Friday, August 29, 2008

Ramadan to Start on Monday, September 1, 2008

From the Fiqh Council of North America


Ramadan 1429:  September 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Ramadan is on Saturday, August 30, 2008 at 19:58 Universal Time (i.e., 3:58 pm EDT, and 12:58 pm PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, [the conjunction before sunset and moon setting after sunset in Makkah] first day of Ramadan is on Monday, September 1, 2008.

Eid al-Fitr 1429: October 1, 2008

The Astronomical New Moon for Shawwal is on Monday, September 29, 2008 at 8:12 GMT, 4:12 am EDT, 1:12 am PDT). According to the criteria adopted by the Fiqh Council of North America, and European Council for Fatwa and Research, the first day of Shawwal is on Wednesday, October 1, 2008.

Mideast Running on Different Clocks at Ramadan

From the Associated Press - August 28, 2008

Mideast running on different clocks at Ramadan

Associated Press Writer

CAIRO, Egypt — The start of the holy month of Ramadan next week is
causing clock confusion in the Middle East. Egypt and the Palestinians
are falling back an hour far earlier than usual, trying to reduce
daylight hours for Muslims fasting until sunset in sweltering summer

Politics is also adding a twist. The Palestinian militant group Hamas
is ending daylight-saving time at midnight Thursday in the Gaza Strip,
which it controls — while the West Bank, run by the rival Fatah
faction, is waiting until midnight Sunday.

The Palestinians have traditionally changed their clocks at different
times from Israel in a gesture of independence. Now for the first
time, they're directing the gesture at each other, reflecting the
rival claims for power in the more than year-old split between the
Palestinian territories.

"Hamas just wants to show they're different from the Palestinian
government, to pretend that they are the real government here," said
Jamal Zakout, a spokesman for the prime minister of the West
Bank-based Palestinian Authority. He said the PA chose midnight Sunday
because Ramadan is expected to begin Monday.

Egypt will also move its clocks back one hour at midnight Thursday, a
full month earlier than usual. The switch will put Egypt two hours
ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and at least an hour later than its
Mideast neighbors.

The creeping-up of the clock change reflects the complications of the
lunar Islamic calendar.

Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each year. Currently, that brings
it more into the long, hot days of summer, making it particularly
tough for Muslims, who abstain from food and drink from sunrise to
sunset during the holy month. Even in September, temperatures in Egypt
are in the upper 90s.

Egypt's decision will enable its people to have their "iftar" evening
meal, breaking the fast, an hour earlier.

Israel goes off daylight-saving time on Oct. 5, before the Jewish holy
day Yom Kippur. It won't reduce the length of the 25-hour fast, which
goes from sunset to sunset, but makes it a bit easier by reducing the
number of daytime hours observant Jews must go without food or water.

Jordan and Lebanon will switch the clocks back as usual by the end of
October. Syria falls back in late September, while Saudi Arabia and
Iraq don't change clocks.

Ramadan, which commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the
Quran to the Prophet Muhammad, begins and ends with the sighting of
the new moon. During the month, families and friends gather for
sometimes lavish iftar meals, ending with the Eid al-Fitr, a three-day
holiday of the breaking of the fast.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Kill: Gays in Iraq

Don't Ask, Don't Tell, Do Kill

Nobody wants to talk about gays in Iraq, much less who is killing them.

Lennox Samuels
Newsweek Web Exclusive

Updated: 2:58 PM ET Aug 26, 2008

Lennox Samuels
Gays in Bagdad keep their sexual orientation secret

When militiamen from the Mahdi Army came by the compact, two-story stone home in the Doura neighborhood of Baghdad, they weren't looking for Sunnis to harass. They were hunting gays. "Bring us your son's cell phone," one ordered the middle-aged man who came to the gate. They wanted to check if his son, Nadir, had been calling foreigners--and in fact he had only hours earlier called this reporter to set up a meeting, and he had repeatedly called a gay nongovernmental organization (NGO) in London. Fortunately, Nadir was ready for them and produced a "clean" phone he keeps for just such a threat. This time they left, but vowed to come back if they found any evidence he was gay--or was talking to undesirable foreigners. Now that Iraq's sectarian war has cooled off, it's open season on homosexuals and others whose lifestyles infuriate religious hardliners.

Sometimes the act of reporting a story is revealing in itself--especially when it proves particularly difficult. This was the case when NEWSWEEK began looking into the problems of Iraq's homosexuals after hearing reports of secret safe houses around Baghdad where many of them were taking refuge from the militias' self-appointed morality police. After weeks of inquiries, NEWSWEEK managed to find Nadir and persuade him to arrange a visit to one of the safe houses he helps run. Instead, the Mahdi militia rousted him the night before. Established in 2004, the militia is the armed wing of the organization led by radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has been an implacable foe of the Maliki government. Terrified, Nadir contacted people at the London-based gay NGO that finances the safe house, and they instructed him to break off the visit.

That was only one of many problems reporting on gays in Iraq. Iraqi authorities scoffed at the subject--when not scolding a reporter for even asking about it. Some of NEWSWEEK's own local staff were wary of the story. Virtually no government officials would sit for an interview. And the United Nations human-rights office, which has a big presence in Iraq, dodged the subject like a mine field. As with a number of Muslim societies where homosexuality is officially nonexistent but widely practiced, the policy in Iraq during Saddam Hussein's rule was "don't ask, don't tell." But that has changed. Iraqi LGBT, the London NGO that Nadir works for, says more than 430 gay men have been murdered in Iraq since 2003. For the country's beleaguered gays, it's a friendless landscape.

Many officials say they feel that in a country at war, there are more pressing concerns than gay rights. A Ministry of Justice judge rebuked a reporter for wasting time on such an issue, noting that "crimes of sodomy" are "very rare" in society and even rarer in the courts. "Most acts of homosexual people are being done in dark corners and, with corruption and paying bribes, they will be kept there for a long time, for it is not on the top of our priorities list, which is occupied by issues of terror, kidnapping and killing," said the judge, who would not allow his name to be used discussing gays. An adviser to the government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki said that of all the meetings he has attended, none ever touched on the rights--or even the existence--of homosexual Iraqis.

The only recourse for Iraqi gays seems to come from activists abroad. Iraqi LGBT, which was founded to defend the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Iraqis, looks after about 40 young men between the ages of 14 and 28 in several Baghdad safe houses. There they are fed, can watch TV, hang out and sleep in cramped quarters, their beds inches apart. They stay away from neighbors and rarely leave their immediate area. "I hope you can see how sensitive and very important the security issue is for the safe houses," said Ali Hili, who fled Iraq and received asylum in Britain.

Hili continues to use a pseudonym to protect himself and insulate relatives still in Iraq. He has not returned home in eight years but does visit Syria and Jordan to raise money and check on an underground railroad that helps spirit some gay men out of Iraq. He says the government tries to monitor the group's activities. Saif, one of the older residents at an Iraqi LGBT house, recalls Saddam's repressive but secular regime wistfully. "Those were the most beautiful days of our lives," he says. "The fall [of Saddam] was the worst thing to happen."

Most people seem to prefer that the subject just go away. A written request for an interview at the Legal Section of the Ministry of Human Rights was greeted with a suggestion to delete the word "gays." A sympathetic senior government official warned that a direct request to talk to a minister about gays could result in a short conversation. "I would ask about women, displaced people, children and others before you get to that," he offered. Officials at the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs and the Human Rights ministry maintain that they do not keep statistics about gays, largely because the number is so small, "barely mentioned in Iraq" according to one of them.

Even relatively liberal people in Iraq seem to have harsh attitudes toward this subject. "These people are not welcome in the society because they are against the social, natural and religious rules," said one well-educated Iraqi who did not want to be identified more closely. A Baghdad executive said religion and tradition have made the overwhelming majority of Iraqis hostile to homosexuals. "Nobody is interested in talking about this at all," he says with a grim chuckle. A handful of gay men told NEWSWEEK harrowing stories about being cast out of their homes or savagely attacked by the storm troopers of virtue: Shia extremists among Badr Corps operatives (many of whom are now in the Iraqi Security Forces) or groups like the Mahdi Army, and sometimes both. But when told of such atrocities one Iraqi acquaintance blamed the victims, calling them "the lowest humans."

Persecution of gays will stop only if Iraqis can abandon centuries-old prejudices. They would have to acknowledge that human rights don't cover only the humans they like. Insisting that gays are just a few undesirable perverts who "should be killed"--as one Iraqi who works in journalism put it--encourages an atmosphere of impunity no matter the offense. Killing gays becomes "honorable." And raping them is OK because it isn't considered a homosexual act--only being penetrated or providing oral sex is.

Ali Hili says the government, security forces, judiciary and religious establishment are complicit in terrorizing gays. Since the late-evening visit by the militiamen, Nadir has moved to another part of Baghdad and stayed away from home. "They said, 'We will get you even if you fly to God'," he says. Changing Iraq's attitudes toward its gay minority may prove even harder than ending the war.

©  2008

Al Jazeera: Talking Politics with Faith; Muslims Join Interfaith Meeting at Democratic Convention

From Al Jazeera

Talking politics and faith

Sunday's event had the markings of a religious ceremony, but an unconventional one

The Democratic party's first interfaith meeting at its annual convention was certainly not short of drama.
Before a speaker had even reached the stage three anti-abortion protesters were ejected from the event after they began hectoring the crowd for their "anti-Christianity" and over Obama's perceived weak stance on the emotive issue.
The incident showed how politics and faith have become such intertwined – and explosive - issues in US politics, but it was the relations between religions themselves, most notably Christianity, Judaism and Islam, that pre-occupied the minds of most attendees of Sunday's gathering.
To the sounds of a rousing gospel choir, Reverend Leah Daughtry, chief executive of the Democratic National Convention and pastor of the House of the Lord Church in Washington DC, noted to thundering applause that "we didn't need to bring faith to the Democratic party, the faith was already here".
The Democratic party is keen to wrest control of the religious debate away from the Republicans, and the interfaith meeting was its latest effort as the battle for religious voters picks up speed ahead of the US presidential elections in November.
Daughtry herself told the Los Angeles Times newspaper last week that the event was aimed at closing the so-called "god gap" in US politics, and in addition to the interfaith gathering the Denver convention will also for the first time hold a People of Faith "caucus".

Unconventional ceremony

Certainly Sunday's event had all the markings of a religious ceremony, albeit a rather unconventional one, with readings and joint prayers held by imams, pastors and rabbis, Quranic and Biblical stories read and people attending in smart attire more suitable for church or the synagogue than the downtown convention centre.

Fatema said there were signs the US was moving towards religious unity

Fatema Biviji, a business owner, elected representative for the town of Irving in the southern state of Texas and practising Muslim, told Al Jazeera she felt the meeting was "extremely important" for the future of the Democratic party.
"In the past we've seen the Republican party embrace conservatism but we were shunned for not engaging with all faiths that are a very big part of our social life in this country," she said.
"Today we saw signs that we can embrace each other and move this country forward."
The traditional "Democratic" themes were strongly reinforced throughout the meeting, with its emphasis on social justice, ending the war in Iraq, aiding those affected by the ailing US economy and providing quality healthcare for all.
The issue has not been without controversy, with some critics castigating the party – and its presidential nominee, Barack Obama - for courting the religious vote at the expense of the United States' long cherished constitutional right of the separation between church and state.
However, it was a message that would have largely fallen on deaf ears among the thousand-strong crowd, which roared its approval as Bishop Charles Blake of the Church of God of Christ in West Angeles, said it was crucial to use faith to support Democratic values, and to emphasise that "the Democratic party pursues more of the positions relevant to the lives of our people and the people of the world".

'People of the book'

Ayah, left, said US Muslims were joining politics in order to be heard
All those attending spoke of how strongly interwoven the three faiths of the "people of the book" – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – were, and how all three must work to overcome much of the ignorance surrounding Islam in particular, in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US.
Dr Ingrid Mattson, director of the MacDonald Centre for the study of Islam and Christian-Muslim relations in the US state of Connecticut, told the crowd it "saddened" her that "so much out there is being done because of my religion", but took pains to stress both the work of the US Muslim community with local officials to combat extremism and the support she had from leaders of other faiths.
"There have been problems, but I am glad to say I am in a country that values my faith," she said to loud applause.
Afterwards, a group of young Muslim women attending the event said that the gathering had made a small step towards providing a voice for their faith and others in the political realm as the elections loom closer.
"I don't think Muslims joining a particular party makes any difference, but we want to have a voice," Ayah Safi, a Denver resident, told Al Jazeera.
"It's hard to say [what will happen], but we can only hope that Obama can reach out [to all faiths]."

Monday, August 11, 2008

With Arts and Films, Delhi's Gay Celebrate Nigah Queer Fest

From Sindh Today - August 10, 2008

With arts and films, Delhi's gay celebrate Nigah Queer Fest

Aug 10th, 2008 | By Sindh Today | Category: India

New Delhi, Aug 10 (IANS) With roses in their hands and banners voicing their angst against the law which makes homosexuality a crime in India, Delhi's gay community will celebrate the 16th anniversary of its first public protest Monday.

Coming a month after the city's first gay parade, which was a huge success attracting more than 500 people, the celebration will be part of a 10-day art-film-photography festival, which culminates Aug 17.

The Nigah Queer Fest, as the festival is called, is in its second year and, as activist Gautam Bhan puts it, is 'bigger and better' than last year.

"We had so many entries from around the world for the film screening section that we didn't know which to reject," Bhan told IANS.

Skimming through the entries, the organisers finally zeroed in on 47 films which have been screened over the weekend. And the films, in languages varying from Spanish and German to English and Tamil, are as varied culturally as they can be, but with a common message.

One of the films, "Jihad for love" is a daring documentary filmed in 12 countries and in nine languages. The film explores the complex global intersections between Islam and homosexuality.

Then there is an art festival showing a variety of moods of the queer community. Panel discussions on topics such as Visualising Sexuality and performance nights, throwing open ideas on how to use creative mediums like arts or photography to express one's sexuality, are also part of the parcel.

Monday, however, will be even more special for the community since it is on this day 16 years ago that the city saw the first queer protest out in the open.

Gay rights activists, human rights activists and those working on issues of HIV/AIDS led the protest against police arrests of several gay men walking in the open in the Central Park in Connaught Place in the heart of Delhi.

"t was our Stonewall," said Bhan, referring to the a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

The protest marked the first instance in American history when gays and lesbians came out against a government-sponsored system that persecuted homosexuals, and it has become the seminal event marking the gay rights movement in the US and around the world.

"On this day we will have panel discussions and remember our historical past and have talks," Bhan added.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

One-Third of Needle Drug Users in Karachi (Pakistan) Have HIV

From the Daily Times (Pakistan) - August 1, 2008

One-third of needle drug users in Karachi have HIV: experts

Daily Times Monitor

KARACHI: HIV among needle users has risen to 31 percent among the risk group from the first outbreak in 2003, experts have pointed out in an article, 'Men who have sex with men: New emerging threat of HIV/AIDS…' that appeared in the August 2008 issue of the Journal of Pakistan Medical Association. The article was authored by Arshad Altaf, Sohail Abbas, Hasan Abbas Zaheer of the Canada-Pakistan HIV/AIDS Surveillance Project of Canadian International Development Agency Karachi & Islamabad and the National AIDS Control Programme.

Pakistan has progressed from low to a concentrated level of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) epidemic primarily because of consistently high prevalence of infection among injection drug users (IDUs). While there are harm-reduction programmes with needle/syringe exchange and other services there are still no drug (methadone or buperonorphine) substitution programmes in the country. 

Men Who Have Sex with Men (MSM) is a term created to include MSM who do not identify as gay or bisexual. Among them commercial sex workers including male sex workers (MSWs) are those men who indulge in sexual activity with another man for money or financial benefits. Similarly transvestites or hijra sex workers (HSWs) are those who identify themselves as hijras and indulge in sexual activity with another man for money or financial benefits. Findings of subsequent rounds of second generation surveillance conducted in the country suggest that these two groups are emerging as the second highest risk group in Pakistan. 

Their numbers in four cities of Sindh (Karachi, Hyderbad, Sukkur and Larkana) are estimated to be around 16,000 (MSWs 7,700 and HSWs 8,300). The prevalence of HIV infection has been on the rise among them. In 2004-5, the Karachi Pilot study found the prevalence of the HIV infection 7% (14/200) and in round 1 of surveillance in 2005-6 in Karachi the infection was found to be 4% (8/200) among MSWs and 1.5% (3/200) among HSWs. In 2006-7 the infection rates had risen to 7.5% in Karachi.  In other cities of Sindh for e.g. in Larkana it was found to be 2.5% among MSWs and 14% among HSWs; in Hyderabad 2% (4/200) HSWs were HIV positive. Previous studies have also documented their risk factors in 1999.

In view of the emerging threat Sindh AIDS Control Programme started service delivery packages for prevention and control of HIV infection for MSM in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur in 2006. The clientele of MSW/HSW range from unmarried or married bisexual men, migrant workers and long-distance truck drivers living away from home.  Condom use among MSW and HSW in paid commercial sex in Sindh has also been quite low (6.7%) while reviewed literature suggests that correct and consistent condom use reduces the risk of sexual transmission of HIV infection by 80-90% and efficacy that exceeds those reported for many of the world's standard vaccines.

It is notable that at least 5-10 percent of all HIV cases worldwide are attributable to sexual transmission between men. In countries in the Asia-Pacific region, HIV prevalence among MSM ranges from 3-17 % (5 to 15 times higher than overall HIV prevalence). Prevention investment targeting MSM has been effective in reducing risk behaviours among MSM.

The experience of working and interacting with this high risk group in Pakistan suggest that it is relatively easier to work with hijras sex workers compared to male sex workers.  There are some key hurdles which require mentioning here:

1. Hijras are identifiable and relatively easier to work with however, their leader commonly called guru has to be involved in the process. 

2. Because of the stigma attached to MSM it is quite difficult to reach and educate them as they are a hidden group.  

3. The society as a whole in Pakistan is not willing to accept the existence of MSM/MSWs and fear of harassment and violence causes difficulty in identifying them. 

Prudent measures with appropriate coverage programmes increasing health awareness and promoting condom and lubricant use are needed to improve risky behaviours. The challenge is to achieve the desired behaviour change and practices which can help reduce the transmission of HIV among this vulnerable group.

Audio Report: Heroin Addicts in with HIV/AIDS in Afghanistans

Tribune correspondent Kim Barker talks about the the heroin addicts that use the former Soviet Cultural Center as home.

Audio can be accessed on the Chicago Tribune website.

AIDS Adds Sting to Afghanistan Misery

From the Chicago Tribune - August 5, 2008

In a nation already suffering from plagues both natural and man-made, the rising prevalence of HIV—exacerbated by ignorance and drug addiction—threatens to become an epidemic|Tribune correspondent
"Life is just passing, one day starving, one day a full stomach," he said, crying and wiping his eyes where he sleeps on the floor of the bombed-out grounds of the Russian cultural center, now home to as many as 1,000 itinerant drug addicts. He did not want to be identified because of the shame associated with the disease here.

In a country plagued by war and Islamic militants, by one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in the world, by malnutrition and starvation and even by locusts, AIDS has arrived. So far the Afghan government has officially identified only 435 cases of HIV — a small number, considering how many there are in neighboring countries—but international and Afghan health experts say there are likely thousands in Afghanistan.

1 scourge falls, 2nd rises

The rising number of cases is the unexpected fallout of the end of the strict Taliban regime in 2001, the rise in Afghan-grown heroin use and the intrusion of the world into this once-isolated, war-torn country that is now a focus of U.S. and Western efforts to contain the terrorist threat in South Asia.

AIDS now is a test for the government of President Hamid Karzai, caught between Western backers and conservative clerics, many of whom believe AIDS victims deserve their fate.

"You see where Afghanistan is going," said Dr. Saif-ur-Rehman, director of the National HIV/AIDS Control Program in the Health Ministry. "How do we tackle this problem before it turns into a major fire, an epidemic?"

Although there were cases of HIV before in Afghanistan — the first was registered in 1989 — only a handful were identified. The Taliban health minister insisted in 1998 that there was no AIDS in Afghanistan, because it was against Islam.

But after the Taliban fled, refugees addicted to heroin and opium returned from Iran and Pakistan, some bringing HIV with them. More and more Afghans who never left the country are now using drugs and injecting them as the heroin trade booms in the post-Taliban era.

More long-distance truck drivers are carrying goods to this landlocked country and using Afghan prostitutes. Sex between men, never acknowledged, is common, health workers say.

The conditions could be ripe for many more cases, especially given the average Afghan's ignorance of the disease. Nationwide, the medical infrastructure is rudimentary at best, and many doctors know nothing about AIDS. Most people are illiterate, and women have such a low status that they cannot insist on condoms.

Several parliament members at a budget debate in March described people living with the disease as "criminals and adulterers who deserve death."

Hiring Afghan doctors for HIV-prevention programs can be difficult. Hospitals often refuse to treat addicts.

"To recruit a doctor willing to work with drug users is a nightmare," said Carole Berrih, general coordinator with Doctors of the World, a French aid group that runs a clean-needle and education program for addicts.

Last year, the government's HIV testing center in Kabul conducted 6,700 tests, but mostly for people going abroad for work or school. That's a tiny amount, considering that about 4 million people live in the capital.

Some gains in fight

But some Afghans and many international donors are waking up to the problem. The amount of money devoted to the government AIDS program has increased from $100,000 in 2003 to a total of more than $23 million as of this year, officials said. Six centers in Afghanistan now test for HIV and hand out condoms. Another program tests drug addicts in the field. Other programs target sex workers.

The UN and international aid groups soon will pay for anti-retroviral drugs to start treating patients.

UNAIDS is supposed to set up a program here soon. Clean-needle programs will be expanded throughout the country, including to jails in eight cities. Education campaigns are planned. Doctors of the World is hoping to bring methadone to Afghanistan to wean addicts off heroin; with methadone, HIV-positive addicts could be stable enough for treatment.

There is some evidence that the message is working, in Kabul at least.

At the Russian cultural center, where anti-American films were shown in the 1980s and addicts now shoot up and smoke heroin amid piles of trash and human waste, there are also plenty of wrappers from disposable needles. The addicts know about AIDS and that they should not share needles—although some do.

Last week, one man known for sharing needles was lying on the floor on his side, breathing fast, unable to talk. When other addicts lifted his blanket, sores could be seen over his entire body. The next day, his friends tried to get him help, but no hospital would take him. Friends and aid workers later said he had died.

Abdul Hamid, 36, squatted as a friend shot heroin into his arm with a new needle. Hamid said he has been addicted since a rocket killed his wife and two children in the civil war. He started using needles 1 1/2 years ago and recently tested negative for HIV.

"I know nothing about AIDS," he said. "But I have heard it's a dangerous sickness and can kill you. I've heard from some people that it's even more dangerous than cancer."

Kim Barker is the Tribune's South Asia correspondent.

Worlds AIDS Day in Muslim Countries