Finland: Considering legalizing male circumcision

Finland is considering legalising the practice of male circumcision. The Ministry of Social Affairs and Health is currently preparing draft legislation, which would make circumcision acceptable when performed by a doctor, according to the parents' wishes, and with the child's consent.

According to the bill, parents can choose to perform the procedure on behalf of a small child. However difficulties may arise in cases where one parent opposes the circumcision. Officials hope to bring the bill before Parliament as early as this year.

In Finland circumcisions are carried out for religious purposes by members of the Jewish, Muslim and Tartar communities. Estimates are that currently about 100 operations are performed annually.

Police Investigate Two Circumcision Cases

Currently the law on male circumcision is somewhat hazy. Information about circumcisions is passed on to police for further investigation. Police enquiries have put an end to some attempts to carry out circumcisions, since the procedure is treated as serious abuse.

In 2006, the Turku district court convicted a Muslim mother for circumcising her son, however she was not sentenced. The Court of Appeal subsequently ruled that the mother was not guilty of abuse. The case is now being considered in the Finnish Supreme Court.

Helsinki police are currently investigating two cases in which male circumcisions were performed by Muslim and Jewish families. Both operations were performed by persons brought into Finland by the families, and who were not medical professionals.

Police say that complications arose following the procedures and the babies had to be hospitalised. The cases will be reviewed by the prosecutor during the autumn.

Source: YLE (English)

Stockholm: 'All Swedes are gay'

Two gay people were attacked this week in Stockholm, while walking in the park and kissing. The attack, which took place while the EuroPride festival was in town, was widely discussed on the news. This was not the only hate crime during the EuroPride festival (see here and here)

A Swedish blog, Robsten, published a post saying that he was contacted by a very close acquaintance of one of the attacked men. He had spoken to this person, heard his story through and had decided it is believable. I bring a translation below.


First of all, I am closely associated with one of the attacked men, and have gotten a precise report of the whole sequence of events from him. I write this however completely on my own responsibility without knowledge or permission of the attacked men, because I think that the truth about this and what it represents must be told to the Swedish people before everything is too late for this country.

Tonight's incident wasn't just a hate crime against homosexuals but also a hate crime against Swedes. It's an excellent example of the hate and unprovoked violence against both Swedes and homosexuals to which immigration from outside Europe is equivalent.

Naturally none of the major newspapers or news sources revealed that it was about three Arabs who committed the act against two Swedes, nor how these Arabs humiliated the two men and their nationality, even a long time after one of them lay stabbed on the ground. This despite the fact that these newspapers were quite well informed of all these details.

During the knife assault the Arabs said to the victims among other things that 'all Swedes are gay', whereas they stabbed one of them with a knife, completely unprovoked.

In the newspaper it was described as a 'hate crime' just because the victim was a homosexual, but if it had been heterosexual Swedes it would certainly not have been called a hate crime, despite the fact that it meets the complete definition of it, that is that the perpetrator expresses hate during the attack or that the underlying reason for the attack is based on the victim's ethnicity. No, since our dear politicians have seen fit to put in an exception in the law about 'hate crimes', namely that it doesn't count if the victims are Swedish, even if they are attacked for their ethnicity.

In precisely this way the truth about today's hate and brutal violence against Swedes is continuously hushed up by the media. The truth is that cases such as these are on-going and happen constantly in today 'multicultural' society, and the truth is also that this hate against homosexuals and the women's oppression that the media at the same time screams about and condemns, to an extremely large majority consists of direct imports from countries outside Europe.

And the media not only withholds the truth, but at the same time they try as often as they can to insinuate that it's 'Nazis', 'skinheads' or the like who are responsible for this type of crime, while the proportion of those are really negligibly low, almost nonexistent, compared with the immigrant crime of this type (and most other types, for that matter).

Source: Robsten blog (Swedish)

Hijab style

Autumn trends are already appearing on the pages of glossy magazines, but for some fashionistas an important question remains unanswered. What will be autumn's key hijab look?

Muslim women anxious to keep their style cutting-edge are turning to an ever-expanding number of blogs, Facebook groups and YouTube videos to discover the hottest way to tie their headscarves.

Jana Kossaibati, whose blog, Hijab Style, claims to be the UK's first style guide for Muslim women, says women are getting more experimental. "Muslim girls are very conscious of the way they dress. When you wear a headscarf you stand out as a Muslim, so what kind of message are you also sending out if you look drab or messy?" Kossaibati started her site because there wasn't another like it in the UK, "but since it began 10 months ago a lot of others have appeared," she says.

(more, Guardian)


Two sisters who emigrated from northern Iraq to Norway as children and have studied costume and fashion design are launching their own line of head-coverings, geared to Muslim women in Scandinavia.

"We started using the hijab three years ago, and it was very difficult to find any that fit into daily life in a western country," Nafeesah Badrkhan told Oslo newspaper Aften.

She and her sister Susan, both educated in fashion and costume design, started making their own. "We kept getting questions from other girls and women about where we had bought them," Badrkhan added.

The two soon realized there was a market for western-style head coverings, and their entrepreneurial instincts led to creation of an entire hijab collection. They plan to launch an online boutique this fall.

(more, Aftenposten)

France: Eleven Kurds to be tried for attacks on Turks

French prosecutors have sent 11 young Kurds for trial over a series of fire bomb attacks on Turkish targets in France that injured several people, some seriously, sources close to the case said Tuesday.

They are all suspected of being sympathisers of the separatist Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which is classified as a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The suspects, most of them in their early 20s, are accused of having carried out molotov cocktail attacks on two Turkish cafes in the southwest city of Bordeaux, and in Marseille on the southern Mediterranean coast in March 2007.

They are thought to have been behind a similar attack against a Turkish cultural association in Bordeaux later the same month.

Two of the suspects were arrested in April 2007 shortly after another fire bomb attack in Bordeaux on a cafe popular with the Turkish community. The pair were allegedly carrying a petrol-soaked bag.

A number of people were injured in these attacks, some of whom had suffered serious burns.


Source: Expatica (English)

UK: Teachers' union rejects motion against faith schools

The motion failed, thereby making it uninteresting to the mass media.


'Hell will freeze over' before Muslim schools give children a liberal education, teachers were told today.

Faith schools threaten to cause religious segregation and must not be expanded, said Wesley Paxton from teachers' union Voice.

He suggested divisions like those seen in Northern Ireland between Protestant and Catholic communities could arise in England if more Islamic groups take over schools.

His remarks follow government moves to give religious groups a greater role in education through an expansion of academies and an offer of state funding for private Muslim schools.

In a speech at the union's annual conference in Daventry, Mr Paxton said: 'More faith schools is probably going to mean more Islamic schools. There are already many schools with more than 50 per cent non-white enrolment.

'What benefits will there be by emphasising differences, by removing what non-Muslim influences these people will have, and reduce their chances of having a balanced upbringing?

'For girls in particular, can you imagine a UK madrassa being a hotbed of liberality, co-education, and having Cosmopolitan in the school library? I have a vivid imagination but I can't envisage that,' he said. 'In the words of President Nixon, "Hell will freeze over first." We are all people, we all breathe the same air, we need fewer distinctions, not more.'

Mr Paxton proposed a motion at the conference that warned: 'The opening of new faith schools could be divisive not inclusive.' Delegates were due to vote on it today.

The call follows plans to double the number of semi-independent academies in London to 70 by 2011, opening the way for more faith groups to run schools.

Last year, ministers pledged to support Muslim parents who wanted access to faith-based education for their children.

The Government said there was a demand for some private Muslim schools to join the state education system.

But Children's Secretary Ed Balls later claimed there was no government plan to expand faith schools.

He has also criticised popular faith schools for using their extra powers over admissions policies unfairly.

Dozens were found to have broken admissions rules while some allegedly charged parents fees for what should have been a free state education.

Sources: Daily Mail, Voice (English)

Sweden: Raped women seek virginity operations, funded by tax payers

Surgical reconstructions of the hymen, a fold of skin found at a woman's vaginal opening, are being performed by both public and private practitioners in Stockholm, a new report shows.

The study has caused alarm among local health officials and politicians, who were previously unaware that such operations took place at all, let alone at tax payer-funded health clinics.

"That there is even a demand for this type of operation is appalling. It is not illegal as long as it is voluntary, but I personally do not believe that girls that approach the healthcare services for a hymen reconstruction do this voluntarily," said Stockholm's vice-mayor and social services secretary, Ulf Kristersson of the Moderate Party in a statement

"[It's] a medical procedure without purpose."

The findings come from a project launched in the autumn of 2007 by Stockholm's city council launched to survey the incidence of "honour-related restrictions" on the lives of girls and boys living in the city.

One of these such restrictions is the practice of surgical operations to restore the hymens of young girls to ensure that they bleed following intercourse on their wedding night.

It is a common myth that blood from the breaking of the hymen during sexual intercourse indicates that the woman was a virgin.

After the summer, the Social Services Committee (Socialtjänsteförvaltningen) of Stockholm city council will present the report detailing 11 private and public clinics that perform the operation.

The price of the operation varied from 260 kronor ($43) at publicly financed hospitals to 25,000 kronor at private clinics.

The committee's study also details interviews with 14 women that had been raped.

According to the details from the study reported by the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper, the perpetrators had blackmailed their victims into silence by threatening to reveal the loss of their virginity.

Seven of the raped women sought reconstructive surgery.

"The young women which have been raped are so pressured that they can see only two paths to take. One is suicide. The other is hopelessness. They are desperate and find nowhere in society that can help them," wrote project leader detective-inspector Kickis Åhré Älgamo in the report, according to Svenska Dagbladet.

"Is it reasonable that individuals through physical and psychological abuse can force surgical procedures to preserve and maintain a myth?" Älgamo wrote.

The full report from the Social Services Committee will be presented in the beginning of 2009.

Source: The Local (English)

See also: Sweden: No virginity certificates, Denmark: Municipalities pay for virginity operations

Netherlands: 49% think doctors should take religious and cultural norms into consideration

49% think that family doctors should take the religious and cultural notions of their patients into account.  This according to a study which would be presented Tuesday by research institute NIVEL.

The study was held after the commotion last year when a Muslim couple refused the help of a male gynecologist.  [ed. I don't know of any story where a woman refused such help.]

Religious and cultural notions can also play a role in the question of whether people want to be vacinnated or whether they'll accept blood transfusions.  Cultural traditions often play a role in the therapy-trust of a patient.

27% thought that doctors should not take their patients religious or cultural background into account.

Source: Trouw (Dutch)

Egypt: 'Within 20 years, Muslims will be a majority' in Europe

Amr Khaled, Egyptian preacher, recently chosen by Times as the 13th most influential man in the world, via Memri (see clip here).  Khaled claims that within 20 years, Muslims will be a majority.  He also claims that there is a plot to eradicate the Muslims in Europe.  Europeans will provoke Muslims, and then use the expected Muslim response as a pretect to kick them out of Europe.  The solution?  Don't be provoked.  Except he doesn't use those exact words.


Interviewer: "How do you view the Islamic scene in Europe?"

Amr Khaled: "The most important thing is that there are 25-30 million Muslims in Europe. This figure has many implications."

Interviewer: "There are 25-30 million Muslims in Europe."

Khaled: "The Muslims keep having children, while the Europeans do not. This means that within 20 years, the Muslims will be a majority, which may have an exceptional influence on the decision-making. This makes other groups very angry, and they consider this to be very dangerous. These are the enemies of Islam, as we know full well.

"But the peoples of the West know nothing about the Muslims. Statistics show that 70% do not know who the Prophet of the Muslims is. The fact that Muhammad is the Prophet of the Muslims is not known to many people in the West. That's just one example."

Interviewer: "The name of the Prophet is unknown to..."

Khaled: "Not just his name, but who he was. Even if they know that the name of the Muslims' Prophet is Muhammad, they know nothing about him, about his history, when he lived, and so on. They know nothing about him.

"The goal of the enemies of Islam is to drive the 20-30 million [Muslims] out of Europe, or to provoke them in a way that would lead to their banishment. If [the Muslims] remain in Europe, this will be dangerous, so they must leave."

Interviewer: "So you are making a very important claim - that there are intentional and premeditated provocations in order to drive the Muslims out of their current home - Europe."


Khaled: "People will tell you that Denmark suffered economic losses, and this is true. So why does it continue? Because some believe that it is more beneficial to [drive out] the 30 million, and that it outweighs the boycott. So they are pushing in that direction."

"What is the solution? We must be very realistic and positive. What needs to be done? What we need is for the 30 million Muslims in Europe to infiltrate [society], and to show European and Western society how respectable and successful they are. Those are the key words: 'I am respectable and successful.' If the 30 million Muslims manage to ignore these provocations, and to channel their anger in support of the Prophet Muhammad and of Islam into becoming walking propaganda machines...

"Each person should say: 'I am an ambassador for Islam,' and they should all take action throughout Europe - in the companies where they work, in sports clubs, and in any place where they can mingle and fit in with the Europeans, and where they can show them their moral values and success. That will abolish the plan, and the Muslims will remain in Europe. We really need 10 years for the Muslims in Europe to become firmly established and very successful."


Source: Memri (English)

France: Baggage handlers discrimination case dismissed

The prosecutor of Bobigny announced Monday the dismissal of the discrimination case filed at the end of 2006 on behalf of Muslim baggage handlers at Charles de Gaulle airport.

Between May 2005 and November 2006 the Seine-Saint-Denis police district had withdrawn the badges of 72 employees suspected of being linked to Islamic terrorist movement, for reasons of 'airport security'.  The badges had enabled them to access a security-sensitive restricted area on the tarmac.

In several cases where there was no sufficient cause the withdrawals were canceled through administrative justice.  The issue even reached the Council of State, which had ordered the reassignment of a badge in February 2007.

In October 2006, the Bobigny prosecution started a preliminary investigation into discrimination, based on complaints by the CFDT trade union and the Association for the Defense of Human Rights (ADDH), a member of the collective against Islamophobia in France (CCIF), regarding seven baggage handlers.

The Bobigny prosecutor, François Molins, says that the alleged facts didn't constitute discrimination as per the penal code.  The withdrawal of the badges was in no way related to the Muslim religion of the baggage handlers, but rather to their behavior. 

In view of the investigation, the Paris police authority considers that the withdrawal was justified and that the police division had a legitimate purpose under the jurisprudence of the European Court for Human Rights.

The High Authority for the Struggle Against Discrimination and for Equality (HALDE) had to give up investigating the case, as it was investigated by the Bobigny prosecution.  The CFDT lawyer had then accused the Bobigny prosecution of 'locking up' the investigation for the purpose of "preparing a first class funeral" for the complaint.

Source: AFP (French)

See also: France: Baggage handlers barred from airport, France: Unofficial airport mosques closed

Brussels: Asylum seekers climbing on cranes

There have been similar cases in the past few months where several illegal immigrants climbed cranes in order to force the authorities to give them residence permits, but never on such a scale.


About 30 illegal immigrants have climbed up and occupied seven cranes in Brussels.  Twenty three are on four difference cranes in a wharf next to the Brouckère Square and seven others climbed up yesterday afternoon on a crane on the corner of Emile Jacqmainlaan and Mechelsestraat.  Six others have meanwhile occupied a crane in the Schuman Square and an unknown number are on a crane next to the Museum of Fine Arts.

In the Brouckère Square there are 30 asylum on four cranes on a wharf next to a casino being built, according to a student of CAS, the committee supporting the hunger strikes of asylum seekers at the Université Libre of Brussels (ULB).

The student reported that they are now occupying all the cranes on the wharf and have spent the night on various level of the crane.  All of them are on a hunger strike and a few are also not drinking.  For them it's the only way to get a residence permit.

The supporting committee (CAS) had a protest in the Brouckère Square yesterday.  They wanted to draw the attention of the politicians to the fate of 100,000 illegals who live in Belgium.  They say they understand the actions of the crane occupiers.

Last night a number of people climbed up a crane at the museum of fine arts.  It's not clear how many people are there.  This morning seven Moroccans climbed up a crane in the Schuman Square.  The student added that not all the people are part of the ULB hunger strikers.  There are also people who had been part of the Sint-Joost-ten-Node protest (*) and had now gone a step further.

The demonstrators said they were shocked by the criminal and discriminating politics of the Immigration Minister.  They called it blackmail politics which encourage hunger strikes and suicide attempts meant to get a residence permit.

The Brussels police is present in the various places.

(*) A group of illegal immigrants were set to occupy with permission a hall in Sint-Joost-ten-Node (Brussels), but at the last moment the municipality called it off, saying there was no point in the protest as it will not bring to a complete solution.

Source: HLN (Dutch)

France: Beef sausages contain pork

A French survey has alarmed the community barbecue lovers and consumers of halal meat: more than one in two 'merguez' contain pork, the French newspaper Le Monde has revealed.

According to the Code of Practice, charcuterie, 'merguez', or 'real merguez', is composed exclusively of beef and mutton. In practice, there is some tolerance for merguez containing pork, but the words 'merguez porc' must always be present.

Otherwise, "insofar as a merguez sausage is called, it must not contain pork," says the of the Directorate General for Competition, Consumption and Repression of Fraud (DGCCRF).

But a survey in 52 departments, conducted in 2007, showed that 53% of samples analysed in 206 towns contained pork.


Source: Pig Progress (English)

UK: Shia Muslims upset at Koran documentary

In the documentary The Qur'an, film-maker Antony Thomas explored the history and message of the Qur'an, Islam's holy book and questioned how much Muslims and non-Muslims understood the text.

While the film which was broadcast earlier this month was praised by some critics as a masterpiece, it has angered a prominent group of Shia Muslims who say it made some "seriously inaccurate statements" about their branch of the faith.

In a letter to Channel 4 the scholars claim that there was an anti-Shia bias to the film because it promoted obscure or extreme views as the mainstream opinion. They said the programme accused Shias of believing that the Qur'an had been corrupted and that he said a central belief of the Shias, the imamate, was contrary to the Qur'an.

In one scene, the narrator said: "The God the Sunni worship may not be described in human language, nor represented in any art form, for that would be blasphemous. Yet sometimes the human heart yearns for more. For a faith you can touch and feel, for drama, for music, for ceremony, for great stories of sacrifice, pain, martyrdom and salvation and for someone to pray to who has human form Shia Islam answers these needs ... But the Qur'an makes it so clear that your prayer should only be directed to God."

In another scene the programme explains elements of the Shia faith and asks: "But do these specific beliefs have any substance in the Qur'an? The answer is no."

The letter said: "It is not the job of a critical and responsible media to condemn a group of Muslims as heretics.... It is equally unacceptable to see a programme repeating the same anti-Shia polemic that is articulated by those jihadi extremists who justify their suicide bombings against the Shia in Iraq and Pakistan."

They said that the beliefs the programme said were Shia views were old fashioned and not held by majority of Shias.

The scholars were also offended by an apparent link in the film between Shiaism and violence with scenes of Iranian Shias burning effigies, chanting anti-western slogans and advocating acts of terrorism.

Shias make up to 20% of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims.

One of the signatories Yusuf al-Khoei, of the Al-Khoei Foundation, which represents Shia Muslims in the UK, said he was disappointed by the documentary. He said: "They interviewed one Ayatollah in Iran and made the complex politics of Iran sound like mainstream Shiaism. They really didn't show the diversity of opinion across the world."

Mr al-Khoei also said that the documentary contained factual errors. 


Source: Telegraph (English)

UK: Study on Islamic extremism in college campuses

The study "Islam on Campus" can be downloaded (PDF) from the Centre for Social Cohesion site.  The study found that members of Islamic organizations held much more extremist views.  For example, 94% of non-Muslim students questioned said it was never justifiable to kill in the name of religion, compared with 63% of Muslim students who are not members of Islamic societies, and 30% of members of Islamic societies.


A study on the attitudes of students has found that 28 per cent said killing could be justified if the religion was under attack and another four per cent supported killing in order to "promote and preserve" the religion.

Over half, 53 per cent, said killing in the name of religion was never justifiable but among non-Muslim students that figure was 94 per cent.

While most students showed a typical generation gap where their parents were more religious than they were – 72 per cent – a significant 18 per cent said they were more strict in their religious observance than their parents.

The importance of sharia law to most Muslim was underlined by the 40 per cent who said they supported its introduction into law for Muslims in Britain, although 37 per cent opposed it.

A third of those surveyed supported the creation of a worldwide Muslim caliphate but 25 per cent opposed it and 42 per cent said they were not sure.

Half of the students said they would not be supportive of a friend who wanted to leave Islam.

Hannah Stuart, from the Centre for Social Cohesion, co-author of the report, said: "These findings are deeply alarming. Students in higher education are the future leaders of their communities yet significant numbers of them appear to hold beliefs which contravene liberal, democratic values.


Source: Telegraph (English)

UK: Another Sharia compliant insurance company

This is the third insurance company announcing it's the first sharia compliant insurance company. Maybe this is the first dedicated Sharia compliant company?


Britain's first Shari`ah-compliant insurer was launched on Monday, July 28, offering policies in line with the Muslim faith and becoming the latest financial body complying with the rules of Islamic finance in the European country.

"Salaam Halal insurance is the UK's first dedicated Islamic insurance provider set up to provide Islamic insurance based on the Shari`ah principle of Takaful," the new firm says on its website.

"Now you can have great value insurance, without compromising the principles of your faith."

Salaam Halal insurance uses Takaful principles, which are based on mutual cooperation in the sharing of risk and addresses key features associated with conventional insurance that is incompatible with Shari`ah.  


Source: Islam Online (English)

See also: UK: First Sharia-compliant insurance firm. UK: First independent Islamic insurance company

France: 'The last Moor'

So who is right? It's a confusing picture. But Marie-Pierre Manet-Beauzac, "the last Cagot in the world", has no doubts where she comes from: "I believe the Cagots are descendants of Moorish soldiers left over from the 8th century Muslim invasion of Spain and France. That's why some people called them 'Saracens'. I am quite dark, and my daughter Sylvia is the darkest in her class."

And her theory, of the Cagots being converted but still-distrusted Muslims, is supported by many French experts: because it neatly explains the religious disapproval of the Cagots. As for the geographical spread, that's probably linked to the St James pilgrim routes.


Source: Independent (English)

Islam in Europe Weekly Review

The women who was denied citizenship in France spoke out this week, saying she had been misrepresented in the media.  Are Muslim European women oppressed?  Two articles about French and British Muslim women claim they are merely looking to adapt Islam and the Western lifestyle.

Radicalism and Terrorism

* Morocco is taking steps to prevent European Moroccans suspected of terrorism from entering its borders.  Morocco can also be a haven for European Moroccan criminals - In Italy, a drunk driver suspected of killing a motorist fled the country, now immigrants are calling for his arrest.

* In Catalonia Salafists are taking over more and more mosques.

* The Kurdish terrorist group PKK abducted several Germans in response to German actions against the group.  German Kurds debate whether that was a smart move.  Meanwhile, Libya is taking sanctions against Switzerland for arresting Qaddafi's son on charges of violence.  Italy has announced this week it will compensate Libya for its years of colonialization

* Denmark has decided not to make any more studies of Hizb ut-Tahrir's connections or financing.

* An Austrian Shia leader visiting Iran praised the country for its leadership of Muslims.


Muslim BBC employees complain of anti-Muslim discrimination in the network.  Muslims evicted from a mosque in Sweden also cite discrimination as the prime reason.


* Hotel chains are opening up Sharia hotels in Muslim countries, and they are also thinking of doing so in Europe, for the Muslim traveler.

* France is doing its best to attract Sharia finance.  In the Netherlands, the tax authorities have once again refused to give deductions to halal mortgages, making them in fact not viable.

* Muslim leaders are not the only ones in Britain who suggest Sharia laws to deal with crime


* Sweden is becoming more and more aware of the need to protect its immigrant citizens from honor violence.  At the same time, a court tying a murder attempt to the Arab and Muslim culture faced criticism this week.

* Youth in Malmo are moved from attacking the fire brigade to ambushing it.

* In France a husband was sent to prison for hitting his wife after she rolled up her veil.

* An attack at an asylum center in Norway left scared residents and annoyed neighbors.

* In Italy the prime minister is getting death threats.

In Other News

* In Lithuania, the local Tatar Muslims meet the new immigrants, who have a different view of what being a Muslim really means.  In Russia, some researchers think Islam might be the primary religion by 2050. 

* The Saudi sponsored Madrid Interfaith Conference finished, declaring that terrorism is universal and seeking to criminalize blasphemy. 

* In Denmark the Somali community is asking for help fighting khat abuse.

* In France, a group of Muslim and Jewish women meet to bake together and get to know the other side.

* Made in Norway, Scandinavia now has halal cheese.

This article was cross-posted to Islam in Europe and to THE ASTUTE BLOGGERS.

UK: Marketers' survey of Muslim women

A unique and groundbreaking "1000 Sisters' voices" survey carried out by Ummah Foods, a "new generation" British Muslim food company, and by SISTERS, the inspirational new magazine for Muslim women, has found that, while an overwhelming majority view Islam as their guide to life, read the Qur'an and observe hijab, they also shop at high street stores, go out to eat and travel regularly. The picture that emerges is one of a population balancing the demands of their faith with the opportunities afforded by life in the UK.

Khalid Sharif, founder of Ummah Foods, and Na'ima B. Robert, editor of SISTERS Magazine, began asking some interesting questions about the lives of Muslim women in the UK so they could improve their products for them. The result has been a groundbreaking look at the thoughts, opinions and ideas of Muslim women in the UK. The survey, which is the largest ever, gathered respondents from all walks of life, from around the UK, all eager to give their views on issues as diverse as their relationship with Islam, their opinions of hijab, halal shopping, Internet use, entrepreneurship and of course Muslim men and marriage.

One of the most surprising findings was that British Muslim women, married and unmarried, are still romantics at heart.

Finding a soul mate and settling down in a happy family environment were top of the women's list with 96 per cent of women saying that this is what marriage meant to them. But they were also keen to find ways of successfully combining work with family life.

As in all communities everywhere, the respondents believed that "good men are hard to find". Education, personality and a high affinity with the principles of Islam were top of most lists.

Also of interest to Muslim men is the fact that, while character and Islamic knowledge come top of the Muslim woman's wish list, racial background is ranked as one of the least important aspects.

Outside of family life, finding ways of helping to resolve the challenges facing the British Muslim Community far outweighed thoughts or concerns about global issues with 70 per cent opting for issues in the UK with the remaining looking to Asia, Africa and the Middle East.

One of the more interesting aspects of the survey was that Muslim women seem to have turned their backs on the major supermarket chains when it comes to halal food shopping with only 10 per cent choosing the supermarkets.

Khalid Sharif, Managing Director of Ummah Foods commented: "The major food retailers have not yet grasped how to attract Muslim shoppers. One of our key objectives at Ummah is to help the Supermarkets develop and offer products that meet the ethical codes that most Muslims want to abide by. We are trying hard to encourage the major chains to think more creatively about how best to tap into this important market and to encourage more Muslim women into their stores."

He added "We asked Muslim women in the UK what they would like us to do next, and the unanimous call was for premium chocolates. We listened carefully to their suggestions, and are now very pleased to announce the launch of five new products in the Ummah Foods Premium Halal Chocolate range"

Na'ima B. Robert, editor of SISTERS magazine, said, "As the UK's first magazine for Muslim women, we respond to how Muslim women in the UK today define themselves. In this survey, we wanted to hear their thoughts, ideas and concerns - so that we may better address these in our magazine."

She added "SISTERS aims to satisfy the Muslim woman's varied needs – spiritually, intellectually, emotionally and practically, in a beautiful, glossy package. It's our very own 'halal Glamour'!"

"All of us at SISTERS and at Ummah Foods are delighted with the responses we have received so far. We have managed to get so much interesting information and the whole process has been a real eye-opener for us, as businesses and as part of the British Muslim community. We are definitely looking forward to doing another one next year!"

Source: Times (English)

Marseilles: Husband sent to prison for veil attack

A man who had hit his wife in a parking lot and fractured her nose, because she had rolled up her veil due to the heat, was sentenced to two years in prison, 18 months of which are suspended, in a court in Marseilles.

The prosecution demanded eight months in prison, three of which to be suspended.  

Ali Nassakh (30), of Algerian nationality, was placed in detention.

A passerby alerted authorities after seeing the young woman's bloodied face.  She burst into tears when he husband testified that she had banged her head on a car parked nearby.

The young woman claimed compensation.  To the investigators she had said she had explained to her husband that "in our religion the husband doesn't have a right to tell his wife to do what he wants."

Source: Figaro (French)

Italy: Death threats against Prime Minister

ITALIAN daily La Repubblica today received a death-threat letter aimed at Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi which contained a bullet, the newspaper's website reported.

The letter, which also proclaimed "Allah is Great", vows to "hit" Mr Berlusconi as well as the speakers of Italy's upper and lower parliamentary chambers, Renato Schifani and Gianfranco Fini, the website said.

According to the left-leaning title, a similar letter was received by the right-leaning daily Libero yesterday in Milan.

In January, a letter threatening Mr Berlusconi and his brother Paolo – containing two bullets – was received by the Milan daily Il Giornale.

Mr Berlusconi, while prime minister in 2001, infuriated Muslims and appalled Western diplomats with remarks asserting the superiority of Western civilization over Islam.

Source: Herald Sun (English)

Malmö: Muslims evicted from basement mosque

Real estate company Contentus wants to kick out the Muslims from a basement mosque in Rosengård. Emotions were high outside the Contentus office in Malmö on Friday.

Basem Mahmoud, the coordinator of the demonstration, says that this is just discrimination against Muslims.

A serious mood prevails outside the Contentus officer. About 60 Muslims have convened to protest. One of the banners says "no to eviction without cause, yes to cooperation." Another says "No to discrimination, we want to have our rights."

Mahmoud says that they have been evicted without cause. They had paid the rent on time for 16 years, and have never received any complaint. This is just about discrimination.

A sign on the door says it will be the housing company's office, but the the office looks dark and empty.

Mahmoud says that nobody has come to conduct a dialog with them. That is what they want, cooperation and dialog.

Sydsvenskan has repeatedly tried to get a comment from Contentus, but without success.

Source: Sydsvenskan (Swedish)

France: Interviews with woman who was refused citizenship

When Faiza Silmi applied for French citizenship, she worried that her French was not quite good enough or that her Moroccan upbringing would pose a problem.

"I would never have imagined that they would turn me down because of what I choose to wear," Ms. Silmi said, her hazel eyes looking out of the narrow slit in her niqab, an Islamic facial veil that is among three flowing layers of turquoise, blue and black that cover her body from head to toe.

But last month, France's highest administrative court upheld a decision to deny citizenship to Ms. Silmi, 32, on the ground that her "radical" practice of Islam was incompatible with French values like equality of the sexes.


In an interview at her home in a public housing complex southwest of Paris, the first she has given since her citizenship was denied, Ms. Silmi told of her shock and embarrassment when she found herself unexpectedly in the public eye. Since July 12, when Le Monde first reported the court decision, her story has been endlessly dissected on newspaper front pages and in late-night television talk shows.

"They say I am under my husband's command and that I am a recluse," Ms. Silmi said during an hourlong conversation in her apartment in La Verrière, a small town 30 minutes by train from Paris. At home, when no men are present, she lifts her facial veil and exposes a smiling, heart-shaped face.

"They say I wear the niqab because my husband told me so," she said. "I want to tell them: It is my choice. I take care of my children, and I leave the house when I please. I have my own car. I do the shopping on my own. Yes, I am a practicing Muslim, I am orthodox. But is that not my right?"

Ms. Silmi declined to have her photograph taken, saying that she and her husband were uncomfortable with the idea.

Eight years ago, Ms. Silmi married Karim, a French national of Moroccan descent, and moved to France with him. Their four children, three boys and a girl, ages 2 to 7, were born in France. In 2004, Ms. Silmi applied for French citizenship, she said, "because I wanted to have the same nationality as my husband and my children." But her request was denied a year later because of "insufficient assimilation" into France.

She appealed, invoking the right to religious freedom. But in late June, the Council of State, the judicial institution with final say on disputes between individuals and the public administration, upheld the ruling.


Ms. Silmi, who resides in France as a legal immigrant, will not lose her right to stay. She has given herself until September to decide whether to make another attempt to acquire citizenship.


The Silmis say they live by a literalist interpretation of the Koran. They do not like the term Salafism, although they say literally it means following the way of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions.

"But today 'Salafist' has come to mean political Islam; people who don't like the government and who approve of violence call themselves Salafists," said her husband, a soft-spoken man who bears two physical signs of devotion in Islam: a beard and a light bruising on his forehead caused by bows in prayer. "We have nothing to do with them."

His wife said that in 2000 she decided to wear the niqab, which is usually worn on the Arabian Peninsula, because in her eyes her traditional Moroccan djelaba — a long flowing garment with a head scarf — was not modest enough. "I don't like to draw men's looks," she said. "I want to belong to my husband and my husband only."


Ms. Silmi's husband, a former bus driver who says he is finding it hard to get work because of his beard, dreams of moving his family to Morocco or Saudi Arabia. "We don't feel welcome here," he said. "I am French, but I can't really say that I am proud of it right now."


From an interview to Kristeligt Dagblad

"What do you mean by equality.  It's right that men can do some things that I can't.  For example, I can't take my children with me into a swimming pool.  But I speak with my chidren's teachers like all other mothers, also the male ones.  And it's pure rubbish that I'm oppressed by my husband and all the men in his family.  I go in and out of the apartment when it fits me.  My youngest is two, but when the children are bigger I would like to work.  I'm a trained seamstress and would like to continue in my profession."

She doesn't think her clothing prevents her from working.

"I thought France was a free country, where people can live as they want.  I respect other's choice to go in jeans or miniskirts.  Why can't people respect my choice of something else.  I am disappointed that I can't be French like my husband and children.  But I respect the decision."

Source: New York Times (English), Kristeligt Dagblad (Danish)

See also: France: Muslim Women Often Wrongly Stereotyped, France: No difference between veil and burqa, France: Woman denied citizenship for wearing a burqa

Norway: Attack at asylum center

A group of 40-50 Chechen men broke into the Nordbybråten asylum transit center in Våler, Østfold, Norway Thursday night.  Equipped with bats, steel bars and knives, the men arrived in cars, climbed over the fences and broke in through locked doors and gates.  The men went room by room and hunted down Kurds and Arabs, men, women and children.

23 people were wounded in the planned and coordinated attack, seven of them seriously, the youngest being 11.  A lot of damage was done to the center, including broken windows, doors and furniture.

The head of the center, Ole Morten Lyng, says that there have been episodes between Kurdish and Chechen people at the center the past few years, at an individual level, and that this was probably a revenge act.  He says that there have never been comparable episodes to this one.

In 2005 the police was called to Nordbybråten several times after a group of Chechen residents wanted to enforce Sharia laws at the center.

One of the center's neighbors says that the police was called in Wednesday night after a fight between two Chechen women and a Kurdish woman.  According to some reports this was a trivial argument which brought about the attack.  The neighbors want the center closed down, which they say is making their lives miserable, but feel that they are not being listened to.

The residents of the asylum center say they are afraid and that they don't feel they get enough protection.

Police had meanwhile arrested five local Chechens aged 25-35.  The perpetrators might be deported from the country.

Source: Aftenposten 1, 2; VG (Norwegian)

Sweden: Court ties murder attempt to Islam

A court in Jönköping drew parallels between a murder attempt of a woman and the perpetrator's attitude towards women, which according to the court is characterized by Arab culture and that the man is Muslim.

At the Discrimination Ombudsman they were surprised at the wording of the sentencing and several local Muslim associations are critical.

Masoomabai Takisdotter Virani, spokesperson for the Association of Shia Muslims in Jönköping says that she's very insulted, naturally, and that Islam and Muslims represent many other things which are much better. This denigrates all Muslims and causes new prejudices.

What caused strong reactions among several Muslim associations in Jönköping is how the court phrased its verdict against a man sentenced to 8 years in jail and deportation from Sweden after he had tried to kill his ex-wife.

The court drew parallels between what the man did and his attitude towards women, which according to the court, is affected by Arab culture and Islam.

Lars-Göran Klemming, acting judge at the Jönköping court says that he was characterized by his culture and religion, namely that he considers women as subordinates in different respects. He would rule.

Q: It's not so common for one, for example, to read in a judgment that a man hit his wife since he came from Western culture?

A: No, it isn't, says Lars-Göran Klemming.

At the discrimination ombudsman (DO), they were surprised at the phrasing.

Caroline Diab, spokesperson for the DO, says that court should be careful of generalizing which is linked to ethnicity or of putting criminal behavior to a person's religion or ethnicity.

Several Muslim association in Jönköping also react against the court's use of sweeping phrasing in this way, says Masoomabai Takisdotter Virani.

She says that she thinks that the judges who have spoken about it shouldn't phrase themselves that way. There's no excuse to say that one is Muslim and that he can therefore act this way.

Source: SR (Swedish)

UK: 'Tough on crime' = Sharia law

Why not go back to the good old and tried British methods?  Throw them in to vats of boiling oil.


The man who could become Britain's next prime minister joked Thursday that he was thinking about bringing in Sharia law for bicycle thieves after having his own bike stolen outside a London supermarket.

"I'm contemplating introducing Sharia law for bicycle theft," said the leader of the main opposition Conservative Party, David Cameron, referring to the Islamic law code, after thieves took his bike as he stopped to pick up groceries near his west London home.

Cameron told London's Evening Standard newspaper earlier that he chained the mountain bike through the wheel around a three-foot (0.9-metre) tall bollard but when he emerged from the shop it had disappeared.

Onlookers quoted by the newspaper said the Tory leader, who is riding high in the polls at the expense of Prime Minister Gordon Brown and his governing Labour Party, only had himself to blame for attaching it to such a short post.

About 110,000 bikes are reported stolen in England and Wales every year, but the real figure is thought to be much higher. Scotland Yard confirmed that the crime had been reported, but did not name Cameron in line with force policy.

Cameron added of the possibility of harsh penalties for bike thieves: "I will consult the mayor of London (Boris Johnson)."

Before he stood for the mayoralty, former journalist Johnson, who is known for his colourful language and outspoken comments, also advocated Sharia law after having his bike stolen from a rack outside Euston railway station.

He also complained of having bolts from the front wheel of his bike stolen on another occasion.

Source: AFP (English), h/t Weasel Zippers

Italy: Compensation to Libya

Libya and Italy will soon seal a deal worth "billions" to compensate for the European country's three-decade colonial rule, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's influential son said on Thursday.

"In the next weeks, Libya will sign a deal with Italy on compensation for the colonial period. This deal ... amounts to billions," Saif al Islam told an official gathering in Tripoli.

Saif did not specify a currency when he mentioned the figure of billions.

The accord involves several projects including a motorway across Libya, education and clearing mines dating back to the colonial era, he said in a speech broadcast on state television.

In Rome, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he hoped a "friendship treaty" with Libya could be signed by the end of August.

An Italian Foreign Ministry spokesman said the negotiations "are at a good point but some important aspects have not yet been defined".

Italy, which ruled Libya from 1911 to 1943, has had difficult relations with Gaddafi since he took power in 1969.

In 1970, Gaddafi expelled Italian residents and confiscated their property. But ties have warmed in recent years and Rome, as Libya's main diplomatic interlocutor and trading partner in Europe, backed Tripoli's drive to mend fences with the West.

Both countries have long sought a deal on compensation for Italy's colonial policies, which included the deportation of thousands of Libyans to Italy. 


Source: Reuters (English)

France: Muslim and Jewish women meet to cook together

At a time when a whiff of possible change has begun blowing in the Middle East, does it make sense for a group of French women - Jews and Muslims - to get together to make pastry and to ban all talk of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

It does, according to the women, who call themselves Les Bâtisseuses de Paix, or Peace Builders. Their aim is not to solve a conflict that has defied the best brains in diplomacy for decades, but rather "to block the transfer of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict into France."

Even their detractors say the aim is laudable, although the means may be inadequate to address such intractable problems.

But that has not dampened the spirit of the women. About 50 of them convened for mint tea recently at Les Jardins de la Méditerranée, or The Mediterranean Gardens, a kosher restaurant in the Paris suburb of Créteil. After kisses and compliments on hairdos, it was time for business. "Let's get to work!" one woman shouted, as eggs, dates and other sweet ingredients were passed around.

What looked like a cooking club was created in 2002 by Annie-Paule Derczansky, a former journalist, who was troubled by a surge of anti-Semitic acts in France, the European country with the largest Muslim and Jewish populations. She says that hostility between the two communities has been fueled by "French Jews thinking they're Israeli and French Muslims thinking they're Palestinian."

Peace Builders tackles this problem by throwing politics out the window, providing a neutral space for women who do not wish to be entangled in the bitter preoccupations that have often pitted the two communities against each other. From its focus on solidarity between Jews and Muslims was born the association's golden rule: No talk of Israel and Palestine, or as Derczansky, who is Jewish, says: "The first to bring up the conflict has to leave."


Source: IHT (English)

Morocco: Blacklisting European-Moroccans suspected of terrorism

A group of Moroccan citizens living in Europe have been barred from returning to their country because of their alleged links with the al-Qaeda.

According to a report on the Casablanca-based newspaper Assabah, the security services have come up with a blacklist of the names of 28 people living in Europe who have been accused of links with the terrorist network.

The list of names has been handed over to the customs authorities who have to deal with the hundreds of thousands of Moroccan immigrants returning home in August for their summer vacation.

The report said that 18 out of the 28 people are residents in Belgium and Spain.


Source: AKI (English)

Austria: Shia leader praises Iran

Head of Austria's Shi'as Islamic Center said here Wednesday Islamic Republic of Iran granted prestige and grandeur to Muslims throughout the world.

Muhammad-Ali Lances who was speaking for a group of pious Iranian youth attending the religious 'Ea'tekaf' ritual at Martyrs Mosque of Shiraz, added, "That is why we believe you are not merely responsible for the fate of your own country, but for the fate of the youth of the entire Islamic World."

Head of Austrian Shia's Islamic Center added, "Furthermore, the Muslim youth can by abiding by the Islamic teachings become an excellent model for the youth of the entire world nations." Presenting an image of the social, cultural and political status quo of Europe, Lances said, "The Europeans look at Islam as a proud and prestigious faith today, while in near past if someone would convert to Islam in Europe, or any other Western country, they would have accused him of being insane."

Pointing out that the Islamic Revolution of Iran is of great significance both among the European Muslims, and among the followers of other faiths there, he said, "One of the former Austrian presidents used to say that thanks to the establishment of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the pious need not feel ashamed of being religious, and they can proudly claim their belief in God."

Criticizing Europe's over-dependence on the USA and Israel, the Head of the Austrian Shi'a Islamic Center said, "Despite its entire political and economic strong systems, Europe can still not live independent of constant manipulations of Washington in significant matters."

He added, "Under such conditions that a Third World nation successfully manages to maintain its independence, and to resist strongly against US bullying, it is quite surprising that Europe is unable of doing the same, and you should feel proud of being the citizens of such a system."

He said that the Austrian Muslims enjoy satisfactory rights compared to the past, arguing, "Today Islam is an official religion according to our Constitution, and we can establish Islamic schools and universities in Austria."

Speaking about the importance of propagation for Islam, Lances said, "We do not need to propagate in lectures, since our deeds speak louder than words, and Europe is left devoid of proper guidance today, badly in need of proper models and efficient leadership."

He expressed hope that the Iranian youth would construct their country ideally, so that their deeds would serve as a good model for the world youth, and that they would manage to establish justice thoroughly the Iranian society.

Source: IRNA (English)

See also: Italy: Shia Muslim converts welcome Ahmadinejad

Sweden: Honor-related violence

ÖP reported this spring about Henrik and Anna.  These are not their real names and their personal details are kept under wraps.  Anna's father is a Muslim and Anna and Henrik have lodged complaints by the police that he had threatened to kill them since Anne married Henrik, who isn't a Muslim.

They have also complained by the police that an unknown people have broken into their apartment in Östersund and threatened them.  People who have certainly been sent by the father.

They hope therefore to leave the county.

Anna says that now they're just waiting for information from a municipality in another part of the country.

The municipal housing company had offered a modern and well-planned apartment in close proximity to the local police station.

Anna says that they can be completely safe, the risk that they will be threatened there seems unbelievably small and they would be able to build up their life from scratch.

As in the past, the economy can mess up the situation for the couple, since they don't have a job.  Without a job the housing company doubts if they can pay the rent, which means it depends on whether the welfare authorities can pay the rent at first till the couple gets a steady income.

Henrik says that it's important for them how Östersund and the new community act.  As long as the couple worry about threats it's also difficult to work, but he's certain that once they know that the situation is stable, it will also be alright with work.

The question is therefore if the new municipality is can pay their rent and living expenses for the initial period - and if Östersund municipality can help with the move.

Anna says that right now they're just waiting and all the people in charge are on holiday.  She'd asked her welfare officer for help with contacting the new community, but that didn't happen.  But, she says, they continue to hope, and it would be so nice to be free of fear.


"Swedish authorities need much more knowledge about how oppressive it is to live under threat of honor violence," says Juno Blom of the Östergötland county administration in a lecture to, among others, Östersund police.

The government has put aside money to spread knowledge among Swedish authorities about honor violence and the county administration of Östergötland has received a special commision to work with such information.

Juno Blom is the equality officer there and was earlier this year especially invited to lecture to police authorities in Östersund:

Helen Eed-Jonsson of the police says that it was very valuable and that they need to learn more about this issue.

Juno Blom says that an important issue is just to understand how fear affects those who are subjected to it, and that it can imbue daily life with destructive consequences.  In the end, it's easy to see threats everywhere, in a way that may look strange to others who do not live under such conditions.  Such knowledge is important for police and others who should deal with these issues.

She wants to work to increase coordination between police and the social services and says that it's important that society doesn't turn a blind eye but rather learn to see the signs when honor rules shut in the girls who are killed.

Not least, schools can play an important role, teachers are an important contact.  Last year all the health center in the county got a book titled "Honor related violence and oppression" which was put out by the county administration in Skåne, and which was sent to all the county councils and regions in Sweden.

The difference between so called honor-related violence and male violence against women is according to the book in the fact that honor-violence has a collective dimension.  The group punishes those who deviate and there is not one potential perpetrator, but rather several.

Hernik and Anna also have active help from Sara Mohammed, who heads the "Glöm inte Pela och Fadime" (Don't forget Pela and Fadime) network.  She says that they have made several solutions and hope that the municipality will help the couple.

In the fall Sara Mohammad received Aftonbladet's award for a Swedish Hero for her work with the organization.

For several years, she and others in the non-profit organization have set up to help young women who live under similar threats as those who led to the murders by their relatives of Fadime Sahindal (2002) and Pela Atroshi (1999).

Fadime had lived in Östersund when she was shot dead in 2002 by her own father on a visit to her parent's apartment in Uppsala.

Mohammad says that the problem with honor related violence is enormously big and that many Swedish authorities have been slow to get information about how the honor culture functions, which she thinks is extremely strange.

Sara meet Henrik and Anna many times and has personally participated in several meetings with the municipality where the couple's situation was discussed.

Since the municipalities lack knowledge it's very positive that people are willing to listen to what they and other networks have to say - not least about the needs of those who are subjected to it.


- About 150 people are living in hiding after being threatened with honor-related violence.

- 13 of 37 cases concerning the Care of Young Persons Act in Stockholm county in 2006 were honor related.

- In a 2004 survey county administrators estimated that 1,500 to 2,000 girls and young women were subjected to it and that 150-300 needed to live in hiding.

- in a UN report on Sweden's efforts against violence against women, the police reported 400 cases of honor related violence that are brought to the police's attention annually.

- 27% of Swedish girls of foreign background have restrictions from home that might be related to honor related oppression.

Sources: ÖP 1, 2 (Swedish)

See also: Swedish: No virginity certificates, Sweden: Honor related violence widespread, Sweden: Challenging the honor culture, Sweden: Forced marriage / honor-related violence trial

Netherlands: Tax authorities reject halal mortgage deduction

The Dutch tax service rejected the so called halal-mortgage.  This interest free mortgage was meant for Muslims who due to their convictions could not pay interest.  The interest would have been replaced by a fee on profits, but for this reason may not be presented for mortgage interest tax deduction.

Because financing housing is therefore going to be too expensive, Islamic financial institute Bilaa-Riba has decided to close down.  "We had adjusted our product for the tax service twice, but it continue to think that the mortgage interest deduction is not applicable to our mortgage," according to disappointed spokesperson Hakima Dini.

"We we introduced the idea for the halal mortgage three years ago, we had got thousands of requests for information.  Sadly we couldn't help these people to good housing financing."

Every day the tax service receives submissions from financial institutions to test against the law and will not comment on individual cases.

Three quarters of the Muslims who currently rent a house will buy a residence if there would be a mortgage that complies with the Koran regulations [ed: it's unclear where this figure comes from].  The essence of halal mortgage is that investors or Muslim funds buy a house and then sell it on to the customer with a profit.  The customer then pays a higher sum in installments, without interest.  According to the Koran it's not a sin to make a profit, but it is if the profit comes in the form of interest.

In 2006 the VVD party asked for halal mortgages.  Minister Bos (Finance) promised last year to investigate the possibilities for Islamic banking.

Source: Telegraaf (Dutch)

See also: Netherlands: No tax deduction for halal mortgage, Netherlands: Interest in Muslim loans unclear

Libya: Sanctions against Switzerland for Gaddafi arrest

The Swiss foreign ministry has formally complained to Libya to protest against retaliatory measures following the arrest last week in Geneva of Moammar Gaddafi's son.

The foreign ministry said since last Thursday Gaddafi's government has detained Swiss citizens in Libya, demanded the closure of Swiss firms present in the country and recalled its diplomatic representatives to Switzerland.

Libya has also stopped processing visa requests from Swiss and on Wednesday, announced that the airline, Swiss, would have to reduce its flights to Tripoli from three to one a week.

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey protested against the moves in a telephone call with her Libyan counterpart on Tuesday. A Swiss delegation is expected to hold talks in Tripoli later on Wednesday with the Libyan authorities.

The moves against Swiss interests came a week after Hannibal" Gaddafi was arrested with his wife, Aline, at a Geneva five-star hotel last week and spent two nights in a court cell.

The couple, who were released on bail and have reportedly left the country, were charged by a magistrate with inflicting physical injuries and using threats and force against two of their staff, who lodged a formal complaint.

Source: SwissInfo (English)

See also: Geneva: Kadhafi's son arrested for assaulting hotel staff, Netherlands: Pressure on freed doctor not to lodge complaint against Libya, Switzerland: Hospital suspends Libyan program

Norway: First halal cheese in Scandinavia

Norway's first halal cheese is now being made in Ørsta.

Dairy manager Bente Reklev looks out her office window in the dairy in Ørsta. The guests she's waiting for have landed at the Hovden airport a few kilometers to the south and are now on their way.

The group consists of company head Per-Henrik Finnson of Tine, Mohamed Elmie of Gilde's (meat company) daughter comapny Al FAthi and the imams Zulqarnain Sakandar and his student from the Islamic Council.

they have come to Ørsta to certify one of the few cheeses Reklev and the dairy haven't gotten a diploma for yet: Norbo cheese.

In the area at the foot of the Sunnmøre mountains they will prepare halal cheese for Muslims in Norway.

The dairy head must stifle a little laugh when she continued to tell of the day they finally could being: They had taken position to meet them, since as dairy head she wanted to greet her guests. when her turn came to greet the imams she stuck her hand out, where it was left hanging.

It became quiet. From below you could hear the voice of the 50 employees who work in cheese production in the little village.

When they eventually pressed their hands against their thighs with unambiguous motions, bowed and smiled, she remembered that imams don't shake hands with women, she laughs.

After a detailed review of the production facility, and ensuring that the cheese was free of pork, wrongly slaughtered calf and alcohol, the little dairy in Ørsta is now the first in Scandinavia to produce halal approved

Norbo cheese was recently give the officiel Tayyibat halal certificate. This means that all packages of cheese are marked with an internataional label of certification, that is recongized by Muslims.

Hege Holter Brekke, concern manager in Tine, says that the certification means Muslim, vegeterians and Jews can now have a chees that is guarentted to confrom wiht the convictions and life view of these groups.

It also means Tine will get a lead in a steadily developing market.

According to data from The Halal Journal, large American chains such as Burger King, Taco Bell and KFC had increased revenues by 20% after they were halal certified. Norwegian food producers want to join in on that.

Trader Arne Paulson of Rema 1000 supermarket at Furuset in Oslo say that many Muslim are uncertain as to which foods they can choose when there's no stamp that guarantees that the product is halal certified. By halal certifying Norbo, they expect a meaningful increase in sales, that today is only exceeded by Norvegia (cheese brand).

Bente Reklev says that in the past they used rennet from pig stomachs. Rennet is a necessary ingredient for making cheese from milk, and is the enzyme that gets milk to coagulate. Today they use rennet from calf stomachs. Muslim's uncertainly is related to whether the animal was slaughtered properly, or whether the animal had contact with an illegal animal.

Reklev explains that therefore the facility must be thoroughly cleaned, pipes must be washed and the tubs must be scrubbed, in addition to using rennet from fungus and not from calves or pigs.

Lars Egil Foldal adds that it's been a long time since they used pig rennet, probably going back to the 50s and 60s. He's been working in the dairy in Ørsta for 43 years.

Aside from the rennet, there's no difference in the way they produce halal cheese or Norvegia. They don't need to roll out prayer rugs, to say it like that, he smiles.

Bente tells of a dairy that wants to change. And everybody is very careful to observe the requirements so that the cheese will be approved as halal.

Bente says she admits there are rules here and there that she has problems understanding. It's not a practical issue, a nutritional difference, but a purely religious commandment. But she thinks it's a consideration that it doesn't cost much and is just a little adjustment that they have made at the dairy without any problems.

Lars Egil agrees and says he's happy his new countrymen now have a produt they can be completely certain of.

He says that when the imams were there, they had spoken of malnutrition among Muslims. They said that many Muslims are afraid of buying in shops, when they don't know for certain what the different products contain. They quite simply don't get what they need.

There were particularly interested in brunost (whey cheese) and told him that many people they knew took back brunost back to Pakistan when they went on vacation. They apparently thought that it was safe, but apparently that isn't so. Maybe they should start producing halal brunost as well.

Camilla Gangsøy adds in that they shouldn't do that - they haven't given halal cheese any other name. They still call it Norbo, she says as she moves on of the large machines in the dairy.

She explains the functions of one machine after another, and proudly shows everything from the view to the fjords outside to the ten kilo cheese blocks, floating in salt water before they are packaged and sent on.

she has worked at the dairy for three years, and is nervous as to what will happen with the cheese after it's halal certified. She thinks customers can be strange and the gods know how they'll react. But it's a unfortunate that halal certification means that people think the cheese is only for Muslims, since it's really one of their best cheeses.

At the same time, she's proud that the dairy is the first to have its hard cheeses certified halal. Gangsøy thinks the adaptations that the little dairy in Ørsta had to do, will pay in the long run.

the rules are strict for products that want to have imam Zulquarnain Sakander's and Tayyibat Halal Certification Organizations' official certification.

Both the cheese and the packaging must be free of forbidden substances, and in addition the cheese must also be transported and stored separated from other cheese types.

Source: NRK, Dagbladet (Norwegian)

See also: UK: Cheese company enters halal market

Denmark: Somali community requesting help against khat abuse

The Somali community in Denmark is so plagued by increased khat abuse that the head of the Somali Network in Denmark and a social worker are asking for a study on its extent.

Problems with escalating khat abuse among both old and young Somalis across the country are now bringing the head of the Somali Network in Denmark, Mohamed Gelle, to ask for help for his abused-plagued countrymen.  He says that it's gradually affecting all age groups among Somalis and is being mixed with alcohol and amphetamines.  It destroys marriages and causes many to quit school or work.  A study is needed to show how extensive khat abuse really is.

He estimates that at least 40% of the 17,000 Somalis who live in Denmark chew khat and that about 15% abuse it.  Mohamed Gelle is working on a project which will prevent khat abuse.  He says that it costs 200-300 kroner a day to cover real abuse of the drug.

Khat chewing is usually done together with others.  There are still khat clubs around the country, but in Copenhagen Somalis meet in private apartments to enjoy the amphetamine like drug.

The capital's largest khat clubs have been closed down by the police in the past 2-3 years.

Anders Pedersen of the ISBEDDEL project in Amager, which particularly aims at Somalis with abuse, asks for more insight into how the khat problem should be fought.  At the same time, he thinks that the police's hard-handed approach to khat users has made it harder to do preventive work in the Somali community.  The traditional chewing clubs were easier to get in contact with.  Additionally, other groups are therefore introduced to khat, now that it's been removed from the pure male universe.  He stresses that there's a large group among the Somalis which be killed by the khat problem.

At the Kirkens Korshær hospice for the homeless in Copenhagen, people are also noticing the khat problem.  Of the 45 residents, 17 are older Somali man with khat abuse.  Mia Omø Lundsgaard says that it's important to see the khat abuse in relation to other problems.

"A large part of the Somali homeless are traumatized.  This, together with other forms of abuse, bring to an increased consumption of khat.  They have certainly taken the khat culture from their homeland, but there it's not necessary a problem," she says.  [Ed: why not?]

Per Andersen of the border police in Padborg tells Berlingske Tidende that it's possible that at least two tons of khat are smuggled into Denmark every day, 700 tons a year.  And that it's hard to stop.

The smugglers are typically Somalis from Denmark or Holland who drive in small delivery vans and police catch just a small amount of the stuff.  It's hard to put in the effort against khat.  They catch the typical smugglers because they are on the lookout for all substances.

Andersen says that it's impossible to stop khat smuggling as long as it's allowed in other EU countries.  Police on the Danish-German border has so far confiscated 3,259kg of khat in 2008.  Three tons were confiscated in 2007.

Source: Berlingske (Danish)

See also: Sweden: Authorities see khat as a Somali problem

France: Muslim Women Often Wrongly Stereotyped

A series of highly publicized incidents involving Muslim women have reinforced popular perceptions that an intolerant, sexist brand of Islam is taking root in France - home to Europe's largest Muslim community. From Paris, Lisa Bryant reports for VOA that Muslims and experts argue Muslim women are often wrongly stereotyped.

Like most young women, Wafa Ben Salem goes out to movies and dinner, dates men - albeit usually with a chaperone - and is a self-avowed fashion maven. Still, she is a far cry from many of today's young women in France - in her body-covering clothes, the headscarf tied under her chin and Ben Salem's personal vow not to have sex before marriage.

A university student from southern France, Ben Salem says Islam frowns on women who are not virgins before they marry. And, as a practicing Muslim, she says she will abide its strictures. She says she may meet and date men and she will pick her own husband. But she says will remain chaste until she ties the knot.

The question of chastity and modesty in Islam has been much debated in France in recent weeks. First, a court in the northern city, Lille, annulled the marriage of two Muslims after the husband claimed his wife was not a virgin at her wedding. The incident sparked outrage.

More recently, the Council for State - the country's highest administrative body - upheld a decision barring French citizenship to another Muslim woman, from Morocco, who wears a face-covering burqa, or niqab. It argued what was called her "radical practice" of Islam was incompatible with French values. Urban Affairs Minister Fadela Amara - a practicing Muslim of Algerian descent - hailed the decision, calling the niqab a "sign of oppression of women."

Several other incidents, including allegations a Muslim husband prevented a male doctor from performing an emergency caesarean on his wife, have helped reinforce assumptions that Muslim women in France are living under the thumbs of their men.

But analysts like Franck Fregosi, a sociologist who has written extensively on Islam, warns against easy stereotypes.

Fregosi says that, far from being submissive, many Muslim women in France and elsewhere in Europe are looking for a fit between their faiths and the highly secularized societies in which they live. He says many girls will date boys - but hide it from their families, many of them ethnic immigrants who come from conservative societies in Turkey or North Africa.

Fregosi says some young women may even have sexual relations before marriage, but that they will still try to preserve appearances so their families will not know. According to media reports, a growing number of Muslim women in Europe are opting for surgery to repair their hymens - to give the appearance of virginity at marriage.

Fregosi says even very devout young women are struggling to break free from their cultural traditions - including shunning chosen marriages. He says they prefer to choose a pious husband, not a cousin or another man chosen by their family.

France's five million-strong Muslim community has offered mixed reactions to the annulled marriage in Lille and to the niqab incident. Many are not strict practitioners of their faith. A 2006 survey by the CSA polling agency found that, although nearly nine in 10 Muslims observe the holy fasting month of Ramadan, only 17 percent go to mosque regularly. Some 90 percent are said to approve the idea of equality between the sexes.

Anthropologist Dounia Bouzar, who specializes in Muslim issues, says even Muslim clerics here generally agreed that in the case in Lille the husband should have settled the question about his wife's virginity discretely and not in court.

University student Ben Salem agrees.

Ben Salem says that, if a woman is not a virgin before her marriage, that is her own affair and it is a matter between her and God. But she believes many French mistakenly considered the annulment as another example of Islam's bias against women.

Ben Salem claims the French media, in particular, are quick to stereotype devout Muslim women like herself; that they never go out; that they are subjugated by men; that they do not know anything. She says that is simply not true.

Anthropologist Bouzar agrees.

Bouzar says there are too many easy - and incorrect - biases against Muslim women here. She says, although some are becoming increasingly devout, they are also questioning the western model of sexual liberty and whether it truly represents more freedom.

Source: VOA (English)

Italy: Immigrants urge arrest of Moroccan drink-drive suspect

Immigrants in the northern Italian city of Padua are urging the arrest of a Moroccan who allegedly fled to his native country after running down and killing a young Italian, Simone Bacchini, while drink-driving.

The group of immigrants, led by Moroccan journalist Muhammed Ahmed were to launch their appeal during a documentary to be aired on Italian television late on Monday.

Bacchini's family was also due to read a message to Morocco's Ambassador to Italy during the programme, asking him to pressure the Moroccan authorities to arrest Bacchini's alleged killer.

The unnamed Moroccan reportedly had alcohol levels in his blood four times those of normal ones when on 16 June last year his car struck Bacchini's scooter, killing him and injuring two other people.

The Moroccan is believed to have fled Italy to Morocco days later. The two victims of the accident who survived are also campaigning for Bacchini's alleged killer to be brought to justice.

Euro-MP for Italy's anti-immigrant Northern League, Mario Borghezio, has announced he will lobby the European Parliament for the Moroccan's arrest.

Source: AKI (English)

France: Promoting Islamic finance

The French government, anxious to attract some of the Gulf-based investment currently flowing to London, is promoting Islamic finance, offering it a more accommodating legal and fiscal framework in France.

Economy Minister Christine Lagarde, recently addressing Gulf investors, pledged to take steps "to make (their) activities as welcome in Paris as they are in London and elsewhere."

Analyst Emmanuel Volland of the ratings agency Standard and Poor's noted that this was "the first time that a representative of the state has said publicly that she is favourable to the development of Islamic finance.

"It's a strong signal and the players are listening."

But at another agency, Moody's, Anwar Hassan, cautioned that government pronouncements "are not in themselves sufficient to ensure the blossoming of Islamic finance here".

He said the government should not be content simply to reduce "legal or fiscal irritants" but should - for example - issue Islamic bonds, known as "sukuks," as Britain plans to do next year.

The challenge is also not purely technical or limited to establishing an infrastructure receptive to Islamic finance, he said, adding that convincing the French public of the soundness of such investments would be the real test.

The task, he argued, was to show that they are "an ethical, modern finance alternative."

Islamic law proscribes the paying of interest for a service as well as speculation, and prohibits investment in sectors such as pornography, gambling, weaponry, alcohol or pork products.

Hassan warned too that investors in the Gulf or Malaysia might see France's current interest as simply trying to "make sure that some of the oil wealth gets recycled in France."

Islamic finance, a market estimated to be worth USD 700 billion (EUR 441 billion), does exist to some extent in France already.

The leading Gulf investment funds, Gulf Finance House, Qatar Islamic Bank, Barwa Real Estate or Quinvest, currently have offices in the Paris suburbs.

Hassan noted that the establishment of an investment fund, compatible with Islamic law, in the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion by the bank Societe Generale "could attract savings from French Muslims."

Societe Generale has said it has no plans to set up a comparable operation in metropolitan France.

Eventually the offer of Islamic bonds could provide an alterative to French companies currently penalised by increasingly costly bank credit.

For the moment, however, France does not offer Islamic banking services, despite having the largest Muslim community in western Europe.

In Britain, the Islamic Bank of Britain was launched in 2004, the first such institution in Europe. About 20 traditional banks in Britain also offer Islamic banking services.

But Mohamed Damak of Standard and Poor's cautioned that the profile of the Muslim community in France is different from that of Britain.

"It seems to favour the transparency of conventional banking," he said, adding that it was "simplistic to think that because there are twice as many Muslims in France as in Britain, that the demand is going to be the same."

Source: Expatica (English)

See also: France: Paris as center of Islamic finance