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A Saudi Arabian University with a Western Feel

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

kaust classroom artist

Artist’s rendering of a classroom at KAUST.  King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will feature coed classes, a curriculum in English and other touches seen as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

THUWAL, SAUDI ARABIA — Up the corniche, along a coast where boats carrying pilgrims bound for Mecca sailed for centuries, a thicket of cranes rises over whitewashed mosques along the Red Sea.

Steel flashes and blowtorches glow as 20,000 workers build a $10-billion university ordered up by a king who hopes Western ingenuity will revive the economy of this ultraconservative Muslim nation. When finished next year, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will offer coed classes, Western professors, a curriculum in English and other touches loathed as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

The West may be dependent on Saudi crude, now as high as $145 a barrel, but this campus outside an ancient fishing village is recognition that the country that is home to Islam’s holiest shrines needs the likes of USC, Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survive globalization.

An architect’s rendering shows a campus of canals and reflecting pools running along sleek silver and glass libraries and laboratories. A marina with slips for 140 boats stands in a cove lighted by a tapered beacon. Students and professors will live in villas and apartments looking out on date palms and furnished with eggshell and white Swedish-style sofas and chairs.

Saudis have studied in the U.S. and Europe for decades, bringing back expertise without directly exposing the kingdom to Western classrooms and professors. But the new university is inviting the secular West a step closer in another ideological battle between Saudi reformers led by King Abdullah and the Wahhabi sect of puritanical Islam that has resisted outside influences since the days of desert caravans.

“Saudis are beginning to realize they are not the center of the universe,” said Tariq Maeena, a writer and aviation expert. “The king hopes that a young Saudi will be in a class with an American professor. The king is jabbing the conservatives from all sides. He’s not doing it with a massive decree, but incrementally, and all the radicals can do is roll their eyes and say, ‘Uh-oh, we’re losing more power.’

“Amira Kashgary, a literature professor at a women’s college, said, “We are part of the global world now. Whether we like it or not, and regardless of our political and religious systems, there are changes seeping through our lives.

“The radicals ran a wicked Internet campaign against the university. They said it is another sign liberals are invading us.”

The kingdom’s huge oil reserves cannot mask Saudi Arabia’s problems: 40% of its population is younger than 18, its schools are backward and its economy is not diverse enough to compete in a high-tech future balanced between the West and the rising powers of China and India.

King Abdullah is building the university, along with six multibillion- dollar Economic Cities, to provide jobs and open the country to global markets. Conservatives fear that these international voices, from South Asian construction workers to Western scientists, will change the religious fabric.

“Men and women learning together should remain forbidden,” said Mohammed Ben Yehia Nogeemy, a member of the Saudi Juristic Academy, a religious organization that issues fatwas. He said that such an atmosphere could be regarded as sedition and “if any Saudi official has the intention to allow the establishment of a coeducational university, that will be a big mistake that will need to be corrected.”

But the king, for now, is a step ahead of the conservatives. Nogeemy was not in attendance on a recent afternoon when oil money seduced brainpower at a hotel along the Red Sea in Jidda.

Silver trays of hors d’oeuvres and alcohol-free champagne glided through a crowd of Western academics gathered for a conference on the university’s goals. Soldiers with Humvees and .50-caliber machine guns stood guard outside to scare away would-be terrorists, while inside mathematicians and molecular biologists tried on blue university ball caps and pocketed Lamborghini pens left on seats as gifts.

The university, known as KAUST, is promising academic freedom, the mixing of cultures and religions, and subjects as varied as nanotechnology and crop development. The country’s ubiquitous and often abusive morality police will not patrol the campus, depicted on the university’s interactive website with unveiled women. Going unveiled is a crime in Saudi society that could lead to lashings and imprisonment.

kaust artist's rendering KAUST will be “a new house of wisdom,” Ali Ibrahim Naimi, the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources, told the guests. He said world research projects and the Saudi economy, with a 12% unemployment rate, would benefit from the “easy flow of ideas and people into and out of the region.”

To ensure that, KAUST is not under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry, which is controlled by fundamentalists and often forbids the teaching of music, art and philosophy.

The project is overseen by Aramco, the Saudi oil company founded by US firms in the 1930s. Aramco has experience in creating a parallel world: In its gated communities in the eastern part of the country, alcohol is available but hidden, there’s a pee-wee baseball winter carnival, and Western women drive cars, a practice forbidden to Saudi women.

With a chocolate-scented cigar in one hand and a honey-flavored coffee in the other, Maeena sat in his favorite Jidda cafe, nodding hellos to young men with laptops and waiters who know his preferences. This is the world he likes, a place to write, a den of intellectual freedom in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city.
He said KAUST, which is being built 50 miles north of the cafe, is another sign that the country’s religious and ideological barriers are weakening.

“It’s an act of opening us up to a better side of education,” said Maeena, who, like many of his generation, attended college in the U.S. “The West has planted those seeds of liberalism in me and thousands like me. We were young Saudis educated in the West in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but this slowed as the seeds of fundamentalism took hold here in the 1990s.”

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Community News (V9-I16)

Nabil Khan gets Fulbright

Nabil Khan, a senior at Swarthmore College, has been named a Fulbright Grantee for 2007. The son of Shafqat and Khalil Khan and brother of Mehreen and Hasan Khan, he is a 2003 graduate of the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., and also attended the International School of Choueifat in Abu Dhabi. Khan is one of three Swarthmore seniors to have won the Fulbright Grant this year.

Khan plans to use his Fulbright Grant to explore and elucidate contemporary understandings of mental “illness” in urban Morocco and of the cultural import of the psychiatric field in a place where it is governmentally sanctioned and is growing. “I am interested in understanding what mental health services and the worldviews they represent, so rooted in Western diagnostic and therapeutic traditions, mean to those from a country historically considered a frontier of the Islamic world,” said Khan. “Given the country’s eclectic background and demographic, I am interested in the political, religious and social dimensions of psychological understanding and how cultural currents inform daily mental healthcare practice.”

Khan is a psychology major with minors in biology and English literature. He is a Thomas B. McCabe scholar, selected as an entering student based on leadership, ability, character, personality, and service to school and community, and has been active in Swarthmore for Immigrants’ Rights, the Muslim Student group, Deshi (South Asian Students organization), and Forum for Free Speech and is co-editor of Remappings (the Asian/Asian-Diaspora literary publication). He was also a biology Writing Associate (peer tutor) and a member of the steering committee of the 2006 “Beyond the Box” conference on critical multiculturalism.

Administered by the Council for International Exchange of Scholars, the Fulbright U.S. Student Program awards full research grants to graduating seniors and young alumni after an extensive application process. Recipients receive a stipend to cover housing and living expenses.

Four Muslims named Truman scholars

Four Muslim students have been selected for the much coveted Truman Scholarships. Sixty-five students from 56 US colleges and universities have been selected as 2007 Truman Scholars. They were elected by eighteen independent selection panels on the basis of leadership potential, intellectual ability, and likelihood of ‘making a difference.’

Each Scholarship provides $30,000 for graduate study. Scholars also receive priority admission and supplemental financial aid at some premier graduate institutions, leadership training, career and graduate school counseling, and special internship opportunities within the federal government. Recipients must be US citizens, have outstanding leadership potential and communication skills, be in the top quarter of their class, and be committed to careers in government or the not-for-profit sector.

Salmah Y. Rizvi, of John Hopkins University, who is from Laurel, Md., is a double-major in Anthropology and International Relations at the Johns Hopkins University, founded Vision XChange, a nonprofit organization which serves as a mechanism to create entertaining, opportunistic events while spreading awareness of important issues. She has traveled extensively as a student ambassador promoting peace and stability and teaching International Humanitarian Law. She is also an executive board member for the Johns Hopkins University Muslim Student Association and the Foreign Affairs Symposium. Currently, Salmah is a Department of Defence employee and hopes to continue her career in government.

As an active member of the Muslim-American community, Rizvi has also interned for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, published a number of papers regarding Islamic politics and volunteered with various Muslim organizations. She teaches Islamic history every Sunday at her local mosque, Idara-E-Jaferia Center in Burtonsville, Md.

Umair Iqbal was born in Pakistan and immigrated to America when he was nine. He is a junior pre-med student with a major in Biological Sciences and a minor in Political Science at the University of Anchorage Alaska. He conducts research at the Alaska Science Center on the Alaska Avian Influenza Project. After five years of avid participation in the Model United Nations of Alaska, he is Secretary-General of the 2007 conference, which focuses on the Emerging Global Pandemic. He also serves as president of the Pre-Med Club. After college he plans to study for an MPH and an MD in rural health, with the goal of working to reduce poverty and to improve access to health care for the poorest people in the world.

Asma Jaber is a junior anthropology and international studies major at the University of South Carolina. Her passions for helping immigrants and refugees continue to grow as she volunteers at advocacy centers for immigrants and with local Somali refugees. She also helps facilitate refugees’ health care access. Asma plans to pursue a law degree and attain a M.P.H. in Health Policy in order to take on public interest work in the health field and improve the lives of immigrants and refugees.

Nazir is the founder and president of the Muslim Student Association at Seattle University. In 2005-2006 he lived in Cairo and studied classical Arabic. Currently Nazir is researching code-switching among Arabs in Seattle. Nazir enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and learning languages in his spare time. He speaks Spanish and Arabic and teaches Arabic twice a week in addition to organizing many cultural and educational events on campus.

Muslim radiologist sues hospital

BALTIMORE, MD–A radiologist who was kicked out of the University of Maryland Medical Center after he performed a Muslim ritual has filed a $30 million lawsuit against the hospital.

The suit says Doctor Mohammed Hussain was at the hospital last month to undergo surgery. He was washing his hands and feet in a sink in a lobby bathroom when a security guard came in and ordered him to get out “immediately or else.”

Hussain’s lawyer, David Ellin, says the guard made references to Hussain as if he were a terrorist and hurled racial epithets at him. He says Hussain was pushed down a hallway and into the custody of another security guard, who escorted him outside.

The hospital released a statement saying medical personnel reached out to Hussain after the incident. The statement says the hospital is “disappointed” that Hussain filed a lawsuit.

Evanston’s first mosque to open soon

EVANSTON, IL–Evanston, Chicago’s suburb and homes to the Northwestern University, will soon have its first mosque. The Bangladesh Islamic Community Center are converting a former Church and have already received approval from the city council council. The building will feature prayer area, offices, a kitchen and multi-purpose meeting rooms.

The construction expected to last from eight months to a year, according to center officials.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th), who represents the ward in which the mosque will be located, said the center’s presence would enhance the area’s religious diversity.

“There’s a variety of churches and different denominations,” Holmes said. “This would just be a mosque. There are churches and temples, so why not a mosque?”

Arizona Muslims celebrate Prophet’s birthday (s)

CHANDLER, AZ–Around 200 Muslims gathered at the Chandler Community Center to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). The event, organized by the Naqshbandiya Foundation for Islamic Education, was open to all interested and a number of non-Muslims also attended. Sheik Sayyed Muhammed, a religious scholar from Atlanta, was the featured speaker at the Chandler event.

Paul Eppinger, executive director of the Arizona Interfaith Movement, praised the Islamic group’s efforts to build respect among people of all faiths living in the Valley.

“I am for interfaith dialogue so that people can begin to understand one another,” said Eppinger, 74, a former American Baptist minister for 35 years.

Slain convenience store owner remembered

EAST WINDSOR, CT–Neighbours and community members paid moving tributes to convenience store owner Javed Akhtar,32, who was gunned down on Feb.28. More than 50 people gathered at the prayer vigil held in the parking lot outside the One Stop grocery where he was slain. He leaved behind his wife Rafia and twin children Humair and Hirra. His killers have not been identified yet, the Journal Inquirer reported.

Holding candles and gathering in a circle around Rafia and her children, members of the assembly spoke in turn, describing Javed as a gentle, caring man who they clearly missed.

“When we came and moved here, I needed to have a cup of coffee in the morning, and I came here just a few times, and Rafia and Jay were just so kind,” said Bobbie Taravella, who has since moved away. “I have a coffeemaker, but I never used it because they were always so nice and made me a friend rather than a patron.”

Robert Nicholas, who lives half a mile up the road, said he was in the store buying cottage cheese 45 minutes before Javed was shot. “I used to come down here just to talk, and when nothing was going on we’d play with the kids out in the parking lot – they made me part of the family,” Nicholas added.

“He was definitely an asset to this community and well-loved,” said Officer Bruce Everitt, community resource officer for Mill Pond Village.

As for solving the case, “it’s progressing very well and progress is being made,” Everitt said. “We’re just making sure we cross all our T’s and dot all the I’s.”

Akhtar was Muslim and a Pakistani-American. His death brought outrage to the community at large, with many groups calling for justice and a $5,000 reward posted for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the killer.

Canadian Muslims give $1m to hospital

TORONTO, CANADA–Muslim community of Toronto has provided a huge boost to the William Osler Health Centre Foundation by pledging $1 million to build Brampton’s new hospital. The Muslim Friends of William Osler Health Centre, a group of community leaders,physicians and members of the public, announced their plans last week.

“This pledge represents a promise from the large and active Muslim community to ensure the best possible health care for all people who rely on William Osler to provide quality medical facilities and compassionate care,” said Dr. Farooque Dawood, Muslim Friends of WOHC chair and president of Dafina Holdings Ltd. “The spirit behind (our organization) is to gather support from various Muslim communities in pursuit of excellence in local health care for now and for the future.”

About 50 people gathered for the afternoon reception, held in an auditorium at Peel Memorial Hospital.

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Community News, Vol. 8 Iss. 43

Muslims speak out on global warming

PHILADELPHIA, PA–Dr. Syed Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) was one of the keynote speakers at the Sacred Seasons, Sacred Earth Interfaith Celebration, organized by the Shalom Center in Philadelphia. The event marked the coinciding of Ramadan, the sacred Jewish month that includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot. October 1 was Worldwide (Protestant/ Orthodox) Communion Sunday. October 2 is Gandhi’s birthday. October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi. This confluence will occur again in 2007. Thereafter, it will not recur for thirty years.

The event in Philadelphia called for urgent action to fight global warming.

“Many of the resources are vanishing and that is not what God intended for us,” said Dr. Mohammed Almashhadani, of Al-Aqsa Mosque and former imam of the Albanian American Muslim Society mosque, both in North Philadelphia.

Participants observed the Jewish tradition of building a Sukkah, a hut that brings the community into close with the earth and listened to meditations offered by Buddhists. They later joined together for Iftar.

Cavium Networks Receives 2006 Excellence in Technology Alignment Award

MOUNTAIN VIEW, CA–Cavium Networks, a world leader in networking, security and embedded processor solutions, has received the Excellence in Technology Alignment award from Cisco Systems, Inc. Cavium Networks was selected based on its currently shipping products. This prestigious award recognized significant Cavium technology that has met Cisco’s product requirements and positively impacted the satisfaction level of Cisco’s customers. The award presentation was done at the Cisco 15th annual supplier appreciation event keynoted by Cisco’s President and Chief Executive Officer, John Chambers.

“Cavium Networks is honored to receive top recognition from Cisco,” said Syed Ali, CEO and President of Cavium Networks. “This recognition reinforces Cavium’s solid commitment and dedication to developing market-leading technologies and exceeding our customers’ requirements.”

Syed Ali has over 23 years of management and engineering experience in the semiconductor area. Prior to Cavium Networks, Syed Ali was a founding management team member and VP Marketing/Sales at Malleable Technologies , a communication chip company focused on developing Voice over Packet processors. Malleable was acquired by PMC-Sierra in June 2000. Earlier, he served as Vice President, Marketing at I-Cube which developed switch fabrics and chipsets for networking. He also spent 4 years as Executive Director, Samsung Electronics, where he started the Flash memory and CPU businesses and put together the business plans and strategies that drove sales in each line to over a $100M in less than two years. Syed also spent over 10 years at WSI/SGS-Thompson, and Tandem where he was involved with product line management and product design. He earned a MSEE from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1981 and BSEE from Osmania University, Hyderabad, India in 1980.

LA Muslims reach out to the homeless

LOS ANGELES,CA– Muslims in Los Angeles reached out to the homless by distributing food, clothing, books, toys and other items to around 3000 people. The drive was organized by the Coalition to Preserve Human Dignity, which is comprised of more than 40 mosques and Muslim organizations.

More than 300 volunteers had helped feed several hundered people by mid-day. Free HIV and diabetes tests were also made available.

Other branches of the group were holding similar outreach efforts in 14 U-S cities.

Islamic Relief, an international aid organization, and I-L-M Foundation, an L.A.-based group, were coordinating the efforts.

Obstetrician/gynecologist joins Caritas Norwood Hospital medical staff

BOSTON–Caritas Norwood Hospital has added a new obstetrician gynecologist to its medical staff.

Amna H. Khan, MD, of Dover has a special clinical interest in treating adolescents, and before coming to Caritas Norwood Hospital was administrative chief resident in the OB/GYN department at the University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, N.Y.

Dr. Khan also completed her residency in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Rochester Medical Center, where she was executive member of the advisory committee on medical education and a member of the graduate medical education committee.

She received Rochester’s 2004 Berlex Teaching Award and Medical Student Teaching Award and has served as co-president of the American Medical Women’s Association and research assistant to the Women’s Health Project, both at the Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C.

Dr. Khan received her medical degree at the Medical University of South Carolina and her bachelor’s degree in biology and economics from Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley.

She is accepting new patients. Her practice is located at Caritas Foxboro, 70 Walnut St., Foxboro, 781-698-2229.

The 264-bed Caritas Norwood Hospital provides emergency, cardiology, advanced surgical, endoscopic, ob/gyn and Children’s Hospital Boston pediatric services and is a member of Caritas Christi Health Care, the second largest health care system in New England.

Books for Baghdad Announces Second Drive

JACKSONVILLE,AL– Jacksonville State University’s Books for Baghdad project (www.booksforbaghdad.org) has announced a new drive for books, supplies, and cash donations to help rebuild the war-torn library at Baghdad University.

Dr. Safaa Al-Hamdani, JSU biology professor and founder of the project, said, “Our objective includes collecting recent editions of textbooks in math, science, medicine and technology to be sent to war ravished Iraq. Books are being accepted now and may be dropped off at JSU. We can also make arrangements to pick up large contributions. In addition, we are planning to collect computers and refurbish them. They will be sent to the Baghdad Library to be used by the students.”

“Jeff Spurr from Harvard University and Dr. Anwar Diab of Baghdad University will be involved in this project,” said Al-Hamdani. “Furthermore, a committee was established in western Massachusetts by a group of librarians to help in accomplishing the same objective. If all comes about as I expect it, we will have enough material to be shipped from Massachusetts to Baghdad in the near future. We should do what we can to help and I can not emphasize the tremendous need for the books and computers in Iraq.”

Anyone who would like to contribute books and other gifts should contact Dr. Al-Hamdani (256-782-5801; sah@jsu.edu). Cash contributions can be made to the JSU Foundation, 700 Pelham Road North, Jacksonville AL 36265.

Dr. Safaa Al-Hamdani and a small group of faculty volunteers established the Books for Baghdad project in 2004 as an international humanitarian effort to help reestablish the war-torn Baghdad University library. Local volunteers were soon joined by faculty and students from throughout the U.S. Thanks in part to international media coverage, including special reports on CNN, the project far exceeded its goal of 5,000 books with a total collection of more than 11,000 textbooks and $6,500 in school supplies.

Statement from State Senator Peter Roskam on the Holy Month of Ramadan

“I would like to wish the Muslim Community in the 6th Congressional District and across the nation the very best during this holiest time of the Islamic calendar, Ramadan. This important holiday is a time for family and friends to come together to express their faith.

Muslims across our nation continue to enrich our communities and our nation and we value their contribution to our society.” Senator Peter Roskam, Congressional Candidate for the 6th District of Illinois

Recently, State Senator and Republican Congressional candidate Peter Roskam attended an Iftaar event at the residence of Moon Khan, York Township Trustee and Founding President of Asian American Caucus of DuPage, where a large number of American Muslims of the 6th Congressional District attended it.

Yusuf Islam still faces difficulties coming to US

Yusuf Islam still faces difficulties entering the United States–two years after being refused entry into the country because of national security fears. In 2004, after flying to the United States from London, the Muslim convert, formerly known as Cat Stevens,was barred from entering after US security officials said his name was on list of banned individuals. Now plans to tour America promoting his comeback album AN OTHER CUP could be in jeopardy for the same reason. ANN DAVIS, a spokeswoman for the Transportation Security Agency, told the New York Daily News, “The TSA does not confirm whether any name is on or not on the ‘no-fly’ list. But Mr Islam was a positive match on numerous watch lists when Customs and Borders Protection agents interviewed him in Maine. “They refused him admission to the United States based on national security grounds.” However, SHEILA RICHMAN, spokeswoman for Islam’s US record label Atlantic, remains optimistic: “We don’t yet have firm touring plans for Yusuf. We hope he will be coming here in mid-November.”

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