Call to prayer ruling in Canada causes controversy

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Masjd Al-Farooq in Mississauga. (Supplied photo)
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The Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga. (Supplied photo)
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Muslim Neighbor Nexus: Building the community together. (Supplied)
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Malton Islamic Center in Mississauga. (Supplied photo)
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Jame Masjid Mosque in Mississauga. (Supplied photo)
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Updated 08 May 2020

Call to prayer ruling in Canada causes controversy

  • Some municipalities are allowing mosques to broadcast the sunset adhan during Ramadan, prompting some to complain
  • ‘Hate groups will always be around to incite this type of prejudice,’ says one Muslim resident who used to live in Riyadh

DUBAI: Social-distancing measures during the global pandemic have caused mosques to close and public gatherings to be banned around the world. As a result, Muslims have had to adjust and adapt to a new reality — one without congregational prayers.

However, some municipalities in the Ontario province of Canada have started allowing mosques to broadcast the call to prayer, or adhan, at sunset, which during Ramadan marks the end of the day’s fast.

In a ground-breaking acknowledgment of multiculturalism and religious tolerance, Ontario’s Mississauga City Council passed a resolution on April 29 suspending its noise control by-law, thereby allowing mosques to sound the Maghrib (sunset) adhan. The resolution stated that the temporary suspension will remain in effect throughout Ramadan, that the prayer call can be broadcast once a day in the evening for a maximum of five minutes, and that it must not call people to gather together to pray.

In the past week, cities such as Toronto, Hamilton, Windsor, Brampton, Ottawa and Edmonton have followed suit with similar rulings, and Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in the US city of Minneapolis has also obtained a permit to broadcast the call to prayer.

Masjid Al-Farooq in Mississauga City. (Supplied photo)

The melodious Arabic adhan usually takes only two to three minutes to recite, but the decision by Mississauga city council has incited a fervent backlash from some Canadians who claim that its broadcast is an infringement of their rights and brings religion into the public sphere.

Some suggest the sound of the adhan could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder in Canadian soldiers who served in the Middle East. Others label the decision unconstitutional and an appeasement of radicalism, even going so far as to call for a legal challenge. There has been no official statement on the issue by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Hassan Ahmed, a former resident of Riyadh who now lives in Mississauga, and usually attends the Al-Falah and Muslim Neighbour Nexis mosques, believes the sounding of the call to prayer should not bother his fellow Canadians too much.

“The church bells that are heard on Sundays don’t infringe on my rights as a Muslim, and the call to prayer, which is temporary, just for one month because of these extreme circumstances, doesn’t infringe on anyone’s rights — it won’t really impact anyone’s day to day,” he said.

“There’s a sense of belonging and community that the mosque gives. With physical and social distancing measures in place Muslims can’t get that, so this is just a small step toward filling that void.”

The Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga. (Supplied photo)

Kanwal Saya, who has lived in Riyadh and Dubai and now resides in the city of Oakville, Ontario usually worships at the Islamic Society of North America in Mississauga. She explained that during Ramadan, Muslims gather at the mosque not only for prayers, but for classes, discussions, iftars and activities for children.

“It’s the overall feeling of belonging and rising spiritually, and it’s especially important for children to develop and learn about our religion,” she said. “In the current circumstances, as we are not able to visit mosques, a call to prayer can certainly help revive the spirit of the holy month.”

Canada enjoys an international reputation as a welcoming and accepting place for refugees and minorities, and the province of Ontario is especially diverse; according to the 2016 census, more than a quarter of its residents are from minorities.

Some fear the backlash to the call to prayer ruling is a sign that Islamophobic sentiment might be ignited at a time where the pandemic has already caused great instability and unrest. But Saya and Ahmed are confident that those protesting the decision represent only a tiny segment of Canadian society.

“Hate groups will always be around to incite this type of prejudice,” said Saya. “Yes, it will bring about heated discussions and online forum wars but will eventually die down. Canadians generally are not too concerned about this.”

Ahmed agreed, adding: “We live in a safe country, our communities are very intertwined and intermingled, and people are very culturally sensitive. So I think that while you might have the odd experience or spike in some of Islamophobic prejudice, as a whole it won’t affect us — at least that’s my hope.”

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation

Updated 53 min 41 sec ago

Pentagon: Budget readies US for possible China confrontation

  • ‘This is a strategy-driven budget,’ US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
  • The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow

WASHINGTON: The US military must be ready for possible confrontation with China, the Pentagon’s leaders said Thursday, pushing Congress to approve the Defense Department’s proposed $842 billion budget, which would modernize the force in Asia and around the world.
“This is a strategy-driven budget — and one driven by the seriousness of our strategic competition with the People’s Republic of China,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said in testimony before the House Appropriations subcommittee on defense.
Pointing to increases in new technology, such as hypersonics, Austin said the budget proposes to spend more than $9 billion, a 40 percent increase over last year, to build up military capabilities in the Pacific and defend allies.
The testimony comes on the heels of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow, which added to concerns that China will step up its support for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war on Ukraine and increasingly threaten the West.
China’s actions, said Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “are moving it down the path toward confrontation and potential conflict with its neighbors and possibly the United States.” He said deterring and preparing for war “is extraordinarily expensive, but it’s not as expensive as fighting a war. And this budget prevents war and prepares us to fight it if necessary.”
Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, pressed the defense leaders on Xi’s meeting with Putin and its impact on US competition with China, which he called “the elephant in the room.” The US, he said, is “at a crucial moment here.”
The growing alliance between China and Russia, two nuclear powers, and Xi’s overtures to Putin during the Ukraine war are “troubling,” Austin said.
He added that the US had not yet seen China provide arms to Russia, but if it does, “it would prolong the conflict and certainly broaden the conflict potentially not only in the region but globally.”
Milley, who will retire later this year, said the Defense Department must continue to modernize its forces to ensure they will be ready to fight if needed. “It is incumbent upon us to make sure we remain No. 1 at all times” to be able to deter China, he said.
Two decades of war in Iraq and Afghanistan eroded the military’s equipment and troop readiness, so the US has been working to replace weapons systems and give troops time to reset. It’s paid off, Milley told Congress.
“Our operational readiness rates are higher now than they have been in many, many years,” Milley said. More than 60 percent of the active force is at the highest states of readiness right now and could deploy to combat in less than 30 days, while 10 percent could deploy within 96 hours, he said.
Milley cautioned that those gains would be lost if Congress can’t pass a budget on time, because it will immediately affect training.
Members of the panel, including Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., also made it clear that while they support the ongoing US assistance to Ukraine, “the days of blank checks are over.” And they questioned the administration’s ultimate goal there.
Milley said the intent is to make sure that Ukraine remains a free and independent country with its territory intact, maintaining global security and the world order that has existing since World War II.
“If that goes out the window,” he said, “we’ll be doubling our defense budgets at that point, because that will introduce not an era of great power competition, that will begin an era of great power conflict. And that will be extraordinarily dangerous for the whole world.”
The hearing was likely one of Milley’s last in front of Congress. His four-year term as chairman — capping a 43-year military career — ends in October. While many members took the opportunity to thank him for those years of service, it was also an opportunity to press him on one of the darkest moments of his chairmanship — the loss of 13 service members to a suicide bomber at Abbey Gate during the chaotic American evacuation from Afghanistan.
Questions remain about the bombing, and Republicans have criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to completely withdraw from Afghanistan in August 2021. During an intense two-week evacuation, which took place as Kabul fell to the Taliban, US forces got more than 120,000 personnel out of the country, but paid a large price in the lives of US service members and Afghans. The withdrawal also left behind many Afghans who worked with and supported US troops during the war, and efforts to get them out continue.
“I can think of no greater tragedy than what happened at Abbey Gate. And I have yet to fully reconcile myself to that entire affair,” Milley told the panel members. He called the end state, which left the Taliban in control of the country, a strategic failure.
But that “did not happen in the last 19 days or even the last 19 months. That was a 20-year war,” Milley said. “There were decisions made all along the way which culminated in what the outcome was. And there’s many many lessons to be learned.”

UK: Man charged over 2 fire attacks on people near mosques

Updated 55 min 44 sec ago

UK: Man charged over 2 fire attacks on people near mosques

  • The West Midlands Police force said Mohammed Abbkr was charged over attacks in London and Birmingham
  • Abbkr, a resident of Birmingham who is originally from Sudan, appeared in court in the city on Thursday

LONDON: British police have charged a 28-year-old man with two counts of attempted murder after men were set on fire near mosques.
The West Midlands Police force said Mohammed Abbkr was charged over attacks in London and Birmingham, central England.
Abbkr, a resident of Birmingham who is originally from Sudan, appeared in court in the city on Thursday. He wasn’t asked to enter a plea and was ordered detained until his next hearing on April 20.
Abbkr is alleged to have sprayed a substance on two men and set it alight in separate incidents — one near an Islamic center in the Ealing area of west London on Feb. 27 and another near a mosque in Birmingham on Monday.
The Birmingham victim, 70-year-old Mohammed Rayaz, remains in a hospital with severe injuries. Hashi Odowa, 82, who was attacked in Ealing, suffered severe burns to his face and arms.
Counterterrorism officers supported the investigations, but police said officers were “keeping an open mind as to any potential motivation.”

Chronicle of a Ukrainian woman’s journey from administration to military training

Updated 9 sec ago

Chronicle of a Ukrainian woman’s journey from administration to military training

  • When the war began, Natalia Sensova faced a tough choice: To leave the country or defend her home and children
  • Dedication to protecting her country has made Sentsova a role model for many other Ukrainian women

KYIV, Ukraine: Natalia Sentsova, a mother, wife and grandmother from Ukraine, lived a relatively ordinary life before the sudden escalation of the Russia-Ukraine war on Feb. 22, 2022.

She was just an employee of the Ukraine administration with a keen interest in guns. But everything changed when Russian bombing targeted her neighborhood in the capital, Kyiv. Like many other Ukrainians, she faced a difficult choice: To leave the country or stay and defend her home and children.

Initially, Senstova left for another city but felt that she had to return and protect her loved ones. She learned about the existence of a center for training civilians on weapons and combat since the tumultuous events of 2014 at Maidan Square in Kyiv.

Natalia Sintsova, with her grandson. (Supplied)

However, since spring of last year, she has been closely linked to the Military Training Center, where she completed her training and helped train others who wished to obtain the same skills.

Sentova’s decision to become a part of the military training center surprised and astonished her relatives and friends. Soon, she started training her children on the basics of using weapons and first aid.

Many of her friends followed her lead, and they, in turn, completed the military exercise. Natalia’s dedication to protecting her country has made her a role model for many women who aspire to defend their homes and children.

Sentsova’s story exemplifies the bravery and strength of Ukrainian women who have had to defend their homes and families. (AN photo by Ammar Abd Rabbo)

These days, she spends most of her days at the military training center and has developed a passion for using guns. Before the war, she was interested in guns, but since the war, the gun has become as basic as a toothbrush. She has no qualms about killing if necessary to protect her family and Ukraine. She says she will not go to the front lines, but will not hesitate to kill enemy soldiers if the need arises.

Sentsova’s story exemplifies the bravery and strength of Ukrainian women who have had to defend their homes and families. Natalia has not let the war change her feminine nature and approach. Despite the ongoing conflict and uncertainty about the future, Senstova says she remains committed to defending her country and preserving its independence.

Nigerian politician found guilty in UK organ harvesting plot

Updated 23 March 2023

Nigerian politician found guilty in UK organ harvesting plot

  • Ekweremadu and his wife were accused of arranging the travel of a 21-year-old man to the UK with a view to exploiting him for a kidney donation

LONDON: A senior Nigerian politician and his wife were found guilty Thursday of conspiring to transport a street trader to the UK as part of an organ-harvesting plot.
Ike Ekweremadu, who was deputy president of the Nigerian Senate and a lawyer, and his wife, Beatrice, were accused of arranging the travel of a 21-year-old man to the UK with a view to exploiting him for a kidney donation.
Prosecutors said the politician and his wife were behind the recruitment of the man at a Lagos street market, and that they arranged for the victim to provide a kidney to their 25-year-old daughter, Sonia, in an 80,000-pound (nearly $100,000) transplant operation at a London hospital.
The victim, who was transported to London in February 2022, believed he was being taken to the capital for work, and that under the agreement he would be paid thousands of pounds, prosecutors said.
Kidney donations are lawful in the UK, but it’s a criminal offense to reward someone with money or other material advantage for doing so.
The verdict is the first to convict suspects of an organ-harvesting conspiracy under the UK’s modern slavery laws.
As part of the ruse, the victim was described as Sonia’s cousin in his UK visa application, and the Ekweremadus pretended to doctors that the young man was related to Sonia.
But a doctor at the Royal Free Hospital became suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the proposed operation, and decided it couldn’t go ahead. The Ekweremadus then tried to find more potential donors in Turkiye, prosecutors said.
The case came to light when the victim reported to British police that he had been trafficked from Nigeria and that someone was trying to transplant his kidney.
Chief Crown Prosecutor Joanne Jakymec described the case as “horrific.”
“The convicted defendants showed utter disregard for the victim’s welfare, health and well-being and used their considerable influence to a high degree of control throughout, with the victim having limited understanding of what was really going on here,” she said in a statement.
Dr. Obinna Obeta, described by prosecutors as a medical “middleman” in the plot, was also found guilty Thursday at London’s Central Criminal Court. Sonia Ekweremadu, who has a serious kidney condition, was cleared by the jury.
The defendants were ordered to remain in custody, and their sentencing was scheduled for May 5.

Ukraine children held by Russia reunited with parents

Updated 23 March 2023

Ukraine children held by Russia reunited with parents

  • The reunion was organised by Save Ukraine, an NGO that fights what it says are illegal deportations of Ukrainian children to Russian-controlled territory
  • Russia denies the allegations, saying instead it has saved Ukrainian children from the horrors of the war

KYIV: Moments after the bus returning him and more than a dozen other children from Russian-held territory arrived in Kyiv, a ten-year-old boy jumped straight into his father’s arms.
Denys Zaporozhchenko held his son and kissed his forehead, before also hugging his two daughters who were among the 17 children separated from their parents for months.
The reunion was organized by Save Ukraine, an NGO that fights what it says are illegal deportations of Ukrainian children to Russian-controlled territory.
More than 16,000 Ukrainian children have been deported to Russia since the February 24, 2022 invasion, according to Kyiv, with many allegedly placed in institutions and foster homes.
Russia denies the allegations, saying instead it has saved Ukrainian children from the horrors of the war.
But the International Criminal Court (ICC) last week issued an arrest warrant against President Vladimir Putin for unlawfully deporting Ukrainian children.
Zaporozhchenko last saw his children in October in Kherson, the only regional capital that Russian forces captured following the invasion, when they left for a so-called Russian summer camp.
He expected tough fighting in his home city as Ukrainian forces were pushing closer to recapturing it, which they ultimately did in November.
Sending his kids to Crimea — a scenic and touristy peninsula annexed by Moscow in 2014 — seemed the lesser evil.
Russian officials “promised to send them to these camps for a week or two,” he told AFP.
“By the time we realized we shouldn’t have done it (let them go), it was too late,” he said.
Families were sometimes pressured into sending their kids on the so-called holidays, said Myroslava Kharchenko, a lawyer working with Save Ukraine.
“(Russian officials) told parents that they have one hour to think, and that if Ukrainians get there before, they will bring American mercenaries who will beat and rape the children.”
After “blackmail, manipulation and intimidation, they take the children away,” Kharchenko added.
Parents have previously had to embark on the fraught journey themselves to find their children on their own, Kharchenko said.
But for the first time, Save Ukraine group organized a group collection for the separated children by assuming power of attorney for those parents unable to make the journey.
They chartered a bus that went through Poland and Belarus and then to Russia, before picking up the children in annexed Crimea.
Some of children interviewed by AFP described a level of political indoctrination.
“If we didn’t sing the (Russian) national anthem, they made us write an explanatory note. Over the New Year, we were shown Putin’s speech,” 15-year-old Taisia said.
Zaporozhchenko’s 11-year-old daughter, Yana, said “everything was like in normal camps” but camp officials “made us sing and dance when inspectors came” from Moscow.
Forty-three-year-old Inesa Vertosh said her son had become “more serious” after the long separation.
“He looks at me and says ‘Mom, I don’t want to tell you about it, you wouldn’t sleep at night’.”
All children will be given psychological support, said Kharchenko.
Her organization was “doing everything so that children and their parents do not return to dangerous territories,” she added.