On the occasion of ‘Eid Al-Fitr, I’d like to wish all my Muslim readers a very blessed holiday.


September:30:2008 - 09:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Hamad Al-Majid, member of the Saudi National Organization for Human Rights, thinks the TV programming broadcast into Arabic homes needs to be cleaned up. He cites the efforts of a group of Saudi women to form the ‘Association for the Call for Virtue in the Information Media’ that has precisely that goal. Cleaning up TV is no longer a matter for the clerics and preachers, he says. The effort has moved into the mainstream of Arabic life.

I see a major problem, however, in an official of a human rights program calling for the limitation of what people might see, because that limits what others might say. Governments should not be involved in channeling people’s thoughts into approved or disapproved categories.

Whether this Saudi view—popular or not—moves across the Arabic world remains to be seen. The programs some Saudis deem offensive certainly have wide audiences across that same world. That may not matter to the groups looking for reform, but they might take a moment to consider why these programs are popular.

The women have every right to choose what to watch. They have the right to penalize broadcasters of whom they disapprove through their role in the markets. They may choose to avoid products made by advertisers on the programs—a boycott, in other words—but they do not have the right to insist government take a role in silencing unwanted or disliked speech. They most certainly do not have the right to incite violence against these broadcasters.

An Intifadah Against Indecent Programming
Dr. Hamad Al-Majid

The matter is no longer bearable and, as a result, she has declared her own intifadah.

She was horrified by the terrible crime and she cried out for help. Her own kingdom — her home — was surrounded in the assault, and she shouted: Help! Enough! Enough! It is a case of another Kifayah [movement in Egypt against Mubarak's intention to stay on in power; Kifayah is Arabic for 'enough'], but this time it had a media and not a political connotation.

This loud cry of “enough” emanated last Saturday from a group of Saudi female academicians and educated women during the inauguration of the “Association for the Call for Virtue in the Information Media.”

According to the Internet web site of the group in question, the inauguration of their association is an intifadah against any Arab satellite TV channel that broadcasts Arab or foreign subtitled serials showing marital adultery, nude scenes, Kissing, intimate encounters, and mediocre dialogue. It is an intifada against satellite TV advertisements containing lewd suggestions, signs, and ideas that focus on the sexual exploitation of women. This movement is a big ‘No’ to the broadcasting of video clips showing see-through clothes, immoral scenes and songs with words of a sexual nature. It is a resounding ‘No’ to any satellite TV channel that shows programs involving dancing halls, cabarets, and night clubs, and that brings this seedy world into every Arab home. It is a female cry of protest against satellite TV channels that allow or even encourage TV presenters, male and female, to exchange blatantly flirty words, make trivial jokes, and utter sex-laden words.


September:30:2008 - 08:50 | Comments & Trackbacks (7) | Permalink

Financial Times has this piece on how the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice is tying to reassert its authority in Riyadh by going after the shopkeepers and merchants selling non-traditional abayas. Over the past few years, many Saudi women have shaken off uniformity of the black, all-encompassing abaya by choosing more fitted and decorated apparel. This has Commission members upset. As some powers have been taken away from the Commission, the religious police are trying to get some power back by hassling those who can’t or won’t fight back.

Saudi religious police get tough on fashion
Abeer Allam in Riyadh

In an attempt to reassert their power, Saudi Arabia’s religious police have ordered shopkeepers in downtown Riyadh to get rid of all adorned abayas, the black robes worn by women in the kingdom, as shopping picks up ahead of the Eid religious holidays next week.

Salesmen in Al-Maagaliah market, just across the block from the headquarters of the religious police, or mutawa’a, this week were turning away frustrated shoppers who wanted abayas with a hint of colour or decoration, telling them that shopowners could face fines or prison.

In recent years, the signature flowing robe that covers Saudi women from head to toe started to show some form with trimmed sleeves, beads or colour, a sign of relaxation of the strict social norms in the conservative kingdom.

Though the changes were subtle, abayas provoked a tug of war between the liberal voices lobbying to give women more choice and conservative religious institutions determined to impose their austere ways through the religious police.


September:29:2008 - 10:09 | Comments & Trackbacks (21) | Permalink

The Saudi clerics’ statements about the evils of different sorts of TV programming have provided cause for much mirth. When even Mickey Mouse is seen as an agent of evil—rather than the usual ‘vanguard of cultural imperialism’—you know something has changed.

This piece from The New York Times takes a look at the broader issue of TV and authoritarian states, whether it be cartoon or, primarily, soap operas. And it’s not just the Saudis, either: the article points out that two soap operas were taken off the air in Syria where they were seen as too critical of the ruling elite.

The power of soap operas to thrill the imagination, to show that there are other ways of doing things has rulers worried according to the article. Worth reading.

Arab TV Tests Societies’ Limits
With Depictions of Sex and Equality

ROBERT F. WORTH

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Many Arabs were shocked and appalled earlier this month when a prominent Saudi cleric declared that it was permissible to kill the owners of satellite TV stations that broadcast “immoral” material.

But the comment, by Sheik Saleh al-Luhaidan, was only the most visible part of a continuing cultural controversy over Arab television. This summer another Saudi cleric denounced the Arab world’s most popular television show ever — the dubbed Turkish series “Noor” — calling it “replete with evil, wickedness, moral collapse and a war on the virtues.” He also barred Muslims from watching the series, which portrays the lives of moderate Muslims who drink wine with dinner and have premarital sex.

And last week, as if to provide comic relief, a third Saudi cleric said (in all seriousness) that children should not be allowed to watch Mickey Mouse, labeling the cartoon character a “soldier of Satan” who should be killed.


September:29:2008 - 09:28 | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

Mshari Al-Zaydi, writing in Asharq Alawsat, condemns the Arab and Muslim intellectuals who will go through contortions of logic to find justification for terrorism. He points out that these intellectuals—secular as well as Islamist—spend so much time buried in the snares of conspiracy theories that they lose sight of the fact that terrorism is being committed in the name of Islam and has nothing to do with the presence or dearth of democracy. It’s a strong piece, worth reading.

The Market of Delusions Still Exists!
Mshari Al-Zaydi

In a matter of days, fundamentalist terrorism erupted in Pakistan, Yemen

and Mauritania to remind all those who had forgotten and to inform all those are unaware that the war is still at its strongest, and that it would not be rational or the correct to believe that the “cautious calm” of the past two years (to borrow from the Lebanese civil war terminology) is an indication that the battle is over, or even close to ending.

Each battlefield has its own unique characteristics; in Pakistan, Al Qaeda attacked a major hotel killing dozens of people. This time, Al Qaeda used the title ‘Pakistani Taliban’ and the pretext for the attack was revenge for Pakistani military operations conducted against Al Qaeda in the tribal areas of the country.

In Yemen, Al Qaeda attacked the US embassy, killing many ordinary Yemenis, including, ironically, a young American-Yemeni woman who was related to Jaber Elbaneh, a wanted member of Al Qaeda in Yemen. This young woman headed to Yemen from America to get married. Before the attack, the group demanded that members and leaders of Al Qaeda held by the Yemeni security forces be released.

As for the attack in Mauritania, eleven soldiers were slaughtered in the desert by members of Al Qaeda in retaliation for Mauritanian security operations against them.


September:28:2008 - 09:31 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

The British newspaper The Observer, the Sunday paper of The Guardian, reports that Saudi Arabia has been involved in secret negotiations with the Taleban to end their conflict in Afghanistan.

Revealed: secret Taliban peace bid
Saudis are sponsoring a peace dialogue involving a former senior member of the hardline group
Jason Burke

The Taliban have been engaged in secret talks about ending the conflict in Afghanistan in a wide-ranging ‘peace process’ sponsored by Saudi Arabia and supported by Britain, The Observer can reveal.

The unprecedented negotiations involve a senior former member of the hardline Islamist movement travelling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals. Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks – despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with Taliban who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence.

Reuters, in a news story running in most major media, on the other hand, says that the Afghan government can not/will not confirm that.

Afghan minister does not confirm Taliban talks

KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s foreign minister on Sunday declined to confirm a report that said the government was in contact with Taliban insurgents to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Britain’s Observer newspaper on Sunday said the “unprecedented talks” involved a senior ex-Taliban member traveling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and European capitals.

“I cannot say anything about the matter that talks between the Taliban and Afghans … are going on,” Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told a news conference when asked to comment about the report.
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“I deny there is any contact between the Foreign Ministry and the Taliban about the negotiations,” he said when asked for elaboration.

It’s certainly plausible that the Saudis would do this, but whether they have is not at all clear.


September:28:2008 - 09:18 | Comments Off | Permalink

Well, this is just charming… the UK publisher of the controversial-before-it’s-published book, Jewel of Medina has had his house firebombed in London, according to the UK’s Sunday Times. The book has been batted about lately, with its original American publisher withdrawing from its contract. This left the writer scrambling around to find new publishers. Now, the British publisher is coming under physical threat for having agreed to print the book.

What’s most amazing—and most dismaying—is that the arsonists haven’t read the book. Instead, they’re working from some fantasized image of what might be in the book—but which the writer denies vehemently is not. While Islam may be a tolerant religion at it roots, there are too many Muslims happy to show their own intolerance through word and deed.

Muslim gang firebombs publisher of Allah novel, Martin Rynja
David Leppard

SCOTLAND YARD’S counter-terrorist command yesterday foiled an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to kill the publisher of a forthcoming novel featuring sexual encounters between the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride.

Early yesterday armed undercover officers arrested three men after a petrol bomb was pushed through the door of the north London home of the book’s publisher.

The Metropolitan police said the target of the assassination plot, the Dutch publisher Martin Rynja, had not been injured.

The suspected terror gang was being followed by undercover police and the fire was quickly put out after the fire brigade smashed down the front door.


September:28:2008 - 09:02 | Comments & Trackbacks (8) | Permalink

Writing for the UAE’s The National, American journalist Caryle Murphy points out how the recent statements by various Saudi religious figures have fed the fears of the Islamophobes and Saudi-bashers and have embarrassed most Saudis. She notes, correctly, that even though the foreign media may term these statements ‘fatwas’, they are not actually that. They are more off-the-cuff remarks that show now scholarship and not much serious thinking.

Most interesting in the article is her discussion of the question, ‘Who speaks for Islam’. She finds that many of the traditional scholars are fighting to preserve their authority as the interpreters of Islam as rising literacy puts more Muslims into the position of interpreting Islam for themselves.

Saudi clerics’ outbursts hurt image of Islam
Caryle Murphy

Riyadh // When the head of Saudi Arabia’s Supreme Court recently declared that media officials responsible for airing immoral television programmes could be killed, his remarks provoked what has become a familiar response around the world.

Ridicule and scorn for Saudi Arabia, and more “proof” for Islamophobes of the “backwardness” of Islam.

Sheikh Lihedan’s remarks were not the only ones in recent months to trigger a spate of global eye-rolling.

In March, Sheikh Abdul Rahman al Barrak declared that two Saudi writers, whom he accused of expressing heretical ideas, should be put to death unless they recanted.
Another elderly sheikh, Abdullah bin Jibreen, told an interviewer on Al Majd TV, a conservative Riyadh-based religious station, that journalists “who insult scholars to shame or discredit them or undermine their authority … should be punished”.

Sheikh Jibreen’s suggested chastisements included “imprisonment for a long time”, being “removed from the positions they hold, or … flogging”.

There were other less frightening, but sometimes silly, pronouncements that caused non-Muslims to wonder why representatives of such a profound and spiritual religious tradition as Islam concern themselves with trivialities.


September:27:2008 - 10:16 | Comments Off | Permalink

The Washington Post carries this piece from its Saudi correspondent on how young Saudis are trying to put religion back into Ramadan and move it away from the more social aspects it has taken on over the years. Ramadan is supposed to be a month of spiritual cleansing and reflection. Young Saudis think popular observance has moved too far away from that goal and needs to get back on the spiritual track.

There’s certainly some truth to the thought that many Muslims, including Saudis, appear to treat Ramadan, after Iftar, as a reason to party. Rather than modest breaking of the fast, there seems to be a sort of competition about who can put out the most lavish spreads of food.

Young Saudis Reinvent Ramadan
Holy Month Devoted to Self-Sacrifice Instead of Self-Absorption
Faiza Saleh Ambah

JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia — During Ramadan this year, Faten Jiddawi and a few friends from a charity packed into a hot van and delivered a new washing machine and refrigerator to a needy family.

Like many Saudis, Jiddawi used to mark the Muslim holy month by shopping, eating lavishly and watching television until the wee hours. Then she slept, sometimes all day until sunset prayers signaled the end of the daily dawn-to-dusk fast.

“That’s what everyone did, but that’s not really fasting,” said Jiddawi, 28, a bank teller. “Fasting is about feeling your hunger, getting close to God and helping the poor.”

In Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s wealthiest Muslim countries, some people have started to criticize how many here observe Ramadan by essentially turning day into night to make fasting easier. Work and school hours have been shortened, shops stay open until right before dawn, and doctors and dentists offer appointments until 2 a.m.

But Jiddawi and many other young Saudis are trying to revive the holy month’s original spirit of sacrifice and giving by volunteering during the day, attending religious lectures at night and spending more time reflecting on their faith.


September:27:2008 - 10:07 | Comments Off | Permalink

Saudi Gazette runs this piece from its Arabic sister-paper Okaz on the first-exhibit ever of historic memorabilia concerning the Kaaba, the structure that provides the focal point of Muslim prayer around the world. This would make a very interesting traveling exhibit as those who cannot visit the Mecca, Muslim or not, would very much like to see and learn as much as they could. I suspect national museums in most countries would be eager to host the exhibit.

First ever exhibition of Ka’ba
Hani Al-Lihyani

MAKKAH – The keeper of the keys of the Holy Ka’ba held the first exhibition of the Ka’ba in the house of Sheikh Abdul Aziz Al-Shaibi, head keeper of the keys, in Badr District.

The exhibition was held in a room with an area of 30 meters, designed on the inside in the same way as the Ka’ba.

It contained antique pieces and artifacts of interest.

On display were models of parts of the Ka’ba, such as parts of the inside walling that have fallen down, the Black Stone and the footprints of Prophet Abraham.

A great number of bottles of rose and sandalwood used in the cleaning of the Ka’ba were on view, plus an ancient wooden column and a more than 1200-year-old bottle that was found inside the Ka’ba.

Old photographs of the Ka’ba and its keys had been made available by foreign museums, while an architectural plan of the building showed the interior columns and steps. – Okaz


September:27:2008 - 09:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

This piece of local color, from Arab News, reports on the various sweets and confections typical of the way Saudis celebrate Eid Al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan. Every Muslim country has its own specialties, Saudi Arabia among them.

Eid Al-Fitr is expected to start on Wednesday, according to this Gulf News article. The Saudi government and major businesses will be shut down for close to two weeks of holiday following the Eid.

Living up to Eid tradition
Hasan Hatrash I Arab News

JEDDAH: Candies and nuts are among the top-selling items during the end of Ramadan, being a traditional custom to offer these treats to guests and children during the upcoming Eid season.

To cope with the high demand, many vendors set up temporary stalls just for selling candies and nuts. Starting from the last 10 days of Ramadan, those vendors make a small fortune during their short-span business.


September:27:2008 - 08:43 | Comments Off | Permalink

Arab News runs this piece on problems popping up at the Prophet’s Mosque (and grave) in Madinah. It appears that female Saudi preachers are doing their best to inculcate Salafist interpretations of what is ‘right’ religious performance, but that interpretation is at odds with the expectations of female visitors from abroad. The writer notes that the preachers’ views are contradicted by the Sunna and many male preachers. Perhaps, she writes, the female preachers should take up some other useful task.

Stop women preachers at Prophet’s Mosque
Nourah Al-Khereiji I Arab News

ON my way out of the Prophet’s Mosque in the morning of Ramadan 17, a female voice stopped me. I heard one of the women preachers at the Egyptian section tell a lady that Allah will not accept her prayers if she came to the mosque with the sole intention of visiting the Prophet’s grave, because the Prophet (peace be upon him) has “cursed” those who visit graves.

An Egyptian lady told her that before leaving Cairo for Madinah they usually say, “we are going to visit the Prophet”.

“This is wrong,” the preacher interrupted her, “You should say instead, ‘we are going to Madinah to pray at the Prophet’s Mosque’. You should never say, ‘we are longing to visit the Prophet.’”


September:27:2008 - 08:37 | Comments Off | Permalink
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