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« on: Apr 07, 2009 08:53 AM »


Asalaamu Alaikum  bro

Interesting article on Islamic schools in Damascus following the car bomb last year.




DAMASCUS // It was an unremarkable Saturday morning in Damascus, right up until 8.45am when the bomb exploded on the main airport road, killing 17 people and wounding more than a dozen others.

There had been previous bombs in Syria; there have been assassinations and political disappearances. But the assault of Sept 27 2008 was different. It was the deadliest of its kind for decades and, although apparently targeting a security service office, the victims were overwhelmingly civilian.

Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Turkey – Syria’s neighbours – had all become more or less intimate with this type of attack and the repercussions; the immediate panic and confusion, struggling with mass casualties, the gruesome work of sifting through body parts to identify the dead, trying to hunt down the perpetrators.

Syria, however, was caught off guard. And if the numerous security agencies were blindsided by the bombing itself, they were also shocked by the results of their inquiry into how it happened.

Antiterrorism officers discovered that a network of influential private Islamic schools had spiralled dangerously out of control.

Religious schooling in Syria has expanded rapidly since 2005, when there were just 30 state-run religious education institutes with 7,000 students. According to official figures, by 2008 that number had risen to 127 Islamic academies with about 21,000 students.

However, it was the 32 private schools in Damascus that set alarm bells ringing. Although opened with government permission, they had for years been running largely unconstrained by rules or regulations. No firm system had ever been put in place to monitor their teachings or ideologies, or to prevent the spread of radicalism among their thousands of students.

Less than two months after the 200kg car bomb was detonated, Syrian state television aired the confessions of nine men and one woman, who said they had orchestrated and carried out the attack. All admitted to being members of Fatah al Islam, a Lebanon-based Sunni extremist group.

Fatah al Islam fought a bloody war against the Lebanese army in the Nahr al Bared refugee camp near Tripoli in 2007, a conflict that killed more than 300 people.

Among the Syria bombing suspects was Abdul Baqi Hussein, who claimed to be Fatah al Islam’s security leader and to have carried out guerrilla attacks against the Americans in Iraq. He also said he had studied for two years at the Fatah institute in Damascus, one of the city’s major private Islamic schools.

In his televised remarks, Hussein portrayed the institute as a magnet that “attracts many Arab and foreign students” who shared a “hard-line” Islamic ideology. It was at the school that his own militancy had been incubated, he said, and the place where he had met like-minded colleagues.

The mosque and teaching rooms of the Fatah institute are a short distance from the Christian quarter of the Old City and separated from Bab Sharqi, a major historical site and tourist landmark, by a congested road.

The institute was established in 1965 by Mohammed Salih Farfor and initially had 200 students. Today, it is administered by his son, Hussam Eddin Farfor, and has 5,500 students from around the world, including Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, although most are Syrians from conservative Sunni families.

In the aftermath of the bombing it came under close scrutiny. Government investigators realised they had little information about key aspects of the school’s operations.

It was teaching from a syllabus that had never been approved by either the ministry of education or the ministry of religious affairs.

Foreign students were not properly vetted by the security services, and little was known about teaching staff and their beliefs. Crucially, the sources of the institute’s funding were unclear.

A senior figure within Syria’s religious schools community, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the Fatah institute had an annual budget of some US$3.3 million (Dh12m), and that the authorities had only been able to accurately trace a fraction of it back to its sources.

The rest came from unknown private donors.

When the televised confessions implicated the institute in the bomber’s ideological development, there were public demands from secular elements of Syrian society that it be forcibly closed to prevent a spread of Islamic militancy.

Moderates inside the ruling elite reportedly harboured similar fears: that Syria’s Sunni majority population – significant numbers of whom probably quietly advocate Syria being run as an Islamic state, rather than as a secular-leaning republic – may have passed the point where it could be controlled.

In an interview at the Fatah institute, Mr Farfor said the school taught a modern and moderate curriculum – including western philosophy and languages – and placed a heavy emphasis on tolerance. The bomber was an anomaly, he said, and had not learned violence there.

“We have a good history, one man cannot deform us,” he said. “In the days of the Prophet Mohammed there were liars and hypocrites, do we blame Mohammed for that? This man does not represent our academy, we have good professors and students who become key figures in society, why does anyone want to delete our history?”

Mr Farfor pointedly warned against closing private Islamic schools, saying it would only serve to exacerbate problems of extremism, driving young Muslim scholars perilously out of sight.

“Let’s teach the youth in the light, not let them go underground where they will get a fanatical or extremist interpretation of Islam,” he said.

The Fatah institute was not the only Islamic establishment affected by the lax, confused government regulations. All of the private institutes were in a similar situation. The largest, oldest and most illustrious of the schools, the Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Institute – also known as Abu Noor – has as many as 8,000 students enrolled at any one time, some 300 of whom are non-Arabs, from Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and the former Soviet Union, Pakistan, Algeria and Morocco.

Its annual budget is about $4.8m, much of which comes from a registered Islamic charitable foundation, al Ansar, which has declared annual finances of $2.8m. The remaining funding for the Kuftaro institute, $2m, comes from private donors whose identities are unknown to the authorities.

Such opaque financial arrangements opened the possibility that money was coming from ultraconservative Islamic groups that may have deliberately wanted to stir up militancy in Syria to undermine the regime. Sunni extremists have made it clear they consider Syria’s largely secular authorities to be un-Islamic, a tension heightened because the ruling Syrian elite are Alawite, a sub-sect of Shia Islam considered heretical by Sunni hardliners. Damascus’s close relationship with Shiite Iran has also angered Arab regimes and Sunni hardliners, all fearful that Shiism is spreading in the region and growing in power.

The large number of foreign students and private teaching staff exacerbated potential for trouble in the Islamic institutes. The combination of factors raised difficult questions for the Syrian authorities. “Where were they getting the money from?” asked one government official, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There were 1,000 private teachers, all paid much more than normal teachers, and they got their salaries from private sources, and we didn’t evaluate them. There are about 500 foreign students who had visas without thorough checks of their backgrounds.”

Private academies maintain that the overwhelming majority of students are peaceful and moderate. But one of the most well-respected schools admitted that foreign students are proving difficult to track. Again, speaking on condition of anonymity, a leading institute administrator said he had concerns before the bombing.

“The Syrian students are not so much of a worry, and most of the foreign students live on campus so we know what is happening with them. But one third of students live off campus and they are much harder to monitor. We don’t know where they go, who they meet, what ideas they are getting. We’d rather they all lived inside the academy.”

Of most immediate concern to the authorities, however, was the unregulated curriculum, which enabled some of the institutes to teach nakedly sectarian agendas. A member of a religious schools review committee, established in the wake of the bombing, said sectarian intolerance had been taught in classrooms.

“They did not have to have their books approved, or their curriculum,” the committee member said, on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject. “In some Sunni schools they were using books that said it was against God for Muslims to visit the tombs and holy shrines, which are Shiite cultural practices.

“And some of the Hawza [Shiite religious schools] taught negatively about the caliphs who followed the Prophet, a criticism aimed at Sunnis.”

The impact of these teachings was to emphasise differences between Sunnis and Shiites, a dangerous subject, particularly following the sectarian bloodletting in Iraq between 2005 and 2007, and the perpetually simmering torment in Lebanon. Syria, with a mix of Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a sizeable Christian minority and various other communities, has been at pains to avoid igniting any sectarian fires on home soil.

Most of the problems arose because no single government ministry was ultimately responsible for the private religious schools. They were licensed by the ministry of religious affairs, funded by charities overseen by the ministry of labour and social affairs, and had broad curriculum directions mapped out by the ministry of education.

As the Islamic institutions quickly developed in size and number, the absence of clear regulations and co-ordinated oversight swamped the ability of Syria’s often-dysfunctional bureaucracy to keep track of what was going on. Laws governing religious schools were still based on a decree issued in the late 1950s, when Syria and Egypt were joined as the United Arab Republic, under the leadership of Gamal Abdul Nasser.

The Sept 27 bombing came as a wake-up call to the authorities, underlining the need for quick and effective reforms. It also apparently galvanised normally obstinate ministries into actually taking action. Rather than closing any of the private schools, by the end of last year – a few months after the bombing – they were all brought under the direct control of the ministry of religious affairs.

A unified, government-approved curriculum was established in consultation with the institutes’ heads, removing all books that spread sectarian discord. Texts making disparaging remarks about either Sunnis or Shiites were prohibited from classes.

New financial regulations were introduced. Since the end of 2008 it has been a requirement that comprehensive, detailed accounts be submitted to a government finances committee for audit. Donations from charities no longer pass directly into the hands of the institutions, instead needing prior approval from government observers.

In an effort to draw a clear line between the funding charities and the schools, anyone working in a religious capacity within a private Islamic teaching institute is no longer allowed to hold an official position within a charity providing finance to that school.

Two other key changes are being implemented, concerning teachers and foreign students. Whereas overseas students used to be able to register for study at any school prepared to accommodate them, new regulations mean all foreign students will be compelled to register at a single centre, the Badr al Deen al Hasseni school in Damascus’s Old City.

Controlled by the ministry of religious affairs – which will also be responsible for obtaining entry visas and screening students – it will make it easier to identify any Islamic extremists. The days of the Abu Noor institute attracting hundreds of foreign students are effectively over.

Control over school staff will also be passed fully into government hands, with all teachers to be brought on to government payrolls, in effect nationalising staff at private religious schools.

“Each school will get its donations and money through a committee headed by an employee who works for the ministry,” Mohammad Bukheet, director of the religious education department at the ministry of religious affairs, said in an interview with Syria Today magazine.

“We [the government] want to know where all monies are coming from and where and when they are being spent.”

Mr Bukheet, who is in charge of day-to-day oversight of the religious schools, made it clear that private institutes would have far less freedom from now on. “We will be the decision-makers,” he said. “We can now hire and fire any teacher and we will pay their salaries.”

The religious schools have had little option but to embrace the changes ordered by Syria’s authoritarian administration.

In November leaders of all the major private Islamic institutes were invited to meet with Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, to talk about the new regulations. According to one institute official, the president made it clear the schools were not under threat but that they had to be brought under a coherent legal framework. The president also reportedly said the raft of new controls would be tested for a year and then reviewed.

“The political leadership wants to lead by consensus on this,” said the official. “It doesn’t want a crackdown and the measures it has introduced are moderate, they respect our rights.”

At the Kuftaro institute, Salah al Deen Kuftaro, the school director, said he supported the new rules.

“We are happy with the new measures. We work in a transparent way so we are not angry.

“I don’t see these things as negative points. For example, with a unified curriculum approved by the government, it means our qualifications will be officially recognised. In the past we had graduates with certificates that were not accepted for government jobs.” Mr Kuftaro also said the decision not to shut all private Islamic schools had been a moderate and sensible solution.

“We have to accept there has been a rise in Islamic sentiments in the region. We have to recognise that phenomena, not try to ignore it.

“To have our young people studying in our schools is better than them going to other countries where they may learn strange ideas or end up with teachers who tell them the real Islam is violent.

“We don’t need people going abroad to return with radical and wrong ideas. The best solution is to have them studying in the open here in Syria.”


http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090407/FOREIGN/790640378/1135

Say: "O ye my servants who believe! Fear your Lord, good is (the reward) for those who do good in this world. Spacious is God's earth! those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!" [39:10]
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« Reply #1 on: Apr 07, 2009 08:05 PM »

as salaamu alaykum a rahmatullah,

I want to start off by saying that Damascus is really a blessed place, a place that has had a tradition of sacred learning for hundreds of years and still has a vibrant community of teachers, scholars, and students today.  There is a hadith of the Prophet saw in which he made the duaa '[O Allah], bless us in our Shaam' and if you live there and experience the kindness and hospitality of the people, the sincerity and devotion of the students, you will really be a witness to that, and I ask Allah (swt) to protect that land and preserve that tradition of talab al-'ilm, ameen.

Quote
However, it was the 32 private schools in Damascus that set alarm bells ringing. Although opened with government permission, they had for years been running largely unconstrained by rules or regulations. No firm system had ever been put in place to monitor their teachings or ideologies, or to prevent the spread of radicalism among their thousands of students.

Unfortunately, the way the Syrian government treats pretty much all students of knowledge in Damascus is with scrutiny and suspicion.  If you're a student there, especially if you are male and have a beard, you will most likely have caught the attention of the mukhabarat, and some students have even 'disappeared' because they were taken in for questioning/beating/Allah knows what.  There was a well-publicized case of a British brother who was studying in Damascus with his wife a year or two ago, and went out one day to buy her an Eid gift and then simply disappeared... only for it to be discovered a few weeks later that he had been taken in, questioned, beaten, and then summarily deported back to the UK.  Another sister I know had a Turkish roommate who just didn't come home one day from her shariah classes, and they found out later that the same sort of thing occurred, (because at that time there were some Turks who claimed responsibility for some criminal act or another).  Its the same story a thousand times, so I would say that actually they DO have a system in place - one that causes the students to live in a state of anxiety (at least I know I did every time my husband went out somewhere) and one that occurs often enough for those of us who were studying there to personally know people it had happened to.  There is a running joke in Shaam -- this is the only place where you don't have any criminals to fear (because it is such a safe and peaceful place really, masha'Allah), but its the police you should be afraid of. 


Quote
Two other key changes are being implemented, concerning teachers and foreign students. Whereas overseas students used to be able to register for study at any school prepared to accommodate them, new regulations mean all foreign students will be compelled to register at a single centre, the Badr al Deen al Hasseni school in Damascus’s Old City.

Controlled by the ministry of religious affairs – which will also be responsible for obtaining entry visas and screening students – it will make it easier to identify any Islamic extremists. The days of the Abu Noor institute attracting hundreds of foreign students are effectively over.

Control over school staff will also be passed fully into government hands, with all teachers to be brought on to government payrolls, in effect nationalising staff at private religious schools.

I have to say also that the idea that these institutes were teaching a type of radicalism is laughable if you understand the political climate there.  The teachers can't even discuss politics openly, and I have to scoff at the notion that their material/curriculum and courses were "unmonitored".  I believe they are hyping these things up to justify these new measures of control.  Its really very sad and these new measures are a complete type of dhulm in my opinion. 

The reason the government is so hostile to Islamic institutions is out of a twisted sense of self-preservation.  They fear that a religious revival would lead to political dissent.  It is for this reason that they have always had such a tight hold on the institutions there, and these schools have always had to walk a fine line in trying to fulfill their objectives while conforming to government pressures.  But apparently, even that is not sufficient for them!  Sad 

May Allah allow the light of guidance and 'ilm to shine through and may He raise up a generation of people who are granted the opportunity to study His deen, understand it and master its sciences, and live by it and help others live by it.  May He grant people in power consciousness of their own weaknesses and their servitude to Allah.  Allah is the Mighty, the All-Powerful, and His authority does not diminish or fade, while the rulers among men only hold their authority for a short time.

wasalaamu alaykum,

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« Reply #2 on: Apr 07, 2009 08:21 PM »

peace be upon you

All states that are out of tune with their population, or that have a minority ruling over a majority, rely on such abuse of human rights. The reason given is always security, and the security apparatus is overwhelming, unaccountable to any one. Syria is just one of many such sattes. It is ruled by the Alawis, and has repressed the Sunni majority, dispersing a great deal of activists.

Unfortunately, Muslim states belong to this category, but they are not the only ones.
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« Reply #3 on: May 19, 2009 07:39 AM »

Asalaamu Alaikum  bro

An update following the arrests of two British students from the Abu Noor school in Damascus.




Foreign students a concern for Syria
Phil Sands, Foreign Correspondent


DAMASCUS // In the months leading up to the arrest of two British citizens in Damascus, accused of terrorist links, the Syrian authorities had placed Islamic schools under increased surveillance amid concerns that some foreign students were involved with militants.


Maryam Kallis and Yasser Ahmed have been held without charge since their detention by Syrian security on March 17. Mrs Kallis, 36, from West London, is a former student of the Sheikh Ahmad Kuftaro Institute, a renowned school more commonly known as Abu Noor.


Mr Ahmed, from Surrey, was in his second year of a degree course at Abu Noor when he was separately detained. Both deny any wrongdoing.


Concerns about Islamic students had risen in the aftermath of a suicide bombing in Damascus last September that killed 17 and wounded more than a dozen others, the worst attack suffered by Syria in decades.

One of the men arrested by Syrian anti-terrorist forces, Abdul Baqi Hussein, confessed to having spent two years studying at an Islamic academy in Damascus. In televised comments he described the Fatah Institute, where he had been schooled, as a magnet for Islamic radicals that drew in Arab and foreign students with “hardline” ideologies.
It was at the institute that his own militancy had been incubated, he said, and the place where he had contacted like-minded colleagues.


A senior official at a different leading Islamic school in the capital, interviewed two months after the blast, revealed that teaching staff were worried about students falling under the sway of extremists.


“The Syrian students are not so much of a worry,” he said on condition of anonymity. “And most of the foreign students live on campus so we know what is happening with them. But one-third of students live off campus and they are much harder to monitor. We don’t know where they go, who they meet, what ideas they are getting. We’d rather they all lived inside the academy.”


The official stressed that the majority of students were peaceful and that the institute taught a moderate brand of Islam with pupils acting as their own early warning system.

But foreign students, especially those living away from the school, pose a more difficult challenge, the official said, because they tend to stick together in cliques. That also made it harder for security agencies to keep watch on them, he said.


The bomb investigation exposed a series of potentially dangerous loopholes in regulations controlling privately run Islamic schools in Syria, such as Abu Noor. The government has since introduced a raft of reforms designed to help them track sources of funding, control the teaching curriculum and better vet foreign students who were getting visas without rigorous security checks.


One of the major proposed reforms, yet to be implemented, would stop all foreign students from going to Abu Noor or any other of the Syrian capital’s 32 private Islamic academies. Instead, they would all have to enrol in a centralised government-run institute.

Little information was given out publicly on the arrests of Mrs Kallis and Mr Ahmed. On May 11 the Syrian Embassy in London issued a statement saying interrogations of the pair suggested they were both working for “a terrorist network related to the al Qa’eda organisation”. Other arrests were made in connection with the case, the statement said.


The affair has been highly controversial, in part because of claims that British security agents were involved in the arrests, possibly tipping off their Syrian counterparts.

In November, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, met President Bashar Assad and the two are reported to have agreed that Damascus and London would co-operate on antiterrorism investigations.


According to Syria’s London embassy, Mrs Kallis is believed to have received funds from an individual “who resides in the UK” and conveyed them to “a terrorist network related al Qa’eda”. That claim has been interpreted as implying she had been investigated by British secret services.

Fewer details are known about the allegations made against Mr Ahmed, the other detainee.


All allegations against the pair have been rejected by their families. Gareth Peirce, the British solicitor representing them, said: “The families are sure that they are being ill-treated. There could be no possible suggestion that they have been involved with al Qa’eda. This is nonsense and it’s dangerous nonsense. We want to know what part our intelligence services played in this.”


The British Foreign & Commonwealth office refuses to comment on intelligence issues. An FCO official said the British government expected the two detainees, who were being held in a Damascus jail, to be ether charged with a crime or released “as soon as possible”.

Both prisoners had been seen by British consular delegations, the FCO official said, and given care packages sent by their families. Neither showed any signs of physical mistreatment, the official added, although they were under stress.

As part of those consular visits an Urdu-speaking member of the British Embassy staff was sent to talk to one of the prisoners because they had limited English, said an FCO source who asked not to be named.


Masood Kallis, the husband of Maryam Kallis, has accused the British authorities of not doing enough to secure his wife’s release, and said he believed their race and Muslim faith were partly the reason. The FCO said it is going “by-the-book” and following normal diplomatic procedures.

The human rights group Amnesty International has said the prisoners’ safety is at risk because of the Syrian security services record of using torture. The FCO’s own annual human rights report raises similar issues. Citing torture allegations and arbitrary arrests and detentions, it says Syria’s human rights record is a “cause for concern”.

Mr Kallis and his wife moved to Damascus in 2002, where she enrolled for a year’s study at Abu Noor. After the couple separated a year and a half ago, Mr Kallis returned to London with their eldest child. His wife remained with their three youngest children, sharing an apartment with her sister in the Ruken al Deen neighbourhood, not far from Abu Noor. Since the detention, they have had their passports confiscated and remain in Damascus.


The academy is highly popular with foreign students wishing to take theological classes and learn Quranic Arabic. According to Abu Noor’s administrators, it has an annual budget of almost US$5 million (Dh18.4m) and typically has as many as 8,000 students enrolled at any one time, some 300 of whom are non-Arabs from Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and the former Soviet Union, Pakistan, Algeria, Morocco and the United Kingdom.


http://www.thenational.ae/article/20090519/FOREIGN/705189851/1002

Say: "O ye my servants who believe! Fear your Lord, good is (the reward) for those who do good in this world. Spacious is God's earth! those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!" [39:10]
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« Reply #4 on: May 19, 2009 07:59 AM »

This is so scary and just so terrible.!!!!  Everyone who has gone to Abu Noor including myself knows it has nothing to do with terrorism. It's the most open, forward thinking, modern institution that is the absolute antidote to extremism!!. They even go so far as give tours to random foreign tourists of their mosque! It's just so sad. I don't doubt there are some crazy people everywhere, but I really have to doubt that any of these foreign students are anything close to 'terrorists' or 'have links' or anything else. Every student there knows there are spies everywhere and they are closely monitored, even have "people" visit them every so often in their personal quarters to interrogate them. Their email/phone everything is tapped. There's countless stories of people disappearing and torture, even putting sisters in jail for minor visa issues. No student does or says anything remotely to do with politics. They know what the climate is like, there living under an absolute dictatorship and back home. They are there to learn and go home.

Anyway the point of stories like this and the 'made up links' is to destroy a beautiful institute. One of the few beautiful places in the world young Muslims can go to to learn traditional knowledge, including Arabic, theology and all the Islamic sciences. If what they want to do succeeds it will all be gone. All that beautiful unbroken tradition and unspoiled beauty of being an Islamic student in Damascus. Stories like this also tar anyone who has studied there. Great propaganda on their part ;(
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« Reply #5 on: May 19, 2009 11:01 PM »

May 20, 2009

To the Editors of the The National:



It has come to our attention that your newspaper has published a number of misleading stories regarding Islamic Institutions in Syria.  You have attempted to draw a link between:


1.)  A car bombing that took place in Damascus last year,
2.)  the recent arrest of two British citizens in Damascus,


and the Universities that offer Islamic education in our country.




Let us first respond to these false accusations by saying: 



1.)  The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, attended Harvard University.  Does this mean that Harvard is a terrorist university?  Does it mean that Harvard should be shut down or placed under government control and surveillance?  It is pure hypocrisy to state that an Islamic University such as Abu Nur or Mahad Fath, each with an enrollment of over 8,000 students, should be held accountable for all its past and present students, while many elite Western institutions are not held to the same standard.



2.)  The Virginia Tech shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, was a student at Virginia Tech.  Does this mean that Virginia Tech teaches terrorism and violence?  Does it mean its curriculum is out of control?  Was he indoctrinated by learning there?


You make the claim that Islam teaches violence via its Islamic schools, yet you don't make the claim that America or secular schools teach violence, yet they produce a large number of mass-murderers every year.  Why the double-standards and hypocrisy?!



3.)  The car bombing that took place in Syria last year has been connected with a Lebanese militant group that has absolutely no connection whatsoever with Mahad Fath or Islamic schools in Syria.  Furthermore, the supposed confession broadcast on Syrian run state television cannot be taken as valid or reliable as it is a documented fact that such confessions are obtained under duress.



4.)  The alarm raised by your paper regarding the recent arrest of 2 British citizens is another false accusation.  The two have not even been charged, let alone convicted. 



5.)  In the afterlife, all people will be held accountable in the Court of God.  Islam teaches patience for the afterlife and to repel evil with that which is better.  This is the main teaching of the Shaykh Ahmed Kuftaro Institute (Abu Nur) and Mahd Fath.


The false claims of your newspaper have caused tremendous damage to our universities, and a drop in enrollment is sure to follow.  We will also lose charitable donations, which help the needy and orphans, and it has harmed our reputation as leading Institutes teaching moderation,  patience for the afterlife, and kindness to all of humanity.  If we cannot hold you to account in the worldly courts, than surely you will be responsible in God's Court on the Day of Judgment.


We hope that you will cease the false accusations you have been making against our institutes, and refrain from causing any further damage.




Sincerely,


Shaikh Abdurahman
Damascus, Syria

_____________________

Be merciful to those on earth, and the One in the Heavens will be merciful to you.
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« Reply #6 on: May 20, 2009 11:09 AM »

Asalaamu Alaikum  bro


I think this goes to show that we should all be a bit wary when reading articles from various media sources because one never really knows.


Jazakhallah khair for the clarifications Abdurahman

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« Reply #7 on: May 20, 2009 10:24 PM »

Read this today and it reminded me of this thread...

Code:
The Eternal City

 



Sami Moubayed

A few years ago, I was having coffee at the Meridian Hotel in Damascus with then-Palestinian Finance Minister Mohammad Zuhdi al-Nashashibi. We quarreled over the bill (as customarily done in Arab society) and I argued: “You cannot pay here! You are (our guest) in Damascus!”

He smiled, chuckled, and said; “Damascus? You are (our guest) in Damascus!”

He was alluding to the fact that Damascus was second home to hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who lived permanently or temporarily in Syria since 1948. Damascus was as much mine as it was his, he said.

I accepted his argument, since Damascus was indeed ‘home’ to millions of non-Damascenes. Many Damascenes, however, sadly do not accept that, behaving in a selfish, often childish manner, claiming that Damascus is “theirs.” As a capital, it should—and did, open its arms to non-Damascenes, just like Paris, London, Cairo, Jerusalem, and Beirut. It can—and should have, accommodated different ideas, cultures, and principals, while maintaining and defending its own.

These days, I sometimes feel like a stranger in my own city. I don’t recognize its places and faces although its been 7-years since I returned. They simply look different—too different—from the Damascus I grew up with as a child. My Damascus was beautiful. It was clean, simple, cozy, and familiar. My Damascus was voted by the UN as the ‘cleanest city in the world’ for three consecutive rounds in the 1950s.

This Damascus is—shamefully—too big, overcrowded, and becoming increasingly dirty. I don’t like saying bad things about ‘our Damascus.’

Memories of Damascus
My Damascus is the smell of jasmine one inhales while walking down Abu Rummaneh Street, or through the Afif and Rawda neighborhoods.

It is the old stone buildings scattered throughout these elegant residential districts, with their spacious balconies, and high-ceiling apartments. These buildings still ‘smell’ like Damascus. It is the beautiful parliament building on Abid Street, the old municipality in Marjeh Square, the original faculties of Damascus University, the Ain al-Fijja Waterworks Building, and the Hijaz Railway Station. They are real, elegant, proud Damascus.

My Damascus is the sight of a elegantly dressed old lady, clinging on to her dark old-fashioned purse, folded in two from old age, wearing a headscarf—not a veil—with a small strand of white hear slightly showing from beneath it. She is wearing it for modesty; we used to see so many of them slowly walking the streets of Damascus. Many readers would probably never understand that image unless they have seen it; unless they have been to ‘my Damascus.’

My Damascus is the smell of mother’s cooking, and the ordinary people one recounts every day who seemingly never change despite the passing of time. They are the grocer, the policeman, the next-door shop owner, and the building janitor. My Damascus is the noise that comes from the streets at 7:00 am, along with a cold Damascene breeze telling us that winter has arrived, and students are back to school. It’s the sound of mosques at prayer time, and churches on Sunday. Its an afternoon promenade in the Old City and the June chill of a summer evening in Damascus.

My Damascus is filled with memories—as Elvis Presley says—that are ‘sweetened through the ages, just like wine.’ It is first car drive, first book, first friends, first little mischief, first romances, first kiss, and first exposure to the hardships of the real world.

Women and Damascus
My Damascus is that of beautiful and intelligent women. Popular culture says that handsome men are found in Lebanon, while beautiful women are found in Syria. That statement, which is half-true, does Syrian men and Lebanese woman an injustice. I lived for many years in Lebanon and will never forget the gorgeous, Cleopatra-eyed Lebanese. I have seen other kinds of beauty in the Arab World; melancholic in Iraq, brave and striking in Palestine, Oriental in Egypt. I still believe, however, that my countrywomen are the prettiest.

For many years, inspired by Nizar Qabbani, I was a fan of Damascene beauty. The Damascenes I knew were beautiful, elegant, smart, hard-working, three-dimensional, and career-oriented. Either my taste—or the beauty of the Damascenes—has changed. They do not look as natural or tender as they used to, nor do they come across as three-dimensional women like before, inspired probably by the flashiness of Arab satellite TV.

The make-up, the hair, competition, and the urge to attract the opposite sex, have all done Damascene women a great disservice. In the past, they did not need an effort to look beautiful. It was a God-given trait. They had eyes that spoke volumes about their lives, personalities, and upbringing. They now have contact-lenses!

Proud men and Damascus
My Damascus is that of proud men. My grandfather, a wealthy, just, and generous landowner, was nationalized—sent into financial ruin, in 1960. He sold his automobile, a convertible Cadillac, and declared that he would live in seclusion for the rest of his years because he was too old to start from scratch and too proud to seek the assistance of others. He did not have a single penny deposited outside of Syria, and that is why when the socialist wave struck during union with Egypt, he was left in bankruptcy. His story speaks volumes about Damascus; it mirrors what happened to hundreds of other people, whose only crime was belonging to a social class and owning a certain amount of money.

He couldn’t afford taxis, and refused to take the public bus. Therefore, he walked for the rest of his life, and avoided destinations that were not within walking distance. He asked his friends to refrain from inviting him to dinner, because he could not ‘return the invitation’ in the same lavish manner that he used to before the union period. He died on a cold Damascus morning in 1989, drinking strong Arabic coffee. Damascus reminds me of him.

Only in Damascus
I adore this city and all that it stands for. I write about its faults because of heartache. I still see beautiful things in Damascus. I see them at every corner of town. No, its not the modern cafes sprouting all over the city. Its not the mushrooming malls, banks, and universities. The other day, I walked into a supermarket to purchase some merchandize on a Friday. The owner did not have any change to split my 1,000 SP. “You can pay me later Sir” he politely said. The man had never met me in his entire life. “What if I get a visa for Australia” I joked “and you never see me again?” He just smiled, patted me on the shoulder, and insisted that I walk on with my shopping bag. He was an old kind man from Damascus. Only in this great city would a shop-owner let me walk away without paying—and no guarantee that I would ever return.

Has anybody tried spraining their ankle while walking down a main street in Damascus? Has anyone tried parking, had an accident, suffered from a car break-down in Damascus? Can anybody remember how helpful these ordinary people are? Optimists would say ‘helpful’—pessimists insist ‘nosy.’ Regardless, that also is one of the few ‘things’ that makes this city so wonderful.

The world famous US author Mark Twain came to Damascus in 1869. He described the city in his travel book “The Innocents Abroad” saying: “Damascus measures time not by days and months and years, but by the empires she has seen rise and prosper and crumble to ruin. She is a type of immortality.” He adds, “In her old age she saw Rome built; she saw it overshadow the world with its power; she saw it perish. Damascus has seen all that has ever occurred on earth, and still she lives. She has looked upon the dry bones of a thousand empires, and will see the tombs of a thousand more before she dies. Though another claims the name, old Damascus is by right, the Eternal City.”

Didn’t Nizar Qabbani once say that “Eternity starts from Damascus?”

Well probably, Nizar was always right.

Shahida
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Hasbi Allah wa ni3mal wakeel!


« Reply #8 on: May 21, 2009 07:34 AM »

Salam alaikum

This is really really sad sub7anAllah... Sad

Hope that all the bro's and sisters are safe out there.  May Allah swt make it easier for the seekers of knowledge.  Things changed a lot since last September I guess...I know lots of students who left the country around that time, even those who had Iqamah.

So, are the halls of Abu Noor empty then? Maybe Sheikh Abdurrahmaan can give us an update?

About those in jail: may Allah swt make them strong, and may He make this trial a means of them gaining closeness to Him, and we pray that they will be retured to their families soon.  inshaAllah...

Salam
S.
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