is to change her mind. I guess that’s the case, too, with the International Judo Federation.

After having decided that Saudi Arabia’s Wojdan Shaherkhani must compete without hijab covering her head, the organization has backtracked. She will now be permitted to wear a headscarf, the exact details of which are not yet published. This decision comes in the wake of a firestorm of complaints and insults aimed at Shaherkhani as well as reported threats that Saudi Arabia might withdraw its entire team – male and female – from the games. Again, exact details are not known.

From BBC Sports:

Olympics judo: Saudi Arabia hijab dispute resolved

The International Judo Federation said the 16-year-old must fight without the headscarf for safety reasons, but the Saudis threatened to withdraw Shaherkani.

An International Olympic Committee spokesman said: “The judo federation will allow her to wear something which will not compromise her safety, which I think they use for competitions in Asia.”

A Saudi official said earlier this month that the country’s two female athletes at London 2012 – Shaherkani and 800m runner Sarah Attar – must obey Islamic dress codes.

But judo officials claimed a headscarf could cause choking, in a sport that involves grabbing and throwing.

Shaherkani will fight Puerto Rico’s Melissa Mojica, ranked 13 in the world, in the first round of the +78kg category on Friday.

There is almost no public tradition of women participating in sport in Saudi Arabia, who have it difficult to select athletes for the London Games who met the minimum qualifying standards.

July:31:2012 - 08:29 | Comments & Trackbacks (12) | Permalink

If there’s a worst possible time for Saudi Arabia to be seeing power outages, this is probably it. It’s mid-Ramadan, in the depths of summer, when temperatures are easily over 40° C (104° F). And not only is air conditioning much appreciated during the scorching days, nighttime is filled with activities that demand power, whether indoors watching TV or just lighting the myriad outdoor activities.

People taking to the streets to protest electrical repairs aren’t helping to fix the problem, either, reports Al-Arabiya:

Power outages in Saudi Arabia increase
as Ramadan consumption hikes
Al Arabiya

Head of the western division at the Saudi Electricity Company Abdul Moueen bin Hassan al-Sheikh revealed that the continuous power outages in Jeddah are due to the increasing electricity consumption during the holy month of Ramadan.

“Consumption has remarkably increased since the beginning of Ramadan by 8 percent,” the Saudi edition of al-Hayat quoted Sheikh as saying.

Sheikh explained that the delay in fixing the power stations, which have been experiencing intensive pressure, is due to protests by residents in affected neighborhoods.

“Protesters made it difficult for technicians to fix the failure in the Om al-Selm in southern Jeddah.”

Sheikh added that they had to resort to the police to disperse the crowds. After that, repair started on the station.

“Part of the problem was fixed and the rest will be soon. Technicians are working 24/7.”

In addition to increased consumption, Sheikh noted, construction work around the power station was also partially responsible for the problem.

July:30:2012 - 08:06 | Comments Off | Permalink

But then, it seems to be the first time it’s come up in Saudi Arabia…

Saudi Gazette/Okaz report that a Saudi woman has repudiated Islam, converted to Christianity, and then fled the country (although she may have converted after leaving the country). I cannot recall any earlier, similar cases. Nor was I at all expecting Saudi media to cover the story.

Not at all surprising, though, is that the woman’s family is claiming that she was forced to convert and was spirited out of the country by miscreants. Who are now under arrest in the Kingdom. Somewhat surprisingly, the accused – a Saudi and a Lebanese – were granted bail.

It will be interesting to see how this case plays out, both for the woman and in Saudi media, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the story disappear, either.

Saudi Christian convert criticizes Islam, Hai’a
Tafeel Al-Yousif | Okaz/Saudi Gazette

AL-KHOBAR – A Saudi girl who recently embraced Christianity and fled the country for refuge in Lebanon, told the host of a religious program on an Arabic TV channel that she was tired of performing prayers and fasting during Ramadan.

The girl, who said her name was Maryam, said praying and fasting did not bring her any benefits. She also criticized the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Hai’a) and claimed that she was raised to hate Judaism and Christianity but fell in love with the religions after she found peace in Christianity.

She said she became a Christian after she had a dream one night. In it, she climbed to the skies and heard God telling her that Jesus is His son. She said that she had been living in the Kingdom since she was 17.

… Maryam’s father filed a complaint against her two former co-workers, a Saudi and a Lebanese, accusing them of helping his daughter illegally flee the Kingdom and embrace Christianity. The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution (BIP) in Al-Khobar accused the men of forcing the girl to convert and arrested them. However, both men were later released on bail while their case has been referred to a court in Al-Khobar.

… The Saudi Embassy in Beirut is coordinating with the concerned authorities in the country to convince the girl to return to the Kingdom. It is expected that the Al-Khobar District Court will look into the case, the first of its kind in the Kingdom, soon.

July:28:2012 - 06:42 | Comments & Trackbacks (24) | Permalink

Wodjan Shaherkhani, Saudi Arabia’s judoka at the Summer Olympics, has made her choice: She will compete without her hijab.

Al-Arabiya carries this Reuters report…

Judo-Saudi woman to compete without Islamic headscarf
Reuters – London

Saudi Arabia’s female judo competitor will fight at the London Olympics “without a hijab”, or Islamic headscarf, the sport’s chief said on Thursday.

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shaherkani, one of the first two female athletes sent to the Olympics by the conservative Muslim kingdom, is due to compete in the women’s heavyweight tournament next Friday.

“She will fight according to the principle and spirit of judo, so without a hijab,” International Judo Federation president Marius Vizer said.

The decision is likely to cause controversy in Saudi Arabia, where female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue. Powerful clerics denounce women for exercising, saying it goes against their natural role.

[Thanks, too, to "Lola" who sent this link to a Yahoo! News story in comments.]

July:27:2012 - 08:03 | Comments & Trackbacks (17) | Permalink

Not only will Muslim athletes have to make decisions on whether they will perform the Ramadan fast during the Olympics, but Saudi judoka Wojdan Shahrkhani will have to decide – or have the Saudi sports authorities decide for her – whether to compete without her hijab.

The International Judo Federation, the group which overseas the Olympic competition, has ruled that wearing a hijab while fighting judo-style represents a dangerous practice. As a result, Shahrkhani will not be able to compete if she wishes to wear her hijab. If she were to decide to not wear it, however, there is a good chance that she would be repudiated by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee as well as face harsh comments from ordinary Saudi citizens.

It’s a very difficult position for any young athlete to be put in. I wish her the best in making her choice.

Saudi female judoka not allowed to wear headscarf

LONDON (AP) — The International Judo Federation says one of Saudi Arabia’s first female athletes selected for the Olympics will not be allowed to wear a headscarf during competition.

Federation president Marius Vizer announced Thursday that Wojdan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani could not fight with a headscarf, saying the move was “according to the principles and spirit of judo.” IJF spokesman Nicolas Messner said it was also due to safety concerns.

“In judo we use strangleholds and chokeholds so the hijab could be dangerous,” Messner said. The Japanese martial art does not recognize differences in things like politics or religion and judges competitors only on their level of judo, Messner said.

Asian judo federations have previously allowed Muslim women to wear the hijab during major competitions, but Messner said the IJF had decided against it.

“The only difference between competitors should be their level of judo,” he said, explaining that the grappling and throwing sport aims to be nonpolitical.

The ruling could jeopardize Shahrkhani’s participation in the Olympics. Saudi leaders only agreed to send women to the games for the first time on the condition they be allowed to wear appropriate clothing for Muslim women, including a headscarf.

July:27:2012 - 00:01 | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Financial Times reports that the project to replace foreign workers in Saudi Arabia with Saudi nationals is leading to higher costs, at least in the construction sector.

This oughtn’t be surprising as foreign workers earn a pittance, salaries that no Saudi would accept. Too, Saudis demand better working conditions, something that also pushes costs up. It appears that the days of the Pharaoh, where great edifices could be built for bread and water are over.

I suspect that this effect will be seen across the board, in all areas were Saudis are displacing expat workers. I suspect, too, that this is going to drive inflation over the next handful of years, until the economy gets used to higher costs.

Costs will also continue to be pushed higher higher when it comes to employing women. Regulations concerning their working hours, security for the buildings in which they work, limiting access, etc. can only make employing them more expensive than employing men – even Saudi men. It’s a good thing for the Saudi economy that it is awash in oil revenues. Without that income, it would be impossible to sustain the many artificialities that distort the economy.

Builders count cost of Saudi work quotas
Abeer Allam

For decades Saudi Arabia’s rulers spoke of the need to boost the role played by their citizens in the country’s expatriate-dominated private sector. But with a strict employment quota system now in place, the cost of the so-called “Saudisation” of the workforce is beginning to emerge.

The clearest signal yet was disclosed on Saturday when Abdullah Al Khodari Sons, the publicly listed construction contractor, said in its quarterly results that general and administrative costs had risen 55 per cent, in part because of new employment quotas mandating the number of local and foreign citizens it could hire.

The quotas led to a “substantial cost impact over and above the direct manpower budgeted costs”, the company said, after a delay in approvals for visas for foreign workers forced the company to temporarily hire locally at greater cost.

Al Khodari remained profitable in the quarter. But its disclosure hinted at the challenges that lie ahead as Saudi Arabia pushes more of its private sector to cut its reliance on cheap imported labour.

July:26:2012 - 06:15 | Comments Off | Permalink

Gulf News reports from Dubai that Saudi Arabia’s new director of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice will be issuing new rules for the religious police in the wake of a fatal car chase. While rules already exist that call for the end of car chases, they are not being uniformly observed. Getting the religious police to toe the line is difficult as many of the members believe they are acting righteously, in the name of religion. As with the case of, say, the Westboro Baptist Church, once one becomes religiously convinced that he’s doing the work of God on earth, it’s hard to convince him otherwise, no matter how many enemies it makes.

Exactly what new procedures might prove effective remains to be seen. Saudi media report that the religious police involved in the car chase have been arrested. If that’s not enough to dissuade them, then what is? Having a few religious police executed for exceeding their remit?

Rules governing religious police to be amended

Dubai: Saudi Arabia will make amendments to rules governing religious police after the ‘horrific’ death of a Saudi man and injuries to his family members after their car was chased by religious police (mutawa) earlier this month, Saudi media reports said.

“A set of procedures to govern the country’s Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice Commission’s chasing of people will soon be released,” the head of the commission, Abdul Latif Al Shaikh, was quoted as saying in Saudi media, including Al Watan newspaper and Al

The statement came days after the incident “shocked the Saudi public”.

Earlier, Saudi media had reported that four members of the religious police had been arrested for allegedly causing the situation that led to the death of Abdul Rahman Al Gamdi and left his wife and two children with injuries in Al Baha region in the south-western part of the kingdom.

July:25:2012 - 07:54 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Until a new law kicks in, it’s pretty easy to avoid unfavorable court decisions in Saudi Arabia. How? It’s simple: don’t show up at court!

That has been the practice. By just refusing to show up in court, a defendant can stall the case interminably. Nor do the Saudi courts work effectively to compel compliance with verdicts.

This is all set to change, Saudi Gazette/Okaz inform us, with regulations that trim the loopholes and make law a more substantial matter. The ability to ignore the courts did nothing to sustain the role of the courts; it instead harmed them. Soon, though, ignoring a court order could result in a seven-year jail term in and of itself.

Subpoena evaders will be brought to task
Ahmad Ajab Al-Zahrani | Okaz newspaper

Recently, my legal advice was sought by different people who had taken their cases to court, had them reviewed, yet no verdict was announced as the defendant refused to show up. In child custody, unpaid loans, and rent cases, verdicts are often issued but defendants are never arrested. It is alleged that defendants would hide in their homes when they knew a court officer was knocking at their door with a subpoena.

People who have come to me seeking legal advice have navigated the time consuming procedures of our legal system to no avail, and I was unable to give them any useful advice. I simply told them not to expect any new development in their cases as long as verdicts were being enforced using outdated measures, and asked them instead to wait for the recently approved regulations to be applied.

The new regulations aim to tighten the noose around the neck of defendants who ignore subpoenas and refuse to show up in court. A new department will be created within each court, responsible for enforcing verdicts. The new regulations will also grant judges the power to pronounce verdicts and allow police to enter the house of anyone evading court subpoenas by force.

July:23:2012 - 09:08 | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

Here’s a link to pictures of the entire Saudi Olympic Team, including Sarah Attar and Wojdan Shaherkani.

I wish them all well.

July:23:2012 - 08:57 | Comments Off | Permalink

Yet again, the effort to construct a new mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee is roiling the US court system. It’s come to the attention of Saudi journalist Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg, writing in Arab News, who, I believe, gets things a little wrong.

Aluwaisheg sees the recent court decision that stayed a lower court’s decision to halt construction, as an obstacle to building the mosque. It is not. It is, instead, the grant of permission to start operating the mosque as soon as it is ready to do so. In granting this permission, the Federal court criticizes the state court for imposing greater requirements on the mosque construction than it would on the construction of any other religious edifice. The Federal government has stepped in as a party to support the mosque construction. That is not an impediment at all. In fact, it all but guarantees that the mosque will be completed and opened as quickly as possible.

Mr Aluwaisheg is correct in stating that minorities – including religious minorities – have often had to struggle to exercise their rights. That’s what happens in democracies where the role and rule of the majority has a strong say in law. But the voice of the majority does not overrule constitutional protection of minorities. People often forget that, or wish it were otherwise. This is, in fact, a principal reason why ‘pure democracy’ is a bad idea.

But in the US, the rights of minorities – including religious minorities – are protected, however unpopular they might be. This is what the Federal government and the Federal court have done here. They have not only fought for the mosque and its Muslim supporters, but they have firmly reminded the opponents of the mosque that their decisions, if they run afoul of the Constitution, are meritless.

Over the land of the free
Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg

I write this week from the United States, as Muslims around the world and in America celebrate the beginning of Ramadan.

However, it is important not to forget those Muslims who are being prevented from taking part in this celebration, because of ignorance and religious bigotry.

There are several places around the world where this is happening, but it is especially surprising to see it in the United States of America, a country founded on religious tolerance.

Americans pride themselves on the freedoms their constitution guarantees. Chief among them are freedom of religion, freedom of association and freedom of expression. The First Amendment to the US Constitution prohibits restrictions on freedom of religion, and that was done in 1789, or 159 years before the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. As such Americans were pioneers in setting the bar so high. The First Amendment may be America’s greatest contribution to the cause of human rights.

One main reason for America’s belief in religious freedom is that any early Americans were religious refugees escaping the religious persecution and sectarian wars of Europe. They were determined to avert such conflicts in their new country. While still under British rule, a number of states passed laws that specifically safeguarded freedom of religion. For example, as early as 1649, Maryland passed the path-making Toleration Act, which explicitly stated: “No person … shall be troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof.” There were setbacks before the War of Independence in 1776, as Protestants sought to restrict Catholics’ practice of their faith. Therefore, America’s Founding Fathers sought to prevent such sliding back on religious freedom. When drafting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they were keen to enshrine in them the principle of religious freedom.
Reconciling faith and the Constitution took some efforts, and time, but it was generally agreed that freedom of religion should include freedom to worship according to one’s conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents; freedom to preach, educate, publish and carry on missionary activities; and freedom to organize with others, and to acquire and hold property, for these purposes.

That is the theory of religious freedom in the US, but practice deviated somewhat and religious minorities time and again have had to assert their constitutionally protected religious freedom. Congress, subject to political cycles and the need to placate majorities to secure election of its members, have not been always quick to move to safeguard religious freedom for minorities, leaving that task to courts, which are generally less affected by political cycles.

With this long history of religious freedom, and seemingly iron-clad constitutional guarantees of freedom to worship, it is surprising to see how Muslim Americans are being treated by their fellow Americans in several parts of the country. One recent case of blatant interference in Muslims’ freedom to worship is a case in Tennessee where Muslims have been prevented from completing the building of a new mosque. In the city of Murfreesboro in the southern state of Tennessee, opponents have succeeded over the past two years in stopping the construction of a new mosque for the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. They have used violence, harassment and smear tactics to prevent the completion of this mosque.

July:22:2012 - 08:35 | Comments & Trackbacks (14) | Permalink

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Arabiya TV carries an interesting story about the philosophical dispute – which has descended into a ‘I’m holier than thou’ ruckus – about whether holy figures of Islam’s past can be portrayed by living actors in films and plays.

A Saudi cleric is arguing that it is entirely permissible as long as the portrayal is honest. What’s more, it’s not even required that the actor portraying a Muslim figure be Muslim.

The debate is centered on a TV series being broadcast this Ramadan by the MBC network (of which Al-Arabiya is a part). The series looks at the life of the second Caliph, ‘Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who extended Islam’s geographic reach to Iran, Central Asia, and Libya. ‘Umar, who succeeded Abu Bakr as Caliph, was considered the ‘architect of the Islamic Empire’. He is also considered, by Twelver Shi’ites, as a traitor to Islam and usurper of Ali’s rights to the Caliphate. How this matter is handled in the program could certainly be fuel to philosophical fires.

Saudi scholar slams critics of MBC’s Omar ibn al-Khattab TV series
Al Arabiya

Professor of Islamic law at Saudi Arabia’s al-Qassim University, Khaled al-Musleh, lashed out at critics of the TV series depicting the life of Islam’s second Caliph Omar ibn al-khattab and accused them of agitation.

“The issue of impersonating the prophet’s companions has always been controversial with some scholars sanctioning it and others considering it prohibited,” Musleh was quoted as saying by the Saudi newspaper al-Hayat.

Musleh cited the example of prominent preacher Sheikh Abdul Rahman bin Saadi and who attended a reenactment of one of the prophet’s battles, namely the Battle of Badr, at the Scientific Institute of Riyadh.

“That was 50 years ago and he did not see a problem with that.”

Musleh also explained in an interview with al-Safwa TV channel that the crew of the series, currently aired on MBC, had every right to choose one of two stances on the impersonation of revered Islamic figures and act accordingly.

July:22:2012 - 08:12 | Comments Off | Permalink

Al-Arabiya TV reports that Saudi Arabia is the world’s ‘third laziest’ population, according to a new study in Lancet Medical Journal, the weekly British magazine. The only countries in which adults undertake less physical exercise are Malta and Swaziland.

Unfortunately, the study was unable to collect usable data one the physical activity of Saudis under the age of 15. Given that Saudi girls are all but prohibited from athletic activities – and Saudi state schools have no girls athletic programs in general – I don’t think this group would fare very well, either.

Not surprisingly, inactivity is linked to age as well as to income. Also not surprisingly, inactivity is also linked to certain diseases like coronary heart disease and diabetes.

Saudi Arabia the world’s third most lazy country, new study finds
Al Arabiya

A new study by the Lancet Medical Journal has found that Saudi Arabia’s population is the third most slothful in the world with 68.3 percent of adults failing to get any exercise.

Only in Malta and Swaziland are adults even more inactive than in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi newspaper Al Watan newspaper reported that the news, first published in the Times of Malta, shows that the lack of exercise is leading to fatal diseases.

According to the study, one-fifth of all deaths in Malta, where more people die of inactivity than anywhere else in the world, are attributed to the lack of physical activity, a primary factor behind coronary heart diseases.

The report, which uses data from the World Health Organization, suggests that “the couch potato lifestyle” kills about five million people worldwide a year, making inactive lifestyles comparable to smoking in terms of the effect on health.

The study defines inactivity as not performing any of the following three sorts of activities: 30 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking at least five times a week; 20 minutes of vigorous activity at least three times a week; or an equivalent combination of the two said activities.

Inactivity has largely been blamed on wrong social trends, such as spending more time in cars and in front of computers.

July:22:2012 - 07:49 | Comments Off | Permalink
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