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Hajj: The Journey of A Lifetime

by Sofia Begg Latif

Hajj has truly been the journey of a lifetime. It was a lesson in recognizing our own insignificance- our bodies physically exhausted and weakened- the perspective of being one among millions under the harsh heat of the Arabian sun, our hearts beating, hands lifted seeking His Mercy.  

Together, we all prayed and cried for our families, for a stop to war and discord, for protection from every type of sickness, sadness and worldly trial.  We prayed for Salvation. We stood in front of God, dusty and disheveled, bowed our heads, and poured out our hearts, begged for forgiveness, entrusted all our fears and worries to Him, and sought His Help for our innermost needs and hopes.  

We removed ourselves momentarily from our worldly affairs, even as the storms of the world continued to swirl, as news of Harvey and Irma, of the Rohingya in Burma, of the pain of Dreamers and DACA and news of deaths of loved ones back home reached us. We surrendered to our Lord, our hearts reliant completely on Him. We circled the Ka’aba, counter clockwise, as if to turn back the ages of time, to shed our past and to seek His Guidance for our individual and collective future, recommitting ourselves to be servants in this world.  

Hajj was humbling, but at every step of the journey, we were also deeply aware of our privilege.  The world’s people were represented in Mecca, young and old, black, white, and every color in between. Humanity is beautiful, but the vast majority do not live like we do. Our moments of hunger, exhaustion, discomfort, sickness, even fear, were all relative. We would catch ourselves uttering a complaint and immediately become silent with just a glance around, our eyes wide open to the suffering of others around us, and their patience, strength, steadfastness, resilience in the face of struggles far greater than our own.

How could we not be only grateful?  

Our feelings of gratitude only deepened upon arriving in Madinah, the city of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). We entered the city with everyone on our bus singing in joy and praise of a man whose life of devotion and sacrifice has given us the best of examples. The peace and calm that is felt in Madinah is without comparison.

So, while we return home now eager to see our daughter, our parents and loved ones and to be back in the comforts of our home, we  pray that God accepts our devotions- and we hope to keep these lessons with us: of reliance on God, of gratitude, of patience and of feeling ever more acutely and urgently the call to serve.

Christian Comedian Captures Heart of the Pakistani Community

by Amina Khan

“Read a lot of anti-Pakistan comments today online because of Independence Day. One of them said that if you’re a Christian and go to Pakistan they’ll immediately kill you. It was weird reading that while eating mangoes with a mix of Muslims and Christians with both a mosque and a church next door,” Comedian Jeremy McLellan said.

If I am being completely honest, I was not a huge fan of the idea of a white person going to a foreign country to “tell their story”, as it touches on the white savior narrative on eradicating the stereotypes of said country. In this case, it was comedian Jeremy McLellan doing a tour in my country of heritage, Pakistan. However, like Americans have misconceptions of Pakistan, I had my misconceptions of the comical McLellan’s trip abroad.

McLellan is a comedian based from Charleston, South Carolina whose jokes interweave with politics and social issues which have attracted the Muslim and Pakistani community. According to an interview with Vice, McLellan never set out to appease Desi’s and Muslims- he just made jokes about what he saw in the news and fate brought him to a huge fanbase.

Through his posts on Facebook and the opportunity I had to conduct an interview with him, I was able to see how much McLellan adores Pakistan- almost as much as Pakistani’s adore him.

AMINA: What was your most memorable part of Pakistan?

JEREMY: There was a moment when we drove around on August 14, Independence day, on top of an SUV which was live streaming on Facebook and we had a lot of fun. Everything was a lot of fun including riding on dirt bikes in Baddomalhi and hanging out with the people. Besides getting sick at one point, I had a lot of fun the entire trip.

A: Were there any stereotypes of Pakistan/Pakistani’s that became a reality?

J: The hospitality was overwhelming and also the lack of personal space. It was like every day was a family reunion and compared to my own culture, our families don’t see each other that often as we’re much closer to our friends. Being over there, it was like a family reunion every day which was great. It was interesting because I knew what to expect as I know so many Pakistani’s so it wasn’t as big of a culture shock as if someone would have just gone with no knowledge. It was funny seeing all my friends asking me what was going to happen to me in Pakistan. One week before I went to Pakistan, I was in Montreal performing and people asked where I was going next, and I said I was going to Pakistan to do a tour. People were asking, “Oh, are you performing for the troops?” And I was just thinking that are there even troops there like what are you talking about and they were just very confused. Actually, there was one lady from LA, a Hollywood agent, and she asked like dead serious, when I go over and perform in Pakistan, how am I going to be able to tell the woman are laughing? And I remember thinking – What in the world do these people think Pakistan is? You know they just assumed that every woman wore a burqa or something. Their seeing and perception of Pakistan are off. I actually have a separate news app on my phone for Pakistani news. It’s very different from what we see in the news here, the news in the US just states that “Oh there was a bomb today”. People know about Pakistan from watching Homeland, which is a universally hated show in Pakistan. They’re like “Pakistan is not like Homeland” and I didn’t know a TV show could be that hated.

A: Where does your inspiration come from for your jokes?

J: It comes from anything that happens to me in any interactions, anything I hear about.  I get a lot of material by interacting with people online – people talk and send messages hence some interaction comes out.

A: What words have you learned in Urdu?

J: *Laughs* It was weird when I got there, it took several days before I realized what “Kaise Ho” meant. Whenever I met people in Pakistan, I thought they were saying “guess who”. Like after saying, Salaam, I was wondering why they were saying “guess who”. It was 5 days before I asked – what are you talking about? *Laughs* Other words I learned were ‘shukriyah, theek hai, accha’ – very basic stuff. It was weird being there when people were talking in Urdu they would slip in some English words and I was trying to figure out what they were saying. It would just be like ‘blah blah blah Jeremy blah blah blah’ and I was just like uhh what’s going on? But I am trying to learn Urdu. I have to as everyone’s talking in Urdu in my comments and I don’t know if they’re angry or what.

A: What do you think are misconceptions people have of Muslims/Pakistan?

J: I mean like with Pakistani’s the biggest misconception people have is that it’s all tribal areas. Their perception is from Homeland – that it’s full of violence and if you’re Christian they’ll kill me. The blasphemy laws are weaponized like someone hates you so they accuse you of blasphemy and try to get you into trouble – mostly in rival businesses. I talked to lots of Christians and it’s fine, they like it. Misconceptions people have about Muslims in the US is that no one seems to understand how diverse the community is. They don’t understand what Muslims are like and assume that two Muslims just argue about religion. They are overall extremely diverse, ideologically and racially, and people don’t realize that.

A: Did you feel safe in Pakistan?

J: I felt safe the whole time except drinking the unfiltered water from the hotel. We had everything we were supposed to have like having locals take us around everywhere and not overdue on security because it would draw too much attention so we didn’t have a caravan take us places. As far as maintaining security we didn’t tell anyone where we were going to be – simple stuff that I do even in the US you know, I have my own security to feel safe. The state department actually told us to not go out on Independence day but we went out anyways.  

Okay, friends. Here it is. The hotel we stayed at in Islamabad was the Hotel Margala on Kashmir Highway. Our entire…

Posted by Jeremy McLellan Comedy on Saturday, August 12, 2017

A: Because some of your jokes are politically driven – do you get hate?

J: Yeah sure I get a lot of that, even from people misunderstanding my jokes. If you’re a politician you want most people to like you and that’s how most people think. If there is one person who hates me then that’s a big danger and I think that’s how God made us you know with evolution. Even throughout history if someone hated you they could kill you, our brains are wired to pay attention to that so you don’t get injured. As an artist you’re not trying to get 51 percent of people to like you – you want people to love you and you really just want a fan base. If 99 percent of America hated me and 1 percent loved me, it’s enough if that 1 percent sent me 10 dollars a year and I would be a multimillionaire. You’re not trying to please everyone, as long as you’re being true to yourself and speak your mind. The trick is finding an audience that receives well and with social media, you can find that audience. You don’t have to try and reach just a local audience with comedy. If you’re trying to appease social media you can reach who likes you and it becomes like a shortcut.

A: What city in Pakistan do you still want to see?

J: Karachi, obviously! I went with my friend Sultan to do medical mission trips in Islamabad and that was basically the center of my trip. I was just doing charity work with Sultan and his family is from Lahore so we went there before and after the trip to Islamabad and set up shows throughout. Everyone in Karachi was angry, telling me I didn’t get good biryani and got fed donkey in Lahore. But yeah, I would also like to see the northern areas and hopefully take my wife next time.

Here's my friend Sultan's write up about the charitable part of our trip to Pakistan! Please read and share!

Posted by Jeremy McLellan Comedy on Thursday, August 24, 2017

We, at TMO, would like to thank Jeremy for taking the time to chat with us!

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Trump Proposes Immigration Cuts in New Bill

by Aysha Qamar

“It’s great to be here today to unveil legislation that would represent the most significant reform to our immigration system in a half a century,” President Donald Trump said at a White House event.

Trump has proposed a bill -called the RAISE Act, Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment– that would cut legal immigration in half with a merit-based entry system that rewards applicants who have job skills, education and the ability to speak English.

According to the White House, 1 million immigrants come into the country and get Green Cards granting them permanent legal status every year.

“The RAISE Act,” he said, “will reduce poverty, increase wages, and save taxpayers billions and billions of dollars.”

“This legislation will not only restore our competitive edge in the 21st century, but it will restore the sacred bonds of trust between America and its citizens,” Trump said. “This legislation demonstrates our compassion for struggling American families who deserve an immigration system that puts their needs first and that puts America first.”

This proposed act would enable the most dramatic changes to the current system of legal immigration and represents the president’s latest effort to better control the flow of immigrants to the United States. Since taking office, Trump has limited visitors from select Muslim-majority countries, increased immigration arrests and encouraged the building of a wall on the southern border.

Introduced by two Republican senators, Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, the bill was formulated to protect American workers from competition from low-skilled foreign workers. The proposal would limit the total number of green cards issues mainly affecting family-based immigration. It also proposes a cap on the number of refugees admitted every year and eliminates a program that provides green cards via lottery to people from countries that send few immigrants to the United States.

Only one out of every 15 immigrants to the US comes here because of their skills, according to the administration. This legislation would restrict the number of immigrants flooding into the United States with few skills and a need for government aid or health care, Trump said.

While the bill will not reduce employment-based green cards, it would change how the recipients are selected by putting in place a points-based system that rewards people who speak English and have higher degrees or work experience.

“This competitive application process will favor applicants who can speak English, financially support themselves and their families and demonstrate skills that will contribute to our economy,” Trump said.

Legislators from both parties have criticized the proposal, which depicts itself as a way to protect American workers. Many have spoken out against the proposal, with some even saying it will never pass.

“Instead of catching criminals, Trump wants to tear apart communities and punish immigrant families that are making valuable contributions to our economy,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “That’s not what America stands for.”

Under the current system, American citizens can sponsor spouses, parents and minor children for an unrestricted number of visas, while siblings and adult children are given preferences for a limited number of visas available to them. Legal permanent residents holding green cards can also sponsor spouses and children.

The legislation’s merit system would still allow for spouses and minor children of Americans and legal residents to come into the country, but would eliminate preferences for other relatives, like siblings and adult children.

“It’s pro-American immigration reform that the American people want, that the American people deserve, and that puts the needs of the working class ahead of the investor class,” Stephen Miller, Trump’s top policy aid said.

Turkey launches first ‘halal cruise’

OnIslam & Newspapers

ISTANBUL – Catering to the growing global halal market, Turkey will launch its first Muslims-friendly cruise on the Aegean Sea next month for religiously observant travelers in the country.

“It will not be just a cruise which does not have alcohol or pork-related products. It will be a cultural and historical tour which promises an atmosphere of social networking,” Kemal Gunay, Fusion Tour general manager, told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, August 5.

The country’s fist halal cruise was announced by the Antalya-based Fusion Tour company on Tuesday as a new approach that aims at tapping into the $145 Billion worth global halal tourism sector.

Themed “On the track of the Ottomans,” the first halal cruise will sail to Greece without alcohol, pork-related products and gambling on board.

Adhering to Islamic Shari`ah, the cruise will include segregated sports centers, single-sex spa facilities, separate Turkish baths and prayer rooms.

“We don’t even have a painting on a wall of the ship which is against Islamic values,” Gokmen Aydinalp, tour project manager, claims organizers have thought of everything.

“Although the tour has been just announced, interest is quite high right now because there is a huge demand for this concept.”

Inspired by kosher-friendly and Catholic cruises internationally, the Muslim-friendly cruise will sail from Turkey’s Izmir on September 27 to the Greek islands of Rhodes and Crete along with the port city of Piraeus by October 2.

Announcing the halal cruise comes as the Muslim country is poised to host second annual European international Halal Tourism Conference (HTC2015), next December at the Istanbul Lutfi Kirdar Congress & Exhibition Center (ICEC), in the heart of the Congress Valley.

Over 1,000 delegates from more than 50 countries are expected to attend the three-day event which is sponsored by CM Media in partnership with Tura Turizm.

Turkey fell second to Malaysia in the GMTI 2015 Muslim travel market while UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar rounded off the top five.

“Long-Awaited”

Describing it as a “much-awaited” concept, passengers who booked the halal journey expressed happiness over adopting the enterprising tourism approach.

“I believe it will be an atmosphere where I and my family will feel comfortable,” says 46-year-old Hamit Kutuk, a banker, who will be one of the passengers.

“To be able to eat halal foods, being together with people who share the same Islamic sensibilities with you and being away from alcohol on this kind of cruise are important for us,” he adds.

A similar enthusiasm was echoed by Serap Akali, 28, who will take the tour with her husband.

“There has been a big need for this kind of cruise in Turkey for many years,” Akali agreed.

Passengers will have the opportunity to explore the Ottoman heritage in the region through talks by popular Turkish historian Talha Ugurluer and author Fatih Citlak.

Besides featuring Sufi whirling dervishes, the cruise will have photo exhibitions, Turkish classical music and a workshop by prayer-bead artist.

The Muslim tourism market accounts for about 13% of the global travel market and estimated to worth $145 billion in 2014. It is expected to climb to $200 billion by 2020.

A recent study released by Singapore-based halal travel specialist Crescentrating and DinarStandard has expected influx of Muslim holidaymakers over the next decade.

The study, conducted in 47 countries, found that spending by Muslim tourists is growing faster than the global rate and is forecast to reach $192 billion a year by 2020, up from $126 billion in 2011.

Last March, two Muslim cities, Marrakech in Morocco and Istanbul in Turkey, have been named world’s best cities by a trip advisor, after gaining support of tourists worldwide.

Experts believe that adopting the new tourism trend was attributed to overall progression of Turkey’s travelling culture since 2000 coupled with the effect of the economy’s development.

“It is a result of a wish by Turkey to do tourism in accordance with its own values, instead of copying what the West has done so far,” Oya Akgonenc, a professor at the Political Science and International Relations Department of Ankara-based Ufuk University takes, stated.

 

Houston Airport System: Passenger Totals Continue to Grow in First Half of 2011

Passenger totals from the first six months of 2011 are continuing a positive growth trend recently recorded at airports within the Houston Airport System, especially in the areas of international travel and the amount of air cargo processed at George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

From January through June of this year, international passenger totals have increased by more than 4 percent, while the air cargo totals are almost 7 percent higher than the totals recorded during the same time period in 2010, airport system officials said in a report.

“The Houston Airport System continues to improve its position as the premiere gateway into key markets in Mexico and the rest of Latin America,” says Mario C. Diaz, director of aviation. “Global connectivity remains a top priority and the recent increase in international passenger totals reflects that commitment.”

The Houston Airport System reports increases in international passenger totals for 22 consecutive months. The increases in traffic are especially strong for travel between Houston and Mexico and destinations in Central and South America. Six-month totals for those two regions have increased by 35.2 percent and 29.8 percent respectively.

Air cargo totals are also increasing at Bush Intercontinental Airport, where an additional 15,000 tons of air freight was processed from January through June. This total represents a seven percent increase in the totals recorded during that same time period the previous year.

Passenger totals continue to climb at William P. Hobby Airport as well, where an increase of 8.6 percent is being recorded for the first six months of the year. Compared to the same time period in 2010, Hobby Airport has seen an additional 375,761 passengers, putting it on pace to end the year by topping the 9 million passenger threshold for the second consecutive year and only the third time in its history.

“We are definitely entering a new era at William P. Hobby Airport,” said airport general manager Perry J. Miller. “Because the facility itself is changing and the passenger totals are growing, there’s a genuine excitement about what the future is going to hold for both the airport itself and its passengers.”

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Umrah Packages Galore, as Ramadan Nears

By IINA

masjid_al_haram-300x224RIYADH, Shaaban 18/July 19 (IINA)-With two weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, attractive weekend Umrah packages starting from SR100 are being offered by travel operators in the capital.

The beginning of the Umrah season on June 29 this year coincided with the summer holidays, triggering a large rush of people including Saudis to do the pilgrimage.

An official from Al-Rushd, a leading Hajj and Umrah travel operator in the city, said the Umrah season is to continue until two weeks after Ramadan.

He predicted that the current fee of SR100 per pilgrim will increase by 50 percent as Ramadan approaches and will be hiked even further during the latter part of the holy month. “Budget conscious families are currently taking advantage of this offer,” he said.

A return fare from Riyadh to Makkah by luxury coach including accommodation in the holy city will cost SR100 per pilgrim and the charges remain the same even if the pilgrim opts to visit the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah en route to Makkah.

For an additional payment of SR30 per pilgrim, accommodation can be upgraded to four-star hotels in the holy city.

The itinerary for the weekend package to Makkah and Madinah starts at 4 p.m. from Riyadh on Wednesday and finishes on Friday midnight.  Each family is given a large room while the bachelors are accommodated on a sharing basis with three pilgrims in one room. Children under 12 pay half the fare.

A five-day package to Makkah and Madinah including travel and accommodation will cost SR150 per pilgrim. The offer includes a two-day stay in a three-star hotel in Madinah and another two days in similar accommodation in Makkah.

The journey begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The pilgrims will leave the holy city of Makkah after Friday prayers so that they reach Riyadh around midnight. Pilgrims are given an option to stay in a five-star hotel for an additional premium.

There are more than 100 Umrah travel operators spread out across the capital, but most are concentrated in the city center of Batha.

During the journey, coaches stop for Maghreb, Isha and dinner and at the meeqat point in Taif to allow pilgrims to don ihrams. Pilgrims are given half an hour to put their ihrams on to ensure that they reach Makkah in time for Fajr.

A leading hotelier in Makkah told Arab News that the majority of the pilgrims are from all parts of the Kingdom and others have come from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“This year, there are less people from Arab countries such as Egypt and Morocco, possibly due to unrest in the region,” he noted. The occupancy rate in Makkah hotels has been recorded at 88 percent during weekdays and 100 percent during the weekends, he added.

The local hotels in cooperation with local tour operators have arranged city tours to historical sites for the benefit of those pilgrims who come to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

The places of interest include Quba Mosque, the first mosque built by the Holy Prophet (s) in Madinah; the Qiblatain Mosque where the Qibla was shifted from Baitul Muqaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to the Holy Kaaba; and the graveyard on the foothills of Mount Uhud where soldiers who died in battle during the prophetic period were buried.

AH/IINA

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