Browsing 'islam' News

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The Manhattan skyline

A Qatari man hoping to promote cross-cultural understanding and debunk myths about Muslims is launching a new Islamic art museum in downtown New York next month.

Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Al-Thani told Doha News that he hopes the Institute of Arab and Islamic Art (IAIA) will “challenge stereotypes and grant artist, curators and writers from the region an opportunity to engage with a broader audience.”

The institute will present three to four temporary exhibitions a year.

IAIA

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They will feature artists from the Arab and Islamic world, with the aim of “enabling them to join a broader global conversation,” the IAIA’s website states.

Its first exhibition will go live on May 3 and involve Islamic architecture and geometry, Al Thani told Doha News.

“Though there are foundations in the US that engage in Arab and Islamic Art, the narratives presented and the exhibitions curated by these foundations are not quite reflective of our societies and cultures,” he added.

Background

A graduate of Georgetown University in Qatar’s School of Foreign Service, Al Thani has worked for the UN and Qatar Foundation.

He is currently writing a dissertation on Cezane and the advent of Fauvism and Cubism.

Cezane’s Card Players, reportedly bought by Qatar for record-breaking $250 million.

The IAIA is a non-profit organization funded by several donors from around the world, but does not have ties to governments, Al Thani said.

Qataris and Emiratis, including Mohammed Al Rabban, Sheikh Nasser Al-Thani, Sheikh Rashid Al-Thani, Safiya Al-Ghaith and Sheikha Sharifa Al-Qubaisi, are listed on the museum’s website as its founding benefactors.

Program

In addition to exhibitions, the institute also plans to launch a residency program. This will be for artists, critics and curators who are interested in engaging with a New York audience.

Residents will be provided housing and workspace, as well as learn about different artistic movements that originated in New York. They will also present work and projects at the IAIA.

Navin Sam / Doha News

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Another goal of the institute is to increase knowledge of Islamic civilization and history.

It plans to do this by engaging writers and scholars in translations and publications, the museum’s website states.

Finally, the IAIA is planning to host an outreach program with schools and universities through collaborations with Arab cultural center across the US, Al Thani said.

Thoughts?

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Chantelle D'mello / Doha News

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Asserting that migrant workers should not “lose their freedom for a piece of bread,” researchers and religious scholars have called on Qatar and other countries to improve foreigners’ treatment so that it is more in line with Islamic traditions and values.

In addition to overhauling its kafala sponsorship system, there needs to be a shift in attitudes so that foreigners are seen and treated as equals, panelists said last night during a discussion hosted by Qatar’s Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE).

“We see (migrants) working for us … But there is no appreciation. There is no love dedicated to those people,” said Sheikh Ali Al Quradaghi, secretary general of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. “The earth was made for all creatures, all human beings, not one category of people,” he added.

Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies mosque

Chantelle D'mello

Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies mosque

The discussion at CILE, which is part of Hamad bin Khalifa University’s Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies (QFIS), comes as Qatar prepares to amend legislation that governs the relationship between expats and their sponsors.

While the specific reforms contained in the new law are not yet known, the original proposals drafted by government officials aimed to make it easier for foreigners to leave the country and change jobs.

Last night, Al Quradaghi praised Qatar’s leaders for their willingness to address the issue and, like other panelists, directed his recommendations to countries across the region with large expat populations and not just Qatar.

But he and the other speakers called for changes – such as paying individuals equally for doing the same work regardless of their nationality, compensating employees fairly as well as giving domestic workers the same rights as other migrants by including them under the Labor Law – that Qatar has so far been reluctant to consider.

‘We need to take care of these people’

To illustrate his argument, Al Quradaghi highlighted the actions of Omar Ibn al-Khattab.

When the second caliph after the Prophet Muhammad came upon an elderly Jewish man begging and asked why, the man said he had worked for 50 years but still needed money to pay for his basic needs.

Al Quradaghi recounted that Omar was surprised and instructed that money be given to the man because he had been treated unfairly during his working career – a move, Al Quradaghi suggested, that governments and employers in the region should take inspiration from.

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Richard Messenger/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

“Arab and Muslim countries ought to take care of those who provide long periods of service and participate in the building of these countries,” he said. “We need to take care of these people.”

Specifically, he said wage levels need to be examining in the context of the cost of living in nations such as Qatar.

“QR1,000 (a month), for example, in this country cannot be good enough,” he said.

There is no national minimum wage in Qatar. Instead, the government negotiates different salary levels with individual countries.

These bilateral agreements mean that workers are paid different amounts based on their nationality, said Latife Reda, a research consultant at the International Labor Organization in Lebanon.

Domestic workers

She told the audience last night that labor and workers’ rights are a “fundamental” part of Islamic traditions, including equal pay for equal work and the right to decent living and working conditions.

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Stephan Geyer/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Reda specifically highlighted how domestic workers across the GCC as well as in countries such as Lebanon are not covered under the labor law.

Human rights organizations including Amnesty International have said this exclusion leaves maids, nannies and other household workers particularly vulnerable to exploitation and other abuse from their sponsors, as there are few checks against the power of the employer beyond the criminal justice system.

Reda recommended that domestic employees be covered by the labor law, which she argued would lead to these workers being included in other measures, such as social security reforms.

This was also one of the recommendations of Jabir Al Howaiel, director of legal affairs at Qatar’s National Human Rights Committee.

While also calling on the government to sign on to multiple international treaties and conventions dealing with migrant rights, Al Howaiel added that current challenges could not be solved through mandatory standards alone:

“Respect and dignity of humans should be part of our culture so every human can live with dignity and liberate himself from fear in an environment that is conducive to security and development,” he said. “Workers ought not to lose their freedom for a piece of bread. They need to live with dignity.”

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Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy

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In response to concerns about worker rights, some local organizations have introduced better housing and employment standards for its contractors.

This includes the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, which is overseeing the construction of Qatar’s World Cup stadiums and published a set of workers’ welfare standards to protect employees on its building sites.

Last week, the committee published an article based on its visits to the Midmac labor camp, which is home to the workers constructing Khalifa International Stadium, that concluded its policies were working:

“‘We made a final inspection just before they moved in and had a walk through,’ explained Megan Jenkins, SC Governance and Enforcement Manager, Workers’ Welfare…‘All of our comments and feedback got taken on board. It was like a 3D model of what we had written on paper coming to life. When you see how it can look and work, you realise we are on the right track with the Standards.’”

Last night’s panel discussion followed a workshop attended by migration and human rights experts aimed at exploring the role of Islamic legislation and ethics in how Arab countries deal with expatriates.

Rajai Ray Jureidini, a QFIS professor of ethics and migration who moderated last night’s event, told Doha News that he hoped the discussions would spur a series of academic papers that could eventually be compiled into a book.

Thoughts?

Holding up one finger to signify one God.

Qatar Guest Center/Facebook

Holding up one finger to signify one God.

Some 615 expats in Qatar became Muslim during the fasting month of Ramadan, QNA reports, citing figures released by the Qatar Guest Center and Sheikh Eid Charity Association.

Of the new converts, some 417 are men and 144 are women, and the vast majority (517 people) hail from the Philippines. There were also 32 Sri Lankans, 26 Indians, 15 Nepalis and 25 people from the United Kingdom.

Qatar regularly announces conversions to Islam, which can number in the thousands annually.

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Alan Pix/Flickr

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The numerous conversions have to do in part with easy access to information about the state religion.

But many expats who move to Muslim countries may also be motivated to convert because of the social and economic benefits, according to some groups.

In 2009, a Nepali trade union called on its government to investigate conversions of nationals who traveled to the Gulf and Malaysia, fearing migrants were being pressured into accepting a new faith.

However, speaking to several expats in the Gulf, Asia News reported many as saying they willingly converted to improve their overall situations. The publication quoted Manoj Karki, who left Kathmandu to work on an oil rig in Qatar, as saying:

“I was hardly managing to save money from my salary, but since I have changed my religion to Islam, I am now more safe, comfortable, and with easy access to jobs.” His wife, who works as a maid in Doha, followed her husband’s example: “My husband converted to Islam and he advised me to do the same, so I did.”

Outside Islam

Converting to faiths other than Islam can be a tricky endeavor in Qatar.

According to a 2013 US State Department report on religion in Qatar, it is illegal for non-Muslims to proselytize here, and anyone caught doing so can face up to 10 years in jail.

Christmas 2014 at Qatar's church complex

Navin Sam / Doha News

Christmas 2014 at Qatar’s church complex

The report added, however, that the government typically deports suspected proselytizers instead of initiating legal proceedings.

The law also stipulates two years imprisonment and a fine of up to QR10,000 ($2,746) for anyone possessing written or recorded materials or items that support or promote missionary activity.

Additionally, converting to another religion from Islam is considered apostasy and is a capital offense, but the report said that since the country gained independence in 1971, there have been no recorded punishments for this.

Thoughts?