the members of social enterprise Maslaha which was established recently by the Young Foundation to work on improving social conditions in Muslim and minority communities.

It reflects a rising trend of feminism in various Islamic countries around the world, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Iran.

The increase intensified after the publication of new books on Islam and feminism around the world in recent years.

One of these books was published last years by Dr Sariya Cheruvallil-Contractor, a University of Derby lecturer, under the title, “Muslim Women in Britain: De-mystifying the Muslimah”.

According to the writer, the book corrects misconceptions around Islam.

For participants in Maslaha, the new project corrected a widespread misconception by many feminists putting hijab, or Islamic headscarf, as a symbol of male oppression in Islam.

“The media portray Muslim women as oppressed and subjugated and Islam is often presented as misogynist and patriarchal,” Akay said.

“The internet will help Muslim women find each other, just as it has for young secular women in Britain, and start a real conversation,” she added.

Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million.

Islam, as a divine religion, sets down rules that strike a balance between men’s responsibilities and women’s rights.

Woman is recognized by Islam as the full and equal partner of the man in the procreation of humankind.

By this partnership, she has an equal share in every aspect.

She is entitled to equal rights, she undertakes equal responsibilities, and she has as many qualities and as much humanity as her partner.

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