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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 10    Issue 23   16-30 April 2016

Professor A. R. MOMIN

Economic Slowdown in Qatar

Qatar is one of the richest countries in the world, thanks to its vast oil and natural gas reserves, the construction boom and overseas investments. The country has the world’s largest reserves of natural gas (15% of the world’s total gas reserves), producing 77 million tonnes of gas per year. Qatar has an average per capita income of $102,785, the world’s highest GDP per capita. Since 1995 Qatar’s per capita GDP has more than doubled every five years. In 2012 the country’s economy grew by 19%, the fastest in the world, thanks to the production and exports of liquefied petroleum gas and petrochemicals. The country imports goods worth $ 23.3 billion, one-sixth of its purchasing power. About 14% of Qataris are billionaires. Work on the 2022 World Cup stadiums, with an estimated cost of $220 billion, is underway.

Qatar has invested about £10 billion in Britain. It bought 24% shares in the London Stock Exchange, purchased London’s iconic luxury store Harrods for $2.2 billion in 2010, and contributed 95% of the finances for the construction of The Shard Tower in London, the highest skyscraper in Europe. London’s No. 1 Hyde Park, the world’s most expensive block of apartments, is Qatari-owned. Qatar is the largest shareholder, with 25.999% shares, in Sainbury’s, Britain’s third-largest chain of supermarkets. It invested $5 billion in the Chinese Stock Exchange and has substantial stakes in the French Total Oil group and the British Shell.

The current global slump in oil prices – the price of a barrel of oil in the global market has fallen by more than 70% since June 2014 – has begun to have worrying consequences for Qatar’s economy. Budgets for flagship projects have been cut and the government is seriously considering cutting costs in many sectors of the economy as well as in education, medical centres and cultural projects. Since 2014, thousands of employees at RasGas, Qatar Petroleum and Maersk Oil Qatar have been laid off. The International Monetary Fund has urged Qatar to initiate tax and spending reforms. Qatar’s ruler, Tamim bin Hammad al-Thani, has warned against “wasteful spending, overstaffing and lack of accountability.”

The Arab Human Development Report 2009 had warned that the process of oil-led growth in the Arab countries had been highly erratic, lopsided and vulnerable and had created weak structural foundations in Arab economies. A major sign of the vulnerability of economic growth in the Arab world is its high volatility, largely as a result of its linkage with capricious oil markets.

Combating Female Genital Mutilations in Senegal

Female genital mutilations, also known as clitoridectomy or female circumcision (khafd or khitan in Arabic), are defined by the World Health Organisation as “all procedures that involve partial or total removal of the external female genitalia, or other injury to the female genital organs for non-medical reasons.” The practice of female genital mutilations (FGM), which is pre-Islamic in origin, is prevalent in 29 countries, mostly in the vast region from Senegal to the Horn of Africa. The practice is found among Muslim as well as non-Muslim communities, including Coptic Christians. The WHO and UNICEF estimate that between 125 and 140 million girls and women alive today have undergone FGM. More than 80% of women who have undergone FGM live in sub-Saharan Africa. Female genital mutilations are particularly rampant in Somalia (98%), Guinea (96%), Egypt (95.8%), Djibouti (93%), Sudan (90%) and Mauritania (71.3%) and are also prevalent in Eritrea, Mali, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mauritania, Benin, Kenya, Liberia, The Gambia and Iraqi Kurdistan. The practice is sporadic in Malaysia, Indonesia, Iraq, Iran, Oman and Yemen. FGM are also commonly found in the African diaspora in Europe. Thus, more than 24,000 girls of African descent, who are living in Britain, are at the risk of FGM.

Female genital mutilations are generally performed on girls between 7 and 13 years of age without anaesthesia and with crude instruments such as a knife, razor or scissors. The practice is rooted in traditional beliefs and ideas relating to modesty, chastity, fidelity and the control of women’s sexuality. FGM are generally looked upon as a rite of passage of girls into womanhood, and they are believed to curb women’s sexual pleasure. The practice is found among Muslims, Christians and animists. WHO says that FGM have no known health benefits. On the contrary, they are known to be harmful to girls and women in many ways. Female genital mutilations are generally accompanied by adverse health consequences, including urinary and vaginal infections, chronic pain, infertility, complications during child birth, as well as negative psychological consequences. In some cases, FGM may cause death. It is classified as a crime under international law.

FGM are widespread across Egypt. A 2005 government health survey revealed that 96% of the thousands of women who were interviewed said that they had undergone the procedure. Female circumcision has been in the focus of controversy and debate in Egypt. The practice has many supporters, including some ulama. Following a campaign launched by the Egyptian government, religious leaders and social activists, female genital mutilations were banned in 1996. The Al-Azhar Supreme Council of Islamic Research issued an edict declaring that the practice of female circumcision has no basis in Islamic law. The Arab Human Development Report 2009 noted that though some Arab states have banned the practice of female genital mutilations, it continues to be widespread in many Arab societies because it is supported and reinforced by traditional beliefs.

A report by UNICEF, released in July 2013, says that the practice of female genital mutilations has declined in recent years. For example, in the Central African Republic, the share of women in the 15-49 age group, who had undergone FGM, dropped from 43% in 1995 to 24% in 2010. In Benin, Nigeria ad Liberia the rates have dropped by almost half. Growing literacy and education levels among women, the efforts of dedicated social activists and the involvement of Muslim ulama in the campaign against FGM have paid considerable dividends.

Though female genital mutilations were banned in Senegal in 1999, the practice is still widespread across the country. In the southern part of the country an estimated 85% of young women and girls have undergone FGM.

Activists and human rights groups in Senegal have launched a campaign to dispel misconceptions about the association of FGM with religious beliefs and traditions with the help of imams and community leaders. The campaign is run by World Vision, an international NGO, in association with Sister Fa, a Senegalese female rapper based in Berlin.

Sister Fa, a Senegalese rapper, has been conducting workshops with girls, parents and local community leaders to raise awareness about the harmful consequences of FGM (FatmaNaib/Al Jazeera)

For the past three years, Sister Fa has been conducting workshops with girls, parents and local community leaders to dispel misconceptions about FGM and to raise awareness about its harmful consequences.

Racism and Inequality in Tunisia

The unity, equality and brotherhood of mankind, regardless of the distinctions of birth, class or caste, are among the cardinal principles of the Islamic faith. The Quran says that all human have been created from a single primordial pair, Adam and Eve, and are therefore equal (49:13). Islam considers the distinctions of birth, lineage, class, wealth or caste inconsequential. The only worthwhile distinction or honour is piety and moral virtue. Thus the Quran says: “O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, so that you may know each other. Verily the most honoured amongst you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous of you” (Quran 49:13). In his sermon during the Last Pilgrimage, the Prophet declared: “O people! Verily, your Lord is One and your father (Adam) was one. Verily, an Arab is not superior to a non-Arab nor is a red-skinned person superior to a dark-skinned person, nor is a dark-skinned person superior to a red-skinned person, except in respect of piety and righteousness. All Muslims are brothers unto each other.” Though Islam takes cognizance of social differentiation and the existence of groups that are based on descent, kinship ties and tribal affiliations, it emphasizes that that such distinctions are meant to serve the purpose of social identification and that they must not be used as a criterion of ranking or hierarchy. Islam recognizes distinction and privilege only in respect of righteous deeds, piety and learning (Quran 49:13; 58:11).

Islam does not recognize any distinctions based on birth, descent or caste. Social hierarchy, birth, endogamy, hereditary occupations and notions of purity and pollution, which are essential features of the caste system in India, have no sanction in Islam. The pagan Arabs were highly conscious and proud of their lineage and ancestry. They believed that an individual’s nobility of character was entirely determined by his lineage or ancestry. The Prophet sought to eradicate this pagan belief and declared, “Boasting of lineage or ancestry is one of the vestiges of pagan times”. He emphasized that a man’s real lineage comes from his character and moral virtues.

Unfortunately, there is a conspicuous gap between the lofty ideals of equality and brotherhood, enshrined in the Quran and the Prophet’s Sunnah, and the existing social and economic conditions in many Muslim countries. Substantial sections of the population in many Muslim countries continue to experience discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation on account of their descent, skin colour and lowly social origins. Though slavery has been outlawed in all countries, in persists in various, often disguised, forms across large parts of the world. The Global Slavery Index 2013, compiled by the Australia-based Walkfree Foundation, says that there are an estimated 35.8 million people worldwide who are living in modern slavery, without any rights or freedom of movement. The estimate, derived from data from 162 countries, is based on a definition of what the report calls modern slavery, which includes debt bondage, forced marriage and human trafficking. The top 10 countries which have the highest number of slaves include four Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria.

In several Muslim countries, disadvantaged and marginalized groups and ethnic minorities experience widespread discrimination, stigmatization and exclusion. Al-Akhdam (plural of khadim, meaning “servant” in Arabic) are the most marginalized and despised ethnic group in Yemen. Though they are Arabic-speaking Muslims, their dark skin colour, rather short stature and other physical features differentiate them from the mainstream population. According to some researchers, the Akhdam are descendants of Ethiopian invaders who conquered and occupied Yemen for a brief period some 15 centuries ago. They are estimated to number between half a million and one million and are concentrated in segregated shantytowns on the fringes of San’a and other cities. They eke out a living by taking up menial and low-paid jobs such as sweeping the streets, cleaning of latrines and collecting scrap. The Akhdam are considered untouchables and treated with scorn. Very few children from the community are enrolled in school.

December 17, 2010 will be reckoned as a turning point in the history of the Arab region. On that day, Mohammed Bouaziz, a young educated Tunisian who eked out a living by selling fruits on a handcart, set himself on fire after being harassed and slapped by a municipal inspector who confiscated his handcart and fruits. He eventually died on January 4. The event triggered an unprecedented wave of protests and demonstrations across Tunisia. The police caned the rampaging mobs, used teargas shells to disperse them and even opened fire, killing at least 78 civilians.

The Tunisian uprising triggered a tsunami of massive, unprecedented public protests and demonstrations across large parts of the Arab world. The protests represented a surge of deep-seated resentment and anger against autocratic rule, rampant corruption and nepotism, incompetent and insensitive administration, poverty and unemployment, suppression of human rights and civil liberties, widespread inequalities of wealth and power, and the marginalization of large sections of society. The uprisings led to the inglorious end of autocratic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen. The reverberations of the Arab Spring were also felt in Bahrain, Syria, Iraq, Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman and Sudan.

The Jasmine Revolution, as the massive popular uprising in Tunisia in 2011 came to be known, has brought about significant changes in Tunisian society and state. Tunisians now enjoy political freedom and civil rights, which were suppressed by the Ben Ali regime. However, the benefits of change have not accrued to all sections of society in equal measure. Some sections of the population continue to bear the brunt of discrimination, inequality and humiliation.

Tunisia has a sizeable black minority, most of them descendants of African slaves, who constitute around 15 per cent of the country’s population. The large majority consider themselves ‘white.’ The black Tunisians have existed on the margins of society for decades and are often subjected to discrimination, exclusion and racial slurs. The Jasmine Revolution has made little or no difference to their plight.

Though Tunisia abolished slavery in 1846, the horrendous legacy of this institution still lingers on, particularly in the southern part of the country. Many black families in the south continue to bear the names of their former slave-owners. In some parts of the region, settlements are segregated along racial lines. In some rural areas, there are separate graveyards for black Tunisians –known as the cemetery of the “Abeed” or slaves. In some towns, white and black children are taken to school in separate buses, a practice reminiscent of South Africa during the Apartheid era. Black Tunisians face discrimination and humiliation, in both overt and covert forms, in educational institutions, at the workplace and on the street.

The long-standing sense of humiliation, resentment and anger among black Tunisians has given rise to a civil rights movement in the country, which highlights incidents of racial discrimination and public humiliation experienced by the black Tunisians and seeks to mobilise public opinion against deeply-entrenched racial prejudices.

Protest against Headscarf ban in Bosnia

Bosnia-Herzegovina has been exposed to Western influences for more than a century. Following the disintegration of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, Bosnia was plunged into a devastating three-year civil war. Nearly half of the country’s population was displaced. Bosnia-Herzegovina is now an independent state with three main ethnic groups: Bosniaks or Bosnian Muslims, who make up 48% of the population, Serbs (37%) and Croats (14.3%). The presidency rotates every 8 months between a Bosniak, a Croat and a Serb.

Bosnia is now experiencing an Islamic revival, which is reflected in the reconstruction of mosques and the building of new ones, the opening of new madrasas and Islamic centres, the introduction of Islamic instruction in state-run kindergartens, the greater visibility of women in headscarves and the growing participation of Muslims, notably young people, in daily prayers in mosques. A growing number of Muslims in the country now fast during Ramadan.

When Bosnia was a part of the former Yugoslavia, the Communist authorities had banned the wearing of headscarves in public institutions. With the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the independence of Bosnia-Herzegovina, religious and cultural freedom was restored.

In February 2016 Bosnia’s high judicial council announced a ban on the wearing of headscarves in courts and other legal institutions. More than 2,000 Bosnian Muslim women held a protest rally against the ban order in the capital Sarajevo.

Samira Zunic Velgic, who organised the protest march, said the ban was a “serious attack against Muslim honour, personality and identity” and that it was aimed at depriving Muslim women of their right to work.

Muslims and Discriminatory Citizenship Laws in Spain

Tariq ibn Ziyad, the Berber commandant of Musa ibn Nusayr, with 7,000 soldiers, scored a decisive victory over the Visigoth ruler of the Iberian Peninsula in 711. Muslim rule over the Iberian Peninsula lasted, intermittently, for nearly eight centuries, from 711 to the fall of Granada in 1492.

By the middle of the 13th century, Cordoba, Valencia and Seville were reconquered by Christian rulers, following which Muslims living there began to face persecution. They were forbidden to announce calls to prayers from minarets and from going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Many mosques, including the one located in the Alhambra palace complex, were converted into churches. The reading of Arabic books was prohibited and many of them were burned. Muslims were forced to convert to Christianity and those who refused were expelled from the country. Granada, the last of the Islamic kingdoms of Andalusia, fell in 1492. Muhammad XI, the last of the Nasirid rulers, handed the keys of the royal palace to Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon. Following the fall of Granada, Muslims, Jews and Gypsies were expelled from the country. Following the Edict of Expulsion, nearly 800,000 Jews left Spain. Another 50,000 converted to Roman Catholicism in order to avoid expulsion.

Moriscos, descendants of Muslims who were forcibly converted to Christianity under threat of exile in 1502, were prohibited from speaking Arabic and from marrying according to Islamic rites. Finally, after a century of forced conversions between 1502 and 1615, all Moriscos -- estimated at over 350,000 --- were driven out of the country.

Under the existing Spanish laws, Sephardic Jews – descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, are accorded a preferential treatment in the naturalization procedure that allows them to claim Spanish citizenship after having lived in Spain for only two years. This privilege is also available to the citizens of Spain’s former colonies in Latin America and in the Philippines. There are an estimated 3 million Sephardic Jews around the world today. Most of them live in Israel, USA, France, Belgium, Greece and Turkey. Currently the population of Sephardic Jews in Spain is estimated to be around 45,000. In 2012 Spain’s conservative government of Mariano Rajoy revived the procedure of naturalization of Sephardic Jews by announcing the policy of the Right of Return for Sephardic Jews.

This preferential citizenship privilege is not available to the descendants of Moriscos, who were expelled from the country in the early decades of the 17th century. An estimated 5 million descendants of Moriscos are living in Morocco and hundreds of thousands of them in Algeria, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Turkey and Mauritania. Muslims in Spain are demanding legal parity with Sephardic Jews and automatic citizenship for the descendants of Moriscos.

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