Helsinki Grand Mosque’s rocky road

When it comes to building mosques, Finland is not any different from other European countries in terms of opposition that such projects receive either from the side of the officials or the public. The Helsinki Grand Mosque project has been on-going since 2015 and now once again, debates over funding have put a spanner in the works.

The mosque project has been previously endorsed by the deputy mayor of Helsinki and it is led jointly by the Forum for Culture and Religion “FOCUS”, local Muslim associations and the recently established “Oasis” foundation. Trying to fill a desideratum in facilities and services that would bring the Muslims together and away from the undersized prayer rooms, the objective of the central mosque project is to construct a building complex of 20.000 m2 in size, including prayer halls and a community center that would organize activities and events for Muslims and non-Muslims alike and thus contribute and promote interfaith and intercultural dialogue and social cohesion.

The concerns over funding have been directed especially at the involvement of Kingdom of Bahrain as the financial coordinator. In December, an event with international guests were organized in Helsinki to celebrate the Independence Day of Bahrain. In connection to the festivities, one of the nation-wide daily newspapers Helsingin Sanomat reported in January about the current concerns of the city representatives over possible extremist background of Bahrain and those instances that have shown interest to provide support in collecting the needed funds. Security officials insist now on an investigation by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs based on fears of extremist readings of Islam spreading to the country through the cooperation with Bahrain. This despite continuous assurances from one of the project coordinators Pia Jardi that the help from Bahrain has no strings attached in any every-day matters of the mosque/community center and the fact that the board members in the Oasis-foundation which was established for the administrative purposes of the project are all based in Finland.

Concerns about the mosque’s ability to welcome Muslim worshipers from different backgrounds were also expressed in a radio show Horisontti broadcasted by YLE. The youth civil activist Anter Yasa, argued that the imams for the mosque should be educated in Finland, receiving an academic degree and thus following the example of the country’s practice in educating priests. With his statement, he was opposing the possibility of the future imams receiving their qualifications from Bahrain which would in his understanding cause segregation instead of integration. Moreover, he maintained that the Muslim communities should rather turn to bank loans in financial matters than help from abroad. However, any ability of the small Finnish Muslim community comprising of somewhat 60 000 individuals to meet such financial obligations for a project of over 100 million euros was not addressed.

The chairwoman of the Young Muslims’ Union Helsinki chapter (Nuoret Muslimit ry), Nahla Hewidy was in turn pinpointing in the discussion the aspect of such mosque and especially its services as a community center being a necessity that would put Muslims and the youth in particular to equal footing with other major religious communities who already have such facilities. She maintained, that the project would enhance the welfare and spiritual development of those generations that struggle with identities between cultures and offer a them safe space where they would find recognition and acceptance.

On the day of Lee Rigby’s funeral, let’s really ask how we can stop such tragedies in the future

The funeral for murdered soldier Lee Rigby takes place today and perhaps among all the tributes to this tragic victim of a terrible crime, we should ask ourselves what will prevent such attacks in the future, in a rational, truthful way, untainted by emotive pleas for revenge and retribution.

 

Like the volunteers of the International Brigades, many of today’s young Muslim men feel a far stronger bond with their fellow Muslims across the Middle East and beyond than they do with their fellow ‘Britons’. Whether the media refuses to accept this or not, this is a fact. Some feel so strongly about the treatment of their fellow Muslims that they are willing to bomb and murder others. Their aims and methods are horrific, but you cannot deny these men and women their ideology. In fact the media’s obsession with so-called ‘home-grown’ terrorists, from the 7/7 attacks to the murders of Lee Rigby is reflective of a wider denial. Reporters and self-elected ‘experts’ pretend there is no underlying political rationale for such attacks and that the perpetrators are simply naïve or evil. It was the same in the 70s and 80s with the IRA and any other organisation that opposes the dominant political narrative. These people are simply terrorists and murderers fuelled by an irrational hate for ‘us’ and ‘our values.’

 

But there is no ‘us,’ no ‘them.’ My values and sense of identity are entirely subjective, as are everyone’s. It is the cycle of hate, hate born not only of military action but political spin, the toppling of ‘rogue’ regimes and the support of Saudi, Bahrain, Turkey and Israel that fuels these young men (it’s almost always young men in their teens or 20s as it was in the International Brigades). As talks with the Taliban have proved, all wars eventually end in compromise or capitulation. We say we will remember those who died in Helmand or in Belfast, Burma or The Somme but soon enough, there’s another arena, another trade route to be protected and the world keeps spinning and kids keep dying.

Ramadan, Giorgio Armani launches a chocolate dedicated to Muslims

Chocolates dedicated to Muslims: Giorgio Armani launches an Armani/ Dolci chocolate. The pralines – which will be called Ramadan – will be free of alcohol derivatives. The shell is milk chocolate and will be filled with fresh fruit and honey. The chocolates will be decorated with emerald green sugar designs.

The new product has arrived in stores in Kuwait City, Dubai, Bahrain, Doha and Malaysia, but will also be in stores in Milan and New York. Ramadan (the month of fasting during the day) in 2013 falls from July 9 to August 8. The special chocolate will be on sale until the end of August.

Accounting Standards for Islamic Financial Institutions will appear in Russian

Shari’a Standards for Islamic Financial products issued by the Accounting Association of Islamic Financial Institutions (AAOIFI) will soon be presented in Russian. An agreement was reached during the visit of the Delegation of Council of Muftis of Russia to Bahrain last December.

The first product standards will be published in February 2010 and will include operations such as murabaha (deferred sale finance), sukuk (interest-free loans) and takaful (an Islamic insurance concept).

First Islamic equity product launched in UK

The London-based ABC International Bank’s Islamic Asset Management (IAM) entity, both of which are subsidiaries of the Bahrain-based consortium bank Arab Banking Cooperation, has launched the first retail Shariah-compliant capital-protected equity product in the UK under its ‘Alburaq’ brand. The savings product, which has a minimum subscription of just _500 and is a Shariah-compliant alternative to a conventional guaranteed equity bond, adds to an increasing number of retail Islamic financial offerings in the UK market, which now includes mortgages, Takaful (insurance), pensions, current and deposit accounts and even escrow accounts for money transfers. Other Shariah-compliant retail products in the process of being launched include ISAs (investment savings accounts) and child trust accounts. The product was structured by ABC International Bank and is offered in partnership with the Bank of Ireland, which has a long history of providing guaranteed equity bonds to UK consumers. ABC Group is one of the largest banks in the Arab world with assets totaling around $32.7 billion at the end of December 2007. The group announced net profits of $125 million for the year 2007. The government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown has been very supportive of developing the Islamic finance sector under the Labor Party’s social and financial inclusion policies. At the same time, it is the stated policy of the UK to develop London into an international hub for Islamic finance, investment and trade. Only yesterday at the Jeddah oil summit, Brown reiterated that oil producers in the GCC states should divert some of their record liquidity surpluses to investment in the developed countries in renewable energy initiatives and other sectors. These funds could be channeled through sovereign wealth funds; through conventional or Islamic capital flows. Bahrain-based Arcapita Bank, for instance, was one of the first Islamic financial institutions to invest in alternative energy in the UK in a wind farm project developed by Innogy.

Muslim activists’ message to Rutgers: Gender inequality goes beyond Islam

Islam is not the sole cause of inequality between men and women in the Middle East, two human rights activists said. That’s the message Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman and only Iranian to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, president of the U.N. General Assembly, sent a crowd of about 300 people at Rutgers University yesterday. “It is very important to inform the world about Islam,” Rashed Al Khalifa said. “Islam can absorb all the differences in the world. Concepts like jihad are against all principles we live and learn, and I can’t make justifications for it because we consider it an illness for our society.” Rashed Al Khalifa, who is from the Middle Eastern island Bahrain, also is a human rights advocate and lawyer. A descendent of the royal family there, she is the third woman and first from the Middle East to take the U.N. General Assembly presidential post.

Visit of French Minister of Foreign Affairs in Qatar, Bahrain, …

At every stage of the visit of French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dominique De Villepin, to each of Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain, the question about the law France is intending to adopt in order to ban the religious symbols, including headscarves in schools and the workplace was raised. Some people in the region considered that such a law is a violation of individual freedoms in the country of democracy, which is based on three sacred pillars: freedom, equality and fraternity.