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Monday, July 21, 2014

Sohar Islamic sponsors Quran memorising competition

(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) As part of its holy month of Ramadan initiatives, Bank Sohar's dedicated Islamic banking window “ Sohar Islamic had recently sponsored the Quran Memorising Competition that witnessed the participation of 100 youngsters.

Organised by Kaab bin Zayed School, the competition was concluded with a rewarding ceremony that took place on 18 July 2014 in Al Umaraa Hall in Al Hail, and was presided over by H E Sheikh Ahmed bin Soud al Siyabi, Secretary General of the office of Grand Mufti of Sultanate. Representing Bank Sohar at the event were Fahad Akbar al Zedjali, Sohar Islamic Ghubra branch manager.

Commenting on the sponsorship, Mohammad Haris, AGM and head of Islamic banking at Sohar Islamic said, ''This sponsorship by Sohar Islamic is yet another proactive effort that aims to encourage the youngsters to read and understand the messages of the Holy Quran and to spread its values of peace. We believe in our role as a positively integrated component of the Omani society and we aspire to see the tangible impact of our initiatives in the community.''

Among the 100 participants in the competition, cash prizes were handed to children who successfully memorised and recited certain verses from the Holy Quran. The first winner received a cash prize of RO 1,000, the second winner received a cash prize of RO500, and the third winner was awarded RO250 cash prize.

''I congratulate all the participants for their success, and I am pleased to see their enthusiasm and determination to understand and follow the teachings of Islam. I also congratulate Kaab bin Zayed School on the successful organisation of the competition that brought together the best of young Quran readers.

Such initiatives encourage the younger generation to broaden their horizons and expand their knowledge, not only through reading and memorising, but also through understanding the messages and implementing the values of the religion,'' added Mr. Mohammad Haris. Sohar Islamic was launched in 2013.

All the products and services offered that include retail and corporate adhere to the highest level of Shari'ah compliance, and are specifically designed to meet certain key criteria

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Malaysia Government Eyeing Strategies To Enhance Export Growth

PUTRAJAYA, July 17 (Bernama) -- The government is looking at several strategies to enhance the country's export growth, especially in facing stiff competition from other emerging economies, said Second Finance Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah said.

He said these included promoting investment in new technology-driven products through technology acquisition; testing and certification of Malaysian products for exports; and, establishing and encouraging Malaysian companies to establish offices abroad.

"There should be new products for the niche market, thus strengthening Malaysian companies and market penetration," he told reporters after chairing the Focus Group Meeting for Budget 2015 here Thursday.

He said Malaysia needed to build on and strengthen its competitive advantage, including in the export of services such as tourism, professional services, Islamic finance, and in the areas of maintenance, repair and overhaul.

"We want to see more service providers, not only in construction and related services, but also in legal, information and communications technology, engineering, oil and gas widening their market," he said.

Husni said Malaysia should expand into new markets to offset slower demand from China while low value-added electrical and electronics (E&E) exports could be improved through better domestic linkages.

Despite a well-developed E&E cluster in the northern region, he said Malaysia had not been able to capitalise on this advantage to be part of new and emerging technologies, products and services.

"Domestic firms must step up efforts to undertake indigenous R&D and procure more quality inputs from local suppliers," he said.

Meanwhile, Husni said the government was looking at increasing wage contribution to the gross domestic product to 39 per cent by 2020 from 32 per cent at present.

"We are strengthening our financial position to achieve a balance budget by 2020 and a surplus one after that. We are also reducing debt, currently it's 54.7 per cent. It will not grow beyond 55 per cent," he said.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Travelling to Istanbul

Istanbul is Turkey's largest city, home to one of the world's busiest waterways, with links to the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea. With an important position on the Silk Road and an advanced cultural history comparable to that of the Roman Empire, Istanbul is one the most historically rich cities in the world. 
However, what struck me first on arrival was not the history, but present atmosphere.  The streets of Istanbul are full of locals making a living by trying to convince you to buy products, consider menu's and enter stores.  This was only ever done with politeness, but as many unfamiliar with such trade (as I was) may find, it can be a gauntlet walking past shops until you've had some practice
I've been to a few countries, travelling as far as Iceland, but rarely to areas so focussed on the tourism industry.  Istanbul was declared a European 'City of Culture' in 2010, but visitors to the city come from everywhere, and all are catered for, which certainly makes Istanbul feel like a global city. 
The area has a multitude of famous landmarks, including the Topkapi Palace, residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years and home to priceless treasures and religious relics.  The Blue Mosque is also fascinating, built in the 1600's and still used as a site of worship.  Even below the city there are ancient cisterns, 9800 square metres in area, built in the 6th century during the Byzantine period.
Personally, I favour the bazaars; vibrant areas where the shops seem to spill on to the streets, although you may need some confidence to haggle proficiently.  If you succeed in this visitors can come away with spice, gold, handcrafted goods and exceptional watches which may or may not be genuine.
On the subject of religious requirements, it would always be polite to respect Islamic rules on clothing in the streets, but it is hardly necessary, adapted to guests as the city is.  However, it is necessary when visiting the mosques.  Men should wear trousers long enough to cover the knees and shirts which cover the shoulders.  Women will be asked to wear a headscarf which is often provided at mosques used to welcoming tourists.
However, the best advice is to go to the landmarks, try the famous Turkish coffee and sweet Baklava, get ready to haggle and maybe buy a tram card.  There is certainly no shortage of support for tourists

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Halal whale meat on menu as Japan tries to boost Muslim tourism

Prayer rooms, hijab scarves made of local silk and even halal-certified whale meat are now on offer as the tourism industry wakes up to demand from Muslim travelers.
For a largely homogeneous country with only around 100,000 practicing Muslims, that means understanding unfamiliar customs as the country tries to double the number of tourist arrivals by 2020.
“Muslim travelers still do not feel comfortable here,” said Datuk Ibrahim Haji Ahmad Badawi, head of Malaysian food company Brahim’s. “The government seems to have understood this.”
He was speaking at a recent seminar on halal tourism in Tokyo. Similar seminars were held in 20 regions across Japan last year, where hoteliers and restaurateurs were invited to learn how to cater to Muslims.
The Osaka Chamber of Commerce handed out 5,000 leaflets as a guide to what can and cannot be eaten. The idea that kitchens should be free of pork products and alcohol is a novel one in omnivorous Japan.
With the Islamic world currently observing the holy month of Ramadan, tourism to Japan is being heavily promoted in mainly-Muslim Southeast Asia, where Japan relaxed visa requirements in 2013 for travelers from Malaysia and Thailand.
Indonesians — the world’s largest Muslim population — are slated to receive similarly loosened requirements shortly.
Japan National Tourism Organization figures show the number of Indonesians visiting the archipelago in 2013 was 136,797, up 34.8 percent on the previous year. In the same period, 176,521 Malaysians visited, an increase of 35.6 percent.
Chinese tourist numbers have recovered from their plunge following the 2012 eruption of tensions between Beijing and Tokyo over islands in the East China Sea.
But broadening Japan’s appeal as a destination is key if the industry is to meet the 20 million visitors target set for 2020 when the Olympic Games come to Tokyo.
“Can you imagine the number of Muslim athletes who will then come to Tokyo? We’ll have to feed them,” Badawi said.
Brahim’s has already signed a deal with All Nippon Airways to supply in-flight halal meals, Badawi said.
A number of large hotels have also approached him for advice on catering to Muslim guests.
For Badawi, despite Japan’s slow start, the direction of travel is clear: Holidaying Muslims will be coming in bigger numbers, giving Tokyo an ever-larger slice of a $600 billion global pie.
Slowly, various regions across Japan are catching on. Major airports now have dedicated prayer rooms, and tourists looking for the perfect present can pick up hijab scarves made of Japanese silk as they pass through Kansai International Airport, a recent TV report showed.
Long-term visitors are also being catered for, with 19 universities offering halal menus in their cafeterias in a bid to boost the number of Muslim students.
Customers looking for authentic — but halal — Japanese dishes already have choices in Tokyo. They include a “yakiniku” barbecue restaurant run by Roger Bernard Diaz, who hails Sri Lanka, where one person out of 10 is Muslim.
Diaz himself is Christian, but he changed the restaurant’s menu to offer halal meats and says it has resulted in reservations from customers from southeast Asia, and even the Gulf region of the Middle East.
But sourcing produce can be difficult.
“It’s hard to find all the ingredients,” he said, while pulling a halal chicken from Brazil out of a dedicated freezer.
Muslims who want to sample whale meat are also catered for after Japan’s whaling factory ship was certified halal-compliant last year.
The Japan Halal Association, which was founded in 2010, is one of only two bodies that can grant the status.
Its chairwoman, Hind Hitomi Remon, said business is brisk.
“We are an associate member of the World Halal Council,” she said. “Since 2012, we have issued certificates to 40 companies, and that number is set to rise a lot this year,” a fact she says is directly attributable to Tokyo being awarded the Olympic Games for 2020.
And even if the tourists don’t want to eat in Japan, producers are ready to ship produce overseas, with exports such as halal-certified soy sauce and rice from northern Akita Prefecture.
But until visitor numbers grow, businesses catering to Muslims will need to continue keeping an eye on what their other customers want.
Yakiniku restaurant owner Diaz says around half of his customers are Muslim and yet he still has to cater to his other patrons.
“It’s hard to do business here without selling alcohol,” he said.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Gambia Joins Crusade to Promote Islamic Tourism

The Gambia has joined the world's powerful Islamic states in promoting Islamic Tourism as a new ethical dimension of tourism that has a strong impact on the economic growth of the member states of the Organisation of Islamic Corporation (OIC).
At the recent OIC's first Forum on Islamic Tourism held in Jakarta, Indonesia, member countries through their representatives explored the potentials of Islamic Tourism in propelling the rapid of growth of the wider global tourism sector.
The Forum, which was held as a follow-up to the resolution of the Eighth Islamic Conference of Tourism Ministers held in Banjul, The Gambia, on 6th December 2013, was attended by over 30 representatives of OIC member countries and private sector personnel. It was presided over by the vice president of the Republic of Indonesia.
The Gambia's Tourism and Culture minister, Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie, led a delegation to this maiden Forum. Upon her return, she told the Daily Observer in an exclusive interview that the country stands to gain a lot from the anticipated benefits of Islamic tourism. The minister indicated that Islamic Tourism is growing and expressed confidence that it will impact positively on the economic development of OIC member countries, particularly in generating job opportunities and encouraging the growth of the activities of small and medium enterprises.
 "Global Muslim spending on tourism (outbound) is estimated to be US$137 billion in 2012(excluding Hajj and Umrah). Total spending during the same period is estimated to be $1,095 billion in 2012, making the Muslim tourism market to be 12.5% of global expenditure. Muslim tourism expenditure is expected to grow to $1.81 billion by 2018. Comparatively, the collective global Muslim tourism market is larger than the largest tourist source country of United States - whose outbound tourist spend is $122 billion in 2012 followed by Germany, at $94.7 billion, China at $89 billion and UK at $64.39 billion. Regionally, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are the largest in terms of expenditure, representing 31% of total Muslim travel expenditure," she explained.
The minister opined that the growing profitability of Islamic Tourism will encourage the private sector in OIC countries to increase their investments in Islamic Tourism products. She projected that Islamic Tourism could become one of the greatest opportunities that would give the Ummah a stronger voice in world economics, improve the image of Islam, generate more employment opportunities and contribute to the development of infrastructure

Islamic group's health advice over Ramadan fasting

One of the UK's leading Islamic groups says it is concerned that Muslims who fast during the month of Ramadan despite being ill are putting their health at risk.
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has issued a leaflet with advice on how to fast safely in the current hot weather.
The date of Ramadan this year means UK Muslims will have to abstain from food and water for up to 19 hours a day.

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We as doctors have to make the best of that situation to make sure it's as safe as it can be for them to fast, even if personally we don't agree with it”
Shamim IqbalRochadale GP
Muslims who are unwell, pregnant or travelling are all exempt from fasting.
Imam Ibrahim Mogra from the MCB said: "I would be very concerned about an individual who despite the dangers to their health would insist on fasting.
"It would be wrong and un-Islamic, fasting is a gift from God and not a punishment."
Those unable to fast often instead donate money to charities or provide food to the poor.
'I enjoy the struggle'
Ahbid Choudry, 34, was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy when he was 13, a condition which left him unable to walk and with a weakened immune system.
abhid choudryAhbid Choudry has been advised not to fast during Ramadan because he has muscular dystrophy - but still does
Despite his illness, he decided to fast with the rest of his friends.
"Doctors have told me not to but they're the same doctors who told me I wouldn't be here at 22, so their opinion doesn't mean anything to me.
"Fasting's supposed to be a struggle and I enjoy the struggle," he said.
Ahbid's family has expressed concern about his wellbeing, deliberately choosing not to wake him for the customary pre-dawn meal known as Suhoor in the hope he will stop fasting. However, the sales adviser remains adamant he will continue to observe Ramadan.
"I believe it gives me wisdom, I believe it gives me strength and I believe that if I was able to do it for more than just one month, I would."

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Fasting's supposed to be a struggle and I enjoy the struggle”
Abhid Choudry
Safe fasting
The UK has a population of 2.7 million Muslims, of whom an estimated 325,000 have diabetes.
They are at higher risk of hypoglycaemia and dehydration during long fasts.
With more than two weeks of the Islamic holy month still remaining, doctors are urging those who are ill and want to fast to seek medical guidance first.
Shamim Iqbal, a GP from Rochdale, said it was important people who are unwell or on medication realise that doctors are there to support them.
She said: "It very much depends on the individual's illness. There are adjustments that can be made and so if you see your GP they can work around it.
"Patches and slow-release medication can be used, where you only need to take it every 12 hours or even every 24 hours."
She added that it was important that those who decide to fast despite being ill shouldn't be afraid of being judged by health professionals.
"They've come to a decision based on their beliefs. We as doctors have to make the best of that situation to make sure it's as safe as it can be for them to fast, even if personally we don't agree with it."