Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Woman reads her way to freedom from UAE jail by memorising entire Holy Quran

A female prisoner has walked free from a life sentence in a UAE jail as reward for learning the entire Holy Quran.
Fatima bin Mohammed (pictured), from Cameroon, is believed to be the first woman in UAE history to learn Arabic then completely memorise the holy book while in prison. Bin Mohammed, who was serving 25 years for importing hashish, converted to Islam while in prison and spent almost six years learning every word of the Quran.
Bin Mohammed is enjoying days out with her nieces and nephews after walking free from the sentence because she dedicated six years to the task, regularly going back and forth to her tutors at Dubai Central Jail to get the exact pronunciation and meaning of the words.
Now back in her native Cameroon, Fatima plans to set up a restaurant, travel and find a husband. She is living with her sister and enjoying family life.
“They had a little family event for me when I came home. It was very special,” she said. Until March, Bin Mohammed was serving 25 years for importing hashish. Now she talks by phone with her former prison roommate, who also dreams of getting a sentence reduction.
Fatima bin Mohammed is believed to be the first woman in UAE history to fully memorise the Quran to win freedom from jail
Fatima bin Mohammed is believed to be the first woman in UAE history to fully memorise the Quran to win freedom from jail
“You need a lot of patience,” said Fatima. “It is not easy. But I put my faith in God and knew I wanted to see my family again.”
Fatima also said that her mother’s side of her family are Muslim so it was very natural process for her to convert.
“The message of Christianity and Islam are universal – to love others, help others and thank God, we all worship the same God so it was easy for me to convert,” she said. Bin Mohammed was released in March under a scheme introduced by UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
He decreed that prisoners be offered their freedom in return for memorising the Quran and said that he hoped to give prisoners something to which they could aspire. The Dubai Department of Islamic Affairs oversees the prison Quran recitation, with Quran experts sitting before the applicants at each exam.
An expert reads out a segment of the Quran and the prisoner must pick up on that sentence and continue with the passage until told to stop. Anyone who fails the exam can retake it three months later.
For life sentence prisoners, the exam typically involves 12 to 15 recitations and the exam session usually lasts up to 45 minutes. Amal, a Quran tutor at the department, taught Fatima and found her an excellent student.
“She was so dedicated to memorising the holy book. She showed a lot of interest in reading the book and spent most of her time revising different verses of the Quran until she got the whole of it in her head,” said Amal.
She said that Fatima failed several tests but passed her sixth exam.
“The Dubai International Holy Quran Award (DIHQA) gave her a prize of Dhs10,000 for managing to completely memorise the Holy Quran,” added Amal. “We now have 70 women prisoners trying to memorise the Quran so they can be pardoned or have their prison sentence reduced.”

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

10 Reasons New Zealand Is Heaven On Earth For People Who Love The Great Outdoors

Known for the the stunning landscapes featured in Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings", New Zealand should be atop the travel list for all nature-lovers. Covered in breathtaking landscapes of fjords, mountains, meadows, rivers, geysers and beaches, you could spend months exploring everything this beautiful country has to offer.
Split into two islands, the landscapes differ drastically between the North and South islands. Both are unique with characteristics perfect for connecting with nature and exploring the great outdoors. Often over-shadowed by its larger neighbor, Australia, New Zealand is still a mystery to many. At only a 30th of Australia's size, New Zealand might be a second thought, but it shouldn't be.
See what we're talking about...
1. Milford Sound
Go kayaking or hike the famous "Milford Track", commonly thought of as one of the most beautiful walks in the world
milford sound new zealand kayak
milford track
2. Cathedral Cove
Explore the beaches and cliffs surrounding this photographic coastal area.
cathedral cove new zealand
3. Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park
Try to catch a sunrise over Hooker Lake.
hike new zealand
4. Queen Charlotte Sound
Sail on the tranquil waters and stop for a picnic break on one of its many sandy shores.
sail new zealand
5. Kaikoura
Look for giant sperm whales on a whale watching trip.
whale watching new zealand
6. Tongariro National Park
Be inspired by the spectacular volcanic terrain of Tongariro National Park. Did we mention the remarkable emerald-colored lakes? 
tongariro national park
7. Wai-O-Tapu
Not too far away is the Rotorua geothermal zone. You won't want to miss the Wai-O-Tapu hot springs which will give you even more volcanic activity with the colorful geothermal pools, Lady Knox geyser and the bubbling mud pools.
waiotapu hot springs
8. Franz Josef Glacier
Try your hand at climbing Franz Josef Glacier, a roughly 8-mile-long glacier that descends from the Southern Alps through rainforest to almost sea level.
franz josef glacier
9. Lake Tekapo
If you happen to be on the northern edge of the Mackenzie Basin during November and December, you'll get the opportunity to see andsmell the lupines on Lake Tekapo.
lupins lake tekapo
10. Punakaiki
Another natural phenomenon called the "Pancake Rocks" can be seen at Punakaiki on the South Island's west coast. These limestone formations create a dazzling display where columns of water shoot skyward during high tide. 
pancake rocks new zealand

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Will Detroit be the first major Chinese city in the U.S.?

Will Detroit be the first major Chinese city in the U.S.?

Is Detroit destined to become a Chinese city?  Chinese homebuyers and Chinese businesses are starting to flood into the Motor City, and the governor of Michigan is greatly encouraging this.  In fact, he has formally asked the Obama administration for 50,000 special federal immigration visas to encourage even more immigration from China and elsewhere.  So will Detroit be the first major city in the United States to be dominated by China?  It could happen.  Once upon a time, Detroit was the greatest manufacturing city in the history of the world and it had the highest per capita income in the entire country.  But now it is a rotting, decaying, bankrupt hellhole that is in desperate need of a savior, and Michigan Governor Rick Snyder appears to be fully convinced that China can be that savior.
To Snyder, encouraging foreigners to invest money and buy up properties won’t cost the state government much, but it could potentially have great benefits…
Under a plan to be unveiled Thursday, Gov. Rick Snyder will request 50,000 special federal immigration visas over the next five years to attract foreign professionals who are willing to work and live in the city.
Mr. Snyder, in an interview Wednesday, said that “this is one way for the federal government to step up to provide significant value without cost that could have a huge impact on the city’s future.”
At a news conference announcing his plan, Snyder was not shy about declaring his intentions…
In other words, Snyder wants China to save Detroit since nobody in this country is going to.
Snyder has also taken a couple of additional steps to encourage immigration and foreign investment, including opening up something called “an Office for New Americans”…
Opening an Office for New Americans to attract and help immigrants better adjust to life in Michigan, and designating the state as an Employer Based or EB-5 center to expedite visas and permits for immigrants who want to open business in the state with investments of at least $500,000 and 10 employees. But this is nothing new for Governor Snyder.  In fact, he has been making overtures to China for years…
Snyder, who was a businessman before starting his political career, believes that automobiles can no longer change the fate of Detroit. He said that he has learned from the history of the United States that what has made the nation great is immigrants.
In the early 1990s, Snyder went to China to develop the automobile market. After he was elected as the governor of Michigan, he made at least one trip to China every year, with the aim of recruiting talent.
He hopes that well-educated Chinese people can revitalize the Motor City in the new era. And as he desired, after Detroit announced its bankruptcy in 2013, the Chinese began to take the dying city by storm.
Rich Chinese men see Detroit as a rare opportunity for investment outside their home country.
In 2013, without any field investigation, Dongdu International Group of Shanghai — whose assets total 5 billion yuan (US$800 million) — spent US$13.6 million to buy the David Stott building and the Detroit Free Press building at auctions in September.
And when we talk about the Chinese domination of Detroit, this is not something that is just future tense.  This is something that is already happening right now.  For example, the following is an excerpt from a CNBC article that discussed how Chinese companies are already aggressively “putting down roots in Detroit”…
Dozens of companies from China are putting down roots in Detroit, part of the country’s steady push into the American auto industry.
Chinese-owned companies are investing in American businesses and new vehicle technology, selling everything from seat belts to shock absorbers in retail stores, and hiring experienced engineers and designers in an effort to soak up the talent and expertise of domestic automakers and their suppliers.

The transformation that has taken place in that region of the country is absolutely remarkable.
48 percent of the manufacturing jobs in the state of Michigan were lost between December 2000 and December 2010.  Our trade deficit with China was largely responsible for that.
And now we are relying on China to come in and salvage the ruins of our gutted economic infrastructure.
Not only that, but the Chinese are also eagerly buying up homes at extremely depressed prices all over Detroit.
According to CNN, Detroit is already number four on the list of the top 10 destinations for Chinese homebuyers.  In many cases, Chinese buyers are scooping up properties without even looking at them first.  Just check out what one Detroit real estate broker told Quartz last July…
“I have people calling and saying, ‘I’m serious—I wanna buy 100, 200 properties,’” she tells Quartz, noting that one of her colleagues recently sold 30 properties to a Chinese buyer. “They say ‘We don’t need to see themJust pick the good ones.’”
And they aren’t just interested in Detroit.  As I have written about previously, one Chinese company known as “Sino-Michigan Properties LLC” actually had plans to buy 200 acres of land near the little town of Milan, Michigan and turn it into a “China City” with artificial lakes, a Chinese cultural center and hundreds of housing units for Chinese citizens.  For much more on how Chinese buyers are gobbling up real estate all over the nation, please see my previous article entitled “The Chinese Are Acquiring Large Chunks Of Land In Communities All Over America“.
All of this is just another indication of how rapidly the global economic landscape is changing.
Since the late 19th Century, the United States has been the most dominant economic power in the world.
But now that reign is ending.
Just recently, a new study released by the World Bank indicated that China is now the largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power…
A report out of the World Bank shows rapidly expanding China is poised to overtake the once invincible United States as the world’s largest economy by the end of 2014.
The International Comparison Program looks at exchange rates to reveal purchasing power of different currencies and found that yuan in China will soon pack more punch than the mighty dollar.
Meanwhile, Chinese officials bashed the report as flawed, likely for fear of losing its status as a developing nation and the pollution-spewing perks that come with it.
And a couple of years ago China passed the United States and become the leader in global trade.
As the Chinese economy continues to rise and the U.S. economy continues to decline, the shift in global power is going to become even more dramatic.
Yes, let us hope for the best for our failing economy, but you also might want to teach your kids to speak Chinese just in case.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
This article originally appeared on The Economic Collapse Blog.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Al-Sissi, the Jew?

Pro-Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy theorists, by 'accusing' Egypt’s likely next president of having a Jewish mother, are betraying a deeper pathology of hate and paranoia.

Egyptian sells masks of the Defense Minister General Sisi.
An Egyptian street vendor sells the national flag and masks of the Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, January 15, 2014. Photo by AFP

Campaigning for Egypt’s presidential elections, which will take place on May 26-27, officially kicked off last Saturday, a day after blasts in Cairoand Sinai left at least four people dead. The two-horse race between the army’s man, Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi, and the candidate supported by many revolutionaries, leftist Hamdeen Sabahi, is unlikely to deliver any surprises, with the outcome in the ex-army chief’s favor all but a foregone conclusion, most observers believe.
As we approach the big day, one recently released video claims that the “question on the minds of all Egyptians” is not the state of the nosediving economy, wide-scale human rights abuses, the derailed revolution or the quest for elusive stability and security, but whether Sissi’s mother is Jewish.
“The strange thing is that the [military’s media] did not meet with Sissi’s mother nor his maternal uncles, but only with his father’s relatives,” said Saber Mashhour, the maker of this “exposé” – as if there were a conspiracy of silence to hide the former defense minister’s roots.
But aside from supposed omissions, what evidence does the video present to back up its claims?
The main “evidence” is the circumstantial coincidence of location. Abdel-Fatah al-Sissi was born and raised in el-Gamaliya, in an alleyway which lies on the edge of the Jewish quarter of Cairo’s old city.
“Only Jews resided in the Jewish quarter,” the narrator tells us untruthfully, as the area was always a mixed one, albeit with a strong Jewish character.  
“Sissi was raised among Jews. He was raised by Jews,” Mashhour stressed, in case anyone was uncertain about the point he was making.
And what were the implications of Sissi spending his formative years in this way?
It would seem that the Jews, entrepreneurial whizzes that they are, saw an obvious gap in the market and imported “sex and dance” to Egypt, never mind thatEgyptians have been swiveling their hips since at least the time of Herodotus. Besides, the maker of this video has very obviously never visited Mea She'arim or any of Israel’s other ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods.
To take the outlandish to a whole other continent, the video claims that the Egyptian president most-hated in Israel, Gamal Abdel Nasser – who also spent a short part of his youth away from his native Alexandria in Cairo near the Jewish Quarter – was childhood chums there with none other than Israeli military icon Moshe Dayan. And these unlikely pals hatched the improbable conspiracy to give Egypt a clobbering in 1967.
Never mind the fact that Dayan was born and grew up in what was then northern Palestine and never entered Egypt in Nasser’s lifetime, except as a conqueror.
So, does anyone believe this patent, counterhistorical nonsense?
Well, judging by the fact that the video has clocked up nearly 200,000 hits (at the time of writing) in just two weeks, there are obviously some who do – though a small number, given Egypt’s population of 85 million. The video is most popular among supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, which publicized it through its official website and other affiliated social media outlets.
Mashhour, the man behind the documentary, appears to share the same sympathies, and has developed quite a sideline in exposing anti-Morsi and anti-Brotherhood conspiracy theories for some time now – not to mention the “revelation” that Egypt has become neither an Islamic nor a secular nation, but a Christian one.
Mashhour almost explicitly spells out his allegiances when he makes the preposterous claims in the video that Egyptian Jews never loved Egypt – which goes against all the historical evidence – and hated the Muslim Brotherhood not because they were religious bigots, but because the Islamist movement foiled the Jews’ plans to “control Egypt.”
If these crackpot ideas were coming from just some random guy on the street, they’d be less troubling. However, it appears that Mashhour’s day job was at Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, the banned Egyptian offshoot of the famous Qatar-based network.
This could well fuel another brand of conspiracy theory, the type that has had the dangerous consequence of leading to the imprisonment and trial of Al Jazeera journalists on trumped-up and ludicrous charges.
But why, with all the genuine grievances that pro-Morsi supporters have against Sissi since he declared his so-called War on Terror (which is largely a bloody purge against the Brotherhood), focus on this kind of fantastical and fanciful fiction when there is no shortage of damning facts?
This is partly because facts have not put the Egyptian public off Sissi, despite the murderous dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins, the outlawing of the Brotherhood and mass death penalties meted out against its members. The savvy ex-general has not only marshalled the media behind him, but is riding and stoking a wave of anti-Brotherhood resentment.
Casting aspersions that Sissi is Jewish and an Israeli agent is perhaps a desperate, last-ditch bid to discredit him. In fact, alleged allegiances to Israel – and especially the United States – are regularly used to defame political opponents in Egypt.
But this also betrays a deeper pathology. Since it was founded in 1928, the Muslim Brotherhood has mostly been an underground movement, and one that has been persecuted to varying degrees by every Egyptian leader since King Farouq, who outlawed it in 1948 following a spate of bombings and assassination attempts. This creates a mentality of paranoia and victimhood.
Founded in response to the trauma felt by conservative Muslims at the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in 1924, the Muslim Brothers have a tendency to see events in terms of a grand clash of civilizations, between a teetering Islam and a resurgent, hegemonic Christendom.
In this battle of the titans, the Muslim Brotherhood believes that the Jews are very much in the Christian camp, counterhistorical as this may be. “Zionism is perceived to be part of the Western plot against Muslim societies, which means Israel has a contemporary dimension which is not fully connected to its Jewish character,” says Ofir Winter, an Israeli academic specializing in Egyptian politics and Islamism.
Even though Israel is only regarded as a foot-soldier in a new Crusade, the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist view of Jews is not only bigoted but anti-Semitic, argues Winter. “The view of the Jews as eternal enemies of Islam, regardless of time and place, and as owners of inherent almost genetic negative characteristics like meanness, evilness, manipulation, and so on, is very common in the writings of many prominent Islamists,” he observes.
By the same token, this would make much of the conservative anti-Arab rhetoric in Israel equally racist.
Others are not convinced, and argue that Israel and the Jews are tools of political expediency for the Brotherhood. “Frankly, I don’t even buy the caliphate business. I think it’s pure and simple political opportunism really,” counters Mohamed El Dahshan, a prominent Egyptian commentator, blogger and researcher. “Consequently, the Israel business is rhetoric.”
Despite the alarm a possible Brotherhood takeover of power elicited in Israel in the early days of the revolution, “The Muslim Brotherhood didn’t really seem to have Israel in their target list. They have always been more focused on building their own organization and fighting the state,” notes El Dahshan.
El Dahshan’s assertion gets confirmation from the unlikeliest of quarters. Although it is widely assumed, for instance, that former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was assassinated because of the Camp David Treaty with Israel, his assassins say otherwise. “[Sadat] made that deal and no one killed him or planned to,” said Aboud al-Zomor, one of the convicted plotters. For al-Zomor and his Islamist cohorts, Sadat’s refusal to implement Sharia “was the primary reason that this regime must be removed”.
Even more surprising is the fact that, in addition to vilifying Jews, many Islamists also express admiration for Israel and the Jewish experience as an example to aspire to, as research by Winter and Uriya Shavit of Tel Aviv University has revealed.
“Our book My Enemy, My Mentor contains many Islamist texts which call on Muslim societies to follow the lead of the Jews and Israel and learn from them in different fields, such as religiosity, long-term planning and even women’s rights and democracy,” explains Winter.
Fascinatingly, an audio recording uncovered by Winter, apparently of the popular TV theologian Yusuf al-Qaradawi, who some have accused of anti-Semitism, expressed, back in the 1990s, admiration for the achievements of Israeli democracy: “We hope that our countries will become like this country [i.e. Israel].”
Why? “There, it is the people who govern. There, they do not have the ‘four nines’ which we know in our countries,” he added, referring to the 99.99% of the vote with which Arab dictators once used to “win” elections.
“These kind of narratives are surprising and prove that the Islamists’ view of Israel is more complex than many tend to assume,” concludes Winter. 
Khaled Diab is an Egyptian-Belgian journalist, blogger and writer who has lived, studied and worked in the Middle East and Europe, including Egypt, the UK, Belgium, Israel-Palestine and Switzerland and is currently based in Jerusalem. His book profiling the 'intimate enemies', Palestinians and Israelis, is forthcoming at the end of 2014.Follow him on Twitter: @DiabolicalIdea, or on his website: www.chronikler.com