Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Terrorism Is Not a Muslim Monopoly: Zakir

Ismaeel Nakhuda, Arab News

JEDDAH, 27 September 2006 — Terrorism is not a Muslim monopoly, was the mesage delivered by international dawa activist Dr. Zakir Naik in a lecture delivered at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) auditorium on Monday night.

Speaking after Taraweeh prayers to a packed audience of over 5,000 people consisting of both male and female Saudis and expatriates, Dr. Zakir categorically explained the meaning of terrorism.

Quoting historical facts and figures, he explained how the assumption that “not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslim” was untrue.

Dr. Zakir, who is one of the Muslim world’s leading and most prolific speakers, quoted from the scriptures of other religions and proved that associating killing with Islam is incorrect.

“It says in the Book of Numbers that whoever worships other than god then he should be killed,” he said, referring to the Bible. “This is a media conspiracy and a way of pushing people away from Islam. In every religion there are black sheep and the media keep putting these people forward,” he added.

“We should learn how to turn the tables and convey the real meaning,” said Dr. Zakir, while calling on Muslims to dispel the media’s vilifying of Muslims and the importance of having Muslim television channels and newspapers.

The speech was followed by a lively question-and-answer session in which Dr. Zakir dealt with questions from the audience on terrorism and comparative religion. He also announced that he was more than ready to participate in a theological debate with preachers from other religions.

Meanwhile, in a private iftar meeting with journalists on Saturday at the home of Dr. Huda Fatany, a lecturer at the King Abdul Aziz University, Dr. Zakir called on Muslim businessmen across the world to boycott the US dollar and predicted that such a move would, within two years, see the end of the US as an economic superpower.

Having described the war on terror as an excuse to take control of Middle Eastern oil reserves, Dr. Zakir called on businessmen to boycott the dollar. “Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has provided us with a strategy to stop the US, which is to target the US economy. The first thing we should do is to stop dealing in dollars... America is presently in debt, the dollar is in debt and half the finance of the country is in debt,” he claimed.

Dr. Zakir added that if governments were unwilling to boycott the dollar then businessmen and businesswomen should themselves individually boycott the currency and advised them to deal in riyals, dirhams, gold and euros.

“Use the euro as an alternative. The process of having an Islamic currency would take time and so we shouldn’t wait for that,” he said, adding, “Now if someone insists on dealing in dollars then make sure you change currency as soon as possible. When you change the currency then the banks will send the dollars back to the US — within two years their economy will collapse. For us to achieve this, we need our businessmen to stop dealing in dollars. Once their economy collapses then their position as an economic superpower will end.”

Dr. Zakir spoke about the war on terror and also about Pope Benedict’s recent remarks earlier this month.

He described the pope’s comments as “completely baseless” and not befitting the leader of the Catholic Church. “The apology he delivered was, according to me, a half-half apology. The pope said he was pained that Muslims were pained by his statement; he should have rather admitted his speech was wrong. I feel that the papal apology was incorrect. The pope’s response to the protests was also wrong. From this, I feel it seems that whatever he said, he said it deliberately. It is not like as if he said what he said without knowing,” said Dr. Zakir.

Speaking at another iftar gathering in Jeddah on Sunday hosted by Afaq Baig Mirza, executive director of AISCO, Dr. Zakir also revealed that his Islamic television channel “Peace TV” was viewed in 125 countries making up three-fourths of the world and disclosed plans to open two more channels: One in English and another in Urdu.

Dr. Zakir also spoke about the success of his school, which gives priority to teaching Arabic and where sciences are taught with an Islamic perspective. Similar schools will be established in Dubai and Riyadh, he added.

Dr. Zakir is a writer and speaker from Bombay who specializes on Islam and comparative religion. A medical doctor by training, Dr. Zakir travels extensively and works toward clearing misconceptions about Islam among both Muslims and non-Muslims. Presently he is touring the Kingdom and has been scheduled to deliver lectures in Riyadh.

The JCCI lecture was sponsored by the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Inter-Faith Dialogue Crucial to Peace: Pope

Ismaeel Nakhuda, Arab News

JEDDAH, 26 September 2006 — Following international condemnation for his comments, Pope Benedict XVI told Muslim envoys yesterday that a dialogue between Christians and Muslims was vital toward preserving peace and stability in a world plagued by religious tensions. Speaking to representatives from 22 Muslim countries, the pope said, “I should like to reiterate all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers.”

The meeting was held at the pope’s summer residence outside Rome and was the latest step undertaken by the Vatican to quell Muslim sentiments over comments by the pope in which he quoted from a medieval text that described Islam as “evil and inhuman.”

“I am profoundly convinced that in the current world situation it is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another in order to address the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity,” he said, adding, “Christians and Muslims must learn to work together ... in order to guard against all forms of intolerance.”

Reacting to the news, Sheikh Riyad Nadwi, director of the UK-based Oxford Cross Cultural Research Institute, said, “I think we now need to accept his apology for his blunder but not his explanation i.e. that we misunderstood his comments. If we are to protect ourselves from such future attacks, we must maintain this distinction in our minds. If not, a time will come when an attempt would be made to justify such comments in the spirit of ‘frank dialogue.’ I have seen it before, where the progression is one from a call for ‘sincere dialogue’ to ‘genuine dialogue’ and then a slippage into ‘frank dialogue’ by which time the audiences are prepared to accept criticisms of all sorts including disrespect for the Qur’an and the character of the Prophet (pbuh).”

Riyad continued, “Dialogue should not be exploited anymore to create confusion and discord both within Islam and between faiths.

The purpose of dialogue is to establish peace and create tolerance for one another. It is not a platform for mind games. The apology of the pope is accepted and we thank him for it.”

The meeting held at Castel Gandolfo lasted hardly 30-minutes and was promoted by the Vatican as a major step in showing that the pope’s dedication toward inter-religious harmony. After his address, the pope shook hands and exchanged a few words with visitors. Iraq’s envoy to the Vatican later said it was time to build bridges between different faiths. “I think it is time to put what happened behind us and build bridges among all the civilizations,” said Ambassador Albert Yelda.

“The pope emphasized his profound respect to all the Muslims around the world. It was what we expected, it was what we had,” said Yelda. “Many Muslims around the world were offended,” he said.

“They expressed their feelings and they were right to do so. They demonstrated anger. Everybody has a right to express his feeling.”

Mohamed Nour Dachan, the president of one of several Italian Muslim groups who also attended the meeting, said the pope’s message had been “crystal clear.” “Dialogue is just as much a priority for Muslims as it is for Christians,” he said, adding that as far his group was concerned the chapter on the controversy surrounding the pope’s comments in Germany had already been closed before yesterday’s gathering.

The pope’s audience yesterday included envoys from Iran, Turkey — which the pope is scheduled to visit on Nov. 28-30 — and Morocco, whose Vatican ambassador had been recalled for consultations when the row over the speech broke.

The pope told the diplomats that he had called the meeting in order to strengthen the bonds of friendship and solidarity between the Vatican and Muslim communities, and offered his good wishes to Muslims worldwide during the holy month of Ramadan.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Westerners Attend Seminars Dispelling Myths About Islam

Ismaeel Nakhuda, Arab News

MAKKAH, 3 September 2006 — A group of 82 Western Muslims participated in a set of seminars held in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah with some of the Kingdom’s leading sheikhs and imams to learn about the peaceful message of Islam.

The students — male and female, who were mainly from the US and included people from Britain, Canada and the West Indies, were also given an opportunity to visit the holy cities, gain exclusive access to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, enter the Kaaba in Makkah and direct questions to Saudi scholars about the challenges faced by Muslim living in the West.

According to the organizers, Al-Quraan Wa As-Sunnah Society of New York, the Saudi scholars were able to dispel many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Islam.

Sheikh Zahid Rashid, an American student at the Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah and one of the main organizers of the tour said, “The group includes people who are active in dawa in their areas, imams of mosques in the US and the heads of MSAs at universities in the US. The whole purpose of the program is to make people active in the US to give dawa (propagation of Islam) and dispel myths about Islam and terrorism.”

Participants spent one week in Madinah and two weeks in Makkah and were able to attend various seminars held by numerous sheikhs in both cities on subjects relating to creed, jurisprudence, hadith, the Qur’an and the methodology of dawa among non-Muslims in the West.

Convert to Islam Mohammed Abdul Aziz, from Atlanta, US, said, “I have definitely learned about Islam and this trip has enabled me to dispel some myths there about Islam. There are those who say they are good Muslims but the scholars here are telling people that this is wrong.

“As far as terrorism and stuff like that is concerned Saudi Arabia and the scholars here have categorically explained that they don’t support terrorism and that terrorism is against Islam.”

Arab News joined the group on their final day of seminars in which members of the group directed questions to Sheikh Wasiullah Abbas, an Indian scholar who lectures in the Grand Mosque. The sheikh answered questions regarding Muslim unity, how to interact with non-Muslims in dawa work and how Muslims should work with student Muslim bodies at universities and colleges across the West. Speaking to the group the sheikh said, “You shouldn’t call them in a harsh way, nor should you put people down but you should call them with wisdom and try helping them.”

Safwan Abu Kanaz, 35, came all the way from New York to participate in the seminars. Describing the trip to be very “historical” he said, “I’ve never seen the like of this trip and nor will I.”

Safwan added, “The way the media are projecting Islam is in total contradiction of what is being portrayed about Saudi Arabia. The extremists are people without knowledge. The sheikhs have condemned all acts of extremism and have explained and clarified that which is Islam and that which is against the ethos of the religion.”

Speaking about international terrorism he added, “They have explained in full detail that Islam is against terrorism. Those that are portrayed as leaders are not leaders and in fact don’t have any Islamic knowledge.”

Among the highlights of the trip was an opportunity to visit the factory that builds covers for the Kaaba and a chance to have supper at the home of the Imam of Makkah Sheikh Muhammad Subayyil.

Addressing the group Sheikh Subayyil advised against extremism and said, “People should behave with non-Muslims with softness, kindness and ease to attract them to Islam.”

Wisaf Sharieff, 25, a radiology student from New York, said, “We had a wonderful welcome in Madinah and one of the highlights of the Madinah stay was that within three days of reaching there we were given exclusive access to the haram and we had 35 minutes all to ourselves there. It was a special moment.”

Commenting on the outcome of the visit Sheikh Zahid said, “We want people to see the peaceful message of Islam and to go back and be able to teach their communities the real message. We want people to know that Islam and Muslims are different from what the media show.”

Organizers say this is the second time such a visit has been arranged and hope to organize similar visits in coming years.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

A Turkish Delight

by Ismaeel Nakhuda

Arab News, Thursday 31st August

JEDDAH - The Red Sea port city of Jeddah, being a cosmopolis, has an absolutely amazing mix of people from all over the world and is a diner’s paradise. Looking at Jeddah’s variety of restaurants and takeaways, the city in some ways reminds me of Rusholme, an area of Manchester close to the city center there.

Rusholme is a place where curry fanatics, like myself, are able to reach the seventh heaven. Those who have a taste and appreciation of the subtleties that deliciously prepared Indian food offers then Rusholme, which is home to Wilmslow Road or what is locally known as the “Curry Mile,” is the absolute place of pilgrimage.

The Curry Mile has been overzealously populated with Indian curry houses and also recently Arab restaurants serving a range of Middle-Eastern dishes. People from across the north of England periodically travel to the Curry Mile to whet their appetites for good food and to also soak in Rusholme’s carnival-like atmosphere.

Speaking to friends and family back home — in the formerly industrial north of England — I described Jeddah to be a gigantic Rusholme, many times bigger and also perhaps better. With people from all over the world flocking to Saudi Arabia, it is no wonder that Jeddah restaurants are able to serve a wide genre of food, delicacies and regional specialties that can be eaten at fantastically competitive prices.

As a Brit of Indian parentage, Indian food is my favorite. A combination of rich spices, delicious curries, wafting aromas and a pinch of chili is something that really makes my mouth water, nostrils flare and most of all stomach twiddle. So when I was recommended a quaint Turkish restaurant on Jeddah’s Heraa Street, I thought I might as well critique it by putting on my British hat. But is that really possible? The Brits conquered and ruled India, the Jewel in the Crown, only to see the empire strike back in the 60s and 70s with an influx of Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis arriving in their droves to Britain’s shores. Today we have a situation where across the UK fish-an-chip shops are slowly disappearing making room for Indian curry houses, strange lot the indigenous Brits — they never realize it’s the Bengalis running Indian restaurants not Indians. Anyhow, Indian food or rather Mughlai cuisine, has become so popular in Britain that it wasn’t long ago that the late Labour MP Robin Cook declared the Chicken Tikka Masala to be the UK’s national dish. Talk about mix loyalties.

Going to a working-class Catholic school in the north of England, my taste for typical British dishes was slowly and carefully nurtured by those wonderfully polite working-class dinner ladies that, I don’t really know why, remind me so much of Camilla Parker Bowles. (To be honest, I sometimes wonder why our future king preferred her to Diana, but that’s a different story altogether.)

Yes, I suppose Enoch Powell would be turning in his grave if he came to know that a first-generation British Asian was enchanted by the wonderfully and exquisitely prepared British soups, hotpots, flans, puddings, custards, pies, pasties and pastries that used to be served in UK schools. Speaking to Kulsum, my polite little niece who goes to one of those nice English primary schools, I recently discovered that the greasy and fatty school dinners that once stood proudly on many a school dinner table had now given way to broccoli and vegetables thanks to a new generation of celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver. Oh, how I crave for the cheese and egg flan that used to be served at my secondary school!


Anyway, coming back to the point, it isn’t rocket science to realize that Turkish food is very different to Indian cuisine. But nevertheless being a Brit I do have a taste for English-type stews, smelly cheeses and soups. Taking this into consideration, while seated at the Al-Fairouz restaurant, I ordered a range of dishes.

But before I really get stuck into the nitty-gritty and intricacies of what I briefly encountered at Al-Fairouz, let me assure you that Al-Fairouz is definitely not a grotty dump. The decor is classy and the place serves some of the most delicious soups, grilled meats and other Turkish dishes. More importantly, Al-Fairouz is immaculately clean and staffed by a handful of polite well-natured Turks.

When I think of a Turk I usually think of a big burly guy, with a large red nose, stubble, a bushy mustache, large hairy forearms and dressed in a wooly hat together with a checked shirt. At Al-Fairouz you’re definitely not going to meet such characters — in fact the person who served me, called Ali, was a most pleasant and well-groomed chap. Sometimes, restaurants serve absolutely fantastic food but for me the arrogance and haughtiness of waiters really spoil the meal. The service, and care exercised by waiters is truly reflective of how passionate an establishment is about the foods they serve. I have to say that while seated at Al-Fairouz, Ali made a point of hastily, with the utmost care and attention, fulfilling my every need with a smile on his face.

So I sat down and for starters ordered Corbalar (red lentil soup), for my main meal a dish called Et Guvec (lamb casserole) with peynirli (feta cheese) on top and to complement the meal mineral water and a large glass of freshly squeezed ice-cold pomegranate juice. In the meantime Ali brought me a basket full of irresistible freshly baked warm flatbread that came straight from the oven and was sliced into manageable small pieces. While I waited for my soup, I became overwhelmed by the irresistible smell of the crusty bread and so eagerly began nibbling away only to realize that I was quite close to annihilating the entire basket. It’s at times like this that we really are able to test the competency of waiters. Noticing that my basket was about to finish, Ali quickly came to my aid and refilled my basket without even my asking him. Now that’s what I call service.

Soon, my Corbalar arrived, which tasted absolutely fabulous. Corbalar as a starter is truly wonderful, refreshing and warm. Just the type of stuff you could do on a cold winter’s evening in Preston, Lancashire, as the wind howls outside and the rain clatters against the windows. From what I gathered Corbalar is made of red lentils, water, olive oil, sliced onions, tomatoes, tomato sauce, salt and pepper, mint, garlic and hot pepper. As I began gulping one spoonful after another, the taste reminded me of the Corbalar I had tasted while on holiday at a nice stone restaurant just outside Istanbul overlooking a courtyard outside the Mosque and mausoleum of Abu Aiyub Al-Ansari, the companion of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Anyway, while lost in fond memories I was about to finish my Corbalar when Ali promptly laid out the lamb casserole straight from the oven. The casserole was in a small hot and dark cast-iron pot with feta cheese bubbling away on top. The stew could be seen below the cheese mouthwateringly oozing out of little cracks and at the edges.

Guvec is the Turkish word for casserole and is cooked in a variety of ways. At times it is cooked using vegetables such as aubergine, okra and tomatoes together with various spices and herbs and at times chicken or lamb is also included. Sometimes Guvec is made using either just lamb or just chicken and can be served with or without melted cheese on top.

Key ingredients include butter, meat stock, mushrooms, tomato paste, tomatoes, garlic, peppers, thyme, salt and ground black pepper. Finally Guvec is never complete without some fresh crusty bread straight from the oven, something that Al-Fairouz promptly and readily provides.

I dipped my bread into the casserole and tasted the flavorsome cheese together with the succulent lamb cooked in all those wonderful spices and herbs and was left in a sublime state by the delicious appetizing taste. I quickly got stuck in and having devoured every morsel, I was finally left licking my fingers and full-stomached.

Having traveled and visited Istanbul and Konya, the charmingly beautiful and picturesque home of the medieval Sufi-poet Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi, and tasted local Turkish delicacies I have to say Al-Fairouz is surely an authentic Turkish culinary experience. The dishes served there are definitely not an Arabized version of dishes that perhaps even once stood proudly on the tables of many an Ottoman sultan.

Anyway, as I finished the casserole and had some water, Ali arrived presenting me with a complimentary glass of Turkish tea on the house. Turkish tea is extremely dark and very bitter — while in Turkey I had an opportunity of drinking it on many occasions but was always left wishing for home brewed Typhoo Tips. Not wanting to turn down Ali’s generosity I quickly dissolved in my glass a couple of extra cubes of sugar and took a few swigs ensuring the tea quickly and speedily transcended my throat.

Al-Fairouz is a wonderful place. With the bottom floor dedicated to singles and the upper floor (side entrance) especially set aside for families and couples — Al-Fairouz is a definite must and a delightful experience. The service is brilliant and like eateries across Jeddah, Al-Fairouz is extremely economical. The meal set me back less than SR30.

Al-Fairouz Restaurant serves Turkish Cuisine and has branches on the following streets in Jeddah — Siteen Street (02 6703911), Heraa Street (02 6227366), Al-Safa Street and Al-Rawdah Street (0202 721067).