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4 May, 2015

Obama’s Grandmother Performs Umrah

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 04 May 2015 (15 Rajab 1436). Pls click on any of the headlines below to go to the story.




malaysia logo

Click on the image to get a full list of all the great festivals and events right across Malaysia this year.

The fabulous Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015, or MyFEST 2015, will witness an endless celebration of festivals, events and happenings. MyFEST 2015 is set to make Malaysia the top-of-the-mind tourist destination, encouraging tourists to stay longer in order to enjoy the festival offerings nationwide. Themed “Endless Celebrations”, the year-long calender is packed with festivities of every genre; for instance cultural festivals, shopping extravanganzas, international acclaimed events, eco-tourism events, arts, music showcases, food promotion and other themed events. The Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 campaign leverages on smart partnerships in line with the National Blue Ocean Strategy that nurtures stakeholders engagement, support and participation. The symbiosis enables Malaysia’s tourism efforts to be competitive and to remain one of the prime contributors to the socio-economic development of the nation. As Malaysia is blessed with various cultures, the new campaign seeks to showcase and celebrate Malaysia’s bountiful, diverse cultures and various festivities. The design for Malaysia Year of Festivals 2015 logo depicts a traditional musical instrument known as the Rebana Ubi. The drum is a musical instrument which can be associated with Malaysia’s multicultural society, in line with the spirit of 1Malaysia. Therefore, the logo design reflects an important part of the country’s heritage, traditions and culture.

For a full listing of all the great festivals, activities and events this year, pls click on this link


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.



Passenger Traffic At Oman’s Muscat And Salalah Airports Grows

MUSCAT, Oman, Apr 27 (NNN-ONA) – Nearly 2.41 million people used the Muscat International Airport, for international or domestic travel, in the first quarter of this year, as against 2.21million during the same period in 2014, registering a year-on-year growth of 8.9 per cent in passenger traffic.

Salalah Airport posted an increase of 12.6 per cent, compared to the same period last year, the respective passenger figures being 217,669 and 193,383, according to statistics issued by the National Centre for Statistics and Information (NCSI).

The number of flights at the Muscat International Airport, on the other hand, logged a rise of 9.2 per cent in the first three months of this year compared to the same period last year, taking off from last year’s 20,235 to 22,102 flights this year, which include both international and domestic ones.

The number of international passengers at the Muscat International Airport grew by 9.5 per cent, reaching nearly 2.21million in the first quarter of this year, while domestic passenger growth touched 2.9 per cent with 200,666 passengers. International passenger arrivals at the Muscat International Airport this year touched 1.12 million in the first quarter, in contrast to 1.01 million during the same period last year, marking a 10.1 per cent growth.

During the first quarter, there was an increase of 8.4 per cent in the number of international flights at the Muscat International Airport, touching 19,467, compared to 17,961 flights in the same quarter last year.

Domestic flights on the other hand logged a year-on-year growth of 15.9 per cent in the period, reaching a total of 2,635.

At the Salalah Airport, international passengers, including transit passengers, witnessed a significant growth of 42.1 per cent, with their numbers soaring to 78,265 this year, while domestic passenger volume recorded a marginal 0.8 per cent rise to reach 139,404 compared to first quarter figures last year.

A total of 858 international flights were recorded at the Salalah Airport in the first three months of 2015, marking a growth of 18.5 per cent over figures for same period last year.

Domestic flights posted a growth of 13.6 per cent with 1,381 flights in the first quarter of this year compared to 1,216 flights a year ago.

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ASEAN Launches Travel Channel – GOASEAN

KUALA LUMPUR, April 27 (NNN-Bernama) — Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak on Monday launched GOASEAN, the world’s first ASEAN-focused travel channel in conjunction with the 26th ASEAN Summit held at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre (KLCC) here.

GOASEAN aimed to bring the hidden gems of each ASEAN member states and present it together to the world as a single treasure trove waiting to be explored. It is expected to boost the travel industry’s growth, promote intra-ASEAN travel and enhance appreciation for ASEAN’s leisure attracttions.

The channel was also aimed to model ASEAN as a single tourist destination after the success of Europe. The 24/7 channel would start airing at Astro Channel 737 this June and later on other platforms including internet protocol television, direct to home, digital and mobile.

Established in 1967, ASEAN comprises 10 countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, the Philippines, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

The launching of GOASEAN was part of a colourful opening ceremony of the 26th ASEAN Summit, together with other ASEAN leaders.

Among those present at the ceremony were leaders of the 10-member group which included Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei Darussalam, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Laos Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong, Myanmar President U Thein Sein, the Philippines President Benigno S. Aquino 111, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Thailand Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-Ocha and Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang.

The opening ceremony started with the ASEAN anthem sung by a choir from Permata Seni Negara. A hologram presentation of iconic buildings in each ASEAN member country on the stage dazzled the delegates. Delegates will later adjourn to the resort island of Langkawi for the leaders to enjoy a retreat and the closing ceremony.

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Arabian Travel Market 2015 opens

Dubai – Arabian Travel Market (ATM) 2015, the region’s leading travel industry showcase, opens its doors on Monday 4th May for four days of business networking opportunities, insightful seminar sessions, ministerial discussions and recognition of 12 months of industry achievement.

Now in its 22nd year, the 2015 edition, which takes place at the Dubai International Convention & Exhibition Centre from 4-7 May 2015, will welcome Over 400 confirmed exhibitors and an expected 23,000 visitors to the largest travel trade event in the Middle East. The show has grown by 7% since 2014, and added an extra hall for 2015, with 86 countries represented, 64 national pavilions, and a total of 113 new exhibitors set to make their ATM debut.

“As we count down to Expo 2020 and a target of at least 20 million visitors annually as part of Tourism Vision 2020, and a forecasted figure of 25 million visitors for the six-month-long expo, it’s impossible not to be swept up in the momentum of tourism development, both right here in the UAE and across the region. Despite the ongoing challenges facing neighbouring economies, the Middle East continues to break new ground when it comes to infrastructure expansion, government and private sector initiatives, and visitor engagement,” said Nadege Noblet-Segers, Exhibition Manager, Arabian Travel Market.

“Sustainable development is the foundation for the successful long-term growth of the tourism economy and this year’s showcase will incorporate a number of major features that directly address current industry issues. These include the return of the UNWTO Ministerial Forum, at which MENA region portfolio ministers and industry leaders will discuss the advancement of intra-regional tourism. We have also launched the Travel Tech Show at ATM which is accompanied by our annual Technology Theatre seminar series, where global experts in their field will share the latest hi-tech developments impacting our industry. We also have our dedicated spotlight theme for 2015 – family travel, which represents a significant opportunity for the global tourism industry to capitalise on the trend towards multi-generational travel, the travelling future of Gen Y and, specifically in this part of the world, the increase in high-net worth families seeking luxury experiences,” she added.

In addition, ATM 2015 will welcome 80 senior industry leaders from commercial travel organisations to its invitation-only Captains of Industry Lunch, and introduce, for the very first time, the ATM Best Stand Awards.

Return features include ILTM@ATM, which matches luxury-focused exhibitors with international buyers looking to discover the best of the best experiences in the region; the Visa Seminar Theatre with a full schedule of over 18 insightful and wide-ranging sessions; the ATM Exhibitor Showcase Theatre; and the 11th annual ATM New Frontiers Recovery Award, for which Japan, Nepal and India have been shortlisted.

“Tourism is an integral part of Dubai’s economy, and the Arabian Travel Market is a key showcase of the emirate’s capabilities and infrastructure, as well as its thriving and diverse travel services on offer. With Dubai Expo 2020 on the horizon, travel and tourism operators will continue to capitalize on exhibitions like ATM, putting in place building blocks for future development,” said Sheikh Majid Al Mualla, Divisional Senior Vice President Commercial Operations Centre, Emirates Airline.

“Arabian Travel Market is one of the most important events on our calendar, and we look forward to building new relationships with travel and tourism partners, as well as strengthening existing ones. ATM provides the ideal platform for DTCM and Dubai stakeholders to showcase the many elements of the emirate’s destination offering from different perspectives – and the ongoing efforts to enhance these. With one of ATM’s main themes for this year being family tourism, we are also using the show as an opportunity to highlight Dubai’s strength within this segment, which plays a major role as we work towards realising our Tourism Vision for 2020 targets. Furthermore, DTCM is playing an integral role in the promotion of Emirati culture, and during this year’s ATM delegates are being invited to daily workshops hosted by the Sheikh Mohammed Centre for Cultural Understanding (SMCCU).” said Issam Kazim, CEO, Dubai Corporation for Tourism and Commerce Marketing

“I have supported Arabian Travel Market since its inception and The Vision is glad to do so again this year. Besides networking at our stand during the exhibition, we are delighted to support our industry colleagues and business partners, by promoting our latest products, destinations, and technology. We look forward to yet another exciting show with great anticipation and confidence,” said Ali Abu Monassar – Chairman, The Vision Destination Management.

“ATM 2015 offers a significant platform for Emaar Hospitality Group to highlight the value propositions of our hospitality assets in Dubai, as well as underline our ambitious international expansion plans. Our hotel brands: The Address Hotels + Resorts, Vida Hotels and Resorts, and the upcoming Rove Hotels; unique leisure assets and dedicated lifestyle dining division have clearly established Emaar’s industry-defining credentials in providing the widest array of hospitality choices to support Dubai’s Tourism Vision 2020,” added Philippe Zuber, Chief Operating Officer of Emaar Hospitality Group.

The show has grown to become the largest showcase of its kind in the region and one of the biggest in the world.

This year’s event will also build still further on the success of the 2014 edition with the addition of 2,000 square metres of floor space as Reed Travel Exhibitions looks to add to its record-breaking achievements last year – 33,000 participants an increase of 12%, from more than 130 countries, and business deals worth over US$ 2.1 billion signed over the four days.

For more information on Arabian Travel Market 2015, please log on to: www.arabiantravelmarket.com

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LEAD STORY: Obama’s Grandmother Performs Umrah

OnIslam & Newspapers Thursday, 23 April 2015 CAIRO – Sarah Omar arrived in Makkah this week with her son Saeed and grandson Mousa Obama to perform Umrah, or the minor pilgrimage. Unlike Hajj, or major pilgrimage, which is one of the five pillars of Islam that can only be performed during the month of Dhul Hijjah, (the 12th month of the Muslim calendar),Umrah can be performed any time of year.

malaysia logo

Click on the image to get a full list of all the great festivals and events right across Malaysia this year.

The word Umrah means visiting or attending.Umrah is an act of worship. Allah Almighty says, “Perform the Hajj and Umrah for Allah…” (Al-Baqarah 2:196). The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have performedUmrah after the treaty of Hudaybiyah, thereafter, he explained to other followers how it should be performed.

To begin the performance of Umrah is to enter the city of Makkah with ihram (a sacred state), and the intention of makingUmrah, before crossing the pilgrimage boundary, known as miqat, by performing the cleansing rituals and wearing the prescribed attire.

Upon entering the Holy city, pilgrims then perform circumambulation (tawaf) around the Kabah, then perform sai between the two small mountains of Safa and Marwa, and finally to shave the head or have a haircut; a woman cuts her hair from the ends of the hair the length of a finger tip.

This was the ancient practice from the time of Prophet Ibrahim (peace and blessings be upon him). Its purpose is to allow Muslims to visit the city of Makkah during the year whenever possible. It is to keep the Ka`bah visited not only during the Hajj but to keep it visited by Muslims throughout the year.

According to (some) Muslim jurists`Umrah is obligatory (upon those who can afford it), at least once in a lifetime, either with or before Hajj or at any other time during the year. As one of the five pillars of Islam, Hajj is incumbent upon those who can afford it, once in a lifetime.

Prophet’s Exhibition

After finishing Umrah, Omar and her grandson visited an exhibition in Makkah on the life of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Highly impressed by their two hour visit, Omar told Al-Arabiya News that she was “very happy to visit this exhibition, which is a good example for the propagation of Islam in a modern way, supported by scientific and authentic documents.”

She further stated to Arab News that, the arrangements and facilities provided by the Saudi government in Makkah and Madinah for the pilgrims were excellent; adding that she hoped the exhibition would visit other countries in order to remove misconceptions non-Muslims have about Islam.

Barack Obama, who describes himself as a proud follower of the Trinity United Church of Christ, is the son of a Muslim-turned-atheist Kenyan father and a white American mother who did not practice religion. Omar, 93, who lives in Kenya and is active in charity work, became a national celebrity when her grandson visited the country in 2006.

Her modest homestead has become a tourist attraction since President Obama was elected as America’s first ever black president in 2008. It was not Omar’s first visit to Makkah; in an interview with Al-Watan newspaper during Hajj in 2010, she recalls praying to God to guide her grandson, Barack, to Islam.

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Air Arabia Jordan To Begin Operations This May

AMMAN, Jordan, Apr 29 (NNN-WAM) – Air Arabia Jordan, the Kingdom’s new low cost carrier, today announced that it will commence operations from its Amman Queen Alia International Airport base, in May this year.

Beginning with direct flights to four countries in the region, Air Arabia Jordan will greatly strengthen connectivity between Jordan and the Levant, Middle East, Europe and North Africa. Starting on May 18, Air Arabia Jordan inaugural flight will take off to Kuwait city as the carrier’s first destination, followed by the launch of regular scheduled services to Jeddah, Erbil and Sharm El Sheikh on May 19, 20 and 21 respectively, with more destinations to be added later in 2015.

Earlier this year, Air Arabia announced the establishment of its fifth international hub in Jordan, following the acquisition of a 49 percent stake in Petra Airlines, which led to the creation of Air Arabia Jordan. The newly established carrier, managed by Air Arabia, will follow the carrier’s successful low-cost business model introduced to the MENA region eleven years ago by Air Arabia.

Adel A. Ali, Group Chief Executive Officer of Air Arabia, said, “We thank the Jordanian government and aviation authorities for their invaluable support throughout the process of forming Air Arabia Jordan. We are eager to begin operations of Jordan’s latest airline and move a step closer to connecting Jordan and the entire region with affordable air travel.”

Ali added, “As a major tourism market with a stable domestic economy, Jordan offers a superb opportunity to serve both in-bound and out-bound passenger demand. In turn, the launch of Air Arabia Jordan will provide a direct boost to the Jordanian economy through the creation of skilled jobs and the opening up of new opportunities for local businesses.”

Air Arabia Jordan passengers can enjoy exactly the same comfort, reliability and value for money services they are used to flying from the carrier’s other four hubs. Air Arabia Jordan fleet consists of new Airbus A320 aircraft, equipped with the world’s most spacious economy seat pitch.

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Sudan Determined To Become Global Hub For Halal Products

KHARTOUM, April 29 (NNN-SUNA) — Sudan is determined to become a regional and global hub for the production and export of halal (permitted, in Islam) products, says the Minister of the Council of Ministers, Ahmed Saad Omer.

Asserting this determination to become a regional and international hub for halal products, he said here Tuesday that the country planned to achieve this goal by utilizing the country’s potentialities and tremendous resources to support the national economy.

The Minister said a meeting had been held with the Chairman of the Sudan Halal Council, Abdul-Rahim Hamdi, and the Secretary-General of the Council, Prof. Azhari Abdul-Azim, at the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) General Secretariat here to discuss the forging of partnerships with developed countries to make use of their experiences in this connection.

The meeting also reviewed the tasks of the Sudan Halal Council and the challenges it faced in its work.

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Egypt Keen To Retrieve Smuggled Ancient Artifacts: Official

CAIRO, Egypt, Apr 28 (NNN-XINHUA) – Egypt has retrieved hundreds of ancient artifacts from the United States and Europe this week, which is part of an effort to bring back more of its stolen and smuggled relics around the world, an Egyptian official said.

“The ministry of antiquities is saving no effort to preserve Egypt’s heritage and return stolen items,” Mahmoud al-Halwagy, director manager of the Egyptian Museum, told Xinhua. On Saturday, a collection of 240 ancient Egyptian artifacts that were illegally smuggled out of the country arrived in Cairo from France.

The United States also handed back 134 artifacts to the Egyptian authorities on Friday, after the Egyptian ministry of antiquities proved they had been stolen from the North African country.

Among the pieces retrieved are colored wooden coffins of women from the 26th Dynasty, four wooden statues of birds, representing the spirit in the ancient Egyptian culture, statues dating back to the Third Intermediate Period and a plate dating back to the Modern State era.

“The ministry of antiquities follows all the museums and artifacts auctions abroad, to spot the Egyptian pieces and then we start to investigate, if these relics are stolen and smuggled or just owned legally by these museums and auctions,” al-Halwagy said.

The official noted that, the government mainly relies on the 1970 UNESCO Convention, on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, which is the first international instrument dedicated to the fight against illicit trafficking of cultural property.

“Egypt has also recently signed agreements with several countries, which allow Egypt to retrieve stolen artifacts,” he said. “These agreements oblige other courtiers to confiscate every stolen single ancient object, at airports and seaports customs, auctions and sometimes well-known museums.”

It may take some time to repatriate confiscated relics in other countries because of the legal procedures, he said.

He said that, the ministry of antiquities has been doing a “great” job in returning stolen ancient items from different countries, affirming that nearly 7,000 relics have been retrieved in the recent six years.

The official also said that, the number of stolen and smuggled artifacts is large, adding that “the ministry does not have an exact number of the pieces shown or sold in other countries.”

“We have spotted hundreds of items in many countries and we investigate if these items are stolen or the owners have papers that prove their ownership, if they cannot prove this, we start our legal, and sometimes political, procedures with local governments to retrieve the artifacts,” he revealed.

The official stressed that the ministry is working hard with other state institutions, like the army and the police, to prevent the theft and smuggling of Egypt’s ancient treasure.

“Most of the relics smuggled out of Egypt are not stolen,” he said. “But there are groups of antiquities smugglers who make excavations across the country to uncover underground artifacts.”

This takes place in remote areas and in privately owned lands where the government cannot monitor, he added.

Al-Halwagy revealed that there are organised mafias, which pay millions of U.S. dollars to buy and smuggle stolen or illicit ancient antiquities.

Governments believe that thefts, illicit digging of archaeological sites, illegal import and export and trafficking on the Internet of cultural property, pose major threats to the preservation and protection of the cultural heritage of humanity.

Among the strategies the ministry is following, to fight the theft and smuggling of antiquities, said al-Halwagy, is an education programme, through which the ministry is telling school children and ordinary people of the high value of ancient antiquities and how to preserve them.

“This programme is making progress because our kids are positively responding to the idea that our antiquities are of great human value,” he said.

However, these are not enough to put an end to the theft, smuggling and selling of the Egyptian artifacts, as thousands of Egypt’s stolen antiquities flood the global black markets, auction houses and museums.

Major archaeological sites have been the target for theft and prowling since the 2011 uprising, that ousted Egypt’s former President Hosni Mubarak.

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Islam TV Urdu goes on air on Sky EPG in UK

Friday 01 May 2015 – London, (IINA) – An Urdu speaking British Muslim channel has gone on air on the Sky EPG on Thursday, BizAsia10 reported. The service known as Islam TV Urdu will complement existing sister channel, British Muslim TV, on the platform but with Urdu programming.

Talking to BizAsia, a spokesperson for Islam TV Urdu said: “We are hoping to bring the quality and variety that we have for British Muslim TV to the Urdu speaking market now too. Programmes will include Lessons from Qur’an, stories of prophets, lessons from the Seerah, cooking shows, chat shows, magazine shows and other issues.

Islam TV Urdu is currently relaying shows from British Muslim TV. It will officially begin Urdu shows in the coming days.

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Rabat is Arab Youth Capital for 2016

Friday 01 May 2015 – Rabat, (IINA) – The city of Rabat was named on Wednesday as capital of Arab Youth for the year 2016, Morocco World News reported. The choice was made during the meetings of the 38th session of the Council of Arab Youth and Sports Ministers which opened earlier in the day at the headquarters of the Arab League Secretariat General. Rabat follows Bahrain’s capital Manama which was chosen as capital of Arab youth for the year 2015.

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New Zealand Muslims plan interest-free mortgage

Friday 01 May 2015 – Wellington, New Zealand (IINA) – In glad tidings to New Zealand’s Muslims, a finance company has proposed plans to provide interest-free mortgages to Muslims that comply with Islamic Sharia, according to media reports. New Zealand’s first Islam-friendly KiwiSaver provider plans to offer interest-free mortgages to Muslims.

Amanah Ethical launched the country’s first Sharia-compliant KiwiSaver earlier this year. “They want to own their own homes, they want to be New Zealanders, they want to raise their kids,” Brian Henry, Amanah managing director, told Stuff.co.nz on Thursday.

The scheme charges a “purification payment” to cleanse any investment income that might be generated through ways considered prohibited in Islam. Henry said his company intended to provide finance products that comply with Islam, noting that paying or receiving interest on loans is forbidden in Islam.

New Zealand’s growing migrant Muslim community is highly educated and engaged in good jobs, he said. Kiwi Muslims had the means to own their own homes but did not want to go against their faith in order to become homeowners.

Islamic loans involve various alternative ways for the borrower to repay the lender at a premium, while technically not charging interest.

Henry said he could not disclose the exact structure of the model Amanah would use for its home finance product or when it would launch, but did say it was at least a couple of years away.

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“HalalTrip” mobile app for Muslim travellers

Sunday 26 Apr 2015 – Singapore, (IINA) – A new mobile application will help Muslim travellers know prayer times, locate mosques and find halal food more easily while away from home, according to news24.

Going by the name HalalTrip, the app has integrated the latest available technologies to give Muslim travellers a simple way to find prayer times and locations whether on air, land or sea.

The new feature instantly calculates the prayer times for the current location, the distances for nearby mosques and the time it will take to reach them. The addition of this feature alongside its existing in-flight prayer calculator means the HalalTrip app now provides Muslim travellers with a seamless experience for all their needs.

Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of HalalTrip & CrescentRating (a leading authority on Halal/Muslim Travel), said embracing new technology to innovate and enhance the experience of Muslim travellers is a key ongoing focus for the company as the $145 billion Halal tourism sector becomes more sophisticated and smartphone savvy.

According to the latest figures in the “MasterCard-CrescentRating Global Muslim Travel Index (GMTI) 2015”, the halal tourism sector was worth $145 billion in 2014. This figure is predicted to grow to $200 billion by 2020. The HalalTrip app brings together a number of key essential travel resources for Muslims, which includes Halal food discovery.

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Germany to include Islamic lessons in school curriculum

Sunday 26 Apr 2015 – Berlin, (IINA) – In a bid to fight extremism, German government has announced its sponsorship of the education programs of Islam, placing it in the curriculum on equal footing with Christianity and Judaism.

Over the past years, the government has allocated €20 million to establish the country’s four Islamic theology centers in the most respected public universities, OnIslam reported.

“A sound knowledge of Islamic theology and philosophy and psychology, and strategies of discourse and discussion,” is the best antidote there is to extremism, Harry Harun Behr of Frankfurt University, told the Christian Science Monitor on Thursday.

Behr, who is responsible for the training of future teachers of Islam in middle and high schools in Hessen, believes that Islamic lessons became essential in German schools.

“Being part and parcel of a world-famous university” means that “Islam no longer stands on the outside,” said Omar Hamdan, who heads the Islam center at Tübingen University. “We stand on equal footing with the other theology schools,” he added.

The importance of including Islamic lessons in the school and universities curriculum has been heightened following the latest atrocities committed by extremist groups in the name of Islam. Germany is believed to be a home to nearly 4 million Muslims, including 220,000 in Berlin alone. Turks make up an estimated two thirds of the Muslim minority.

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Islamic Culture and Information Committee to meet in Dakar

Monday 27 Apr 2015 – Dakar (IINA) – The 10th session of the OIC Standing Committee for Information and Cultural Affairs (COMIAC) will kick off in the Senegalese capital Dakar on Tuesday.

The session, with the theme of “Role of the Youth and Media for Peace and Stability in the Muslim World,” will be inaugurated by President of Senegal and Chairman of COMIAC Macky Sall in the presence of OIC Secretary General Iyad Ameen Madani and several ministers in charge of information and cultural affairs in the OIC member states.

The two-day session will discuss a number of issues, notably, inter-cultural and inter-civilizational dialogue and the efforts of the OIC General Secretariat and the affiliated organs in this regard. It will also discuss the role of the media in the Muslim world in supporting the cause of Jerusalem and Palestine.

It will further discuss ways to improve performance of joint Islamic action institutions and strengthening their role to protect and defend the true image of Islam, combating stereotypes about Islam and Muslims, raising the world’s awareness to the dangers of pervasive Islamophobia and how to counter it, as well as ways of enhancing COMIAC and its coordination role.

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Korean Muslims praise peaceful coexistence

Monday 27 Apr 2015 – South Korea, (IINA) – South Korea’s efforts to better understand Islam, both as a culture and religion, have reaped fruits with thousands of Muslims integrated into the social fabric of the Asian country, OnIslam reported.

“These days, Koreans do not discriminate against me on the basis of being a Muslim, and this was not always the case,” the Korea Herald reported quoting Kyung Hee University student Mohammad.

“When I came here in 2010, Koreans gave the cold shoulder to Muslims or those who headed to the Muslim prayer room. It was troubled time for people like me.” But positive attitudes toward the Muslim community were propelled by dialogue and interfaith activities hosted by Korean Muslims over the past years.

“Each year, there has been a dialogue among multiple religions here. We discuss ways to coexist and cooperate with each other,” explained Imam Lee Ju-hwa of the Seoul Central Mosque. Besides dialogue, Koreans were encouraged to attend free Arabic classes along with seminars and lectures about Muslim faith traditions.

“Three years ago, two students came to study Arabic. Now, more than 100 students visit here and learn Arabic a month,” Kim Sang-kyu, an executive of an Arabic Center, stated. “As most Arabic speakers are Muslims, Korean students learning Arabic get a chance to understand the Islamic culture by communicating with Muslim teachers.”

According to Imam Lee Ju-hwa, it was the 2007 kidnapping of Koreans citizens in Afghanistan that triggered curiosity among Koreans about the world’s fastest growing religion. It is noteworthy that according to the Korea Muslim Federation (KMF), established in 1967, there are about 120,000 to 135,000 Muslims living in South Korea, both natives and foreigners.

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Makkah to have world’s longest walkway

Tuesday 28 Apr 2015 – Makkah (IINA) – The new pedestrian road leading to Arafat from Makkah is nearing completion and will be opened before the next Haj season, according to a senior official of Makkah Municipality.

Hisham Shilly, director of the municipality’s department of parks and public utilities, told the Makkah newspaper that the first and second stages of the road project have already been completed and work is going smoothly on the third and final phase. “The road will no doubt be the longest walkway in the whole world,” he said. Shilly recalled that work on the road project started about two years ago and will be officially launched sometime in September.

“After completion, the use of the long walkway will not be restricted to the pedestrian pilgrims only but will also be used as a public park by Makkah residents,” he said. Shilly said the walkway is part of a network of roads for pedestrian pilgrims to use between Arafat and the Grand Mosque. “This network includes the parallel road of Namira Mosque and Al-Mishaer Al-Haram Road in Muzdalifah,” he said.

The director said the third and final phase of the walkway will be covered by tiles and rugs and supported by other utilities consisting of sales points, security centers, ambulance services and others. He said the municipality has already opened 13 new pedestrian roads and added that some of the valley bottoms will be used as pedestrian roads. Shilly said the converting of valley bottoms into roads has given the area a civilized look and put an end to the bad smell, flies and mosquitoes.

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Islamic finance body launches industry indicators

Tuesday 28 Apr 2015 – Kuala Lumpur (IINA) – The Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) has launched a databank of industry indicators covering 15 member countries, helping shed new light on the size and shape of the Sharia-compliant banking sector, Reuters reported.

The Kuala Lumpur-based IFSB, one of the main standard-setting bodies for Islamic finance, is supporting a range of initiatives to improve supervision of the sector as it achieves greater prominence in several Muslim-majority countries. The 188-member IFSB added financial inclusion to the industry’s agenda this month and released final guidance on liquidity management for Islamic banks. The IFSB collected data directly from regulatory bodies and plans to update figures on a quarterly basis, while adding more countries and sectors, it said in a statement. For the initial 15 countries, a total of 207 Islamic banking institutions were identified, which held a combined $1.18 trillion in assets and had 10,711 branches as of 2013.

Country-specific data also provides a rare insight into Islamic banking practices in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, where official figures are hard to come by. At the end of 2013, Saudi Arabia had 4 full-fledged Islamic banks and 8 Islamic windows, units of conventional banks that offer sharia-compliant financial services. Islamic lenders in the kingdom rely heavily on murabaha, a cost-plus mode of financing, which represents 62.4 percent of total financing for full-fledged Islamic banks and 86.7 percent for Islamic windows.

In contrast, Afghanistan had 6 Islamic windows and no full-fledged Islamic banks, relying on a profit-sharing contract known as musharaka for 53.3 percent of total financing. The data also covers Bahrain, Bangladesh, Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Jordan, Kuwait, Malaysia, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Sudan, and Turkey. The IFSB indicators are being developed with technical assistance from the Asian Development Bank and the Islamic Development Bank.

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Maldives tourist arrivals up by 6.5% in March

Sun.mv – April 28, 2015 – Tourist arrivals increased by 6.5 percent in March 2015 compared to March 2014, Ministry of Tourism has announced. According to Monthly Statistics published by the ministry, tourist arrivals for the month of March 2015 stood at 112,427, while that for the corresponding period in 2014 stood at 105,560.

Tourist arrivals in March 2015 was highest from Europe – going from 56,995 in March 2014 to 58, 916 in March 2015. The second most number of tourists visited Maldives in March 2015 from North East Asia, made up mainly of China, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. Arrivals from this region increased from 41,349 in March 2014 to 44,155 in March 2015.

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SpiceJet to increase flights to Maldives

Sun.mv – April 23, 2015 – Low-cost carrier SpiceJet has announced its plan to increase flights the Maldives. According to India’s Deccan Chronicle, SpiceJet’s decision to increase flights to the Maldives and the Gulf region follows the addition of a new aircraft to its fleet. Chief Operating Officer of SpiceJet Sanjiv Kapoor said, “The Maldives is an easily accessible and increasingly popular destination that we want to provide more connection options through Kochi from various points in India, and the Gulf region has a lot of migrants from the State and offering affordable and convenient travel option to them is our commitment.” SpiceJet operates more than 238 daily flights to 41 destinations, including 34 Indian and 7 international cities.

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Maldives leader ratifies bill to increase resort lease to 99 years

Sun.mv – April 27, 2015 – President Abdulla Yamin has ratified the amendment to the Tourism law to increase resort leases up to 99 years. The amendment to the tourism law presented by the MP for the Hoarafushi constituents, Mohamed Ismail representing the government says that the renting period would be extended to 50 years and if the renting party meets certain the conditions, the duration of the renting island or land can be extended for another 49 years.

The requirements are that the island should have an operational tourist resort, and that the lease period extension fee of $5 million should have been paid to the government. The amendment bill also states that permission must be sought in writing from relevant ministries, in the event that the islands, lands, or lagoons are to be used for an activity that might have a permanent impact on the environment.

Furthermore, it states that any party that violates a regulation under Article 15 of the Tourism Act, shall be fined an amount not exceeding $5 million.

Minister of Tourism Ahmed Adeeb has previously said that the country was in need of economic reform, and efforts in this regard are ongoing despite challenges. The Tourism Minister said that a land reform has to be made and give foreign ownership and even banks do not approve 40 – 50 years for resort investment and the best duration is 99 years. And if resorts are being leased to 99 years, the government revenue would rise and many resorts would extend their lease.

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Maldives airport starts work on new passenger terminal

Sun.mv – April 27, 2015 – Maldives Transport and Contracting Company (MTCC) has begun construction of a temporary terminal to rebuild the main passenger terminal at Ibrahim Nasir International Airport (INIA). Under the airport development project initiated by the government, MTCC has been charged with various tasks other than the terminal. Those include 13 new buildings on the eastside of the airport, renovation of five existing buildings, renewing the roads, rebuilding the terminal and removing the concrete base for the terminal by GMR. The project was officially inaugurated by the Managing Director of the Maldives Airports Company Limited (MACL), Adhil Moosa and the CEO of MTCC, Ibrahim Abdul Razzaaq Haleem and other high ranking officials of both those companies.

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Turkey’s first Safari Park opens

GAZİANTEP – Anadolu Agency – The first safari park in Turkey opened on April 23 in the southeastern province of Gaziantep on an area of 15,000 square meters in the Gaziantep Zoo. In the opening ceremony, Gaziantep Mayor Fatma Şahin said 25 species of animals were living together in the park. “Camels, reeds, eagles and others are living here. They actually give a lesson to people about how to live together in peace without cages,” she said.

Student groups, who came to Turkey from various places for the April 23 Children’s Day celebrations, performed shows in the Safari Park opening. The Gaziantep Zoo is home to more than 7,000 animals. It is the first in Turkey, second in Europe and fourth in the world in terms of surface area and the number of animal species. The new Safari Park has some 200 animals of 70 species. The different species have been placed in different area of the park.

Gaziantep Municipality official Celal Özsöyler said the zoo had an area of 1 million square kilometers and was visited by nearly a million people annually. He said they have helped realize new projects to keep the interest in the zoo alive. “One of these projects is this park,” he said, adding that hundreds of animals were living freely.

“The park has been opened completely with our own resources. Among the animals for now are camels, horses, deer, kangaroos, llamas and fowl. We have put animals in the same places considering if they get on with each other. On specially designed protected vehicles, visitors will be able to see the animals in their natural environment without wire nets,” Özsöyler said.

The Safari Park is expected to draw one million visitors in a year.

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Historic Hagia Sophia in Edirne to be re-opened as mosque

Serdar Korucu – ISTANBUL – A ruined Hagia Sophia dating back to the 12th century in the western border province of Edirne will be renovated as a mosque, despite former statements made about the possibility of restoring it as a museum.

Following the conversion of two Hagia Sophia into museums, which were initially built as churches and then turned into mosques and, subsequently, museums, the third Hagia Sophia in Edirne’s Enez district will be reconverted into a mosque, according to Foundations General Director Adnan Ertem, despite previous debates on turning it into a museum after reconstruction.

Speaking to state-run Anadolu Agency, Ertem said the Edirne Culture Assets Protection Regional Board approved the reconstruction project of the structure, which he called a “mosque” during the interview.

Ertem said the project would start as soon as possible, adding that the Hagia Sophia has been taken into the Foundations General Directorate’s investment program. Explaining why it should be re-opened as a mosque, Erdem said the building was a “sanctuary that was consecrated as a mosque. It is a foundation that can be put into service in line with its foundational charter. Thus its function will be preserved.”

Enez’s Hagia Sophia is located inside the ancient city of Ainos and although there are no records, it is thought to date back to the 12th century. It is located along the border with Greece and stationed on top of a hill seen from all around.

The district governor of Enez, Fatih Baysal, said in 2012 the usage of the structure as a mosque or not was a matter to be decided after the renovation. “But even if it is used as a museum or a mosque, this place really needs to be (opened),” said Baysal.

Enez Mayor Abdullah Bostancı said the structure would have similar properties to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.

The main Hagia Sophia, which has been a museum since 1935, was built in the fourth century and converted into a mosque, when Mehmet the Conqueror took Istanbul in 1453.

The Hagia Sophia in Turkey’s western district of İznik, which was initially constructed as a church in the eighth century and turned into a mosque when the city was conquered by the Ottomans in the 14th century, became a museum in the Turkish Republic. The building was later converted into a mosque in November 2011.

Another Hagia Sophia church, located in the Black Sea province of Trabzon, had been a mosque for many years after the conquest of the city and registered as a mosque in its land title. It was then turned into a museum and transferred to the Culture and Tourism Ministry. It was retransferred to the Trabzon Regional Directorate of Foundations through a court decision and reopened for Muslim worship in July 2013.

After the conversion from museum to mosque, 33 historic artifacts from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras in the garden of Trabzon’s Hagia Sophia were moved to the Trabzon Museum in January 2014.

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Triumphal arch of ancient city to return to former glory

ADANA – Anadolu Agency – One of the largest monumental arches remaining on Turkish soil is set to become a major tourist attraction in the southern province of Adana.

“Restoration works have been continuing to bring the triumphal arch (of Anavarza) to tourism. Most parts of the arch are still strong. The restoration process will begin soon. The monumental city gate, which is a legacy from the ancient world, will regain its original (glory) within a year,” said Çukurova University academic Fatih Gülşen, who is acting as a scientific consultant on excavations in the ancient city of Anavarza.

The arch, now located in the province’s Dilekkaya village, was 22.5 meters wide and 10.5 meters high, with a wall thickness of 5.60 meters, he said. Gülşen said after their victory against the Persians in the third century B.C., the Romans built the arch in Anavarza, the military camp city of the Roman Empire in the east.

Gülşen said 502 block stones that had fallen from the arch would be placed in their original places.

“The monumental gate, which is an artistic wonder, had three arches,” he said. “Some parts of the western arch collapsed but the main arch in the middle and the one in the east still survive. We finished the drawings of the collapsed and missing blocks. The pieces that fell from the gate have been numbered and have undergone laser scanning. We will put them in their own places during the restoration. The triumphal arch has high-quality workmanship; smooth square lime, marble and granite stones were used in the construction. Tougher and high-quality limestone was used in its curves. It is a huge and unique structure decorated with Corinthian heads, columns, pilasters (rectangular columns) and niches. Because of these features, it is the only one in the region that we call Çukurova today, and one of the few monumental city gates within the borders of Turkey.”

Gülşen said the triumphal arch opened onto a 34-meter-wide, 2,700-meter long, two-lane street. “The Culture and Tourism Ministry has allocated 1 million Turkish Liras for the excavations and research in the ancient city of Anavarza. The revival of the triumphal arch is one of most important stages of our work here. We are working with a team of 45 people – 10 are technical staff.”

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Turkey’s tourism revenue edges up in first quarter

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency – Turkey’s tourism revenues stood at $4.87 billion in the first quarter of the year, improving 1.3 percent from the same period in 2014, the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) said in a report on its website April 30. Turkey welcomed more than 5.3 million visitors in the first quarter of this year, an increase of 5.5 percent from the same quarter in 2014.

Income from tourism has been a valuable source of foreign currency for the country, as a large current account deficit makes the economy vulnerable to external shocks. Foreign visitors spent on average $884 per capita, while it was $994 per capita among Turkish citizens living abroad who visited the country. Turkey ranked sixth among the world’s top destinations in terms of tourist numbers in 2013, according to the World Tourism Organization.

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Ottoman flag returned to Turkey

ANKARA – Anadolu Agency – A flag which symbolized the sovereignty of the Ottomans in Damascus 100 years ago but disappeared during World War I has been returned to Turkey, Culture and Tourism Minister Ömer Çelik said, while providing information about the return of smuggled Turkish artifacts.

“When the British forces arrived in Damascus, they occupied the Ottoman headquarters and remove this flag. General Allenby gave it to Master Sergeant Edgar Turner, who took the flag to Britain. The flag had been kept by the Turner family as a memento. His grandchild heard our calls to the world and wanted to return the flag. We have made a special place for it and will display it for the 100th anniversary of World War I. I consider the flag as the most precious artifact that was returned from a foreign country during my term,” said Çelik.

He said he would ask President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to display the flag in the presidential palace.

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World women’s cinema comes to Ankara

ANKARA – Hurriyet Daily News – The 18th Flying Broom International Women’s Films Festival will be held this year between May 8 and 18. The festival program was launched at a meeting held at Kuğulu Park in the Turkish capital. The festival, which will host a number of workshops, forums and panel discussions, has the theme “The States of 18,” in its 18th year.

As a first this year, the festival is being organized with a committee, all 10 members of which are young people, headed by actress Damla Sönmez. “The Flying Broom is a big step in the women rights struggle. It is an organization for female cinema artists to prove themselves without box office worries. I am honored to be a part of this organization,” Sönmez said.

The only international women’s films festival to which the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) sends a jury, the Flying Broom will feature a total of 133 films this year.

Festival coordinator Özlem Kınal said, “Cinema goers will watch 133 films from 38 countries, including Pakistan, Ethiopia, North Cyprus, New Zealand, Tanzania, Mozambique, Germany, France, Algeria, Georgia, India and Armenia, as well as Turkey under 17 headlines.”

The festival’s feature films will be screened at Büyülü Fener Movie Theater and the Contemporary Arts Center will screen the festival’s documentaries, short films and animated films. Among the films will be 31 features, 39 documentaries, 47 shorts and 16 animated films.

The festival will also featuring a number of guests, including actors, directors and panelists from countries such as Belgium, Georgia, Germany, Finland, Bulgaria, the U.K., the U.S. and Canada.

The 18th Flying Broom International Women’s Films Festival will have 17 sections. The most striking sections will be “Her Biri Ayrı Renk” (Each has a different color) and “The States of 18,” which will be evaluated by the FIPRESCI jury.

The festival’s opening film will be the opener from last year’s Cannes Film Festival, the French film “Girlhood.” Within the scope of the festival, the audiences will also have chance to see the Indian film “Margarita” and the Romanian film “Victoria.”

On May 9 and 10, there will be a selection made with the contributions of the European Union Turkish Delegation. These films include “Viktoria,” “The Wonders,” “Traces of Sandalwood,” “Zurich,” “Women and War,” “Next Year,” “Nena,” “Be My Baby,” “The Lesson,” “Happily Ever After” and “Tito’s Glasses.”

The festival will present the Honorary Award to Hümeyra, a veteran actress who has proven herself in many fields from music to theater, cinema and TV drama. She will be presented with her award on the opening night of the festival at the Ankara State Opera and Ballet.

The festival will also present the “Bilge Olgaç Success Awards” to Deniz Eyüboğlu in the director of photography category, Emine Yıldırım in the scriptwriting category and Aylin Zoi in the fiction category.

The festival will also give the “Theme Award” and the “Young Witch Award.”

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China to help build more railways in Bangladesh

DHAKA, April 26, 2015 (BSS)- Bangladesh Railways (BR) today signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CCECC) for construction of Bhanga-Barisal-Paira port railway lines. Chief Planning Officer of BR M Manzurul Islam and Vice-president of CCECC Wang Xiangdong signed the MoU on behalf of their respective sides.

The government has decided to construct 100-kilometre railway lines aimed at bringing Barisal and Paira port under the country’s railway networks, according to a press release. It said the project is included in the priority projects announced by the Prime Minister, which is also in the mega plan of the Bangladesh Railway. The Chinese company would implement the project on the basis of the government-to-government finance, the release added.

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Egyptian polar explorer’s success good for national image, tourism

Egypt State Information Service (Cairo) – 25 April 2015 – Making it to the North Pole, Egyptian mountaineer Omar Samra has contributed to improving the image of tourist sites in Egypt, the Tourism Ministry said on Friday 24/04/2015. Samra successfully reached the North Pole on Tuesday and raised Egypt’s flag there.

“I’ve successfully reached the North Pole at 5 a.m. on the 21st of April thereby completing a 20 year long journey since the day I dreamed of climbing Mount Everest, becoming the first Egyptian and one of 40 people in history to complete the Explorer’s Grand Slam which is the challenge of climbing the highest mountain on every continent, the 7 Summits, and skiing to both the South and North pole,” Samra said on his facebook account.

Samra is the first Egyptian and youngest Arab to climb Mount Everest. He reached the summit at 9:49 am Nepal time on 17 May 2007. He was born in 1978.

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Algeria, Guest of Honor At International Fair of Abidjan

Algerie Presse Service (Algiers) – 27 April 2015 – Algiers — Algeria participates from tomorrow until Tuesday 10 May in the international fair of Abidjan (Ivory Coast) as guest of honor, the Ministry of Tourism and crafts said in a statement. Algeria will be represented by Algerian companies including the National Agency for the Promotion of Foreign Trade and the Algerian Society of Fairs and Exhibitions (SAFEX), the statement said.

The Algerian stand “will cover an area of 2000 m², divided into several spaces for various sectors of Algerian delegations partaking in the event,” said the source. According to the statement, the National Tourism Office will also participate in the event through a 12m² stand to “make known and promote the Algerian tourism product in the Ivorian market” and “to promote the characteristics of the Algerian tourist destination. ”

This economic event, the source added, is “an appropriate space to learn about investment opportunities in the Ivorian market and ways of strengthening trade exchange to enter this market through the development of partnerships with different operators and help create wealth and encourage technology transfer.”

According to organizers, this edition will be marked by the participation of nearly 500 exhibitors from different sectors (agriculture, industry, services, health, tourism and transport). The choice of Algeria as the guest of honor “reflects the desire to strengthen economic partnership between Algeria and the African continent and to reinforce cooperation between the two countries in various fields.”

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Tourist Attractions in Destination Gambia

The Daily Observer (Banjul) – 29 April 2015 – The Smiling Coast of Africa, The Gambia, over the years has become the most sought-after tourist destination in the continent. In the destination there are lots of tourist attractions scattered across the country.

The destination tourist attractions are natural with rich historical background that adds value to their beauties. The Gambia attraction sites will add more value to your holiday as regarding to adventure, leisure and experience among other things you will live to remember about the destination.

Among places of attractions that you can visit on your holiday are numerous and this involve the below:

Kunta Kinteh Island

Formerly known as James Island, it is a tiny island located in River Gambia and joins the Atlantic Ocean. Kunta Kinteh Island and Related Sites present a testimony to the main periods and facets of the encounter between Africa and Europe along the River Gambia, a continuum that stretched from pre colonial and pre-slavery times to Independence. The sites are particularly significant for their relation to the beginning and the abolition of slave trade.

Kunta Kinteh Island is an historic place with heartbreaking history of the slave trade. The island and other related Sites have been inscribed in the World Heritage List of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The inscription on the list confirms its exceptional universal value which deserves protection for the benefit of the humanity.

The Island and the linked sites on the Gambia River give outstanding evidence of the different aspects of the African-European encounter, from the 15th to the 20th centuries. The River became the first trade route into the interior of Africa and became an early corridor for the slave trade.

CFAO Building

This is one of the two buildings which survived from the period when the French hold Albreda between 1681 and 1857. Many of their activities had a significant impact on the potential and economic life of the African population as well as on the English in The Gambia. The building is also significant because it is very similar in appearance to the dwelling and store of the former French residence, which was the most important building of the enclave. Nothing remains of that residence now.

Despite its name, the building was not built by the Compagnie Francaise d’ Afrique Noire (CFAO), but was bought by the company in 1902. It is not known how old the building is, or who built it, but an 1847 plan of Albreda shows a permanent stone building in that location. Its ownership could only be traced back to 1881 when Alfred Beneck sold the land to the Marseille-based trading of Charles Auguste Verminck for 350 pounds sterling. Verminck merged his holdings into the new Senegal Company (CSCOA or Compagnie Senegalaise de la Cote Occidntale d’ Afrique). The Senegal Company in turn amalgamated with the CFAO in 1887, though transfer of the Albreda holdings did not take place until 1902.

Katchikally Crocodile Pool – The Sacred Pool

This is a sacred pool that came into being in a mystical way. The pond is sacred in its nature because there is more to what meets the eyes. Though, to some it is a place to see friendly crocodiles.

Katchikally is an urbanization that holds communal values as ransom for social norms in many localities and in the Bakau community. The co-existence between men and spirits is evident in the Katchikally Sacred Pool. You are safe as you walk around the pool and with guide you can as well touch life crocodile with risk.

Inside it there is a museum; it is a community owned museum. It has a display collection of around 1,000 historical objects housed in four African styled round huts.

Apart from this Katchikally there are other two crocodile sacred pools in Falonko in Kartong and Berrending at Berrending village. With so many outstanding ancient sacred places in the world and the three crocodile sacred pools in The Gambia, the number of people that know what and where the ‘sacred places’ are very minimal.


Banjul is the capital city of The Gambia. It is a place that accommodates all tribes of The Gambia but the Wollof among other tribes has the highest population in the city. This was due to the fact that when the British occupied the city in 1816 the first group of people to come was the British Administrator and the soldiers to man the gun batteries in other to apprehend the slaves’ ships. While the second group of people to come were the Wollof from Senegal who came on invitation of the British to help build the infrastructure.

In spite the development across the Gambia, Banjul still remains the commercial hub of the country as far as the port is concerned with the administrative occupation. Apart from Banjul being the capital city that housed the Atlantic port, the city, via ferry, also served as crossing point to other parts of the country. That is from Banjul you can cross to Barra to link the northern part of The Gambia and from Banjul to Serekunda-Banjul Highway.


Janjabureh is one of the centers tourist can hardly avoid if they are to claim a productive stay in the country. It is an island where every minute spent is a moving and memorable lesson.

You can take everything away from Janjanbureh, but not its characteristic excess in sand and bar of ironstone, running from the bank across the river, known as Buruko Rocks. Its culture and tradition form the historical value of the island, which made it a household name in the Gambia and beyond. It is an island evolving from a mere sandbank made out of alluvial river deposits.

According to History of Settlement, a structure found in the famous Freedom Tree Monument, a Triangle Park in the island located close to the slave house and slave market.

This island, a community of around 3000 people, occupies about 1/6 of the 43.2km square land area popularly called Maccarthy, Georegetown, or Janjanbureh, its latest name. The various names appeal to specific groups of people that visit the island.

Wassu, Kerbatch Stone Circles

Among the natural, cultural and physical significance places in The Gambia listed in the World Heritage Sites are Wassu and Kerbatch Stone Circles. Wassu is located in the Niani District, and Kerbatch is located in the Nianija District they are about 8 kilometers away from each other and both locations are at the Central River Region, The Gambia.

Historical and cultural significance of the stone circles revealed it to be a unique concentration of megaliths. The stone circles of Senegambia are impressive remains that have for long puzzled visitors. Stone circles of many types are found in Europe and Africa, though nowhere is there such a large concentration of megaliths as it is found on the north bank of the River Gambia.

Wassu has the tallest stone, 2,59m, and the nearby quarry which is easily accessible to visitors is also very educative and provides added value to site visits. Kerbatch has an impressive V stone which was hitherto broken in three places and had fallen, and subsequently underwent restoration during the 1965 Anglo-Gambian stone circles expedition.

Abuko Nature Reserve

This nature reserve established in ‘968 is the Gambia’s first protected area and provides a good introduction to the country’s plants and animals. The pools in the reserve hold a substantial population of Nile crocodiles and attract a wide variety of birds, mammals and reptiles. The education center overlooks the pool and gives and interpretation of the ecology and natural history of the park.

Abuko is home to more than 270 species of birds, including the green turaco, kingfisher, little greenbul and red bellied paradise flycatcher. Mammals in the reserve include bushbuck, Maxwell’s duiker, Gambian red legged sun squirrel and crested porcupine. The park contains monitor lizards and several species of snakes, and visitors will also encounter colourful butterflies and dragon flies. The animal orphanage hosts spotted hyenas, baboons, parrots, turtles and three species of monkeys. There are also several photo hides along the trail which provide excellent conditions for spotting wildlife.

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Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand to promote tourism in Malacca Strait

28 April 2015 Langkawi (ANTARA News) – Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand have agreed to promote tourism in the Malacca Strait, Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla stated here on Tuesday. He noted that this was one of the agreements reached during the Indonesia-Malaysia-Thailand Growth Triangle (IMT-GT) meeting.

“There are tourism spots in the Malacca Strait such as Langkawi (Malaysia), Phuket (Thailand), and Bintan through Sabang (Indonesia). It is hoped that there will be an improvement,” he remarked during a press conference after attending the IMT-GT meeting at the Langkawai Convention Center on the Malaysian island of Langkawi.

He noted that in order to boost tourism in the three areas, inter-island connectivity will be prioritized by the concerned countries. “Connectivity will be improved. Each country will operate shipping and airline services between the three areas,” he emphasized.

Kalla stated that a planned transportation service using a roll-on roll-off vessel will become operational next year to connect Sabang and Langkawi. Besides tourism, he pointed out that the three countries will also enhance cooperation over the Strait in view of its importance.

“Just now, it was decided to increase all forms of cooperation so far especially on how to improve tourism in the three areas because they all have extraordinary potential and to connect the areas in terms of transportation and energy,” he noted while referring to the proposal of shared electricity between Malaysia and Sumatra, Indonesia.

“It (sharing electricity) is still being discussed between Sumatra and Malaysia especially through Riau and Malaka with the latter using the supply in the day and Sumatra at night, and so, there will be an interconnection,” he emphasized.

The Indonesian vice president stated that in terms of economic cooperation, the three countries will moreover benefit ahead of the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community next year.

Indonesia’s chief economic minister remarked that trade in the Malacca Strait region has increased quite significantly. “Although it was still relatively small in 2012, it already recorded almost half a billion US dollars worth of transactions, and in 2014, more than US$600 million,” he affirmed.

Kalla admitted that the low value of trade in the region was due to the similar commodities produced in the three areas. “We produce the same commodities. We all have palm oil and rubber, and so, the service sector needs to be stepped up besides tourism and investment,” he emphasized.

He was optimistic that following the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community, there will be higher economic growth as the member countries strive to improve their competitiveness and efficiency.

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Indonesia urges alliance to develop sharia economy

30 April 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian government is encouraging various sides to form a strong strategic alliance to develop sharia economy, which is expected to contribute to the national economy. “We hope Islamic, or sharia, economy can be popularized in a way that can be easily understood by all people,” Vice President M. Jusuf Kalla said after opening the third congress of the Islamic Economists Association at the Finance Ministry here on Thursday.

When questioned whether the government intended to offer other special incentives to develop sharia economy, he affirmed that he would study them. Indonesia has been chosen to host the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) to be held in May next year, Finance Minister Bambang Brodjonegoro stated.

“We will host the WIEF in Jakarta in May 2016. The event will coincide with the annual meeting of the Islamic Development Bank,” Brodjonegoro noted after accompanying President Joko Widodo in a meeting with Chief of the WIEF Foundation Tun Musa Hitam at the Presidential Office here on April 21.

Indonesia hosted the forum once in 2009. The forum is strategic because it will bring together businesspeople from all over the world, including those from Islamic countries who have surplus funds to invest, the minister explained. “We will try to take advantage of (the excess amounts of funds) by hosting the WIEF in Jakarta,” he remarked.

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Ohoidertaun rock paintings discovered in Kei islands

25 April 2015 Ambon, Maluku (ANTARA News) – Ancient rock paintings have been discovered in the Ohoidertaun village of Kei islands. These include at least 400 images, among others of humans, hand prints, trees, and boats, the head of Ambons archaeology office Muh. Husni said on Friday.

“Up to now, the Mesolithic discovery was still the most image-contained rock panting that had been found in the Maluku province,” he added.

According to him, the Ohoidertaun rock paintings have not been studied further, including their age. “We do not know the age yet. It needs in-depth research. However, according to the number of motive images, we can conclude that the culture at the time was well developed,” Husni said.

So far there are three rock painting sites that have been studied by the archaeology office, namely in Wamkana (South Buru district), Sawai (Central Maluku district), and the Ohoidertaun (Kei islands).

An archaeologist from Ambons archaeology office, Wuri Handoko, said the rock paintings found at the three sites are most likely related to each other, and could explain the human migration pattern in Maluku.

“If we see the landscape, the rock paintings have been found in the coastal areas. It indicates there was a long distance traversed through these areas by the ancient humans,” she said.

A pre-historic expert from Ambons archaeology office, Marlon Ririmasse, said a research team had discovered ancient paintings in a cave where ancient humans lived, located on the Kobror Island of the Aru Island district.

The difference is the motifs was not as good as the ones found in Wamkana, Sawai, and Ohoidertaun.

Ancient paintings in Kobror are shaped geometrically like a man, tree, and a curve with scratch technique using ocher. The tree-shaped image is believed to be the tree of life that symbolizes faith in the Creator, Ririmasse said.

“The paintings on Kobror Island are cave paintings, not rock paintings like the ones found in Wamkana, Sawai, and Ohoidertaun,” he added.

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Exhibition of Azerbaijani artists opens in Paris

28 April 2015 – TODAY.AZ – An exhibition of Azerbaijani artists has opened in famous “Russkiy Mir” gallery, located in the eighth district of Paris.

Generally, 35 oil paintings of the Honored Artists of Azerbaijan, as Asmar Narimanbayova, Huseyn Haqverdi, Ismayil Mammadov, as well as Knyaz Shukurov, Mirza Yusif, Tavakkul Abbasov and Anar Huseynzade, were presented at the exhibition.

The works of Azerbaijani artists aroused great interest among the art lovers. The event was attended by the Russian ambassador to France, Paul Golunski from Harvard University, as well as famous artists, culture and art figures.

Participants of the exhibition get detailed information about Azerbaijani history and culture.

The works of famous artists from different countries regularly are exhibited in this gallery. Talented and well-known artist in France Asmar Narimanbayova also represented Azerbaijan in this event.

The event will run until May 30.

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201 European Games in Baku to boost Azerbaijan tourism

01 May 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Azerbaijan is awaiting the Baku 2015 European Games to familiarize Europeans and the whole world with its recent development and achievements.

The Land of Fire is turning into a tourist attraction, with its ancient history and antique architecture, beautiful nature and delicious cuisine. In this regard, the hosting of the continental sport festival is turning out to be a historic event for the country.

Over 2 million tourists came to Azerbaijan last year and this year, the country expects more guests. Calculations show that the past year yielded about one billion manats (over $950,000 million) from tourism.

For this reason, visitors of Baku 2015 will benefit from a relax visa regime. All conditions have been created to make people’s visit as easy as possible.

The first European Games will be profitable for Azerbaijan from an economic standpoint economy expert Vugar Bayramov said on April 30.

“Every tourist will spend at least $2,000 during European Games,” he said. Funds that tourists will spend during the Baku 2015 are investments in the economy of the country, he said.

Moreover, the European Games contribute to an increase demand for Azerbaijan’s national currency, as during their stay in Azerbaijan tourists will exchange their money to get the manat.

“This will allow the Central Bank to reduce its currency intervention. This step is important in terms of the stability of the manat and the increase of demand for it,” the expert stressed.

The greater part of the Games’ expenditure has been infrastructure spending – 78 percent he said. “The infrastructure created for the European Games will be used in the future during major events and will bring additional income to the country.”

In the next coming years, the country will attract tourists with the Islamic Solidarity Games, Formula 1 race and quarterfinals and three group games of the Euro 2020.

Bayramov stressed that the first European Games is a great presentation for Azerbaijan. “Every tourist is a potential base for the arrival of new tourists. This will contribute to a large influx of tourists into the country in the future and increase investment in the tourism sector of the country,” he added.

Current and strategic income from the first European Games is more than the cost of their conduct, Bayramov said. This implies that Baku 2015 is not only an geopolitical and strategic project but also an economic one.

Today, Baku and Azerbaijan regions are preparing to welcome its guests. Monitoring showed that hotels and the tourism sector are ready for the Games, the Culture and Tourism Ministry reported.

Azerbaijan has the capacity to accommodate over 35,000 tourists in its 530 hotels. The country is expected to increase its tourist flow up to 5 million a year. Azerbaijani hotels now attracts more tourists from Bulgaria, Estonia, Finland, Czech Republic, Japan, Belgium, Poland, Turkey, Moldova, China, Germany and Romania.

Along with the presentation of the Games in the main cities of Europe, the inaugural European Games was also covered by such media as CNN and Euronews. Moreover, broadcasting of the 17 days of competitions that will see gather 6,000 athletes from 50 countries, is expected to attract more people to Azerbaijan.

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European Games great opportunity to promote Azeri cuisine

01 May 2015 – TODAY.AZ – Tahir Amiraslanov, the president of the Azerbaijan National Association of Culinary spoke about the importance of the 1st European Games to be held in Baku from June 12 to 28. “The Games will be held for many years. Everyone will remember that the first Games were held in Baku,” he told Trend Life. “This is a big historical event promoting the country, and city.”

Amiraslanov further noted how this significant event influences several fields. “Sports facilities, new roads, parks and hotels have been constructed. The entire infrastructure has been improved. All of these facilities work and will further work for Azerbaijan,” the chef stressed.

He also touched upon the Games’ contribution to the country’s tourism sphere. “After the Eurovision Song Contest held in Baku in 2012 the number of tourists increased in the country,” he said. “Learning more about Azerbaijan, its high tolerance, tourists will seek in the future to visit our country.”

The talented chef also emphasized that the Games will have a great significance in promoting Azerbaijani culture and art, as well as familiarize tourists with the country’s rich traditions and rich national cuisine.

“According to researches made by the world tourist organization held in 80 countries, many tourists remember a country thanks to its national cuisine. Last year we appealed to the Azerbaijan Culture and Tourism Ministry. We offered to make 80 percent of all dishes on the menu of the country’s leading hotels national dishes. The ministry ordered that we start with breakfasts. We prepared a standard Azerbaijani breakfast menu for hotels,” he said, adding that he hopes this menu will also be used during the European Games.

During the 17 days the European Games will host 6,000 athletes from 50 countries. Some 20 sports will be held during the Baku 2015: 16 Olympic sports and four non-Olympic sports.

Twelve of the sports will offer qualification opportunities for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Those sports include Archery, Athletics, Boxing, Cycling, Judo, Shooting, Swimming, Table Tennis, Taekwondo, Triathlon, Volleyball and Wrestling. Baku was awarded the games by the European Olympic Committees (EOC) in December 2012.

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US “Unveiled” Show Tells Muslims’ Stories

OnIslam & Newspapers Monday, 27 April 2015 CAIRO – Giving voice to American Muslim women, a California show will depict the negative portrayals of veiled women post 9/11 in a bid to create dialogue, amid soaring Islamophobia.

“I hope it’s entertaining and I hope it creates dialogue,” Rohina Malik, a Muslim Chicago playwright and actress, told Times Herald. “I’m looking forward to the after-show discussion where we can really have an honest conversation.”

Malik was talking about her play, Unveiled, coming to the Benicia Historical Museum at the Camel Barns on Sunday, April 26. Written in 2008, the play tells the stories of love, compassion, culture and tolerance from the eyes of five Muslim women. Its concept comes from an expression in the Qur’an, which asks people to remove the veil from their heart.

“The world premiere sold out so quickly, and I realized that Americans are really hungry to hear from a Muslim voice, especially with the current climate,” said Malik, who is of Indian and Pakistani descent. Mixing fiction and personal experience, the one-woman show aims to highlight abuse faced by veiled Muslim women in the US.

“People are stereotyping and it’s really dangerous,” she said. “Discrimination never starts with a gun or a knife, it starts with the environment.”

Born in London and of South Asian descent, Malik is also a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists, and an artistic associate at the 16th Street Theater and Voyage Theater Company in NYC, in addition to being a member of the Dramatists Guild of America.

Her work has been produced or developed at The Goodman Theatre, Victory Gardens Theater, 16th Street Theater, Brava Theater, Crossroads Theater, Chicago Dramatists, and Theater Project Baltimore. She was also recently awarded the Y Award with the Evanston YWCA for her work to end racism and empower women.

Reviewers Rejoice

Racism. Hate crimes. Love. Islam. Culture. Language. Life. Five Muslim women in a post-9/11 world serve tea and uncover what lies beneath the veil in this critically acclaimed one-woman show.

And well ahead of the June 1 premier of Unveiled at New York’s Voyage Theater Company, reviews are already exalting Malik’s efforts.

The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones said of the one-woman play, “Rohina Malik, the hugely talented writer-actress at the center of the Victory Gardens solo show “Unveiled,” is a remarkable new theatrical voice in Chicago. In her rich, upbeat and very enjoyable 70-minute collection of five character studies of Muslim women in modern-day America, Malik gives voice to characters from whom we hear far too little in the theater.”

A “terrific show… intellectually engrossing work of theater,” declared Chicago Tribune’s Nina Metz.

Tom Witom, Pioneer Press: “Unveiled offers a provocative, insightful and uplifting theater experience.”

“A compelling 70-minute piece, rich with illuminating surprises drawing the audience into worlds that are, both unique and truly universal. It is terrifically entertaining,” stated Catey Sullivan of the Chicago Examiner.

Web Behrens of the Chicago Free Press advised, “The stories are important, to be sure, but the cumulative effect is weighty.”

Malik’s free show is co-organized by the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church of Benicia, in association with its outreach program, the Abraham Path Initiative, which encourages the understanding of the Abrahamic faiths, mainly Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“It’s important to learn about people’s cultures from hearing their stories,” Rev. Jeanne Forte said.

“Especially post 9/11, there’s so much negativity portrayed in the media about Islam. I think it’s really important to hear and learn the positive stories, especially from a Muslim woman.”

Post 9/11 Attacks on US Muslims

In the aftermath of 9/11, hate crimes against people of Middle-Eastern descent increased from 354 attacks in 2000 to 1,501 attacks in 2001 according to a report published by the Journal of Applied Psychology written by Debra L. Oswald.

Another report, prepared by the Arab American Institute, published three days after the Oklahoma City bombing (which was committed by anti-government white American Timothy McVeigh), “more than 200 serious hate crimes were committed against Arab Americans and American Muslims. The same was true in the days following September 11.”

Fast forward to 2015, marked by the post Charlie Hebdo shootings in France and executions carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria, escalating a renewed series of attacks on Muslims in the US.

A February report published by the Global Research Centre highlights that 2015 is already gearing up to be a banner year for Islamophobic attacks against Muslim Americans.

On February 10, three Muslim-American students—Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, his wife Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and her sister Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19—were found shot in the head, execution-style, in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

The two young women were wearing traditional hijabs when they were killed.

The man who turned himself in to authorities in connection with the murders had previously brandished guns at the victims and threatened them.

Before the shooting, Yusor Abu-Salha told her father, “Daddy, I think he hates us for who we are and how we look.”

On February 12, an Arab-American man was brutally attacked by two white men at a Kroger supermarket in Dearborn, Michigan. The attackers also taunted his daughter, who wears a hijab, making references to ISIS and Muslims. The attackers called the man and his daughter “r–head” and said, “Go back to your country.”

On February 13, the Quba Islamic Institute in southeast Houston, Texas was the target of an arson attack that destroyed a substantial portion of the building and caused an estimated $100,000 in damage. On February 17, police in Austin, Texas arrested a man for threatening to bomb an Islamic center as well as a Middle Eastern restaurant.

Last month, a “Texas Muslim Capitol Day” event (the declared purpose of which was to “engage American Muslims in the political process”) was attacked and disrupted by anti-Muslim thugs. Another attack was organized on “Muslim Day” in Oklahoma City. The attacking group’s Facebook page screamed, “Get Islam Out of America.”

The rate of hate crimes against Muslims in the United States stands at five times what it was before September 2001, according to a Washington Post report.

A Gallup News Service poll found that out of all religions, Americans harbor the most negative feelings towards Muslims. The American political and media establishment bears a significant portion of the responsibility for these trends.

Since the 9/11 attacks, US Muslims, estimated between 6-8 million, have complained of discrimination and stereotyping in their communities due to their Islamic attire or identities. An Economist/YouGov poll found that a 73 percent of Americans believe that US Muslims are victims of discrimination amid recent attacks against the community.

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Malawi’s Poor Get Halal Medical Insurance

OnIslam Malawi Correspondent Thursday, 30 April 2015 LILONGWE – In an attempt to ebb the tide of increasingly poor economic conditions in Malawi, an ‘Islamic’ medical insurance has been initiated to provide easy access to quality and advanced medical services to economically disadvantaged citizenry in the impoverished south African nation.

“Most Malawians are unable to access medical services being offered by the existing medical schemes because they are profit-oriented,” Adil Chilungo, executive director of Blantyre Cooperative Medical Insurance told OnIslam.net.

“They have taken advantage of the current economic situation to get maximum profits. We have therefore come in to provide relief to low income earners.”

“Our medical insurance is tailored to cater for the needs of all Malawians irrespective of their earning power. Under the current economic situation, the medical needs of the majority of Malawians are quite overwhelming. It is for this reason that our services have generated massive interest across the country,” Chilungo added.

“People are very hungry for what we are offering because it is within their means. With little money, they can ably access quality medical services which they can’t access through the other existing medical schemes.”

Chilungo said although the medical coverage is labeled ‘Islamic’, all Malawians across the religious spectrum were being cared for.

“We have gone beyond the boundaries of religion to provide quality medical services to the people of Malawi. All Malawians regardless of their religious affiliations have taken advantage of this medical insurance. Besides providing medical care, we are also indirectly at the same time, enhancing unity among diverse religions in the country,” said Chilungo.

Elaborating on the benefits of the Islamic health insurance coverage Chilungo added that, “Because we are not profit-oriented, our fees are quite affordable. We are there to provide relief to humanity at a time when the country’s economy is almost down. We are providing hope to the struggling majority that despite the poor economic situation, they can access advanced medical services.

“Our services are quite unique because people of diverse social statuses are able to access medical services equally without any form of discrimination based on their economic strength.”

According to Chilungo, beneficiaries of the Islamic health insurance coverage make minimal contributions according to their earning abilities.

Malawi’s economy has been struggling over the years leading to an acute shortage of essential medical supplies in public hospitals providing free medical services to the country’s rural and urban poor.

“This situation has hit the poor a great deal. This medical insurance therefore has been initiated to bail out the majority of Malawians who are poor. These are people who can’t afford quality medical services in private hospitals on their own because they charge exorbitant fees,” said Chilungo.

Meanwhile, a cross-section of the Malawi community has praised the initiative describing it as “hope for the poor.”

“This is the only hope for the poor to survive during this time when our economy has failed us. Through this scheme, we are able to access quality medical services which we couldn’t dream of before. Without this scheme, chances of us surviving amidst this situation were very slim,” Peter Chaona, a beneficiary of the scheme told OnIslam.net.

“I therefore appeal to fellow Malawians who are conscious about their health to become members of this scheme. Life in our country has become unbearable, it is therefore of paramount importance to prioritize issues to do with health,” he said.

While concurring with Chaona, national chairperson of the Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM), Alhaj Mohammed Idrissa commended on the scheme saying it was within what “Islam stands for”.

“This scheme is quite commendable. It’s within the values of Islam. Islam doesn’t advocate profits on issues which concern humanity like health. This scheme is strictly there to help the poor who are struggling to access advanced health services at this time,” said Idrissa.

“My appeal to other existing medical schemes is that they should try to minimize their profit margins so that people with little earning power can also access their services. The majority of Malawians are very poor to ably access medical services at very exorbitant prices. It should be our desire to provide quality medical care to all people regardless of how much they earn,” Idrissa concluded.

Since its inception last year Malawi society has fully embraced the first-of-its-kind medical coverage.

“We are attracting huge membership that no any other medical insurance has done before in this country. This clearly shows how much interest and trust people have towards this facility. We are committed to provide the best to Malawians at a minimal cost.”

Over 40% of Malawians, the majority being female-headed households, live below the poverty line.

Agriculture is central to the economy, but land distribution is unequal and crops are highly vulnerable to frequent droughts. Poor education and limited vocational training programs mean there are few opportunities for Malawians to improve their situations.

Malawians deal with hunger and malnutrition on a daily basis. According to USAID 45% of the country’s children underage five are stunted due to the lack of adequate nutrition. Islam is the second largest religion in Malawi after Christianity with roughly 12 percent of the country’s 16 million as adherents according to the CIA Factbook.

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Massive hotel opportunities in Gulf region

Gulf Today – 02 May, 2015 – While the upmarket hotel segment has traditionally dominated the Middle East hotel landscape, the rise of the mid-range is reshaping the hospitality industry in the region, say leading experts from the sector.

“There has been a growing diversification of the hotel industry, largely due to growing demand from price conscious international tourists and business travelers who want something other than the full five-star luxury experience at premium prices,” says Mark Shea, Faithful+Gould’s head of hospitality in the Middle East, who made the forecast ahead of the Arabian Hotel Investment Conference (AHIC) set to take place at the Madinat Jumeirah, Dubai on May 5-7, 2015.

Faithful+Gould, the world-leading leading integrated project and programme management consultancy which specialises in the hospitality sector in the GCC, will lead a roundtable discussion on the hospitality sector at AHIC, gathering industry experts who will share their insights on the opportunities and challenges confronting the hospitality sector throughout the region.

Refurbishments and conversions will also be a key focus of AHIC, with Faithful+Gould Project Director Simon Enders leading a presentation on Getting Under the Skin of Refurbishments and Conversions, which will assess the feasibility of doing renovations on existing properties, including achieving maximum results with the least possible spend.

According to Shea, medical and religious tourism are also fueling the growth of the mid-market range, which “could provide profitable long-term investment.”

In recent years, hotel infrastructure build up has seen intense activity in the Gulf, with two mega international events set to take place in the region.

In Dubai, the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM) estimates that a total hotel room supply of 140,000 to 160,000 rooms will be required by 2020, an increase from the current supply of approximately 90,000 rooms, with a further 10,000-plus rooms being reported as needing refurbishment prior to World Expo 2020.

In Qatar, experts estimate about 45,000 hotel rooms are required to meet FIFA 2022 World Cup capacity requirements, with 21 hotels planned for construction by 2017.

“Each city has its own supply and demand characteristics. Dubai is a mature tourism destination, whereas Doha is emerging and has the challenge of maintaining momentum until the World Cup Qatar 2022. However both markets have room for mid-range provision,” adds Shea.

For cities hosting mega-events, post event scenario will also need to be considered, as these offer lucrative opportunities for the hospitality sector and could mitigate risks of overcapacity.

He explains, “The challenge here is to investigate alternative uses for accommodation post-event, for example turning athletes’ villages into affordable residential communities. This may be a challenge for Doha in particular, as it currently attracts less tourism than Dubai. All major Middle East regions have targeted hospitality as key sectors for growth and diversification of their respective economies.”

Further afield Saudi Arabia currently offers huge opportunity for mid-range investment. The Kingdom’s 2030 strategy includes a significant focus on tourism, as well as reinforcing provision for existing high numbers of religious tourists.

Elsewhere in the region, Muscat, Manama and Kuwait City all have a growing need for mid-market provision.

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Transport projects to help Oman become logistics hub

Oman Daily Observer – 01 May, 2015 – The government’s continued investment in the development of infrastructure is aiding Oman’s transformation into a major logistics hub in the southern Gulf, and has been the main driver behind activity in the industrial property market during the first quarter of 2015, according to the latest research report by international real estate consultancy, Cluttons.

Cluttons’ Spring 2015 Muscat Commercial Property Outlook report singles out the warehouse sector as being a stand out performer in the commercial market, with improved infrastructure and connectivity driving demand from occupiers, and catalysing the development of modern warehouse estates.

According to Philip Paul, Head of Cluttons Oman: “We are recording an increase in warehouse developments coming to market to meet the current demand. In Rumais, which is located to the west of Muscat International Airport, First Logistic Services is developing warehousing units ranging in size from 500-1,000 sqm on an 81,000 sqm site. The first phase, comprising of 36 units is due to complete in May. The development is strategically positioned for occupants looking to service Muscat and interior markets in the wake of the closure of Port Sultan Qaboos.

“The developer is also offering “build to suit” opportunities within the second phase of the scheme in response to the success of the first phase, highlighting the depth of demand in the market.”

The Cluttons report reveals that the country’s various transport infrastructure project investments and upgrades are playing an important role in boosting connectivity across the country, which is subsequently improving Oman’s attractiveness as a regional logistics and distribution centre.

International research and business development manager at Cluttons, Faisal Durrani said: “Due to Oman’s high scores for market connectedness and compatibility, the Sultanate has maintained its ranking of 13th in Agility’s Emerging Markets Logistics Index for 2014 and this is reflected in the requirements we are currently receiving from shipping and logistics firms.

At Sohar Port City for instance, these firms remain the most active group. The growing importance of Sohar Port is mirrored in the number of containers and vehicles handled by the port, which rose by 61 per cent and 99 per cent respectively during 2014.”

Sohar’s connectivity is also expected to be further bolstered by the Muscat to Barka section of the Batinah Expressway, which is due to open in June this year, while progress on Oman’s rail network is gathering pace, with the construction contract expected to be awarded in mid-2015, covering the 207 km stretch between Sohar and Buraimi. Cluttons’ report indicates that in the office market, rents across the main submarkets remained unchanged last year and during Q1 2015, marking the fifth consecutive quarter of rental stagnation.

Durrani commented: “With the fall in oil prices, and hydrocarbon linked occupiers still forming the backbone of demand for office space, we are slowly starting to see this impact the rate of take up as global oil businesses assess their finances.

We believe that take up activity may be subsequently impacted and is something we will be monitoring closely as the year progresses and the low oil price environment lingers.”

Paul said: “Grade A rents however are still holding in the RO 7-10 psm range across Muscat and occupiers remain focused on this higher quality space, which is relatively limited. At Beach One for instance, we continue to record a high level of interest in the building, which has achieved over 85 per cent occupancy.

“With the government’s infrastructure investment programme progressing to schedule, for this year at least, a number of construction and engineering firms continue to expand operations and enquire about space. We are also seeing landlords who adapt their properties to suit the demand of these occupiers, benefit across Muscat.”

The prolonged strong demand for Grade A space has translated into the development of schemes designed to tap into this, with several high quality office buildings now on the verge of completion.

These include the new Omnivest Building (RO 12 psm) in Shatti Al Qurm, the Panorama Building (RO 9 psm) in central Muscat and the Public Authority for Social Insurance (PASI) Building (RO 9.5 psm).

All of these schemes are due to complete shortly and have already attracted inquiries from technology-media-telecoms, financial services, construction and engineering firms.

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Visa solutions set to drive customer loyalty and business

Khaleej Times – 01 May, 2015 – Increased connectivity, use of smart devices and more secure and speedy payment technologies are steering consumers in the UAE towards eCommerce and mCommerce at a faster rate, Visa said on Thursday.

Mohanish Agni, Head of Merchant Sales and Solutions – Mena at Visa, said the payments technology company’s first Strategic Retailer Congress in the region for retailers, acquirers and industry stakeholders was aimed at educating the merchant community about the value of innovative payment infrastructure that helps them achieve business growth.

He said the forum was designed to set the stage for discussion on crucial issues influencing Mena’s retail industry, including solutions to drive customer loyalty and recruitment, customer protection, and achieving growth through omni-channel convergence, all of which can be enabled through new payment technologies including Visa Checkout, Tokenisation and mPOS.

The tokenisation service protects customer data, substituting the payment account information found on a plastic card with a series of numbers that can be used to authorise payment without exposing actual account details. When consumers use their mobile device to make a contactless payment in a store, a token is submitted, rather than their account details. By replacing credit card data with tokens, the new method is able to prevent merchants and middlemen from collecting customer’s information.

Visa Checkout is a new simplified digital payment service that is designed to allow customers to pay quickly for goods online on any connected device. The service won’t require loading a digital wallet on to a smartphone or tablet as with mobile payment methods, like Google Wallet, do.

Visa was the first in the industry to introduce technology like Advanced Authorization that instantaneously detects potential fraud occurring not only on individual cardholders’ accounts, but throughout the Visa network. This dynamic capability allows Advanced Authorization to pinpoint and address coordinated attacks on multiple accounts in real time. While high-tech fraudsters have devised ever-more sophisticated attacks, Visa is fighting back with new technology to detect these emerging threats and help shut them down on the spot.

Agni said merchants in the Middle East are looking to improve their offerings in terms of customer engagement and seamless shopping experiences. The Strategic Retailer Congress is showcasing Visa’s abilities to complement merchant operations through innovation in retail, big data and analytics, as well as fraud and risk management.

“Through this forum, we hope to set the stage for formal direct engagement with merchants across the region and collaborate in developing a superior consumer experience and facilitate secure and speedy payments. We want to be a key merchant partner in driving business,” said Agni.

Visa believes the current market offers new opportunities for merchants. “Increased connectivity and use of smart devices are steering consumers towards eCommerce and mCommerce at a faster rate. In addition, as the popularity of social media continues to rise, there have been innovations in retail engagement which leverage data and offer high levels of personalisation.”

Agni said a huge driver for this trend is the Mena region’s young and affluent population, which could influence retailers’ eCommerce and omni-channel operations. As technological developments and consumer behaviour grow and shift at a rapid pace, Visa aims to build new and reinforce existing partnerships with merchants as retail enters a new wave of modernisation.

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Iran establishing 8 tourism villages in southern coasts

Islamic Republic News Agency – 01 May, 2015 – Vice President and Head of Cultural Heritage, Handicrafts and Tourism Organization said here that Prudence and Hope Government is engaged in construction of 8 tourism villages along the Iranian southern coasts and will complete them in its tenure.

Mas’oud Soltanifar who was speaking on Thursday night on the occasion of the National Persian Gulf Day praised the efforts made by the CHHTO staffs and other staffs involved in tourism affairs in offering fist class services to the Iranian and foreign tourists during the Iranian New Year, Noruz, vacations said that the tourism projects are being pursed throughout Iran in collaboration with the private sector.

‘Thus far the spot identification, land choice and harmonizing with the provincial officials in various provinces has been completed in case of the eight Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman littoral tourism villages’ project,’ he said.

The CHHTO chief said that during the course of the current Iranian year (ending on March 20, 2016) the pilot-study, land transfer, and choosing the Iranian partners in this macro-scale national project will be completed.

‘The Iranian southern coasts possess high level historical, cultural, natural, pilgrimage, and health tourism attractions and tourists from various countries around the globe wish to visit and spent a few days in these parts of our country,’ reiterated Soltanifar.

He said that the very special status of the Iranian southern coasts is quite unique and in need of precise and comprehensive planning to enable the country to be benefitted from its God-given potentials in that respect.

‘Tourism has only a 2% share in Iran’s Gross National Product (GNP) that can increase up to eight to 10% through development of tourism potentials in the short-to-mid term, and to very much higher levels in the long term,’ he said.

Elaborating on President Hassan Rouhani government’s tourism policies, he said that the Prudence and Hope Government has comprehensive plans in the field and during its tenure the presence of foreign tourists visiting Iran has increased noticeably.

‘Last year for instance four luxurious tourist trains arrived in Iran and this year the number of those trains is expected to raise to 15,’ he said.

He referred to the president’s comment during his ongoing visit of Shiraz that the entry of tourists into Iran increased 100% in the year 2015, compared with 2014, so that in cities like Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz, Kashan and Mashad today the Iranian hosts are faced with overflowed entry of tourists.

Soltanifar also highlighted the great significance of the prevailing peace and stability in Iran today and the proactive foreign policy of Iran after the end of the former president’s tense atmosphere which has all in all led to ending the stagnation era and the beginning of a blossoming and development period in the Iranian economy and especially tourism field.

‘Presently 950 tourism plans are underway by the Iranian private sector whose monetary value is around 230,000 billion rials (over 7 billion dollars) whose completion will beyond doubt lead to an evolution in the Iranian tourism industry,’ he said.

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Dubai Road and Transport Authority services become 100% smart

Khaleej Times – 01 May, 2015 – About 173 services have been transformed into smart services offered via nine apps available through platforms of various smart phones. The Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) has accomplished transformation of all customer services into smart services tailor-made to be innovative and easy to use.

About 173 services have been transformed into smart services offered via nine apps available through platforms of various smart phones (Android, Apple, Blackberry, and Windows), said Mattar Al Tayer, Chairman of the Board and Executive Director of RTA.

Through these apps, the RTA is seeking to shape Dubai into the smartest city in the world in terms of roads and transport systems, he said. RTA has charted out a roadmap for the transition to the smart city. This plan encompasses the launch of at least 200 smart services via smartphones by the end of 2015, and undertaking 22 initiatives, projects in support of Dubai’s migration into a smart city. The RTA has completed the reengineering and redesigning of 36 services which have been transformed into smart services. It also engaged about 80 male and female students from five universities as well as several companies in designing and testing the smart services,” explained Al Tayer.

More than eight innovative features have been developed and added highlighted by the barcode of vehicle details, and the m-store service (an e-purse integrated in the Drivers and Vehicles smart app) enabling customers to view their driver licences, vehicle registration cards, and distinguished plate certificates.

These deliverables are being linked with the Traffic File, and the user can present them as official documents from his or her smart set, when required.

Features also include the green points, direct calls, smart clock, renewal of parking tickets, details and locations of vacant parking slots at multi-level parking terminals, the status of vacant parking slots in Dubai Mall displayed through an interactive list & map, and the payment of parking fees through credit cards without incurring text message charges (30 fils) which would have otherwise to be borne by the user, and accordingly reduce payable expenses by users,” stated Al Tayer.

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Iran, Indonesia underline expansion of trade ties

Islamic Republic News Agency – 02 May, 2015 – Iran’s Vice-President Mohammad Baqer Nobakht conferred with a number of Indonesian high-ranking officials on the promotion of mutual cooperation. The Iranian vice-president is in Indonesia to attend a meeting of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Nobakht on Thursday held separate meetings with Indonesian Minister of Commerce Bambang Brodjonegoro, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Sofyan Djalil, and Minister of National Development Planning Agency Andrinof Chaniago in Jakarta, tasnimnews.com reported.

During the meetings, which were also attended by Iran’s Ambassador to Jakarta Valiollah Mohammadi, Nobakht briefed the Indonesian officials on Iran’s economic capabilities and its development in the fields of nuclear and aerospace technologies.

He also expressed Iran’s willingness to expand its cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the fields of infrastructure, export and import of products between the two countries, energy, construction of plants, refineries, and highways, and tourism industry.

Indonesian economic officials, for their part, welcomed the reinforcement of economic and trade cooperation with Iran, and hailed Tehran’s trend of development in recent years.

Indonesian ministers further emphasized the expansion of economic interactions between high-ranking officials of the two countries, and expressed their support for exchange of public and private economic delegations.

Earlier on Wednesday, Nobakht had also held a meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Jusuf Kalla, during which the Indonesian side had noted that Iran enjoys an enormous capacity in the area of energy and that expansion of cooperation would benefit both sides.

Last week, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Indonesian counterpart Joko Widodo, in a meeting in Jakarta, underlined the need for further efforts to boost bilateral relations between the two Muslim countries in diverse areas.

In his remarks, president Rouhani pointed to the importance of closer cooperation between Tehran and Jakarta in the area of economy, and said the joint economic commission of the two countries should work more actively.

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Bahrain airport modernisation ‘makes major headway’

Gulf Daily News – 30 April, 2015 – Substantial headway has been made in the Airport Modernisation Programme (AMP), Transportation and Telecommunications Minister Kamal Ahmed said yesterday.

New pre-qualification tenders have been released and the award of new contracts is expected in the coming months, he said.

Mr Ahmed said the latest developments are in line with the construction schedule for the new Bahrain International Airport (BIA) passenger terminal building and follow on from the first enabling works package signed last month.

Fifteen bidders who successfully fulfilled all the pre-qualification criteria have been shortlisted recently and all qualified bidders will be invited to participate in the tender where a contractor will be awarded to implement the main construction works project by October.

“The AMP is a vital economic driver for the kingdom and an essential move to strengthen BIA’s competitive advantage as a prominent hub in the Gulf region.

“Embarking on a project of this scale requires the most experienced partners; we have received tremendous response from distinguished bidders in the industry and we are determined to enlist only the best for the job,” Mr Ahmed said.

The scope of work includes the construction of BIA’s 214,000sqm passenger terminal building and adjoining multi-storey car parks, access roads and forecourts, central utilities complex, new aircraft stands and rehabilitation of existing aircraft stands and taxi lane.

The main works contract also dictates the overall management, supervision and co-ordination of specialist packages for the baggage handling systems, loading bridges, conveying systems, security-screening equipment and information and communications technology, most of which have already been released to bidders and will be awarded in the coming six months.

Awarding of the second enabling works package is expected later in April this year with plans for completion by early 2016.

The deliverables for this phase include the construction of a new fire station and associated support infrastructure; building a new access security gate and the re-provision of aviation fuelling facilities, in addition to new security gate and staff car parks.

The project is designed to elevate the airport’s infrastructure, facilities and services and increase handling capacity, boosting the regional competitiveness of BIA and stimulating the growth of the local aviation sector as a result.

Once completed, the BIA passenger terminal will provide increased commercial and retail opportunities for business, enhanced facilities for passengers and will create ample employment opportunities for the local workforce.

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Agreements to boost SME tourism firms in Oman

Oman Daily Observer – 01 May, 2015 – Ahmed bin Nasser bin Hamad al Mehrzi, Minister of Tourism and Dr Ali bin Masoud al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce and Industry and Chairman of the Public Authority SMEs Development (PASMED) and Chairman of al Raffd Fund on Thursday signed two agreements to encourage small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to work and invest in tourism sector.

The agreement will fund entrepreneurs to visit countries that have successful SMEs in tourism. The PASMED will provide training opportunities and modules for entrepreneurs in the tourism sector.

The Ministry of Tourism, in collaboration and coordination with the Authority, will provide special places for SMEs, which are interested in taking part in the specialised travel and tourism fairs to provide them with the opportunity to develop and promote their businesses abroad.

The Ministry of Tourism will also facilitate the procedures for granting tourism licenses to enable SMEs to practice the different tourism businesses. It will also organise an annual meeting between owners of SMEs and officials at the ministry to identify the needs of these enterprises and the measures required to develop this sector. The ministry will also encourage the tourism products by SMEs by promoting them and purchasing some of them. It will also facilitate the procedures for enterprises that have ‘ entrepreneurs’ card’.

The Ministry of Tourism will also benefit from the MoUs signed with other countries in the field of training programmes on SMEs .

The second agreement between the Ministry of Tourism and the al Raffd Fund states that the ministry will prepare a list of the tourism projects of the ministry which can be managed and operated by SMEs.

The Ministry of Tourism will also identify the tourist areas and sites which witness high turn out by tourists to decide the type of investment projects needed at each site. As per the agreement, the ministry will invite the Al Raffd Fund to be involved in preparing the strategies, plans, workshops and meetings on SMEs operating in the field of tourism.

Al Raffd Fund will also invite the Ministry of Tourism to be member at the loan committee for tourism projects. As per the agreement, the Al Raffd Fund will finance the projects of the entrepreneurs interested in investing in tourism projects owned by the Ministry of Tourism as per the rules and procedures in force by the Fund.

The Fund will also follow up the quality of tourism services rendered by the projects financed by it.

It will maintain cooperation with the Ministry of Tourism to provide training programmes for entrepreneurs in the field of tourism in a bid to develop their skills and abilities in tourism field.

Both parties will also nominate representatives to facilitate communication, follow up procedures and eliminate challenges and difficulties facing entrepreneurs in the field of tourism.

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Muscat to get 300 smart tourist taxis

Oman Daily Observer – 01 May, 2015 – The Ministry of Tourism has announced that is has completed the formalities to launch new 300 Smart tourist Taxis in Muscat, to start with at five, four and three star hotels and the Port Sultan Qaboos. It will be equipped with facilities for online bookings and professional and etiquette training will be given to drivers so that travellers will have a pleasant experience.

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Saudi Princess launches charitable project

Arab News – 01 May, 2015 – Princess Hussa bint Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud recently launched the Makkah charitable investment project, comprising two hotels, to be named after Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman, and the late Prince Sultan, former crown prince and defense minister.

Addressing a charity fair in Makkah organized by the Disabled Children’s Association (DCA), Princess Hussa said the project’s first phase would include two towers; one for Panda and the other for Saudi Telecom Co. Princess Hussa and other participants watched a documentary on the “Kheir Makkah” project whose revenue will be used to support the activities of DCA and its centers.

In her keynote speech at the ceremony, Princess Hussa emphasized the desire of Saudis to compete with one another in charitable activities inspired by the teachings of the Holy Qur’an and Sunnah, to support the poor and the needy.

Princess Hussa said God has given special talents and intelligence to the handicapped. “Individuals with special needs are neither lacking in humanity nor in capacities and are, therefore, capable of achieving success and showing creativity,” she explained.

She cited examples of several special-needs people who became successful and famous as a result of their hard work and special talents. “Imam Tirmidhi, one of the famous six authorities on Hadith, was blind but the God-given inner sight enabled him to become a distinguished figure In the Islamic history,” she pointed out. Other examples include the two distinguished Muslim clerics, the Kingdom’s former Grand Mufti, the late Sheikh Abdul Aziz Bin Baz, and the present Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Asheikh. Their loss of sight did not prevent them from becoming the fountains of light for the whole Muslim world, the princess said.

She said King Salman has instilled in his offspring the love for charitable activities.

“On behalf of the participants, I would like also to extend our thanks and gratitude to my dear brother Prince Sultan bin Salman, chairman of DCA, for his contributions to strengthen the organization,” she said, adding that DCA’s activities have spread all over the Kingdom during the past 30 years.

“Prince Sultan not only initiated a unique Saudi example in social and humanitarian work but also showed that Saudi women can play a major role in DCA’s management. Today, the number of female employees in all its branches exceeds that of male employees,” she said.

Princess Hussa highlighted the increasing role of Saudi women in charitable work. She congratulated Dr. Najlaa Reda for being the first Saudi woman to become the director of a DCA center, representing the Makkah region. She commended the government’s support to the handicapped and other special-needs people.

Princess Hussa also took the opportunity to remember the mothers, sisters and daughters of Saudi soldiers and security officers who became martyrs while fighting the Houthi militia during the Operation Decisive Storm.

She thanked God for the victory achieved by the Saudi-led coalition and congratulated King Salman, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Naif and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and all Saudi citizens for the victory.

Dr. Najlaa said the DCA has been providing health care, education and training to the handicapped. The Makkah center of the DCA was established in 1419H at a cost of SR15 million and can take care of 200 children.

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