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20 Jul, 2015

Palestine, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka sign up for Halal Travel Summit in Abu Dhabi

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 20 July 2015 (04 Shawwaal 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, is witnessing 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.



Around 4,000 Canadian Muslims participate in Eid al-Fitr celebration in Vancouver

Vancouver (IINA) 20 Jul 2015 – An estimated 4,000 Canadian people attended an event to mark the Eid al-Fitr celebrations held at the Vancouver Convention Center last Friday, The Voice newspaper reported.

The Vancouver Chapter of Muslim Association of Canada (MAC) said that it has reached a new record in the number of attendees of its yearly Eid al-Fitr celebration.

The celebration organized by MAC started with opening remarks by the MAC Vancouver Centre Manager Ahmed Khalil who thanked the attendees and expressed his appreciation for the inclusiveness of Islam as reflected in the different races, ethnicities, languages, and skin colors of those attended the event.

Eid al-Fitr is one of the two major Muslim holidays; it marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan where devout Muslims spend their days in fasting and their nights in prayer and in remembrance of the needy and the unfortunates around the world. In Ramadan, Muslims take stock of their lives and actions, and make changes for the better to benefit the world around them.

Don Davis, MP for Vancouver-Kingsway riding was present and delivered a message on behalf of the NDP leadership and parliament. In reference to Eid al-Fitr celebration, Davis said: “Today brings celebration after a month of fasting, sacrifice of thinking of others of making our world a better place. And I would like to thank you all for that contribution for our country and our world”.

After the Eid sermon, the celebration officially started with people embracing each other and wishing one another Eid Mubarak (Blessed Eid). Candy was then handed out to kids and bouncy castles and slides were set up for their enjoyment while celebratory Eid music was played.

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China’s minority Muslims celebrate Eid al-Fitr in Beijing

Beijing, (IINA) 18 Jul 2015 – Chinese Muslims began to celebrate on Saturday the feast of Eid al-Fitr with the mass prayers in Beijing, according to media news.

Known as one of the oldest mosques in the tourist region of China, the Niucie mosque was built during the era of Sultan Abdul Hamid II.

The main prayer hall is 600 square meters in area, and can hold more than 1,000 worshipers

Stands at the entrance to the mosque for the community were also available for those who wanted to give their zakat titre was opened. The Zakat al-Fitr is a charity that is given to the poor at the end of the fasting in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

Food and drinks were served the congregation after the prayers. Of the 56 percent of minority groups in China, 10 percent are of Muslim origin.

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Muslims in Moscow Celebrate Eid al-Fitr

Moscow, (IINA) 19 Jul 2015 – A Footage shot from a drone in Moscow shows that a large numbers of Moscow’s two million Muslims was praying outside the city’s central mosque in the first day of celebrate Eid al-Fitr.

The city’s Muslims were greeted to a prayer from the Grand Mufti of Russia, Ravil Gainutdin, The Independent reported.

Islam is the second most widely followed religion in Russia and the capital city is home to roughly two million Muslims.

The city is currently building a new mosque to hold up to 60,000 worshippers. Because of the lack of space in the city’s current mosques of which there are only four.

Moscow officials allow Muslims to pray in the streets during important holy days, such as Eid al-Fitr.

Following morning prayers and breakfast, those celebrating wear their best, often new, clothes, and gather with their friends and family for their first daylight meal in a month.

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Iran will open new market for Boeing, Airbus

Gulf Times – 19 July, 2015 – The historic nuclear deal with Iran gives Boeing Co and Airbus Group a rare opportunity to reshape a civilian aviation industry.

Once the accord is implemented, the republic will be able to start replacing hundreds of museum-vintage jumbo jets that still rumble over Tehran as mainstays of an aviation fleet frozen in time by economic sanctions. The investment could total at least $ 20bn.

“There’s no doubt there is huge potential, especially for Airbus and Boeing, to sell a large number of planes,” said Adam Pilarski, an economist and senior vice president with Avitas Inc, a Reston, Virginia-based aerospace consultant.

The thaw could give the world’s two biggest planemakers, along with aircraft lessors, sales possibilities similar to those in Russia when its markets opened two decades ago. They are vying to serve the demand for travel that will come with greater consumer spending. Other companies – including cigarette retailers, auto manufacturers and soft-drink purveyors – also are poised to profit once sanctions are lifted.

Iran Air, the nation’s flag carrier, was once the region’s leading airline with two Concordes on order, a deal cancelled in 1980 after the revolution. Emirates Airline, based just across the Gulf in Dubai, plays that role these days as the largest operator of Boeing’s 777-300ER and Airbus’s A380 superjumbo jets.

Meanwhile, Iran Air flies A300s, the first aircraft Airbus created, and Boeing 747-200s delivered in the mid-1970s, according to Planespotters.net. The average age of its planes is 27 years, compared with 6.3 years for Emirates, data on the website show.

Decades of US sanctions, which prohibited Toulouse, France-based Airbus, Chicago’s Boeing and other Western manufacturers from selling to Iran’s airlines, led to an aging fleet of mainly Shah-era relics or jets purchased on the black market that now are in urgent need of repair and replacement. Safety is a concern following a rash of fatal air crashes.

Iran needs about 400 passenger planes to renovate its fleets, which would cost $ 20bn, Abbas Akhoundi, Iran’s roads and transport minister, said in mid-June at the Paris Air Show, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. The country has about a dozen carriers.

As Iranian travel takes off, there should be demand for 200 narrow-body aircraft orders and more than 250 wide-body and jumbo jets seating between 300 and 450 people, estimates Mark Martin, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Martin Consulting.

Iran Air will need about 100 new aircraft, from the latest single-aisle planes to long-haul models such as Boeing’s 777, 787 Dreamliner and Airbus’s A330 and A350 jetliners, chairman Farhad Parvaresh said in a June 2014 interview.

Both Boeing and Airbus declined to comment on Tuesday on their plans to enter the Iranian market once trade barriers are lifted.

“We’ve done a pretty good assessment on our side and we think the demand, should things open up, would be very strong,” Marty Bentrott, Boeing’s vice president of sales for the Middle East, Russia and Central Asia, said during a May interview in Dubai.

A freer Iranian market also could boost sales of regional jets made by Brazil’s Embraer, Canada’s Bombardier and new entrants such as Russia’s Sukhoi and Commercial Aircraft Corp of China Ltd, said Thomas Pellegrin, director at PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Aviation Center of Excellence research office in Dubai.

What isn’t clear is how quickly the Iranian government will move to upgrade air travel given other demands on its capital for rebuilding sagging infrastructure, from oil refineries to air-traffic systems.

“This is a state-controlled economy,” said Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group, a Fairfax, Virginia-based consultant. “It’s not exactly ripe for an Iranian version of EasyJet.”

The forecasts for hundreds of orders “remain aspirational for now,” since the hospitality industry the airlines would feed barely exists, Pellegrin said in an e-mail.

Multiyear waiting lists for popular models such as Airbus’s A350 and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, combined with the steep capital requirements of aircraft purchases, may prompt Iran’s carriers to lease jets rather than order new models, he said.

Aboulafia is sceptical the large orders will ever materialise given the disadvantage Iran’s carriers face compared with rivals Emirates, Abu Dhabi-based Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways.

“At most, there may be some opportunity for lessors to place some aircraft,” he said in a phone interview. “We aren’t opening up some sort of greenhouse that hasn’t seen the light for years. The demand has gone to the three big Gulf carriers, which all serve Tehran.”

Even so, Iran’s unlocked oil revenues and dismal safety record will prompt its government to pursue new aircraft purchases regardless of the business case, said Pilarski, a former chief economist and director of strategic planning with McDonnell Douglas Corp, the planemaker Boeing bought in 1997.

The country doesn’t have the maintenance capabilities to service large numbers of used, current-generation jets, and newly resurgent Iranian carriers won’t want to risk being banned in the European Union for a sub-par safety record, he added.

“They are itching to have new equipment” after not having it “for a long, long, long time,” Pilarski said.

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Bangladesh plans exclusive offers to mark Tourism Year 2016

DHAKA, July 15, 2015 (BSS) – The government with private sector has come up with exclusive offers for foreign tourists as part of the massive endeavor to make Bangladesh Tourism Year 2016 a success. The offers included discounts in air tickets and hotel rents to attract one million foreign tourists during the tourism year and after that.

This was revealed today at a press conference jointly organised by Bangladesh Parjatan Corporation (BPC) and Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) at Jatiya Press Club here. BPC Chairman Dr Aparup Chowdhury and BTB CEO Akhtaruz Zaman Khan Kabir talked to the press on various offers and facilities to be offered by airlines and hotels for the tourists.

The biggest discount offer was made by government owned five-star Sonargaon Pan Pasific Hotel with 50 percent rebate on room rent except VAT and services charges depending on availability space.

Besides, Biman Bangladesh Airlines will offer 10 percent rebate on ticket purchase while BPC will offer 30 percent discount on room rent and 20 percent discount of lunch and dinner. Private airline Novoair will offer 15 percent discount on purchasing tickets for the passengers under package tour.

Dr Chowdhury said they have discussed with other private airlines and hotels and they assured them of joining with the BPC and BTB to offer special facilities for tourists targeting the tourism year.

Akhtaruz Zaman Khan Kabir said this is a small part of their year-long initiative. “We are hopeful that we will be able to come up with more facilities.” He said the BTB has already finalized a yearlong event calendar for 2016. “The event calendar is now in the ministry awaiting for approval. We are hopeful, we can announce the event calendar by first week of next month,” he said.

After announcement of the event calendar, the BTB will try to attract the foreign tourists to join various events to be held at different parts of Bangladesh round the year in 2016, he said.

Mentioning that the BTB has already sent tourism promotional information to all Bangladesh missions abroad, Kabir said they are in discussion with the Foreign Ministry so that the information can be disseminated through missions for the foreign nationals in proper way.

He said all the stakeholders of the tourism industry including the public sector urged the government to ease the tourist visa procedure through initiating e-visa and widening the on arrival visa system to enter Bangladesh.

“It is true we have security concern, but in the name of security we can’t resist foreign tourist to enter Bangladesh,” he said.

The BTB CEO said the government has already taken a decision to form a taskforce comprising representatives from three ministries – Civil Aviation and Tourism, Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs to resolve all problems regarding easing the visa issuing procedure.

Noting that Bangladesh is now focusing Chinese tourism, he said they will host an International Conference on Buddhist Tourism Circuit Conference of the Asian Countries to be held at the Bangabandhu International Conference Center (BICC) here on October 27-28, to be inaugurated by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

There will be a workshop on September 1 at CIRDAP auditorium here before the conference, he added.

The BTB CEO said they have planned to conduct a massive Bangladesh tourism promotional campaign to the international media. “We are going to telecast out television commercial to BBC and CNN soon to make the foreign tourists know about our tourism products,” he said.

The government has allocated Taka 200 crore centering the Tourism Year to give a boost to the country’s tourism industry.

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For first time, Jeddah to host two world circuses

Arab News – 17 July, 2015 – For the first time in the history of Jeddah, artists from four countries — Italy, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan — will add joy to the Eid celebrations with daring acrobatics, gymnastics, jugglers, ring of death and balancing act at two circuses at different venues from July 18 to August 18.

Clowns will also be there to entertain the audience, especially children, during the shows as part of the 36th Jeddah festival. The Belucci Circus will be in Khalidiya district on Prince Sultan Street in a 9,000-square meter area and the World Circus will be held at Obhur. Both the circuses will be held late in the evening.

Christian Bellucci, the proprietor of the circus, said that the holding of the global circus in Saudi Arabia is a great opportunity for professional performers of Bellucci Circus.

They will offer aerobatics, gymnastics, juggling, ring of death, balance on ropes, dances of Argentina, acrobatic acts from Mongolia, human pyramid from Columbia, human canon and clown shows to the residents of Jeddah and visitors from other parts of the Kingdom, he said.

The Italian Bellucci Circus will feature around 50 internationally acclaimed artists and world circus will feature 20 internationally acclaimed artists from Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan.

Bellucci circus performed in more than 20 countries in Europe, Asia and Africa since it began in 1906.

Mohammed Al Saeid, director of events at JCCI and assistant director of Jeddah Summer Festival 36, said there will be something for everyone and they are looking forward to sharing this wonderful experience with the residents of Jeddah and visitors from across the Kingdom.

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King Salman launches key Grand Mosque expansion projects

Sunday 12 Jul 2015 – Makkah (IINA) – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman launched on Saturday night five giant projects that are implemented as part of the third Saudi expansion of the Grand Mosque.

The expansion projects include the King Abdullah Expansion Structure, courtyards, tunnels, buildings for service facilities and the first ring road. The king was briefed on the model of the entire expansion project, which is tipped to be “the Project of the Century.” With the completion of the ongoing largest ever expansion by the next Ramadan, the Grand Mosque would accommodate a total of 1.85 million worshippers

The total area of the expanded structure is 1,470,000 square meters with 78 automatic gates on the ground floor surrounding the building. Minister of Finance Dr. Ibrahim Al-Assaf said that the newly opened King Abdullah Expansion Structure consists of six floors for worshippers.

The expanded structure has 680 escalators, 24 lifts for people with special needs, and 21,000 toilets and ablution areas. He said that the Third Saudi Expansion came as an extension of the previous historic expansions, started by King Abdulaziz, and followed by his sons –Saud, Faisal, Khaled and Fahd, until the current expansion ordered by the late King Abdullah.

The expansion project consisted of three parts: construction of new building; expansion and development of courtyards around the mosque, including walkways, tunnels and toilets; and development of service facilities for air-conditioning, electricity and drinking water. The Ministry of Finance is supervising the expansion project, which is being implemented by the Saudi Binladin Group.

King Abdullah laid the foundation stone for the expansion of the Grand Mosque at a ceremony held in Makkah on 19 Aug. 2011. The King Abdullah Expansion Project is estimated to cost over SR 100 billion. The total area of the existing mosque is 356,000 sq. meters accommodating 770,000 worshippers while the new expansion covering an area of 456,000 sq. meters will accommodate an additional 1.2 million faithful.

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First ice sculpture museum in Antalya

ANTALYA – Doğan News Agency – Turkey’s first ice sculpture museum is under construction in the southern province of Antalya. The museum is being established in the Snow World Entertainment Center inside the Antalya Aquarium. Sculptor Serkan Kalkan recently gave the ice sculptures their final shaping.

Among the ice sculptures will be a two-meter pyramid as well as Bellerophontes (a mythological Greek hero who killed a Chimera) and recreations of Hadrian’s Gate, the Temple of Apollo and the Lycian necropolis, among many others.

The walls of the museum are also covered with ice aquariums, where frozen fish and crabs are on display. The director of the center, Murat Selek, said the opening would be held in a few weeks.

He said the museum would be the first one in Turkey, adding it would be open 12 months a year, while an entrance fee for the museum has not been set yet.

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Malaysia-Turkey Fta Comes Into Effect On Aug 1

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia July 16 (NNN-Bernama) — The Malaysia-Turkey Free Trade Agreement (MTFTA) will come into effect on Aug 1, 2015, International Trade and Industry Minister Datuk Seri Mustapa Mohamed announced today.

“Turkey, with a population of 74 million people, holds vast market potential. I urge the Malaysian business community to take full advantage of the opportunities offered under this FTA, which can also help strengthen bilateral trade and economic linkages on a long-term basis,” Mustapa said in a statement today.

With the entry into force of this Agreement, exporters from Malaysia and Turkey will be able to enjoy preferential access for their products in each other’s country.

“Both Malaysia and Turkey will eliminate and bind duties on 70 per cent of the tariff lines, upon entry into force of the Agreement. After a period of eight years, duties will be reduced/eliminated for almost 86 per cent of tariff lines,” the minister added.

In 2014, total trade between Malaysia and Turkey amounted to US$969 million. Malaysia’s exports to Turkey totalled US$752 million, while imports amounted to US$217 million.

Key exports to Turkey comprise textiles & clothing, chemicals & chemical products, palm oil, manufactures of metal, rubber products, and electrical and electronics products.

Imports from Turkey include textiles & clothing, machinery appliances & parts, iron & steel products, chemicals & chemical products, other agriculture produce, and electrical and electronics products.

“Malaysian exports that will benefit from immediate duty-free treatment in Turkey include selected textiles and apparel, electrical & electronics (E&E) products, chemicals, iron and steel products, machinery, wood products, leather products and all rubber products,” Mustapa said in urging Malaysian businesses in these sectors to ramp up their exports to Turkey.

On other strategic products, including iron and steel, both countries will phase out import duties in stages within an eight-year period, starting from the day the Agreement enters into force.

Turkey will also eliminate all existing additional duties (ranging from 20 per cent to 30 per cent) on textiles, apparel and footwear, which currently affect more than a thousand tariff lines.

For palm oil and palm products, Turkey has offered a one-off duty reduction of 30 per cent from the current most favoured nation (MFN) rate (0-46.8 per cent).

“Reduction of duties on these products essentially means that Malaysian palm oil and palm products are placed at a competitive advantage in the Turkish market, over similar products originating from other countries,” Mustapa said.

The accord comes into effect after almost four years of intense negotiations between the two countries that began in May 2010.

It was agreed that the talks would initially focus on goods, with the Agreement later expanded to cover investment and services.

In January 2014, both sides closed the deal, having arrived at a mutually beneficial package.

Mustapa said Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s official visit to Turkey in April 2014 paved the way for the signing of the Agreement on April 17, 2014.

He added that the FTA with Turkey is the 13th such FTA entered into by Malaysia.

Currently, Malaysia has implemented six regional FTAs and six bilateral FTAs that cover other ASEAN member states, China, Japan, India, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan and Chile.

During the signing of the MTFTA in April 2014, the Prime Ministers of Malaysia and Turkey set a target of USD$5 billion in total trade by 2020.

The implementation of the MTFTA is expected to facilitate the achievement of this target. The full text of the Malaysia-Turkey Free Trade Agreement, with schedules of commitments on goods, is available on MITI’s website at www.miti.gov.my

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Iran Nuclear Deal Could Revive Trade In Persian Rugs To U.S.

LOS ANGELES, July 16 (NNN-ALARABIYA) — Alex Helmi, surrounded by Persian carpets stacked waist-high at his store in the so-called Persian Square section of Los Angeles, has been blocked from importing rugs from Iran since the United States imposed sanctions in 2010.

Helmi has about 3,000 of the carpets at his store Damoka, an inventory he has maintained to some extent by buying rugs second-hand from people in the United States.

Now he looks forward to importing the rugs directly under terms of a nuclear agreement announced on Tuesday by Iran and six major world powers that, if approved, would allow new Persian rugs to again be exported to the United States.

“Nobody in the world can make hand-made carpets better than Persians. They have been doing it for thousands of years,” said Helmi, 59, who has been in the carpet business for nearly 40 years.

At his store in the Westwood section of Los Angeles, an area filled with businesses that cater to Southern California’s large Iranian-American population, Helmi has hung a rug with circular and jagged designs that is 200 years old.

His most prized carpets, which he sees as investments, are offered for more than $200,000, and his least expensive rugs sell for about $5,000. He has watched the value of the rugs increase since sanctions were imposed in 2010, cutting his supply from Iran.

For Arash Yaraghi, dealing in Iranian carpets has been a family business for generations.

But the CEO of Safavieh, a seller of rugs and furniture with a dozen retail centers in New York City and surrounding areas, has been forced to nearly eliminate Persian rugs from his inventory. When he and a brother founded the business in 1978, that was all they sold.

That was interrupted by cycles of the United States imposing and lifting sanctions on Persian rugs since the 1980s, Yaraghi said.

During that time, India, China and Pakistan began producing rugs in the Persian style and exporting them to the United States. Yaraghi said they sold for about half the price of a Persian rug but were of a lower quality.

When he is able to resume imports of Persian carpets from Iran, he expects his firm Safavieh will have the opportunity to find products suited to modern American tastes.

“I’m excited about the variety of quality and the character of carpets that will come out of there that we’ve haven’t seen for a long time,” Yaraghi said.

Iran’s carpet exports amounted to $635 million in 2005, according to figures from the state-owned Iran Carpet Company. It was not clear how the country’s trade in Persian carpets fared in more recent years.

Even as the lifting of sanctions presents rug dealers with an opportunity, rising labor costs in Iran could complicate the picture, said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council. “These sanctions hit the carpet industry tremendously hard,” he said.

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Over 80,000 worshippers perform Eid prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque

Saturday 18 Jul 2015 – Jerusalem (IINA) – More than 80,000 Muslim worshippers from around Palestine and some foreign countries attended the Eid prayers on Friday at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. “Over 80,000 worshipers, including Jerusalemites and residents of various Palestinian areas, as well as Muslim communities from Turkey, Britain, South Africa, Eritrea and several other foreign countries performed Eid prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound,” said Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque Sheikh Omar Kiswani.

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New Islam TV service called Alchemiya launched in UK

Saturday 18 Jul 2015 – London, (IINA) – A new on demand TV service called Alchemiya is launching in the UK hoping to change perceptions and misconceptions of Islam, BBC reported. Alchemiya is the brainchild of two British Muslims, and offers documentaries and entertainment.

Alchemiya TV is spearheaded by Navid Akhtar, who has 20 years of experience as a producer at the BBC and Channel 4. The chief marketing officer is the prominent Muslim commentator and Imam Ajmal Masroor. It will broadcast award-winning films, independent documentaries, travel, lifestyle, children’s programmes, history and religion.

For Akhtar, this Ramadan has been a chance to establish a broader understanding with friends of what their faith means to Muslims today, in the West and elsewhere. The idea is for Alchemiya to show a different side of the modern Muslim world – one seen all too rarely on the news today.

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President Jokowi to make celebrating Eid with Indonesians a tradition

Saturday 18 Jul 2015 – Jakarta (IINA) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) said that he will make Eid cermony a tradition to visit the country’s various regions to observe celebrations of the Eid in the future.

“Thank God, we could meet the people of Aceh. I think this (observing Eid celebrations in regions) can become a tradition. I am happy I had the opportunity to meet the people and exchange forgiveness with them,” Jokowi told Indonesian News Agency ANTARA on the Eid occasion.

He added that by visiting regions, he can meet with the people directly and see how they celebrate the festival. “Last night, we had a grand Takbir event. The Eid prayers performed this morning were also lively and carried out seriously,” Jokowi remarked.

“I think this is something I want to experience again. I will make it a tradition in the coming years,” he added before leaving Aceh airport for Solo, Central Java, on Friday.

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LEAD STORY: Palestine, Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka sign up for Halal Travel Summit, Abu Dhabi

The World Halal Travel Summit (WHTS15), a free-to-attend Summit & Exhibition, will take place from 19th – 21st October 2015 at ADNEC, Abu Dhabi. It is exclusively supported by
the Abu Dhabi Tourism and Culture Authority.

malaysia logo

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

Palestine, Thailand, Indonesia and Sri Lanka are the latest countries to commit to The World Halal Travel Summit & Exhibition, joining Malaysia, Turkey, UAE, Canada, Australia, Croatia, Egypt, Tanzania and many more who are exhibiting and sponsoring at the event.

Hosam Moustafa, Event Manager, WHTS15 stated: “The unrivaled support the summit is receiving on the global stage from the Abu Dhabi Government means that so many leading tourism organisations feel so enthusiastic about participating in the inaugural event. We are delighted to announce that Palestine has a large and important presence at WHTS15 which demonstrates not only how important they feel being part of the summit is but is also a testament to their future tourism ambitions in this space”.

The Summit is an all encompassing networking, educational and business event, putting Halal travel buyers and influencers directly in touch with companies and countries looking to grow their market share in the Halal tourism arena. WHTS15 offers a unique opportunity for exhibitors to meet international key decision makers and buyers, all in one place at one time.

Milanka Gajanayake, Director General of Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau commented on their country participation: “Sri Lanka is a tourism world leader and increasing arrivals via Halal tourists is an important component to us achieving our future tourism goals. We are delighted to exclusively partner WHTS15 in Abu Dhabi and look forward to highlighting our country to the world’s senior Halal tourism buyers”.

Confirmed exhibitors include: Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Shurooq, HMH Hotels, Etihad, Emirates Palace, Premiere Group, Landmark Hotels, Mawasim Tourism & Holidays, Jannah Hotels, R Hotels and many more.

Said Mr Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq): “Shurooq is participating in WHTS15 to demonstrate the social, cultural, environmental and economic potential of Sharjah to accommodate Halal tourism and to direct new investment into this booming niche sector.”

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Azerbaijan will deliver tourist visas in less than 5 days

Saturday 18 Jul 2015 – Baku, (IINA) – The issue of reducing the time of issuing visas to foreigners traveling to Azerbaijan is on the agenda, the country’s Minister of Culture and Tourism Abulfas Garayev told reporters. According to Trend news agency, Garayev noted that this step was planned to reduce the time from 10 days to 3-5 days.

Today, over 60 firms are engaged in issuing visas in Azerbaijan, the minister said, adding that over 10,000 online tourist visas were issued in 2015 alone. Jointly with other state structures, Azerbaijan’s Foreign Ministry is working out proposals and draft decisions for resolving this issue, Garayev said.

“I hope that accreditation based on the rules approved by the Cabinet of Ministers will be carried out all over again,” the minister said. “Compliance of tourism companies with these rules should be strictly controlled.”

He added that creation of special centers is also on the agenda. President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev gave several instructions July 13 during the meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on the results of the country’s socio-economic development in the first half of 2015 and the objectives for the future. During that meeting, the president clearly pointed out the main tasks in this sphere: visa facilitation, reducing the air ticket prices, construction of three and two star hotels.

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Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank to open branch in Morocco

Monday 13 Jul 2015 – Rabat (IINA) – Abu Dhabi Islamic Bank (ADIB) is moving forward to set up a branch of its Islamic Financial institution in Morocco next year, Morocco World News reported.

ADIB which is the United Arab Emirates’ second-largest Shariah-compliant lender has reportedly applied for a license from Morocco’s Central Bank to invest in the Moroccan Islamic banking sector in 2016.

“We are seeking to invest in the Moroccan Islamic banking sector after learning that we will be the first financial institution to fully comply with the principles of Sharia law,” ADIB’s Chief Executive Officer Tirad Mahmoud said in an interview.

He pointed out that the Moroccan Islamic banking market was amongst the markets with the greatest potential for Islamic banking outside the Gulf Cooperation Council.

CEO Mahmoud explained that the bank’s intention to invest in Morocco is part of its plan to expand in North African markets. “We have also applied for licenses in Algeria, Libya and Tunisia,” he added.

In November 2014, the Moroccan parliament ratified a bill regulating Islamic finance and sukuk issues in the country. Last March, the Governor of Morocco’s Central Bank announced in a press conference that Islamic Banks will start doing business in Morocco beginning early 2016.

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Malaysia ranked 6th attractive investment destination worldwide

Wednesday 15 Jul 2015 – Kuala Lumpur (IINA) – Malaysia jumped five rungs from 11th in 2014, to the 6th position in this year’s Baseline Profitability Index (BPI), a ranking of destinations of attractiveness for foreign investors published by the Foreign Policy Magazine.

Among the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), only Malaysia and Singapore featured in the top 10. Indonesia was ranked 12th, Vietnam (23rd), Philippines (30th) and Thailand at the 38th position.

“This ranking, which covered 110 countries across six continents reaffirms that Malaysia is an attractive profit center in this region for investors,” said the Malaysia Investment Development Authority (MIDA) in a statement to BERNAMA News Agency.

“The ranking is a reflection of the continuous improvement in the delivery of public services and overall efficiency of the government machinery.”

It also sends a clear message that the country offers a friendly business environment which makes it an attractive destination to invest, MIDA added.

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Nearly 6 million Umrah visas issued this season

Thursday 16 Jul 2015 – Jeddah (IINA) – A total of 5,949,212 visas were issued by the Saudi authorities for those who wish to perform Umrah from all over the world since the beginning of the Umrah season on 1st of Safar until its end on 27th of Ramadan.

Of the total number of visas issued, 5,676,588 Umrah pilgrims came to Saudi Arabia to perform their Umrah rituals. The number of those who left the Kingdom after performing Umrah stood at 5,203,876, according to statistics of the Ministry of Hajj obtained by the International Islamic News Agency (IINA).

The statistics, covering an eight-year period from 1429 to1436H, showed an increase in the number of Umrah visas issued by the Saudi authorities, which amounted to 39,693,739 visas during this period, of which 37,696,284 came to perform the rituals, and 37,074,388 left the Saudi Arabia after performing Umrah, while 472,712 Umrah pilgrims, who came during the current season, have yet to leave the Kingdom.

Despite the fact that the final statistics of the current Umrah season will not be issued before the end of Ramadan, the Umrah season of 1435H remained on top of the list in terms of the number of Umrah pilgrims who came from outside the Kingdom, as it stood at 6,023,840, while 1429H remained at the bottom of the list with 3,194,019 Umrah pilgrims.

The holy sites and the two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah are currently witnessing massive expansion projects being carried out by the Saudi government. In this context, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosque King Salman launched last Saturday five mega-projects within the Third Saudi Expansion of the Grand Mosque in Makkah, which will increase its capacity to nearly two million worshipers.

In a related development, Saudi Hajj Minister Dr Bandar Hajjar said in earlier statements that “the reconstruction projects of the Two Holy Mosques and caring for the guests of Allah were not affected by the economic conditions experienced by Saudi Arabia as a result of the lower oil prices and declining global economic growth – stressing that “they are given top priority by Saudi leadership”.

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Oldest Qurans republished in print and digital formats

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – The Research Center for Islamic History, Arts and Culture (IRCICA) has published facsimiles of a number of the oldest Qurans from the 1st century, which have been kept in the world’s most important libraries and museums.

According to a statement made by the IRCICA, it is the first time the Qurans have been published in both a printed and digital format.

Providing information about the details of the project and the process of gathering the holy books from around the world, IRCICA General Director Halit Eren said the process of getting the Qurans, their preparation and publication started in 2005.

“From the search to publication, a team including former chief of Religious Affairs Dr. Tayyar Altıkulaç and I have followed the process. These Qurans, which were written in kufic and hijazi scripts and did not have vowel point, should have been read line by line from cover to cover, rewritten and compared to the other Qurans we had. All this work was painstakingly carried out by Altıkulaç. This is the most tiresome part of the whole process and has never been done before. The number of these artifacts from the first-century hijra can be counted on the fingers of one hand.”

Eren said they had started working with the closest Quran geographically, in the Topkapı Palace Museum. “We published the facsimile of this Quran, which is dedicated to the prophet Osman with the permission of the Culture Ministry,” he said.

Eren said obtaining the Qurans from abroad was a very grueling process since they were so precious. He said, “It was not easy to obtain the big-size Quran, called Meşhedü’l-Hüseyni, which is being kept in Cairo, in the General Directorate of Foundation Manuscripts Library.”

After many talks with the Egyptian minister of foundations, Eren said, they finally received a copy.

“We have worked on a 2,200-page Quran. Then we initiated works to get this Quran, which is in the Yemeni city of Sanaa and dedicated to the prophet Ali. I had individual talks with former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih and got the copy of the Quran. There are also various Qurans we obtained from various countries. We found Qurans from Paris, London and Tubingen. We are still working on these Qurans,” Eren said.

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Aksaray becoming a natural film set

AKSARAY – Anadolu Agency – Boasting a wealth of natural and historical beauty, Aksaray, the gateway to Cappadocia, is attracting an increasing array of producers and directors for cinema films, TV series and programs.

“Aksaray is a special province in Cappadocia thanks to its historical venues and natural beauty. One of the world’s biggest canyons, the Ihlara Valley, is a popular place for its natural texture and historic artifacts. Also, the Sofular Valley, Kızılkaya, Demirci, Yüksek Kilise and the Mamasın Dam are places for filming. Producers get a chance to catch the scene,” said Aksaray Culture and Tourism Director Mustafa Doğan.

In recent years, directors and producers have come looking for natural settings for their films and series, and the Cappadocia region has come to the fore thanks to its authentic venues, Doğan said.

“In the first six months of this year, we accepted more than 30 applications and gave permission for filming. Among them are cinema films, TV series, documentaries and promotional TV programs. The Ihlara Film Festival that we organized last year led to the increase of filming in the region,” the director said.

Since 2014, six cinema films have been made in Aksaray, according to Doğan. Among them are “Patron Mutlu Son İstiyor” (The Boss Wants a Happy Ending), “Buğday” (Wheat), “Somuncu Baba,” “Kapadokya’da Aşk Başkadır” (Love is Different in Cappadocia)” “Helak; Kayıp Köy” (Lost Village) and “Yitik Kuşlar” (Lost Birds).

“Also, the shooting of the Hollywood film ‘The Mountains and The Stones’ has been continuing here recently. All these reveal that Aksaray is really preferred by producers and directors. We consider it as a promotional chance and help producers here,” Doğan said.

The director of “Somuncu Baba,” Kürşat Kızbaz, said his film, which will be released this year, had been completely made in Aksaray. He said it was one of the rare provinces that had managed to maintain all the historical and cultural values of Anatolia.

“The province is like an open-air film set thanks to its places from the Seljuk and Ottoman eras. This is why Aksaray was a very suitable place for our film. We got the opportunity to tell a 13th-century story in a place like Sultanhanı, Ağzıkarahan, Zinciriye Madrasah and the Red Church,” Kızbaz said.

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Ani on the way to becoming a heritage site

KARS, Turkey – Anadolu Agency – Work has been initiated for the ancient Ani ruins, which date back thousands of years, in the eastern province of Kars to receive the status of a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Kars Culture and Tourism Director Hakan Doğanay said in the case of its acceptance, Ani would be Turkey’s 16th world heritage site on the UNESCO list.

“The ministry has applied to UNESCO on Feb. 15 with a detailed report on the Ani ruins and we are on the temporary list. Work continues to be included on the permanent list,” Doğanay said. He said a team from UNESCO would visit Kars for the final decision.

Ani was once the capital of a medieval Armenian kingdom that covered much of present-day Armenia and eastern Turkey. Ani is protected on its eastern side by a ravine formed by the Akhurian River and on its western side by the Bostanlar or Tzaghkotzadzor Valley. The Akhurian is a branch of the Aras River and forms part of the current border between Turkey and Armenia.

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Signs of world’s first pictograph found in Göbeklitepe

ŞANLIURFA – Anadolu Agency – A scene on an obelisk found during excavations in Göbeklitepe, a 12,000-year-old site in the southeastern province of Şanlıurfa, could be humanity’s first pictograph, according to researchers.

“The scene on the obelisk unearthed in Göbeklitepe could be construed as the first pictograph because it depicts an event thematically. It depicts a human head in the wing of a vulture and a headless human body under the stela,” Şanlıurfa Museum Director and Göbeklitepe excavation head Müslüm Ercan said. “There are various figures like cranes and scorpions around this figure. This is the portrayal of a moment; it could be the first example of pictograph. They are not random figures. We see this type of thing portrayal on the walls in 6,000-5,000 B.C. in Çatalhöyük (in modern-day western Turkey).”

Ercan said the artifacts found in Göbeklitepe provided information about ancient burial traditions. “There were no graves 12,000 years ago. The dead bodies were left outdoors and raptors ate them. In this way, people believed the soul goes to the sky,” he added.

Ercan said it was called “burial in the sky,” and was depicted in obelisks in Göbeklitepe, which is home to the world’s oldest-known temples. Many of the artifacts being unearthed during the excavations in the Neolithic-era field were the first of their kind, Ercan said, adding that Göbeklitepe served as a religious center and that geo-radar works had showed 23 temple structures in the region.

Ercan said two obelisks, which are called “T” stelas since they are in the shape of the letter “T,” were found opposite each other and that they were surrounded by smaller, round-shape obelisks.

The obelisks symbolized the sacred beings that people worshipped at that time, Ercan said.

“We have a small-size pig sculpture in our museum. It was found in front of central stelas in the ‘C’ temple. It is believed that these stelas symbolized the sacred beings for the people of Göbeklitepe. People of this era used to gather in these temples at a certain time of the year to take vows and worship. After this ceremony, they returned to the plains, their living spaces.”

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Excavation season opens at Kaunos

MUĞLA – Anadolu Agency – This year’s excavations have begun in the ancient city of Kaunos in the western province of Muğla’s Köyceğiz district. The head of the excavations, Professor Cengiz Işık, said work would continue in the city until October.

He said excavations in the ancient city first began in 1966, and added, “Next year will be the 50th anniversary of Kaunos excavations. Considering Turkey’s archaeological excavations, Kaunos is one of the long-term excavation fields in the country.”

Işık said the nearby Sultaniye hot springs was a sacred place dedicated to the goddess Leto in the ancient ages, and they would continue work this year in the hot springs as well as the theater area and the sacred place of Apollo.

He said a five-year project had been carried out both underwater and on the ground in the Sultaniye hot springs 10 years ago, and this year they would work again in the same way.

Işık said the ancient city of Kaunos was on the UNESCO World Heritage Site tentative list. “Kaunos is the most visited ancient site in the region. It should be taken under protection in a bell glass. It is already late to take the region under protection. It is on the temporary list but it is not known when the result (for heritage site status promotion) will come. It took 21 years even for the Ephesus ancient city to get UNESCO status. I don’t know how long we will wait but it is already a success to be on the temporary list.”

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4,000-year-old tablets found in Turkey include women’s rights

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – The Kültepe-Kaniş-Karum trade colony in the Central Anatolian province of Kayseri continues to amaze archaeologists, with an expert at the dig revealing that tablets citing women’s rights were discovered at the Bronze Age settlement.

Excavations at the ancient tumulus site began in 1948. So far, it has been discovered the center was where the written history of Anatolia began and the largest monumental structure of the Middle East was unearthed in 2013. A centuries-old baby rattle and a tablet about the sale of a donkey were unearthed last year.

Last month, the 2015 excavation season began in Kültepe. The head of the excavation team, Prof. Fikri Kulakoğlu of Ankara University, told Doğan News Agency on July 16 the site was remarkable not only because the priceless tablets revealed commercial information about the Assyrians, but also about the local social life of the time with all kinds of personal details about individuals.

“From women’s rights to the adoption of children and marriages arranged at birth, the tablets include all kinds of civilizational and social data from Anatolia 4,000 years ago. There is also an emotional letter from a woman to her husband and a letter from another woman who complains about her mother-in-law. You can’t find such things in an empire’s official archive,” he said.

Still, most of the 23,500 cuneiform tablets unearthed at Kültepe were about commerce. “Kültepe is where the Anatolian enlightenment began. The people in this area were literate much earlier than other places in Anatolia, including its west,” Kulakoğlu added.

Some 90 percent of the Kültepe tablets can be seen in the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations in Ankara. Some of them are exhibited at the site and are expected to be transferred soon to a new archaeology museum under construction in Kayseri, deemed to be the most important museum of the historic Cappadocia region.

“This is a huge wealth,” Kulakoğlu said, voicing his hope that the trade colony will soon be included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

The settlement in the tumulus is composed of segments from the early Bronze Age, the middle Bronze Age, the Iron Age and Ancient Greece and Rome.

One of the most important discoveries was a tablet from 2000 B.C., which explains there were local kingdoms in Anatolia at that time and the Kaniş Kingdom was the most powerful one.

Only a small area of Kültepe, which is thought to have hosted over 70,000 people four millennia ago, has been excavated so far. Officials say it might take 5,000 years to excavate the entire ancient site.

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Historic Turkish town fully booked for Eid Ramadan

KARABÜK – Anadolu Agency – The northern Turkish town of Safranbolu, which is on the UNESCO World Heritage list and one of the 20 best-preserved historic sites around the world, is seeing full occupancy in its hotels for the Eid Ramadan holiday, the city’s mayor has said.

Over 70,000 tourists are expected to visit Safranbolu, which is known for its well-protected traditional Ottoman-era houses and architecture from the 18th to 20th century. The town has continued its restoration of its Ottoman buildings and 60 percent of the 865 houses have been restored over the last 35 years.

“Our hotels are full with both local and foreign tourists. We expect to host more than 70,000 tourists during the Eid Ramadan holiday,” said Mayor Necdet Aksoy.

Aksoy added tourism representatives and city guides will work over the Eid Ramadan holiday to serve the tourists.

Located in the central-northern province of Karabük, Safranbolu has one-fifth of Turkey’s cultural attractions despite its small size. UNESCO named the city of Safranbolu a World Heritage Site in 1994.

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Turkey among top 10 medical tourism spots

İZMİR – Anadolu Agency – Turkey, the sixth most visited tourism destination in the world, has also become one of the most popular medical tourism destinations with more than half a million medical tourists visiting the country last year, according to data compiled by Anadolu Agency from the Association of Turkish Travel Agencies (TÜRSAB), the Health Ministry and private hospital figures.

While 109,000 medical tourists visited Turkey in 2010, this figure rose to 583,000 last year, mainly due to the rise in the number of tourists from Libya, Iraq and Germany.

With the addition of plastic surgery figures, this figure increased up to 700,000, according to sector representatives.

“A total of 30 million people travel to receive medical care across the world a year and they spend over $150 billion, producing almost six times higher added value than sector average. Turkey became one of the top ten medical tourism destinations last year, although the country ranked 17th place five years ago,” said the vice president of the Aegean Medical Tourism Association, Zeki Hozer.

The United States and Germany have been the most popular destinations for medical tourists, Hozer said, adding India, Malaysia, Cuba, Belgium and Poland were also very popular.

With rising state incentives and marketing activities in the sector, the number of medical tourists has been increasing, according to Levent Baş, the vice president of Turkey’s Medical Tourism Development Council.

Baş said around 50-70 percent of the promotional activities were supported by the state and some portions of visiting medical tourists’ flight tickets were paid.

“Turkey has been the best medical tourism destination after the U.S. and Germany in quality. Many health centers in Istanbul now make almost half of their revenue from their foreign patients,” Baş said.

He added European people usually visit Turkey for optical care, dental treatment, plastic surgery, hair transplantation operations and in vitro fertilization treatment.

“Iraqi and Libyan people visit Turkey as they could not find proper medical care in their countries and Turkey is geographically proximate to their countries. People from Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, however, prefer Germany for medical reasons rather than Turkey,” he said.

Turkey’s Health Ministry intends to increase the number of medical tourists to 2 million by 2023 by introducing tax-free health care zones specifically tailored for foreign patients.

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Turkish Airlines carries 28.5m pax in Jan-June 2015

ISTANBUL – Hurriyet Daily News – Turkish Airlines, Europe’s fourth-largest carrier, has announced it carried some 28.5 million passengers in the first six months of the year, an 8.5 percent increase over the same period of the previous year, in a written statement to the Public Disclosure Platform (KAP) on July 14.

Passenger numbers on domestic flights rose by 11.2 percent, while international routes saw an increase of 6.6 percent in the mentioned period.

The load factor, which measures an airline’s capacity utilization, declined one percentage point to 77.8 percent, the statement said.

By the end of June 2015, the number of Turkish Airlines destinations rose by 19 over the same month of the previous year, reaching 276, the company said. The number of domestic destinations increased from 43 to 48 and international destinations from 214 to 228, it added.

The number of aircraft increased from 257 to 282 in June compared to the same month of 2014. The number of wide body aircraft increased from 50 to 65, narrow body aircraft from 198 to 207 and cargo aircraft from 9 to 10, according to the statement.

Turkish Airlines was named the “Best Airline in Europe” for the fifth year in a row by Skytrax, which is recognized by the aviation industry for its global ranking system which tracks customer satisfaction of airlines service and performance around the world, this year.

The awards, based on over 13 million surveys of worldwide airline customers from May 2014 to January 2015, evaluated traveler experience using key performance factors including check-in, arrivals, transfers, security and immigration. The carrier also received the distinction of having the “World’s Best Business Class Airline Lounge” and “World’s Best Business Class Lounge Dining.”

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Free entry to Bangladesh National Museum for students, disabled

DHAKA, July 18, 2015 (BSS) – Students and physically challenged people will get free entry to the National Museum on Sunday, the day after the Eid-ul-Fitr. The government already sent mobile SMS to disseminate the information.

The museum authorities posted a notice on its website letting people know that under privileged children will also get free entry to the museum on the day anytime between 11am and 6pm.

There will also be free screening of two feature films at 11:30am, 2pm and 4:30pm at the National Museum auditorium. Directed by Afzal Hossain, the two films are based on the famous story “Choto Kaku”, written by Faridur Reza Sagor. The films, produced by Impress Telefilm, will also be screened at the Shadhinota Museum auditorium at the Suhrawardi Uddyan at the same schedule.

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Indonesia welcomes French investors in high-speed rail

15 July 2015 Jakarta (ANTARA News) – The Indonesian government will invite French investors to explore opportunities to establish cooperation in the high-speed railway line project to connect Jakarta and Bandung (West Java).

“This opportunity is open for all investors,” Minister of National Development Planning/Head of the National Planning and Development Board (Bappenas) Andrinof A. Chaniago said here on Tuesday night.

France has a mode of fast trains named Train Grande Vitesse that connects the capital city of Paris with other cities in the country and with towns in neighboring countries such as Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland.

In addition, Chaniago stated that the government has opened greater opportunities for investors who wish to work together to build this mode of transportation for the upper and middle class.

After the investors carry out a feasibility study, the government will review them to determine a partner for the project. So far, Japan and China have expressed serious interest to the government to work on this project.

Japan has even completed the first phase of its feasibility study, estimating that a total investment of Rp60 trillion will be needed for this project.

Moreover, Chinese investors will soon complete the feasibility study for this project.

According to the Bappenas chief, a special team will be established by the government to assess the investors feasibility studies.

Based on the study carried out by Japanese investors, this fast train project could shorten the time taken to travel from Jakarta to Bandung to 34 minutes from the current duration of two to three hours.

Furthermore, Japanese investors are planning to conduct their feasibility study in three phases at a total cost of US$15 billion.

In a meeting at the Presidential Palace on July 13, Minister of Transportation Ignatius Jonan said that the government was still reviewing the alignment and the start and end points of this high-speed railway line project.

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Air Cote d’Ivoire Begins Flights to Nigeria

The Guardian – 17 July 2015 – Air Cote d’Ivoire has commenced operations into the Nigerian aviation industry with scheduled flights between Abidjan and Lagos, a move the airline said would go a long way to strengthen trade and diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Moustapha Fofana, country manager for Air Cote d’Ivoire at a forum held for travel agents and journalists in Lagos on Tuesday said in recent years there had been a huge gap occasioned by a rise in passenger traffic between Nigeria and Cote d’Ivoire.

He said such rise came from private business owners, diplomats and corporate establishments and for which the airline had to step in to fill with a direct flight emanating from Abijan to Lagos.

“This country (Nigeria) offers a huge business market with a growing movement of individual businesses and telecoms, banks, manufacturers, oil and gas multinationals from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire,” said Fofana. Indeed, the Nigerian aviation market has been described by many analysts to be growing in leaps and bounds in recent years and Fofana said since the commencement of operations early 2015 patronage has kept going higher.

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Cameroon: Attracting Tourists By Promoting Sites

Camberoon Tribunes – 14 July 2015 – Few Cameroonians take interest in knowing and visiting tourist sites in the country.

Savouring a leisure time, say on the fringes of the twin lakes of Kupe-Muanenguba, the waterfalls of Ekom Nkam or just having a look at the beautiful creatures in the Botanic gardens of Limbe and Mvog-Betsi, may be refreshing to the mind. Many Cameroonians get a bit of the experience watching such beauties on popular TV channels like National Geographic, Animaux, NatGeo Wild. Others admire movie or musical backgrounds with natural attractions. Still many Cameroonians are yet to discover the rich tourist attractions around them and as well savour a more decent sense of pleasure.

Taking a pleasure jaunt to a tourist site may alleviate worries, boredom and stress. It is common today for people to limit such trips to nightclubs or spend honeymoons in hotels. It is in this area that the online booking portal, Jovago, has begun holding sessions with hotel managers in order to help them propose better services to promote Cameroon as a tourism destination. To begin with, Jovago is setting up an online data of Cameroon tourist sites at www.jovago.com.

Arthur Soria, Jovago’s Head of Sales in Cameroon, recently told reporters in Bonapriso, Douala, that he and his team are working with the present Miss Littoral and Miss West second runner-up, to locate tourist attractions in the Littoral and West Regions. “I chose to work in Cameroon because of the rich tourism potentials and as a tourism lover, I will want to see many Cameroonians become interested in tourism. One of the ways of doing this is to have an online data of tourism sites in the country, hold mind-changing sessions with Cameroonians, hotel managers and visitors to the country, to make use of them. Some 80 per cent of our clients are Cameroonians,” he revealed.

Attractions such as the Ekom Nkam Waterfall, Bandjoun Palace, the Bamoun King’s Palace, Wouri Beach, Mount Cameroon, flora gardens in Yaounde and beaches in Limbe and Kribi, as well as the Zoo-botanic garden in Mvog-Betsi and the Botanic Garden of Limbe, confirm Cameroon’s tourism endowment. Miss Littoral, Jessica Ngoua, and Miss West second runner-up, Kamako Ngondji Myriam, will help to locate the sites in their regions.

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PM inaugurates ‘Leisure and Virtual Village’ in Algiers

Algerie Presse Service – 16 July 2015 – Algiers — Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal inaugurated Wednesday in Algiers a “a leisure and virtual Village” offering leisure activities and relaxation to children, youth and families during the summer season.

Organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, the first edition of this village, held at the Mohamed-Boudiaf Olympic Complex, will run until 9 September and will be open from Thursday.

After visiting the stands representing the 48 provinces of the country, Sellal went to the video game space, an outdoor cinema and another for films screening in nine dimensions (9 D).

Accompanied by members of the government, the Prime Minister seized the opportunity to call the children and young people to “love the country and adopt the culture of dialogue for a united Algeria from East to West and from North to South.”

The “Leisure and virtual Village “, whose visitors will reach 20,000 people, according to estimates of the organizers, includes a space called “Dar Dzair” consisting of 48 stands for the public, meant to discover cultural traditions, artistic and folklore of each of the provinces of the country.

The village also includes a space for inflatable games, slides and trampolines, an outdoor pool, an area for families, a nursery, a fun fair, a cinema and a 9D outdoor cinema with a capacity of 50 seats.

Inter-city games will also be held during this event in collaboration with youth service providers.

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Mozambique National Park Hosts Conservation Symposium

Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique – 16 July 2015 – Gorongosa National Park in central Mozambique is hosting an international symposium on the topic of “disruptive” conservation, which is described by the organisers as “a new model for building community driven conservation in some of the world’s most remote and biologically diverse places”.

The “2015 Lost Mountain Next Gen Symposium” brings together forty university students, scientists and conservationists. The twelve day event, which began on 11 July, will focus on conservation planning and management principles, leadership development models and “Leave No Trace” techniques, and will examine the challenges facing conservation and development.

The initiative follows on from the work of Majka Burhardt, who in May 2014 led a team to remote Mount Namuli in Zambezia province, and its previously unexplored habitats. That expedition discovered a new snake species, 40 ant genera and 27 herpetological specimens, many of which have yet to be identified.

The aim of the symposium is to look at how people and ecosystems can thrive together on Mount Namuli. Burhardt commented that, “at this point in the process it is imperative to bring future leaders into the discussion around conservation”.

Biologists and conservationists have identified Mount Namuli as a place of critical biodiversity. According to Burhardt, the area “provides an opportunity to model a new vision for wildlife preservation that integrates the wishes and needs of local people”.

“By bringing key conventional and unconventional players into the mix, we were able to create nimble, effective, and innovative solutions for conservation and development,” Burhardt says. “We are using the Symposium to make real time decisions and action plans for our next steps with Mount Namuli–that is disruptive conservation.”

The Lost Mountain Consortium receives financial support from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund, which is a joint initiative of the French Development Agency (AFD), Conservation International, the European Union, the Global Environment Facility, the Japanese government, the MacArthur Foundation and the World Bank.

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Nigeria to open up Ogbunike Caves

Daily Trust – 17 July 2015 – Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano said he will open up the ancient Ogbunike caves for tourism development and revenue generation. The governor said this in Awka at a one-day workshop for stakeholders on tourism in the state organised by the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC).

A statement by the NTDC quoted the governor as saying: “Ogbunike Caves has 11 entrances, but only one has been explored. We shall open up other entrances to the unique tourist site, build a 5-star hotel and a game centre, among other world standard facilities around the site.”

Ogbunike Caves is a tourist destination located in Oyi local government of the state. Obiano also said the state is ready to support NTDC’s Green City project, to ensure its success in the state.

“The Green City project is a viable catalyst to creating employment in the state and the country at large and also ensure a clean environment,” he said.

Speaking on the project, the NTDC boss, Sally Mbanefo said it is designed to deliver the Green City initiative as a differentiating platform for Nigeria’s Eco-tourism credentials with features, such as: a bio-fuel refinery for conversion of waste to wealth, demonstration farms, botanical gardens, hotels, housing estate, sports facilities, industrial parks, solar farms, water parks and health malls.

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Egypt’s Textile Museum to reopen

Nevine El-Aref , Tuesday 14 Jul 2015 – At Al-Nahassin area on Al-Muizz street stands the sabil (water fountain) of Mohamed Ali, which sits waiting for its official reopening, scheduled for Wednesday night.

The sabil has been closed since April this year for restoration. The Minister of Antiquities Mamdouh Eldamaty is set to open it.

Eldamaty explains that the sabil was originally built on the orders of Mohamed Ali Pasha to commemorate his son Ismail, who died in Sudan in 1822. It consists of a large rectangular hall opening onto the Tassbil hall, with a rounded, marble façade and four windows surrounding an oval marble bowl. The “logo” of the Ottoman Empire — featuring a crescent and a star — decorates the area above each window.

The sabil’s wooden façade and the top of the frame are decorated in a rococo and baroque style, the main style seen in several of Mohamed Ali’s edifices. In 2007, Eldamaty pointed out that within the framework of the Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project the Sabil was converted into a museum of Egyptian textiles.

The museum displays 250 textile pieces and 15 carpets dating from the late Pharaonic era through to the Coptic and Islamic ages. Among the collection on display are tools and instruments used by ancient Egyptians to clean and wash clothes, along with illustrations demonstrating the various stages of laundering clothes in ancient times. Monks’ robes, icons and clothes from various times in the Islamic era are also exhibited.

“One of the most beautiful items on show is a red bed cover ornamented with gold and silver thread, said to have been a gift from Mohamed Ali to his daughter on her marriage. Another is a large cover for the Kaaba in Mecca sent by King Fouad of Egypt to Saudi Arabia,” Eldamaty said, adding that this is a black velvet textile ornamented with Quranic verses and woven with gold and silver thread.

Mohamed Abdel Aziz, the assistant Minister of Antiquities for Islamic and Coptic Antiquities, told Ahram Online that restoration work at the museum aims at upgrading the museum’s security systems to reach international museum standards, as well as restoring cracks that spread along several walls and floors of the museum’s different halls. Fine restoration also took place on all the sabil’s stony and wooden decorative elements.

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Iran’s Ali Sadr Cave, a unique natural attraction

Tehran, July 18, IRNA – Ali Sadr Cave is one of the rare samples of water caves in the world. It is located 75 kilometers to the northwest of Hamedan in a village by the same name which is one of the districts of Kabudarahang Township.

Ali Sadr Cave can be reached via three routes:

Hamedan-Bijar via Lalejin Road: It was constructed recently.

Hamedan-Tehran Road, via Nojeh Air Base

Hamedan-Salehabad Road

Ali Sadr Cave was formed in Sariqieh Heights. There are two other caves in its vicinity: Subashi and Sarab. Their distances from Ali Sadr Cave are 11 and 7 kilometers respectively. The caves are probably interlinked to Ali Sadr Cave in view of the extensive layers of crystallized calcareous in the region, Tehran-based English newspaper, Iran Daily, reported.

Geologists believe that the rocks of this mountain pertain to the second geological period i.e. Jurassic (190-130 million years ago). Based on evidence within the cave, it was inhabited by primitive people. Residents of Ali Sadr and other nearby villages knew this and used its water, but it was not used for tourism. Hamedan mountaineering team with 14 members visited the cave and explored it in 1963. They used simple device such as flashlights and rubber tube to navigate. The news of expedition was published in local newspapers in 1967. After the publication of the news, investigators, climbers and naturalists rushed to the site. Hamedan climbers extended the diameter of the entrance by 50 cm in 1973. The cave was open to visitors in 1975.

In those days, villagers used flashlights, boats, and paddles to direct tourists through the cave.

The combination of rainwater and CO2 formed mild carbonic acid which seeped into the calcareous fields and through chemical reactions, unstable sodium bicarbonate was formed. This soluble chemical composition created abyss of thick calcareous layers.

Ali Sadr Cave is one of the natural attractions of Iran. Only few caves in the world can compete with Ali Sadr Cave.

Its colorless water is odorless and has natural taste. There are no living creatures in the cave’s water and its temperature is 12 degrees centigrade. The water is so transparent that one can see to the depth of 10 meters with the naked eyes and ordinary light. The results of physical and chemical experiments show that the chemical composition of water is approximately the same as in different parts of the cave and is considered as light calcic bicarbonate with nearly neutral pH (acidity). The water is not drinkable since it contains different calcareous salts.

As the excess water of the cave flows out in the form of fountains (like Cheshmehshoor), the amount of water flowing into the cave is stable, but when there is shortage of water, the impact of its fluctuations is evident on the cave walls.

The depth of water ranges from nil to 14 meters in different parts. The amount of water flowing into the cave comes from rainfalls, underground springs and outflows from the walls and cave ceiling ― all of them are coming from rain and snow.

The height of the cave’s ceiling in some parts is about 10 meters. It is covered by pure calcium carbonate and its combinations. These sediments form different types of stalactites on the floor and waterless areas of the cave. There are also a number of attractive stalagmites.

One can have a nice view and inhale fresh air without dust and microbial impurity inside the cave. It is cold in summers and warm in winters.

Although all of the cave’s chambers have not been explored, climbers advanced about 10-11 km along them. At present, after boating, one can walk along the cave and continue the route by boat.

So far, 14 kilometers of the cave’s canals have been explored, but only some four kilometers have been illuminated and ready to use. After looking at the stalactites, the great stalactites, the third and fourth islands, boating, cave climbing, passing through water paths and crystalline ceiling chambers, one believes that this phenomenon is one of the marvels of the world, which no one can describe, demonstrating all its glory and beauty.

A 27-room hotel, 10 wooden villas (single and double beds),16 suites, 50 tents, a restaurant, handicraft shops, a mosque, public lavatory, a parking lot, a park for children, green areas, and climbing facilities have been established in Ali Sadr Tourism Complex.

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Rural heritage museum opens in Iran

Tehran, July 6, IRNA – For many people, the museums are associated with cavernous rooms and deep corridors filled with hospital-like hallways, but it is not the case with the Guilan Rural Heritage Museum, the only open-air museum in Iran!

The rural civilization and culture is manifested in the museum through transferring the real scale buildings in a location similar to its primary place.

Walking through Guilan Rural Heritage Museum, I glow with pride about my ancestors, who perceived nature that had surrounded them in their ordinary life so deeply.

During my visit, I felt like I was discovering an untold part of history. The period farmhouses and its accessories reveal more secrets to me than archeological objects stored behind glass windows of museums.

These are my first remarks to the founder of the museum Mahmud Taleghani during my visit to his office at Tehran’s Vesal Street.

Through the interview, he stressed on his concerns about cultural heritage, which lies in different aspects of everyday life of past generations; A concern which is manifested in every corner of museum.

Gained his doctorate in urban sociology in France in 1979, Mahmud Taleghani is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Tehran and is the founder and initiator of the Guilan Rural Heritage Museum in Rasht, Guilan Province.

With no knowledge of close past, one cannot understand history.

“When someone has no knowledge of their close past, they cannot have proper understanding of the history of their land,” said Mahmud Taleghani in an interview with the Tehran Times.

“I address young generation in majority of my works. Even as an academic in my career, I always paid attention to the young generation,” he added.

”The young generation do not know sufficiently about the legacy left by their ancestors; they do not appreciate the true value of the heritage and even consider it contrary to the norms and values of the current society,” he said.

Iranians have a prideful past; however, “they always refer to the past millenaries as their glorious history,” he lamented.

“In Iran, most of museums display treasures left by kings and rulers but we ought to know that the common people are the important factors in shaping cultural heritage we have now,” he said.

“I try to reconcile the people with their close past by showing them the valuable legacy from their grandparents and great grandparents,” he added.

In his view, there is no inconsistency between modernism and cultural legacy which has flourished through centuries. He said that he tries to manifest this issue in the museum.

Modernism does not mean ahistoricism

“Modernism does not mean that one should forget the past and consider all the historical achievements as elements of retardation. By establishment of the Guilan Rural Heritage Museum, I want to introduce people with this fact,” Taleghani remarked.

One should be proud of his past in order to have a brilliant future in the global village arena, he added.

“A museum conveys cultural messages more than structural ones. In my view, the spiritual and cultural heritage bequeathed to us by our predecessors is much more important and significant than the mere material and architectural heritage,” he said.

“Our cultural heritage is tremendously rich and varied, well beyond the archeology, which is restricted to the excavation of ancient items,” he added.

During the interview, he refreshed several memories he had during the establishment and construction of the museum. The hard days during which, luck was not on their side and he and his team faced major challenges.

However, since the beginnings of the Museum’s construction in 2005, two officials Mohammad Baqer Nobkaht who is the current adviser of President Hassan Rouhani in Supervision and Strategic Affairs and Mohammad Beheshti who is the current director of the Research Institute of the Iranian Organization of Cultural Heritage, Handicraft and Tourism have always lent their support actively to this national-scale project, he said.

As a person, who makes a concerted effort to carry on museum despite all difficulties and deficiencies, Taleghani is worry about the prospect of museum. “I am negotiating to allocate the utilization of the museum by the University of Tehran, so that in this way the museum will continue expanding,” he said.

He called eminent Iranian scholars Fazlollah Reza and Ahmad Samii as well as Mohammad Beheshti as the members of the Guilan Rural Heritage Museum’s board of trustee. When I left the office after the two-hour interview, I was enchanted by the steps taken by this man to pave the way for his countrymen.

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Iran Air, Aseman Airlines plan major upgrade

Tehran, July 18, IRNA — Road and Urban Development Minister announced that renovation plans have already been devised for the country’s flag-carrier airliner Iran Air as well as the leading private-sector aviation company Iran Aseman Airlines. Abbas Akhoundi said the renovation will help Iran regain its previous position as a key aviation hub in the region.

Iran and the Group 5+1 countries (the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany) declared an agreement on a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) after marathon talks in Vienna ended on July 14. Based on the JCPOA, some sanctions against Iran will be lifted in return for the country’s steps to limit certain aspects of its nuclear energy program. A key part of the sanctions that are to be lifted are those that target Iran’s aviation industry.

Iranian officials have said the county will need 400-500 civilian aircraft worth at least $20 billion in the next decade to renovate its aging fleet which has suffered under years of US and European sanctions. Major aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing and Airbus have already indicated intention to start selling planes to Tehran.

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Snapchat Makkah Inspires Millions

OnIslam & News Agencies Wednesday, 15 July 2015 MAKKAH – A video-sharing social media application has opened a window on Makkah on the celebration of Laylat Al-Qadr night, offering world Muslims a chance to change the perceptions others had of Islam through sharing millions of videos, photos and tweets.

“I read a bunch of tweets from non-Muslims about how this little 300 second story on Snapchat changed their thoughts about Islam,” Samar, a user from Canada, told Al-Jazeera on Tuesday, July 14. “Genuine or not, it was crazy to see how many positive things people had to say.”

Every year, around 100 million Muslims make the pilgrimage to Muslims’ most sacred city in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. On Tuesday, Snapchat marked observance for the holy month of Ramadan with a 300-second “live” story documenting prayers in the sacred city.

Video messaging app Snapchat’s decision to live-stream Ramadan prayers in Makkah was an instant hit with over a million people tweeting about the #Mecca_live event as coverage went viral. Snapchat Live showed snaps about Makkah from around the network and placed them in one feed, Al-Jazeera reports.

Makkah Live featured worshippers breaking their fasts over iftar meals, panoramic views of Makkah, prayers and even haircuts. It was the first time the firm had covered the event, and many Muslims are thrilled with the response.

“The media showed the true colors of Muslims on snapchat last night. #mecca_live Islam is the truth, its (sic) always been the truth,” @yotaric tweeted.

Snapchat feed has been lauded by some for bringing positive attention to the annual pilgrimage made by Muslims around the world and changing the negative global narrative surrounding Islam.

“Thanks @Snapchat to let the world know about the peaceful #Islam. #meccalive,” @alyhusein wrote on Twitter.

Khalafalla, another user, said the event was an “eye opening” experience and had helped Muslims show a positive side to their faith. “I think this will inspire a lot of us Muslims who want to clarify our faith to people to try out more innovative initiatives,” he said.

Others went a mile further saying they consider to revert to Islam after seeing the inspiring photos from Makkah. “I might convert to Islam after this, this is so beautiful,” one user wrote. Since watching #mecca_live, I want to become a Muslim, can anyone help me become a Muslim pleaseeee,” a second said.

A third wrote, “As a non-Muslim, I would like to ask something, is it easy to convert into Islam? It is just that after seeing #mecca_live I fell like in love.”

The Snapchat live feature works by stitching different short video clips in to one continuous stream of footage that users can swipe through. Users posted scenes of prayers, rituals, and even jokes.

Digital analytics site Topsy recorded more than one million mentions on Twitter alone, as Muslim users first lobbied Snapchat to feature the city and then reacted to the stream of content that flowed online once the hugely-popular, social media app agreed to do so.

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Indonesia Light Festival Marks End of Ramadan

OnIslam & Newspapers Wednesday, 15 July 2015 CAIRO – Amid preparations to welcome `Eid Al-Fitr, Indonesian provinces are holding the annual lamp festival over the last three nights of Ramadan to celebrate Laylat Al-Qadr and the start of the Muslim holiday that marks the end of a month-long fast.

“Compared to last year, this year’s Tumbilotohe seems to be more festive,” Gorontalo province Mayor Marthen Thaha told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday, July 15.

“This (festival), however, is not only just a ceremonial event but also full of religious values, particularly Islamic (values).”

Mayor Thaha was speaking about this year’s lamp festival that was kicked off on Monday, July 13, in Gorontalo province and Riau’s Bengkalis regency to mark the end of Ramadan.

Called Tumbilotohe, which means “lamp-lighting nights” in the local language, the Indonesian event is held every year to mark the 27th day of Ramadan, or Laylat Al-Qadr.

About 300,000 liters of free kerosene were distributed to Gorontalo residents to celebrate Tumbilotohe festival by lighting oil lamps everywhere, including on sidewalks, in rice fields and in the yards of mosques and houses.

“In the past, people put oil lamps in the roads heading to local mosques during the festival to urge friends and neighbors to go to the mosque and get closer to God, particularly during the last few days of Ramadhan,” Local Muslim preacher Shafwan S. Ali said.

Besides lighting mosques and houses, people also illuminate graveyards to preach virtue. “In recent years, however, the festival has been considered merely as a celebration. Many local mosques often end up being deserted during the festival,” S. Ali said.

Laylat Al-Qadr is one of the most sacred things in Ramadan for Muslims. It is the anniversary of the night during which Allah (God) revealed the Qur’an (Holy Book of Islam) to the Prophet Muhammad, also known as the “Night of Decree.”

The 27th night of Ramadan is the most widely celebrated date. ‘The grand night is better than a thousand months’, states the Qur’an. Many Muslim men perform i`tikaf (spiritual retreat), spending the last 10 days of the month exclusively in the mosque.

A similar celebration was held in the central eastern province of Riau to mark the end of the holy fasting month.

Two days ago, thousands of residents flocked to Simpang Ayam subdistrict, Bengkalis regency, to attend the opening of the annual Lampu Colok (oil lamp) Festival.

“The oil lamp culture is a part of our Malay identity, which recognizes the values of togetherness, solidarity and mutual help,” Bengkalis Deputy Regent Suayatno said in his opening remarks.

According to festival coordinator Dahari, the local administration built four oil-lamp minarets for this year’s event. “Each minaret is fitted with an average of 5,000 oil lamps. It takes a barrel and a half of kerosene (to light the oil lamps) in each minaret,” Dahari said.

Using Ramadan lamp festivals to promote other causes, Green City Forum group has been using this year’s festival to promote the use of alternative fuel by organizing the Green Tumbilotohe competition in Gorontalo city.

“In the past, Gorontalo people did not use kerosene as fuel (for lamps). Instead, they used natural products that are environmentally friendly. We want to dig up and promote such local wisdom for the public,” event organizer Rahman Dako said.

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Dubai set to lure foreign firms eyeing $ 200b Iran business

Khaleej Times – 17 July, 2015 – More foreign companies could be attracted to Dubai to do business in Iran as the UAE remains best positioned to benefit from a potential upswing in Iranian import demand estimated to hit $ 200 billion by 2020, analysts said on Thursday.

“The gradual and partial removal of sanctions on Iran following the landmark nuclear deal could imply $ 200 billion annual import demand by 2020, from $ 80 billion now. We believe UAE and Turkey are best positioned to enjoy potential upside in Iranian trade volumes,” said Turker Hamzaoglu and Jean-Michel Saliba, analysts at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research.

They argued that the deal struck between Iran and six world powers should also support South Caucasus via freer trade, but could have some negative spill-over effects on Russia via lower oil prices or eventual competition to supply gas to Europe. “Still, sustaining any boost in activity would require Iranian macro reforms, we think,” they said.

Garbis Iradian, chief economist at the Institute of International Finance, or IIF, is of the view that within the Middle East region, Lebanon and the UAE would benefit from the economic rebound in Iran. “Given Lebanon’s financial skills and regional ties, it could play an important role in the future financing and channeling of investment needed by the Iranian economy. More foreign companies could be attracted to Dubai to do business in Iran,” he said.

Iradian believes that a recovery of Iran’s oil production and exports would weigh on global oil prices. “The future prices of oil, following the deal, are about $ 5 barrel lower than a few weeks ago,” he said.

IIF’s views on oil prices are endorsed by BofA Merrill Lynch analysts who contended that a resumption of Iranian supply could bring down oil prices by $ 5-10 per barrel.

“The potential return of up to 0.7 million bpd in production over the next 12 months could add downside pressure on forward oil prices of $ 5-10/bbl, in our Commodity Research team’s view. In their base case, as sanctions are unwound, the National Iranian Oil Company to ramps up production to pre-2012 sanction levels of 4.5 million bpd of liquids by 2020 and maintains this with limited development of new fields. The Commodity Research team’s medium-term balances still point to a range of $ 60-80/bbl for Brent,” BofA Merrill Lynch analysts said.

With a gross domestic product of $ 485 billion, Iran is the world’s 18th largest economy by purchasing power parity, and is the second largest in the Middle East behind Saudi Arabia and it trails only Egypt in terms of population. The gradual and partial removal of sanctions could help Iran’s domestic demand rebound rapidly, especially if oil exports normalise to pre-2012 levels.

“Our analysis suggests the Iranian economy would have matched the size of Saudi Arabia, were it not for sanctions. We think the deal is likely to bring macro benefits to Iran in three stages: cash, trade, and investment,” said BofA Merrill Lynch.

The IIF observed that lifting the sanctions would spur a sharp economic recovery with a rise in oil exports, regained access to frozen foreign assets (estimated at about $ 100 billion), and sizeable foreign capital inflows, largely in the form of foreign direct investment.

“The main benefits would not be felt until next year. However, there would be a significant immediate impact, including an improvement in private sector confidence and the appreciation of the black market exchange rate. The rate has already appreciated by six per cent in recent days,” said Iradian.

Assuming implementation goes smoothly, growth could accelerate from about three per cent in 2015/16 to six per cent in fiscal years 2016/17 and 2017/18, driven by a surge in exports and private investment. The fiscal deficit could narrow as oil revenues expand, and the spread between the official and the black market rates could be eliminated by end-2015. The authorities would have greater incentives to press ahead with reforms to improve the business environment to attract new foreign investors.

The IIF believes that the potential long term business opportunities in a sanction-free Iran would be enormous. Iran has a population of 78 million, the labour force is relatively well educated, and the economy is more diversified than other oil exporters in the region.

Lifting economic sanctions, combined with the return of foreign expertise in the energy sector and spare parts, would allow for a rebound in crude oil exports to their pre-sanction levels by mid-2016, and would continue increasing thereafter to around four million barrels a day by end-2017.

Lifting the sanctions would also open Iran’s stock market (with market capitalisation of about $ 100 billion) to foreign participation. Compared to other countries in the region, Iran already has advanced settlement, trading and custody system, IIF said.

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Haramain train to make dry run soon

Arab News – 19 July, 2015 – Transport Minister Abdullah Al-Muqbil, who is chairman of the board of the Saudi Railways Organization (SRO), revealed that electricity has been connected through overhead lines for the Haramain High-Speed Railway network.

Al-Muqbil said the train has been tested on the line with a gradual speed of 300 km/h. Tests will continue for a few months until the efficiency of the train is verified. The minister expected King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC) and Madinah to be linked to the railway line at the end of 2015.

Sources quoted by the local media said that the Haramain railway station in Jeddah has some work yet to be completed, but progress in Makkah is ahead of schedule.

The project includes the establishment of railway lines between Makkah, Jeddah and Madinah — with a total length of 450 km — with signals and modern communications systems.

The SRO provides express trains with state-of-the-art technology. Train stations will be established in Central Jeddah, King Abdul Aziz Airport in Jeddah, Makkah, Madinah and King Abdullah Economic City in Rabigh.

Haramain train represents one of the important elements in the executive program to expand the railway network in the Kingdom, and it is considered urgent due to the growing number of Umrah and Haj pilgrims and visitors who come to Makkah and Madinah throughout the year.

Al-Muqbil said earlier that ticket prices have been discussed and will be set to suit everyone according to studies and analyzes offered by specialists. He said there will be two passenger classes, first class and hospitality.

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Qatar on track to achieve 3mn tourist arrivals

Gulf Times – 13 July, 2015 – Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is on track of achieving 3mn tourist arrivals for the first time by the end of this year.

Speaking at a press conference convened to announce the Qatar Summer Festival 2015, QTA chief marketing and promotions officer Rashed al-Qurese said the festivals during off peak seasons such as summer had significantly helped to attract more visitors to the country.

“Our main focus will be on the seasons where we don’t witness so many tourists like Ramadan and summer, and hence we focus on summer and we try to raise the number of tourists in this period,” he noted.

Citing a 30 % increase in the number of tourists from GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia in 2014, QTA is exerting more efforts in the Gulf market.

Festivals and family attractions organised by QTA such as the Qatar Summer Festival and Eid celebrations have largely contributed in enticing tourists to visit Qatar.

He said they prepare in advance for the festivals and get feedback from individuals, target groups, and the media, among others on how to further improve the holding of events.

“We want to make sure that everything we do is done properly and that we are doing something sustainable,” the QTA senior official stressed. “We are carefully reviewing every step.”

Al-Qurese also said travelling across the GCC is not as expensive as compared to other destinations outside the region.

From an estimated 100,000 people who visited the Doha Exhibition Centre for the festival last year, QTA is expecting a larger number this year with numerous offerings especially the hotel and shopping promotions.

QTA co-ordinates with Qatar Airways throughout the year in making tourism promotions, according to al-Qurese.

He said they also launched their hotel campaigns in Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in partnership with travel agencies in those countries.

A report released by QTA in April showed that Qatar’s tourism industry continued its growth in the first quarter of this year (January-March).

Tourist arrivals from the Gulf and other regions totalled 841,025, which represents an 11% year-on-year increase. In comparison to the first quarter of 2014, visitor arrivals from the Americas also grew by 17%, from Europe by 9% and from Asia by 7%.

The report also showed that visitors from various GCC countries, Qatar’s largest tourism market, increased by 16% in the first quarter.

Besides Saudi Arabia, visitor arrivals from Bahrain, Oman, and the UAE also grew by modest rates during the first quarter of this year.

Al-Qurese said they have been working closely with their partners to attract more tourists.

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Tourism Ministry opens traffic awareness exhibition

Oman Daily Observer – 14 July, 2015 – Maithaa bint Saif al Mahrouqiyah, Under-Secretary of Ministry of Tourism, opened an awareness exhibition about traffic safety in tourist destinations, which was held at the ministry yesterday.

The show features several institutions that have contributed to raising awareness about traffic safety and safety measures while visiting tourist destinations, namely Royal Oman Police (ROP), Public Authority of Civil Defence (PACD), Public Authority of Consumer Protection (PACP), Omani Road Safety Association (ORSA) and Oman Automobile Association (OAA).

The exhibition showcases tools and procedures that are provided in emergency situations in different locations, in addition to presenting some brochures and pamphlets to raise awareness on the importance adhering to the traffic safety when going to tourist destinations.

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Turkish Airlines opens new route to Dammam

Saudi Gazette – 14 July, 2015 – Turkish Airlines has added Dammam, in Saudi Arabia, as its 22nd flight destination operated from Istanbul’s second airport, the company announced Monday. “Turkish Airlines now adds flights to Dammam as its 22nd flight destination operated from/to Sabiha Gokcen International Airport,” said in the statement from the company.

Flights to the new destination started on July 13 (Monday). They will occur seven times each week in both directions. Round trip fares are available from Istanbul to Dammam starting at $ 507 including taxes and fees. Turkish Airlines ranks among the world’s major airlines, with a flight network reaching 276 destinations in 110 countries.

The airline continues to grow by offering new flight opportunities to its passengers. With existing services to Amsterdam, Baku, Berlin, Brussels, Dusseldorf, Northern Cyprus, Frankfurt, Kiev, Kuwait, London, Milano, Munich, Paris, Tbilisi, Tehran, Tel Aviv, Vienna, Rome, Stuttgart, Köln and Barcelona, Turkish Airlines now adds flights to Dammam as its 22nd flight destination operated from Sabiha Gökçen International Airport.

This will offer a great travel alternative not only for those who want to reach Istanbul, but also for Saudi Arabian travelers who wish to reach destinations both in Turkey and beyond.

Established in 1933 with a fleet of five aircraft, Star Alliance member Turkish Airlines is a 4-star airline today with a fleet of 257 (passenger and cargo) aircraft flying to 257 destinations worldwide with 214 international and 43 domestic.

According to Skytrax survey of 2014, Turkish Airlines was chosen “Europe’s Best Airline” for the fourth and “Best Airline in Southern Europe” for the sixth consecutive time.

Having won in 2010 the world’s “Best Economy Catering Service” and in 2013 the world’s “Best Business Catering Service” awards, Turkish Airlines was this year awarded the world’s “Best Business Catering Service” and “Best Business Class Lounge Dining” prizes in the Skytrax survey.

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Sharjah International Airport to provide wireless solutions

Khaleej Times – 14 July, 2015 – Nedaa Professional Communication Corporation has recently signed a strategic new partnership agreement with Sharjah International Airport.

Under the terms of the agreement, Nedaa will provide the airport with a key line of advanced digital wireless communications solutions, which have been specifically customised to support the airport’s internal operations and further allow it to provide world-class performance and deliver solutions that meet business requirements and enhance employees’ day-to-day operations.

The implementation of the new partnership is also expected to strengthen the airport’s security levels – preserving the confidentiality of information and communications. Industry analysts have hailed the agreement as both timely and very strategic as communications plays an essential role in ensuring the success of any airport’s day-to-day operations.

Nedaa senior executives have shared that the company will supply, install, operate and guarantee a TETRA-based Airbus base transmission station. The company will also provide transmission network services and wireless communication devices, which also include 400 TETRA radios to be used by the airport’s essential communications personnel.

Mohammed Al Zaghlawan, general manager, Sharjah Aviation Services, an internationally renowned, market leading provider of aviation ground services within the UAE said: “We have signed this agreement with Nedaa as part of our continuous efforts to deliver the best services to passengers and companies operating in and users of the Sharjah International Airport. The communication solutions delivered under the agreement will improve the work of the airport management and enhance operation efficiently by improving communication potentials that are compatible with the best international standards and business requirements. This will have a positive impact on the quality of our operations by improving security and further preserving the confidentiality of information and communications.”

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Boost for UAE-Iran trade

Khaleej Times – 15 July, 2015 – The historic deal between world powers and Iran on Tuesday on limiting Iranian nuclear activity in return for the lifting of international economic sanctions will have far-reaching positive implications for the export and re-export activities of the UAE, the traditional trading partner of the sanctions-hit country.

With the UAE accounting for more than 80 per cent of Iran’s trade with its neighbouring GCC, the lifting of the sanctions in the wake of the deal will revitalise the two-way trade that had plummeted during the past two years.

The UAE, the fourth-largest trading partner of the embattled country, recorded a surge in trade exchange with Iran to $ 17 billion (Dh62.42 billion) last year but remains lower than the record $ 23 billion set in 2011 before sanctions began to bite. Most of that trade originates from Dubai, home to a 400,000-strong Iranian community that runs a large business network.

According to analysts, the landmark deal, capping more than a decade of negotiations, could transform the whole of the Middle East, particularly the GCC. Trade with the UAE is likely to go up by between 15 and 20 per cent.

In a 2012 consultation paper, the International Monetary Fund estimated that a 30 per cent reduction in UAE exports to Iran as a result of the increased sanctions introduced during that year would knock about 0.3 per cent off the UAE’s GDP.

An analyst estimated that an increase in trade that might result from the deal could have a positive effect over time, with the benefits particularly accruing to Dubai.

While the impact of an accord won’t be immediate, growth is set to accelerate from 2016, with gross domestic product expanding 7.9 per cent, Emirates NBD said in a report on Monday.

The accord would have “significant implications for both the Iranian economy and global energy markets”, economists Khatija Haque and Jean Paul Pigat wrote. “The impact on domestic consumption, investment and trade in Iran would be enormous.”

The deal spurred a pickup on GCC bourses on Tuesday. Most stocks in the GCC, led by Oman. Muscat’s MSM30 Index advanced 0.9 per cent to the highest in more than four months.

Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index retreated 0.3 per cent, while gauges in Abu Dhabi and Qatar increased 0.4 per cent. Kuwait’s measure advanced 0.6 per cent. Dubai’s DFM Index was little-changed.

Charles Robertson, RenCap’s global chief economist, said the first year after Iran is opened up to investment would see the most bullish sentiment. The market discovery process for Iran is likened to the process Russia undertook in the mid-1990s, he said.

“We are confident that Iran opening up will be one of the most interesting and positive developments for the emerging and frontier market asset class in many years. This economy is more diversified than any other we have evaluated. It is the only country that in 2012-2013 exported every single category of exports as defined by the IMF,” RenCap said in a report.

“Assuming sanctions are gone in early 2016, we see Iran’s oil exports rising 0.8 million bpd,” it said. “We assume Iranian oil production will rebound by 750,000 bpd to 4.4 million bpd in 2016, and together with 19 million barrels of stored oil, this could increase Iran’s 1.6 million bpd of (2014) exports to 2.4 million bpd in 2016.

As a result, we see the EU share of Iran’s exports rebounding from two per cent in 2014 to the 17 per cent seen in 2011 (before oil exports were sanctioned).”

“Oil and gas developers will be relieved to learn a final agreement with Iran has been reached and preparation for re-entry can be stepped up a gear. The deal, which will end years of debili-tating restrictions on trade, will pave the way for a new era of Iranian natural resources and will open the door to international developers queuing up to re-enter the potentially lucrative market,” said George Booth, oil and gas partner at Pinsent Masons.

“Iran is ambitious about the contribution it can make to global hydrocarbons with some sources estimating one million barrels per day hitting the export market in just two months once sanctions are lifted. Even with a more conservative outlook, (Tuesday’s) news could be a game-changer at a time when the global oil industry has been in a state of flux,” he added.

Booth said it will take time for the investment environment in Iran to develop to give Iran the best chance to capture the inflow of capital and know-how it needs in the context of a very competitive global market place for resources.

“However the current signs are cautiously positive. Inflation has reduced substantially, there is an ambitious privatisation schedule planned and there is underway a programme to root out corruption in government.”

Zia Ullah, partner and sanctions expert at law firm Eversheds, said in reality, the historic deal would be the start of a new process, one which has many potential hurdles and detractors.

“The key issue for Iran has been sanctions and it would appear that a clear road map to their ultimate removal now exists. The next challenge will be to persuade domestic stakeholders that the removal of sanctions will be in the long term interests of all parties. From a US perspective, the greatest threat to the potential derailment of any deal is Congress as they now have 60 days in which to review the agreement,” said Ullah.

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