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SPECIAL REPORT: Indian religious leaders strongly protest against South Korean government hounding of Shincheonji Church despite cooperation to contain COVID-19 spread

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 09 August 2020 | Posted in , , , , , , , , ,

By Danish Ahmad Khan

The government of South Korea is pursuing a discriminatory policy towards Shincheonji Church while accusing it of COVID-19 spread. The church authorities have alleged that this is nothing but a witch-hunt against the church despite its voluntary cooperation, including the largest blood plasma donation in the world. The government alleged that Shincheonji Church is responsible for the spread of COVID-19.

On March 26, former Seoul Metropolitan Mayor Park Won-soon revoked his permission to establish "the New Heaven and New Earth, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony", which was registered in Seoul. Furthermore, on June 22, the city of Daegu, where the largest number COVID-19 cases were confirmed, filed a civil suit worth 100 billion won against Shincheonji Church. All the steps were taken by the government holding Shincheonji Church responsible for the spread of COVID-19 in South Korea.

On February 17, after the 31st patient was found infected in Shincheonji Church in Daegu, more than 5,000 church members tested positive for COVID-19. At the request of the government, the church provided a list of Korean and overseas church members. During a press conference the church also promised to cooperate with any request from the government. As soon as the first confirmed case in the church was found, Shincheonji Church shut down all of its buildings and facilities across the country for quarantine. It also switched all of its meetings to online.

In July, most of the church members recovered from COVID-19. Despite several voluntary cooperation including the largest blood plasma donation in the world, the government's discriminatory policy towards Shincheonji Church and the social conflict of fake news in the Korean media have resulted in more than 6,000 cases of religious discrimination and human rights violations against the church in just a few months, including forced resignation, domestic violence, compulsory conversion education, and breach and leak of personal information. With the prolonged COVID-19 crisis, members of Shincheonji Church are at war against another virus called "discrimination."

A recent statement issued by the families of the deceased and victims of COVID-19 stated: "The damage and deaths of Koreans reflect the failure of initial response by the government to contain the virus." It also states that the Minister of Justice, Choo Mi-ae “allowed COVID-19 patients from China to enter Korea, leading to a widespread outbreak of the virus across the country, which resulted in the deaths of the Korean people.” It also stated that the minister is trying to cover up her responsibility for the damage by “giving direct orders to prosecutors for raid and arrests against Shincheonji Church”.

Indian religious leaders condemn South Korean govt

Religious leaders in India have also come out strongly in support of Shincheonji Church and urged that the South Korean government should not handle the current pandemic situation with prejudice just because Shincheonji Church is a minority religious group.

Dr. Homi B. Dhalla, Founder President of World Zarathushti Cultural Foundation, said, “In February 2020, the South Korean government had permitted religious organizations to conduct gatherings as well as to hold religious services. At the same time, a number of tourists from China had also entered South Korea. It is now a known fact, globally, that the COVID-19 pandemic originated in China in October 2019. Therefore, it is crystal clear that the infection was brought into South Korea by these tourists. The citizens of South Korea have rightly blamed the government for permitting these tourists to enter the country. Under these circumstances, I would sincerely urge South Korean government to stop harassing Chairman Man Hee Lee and members of the Shincheonji Church.”

Allama Syed Abdullah Tariq, President of World Organisation of Religions and Knowledge, cited a similar case that happened in India in his condemnation letter to Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea. He said, “Politicians around the world are searching for scapegoats to hide their faults. Often, they need to create an enemy to mobilize the support. More often they portray enemy is minority religion or ethnic of the country to win the support of the majority community.” 

“In India, the earliest infected people by covid-19 belonged to a Muslim religious sect called Tablighi Jamaat numbering about 80, and the social media started an organized campaign spreading rumors through morphed images and edited video clips that Muslims were intentionally spreading the disease.” he added. Surprised at knowing that discrimination to the Shincheonji Church has been imposed by the South Korea government, he urged, “Let the Democratic Party of Korea be truly democratic by taking steps to stop the persecution of religious groups and let all people enjoy religious freedom.”

Dr. Chand Kanwar Bhardwaj, General Secretary of Sawan Adhyatmic Satsang Society of India, said, “Regardless of the church's unintentional role in spreading the virus, we cannot put the blame of an entire country on a single organisation. The entire world is reeling through COVID-19 and Shincheonji Church, including its members, is also a victim of it. Treating them with contempt and charging legal proceedings against their organization and their faith, just because they are a minority religious group is a clear violation of constitutional rights.”

“Aren't the governments elected by the citizens to protect their rights? Discrimination in any form shouldn't be acceptable. This is high time for the world governments to come together and protect each individual and provide facilities on humanitarian grounds rather than blaming and targeting an individual or an organization. A Democratic Government should stand by its principal and act accordingly. If the Lawmakers don't follow the laws they made, then what shall we expect from the public?” asks Md. Irshad Ahmad, President of Minorities Forum for Deepening Democracy.

Gautam Patil, the state vice president of The Buddhist Society of India, said, “South Korea's strategy to control the coronavirus outbreak has heralded an exemplary response which the whole world has witnessed today. However, it is saddening to know that the country is exploiting human rights in regards to religious discriminations. An organization or a religious group cannot be blamed as the spreader of the virus. The use of religion in politics always leads to violation, exploitation, and discriminations among the minority which solely affects the human rights of the citizens.”

Ramchandra Das, Secretary of International Goudiya Vedanta Trust, pointed out in his letter sent on July 15th that the treatment by the government towards Shincheonji Church is clearly religious discrimination. “In terms of the peace of religion, we all believe in the same God and need to be in harmony and balance. We shouldn't be biased by looking at one side. In fact, to be honest, the church members are victims of COVID-19 and not perpetrators,” he said in his letter.

Center for Studies on New Religions and HRWF jointly hold webinar

There is also a view that a close relationship between the conservative and fundamentalist churches and the South Korean government had influence on the unusual repression of the government against Shincheonji Church. On July 20, a webinar titled “COVID-19 and Religious Freedom: Scapegoating Shincheonji in South Korea” was hosted by the Center for Studies on New Religions and HRWF – Human Rights Without Frontiers.  The new Christian movement by Shincheonji has become a target of “persecution from fundamentalist protestants” because of its successful religious expansion “from the conservative and fundamentalist protestants who see Shincheonji as competitors and want to destroy it," said Massimo Introvigne as an Italian sociologist of religion who studied Shincheonji before and after the COVID-19 pandemic and published the first account of the religious group in English.

Prior to the COVID-19 incident, two members of Shincheonji Church lost their lives by coercive conversion program operated by Christian Council of Korea. According to the Coalition for Victims of coercive conversion, the number of victims of this deprogramming is 1,507, and they have been exposed to assault, kidnapping, confinement, and forced leave from their work and schools. A voice of criticism for the coercive conversion program was also raised. Speaking about the discrimination towards Shincheonji Church by the Christian Council of Korea, Allama Syed Abdullah Tariq, President of World Organisation of Religions and Knowledge, also mentioned, “I fail to understand why the Christian Council of Korea opposes it tooth and nail when there are more than 25,000 registered denominations among the Protestants and every one of them at some point of time was a new entrant.”

“Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right of all people. In contrast, the act of the forced conversion of religion is the greatest violation of this right. The act of the forced conversion of religion has nothing to do with religion at all,” said Dr. Kamini Gogri, Head of Research on Ancient Scriptures, Eikam Resonance Foundation said. “We request to stop the violations of right and the atrocities committed by mainstream Christian churches to violate the same,” she added.

Recovered COVID-19 patients from Shincheonji Church donate $83 billion worth of Plasma for Vaccine development

The world should appreciate the $83 billion worth of Plasma donation for vaccine development by the 4,000 recovered COVID-19 patients from Shincheonji Church. Despite continuous discrimination, more than 4,000 members of Shincheonji Church showed their willingness for plasma donation for the development of a vaccine for COVID-19. The recovered patients voluntarily decided to donate their plasma and even refused to receive any monetary expenses including transportation charges. Starting from 17 July, 500 church members completed their donation. More members are waiting for their turn.

Dr. Avtar Singh Sethi, Advisor of The Kalgidhar Trust/Society, said, “The 4,000 infected members of Shincheonji Church voluntarily donated plasma after recovering from the virus. Their contribution to fighting the pandemic should be appreciated. At these times of crisis, let us all come together and fight the pandemic of COVID-19. I condemn the scapegoating of Shincheonji Church, and I urge the government to stop blaming any section of the society for spreading the virus, and to respect religious freedom,”

Rev Dr, C S Gabriel, the president of Christhava Nallenna Iyakkam says, “Although there is hatred towards them, I appreciate the sincere efforts made through the blood plasma donation by Shincheonji Church members, who were cured of the virus. This is alarming as it threatens other minorities in the country and globally too amid the pandemic. The infected ones are those who need to be protected, not blamed, and discriminated against.”

Religious persecution and stigmatizing must stop in the name COVID-19

The world is in a grave crisis now as it continues to battle Coronavirus pandemic. Fatalities continue to mount with several thousands having already lost their lives and many being affected by the disease. Millions of jobs have already been lost and the world economy is in dire straits. Whether it’s the United States, India or South Korea, the governments have miserably failed to effectively contain COVID-19 spread and lessen fatalities. According to reports, racism of the worst kind was on display in the USA. Black people were specifically targeted and allowed to die mercilessly due to the pandemic. In India, the largest Muslim minority group has been constantly under attack. The Coronavirus pandemic brought even more miseries for Indian Muslims as a religious sect Tablighi Jamaat was systemically targeted and its followers hounded while being accused of spreading the disease. And, the community’s stigmatization continues even today. What happened lately in South Korea by targeting Shincheonji Church is even more depressing and deplorable. Such anti-people behavior can only be expected from the governments who continue to fail to deliver. It’s high time that the world governments should stop religious persecution and stigmatization in the name of fighting COVID-19 pandemic.

[Danish Ahmad Khan is Founder-Editor of India’s First Online Muslim Newspaper IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be reached on his Mobile # 9990179721 or at indianmuslimobserver@gmail.com]

Ram Temple foundation: A Jolt to Indian Culture

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

By V.K. Tripathi

On August 5, 2020, another nail was hammered on the chest of Indian culture when the Prime Minister laid the foundation of Ram Temple in Ayodhya. 

Next day (9 AM to 3 PM) I was walking through the streets of Seelampur, Jafrabad, Maujpur and Kardampuri in NE Delhi, giving fliers “Reach Out to Masses on Truth, Nonviolence and National Issues” to people and talking to them. Communal violence had taken place here on February 23-24, 2020. As I began, “Take this soul awakening flier. It says two things: Don’t fight among yourselves, fight the unjust laws/ movies of the state. Fight with truth and nonviolence,” people opened their hearts. Muslims said, “Very true. We have been living together but the government is breaking us.” They expressed their sorrow, their livelihood worries with not an iota of ill will. Their love overwhelmed me. Nitin, a motor mechanic, said, “You are speaking my heart. I don’t like hatred. Government is not doing good. By force it is building a temple and asking people to burst crackers.”  Vijay, a van driver, said, “Fliers won’t do. A year has passed, look at the conditions of people of J&K. This government will not allow people to live in peace.” This prompted me to talk in detail. I saw the real India, the India I had seen in villages. Similar was my experience on August 5 (the first day of our 11 day campaign) in Ajmeri Gate, Sitaram Bazar, Daryaganj area where in 1992 a group of six girls from Delhi University and I had met some hard headed communal traders. This time, while disbursing 1300 fliers in two days, joined by Ajay Sahay and Dr. Md. Inam, no one expressed joy over ceremony in Ayodhya. 

Indian culture has been a culture of living together. Our masses lived on honest earnings, truth, cooperation and respect for individuality/ freedom of each other. People followed different religions and practices with the same focus, Bhakti (dissolution of self). To the elite, however, religion and shrines have been an instrument of show off and assertion of superiority. They didn’t allow those who built them to enter. They turned them to propagate caste oppression and later religious hatred. 

The entire Ram temple movement has been a movement of the sectarian elite – the sections of market forces, officers, sadhus and NRIs. It has nothing to do with the masses. In fact it has been an onslaught on the culture and unity of the masses and democratic polity. It lowered the stature of Lord Ram, who is synonym to Almighty, Brahm and Allah, and reduced it to a figure of an angry archer, contrary to Lord Ram’s ‘karuna ke saagar’ image. It raised a storm of frenzy, not against Babur, but the working class masses –the weavers, farmers, artisans etc. It targeted a mosque where masses had offered namaaz of Ram for 400 years and pooja of Ram for 90 years. The shrine did not deter the multitude of Hindus and Muslims of Awadh to sacrifice their lives together in the first ‘War of Independence, 1857’ against the British imperialism. Bahadurshah Zafar, the last descendent of Babur, was the national figure of uprising, who was tortured and whose family was eliminated.

After the Supreme Court nod to build a temple over there, we urged the Prime Minister, to follow three principles. A) Shrine should inspire people to sublime their ego (a central goal of all religions and spirituality), hence must be simple, not daunting. B) It must detach itself from perpetrators of hatred and violence, the organs that built the movement. C) It must allow and welcome people of all faiths and castes to say their prayers in their own ways, commensurate with the spirit of Lord Ram (Ram sab ke hain, sab Ram ke hain). In Ram Charit Manas, Ram asks sage Valmiki to suggest a place in the forest where he could build a hut and live. The sage says. “Juinke kapat dambh nahin maaya, Tinke hraday basahu Raghuraaya” (live in the hearts of those who are free from cunningness, pride and me-others divide). Or else, the shrine would lose its inherent dignity and reinforce the imperialist polity. We did not receive any response. 

On August 5, Anuj Tripathi, Dr. Rohtash Singh, Dr. Inam, Sandeep, Dr. Rakhi Tripathi, VK Tripathi and over a hundred others (who sent their tweets) observed Fast for Unity, to awaken conscience of people to preserve secular democratic character of the state. Besides blot on Ayodhya, we were also pained by the suppression of democratic rights of people of Jammu and Kashmir that began on same date a year ago. The government fractured the unity of the nation by creating an euphoria against peace loving Kashmiri masses in the rest of India. 

Our flier brings out Gandhi’s goal of freedom movement – to change the imperialist character of the state and make it democratic, subservient to people and accountable. We talk of six issues, (1) Shutting down of economic activities of crores of people in one stroke of lockdown, (2) Democratic rights of people of J&K, (3) Citizenship Amendment Act, (4) Farmers’ woes and market, (5) Ram temple (6) Regimentation and Privatization of Educational institutions. Prof. Jagmohan Singh is preparing to distribute fliers in Ludhiana, Mr. Md. Sajjad in Muzaffarpur and Prof. Anil Sadgopal in Bhopal. Some friends have done it in New York. Many friends sent the fliers to their networks on net. 

[V.K. Tripathi is associated with Sadbhav Mission. He can be contacted on his Mobile # 9717309263 or email at tripathivipin@yahoo.co.in]

MANUU pays tribute to the doyen of Urdu Journalism Khan Lateef Mohd. Khan

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

IMO News Service 

Hyderabad: Prof. S M Rahmatullah, Vice Chancellor in charge, Maulana Azad National Urdu University has expressed his deep sorrow over the demise of Mr. Khan Lateef Mohammad Khan, Editor-in-Chief, Munsif Daily, Hyderabad. In his condolence message, he paid glowing tribute to his pioneering contribution in promoting Urdu journalism, describing him as a trend-setting editor. Through the revival of Urdu daily Munsif in late 1997 he gave a new direction to Urdu journalism, said Prof. Rahmatullah.

Prof. Siddiqui Mohammad Mahmood, Registrar in-charge, in his condolence statement, mentioned the close association of Mr Khan with Urdu University. Mr. Khan Lateef Khan visited MANUU on its foundation day in 2006 as a chief guest and also delivered a lecture. Describing him as the doyen of Urdu journalism Prof. Siddiqui reminded that he had instituted Khan Lateef Khan Gold Medal for the toppers of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism of MANUU to encourage the professional Urdu journalists. His support to MANUU specially in its formative years was enormous.

Prof. Rahmatullah and Prof. Mahmood Siddiqui conveyed their heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family members and staff of Munsif daily newspaper.

Obituary - Sadia Dehelvi dreamt for Indian Muslim Youth Movement

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , ,

By Syed Ali Mujtaba

I am awestruck seeing the obituary coverage of Sadia Dehalvi, a Delhi socialite in the media. Her multifaceted personality is brought out in all the media reports that points how important Sadia Appa was in the Delhi social circle.

Reading about Sadia Appa my memory compelled me to unburden my thoughts with an obit on her sitting here in Chennai where I am currently based.  I knew Sadia Dehalvi in the year 1985 - 86 when I was 22 years and now I am 58.

We were a bunch of AMU students who had come to Delhi with the ambition to crack the Civil Services exam. We discovered India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC) on the Lodi Road that provided us free accommodation and a library to pursue our civil services dream.

Every weekend there was a pep talk by some “big gun” organized at the IIICC for us the civil services aspirants under the meet the celebrity programme.  

It was in one of those meetings Madam Sadia Dehalvi had come to give a talk on socially relevant issues in India. I was floored by Sadia Appa’s grace, elegance, élan and sophistication of her personality.  She seems to be a well-read person and talked to us quite knowledgeable on several social issues. Her vibrancy and enthusiasm in engaging us in conversation made us demand her again and again and soon she became a regular visitor to the IICC.  

It was in one such meeting, we had engaged Sadia Appa in a discussion on the Muslim problems in India. I found she had some original thoughts on this issue. She hailed said educational reformers in the country and showered praises on them for uplifting the community from ignorance.

She then came to her original idea and said the primary goal should be social activism to transform the community. She told us that only social activism can take the community forward. Such activism has to be done at an All India level and should be in parallel to the administrative structure of the country.

She wanted the Muslim community to organize into Self Help Groups at the Panchayat- Blocks – Subdivision and districts levels all over country just like how the administrative division exists in the country.     

What she meant was Muslims should form an advocacy group and even coined the term IMYM or Indian Muslim Youth Movement. She said Muslims should not look towards the government for the development of community development but they should organize themselves under a strong platform that they can help, guide and prepare the community to stand up on its feet.

Sadia Appa’s ideas touch an emotional chord among many of us and generated lot of positive energy for such a futuristic vision for the uplifting of the marginalized Muslim community.

The idea of IMYM was very refreshing. It was beyond Madrasas and minority institutions or even technical learning schools. It was a call for a new social movement that was unheard and un-talked in India.  Many of us present there were impressed by her fresh thinking towards addressing the Muslim problems in the country. Her thought to organize the Muslim community under an umbrella organization was a grand vision for the development of the community.

Unfortunately her idea of IMYM could never take off. This was because there was a need for many dedicated persons resources and other such organizational requirements to take it forward and to be made into a movement.

I moved to JNU for my civil services mission and lost contact with Sadia Delvi. Nonetheless, I followed her in the media and it appeared to me that she too had other things to do and she remained busy in them.

Now when everyone is talking about her, I thought I may also enrich my reader a different personality of Sadia Dehalvi. I knew Sadia Appa was not taken seriously because her life style did not match someone who can be accepted for the development of the Muslim community.

It was such a rejection that the vision of IMYM went into oblivion. It was also because such an idea came from a lady who did not look like a female version of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan, (beard and cap).

This is not to denigrate anyone’s contribution to the progress of the community but to underline the point that Muslim women too can take up the role of the leadership of the community. I am writing this because I cherish those memories of Sadia Dehalvi. Having come to know her from close quarters, I can say with some conviction that she was a faithful Muslim.

Her concern for the development of the Muslim community was no less than Muslim clergy and narrow, parochial and patriarchy rooted types of Muslims in India.

When I heard the news of the passing away of Sadia Appa, a stream of thoughts jogged down my memory lane. I felt compelled to unburden myself to narrate this anecdote that can have a transformative impact on the Muslim community. A change that is what is needed in the Muslim community and that was the vision of Sadia Appa. She wanted this to happen through IMYM.

Through this obituary note I like to say I am proud to have met such a visionary personality in my lifetime. I end this; Sadia Appa rest in peace, it was nice knowing you and I joined many others in a silent prayer saying 'Rest in Peace' Appa. RIP…

[Syed Ali Mujtaba is a Journalist based in Chennai. He can be contacted at syedalimujtaba2007@gmail.com]

Kuwait expatriate body Indian Social Forum organizes Blood Donation Camp

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , ,

IMO News Service

Kuwait City: Indian Social Forum organised Blood Donation Camp in association with Central Blood Bank Kuwait on Friday, 7th August 2020. The camp was organised by ISF to support the high demand of blood in the context of COVID-19. 

All arrangements to maintain COVID-19 protocol were made in the camp including segregation of donors as branch wise batches along with strict safety measures of participants.

The members of ISF also donated blood to many patients during the lockdown period. Hundreds of people donated blood in the camp. The camp organised in Blood Bank, Jabriya, was successfully managed by Dr. Asma Rafat and leaders of ISF, including Aslam, Vice President; Sayyid Bukhari Thangal, Secretary; and prominent officials such as Moideen Koya, Khaleel, Aseem, Mohammed Sha, Shihab, and Naushad.

The Indian Social Forum also expressed deep appreciation and gratitude to the doctors, staff and management of blood bank, forum’s members and donors.

Simplify Life at Home with RoboVac G10 Hybrid

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

IMO News Service

Cleaning is made effortless as Anker Innovations introduces the new eufy Robovac G10 Hybrid that takes on dust-busting around your home with multiple cleaning modes, moping and auto-clean scheduling.

Faraz Mehdi, Regional Sales Head at Anker Innovations MEA said, “The new intelligent super slim Robovac G10 Hybrid is a quiet, self-charging robotic vacuum cleaner that cleans hard floors and carpets a lot easier and delivers the most powerful clean with the latest sweep and mop technology. It offers twice the efficiency of standard robotic cleaners.”

The intelligent RoboVac G10 Hybrid operates quietly and comes with Smart Dynamic Navigation, cleaning report cards, Wi-Fi, voice control and 2-in-1 sweep and mop for a sparkling clean. The self-charging RoboVac may be ultra-slim, but it’s packed with a 3-point cleaning system consisting of a suction inlet, rolling-brush and side-brush.

This lean cleaning Machine boasts 2000Pa of superior suction power clearing dirt, dust, and crumbs. The Super-Slim 2.85” body effortlessly glides under furniture and into hard to reach areas.

Users can give instructions by voice or using your phone via the EufyHome app, Siri, Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. Post sales, eufy also provides 12 Months Warranty, friendly and easy-to-reach support. It is available in all leading electronic stores and amazon.ae.

Eufy as a brand has a wide range of appliances like Robotic Vacuum Cleaners, Cordless Handstick Vacuum Cleaner, Cordless Handheld Vacuum Cleaners, Smart Scale etc.

About eufy

eufy is a smart home brand by Anker Innovations, founded in 2016 with the objective of bringing the latest smart home technology to households across the country at attainable prices. Establishing itself as a leader in robovacs, hand held vacuum cleaners, baby monitors, and reliable smart home security products, eufy meets the growing demand in innovative smart home products and reliable security solutions that offers privacy and makes life easier and safer. Find more about eufy at www.eufylife.com.

About Anker Innovations

Anker Innovations is a global leader in charging technology and a developer of unique and innovative consumer products in audio, home automation, home entertainment and more. This innovation is being led by its five key brands: Anker, Eufy, Nebula, ROAV and Soundcore. More information about Anker Innovations, its brands and products can be found at anker.com. Representing these brands, Anker Innovations in Dubai, U.A.E, is behind the sales of the range of premium products and gadgets in the UAE, KuwaitOmanBahrainQatarIraq and other GCC countries and African countries.

UAE opens up for business amid COVID-19 precautions

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 02 July 2020 | Posted in , , ,

The end of movement restrictions and the national disinfection programme in the UAE is the culmination of months of relentless efforts by the government, crisis management authorities and frontline health care workers in close cooperation with public institutions, businesses and the general public to battle the coronavirus pandemic.

Thanks to their sustained and well-coordinated efforts, the UAE has successfully reopened almost all major facets of its economy ahead of most other countries with similar number of cases.

People can now watch a movie at the cinemas, go to a park or a long-drive in their family car, catch up on some retail shopping at malls with children in tow, enjoy their favourite meal at a restaurant and visit tourist hot spots around the country.

Businesses can once again welcome back customers to their premises; schools can prepare for students to return possibly in September, and the country can get ready to welcome the first post-Covid tourists in a couple of weeks.

While citizens and residents across the UAE will surely cherish the return of free movement, it does not mean we go back to the careless practices of pre-pandemic days. In Abu Dhabi, for instance, an entry ban in force due to its sterilisation drive will continue.

Adhere to precautions

Around the UAE, everyone must adhere to stringent Covid-19 precautions — including social distancing and wearing masks, and violators will face the full force of penalties.

The underlying message for everyone is very simple: even though movement restrictions have been lifted, the Covid-19 outbreak is still here and new cases continue to be reported every day. It’s vital to resume economic activities in the country, but we must always remember that the virulent virus is still lurking around us.

Therefore, whatever you do in the coming days and weeks, be responsible. For yourself, your family, friends, colleagues at work and the society that you inhabit.

It’s equally important that we don’t delude ourselves about the future: the road back to normality will be long and challenging, and people and businesses will each respond to it in their own ways as necessary, with one common thread: we must all proceed with caution, empathy and understanding.

The strategies deployed by the UAE in fighting the pandemic have shown us how to handle those challenges, and the new normal that we return to today is the successful result of adopting those measures.

With the UAE announcing the world’s first phase III clinical trial of a COVID-19 vaccine in cooperation with Chinese pharma giant CNBG, the future is also full of hope.

The UAE’s global and national role in fighting the pandemic offers vital lessons in leadership during a crisis. With the reopening of the country, the responsibility is now on all of us to continue to fulfil that role and work together for a safe and secure future, while remembering that it’s only the movement restrictions that have gone — not the virus.

(Courtesy: Gulf News)

Curtailed haj compounds Saudi economic woes

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 30 June 2020 | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Anuj Chopra

Vacant religious sites. Abandoned pilgrim tents. Lifeless hotels. A stunning emptiness -- and fears of economic ruin -- haunt the usually bustling city of Mecca after Saudi authorities curtailed the haj pilgrimage over coronavirus.

Islam's holiest city usually hosts millions of pilgrims for the annual rite, but the kingdom has barred overseas visitors from this year's event, scheduled for late July.

The haj and the lesser umrah pilgrimage together rake in some $12 billion, keeping the economy humming in Mecca, home to two million people and marble-bedecked skyscrapers towering over Islam's most sacred sites.

A construction boom in recent years has added shopping malls, apartments and luxury hotels, some offering spectacular views of the sacred Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque towards which Muslims around the world pray. 

But most premises have lain empty since the pandemic reached the kingdom.

The virus, which hit Mecca hard, has also battered pilgrimage-reliant businesses that support hundreds of thousands of jobs, from travel agents to street barbers and souvenir shops.

Many have reported sweeping layoffs, pay cuts or delayed salaries.

"Zero sales, zero income," said Ahmed Attia, a 39-year-old Egyptian who works for a travel agency in the city.

"We're not used to seeing Mecca empty. It feels like a dead city. It's devastating for Mecca."

A tsunami of cancellations has also battered overseas haj operators who organize travel logistics for pilgrims, many of whom invest their life savings in the five-day ritual.

Saudi authorities had already in March suspended the umrah pilgrimage, which can be performed at any time.

Then, in a hugely sensitive but long-awaited decision, they said they would only allow around 1,000 pilgrims already present in the kingdom to perform the haj.

That is a tiny fraction of the 2.5 million pilgrims who attended last year.

"It will be a symbolic event, a photo-op that allows the kingdom to say 'we didn't cancel the hajj as many expected'," said a South Asian official in contact with haj authorities.

Saudi Arabia has stressed that the watered-down haj will be open to people of various nationalities.

But the selection process for the few spots is expected to be hotly contested, as some Mecca residents expect to be given priority over outsiders.

"I have gone to haj before and hopefully this year, with God's will, I will be among the first pilgrims," said Marwan Abdulrahman, a Saudi living in Mecca.

Many feared the pilgrimage, which packs colossal crowds into small religious sites, could have been a massive source of contagion.

The novel coronavirus has hit the kingdom with the highest number of cases in the Gulf -- more than 178,000 confirmed infections including 1,511 deaths.

But scaling the pilgrimage back will deepen the kingdom's economic slump, analysts say.

The move follows a sharp downturn in oil prices and coronavirus-led losses, which triggered austerity measures including the tripling of a value added tax and cuts to civil servants' allowances.

The haj decision "does compound Saudi Arabia's economic difficulties", Richard Robinson, a Middle East analyst at Oxford Analytica, told AFP.

On Wednesday, the International Monetary Fund warned the kingdom's GDP will shrink by 6.8 percent this year -- its worst performance since the 1980s oil glut.

The Saudi Binladen construction group, a bellwether known for vast mega-projects, has missed salary payments for thousands of workers in recent months, according to a source close to the company and employees complaining on social media.

The Arabic hashtag "Delays in Binladen salaries" has gained traction as the slowdown impacts the firm behind a series of critical projects, including a $15 billion skyscraper hotel complex that towers over Mecca's Grand Mosque.

The company is seeking to charter a number of private jets to send many of its laid-off South Asian labourers home, according to the source.

The company did not respond to a request for comment.

The downturn has also disrupted Riyadh's ambitious plans to build a tourism industry from scratch, a cornerstone of the Vision 2030 reform programme to reduce the kingdom's reliance on oil.

"The government has singled out tourism as a key area for growth under its diversification strategy, and the loss of haj revenues could set the sector back through lost investment or bankruptcies," said Robinson.

The kingdom began offering tourist visas for the first time last September in moves to open up one of the last frontiers of global tourism.

"While Saudis are looking to diversify tourism revenues beyond religious tourism, their efforts still build from the haj," said Kristin Diwan of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.

"Not having it at this time of disruption in oil markets is a blow."

(Courtesy: AFP)

Inciting Hate: The social media powder keg

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , , , , ,

By Suhail Ahmad

A recent study by US think tank Pew Research Center revealed that 93 percent Muslims view Hindus favourably, but only 65 percent Hindus view Muslims positively.

The survey titled ‘Attitudes Toward Diversity in 11 Emerging Economies’ may not be conclusive and updated enough, especially as it was conducted between September and October 2018, preceding many important developments which may have a direct bearing on the study findings. However, it’s still relevant and merits an objective assessment.

The survey results beg the question- why don’t the 35 percent Hindus view Muslims in positive light and what about the seven percent Muslims holding unfavorable viewpoint of Hindus? This may be subject of a separate survey, but one can still look into the possible reasons.

One of the reasons, infact, can be discerned from another important finding of the survey about the degree or frequency of interaction. Seventy per cent of Muslims frequently or occasionally interact with Hindus in India, while only 56 per cent Hindus interact with their Muslims counterparts.
As the study points out people who interact more with other religious groups tend to have more favorable opinions of them.

Of the Hindus who said they interacted with people outside their own faith — 71 per cent had a favourable view of Muslims. As opposed to this, just 56 per cent of Hindus, who reported infrequent contact with people of other religions, viewed Muslims favourably.

Let’s now focus on the Hindus who don’t have much interaction with Muslims.  Their beliefs and perceptions are largely shaped by mainstream media and social media and there lies our possible answer about the trust deficit. Social media, in particular, has proven to be a powerful influence on public perception.

A piece by Claire Teitelman (April 19, 2019) in Journal of International Affairs of Columbia University explored the role of platforms like WhatsApp and Twitter in sparking communal hatred and subsequent violence in India.

Before social media, television was the media of the masses. Claire contends that without revenue-generating streams of traditional media like TV, social media companies have had to be more aggressive with advertising, “which includes the development of targeted ads that meets your preferences and prejudices”.

She also quotes Guillaume Chaslot, an artificial intelligence (AI) researcher. “If the AI favors engagement, like on Facebook and YouTube, it will incentivize divisive content, because divisive content is very efficient to keep people online. The longer you retain people online, the more advertisements they see and the more opportunities you have to profit, which is what matters to social media-companies, like any commercial enterprise. The aim of social media algorithms is to keep people angry, engaged, and online.”

India has emerged as the fastest-growing market for Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and YouTube so much so that for many social media has become an indispensible part of life. While the utility of these platforms cannot be denied, the prospect of their misuse remains pretty high. The speed and ease with which rumors spread on social media is frightening. There is a large gullible section of population with poor internet literacy - those who can’t differentiate between fact and rumour.

Claire refers to two incidents- the “Dadri Mob Lynching” in 2015 and the “Kathua Rape Case” in 2018. In both these incidents, protesters were riled-up by viral messages, photos, and videos on WhatsApp and other social media platforms.

Many of the videos were based on alleged cow slaughter or cow meat storage and consumption by Muslims. In an interview with news portal Scroll, the sister of one of the accused Dadri perpetrators claimed that she – and possibly her brother – had been inundated with messages and videos about cow slaughter on WhatsApp. No wonder, hoax WhatsApp messages led to more than a dozen lynchings in 2018 alone.

The Kathua incident that involved the kidnapping, rape, and murder of a young Muslim girl was distorted through social media, contending that the girl hadn't been raped and false claims flooded WhatsApp, including an autopsy report purporting to disprove rape as well as proof claiming the innocent had been framed.

Social media has played a role in accentuating sectarian tensions. It magnifies the communal tensions by rapidly creating national crises out of local disturbances. As Claire argues, “Both the Kathua and Dadri episodes would have remained local events, but social media amplified and polarized them.” The resulting ‘Us’ against ‘Them’ mindset serves the parties who thrive on divisive politics very well.

Unfortunately, there seems to be no end to the social media hatemongering. If the hate and propaganda machinery is not reined in, we may see widening of the gulf between people from different faiths and spike in communal violence. We are sitting on the social media powder keg. Unless defused, it’s just waiting to blow up. 

(Courtesy: The Rising Kashmir)

India grants thousands citizenship rights in Kashmir to dilute Muslim population

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , , , , , ,

By Hilal Mir

Srinagar, J&K: As many as 25,000 people have been granted domicile certificates in Muslim-majority Indian administered Jammu and Kashmir since May 18, which local politicians believe is the beginning of disturbing demographic profile of the region.

The certificate, a sort of citizenship right, entitles a person to residency and government jobs in the region, which till last year was reserved only for the local population.

Last year on Aug. 5, when India revoked the semi-autonomous status of the region, it also scrapped the local special citizenship law, guaranteed under Article 35 (A) of the Indian Constitution.

The law was barring outsiders including Indian nationals from settling and claiming government jobs, to maintain the demographic balance.
On Friday, a picture of the domicile certificate issued to Navin Kumar Choudhary, a bureaucrat originally from the Indian state of Bihar, went viral on social media.

In April this year, amid the ongoing coronavirus lockdown, the government notified domicile laws making an unspecified number of outsiders eligible for residency and jobs.

According to the new law, any person who has lived in the region for 15 years, or has studied in the region for seven years and passed his class 10 or class 12 examination is eligible for domicile certificate.

Also, children of Indian government employees who have served in the state for 10 years are eligible to settle and claim local citizenship rights. The law applies even if the children have never lived in Kashmir.

Out of 66, top bureaucrats serving in the region, 38 are outsiders belonging to other Indian states. Many other outsiders serve in various central government institutions like banks, post offices telecommunication facilities, security institutions, and universities.

Majority of new citizens in Jammu region

Kashmiri politicians across the divide have said the revocation of special citizenship rights was aimed at reversing the Muslim majority character of the region.

According to a census conducted by India in 2011, out of 12.5 million total population, Muslims comprise 68.31% and Hindus 28.43% in Jammu and Kashmir.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency on the condition of anonymity, a government official said, since May 18, when the rules were notified, 33,000 persons had applied for the domicile certificates. Out of them, 25,000 persons have been granted citizenship rights, he said.

As many as 32,000 applications were filed in 10 districts of the Hindu majority Jammu region. The highest number of 8,500 certificates has been issued in the Doda district, which has a delicate demographic balance, with Muslims comprising 53.81% and Hindus 45.76%.

As many as 6,213 domicile certificates have been issued in Rajouri district, which has 62.71% Muslim population. Authorities have distributed 6,123 citizenship certificates in Poonch, a border district comprising 90.44% Muslim population.

In the Kashmir region, which is about 96.4% Muslim population, 435 certificates have been issued so far, out of the total 720 applications.

As of now, it is not clear how many outsiders, like Choudhary, have been issued domicile certificates. The 25,000 new citizens also include Hindu refugees, who had settled in the region at the time of partition of the sub-continent in 1947. They had migrated from territories, now part of Pakistan. But due to the state’s residency laws and special status they were not granted local citizenship rights.

Disputed territory

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed by both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars — in 1948, 1965, and 1971. Two of them have been over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against the Indian rule for independence or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.

(Courtesy: The Muslim News)

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