Islamic community in Italy turns to tech for Ramadan celebrations

Hundreds of millions of Muslims across the world under coronavirus lockdown, are streaming prayer sessions during Ramadan. (Reuters)
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Updated 30 April 2020

Islamic community in Italy turns to tech for Ramadan celebrations

  • The COVID-19 crisis has caused added problems for the Islamic community in finding burial places for the dead

ROME: Technology has come to the rescue of millions of Muslims in Italy during this year’s pandemic-disrupted Ramadan celebrations.

With the country expected on May 4 to begin easing some of the restrictions imposed to stop the spread of COVID-19, worshippers have been taking to social media platforms to join in Friday prayers and moments of reflection to mark the month of fasting.

Online broadcasts have been streamed on Facebook and in messages to Muslim communities throughout Italy, Islamic leaders have referred to Ramadan 2020 as an ideal time to reflect and rediscover family. 

Imam Izzedin Elzir, the former president of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII), who lives in Florence, said that for the nearly 3 million Muslims in the country (around 5 percent of the Italian population) this year’s Ramadan festivities were as big as ever.

People had been adapting to the lockdown measures by holding celebrations in their homes, with the call to prayer streamed live on social media. 

“The Friday prayer sermon during Ramadan is being streamed on Facebook in order to reach all the faithful in their homes,” Elzir told Arab News. “Lessons and moments of collective reflection will also be broadcast online.”

Spokesman for the Islamic Cultural Association, Bouchaib Tanji, said he had requested some regional television channels in Italy to give a few minutes of air time for the call to prayer with a short reading from the Qur’an, and most had accepted, especially in northern regions such as Lombardy and Piedmont, the areas worst-hit by COVID-19. 

Similar to Catholic churches and Jewish synagogues, more than 1,000 mosques in Italy will remain closed to worship, even after May 4, the date the government has set to launch the second phase of its response to the COVID-19 crisis by allowing some business and other activities to restart after a two-month national lockdown. 

Religious leaders at the Great Mosque in Rome, the largest in Europe with a capacity of 12,000 people, have repeatedly explained to worshippers that community prayers and the breaking of fasting could not be carried out in the customary way under the current circumstances.

In a Facebook message, they told Muslims that they were now called to a further test and greater effort to profess their faith by fasting in isolation at home.

The Islamic Center in Rome has recommended that all Muslims continue to respect and observe the Italian government’s rules aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Early in March, mosques and other places of Muslim prayer were ordered to close, with only funerals allowed to take place under strict social distancing rules, behind closed doors and attended by just a small number of close family members. Handshakes and greetings with traditional kisses on the check were also banned.

Imams have called on Muslims to turn the unprecedented Ramadan period into “a precious opportunity to rediscover family relationships and reflect.”

In an Italian newspaper interview Yassine Lafram, president of the UCOII in Italy, said: “While this holy month will be spent differently to the ones in past years, relegated to our homes, we must not be discouraged nor lose hope, but keep our faith and the spirit of brotherhood strong at this time.

“The Islamic community calls on Allah to eradicate this ill which is afflicting us and to preserve our country. We renew our condolences to the families of the dead and we hope those who are sick will soon get better.” 

And the country’s Islamic community has been showing solidarity with the Italian population during Ramadan.

In Villorba, an industrial town in the Veneto region about 35 km north of Venice, the local Islamic association donated 6,100 euros ($6,620) to the municipality to help toward aid projects for those suffering from the economic consequences of the COVID-19 emergency.

“Although our roots are in other countries, our love for Italy urges us to do everything possible to help the community we belong to now,” the association’s spokesman told Villorba mayor Marco Serena.

The Islamic community in Paganico, a town in Tuscany in central Italy, collected a small sum of money to contribute to a fund to help local families struggling financially during the health crisis.

“It was simply a gesture of gratitude toward a country that welcomed us and still welcomes us every day. Islam teaches us to help people who are in difficulty. During Ramadan we fast, pray and do something for the others,” Youssef En Nabbagui, president of the local Islamic Center, said in a Facebook post.

He also noted the center’s blood donation project and added: “In the next few days people from the Islamic community of Paganico will go to the Misericordia hospital in Grosseto to give blood.”

Civitella Paganico mayor, Alessandra Biondi, told Arab News that she was “very moved by this noble gesture. It makes me feel happy as it is a great way to give back.” 

The COVID-19 crisis has caused added problems for the Islamic community in finding burial places for the dead. While waiting for the lockdown restrictions to be lifted, Islamic leaders have for the time being decided to suspend the option to repatriate bodies to their countries of origin.

“We hope that the government and city councils will help us in some way,” said Imam Yahya Pallavicini, president of COREIS, the Islamic Religious Community of Italy.


Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

Updated 21 sec ago

Boy, 16, charged with murder after fatal stabbing of Afghan refugee

  • Hazrat Wali was stabbed to death last week when a fight broke out near his college
  • He is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year

LONDON: A boy, 16, has been charged with murder over the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old Afghan refugee, Hazrat Wali, in London last week.

The 16-year-old from Hammersmith and Fulham, London, appeared in court via video link from the young offender’s institution where he is being held.

He confirmed his identity and was told that his plea hearing would be held on Jan. 11, 2022. Wali’s brother and foster mother attended the brief hearing on Tuesday. 

The youth defendant was remanded into custody until his next court appearance.

Police are continuing to investigate the stabbing, which is said to have occurred when a fight broke out in a field near Wali’s college in west London.

Wali was an Afghan refugee who came to Britain two years ago, according to the Evening Standard. An unnamed relative told the free London daily newspaper: “He came here to study, he was living all on his own in London. His immediate family are all back in Afghanistan.

“I saw him in hospital. He had a fight is all that I had heard,” the relative added.

Witnesses say a teacher from the school ran over to give the teenager CPR in an attempt to save his life. While he administered first aid, Wali is said to have told the teacher the identity of the person that stabbed him. Wali died in hospital soon after.

Wali is believed to have been the 25th teenager murdered in London this year.


Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

Updated 1 min 13 sec ago

Poland has 6,000 soldiers to stop migrants: minister

  • Thousands of migrants -- most of them from the Middle East -- have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer
  • Almost 6,000 soldiers are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border, said Poland's defence minister on Twitter

WARSAW: Poland has 6,000 soldiers deployed along the border with Belarus to help stop an influx of migrants, Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday.
Thousands of migrants — most of them from the Middle East — have crossed or tried to cross over from Belarus into eastern EU states since the summer.
The EU suspects this is an effort coordinated by the Belarusian regime in retaliation against EU sanctions and has called the use of migrants a “hybrid attack.”
“Almost 6,000 soldiers from the 16th, 18th and 12th divisions are serving on the Polish-Belarusian border,” Blaszczak said on Twitter.
“The soldiers provide support to border guards by protecting the country’s border and not allowing it to be illegally crossed,” he said.
Border guards are reporting hundreds of attempted crossings every day and accuse Belarusian border guards of helping the migrants cross.
The government has implemented a state of emergency which bans journalists and humanitarian workers from the area and is planning a border wall.
Charities have criticized the government’s hard-line approach, particularly its pushback policy, and have warned of the growing danger for vulnerable migrants crossing through forests in the freezing cold.

Russia, China, Pakistan willing to provide Afghanistan with aid, Moscow says

Updated 19 October 2021

Russia, China, Pakistan willing to provide Afghanistan with aid, Moscow says

  • Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now
  • The United States did not join this round of talks in Moscow but said it planned to do so in the future

MOSCOW: Russia, China and Pakistan are willing to provide aid to Afghanistan, the Russian foreign ministry said on Tuesday, but Moscow said it was not yet ready to recognize the Taliban government.
The promise of humanitarian aid and economic support came after talks between Russian, Chinese and Pakistani officials, who will be joined by representatives of Afghanistan’s Islamist rulers at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was withholding recognition from the Taliban while waiting for them to fulfil promises they made when they took power, including on the political and ethnic inclusivity of the new government.
Critics say the former rebel movement is backtracking on pledges not to sideline women and minorities, or persecute foes.
“Official recognition of the Taliban is not under discussion for now,” Lavrov told reporters. “Like most of other influential countries in the region, we are in contact with them. We are prodding them to fulfil the promises they made when they came to power.”
In mid-August, the Afghan government collapsed as the United States and allies withdrew troops after 20 years on the ground, leading the Taliban to seize power in a lightning offensive.
Russia, which fought its own disastrous war in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989, is trying to seize the diplomatic initiative to avoid instability in the wider region that could damage its interests.
In particular it is worried by the possibility of Islamist militants seeping into the former Soviet republics of Central Asia, a region Moscow views as a defensive buffer.
Other Russian officials have tempered expectations for Wednesday’s talks. The United States said it would not join this round but planned to do so in the future.
Zamir Kabulov, President Vladimir Putin’s special representative on Afghanistan, said last week he did not expect any major breakthrough at the talks.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov described them as “an attempt to know what will happen in Afghanistan going forward.”

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis

Updated 19 October 2021

Portugal honors diplomat who saved thousands from Nazis

  • The speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said Sousa Mendes’ conduct lent prestige to Portugal
  • The ceremony marked the completion of Sousa Mendes’ 80-year journey from ostracized Portuguese civil servant to honored international personage

LISBON, Portugal: Portugal paid official homage Tuesday to Aristides de Sousa Mendes, a Portuguese diplomat who during World War II helped save thousands of people from Nazi persecution, by placing a tomb with his name in the country’s National Pantheon.
Leading Portuguese politicians and public figures attended the formal televised ceremony as the tomb was placed alongside other celebrated figures from Portuguese history at the landmark Lisbon building.
The speaker of the Portuguese Parliament, Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, said Sousa Mendes’ conduct lent prestige to Portugal.
“People who at the decisive moment put their and their family’s safety at risk for the greater good are rare. Sousa Mendes was one of those people,” Ferro Rodrigues said in a speech.
The ceremony marked the completion of Sousa Mendes’ 80-year journey from ostracized Portuguese civil servant to honored international personage.
Perhaps Portugal’s most famous 20th-century diplomat, Sousa Mendes defied his superiors, including dictator António Salazar, when as consul in Bordeaux, France, in 1940 he handed out visas to many people who feared being hunted down by the Nazis.
The Portuguese visas allowed people, including Jews fleeing the Holocaust, to escape through neutral Portugal by air and sea to the United States and elsewhere.
The Portuguese diplomatic service was supposed to ask for the Lisbon government’s specific consent to grant visas to certain categories of applicants, as the country trod a careful path of neutrality, but Sousa Mendes gave out visas on his own initiative.
Leah Sills, a board director of the Sousa Mendes Foundation in the United States, said she flew in for the ceremony “to be able to honor the man that rescued my father and my grandparents” on May 24, 1940.
“It’s been just a beautiful experience,” she said.
Álvaro Sousa Mendes, a grandson of Aristides Sousa Mendes, said his family had seen an ambition fulfilled.
“This was a ceremony we had been requesting for a long time,” he said. “Finally he was recognized ... with National Pantheon honors.”
Breaking the rules got Sousa Mendes fired from the diplomatic service, with public shame attaching to his family at the time. He died in poverty in 1954.
Decades later, he won recognition for his key role in saving people from the Nazis.
In 1966, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, recognized Sousa Mendes as a “Righteous among the Nations.”
Last year, he drew praise from Pope Francis, and last March the US Senate in a motion saluted “the humanitarian and principled work” of Sousa Mendes.
It wasn’t until the late 1980s that he earned recognition in Portugal, with authorities posthumously granting him accolades.
In 2017, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa bestowed Portugal’s highest honor, the Grand Cross of the Order of Liberty, on Sousa Mendes.
Last year, the Portuguese parliament voted to honor the former diplomat at the National Pantheon by placing there a plaque and a tomb without his body. Sousa Mendes wanted to be buried at his birthplace near Viseu, in northern Portugal.
Of the 19 historical figures entombed at the National Pantheon, 12 contain the person’s remains.

More Middle East personalities could be next Madame Tussauds Dubai wax models

Updated 19 October 2021

More Middle East personalities could be next Madame Tussauds Dubai wax models

  • The museum opened its 25th branch in Dubai last week

DUBAI: Additional Middle East personalities could join the list of famous Arab figures on display at Madame Tussauds Dubai.

“We listen to our customers; we listen to their feedback. So, we will always be updating the figures and enhancing the products,” Sanaz Kollsrud, general manager of Madame Tussauds Dubai, told Arab News.

The museum opened its 25th wax attraction in the city on Oct.14, making it the brand’s first branch in the Middle East. 

The famous attraction has a total of 16 figures from the Middle East region. These include talents from the music industry — such as Lebanese singers Nancy Ajram and Maya Diab — and athletes that were made exclusively for the branch in Dubai.

“At the moment, Madame Tussauds has 25 wax attractions around the world, including the US, Europe, and Asia. I’m sure that the brand will look at opportunities to expand at a later stage,” Kollsrud said.

Dubai has been a perfect choice for the Middle East branch, as it is a global tourist destination. The general manager said the museum is also located near a major attraction in the city, Ain Dubai, and is surrounded by a variety of retail and dining options.

 Donald and Melania Trump at Madame Tussauds Dubai. (AN Photo)

When asked how the museum chooses the figures it wants to display, Kollsrud said there is a lot of research behind figure selection, including customer research.

“It took about 18 months to put together a figure list, during which we looked at the popularity of the celebrities regionally and globally, especially within the UAE,” she said.

To keep the figures clean and protected, a team of artists works daily to make sure the statues are in perfect shape, the general manager said.

Lewis Hamilton at Madame Tussauds Dubai. (AN Photo)

She added that a team of 20 artists completes one wax figure within four to seven months. 

They even insert real hair strands, which can cost $190,605.

"There is a sitting involved with the talent, where they come and we do around 500 measurements, including head to toe," Kollsrud said.

The tourist destination consists of seven themed rooms and includes over 60 lifelike wax figures.

Chinese President Xi Jinping at Madame Tussauds Dubai. (AN Photo)