Monday, 24 November 2008

Launch of British Hajj Delegation 2008

Launch of British Hajj Delegation 2008

Dr. Mozammel Haque

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has launched this year’s UK Hajj Delegation to Saudi Arabia, yesterday, Wednesday, the 12th of November 2008 from the Lancaster House, London, in the presence of Saudi Ambassador Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, Lord Adam Patel and diplomats and other members of the Hajj Delegation, guests and community leaders. Twenty-five thousand UK Muslims will go this year to perform the annual pilgrimage in Makkah with the British government offering advice, support and medical care to its citizens going there. British Hajj Delegation is a team that will provide on the ground medical and consular support for British pilgrims attending the Hajj later this month.

British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, M.P.
The British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, M.P. said “There could not be a better example of 'people-to-people' diplomacy than the Hajj Delegation, I think it builds bridges, it builds links, and also sends a very strong message about the commitment we have to valuing our own Muslim citizens in valuing their heritage, making sure they're able to express their own religion in an open and tolerant way.”

David Miliband, M.P. also said, “I think the presence of twenty five thousand proud Britons on the Hajj Delegation as proud Muslims is a very important way of emphasizing those twin themes of diversity and unity that are so important.”

Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz,
Prince Mohammed Bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, the Ambassador of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to the United Kingdom and Ireland, said, “We celebrate together the launch of the British Hajj Delegation to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj season.

“This special event of a great and deeply meaningful “Send off” for the British pilgrims is truly heartwarming and highly commendable. I believe that all Muslim will highly appreciate seeing similar events in other European countries,” said Prince Mohammed.

Speaking about the significance of Hajj, Prince Mohammed said, “During Hajj, millions of Muslims, from all over the world, gather in the same spots and at the same times, standing together on equal footing, and dressed as one. In this, Hajj is a true reflection of the exalted principles of equality, modesty and human brotherhood that are at the heart of Islam.”

“Hajj is an occasion where Muslims from all nations, races, countries and walks of life are endowed with a golden opportunity to know each other better and learn more about each other’s issues and concerns; thus emphasizing Islam’s teachings of compassion, cooperation, tolerance and caring for others. In short, Hajj is, by far, the most impressive manifestation of Islam’s cross-borders and cross-cultures nature, that is based on the equality of mankind in the eyes of God Almighty and aims for the good of all humanity,” the Saudi Ambassador mentioned.

The Saudi Ambassador also said, “In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we believe that God Almighty had truly blessed our nation with the honor and responsibility of being the custodians, stewards and servitors of Islam’s most sacred places; namely the Two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Madinah.”

Speaking about the recent development of the Haramain for the convenience of the Pilgrims, the Saudi Ambassador said, “Hardly a month passes by without a new project or a new service being launched to improve and care for the Holy places and, eventually, for the visitors to these places. As you are all well aware, each year, the Kingdom hosts more than two million Muslims who come from all over the world specifically to perform Hajj, in addition to several millions who visit the Holy places in Makkah and Madinah throughout the year.”

Mentioning about the development of the religious and holy sites, the Saudi Ambassador said, “It is no exaggeration to say that the moment one Hajj season ends, the authorities immediately begin working diligently in preparation for the next. For example, those who are leaving to the Holy Places with this blessed delegation will notice that the passage between Safa and Marwah – which the place for one of Hajj’s main rituals – is almost twice as spacious this year as it was last year. They will know that plans are already underway to significantly expand King Abd al-Aziz Airport in Jeddah and Prince Muhammad ibn Abd al-Aziz airport in Madinah.”

“Moreover, they will know of the Saudi Arabian Government’s plans to build a modern high-speed train system that connects the Holy cities of Makkah and Madinah with Jeddah and other cities. And the list goes on and on…,” mentioned Prince Mohammed and added, “By launching all of these projects and services, the greatest reward the Kingdom looks for is to ensure that Hajj is performed properly and comfortably, and that pilgrims return home to their families safe, happy and fulfilled.”

The Saudi Ambassador also informed, “Out of approximately two million Muslims in the United Kingdom, about 50,000 British citizens, on average, performed Hajj or Umrah last year and the year before it. A similar or larger number expected this year. I would like to take this opportunity to assure you that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will do everything it can to ensure that the mission of the British Hajj Delegation is a successful one.”

Prince Mohammed expressed his “sincere thanks and appreciation to Her Majesty’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office – with special thanks to the Hajj Desk – for the invaluable support they extend annually to the British Hajj Delegation; thus enabling it to travel to Saudi Arabia and play a significant role in looking after the welfare of the British Muslim pilgrims.”

The Prince also praised “the efforts of the Hajj Desk in producing and distributing thousands of leaflets that provide ‘Advice to British Hajjis’ – a very comprehensive and practical guide to the pilgrims” and expressed “thanks to all members of the Hajj Advisory Group and its Chairman, Lord Adam Patel, who has proven himself to be instrumental in the success of his group and the British Hajj Delegations throughout the years.”

The Saudi Ambassador also expressed thanks and appreciation to the Director of the Islamic Cultural Centre, Dr. Ahmad al-Dubayan, to all of his staff and to the heads and staff of other Islamic centres for their invaluable efforts and the great work they have done, and continue to do.”
Praising the British Hajj Delegation, the Saudi Ambassador said, “The British Hajj Delegation has become a model for others to follow; due to its highly organized planning and effective execution on the ground.”

“Undoubtedly, the support offered by the British Government to the Hajj Delegation is a clear example of the high level of care and attention it gives to British Muslims at all times and in all fields, as an integral part of this country’s demographic combination,” mentioned the Saudi Ambassador and added, “This – as reflected in real life – strengthens British Muslims sense of belonging as citizens of this great country and re-enforces their commitment and dedication to the wellbeing and development of their communities and country as a whole.”

The Saudi Ambassador wished the “British Hajj Delegation, and all British Muslims who are performing Hajj this year, a safe journey, a blissful visit to the Holy places, an accepted Hajj and a safe return to their homes and loves ones.”.

Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn
Lord Adam Patel of Blackburn, the Leader of the British Hajj Delegation, said, “The British Hajj Delegation is a unique consular project and builds on work already undertaken by the FCO to support large movements of British citizens abroad, such as the World Cup. This aims and objectives of the delegation demonstrate clearly the commitment of the FCO to diversity and supporting British citizens abroad.”

“There are many countries with much larger Muslim populations, such as the USA, France and Germany. Yet they do not provide their citizens with this level of support. As far as I know only France and Germany send representatives from their Embassy’s to provide support in emergencies,” said the leader of the British Hajj Delegation.

“I cannot stress enough that these preventive measures result in great savings to the NHS (in early diagnosis) and employers (less time of work). It is estimated that over one million pounds are saved every year…We have now supported over 25,000 people over the last 9 years,” said Lord Patel and added, “This year the delegation will again comprise of 9 doctors (including a female GP) and 3 consular officials. This is in addition to support from consular officials in Jeddah and Riyadh.”

Speaking about the success of the delegation, Lord Patel, who is leading the British Hajj Delegation for the ninth year, informed, “In advance of the Hajj taking place the FCO along with the Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform (BERR) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) run an extensive campaign to inform pilgrims what they should look for when arranging a Hajj package so that they are properly protected if things go wrong on their Hajj.”

“This year, a number of meetings have been held with BERR and ATOL officials with members of the public to discuss a range of problems that are encountered during the Hajj and also Umrah,” mentioned Lord Patel and added, “One of the outcomes of these meetings is to form a co-coordinating committee with ATOL, BEER, FCO, UK tour operators and businesses to make recommendations to ensure the Hajj pilgrimage is as trouble free as possible for British citizens. I look forward to your support in this crucial area of work.”

Finally, the leader of the British Hajj Delegation expressed his “thanks to the Saudi government, Ministry of Hajj, Dr. Al-Dubayan and officials at the Saudi Embassy for the vital role they play in supporting the work of the delegation.”

The Second Islamic Finance and Trade Conference in London

The Second Islamic Finance and
Trade Conference in London

Dr. Mozammel Haque

The Two-days Second Islamic Finance and Trade Conference (IFTC), sponsored by International Holdings, Jadwa Bank, MAIC, UEM and Islam Channel and supported by the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Islamic Development Bank, the City of London, the Department of UK Trade & Investment and the World Islamic Economic Forum, was held at Park Plaza Victoria, London on 28 and 29 October 2008.

Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, M.P.
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Jack Straw, M.P. said, “I represent a constituency with a very large Muslim community – one third of the population of Blackburn, in fact, are followers of the Islamic faith. It is also a great pleasure to speak to such an illustrious group of people – leading figures across the worlds of finance, business and academia – and to support a conference which is furthering the important aim of making the United Kingdom “the gateway to Islamic finance and trade”.

Speaking about the relationship between Islam and Britain, Lord Chancellor said, “The relationship between Islam and Britain is not a new one; this country has been greatly enriched over the course of centuries by the Muslim history and heritage and by its learned and vibrant culture. Chaucer refers to Islamic scholars and physicians in the prologue to his Canterbury Tales as early as 1386:

“With us there was a doctor of physic;In all this world was none like him to pickFor talk of medicine and surgery; …
Well read was he in Esculapius,And Deiscorides, and in Rufus,Hippocrates, and Hali, and Galen,Serapion, Rhazes, and Avicen, …”

“But an even earlier connection – with a financial connotation – between Islam and Britain exists in the form of a gold coin displayed not far from here in the British Museum. The coin dates back to the 8th century and to the reign of King Offa of Mercia. Because of what were believed to be good trade relations between this country and the Islamic nations of the East, the coin contains both the mark of England – “There is no deity but God, without partners” – and an Arabic inscription of the shahadah – the first pillar of Islam,” mentioned the Secretary of State for Justice.

Speaking about the Islamic faith in Britain, Lord Chancellor said, “The Islamic faith is also now a vital and established part of British life. Islam is the second largest and the fastest growing religion in the UK, and British people are, more than ever before, enjoying and experiencing its religious and cultural traditions.”

Speaking about the contribution of the British Muslim community, the Secretary of State for Justice said, “One of the most important contributions of the Muslim community – indeed, to the tune of over £31 billion each year, by some estimates – is to our financial sector and economy.”

“This Government is proud to have supported the development of the Islamic finance sector ever since 2003, when we first began to work towards establishing a level tax and regulatory playing field between conventional and Islamic finance. That same year, Howard Davies – then chair of the newly created Financial Services Authority – invited an audience of Middle East bankers to discuss the establishment of an Islamic bank in this country. As a result of this and the hard work of some in the audience, the first branch of the Islamic Bank of Britain opened in 2004 in Birmingham,” mentioned Jack Straw, M.P.

Lord Chancellor also said, “We have made significant progress since then; most obviously with the fundamental reform of stamp duty to facilitate Islamic mortgages and the extension of relief on those mortgages to companies as well as individuals. But also by introducing measures to remove barriers for other Sharia-compliant products and by addressing tax and regulatory issues so as to encourage the issuance of sukuk.”

Mentioning about the effects, the Secretary of State for justice said, “Islamic finance is now one of the most innovative financial service sectors in the UK. There are now five standalone Islamic banks, and over 20 conventional banks with Sharia compliant windows. A number of sukuk have been listed on the London Stock Exchange. And London has established itself as a major global hub for Islamic finance and the key centre in the Western world.”

Speaking about the Islamic Finance and Trade in the United Kingdom, Straw, M.P. said, “We, as a Government are committed to developing still further Islamic trade and finance in the United Kingdom. This is partly – of course – because we want this country to benefit from the many opportunities Islamic trade and finance afford. We see much to gain from this – for London, in reinforcing its reputation as the leading financial centre in the world, and for the United Kingdom as a whole, in making our economy stronger and our financial services more competitive.”

Speaking about the contribution Islamic finance world has to make, Jack Straw, M.P. said, “I was talking just before with colleagues about the important contribution the Islamic finance world has to make in redeveloping our institutions – to ensure that our financial instruments are asset based. But benefit to the economy – enormously important though it is, particularly in the prevailing economic circumstances – is not the sole basis for our commitment to Islamic finance and trade. It is also because we consider that everyone in the UK ought to have access to financial services which suit their faith, regardless of their faith.”

The Secretary of State for Justice said that there are “something worth repeating: British and Muslim are complementary not contradictory. The most eloquent, living proof of this is in the people that are here this afternoon – and in those who will shortly be accepting the esteemed Islamic Finance Awards. British Muslims are where Britain and Islam intersect. Celebrating their success is the best way of showing that these two identities can and do thrive in the same place, in the same person, in the same country.”

“I have spoken about Sharia compliant products. I now want to say a word about Sharia more widely. Because the same thinking which underpins our approach to both. Of course those who live in this country will always be governed by English law and will be subject to the jurisdiction of English or Scottish courts,” the Lord Chancellor said and added, “But given the fact that speculation abounds on this point, let me say once again: There is nothing whatever in English law that prevents people abiding by Sharia principles if they wish to, provided they do not come into conflict with English law. There is no question about that. But English law will always remain supreme, and religious councils subservient to it.”

While concluding his speech, the Secretary of State for Justice, said, “It is the very diversity of Britain – and the opportunities afforded to everyone – which underpins our success, our dynamism and what makes so many individuals and families want to settle here. Our policies in relation to Islamic finance and trade, like our policies across the board, must continue to promote that diversity.”

Straw, M.P. also said, “This Government’s commitment to embracing Islamic finance and trade also derives from the fact that it is a way of forging links between countries and building relationships between peoples across the world. A way of reminding us that there is far, far more that unites than divides us.”

“I would like to finish where I began, by paying tribute to the vital contribution of Muslims to life in the United Kingdom, not least in terms of Islamic trade and finance. I am enormously admiring of your achievements, your successes, and of the way you use your talent and your time in service of the broader community,” concluded the Secretary of State for Justice.

Stephen Timms, M.P.
The Labour M.P. for East Ham, Stephen Timms, made some points from his standpoint as a Minister in the Treasury at the Muslim Council of Britain’s Second Islamic Finance and Trade Conference. “At the first conference, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown underlined his goal that London should be the world centre for Islamic finance – and we have made good progress since then. It is a goal which is even more important in a period of turbulence in the world economy like the one we are in at the moment,” Stephen Timms mentioned.

The Labour M.P. for East Ham said, “We are already the West’s major centre for Islamic finance. 18 sukuk have been listed in London, worth some $13 billion between them. We have five dedicated Islamic banks, and over twenty conventional banks that offer Islamic financial services. There are more banks in Britain offering Islamic finance than in the whole of the rest of Western Europe put together. Around the world, Islamic finance assets have been growing at a rate of almost 20% per year since 2000 – and are now worth perhaps $700 billion worldwide.”

“Over the past five years we have made a series of reforms to establish a level playing field – in tax and regulation – between conventional and Islamic finance. There has been real progress, enabling development of genuinely competitive Sharia’ compliant mortgages, Individual Savings Accounts and Child Trust Funds,” Timms, M.P. said and added, “We have been looking at the potential of the Government offering its own, sterling-denominated, sovereign sukuk. We will be providing an update on progress at the Pre-Budget Report in a few weeks time.”

The Labour M.P. for East Ham also mentioned, “Before the end of the year, arising from our work with the Islamic Finance Experts Group, we will be publishing a document with UK Trade and Investment, setting out clearly the UK Government’s future approach to Islamic finance, and focusing attention on what needs to be done to make further progress. We have in Britain community and commitment; skills and scale; expertise and connections around the world. It’s an opportunity that we want to see realised for the benefit of Britain as a whole – strengthening London’s position as – not just one of the world’s leading financial centres – but as the world centre.”

Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Earlier, while opening the Islamic Finance and Trade Conference, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, the chair of the Advisory Group for the Islamic Finance and Trade Conference, said, “ The IFTC was launched in 2006 when the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and present Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, M.P. set a challenge to make Britain the gateway to Islamic Finance and Trade. This has remained at the heart of our aims and objectives for this initiative.”

Speaking about the purpose of the IFTC, Sir Iqbal said, “The primary purpose of this platform is to promote, enhance and expand the trading relationships between the UK and Muslim countries. We do this in order to attract inward investment for Britain whilst creating business opportunities for our trading partners in Muslim countries. The result of which, we believe, will be to generate prosperity for both. Seeking international solutions to the current financial crisis, “This requires a global framework for managing our economies and setting up international rules and regulations for finance and trade. It is only right that British Muslims be offered an opportunity to contribute to the establishment of such frameworks.”

“We believe that cross-fertilisation of ideas of people of diverse backgrounds and experiences offer us the best chance of discovering the most effective solutions to the challenges we face today. With a growth rate of 15% per annum, Islamic finance has been attracting some of the best minds and leading experts from the financial and banking community in the last few years,” said Sir Iqbal and added, “This conference will debate how we can build a more stable world economy. We call upon all delegates to contribute to this exciting agenda and help face the challenges of the future.”

Sir Iqbal also said, “The Islamic principles that govern trade and finance seek to promote investment and unlock cash flow. As a result of recent rise in oil prices there has been a significant increase in the liquidity of many Muslim countries.”

“London, with its unique reputation and unrivalled expertise in structuring customized financial transactions for a diverse range of clients has the ability to unlock the potential of this increased liquidity through Islamic finance. The IFTC is not a place to only talk business but to do business,” noted Sir Iqbal.

Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari
Mentioning about the contribution of two million strong British Muslim community, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, the Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), said, “The IFTC is but another demonstration of what Muslims are doing to contribute to the wellbeing of our nation. In this gathering of investment bankers, lawyers, policy makers and business people we hope to create new partnerships and strengthen existing ones between the UK and Muslim countries.”

Dr. AbdulBari hopes the Second IFTC (Islamic Finance & Trade Conference) “will serve to rekindle interest in the nascent Islamic finance provision which has started in this country over the last few years. The government has pledged to provide a level playing field for Islamic financial products and the emerging framework for their provision in the UK will serve as a solid starting point.”

Referring to the 2012 Olympic Games in London, Dr. AbdulBari expressed his happiness that “The IFTC organizers have found areas where Islamic financial products can potentially be utilised to help actualize the 2012 Games, despite the credit crunch.”

“I am confident that this initiative will serve us all well. I am also hopeful that the broader debate on Islamic finance and trade during the two days of the IFTC will be followed up by meaningful co-operation by participants to help us chart our way out of the present financial crisis,” concluded Dr. AbdulBari.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Launch of National Hajj Awareness

Launch of National Hajj Awareness
Week at House of Lords

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, Patron of the Association of British Hujjaj (ABH) launched the National Hajj Awareness Week at the House of Lords on Wednesday, the 22 October 2008. The launch was attended by Lord Hunt, deputy leader of the House of Lords, Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action, Hazzaa Hasher, in Charge of Islamic Affairs, Saudi Embassy, representatives from the Department of CAA, Department of BERR, Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), diplomats, community leaders and journalists.

Lord Ahmed
While launching the Hajj Awareness Week, Lord Ahmed mentioned some of the achievements of the ABH: 25,000 British Muslims go for Hajj every year and many thousands do Umrah and there was a need for British Muslims facilities not only consular advice but more important health advice and other kind of advice which is now available in Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat and particularly in Makkah.

While thanking the British government, Lord Ahmed said, “It was our government, the British government which is pioneer in this particular field that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office at that time under the leadership of Baroness Symonds who first established this service for the British Hujjaj. Now Muslim staffs from the Consular Office in Jeddah actually go to Mina, Muzdalifa, Arafat and Makkah to provide not only No Objection Certificate (NOC) to those people who die by natural causes in these places but also provide other kinds of support when people lose their documents, they need financial help or any medical help required.

Lord Ahmed also said, “This is very important that we held this event in this Parliament every year but this also sent a message to the entire British communities that there is somebody who cares in terms of providing facilities for Muslims who was there on Hajj. The most important is the documents they need; our communities are not usually organised and usually forget that we need meningitis, jabs, we also need to make sure that health and safety aspects. But even now we have these rogue travel agents that have been operating since last year.”

The department of BERR has organised seminars and they have taken some action. Lord Ahmed said, “They are sending the message across the Trading Standard that if anyone is involved with any of that corruption again or any of that mismanagement again they will be prosecuted and they will not be allowed to get away with taking money from the British Hujjaj.”

Referring to Saudi Arabia, Lord Ahmed said, “Saudi government is helping to make those facilities the best possible and I say thank you to the Saudi authorities. When we had influx of 50,000 refugees from Bosnia and Kosovo and we had to make arrangements, we were in a chaos. And here you have made arrangements for three million people. Sometimes things are not so easy but most of the times things do work out well. We want to say thank again to them.”

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, Shadow Minister for Community Cohesion and Social Action, said, “I am here to learn today. It is extremely important subject; it is something I am getting letter and email every year from people who travel for Hajj and Umrah and the difficulties they face and the concerns they have. And I think that in terms of my own brief, in terms of Community Cohesion and Social Action, it is absolutely essential that I understand this area and understand it well. I hope it will be going to be a learning exercise.”

Lord Hunt
Lord Hunt, deputy leader of the House of Lords and Minister of Environment and Rural Affairs, who have been attending and giving speeches from the very beginning of the ABH, said, “The ABH have done a lot of efforts and energy into the health awareness campaign. It’s not something that stops after a few meeting; it’s a continuous round the year effort and I do on behalf of the government thank you for all the work that you have done. I have no doubt that it is hugely beneficial impact on pilgrims and on the health and safety aspects of the pilgrimage that they have undertaken. “

While mentioning about the travel agents, Lord Hunt said, “When I went to the meeting in Birmingham which must have been in last autumn I was struck by the report of the pilgrims and some of their concerns about the travel agents and some of the issues that were raised. I said then and I say again to you that if any help that I can in terms of discussion with government about these issues I am very keen and anxious to help you.”

Stephen Gregory
Mr. Stephen Gregory, from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) spoke on behalf of the CAA, the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR), Trading Standards, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government. “They are considering the issues affecting Hajj pilgrims and to jointly agree initiatives and actions with the aim to improving business awareness of consumer protection regulations, as well as consumer awareness of their rights,” said Gregory.

Mr. Gregory also mentioned, “We are currently involved in a series of Seminars around the UK to raise awareness levels of both Pilgrims attending Hajj and Tour Operators. We have already seen an increase in the number of Hajj specialists applying for ATOLs and we now estimate that around 12,000 pilgrims are protected under the ATOL system, which ids approximately 50% of the UK market worth around £35M a year. We still have a way to go but things are improving.”

It is also mentioned that in July, Gareth Thomas hosted a summit at BEERR for Travel organisers to give them the opportunity hear more about the responsibilities placed on them and to share their views with us on how they believe the Hajj travel industry can improve its reputation and achieve greater levels of consumer confidence.

Officials from BERR and ATOL are currently attending and giving talks at some local regional meetings of pilgrims during October and November.

Finally,. We would encourage you to advise any pilgrims you came across to bring all cases of wrong-doing by Hajj tour organisers to the attention of their Local Authority Trading Standards Department. However, any accusations or threats of dire consequences or bullying where a consumer has suggested they might bring these cases to the attention of the authorities should be brought to the attention of the police.

In reply to Questions & Answers session, Hazzaa Al-Hasher of the Saudi Embassy, said, “We welcome Hujjaj and we wish them to perform Hajj and come back home safely. I am making it clear that The Saudi embassy does not charge fees for Visa or any other services. If somebody charge fees for visa, they are cheating.”

An Interview with Lord Ahmed
Lord Ahmed told me in an interview, “First of all, let me pray for long life and good health for the Custodian of Two Holy Mosques, King Abdullah, because he has done fantastic improvements already in the Haram, first of all, in Safa and Marwah and also in Mina as well and the greater arrangements that has been made. This will make Hajj easier for the Hujjaj. Already Saudi Government for many years, late King Fahd, may Allah bless him and give him the highest place in Jannah (Heaven), made fantastic arrangements and also extended the facilities and therefore we are getting the facilities which have now being created will never have the kind of accidents or sort of mishaps that have happened in the past, only small one.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “The Government of Saudi Arabia has really being providing fantastic facilities. We know that in Western Europe when we have influx of 50,000 refugees from Kosovo and Balkans we had great difficulties in dealing with it and to say a temporary arrangement for two and a half million people is made in Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafat. It is almost impossible task fir many many western countries and for Saudi Arabia to provide such good facilities in providing infrastructure, food, healthcare and providing of this great facility of making people relax and pray to Allah the Almighty. Well, I only say thank you them but also pray for their success.”

An Interview with Hazzaa Hasher
Mr. Hazzaa Al-Hasher, In charge of Islamic Affairs, the Saudi Embassy in London told me in an interview, “First of all we are willing to listen and to address all the concerns of the British Hujjaj. Our concern is that the British Hujjaj go to Makkah al-Mukarramah and perform Hajj and come back safely to their country.”

As regard Rogue Travel Agents, Mr. Al-Hashar said, “We always said and advised people to go to the well-known registered travel agent and to have the contract written with them of the services they promised. We also told that Hajj and Umrah visa is free. We do not charge fees for visa or services.”

Mr. Al-Hasher emphasized, “Visa and services are free; if anybody is charging fees they are cheated.”

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Motherhood is one unique gift that only women possess

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Singapore: Exemplary Mother Awards 2008 was held at Raffles Convention Centre (Swissotel The Stamford) on Saturday, 18th of October, 2008. The Guest of Honour was Mr. Teo Chee Hean, Minister for Defence. This was a very significant awards presentation event of honouring outstanding women organized by Jamiyah Singapore.

Universal values are the mainstay of human civilization. One of the highly cherished universal values is ‘Reverence for mothers’. While mankind can take pride in this 21st century world for the grest achievements that we are able to make in all walks of life, there are certain things which need to be given prime importance. Kindness, love and concern for mankind regardless of race or faith are such values that we should assiduously inculcate in the minds of people, especially our younger generation so that they grow with a firm belief and faith in the paradigm of peace and harmony,” said Hajah Saripah Kasmani, chairperson of the Organising Committee of the Exemplary Mother Award 2008 Presentation Ceremony.

She also mentioned, “Families are the basic and the best schools that can teach its members the highest values. In families, it is Mothers, who are the pillars and who can play an eminent role in transmitting these eternal values to their children. We have to encourage and motivate such role model mothers, who have not only been successful in transmitting such values to their own children and families, but find time to spare their time, talent and skills for the community and society they live in.”

Mr. Teo Chee Hean, Minister For Defence
The Minister for Defence said, “There are two important aspects to these awards. First, this is a pioneering initiative in Singapore, which started as early as 1992, with the noble objective of honouring mothers and womanhood. Second, although this award is organized by Jamiyah, this award is open to all eligible women regardless of race or faith.
This reflects the multi racial and multi religious ethos that we strive to nurture and maintain in Singapore.”

Speaking about the women in Singapore, Mr. Hean said, “Women play important roles in all areas in our society. Women have made tremendous strides and contributed immensely to Singapore’s development and growth. Women in Singapore have broken out of the old boundaries of their traditional roles. They now have equal opportunity in education and employment. Women have risen to the top of many major private and public sector organizations. And there are a significant number of woman entrepreneurs who have started and run successful businesses in a range of areas.”

“The new opportunities open to women have also raised expectations about what being a successful woman means, not least among women themselves. Women are succeeding at work, in business, in community work, and in raising families. But for women, as it is for men, it is hard to do everything and to do everything well. Perhaps what is the most important achievement for women in Singapore today is that they not only have opportunities, they have choices. Women can decide what they want to make of their lives – whether they want to do it all, all at once, or they can choose which parts they want to give more emphasis and focus to in each phase of their lives.”

Referring back to the Exemplary Mother Awards organized by Jamiyah Singapore, the Defence Minister for Singapore said, “These awards recognize and honour mothers who are successful in their careers, in taking care of their families and at the same time actively involved in helping the community.”

“Motherhood is one specific and unique gift that only women posses – the ability to bring forth new life and to nurture it through its tender years. Stable and strong families where father and mother mutually support one another are the best environment for raising children. Strong families are the nurseries where children who are well brought up learn social discipline, know how to love and share with others, and are motivated to do well not only for themselves but also for community,” maintained Mr. Hean.

The Defence Minister for Singapore also appreciated the role of women: “The recipients of Jamiyah’s Exemplary Mother awards as well as the finalists this year, as in the previous years, are fine examples and role models for mothers, present and mothers to be.
Each has balanced family responsibilities, career and community service. The struggles that they have undergone, the challenges that they have surmounted, the sacrifices they have made to see that their loved ones are better off and successful in life are lessons that everyone can learn.”

Finally the Singapore Defence Minister congratulated the “Jamiyah Singapore, particularly the women’s section of Jamiyah for organizing this event successfully for the last 16 years. My congratulations also to the winners and finalists of this year's Exemplary Mother Awards.”

Mr. Abu Bakar Mohyeddin
Earlier, while welcoming Guests of Honour, Honourable Minister Teo Chee Hean and his gracious wife Mrs Teo for their presence at the Award presenting ceremony, Mr. Abu Bakar Mohyeddin, President of the Jamiyah Singapore, expressed his happiness and pleased to organize this event for the sixteenth year in honouring and recognizing outstanding mothers in particular and womanhood in general.

Mohyeddin said, “This event is a symbolic expression of our eternal devotion and love to our mothers. Mothers are the fountain head of unconditional love and affection. The sense of peace and security that we have experienced in the presence of our mothers is precious and genuine. They teach us the basics of peace and the sweetness of harmony. Occasions like this reaffirm our gratitude in this regard.”

“With our rising standards of living, a dual-career family has become more of a necessity than a choice. Moreover the educational achievement of women has led to their need to seek self-fulfillment through their careers. However, it is a fact that their role as home-makers and child-minders has not been entirely compromised by their pursuit of education and career. The need to balance both work and family roles remain as challenges that women face in our society. However, the challenges of child development for working mothers is lightened by the pro-family and pro-children policies of the Government,” the President of Jamal Singapore said.

“Thus the challenges faced by the mothers in the past are not entirely similar to the ones faced by mothers today. In spite of such challenging circumstances we have women who have proved to be more than capable in this difficult area, and are pillars of family, the community and society at large,” said the President of Jamiyah Singapore and added, “With such excellent qualities we see children reflecting the exquisite love and sacrifice of their mothers. They are grateful for the maternal blessings which cannot be repaid. Indeed the children as the future of the nation are the symbols of the universal values which their mothers have infused in them, not just by words alone but by dint of personal example.”

Mr. Mohyeddin also said, “Balancing their house hold and career responsibilities, and also giving their free time in volunteering for community service. They are indeed role models in our society. We appreciate them and appeal to all mothers and mothers-to-be to emulate their shining examples.”

Mr. Mohyeddin also expressed his thanks to the Guests of Honour for their kind and gracious presence and also thanks the esteemed Lee Foundation, Singapore Buddhist Lodge and Asia Industrial Development Private Limited for their munificent support to this annual exemplary mother awards event.

Dr. Melanie Chew, Chairperson of the Panel of Judges for the Exemplary Mother Awards 2008; Dr. Della Lee, Chairperson of the D.S.Lee Foundation and wife of Dr. Lee Seng Gee, Chairman of the Lee Foundation; Mrs Wee Kim Wee, wife of late President of Singapore Dr. Wee Kim Wee; Mr. Lim Kok Eng representing Mr Lee Seng Tee, Director, Lee Foundation; Mr. Lee Bock Guan, President of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge; Mr V.R.Nathan, Chairman of the Inter-faith committee, Hindu Endowments Board; Dr. Abdelillah Benarafa, Expert, Manuscripts and Cultural Diversity Division of ISESCO and Dr. Abdus Salam Al Ahmar, Member of the Executive Council of Mohammadiah Association for Ulama, Morocco

Exemplary Mother Competition
The Exemplary Mother Competition started in 1993 with the Wee Kim Wee Shield which was presented to Jamiyah by the late former President Wee Kim Wee. From 1993 to 2004, 12 mothers were honoured for their perseverance in enduring hardship and sacrifices in raising their children. They toiled throughout the early years of their life to provide a better future for their children, in terms of education and well-being, as they did not want their children to go through life, the same way they did. The Wee Kim Wee Shield completed its 12 rounds in 2004.

In May 2004, The President of Singapore President S.R. Nathan presented a new Shield to Jamiyah to continue honouring exemplary mothers for another twelve years. At the suggestion of the President S.R. Nathan, the criteria for selection of the Exemplary Mother will include her contribution towards community service in addition to her ability to balance career and family.

The Exemplary Mother 2007 was held on 23 June 2007 at the Grand Ballroom of the Ritz Carlton Millenia Singapore. President Nathan and Mrs. Nathan were the Guest of Honour. President Nathan presented the winner with the President’s Shield, a plaque and $5,000 cash. The First and Second Runners-Up received cash prize of $3000 and $2000 respectively, and a plaque each.

Role of Muslim NGOs in Asia-Pacific

Role of Muslim NGOs in Asia-Pacific Region

Dr. Mozammel Haque

SINGAPORE: The Three-day Seminar on the theme of “Networking For Development: Role of Muslim NGOs in Asia and the Pacific Region” organized by the Muslim Missionary Society Singapore (Jamiyah Singapore) in cooperation with the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) and Qatar Charity was held at Jamiyah from 15-17th of October 2008.

A large number of diplomats and diplomatic personnel and representatives of major religions in the country, journalists and Muslim leaders and leaders from other faith organizations and individuals attended the opening ceremony in addition to delegates of cultural centres and Islamic organizations from Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myannar, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Timor Leste, United Kingdom and Vietnam.

Around 50 delegates and observers representing NGOs from 20 countries from Asia and the Pacific Region participated in this Seminar. There were seven sessions besides the opening and concluding sessions.

The opening ceremony of the three-day Seminar started with recitation from the verses of the Holy Qur’an and welcoming address by the President of Jamiyah Dawah Islamiyah Singapore, Mr. Abu Bakar Mohyeddin who touched on the policy of Jamiyah Singapore in enhancing harmony and dialogue by inviting other religions and races in the country.

In his welcome address, Haji Sheikh Abu Bakar Mohyeddin said, “Imams play an important role in society, especially in promoting greater interaction amongst mosques, the community and the general public for the objective of promoting moderation, peace and harmony. We are happy that Qatar Charity is also supporting us in the Training Workshop for Imams from the region concurrently with this Seminar.”

“Today mankind is facing new challenges both in the economic and social fronts. While we have succeeded in harnessing science and technology for progress and higher standards of life, much more can be done for durable peace and harmony. In this regard we are working continually to strengthen the infusion of the correct values in our society,” said the President of Jamiyah Singapore.

Haji Sheikh Mohyeddin also said, “All religions have one perfect theme in common: that is to work for peace and tranquility, in every area of human activity and consciousness. We cannot allow deviationists to disrupt the noble purpose of all religions. Consequently due to the urgency of the call for durable peace, His Majesty King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz and His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI have met to discuss this crucial need and well-publicized initiative have begun.”

He also said, “We are happy to hold this three day seminar to discuss positively the prospects of Muslim NGOs pooling resources and expertise for the welfare and development of the people in our respective areas of work.”

The keynote address was delivered by the guest of honour, the Minister for Law and Second Minister for Home Affairs, Mr. K. Shanmugam who confirmed Singapore’s policy in prioritizing the co-existence and peace among races and religions in Singapore.

It was followed by ISESCO address delivered by Dr. Abdelillah Benarafa who emphasized the importance of adhering to the values of Islam, moderation, wisdom, harmony and cooperation with all races, faiths and civilizations. It also called upon those working in the cultural field to give their utmost commitment towards reinforcing civilizational identity of Muslims in the midst of world challenges. It is the responsibility of those involved in cultural work to put in perspective the correct image of Islam and Muslims, by emphasizing the Islamic reference which highlights the importance of principles especially in strengthening the values of co-existence, harmony and peace among various civilizations.

Dr. Benarafa also called upon the leaders of the cultural centres to urgently explain correctly to the Muslim Ummah values and culture of broad-mindedness in Islamic civilization and to introduce the real teachings of Islam and Muslims.

Country papers on the following countries: Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Sri Lanka Timor Leste, United Kingdom, Vietnam, Singapore were presented. Besides these, Dr. Bibi Jan, President of Singapore May Teachers Union presented a paper on “Education and Development of the Muslim Ummah: Role of Muslim NGOs”; Dr. Faisal Yahya, Visiting Fellow Institute of South East Asian Studies (ISEAS) Singapore presented a paper on “Economic Development of the Muslim Ummah: Role of Muslim NGOs”.

Dr. Isa Hassan, Executive Director (Education and Welfare), Jamiyah Singapore also presented a paper on “Capacity Building for Muslim NGOs”; Mr. Mohd Anuar Yusop, Executive Director, Association of Muslim Professionals Singapore presented a paper on “Networking and Muslim NGOs: Issues and Challenges”; Mr. H. M. Saleem, Executive Secretary, Jamiyah Singapore presented a paper on “Touch and Harmony: Jamiyah’s Initiative for promoting Inter-racial and Inter-faith Harmony” and Dr. Mozammel Haque, Director General, World Muslim Congress, President’s Office; Jeddah, presented a paper on “The Muslim Community in Britain: An Overview”.

At the end of the three-day discussions and deliberations, the Seminar called for cultural and Islamic organizations “to project the moderate images and the tolerance of Islam and to correct its distorted images through the media, school book/curriculum and various forums and gatherings.”

The Seminar also resolved to “confirm the urgency of conducting dialogue among other faith followers in order to create understanding and cooperation for the sake of global peace based on humanity brotherhood and to make the culture of peace as theory and way in interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

The Seminar also resolved to “prepare database for Muslim competencies in the West and the world and also called upon the leaders of cultural centres and Islamic organizations to take part in circulating these form of Muslim competencies.”

The Seminar also resolved “to enhance the existing understanding and cooperation by adopting a pro-active approach towards empowering the Muslim Community through the participating NGO’s in principally Muslim minority countries through the sharing of resources, information, databases and the organizing of developmental activities that cater to the changing needs of time.”

The Seminar also resolved to “continue focusing on life-long balanced education as a conduit in elevating the Muslim Ummah towards uplifting their status as Ummatan Wasatan, the middle and moderating people.”

The participating NGOs were very enthusiastic and highly motivated at the need to collaborate and network amongst themselves to develop the resources endowed upon them by Almighty Allah and support the resolutions passed and endeavour to enhance that action plans decided upon are conscientiously implemented.

In view of the level of interest shown by the NGO’s and the pressing need for actions, Jamiyah Singapore as a coordinating body in cooperation with ISESCO announced that an initiative to collaborate with the NGO’s from the following countries in implementing developmental programmes that will bring about benefits to the Muslim Ummah in particular and humanity in general will be implemented promptly.

Muslim leaders of Timor Leste, Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia will work together, as a team, in ensuring that the project is run successfully with the support of ISESCO and the collaboration of Jamiyah Singapore.

Jamiyah Singapore also expressed its readiness to support justifiable projects including the IMAM Training Program which is aimed at ensuring that the standard and quality of our imams are uplifted to become more competent, committed, comprehensive, cohesive and complete in serving the Muslim Ummah.

Abu Bakar Mohyeddin, President of Jamiyah Singapore said that Jamiyah Singapore has decided to take one more step by working out specific community need based projects in countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Timor Leste, Papua New Guinea, Myanmar and Nepal in the near future in cooperation with ISESCO and requested Dr. Benarafa to strongly recommend to Dr. Abdelaziz Othman Altwiajri, Director General of ISESCO to support this initiative with the much needed financial support.

ISESCO thanked the President of Jamiyah Singapore, Tuan Haji Abu Bakar Mohyeddin for its readiness to support justifiable projects including the IMAM Training Program and for his dedication in advancing the interest of the Muslim Ummah and humanity and his tireless efforts to look at new initiatives in strengthening the position of the Muslims in the world.

The Seminar also expressed its sincere thanks to the Qatar charity for the support that they have extended to the Imam Training Program that take place in Singapore.