Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Maid and her faith

Story like this is not uncommon, even in Malaysia. We have to look into both perspectives. The demand for maids in certain countries is high. Countries like Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Philippine are amongst the top exporters.

There are 600,000 Sri Lankans work as maids in Saudi Arabia. Roughly 1 in every 19 Sri Lankan citizens - work abroad. Sri Lankans are also in big number in the UAE and commonly known as mafias in QS world.....most of QS are said to be from Sri Lanka.

Among the total population, 70 percent of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists, 15% are Hindus and 7.5percent Christians. About 8 percent of Sri Lankans are Muslims, mostly from the Arab-descendant Moor and Malay ethnic communities.

A maid and her faith
By Sameera Aziz

Many non-Muslim housemaids enter Saudi Arabia without revealing their religion and tend to keep it hidden if being from faiths other than Islam. Shanti, a Hindu Sri Lankan housemaid presented herself as a Muslim under the name ‘Fatima Bibi’. Also, she did worse by teaching her faith to the son of her Muslim Saudi sponsor.
“I was shocked when I saw my 6-year-old son Naif imitating the Hindu praying rituals,” said Umm Naif.
Umm Naif explained how a scene depicted a Hindu marriage ceremony at a temple. The groom applied vermilion in the parting of the bride’s hair to which young Naif exclaimed, “this is kumkum which you should put in your hair too, with a red ‘bindi’ over the forehead to indicate you are married.”
“No, we are Muslims and this is not our faith,” Umm Naif responded in shock inquiring how he did have such detailed knowledge about this act.
Hesitant, young Naif eventually informed his mother that the Sri Lankan maid had educated him about this. The maid had been doing so for months and warned him not to tell anyone, he said.
Nearly 600,000 Sri Lankan housemaids are resident the Kingdom. Sri Lankan government estimated that more than a million Sri Lankans - roughly 1 in every 19 citizens - work abroad. Stories of the housemaids’ sufferings are also widespread in the media.
“It is unfair to only think the maids’ sufferings. I agree that maids experience sufferings at the hands of their sponsors but, sometimes deprivation causes them to resort to unacceptable ways. In my case, the housemaid was spoiling my child’s fundamental faith,” said Umm Naif.
“I was paying her more than the signed contract. We never abused her and I always dealt with her politely,” said Umm Naif. However, Fatima denied teaching unIslamic practices to Naif and claimed that the recruitment agent had told her to hide her religion. She said that she later embraced Islam.
Umm Naif explained that she had paid the recruitment agent SR8000 for a Sri Lankan Muslim housemaid. The agent said he could not be certain of the faith of the maid.
Among the total population, 70percent of Sri Lankans are Theravada Buddhists, 15% are Hindus and 7.5percent Christians. About 8percent of Sri Lankans are Muslims, mostly from the Arab-descendant Moor and Malay ethnic communities.
Muhammad Al-Goba, general manager of Al- Goba Recruitment Company, explains that most people demand a Muslim housemaid from Sri Lanka. “We cannot guarantee that a maid is Muslim as we have to believe her personal information according to the passport and documents submitted”.
Al-Goba also added that, many Muslim Sri Lankan housemaids come to the Kingdom for mainly Umrah or Haj and seek to return home afterwards. Therefore, the recruitment agents avoid sending Muslim housemaids.
Many recruitment agents cheat the Saudi sponsors by concealing the housemaid’s real identity and faith. “Sponsor can return the housemaid within three months to the agency and we guarantee replacement during this period. But after three months the Saudi sponsor is responsible to give her the Iqama (legal permit) and ticket to return,” said Al-Goba. Umm Naif was unfortunate to bear the costs of returning her maid six months after her recruitment, “I could not have her around as she had lost my trust,” she said.
Umm Naif shared the last words of Shanti (Fatima) at the time of departure from Jeddah. “I will be back on housemaid visa provided by someone else.”
“I did not wish to further bother myself by reporting her to the labor office or to hire a lawyer. Instead, I simply applied for another housemaid in hope of a better substitute. I am, however, more cautious now especially, as a parent” said Umm Naif. – SG

UAE Construction Worst-hit in GCC

It is not really a secret. There are less activities on the ground level except for some major road and infrastructure constructions. More lay-offs and more one way departures. More abandoned cars and more people caught for bounced cheques.

However, Dubai is still a good place to live in the Middle East with the existing infrastructure and right atmosphere for business.

UAE Construction Worst-hit in GCC
Issac John
17 September 2009
DUBAI — As a result of the global economic crisis, the UAE’s once-torrid construction industry has cooled more dramatically than any other construction market in the GCC region. Even so, the Emirates are still seeing “an extraordinary level” of activity, with 1,372 projects either being built or in the bidding process, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the Dubai-based research firm Proleads.

Since the construction business began feeling the chill in late 2008, developers have put on hold or cancelled a total of 566 projects comprising 29 per cent of all those planned across the UAE’s office, hotel, residential and retail sectors, Proleads said.

“In the worldwide shakeout, no region has been immune and, as a result, a strong element of realism has entered the real estate investment landscape,” said Chris Speller, Cityscape Group Director.

The report was based on a study that Proleads made for organisers of the Cityscape Dubai property exhibition set to take place at the Dubai International Exhibition and Convention Centre on October 5-8 2009.

With total projects worth $900 billion, including those put on hold or cancelled, the UAE accounts for 60 per cent of the $1.5 trillion of total projects in all member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. The UAE accounts for 46 per cent of the GCC’s total of 3,000 projects, the report said.

While some of Dubai’s major property plans are among those that developers in the UAE have dropped, the Proleads database shows a continuing high level of activity in the Emirates that would be “the envy of many” economies elsewhere, Speller said.

The study shows that a total of 340 commercial projects are under construction or in the bidding process, with 147 cancelled or on hold. In the hospitality business, 288 projects are under construction or bidding, with 118 cancelled or on hold. A total of 495 residential projects are being built or in bidding, with 217 cancelled or on hold; in retail, 249 projects are in construction or bidding, with 84 on hold and no cancellations.

The impact of the economic downturn elsewhere in the Arabian Gulf has been decidedly less severe, the study said. The report was based on a survey of thousands of projects across the Gulf, each worth at least $10 million.

Of projects worth more than $387 billion in Saudi Arabia, 19 per cent of the total number have been cancelled or put on hold. Kuwait has total projects worth more than $114 billion, with 17 per cent cancelled or on hold. Oman has total projects worth more than $38 billion, of which 8 per cent are on hold and none cancelled, while Bahrain has $36 billion of projects, with 27 per cent cancelled or on hold, Proleads said.

The rock star in Islamic World

Khaled’s message is more than ‘air-conditioned Islam’

Last month, as I joined a group of media researchers and experts in Amman for a Cambridge University workshop on religious broadcasting in the Middle East, I realised the impact that satellite television has had on the presentation of Islamic values to an international audience. The convergence of religion and television, two powerful players in this region’s cultural life, has given rise to a new genre of Islamic “televangelism” that seeks to promote Islam as a religion of peace, tolerance, and love in their simplest terms.

Islam provides peace of mind for more than one billion people around the world and defines much of their cultural identity in an age of globalisation. I see the new generation of satellite television preachers as fostering global receptivity to Islam and the Muslim world. When one speaks of the new wave of Islamic “televangelism”, Amr Khaled always jumps to the forefront.

Billed as “the Billy Graham of the Muslim World”, Mr Khaled was named in 2007 by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Time noted that although the lay preacher “is not a household name in the West”, he is still “a rock star for a segment of the Islamic world” and “a needed voice for moderation”. Contrary to some commentaries that see the rise of the Mr Khaled as a function of show business, I believe the combination of his innovative presentation style and his theological perspectives are the key to his spectacular success.

For young Muslim audiences, Mr Khaled’s preaching style has been inspiring primarily because it engages their senses in a spiritual and communicative experience. He uses simple verbal and non-verbal presentations to reveal Islam’s cherished values. Unlike traditional preaching styles defined by sometimes monotonous and abstract formulas, Mr Khaled directly addresses the audiences and relates theological abstractions to their concrete realities.

I remember watching one of his Quranic stories on Abu Dhabi Television earlier this Ramadan in which he told the story of the birth and upbringing of the Prophet Moses in Egypt. He showed video footage of a small boat sailing in the Nile, presumably carrying the baby to escape being killed by the Pharaoh. In another Quranic story about “people of the cave”, Mr Khaled travelled to Jordan and shot a video of what is believed to be the cave where, according to the Holy Quran, seven young men escaped oppression and stayed asleep for 309 years .

But the Amr Khaled phenomenon is not limited to his televised sermons and speeches. It has come to include tangible philanthropic projects catering to the needy in this region. His “Life Makers’’ project encourages young men to implement action plans for transforming their lives and communities through the application of Islamic values. The project, in which 35,000 volunteers take part, has helped nearly 7,000 families this year in countries such as Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan and Egypt. As part of a project in Yemen, Mr Khaled launched a social development initiative to eradicate poverty and illiteracy among children.

It is amazing to see the Amr Khaled phenomenon also address Muslim relations with the West. In the aftermath of the Danish cartoons incident some three years ago, Mr Khaled, along with another television preacher, Tareq al Suweidan of Kuwait, contributed to an interfaith dialogue organised by the Danish government to debate the infamous drawings. In his message, he condemned the cartoons as well as the violent reaction to them across the Muslim world and called for sustained Muslim-Christian interaction. According to The Independent, the UK foreign secretary sent Mr Khaled a message of support for organising the Copenhagen conference, praising him for his “courage and strength” in attempting to bring cultures together.

As Muslim societies grapple with the challenging tasks of adapting their distinctive cultural identity and building enduring ties with the West, the need for voices like Mr Khaled’s that echo the spirit of Islam as a religion of peace, love and tolerance has never been more fully appreciated.

Of course, the lay preacher has been taken to task for his lack of formal religious training. Some Muslim scholars have referred to his work scornfully as an “air-conditioned” brand of Islam. But what counts is that Mr Khaled has made a difference not only in how Islam is being understood and practised in this region, but also in how it is being perceived by those in non-Muslim societies. And here, the Amr Khaled phenomenon could be instructive to the traditional preaching establishment.

Muhammad Ayish is a professor of communications at the University of Sharjah