Monday, September 6, 2010

Malaysian Muslims Go for Gold, But It's Hard to Make Change


KOTA BHARU, Malaysia-Umar Vadillo bounds into a hotel room here in northern Malaysia with several stacks of gold and silver coins in his hands and slaps them down on a coffee table. "This," Mr. Vadillo says, "is what it means to be free."

A quarter century ago, this Spanish-born Muslim convert set to work with other European Muslims to find a substitute for the U.S. dollar and other paper currencies.

Pricing goods in greenbacks, they argued, was unfair. Many countries earn their income from finite resources like oil and other minerals, they said, while the U.S. and other countries can crank up their printing presses to pay for them-especially after Richard Nixon helped break the Western world's historical dependence on gold as a measure of value by taking America off the gold standard in 1971.

Last month, Mr. Vadillo's solution took shape when the local Muslim-led government in Malaysia's Kelantan state joined forces with Mr. Vadillo to introduce Islamic-style gold dinar coins as alternative currency.

Mr. Vadillo and the Kelantan government have persuaded more than a thousand businesses here in the state capital, Kota Bharu, to paste stickers in store windows saying they accept the coins.

Ordinary people can also pay taxes and water bills in gold and silver instead of paper money.

"Our lands are being subjugated," says Mr. Vadillo, a powerfully built 46-year-old with a shiny suit, swept-back hair and a tidy goatee. "Today, in Kelantan, we're fighting back."

Plenty of people have their doubts about the dollar, as well as other currencies that aren't backed by gold or silver.

American libertarians such as Ron Paul frequently call for the reintroduction of a gold-backed currency, arguing that the Federal Reserve's ability to print money causes inflation and destroys savings.

Gold bulls have developed a cult following among investors who worry that precious metals are the only reliable store of value during rocky economic times.

If there's a utopia being formed for the globe's gold bugs, though, it's happening in a few unexpected outposts in the Muslim world like Kelantan.

Mostly that is because some Islamic thinkers teach that using currencies whose value is declared by governments is a form of usury. A piece of paper, they say, is just an IOU.

But with the global economy showing fresh signs of faltering, some believers think there's also a strong financial incentive to switch to gold dinars or the silver coins, known as dirhams.

At the Peter Libly tailor shop in central Kota Bharu, proprietor Ariffin Yusof reckons the new dinars "save people from exploitation."

Husam Musa, Kelantan state's economic policy chief, says he saves half his salary in dinars and believes it to be a good investment. "Its value is stated not by the World Bank, but by Allah," Mr. Husam says.

An initial run of coins worth about $640,000 and ranging from one dirham-containing about $4 worth of silver at current prices-and one dinar-worth $189-to an eight-dinar coin worth $1,518 sold out quickly, prompting Malaysia's political leaders to say the paper-based ringgit, worth around 32 U.S. cents, is still the country's legal currency.

"Gold is money because people make it money. Paper money is money because governments make it money," says Peter Schiff, President of Euro Pacific Capital Inc. in Westport, Conn., and a notable dollar bear. "But what happens if people lose their faith in governments, and the U.S. government in particular?"

This latest quest to wean the world off dollars actually began in Adam Smith's homeland, Scotland, when an aspiring actor named Ian Dallas left his home near Glasgow to seek out the bright lights of London in the 1960s.

Mr. Dallas, now 79 years old, fell into the hippie circuit and played a telepath in the Federico Fellini movie "8½" before ultimately converting to Islam in Morocco.

Mr. Dallas took the name Abdalqadir al-Sufi and set up his own sect, the Murabitun-or "the people of the outposts"-before settling into a wind-blasted mansion named Achnagairn near Inverness in the Scottish highlands.

There, Mr. Dallas and his followers surrounded themselves with banks of computers and began work on creating an Islamic currency to replace the dollar and help speed up the collapse of the West's credit-driven financial system.

When Mr. Vadillo joined the mission, the Murabitun fine-tuned their thinking and began minting gold dinars-the same currency used in the early days of Islam.

The first coin was stamped in 1993 with a Jacobite sword in honor of one of Mr. Dallas's Scottish ancestors who fought against the English army at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. A silver dirham was minted with the Dallas family crest.

"People laughed at us," says Mr. Dallas, who now lives in South Africa and dressed up in an Afghan cap and navy blazer in a video recently released to mark the arrival of the new dinar in Malaysia. "People thought we were going back to the past. Now, the whole atmosphere has changed."

"1,400 years ago, a chicken cost one dirham. Today, it still costs one dirham," Mr. Vadillo says.

Mainstream economists are skeptical about how quickly Malaysians will take up dinars.

Tim Condon, chief Asia economist at ING in Singapore, says he regards gold enthusiasts as "monetary cranks."

He points out that central banks around the world have by and large managed to contain the worst ravages of inflation.

Paper money can also help economies avoid tough periods of deflation, which some economists associate with rigidly backing currencies with gold.

Either way, getting people to use dinars and dirhams regularly isn't easy, and already there are some teething problems in Kota Bharu.

Some people see dinars as a way to save rather than a means of exchange. Others aren't sure what to do with them or worry about how to store them safely.

Snack vendor Ros Abdul Rashid confesses she wouldn't know what to do if somebody tried to buy a bag of peanuts with gold or silver. "I'm not sure how it's supposed to work yet," she says.

One white-robed dinar dealer, 68-year-old Awaludin Mohal, has to offer paper bank notes as change when customers buy his gold and silver coins.

-Celine Fernandez contributed to this article.

Little mosque heads for Canadian Arctic

1500-square-foot prefabricated mosque will serve growing Muslim population in Inuvik, Canada's far north.

OTTAWA - A small mosque being shipped to the Arctic to serve a growing Muslim population in Canada's far north will travel 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) over land and water, a trip organizer said.

The number of Muslims in Inuvik, a town of 4,000 inhabitants in the Northwest Territories, has grown steadily in recent years to about 80 and they no longer fit in an old three-by-seven-meter (10-by-23-feet) caravan used until now for prayers.

The congregation could not afford to build a new mosque in the town, where prices for labor and materials are substantially higher than in southern parts of Canada, said project leader Ahmad Alkhalaf.

But they found a supplier of prefabricated buildings in Manitoba that said it could ship a structure to Inuvik for half the price of building a mosque from scratch on site.

A local Muslim charity -- the Zubaidah Tallab Foundation of Thompson, Manitoba -- also offered to pick up a large part of the costs for the 1500-square-foot facility, Alkhalaf said by telephone from Inuvik.

And so, at the end of August the tiny yellow mosque's voyage began on the back of truck, winding through the vast prairies and woods of Western Canada toward Hay River on the shores of Great Slave Lake, Northwest Territories.

There it will be transferred onto a barge that will be floated down the McKenzie River to Inuvik, about 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of the Arctic Circle.

"We're expecting it to arrive on September 24," Alkhalaf said. "It will be placed on a parcel of land bought by the congregation in a residential part of the town."

It should be ready to welcome worshippers -- largely Sunni Muslim immigrants from Sudan, Lebanon and Egypt who moved to Canada's far north in search of jobs and economic opportunities -- in early November, he said.

The facility will also double as a Muslim community center, he said.

Anti-Israel boycott by Muslim shops goes Scotland-wide

Jasper Hamill
A nationwide boycott of Israeli goods is being launched across Scotland this weekend as activists target Muslim-owned shops in an attempt to stop them selling produce from the Jewish state.

The boycott, which started in the south side of Glasgow last weekend, was deemed so successful that campaigners decided to expand it. Campaigners from the Scottish Palestine Solidarity Campaign (SPSC) are now targeting shops run by Muslims in the rest of Glasgow and in Fife, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee.

In Glasgow, the protesters asked shop owners to take Israeli goods off their shelves and warned they would "name and shame" any store that did not do so. The SPSC says every shop it approached on the south side of the city backed the boycott.

However, prominent figures in the Jewish community warn that the "divisive" tactics of campaigners risked driving a wedge between communities instead of fostering dialogue.

The pressure we bring to bear is moral. We use the threat of publicity. There is no threat of strong-arming. Mick Napier, chairman, SPSC

Mick Napier, chairman of the SPSC, oversaw a "clean sweep" of all Muslim-owned shops near the Nicholson Street mosque in Edinburgh on Friday. About 40 protesters went door to door, asking store owners to support the campaign.

"All the shops we visited backed the boycott and are now displaying posters to that effect," he said. "The support we received from customers and passers-by was overwhelming."

He added: "It's been 100% successful. We often met with a response immediately, with people saying they would not dream of stocking Israeli goods.

"The pressure we bring to bear is moral. We use the threat of publicity. There is no threat of strong-arming.

"The reality is that Israel makes it impossible for Palestinian farmers to export almost anything. Palestinians were kicked off their land to make way for the illegal settlements, but the good news is that the boycott is kicking back. It's great to see small shops in Scotland standing up for human rights."

Napier also added that every shop visited in Dundee backed the boycott. Shopkeepers backing the boycott have put up a poster in their stores saying: "This shop supports the Palestinians. No Israeli produce sold here."

Khalid Bashir, owner of the Red Sea Food Store in Nicholson Square, Edinburgh, is already boycotting Israeli goods and has agreed to display a poster. He said: "People ask about it all the time, but I am able to tell them I have been boycotting Israel for years. It should be easier now that I can display this poster."

In Dundee, protesters targeted shops in the city centre. In Kirkcaldy, the three largest Muslim-owned shops all agreed to take part in the boycott. Shops in Glasgow's West End are taking part; in Aberdeen, campaigners are preparing to talk to shops in the coming days.

Today, members of all faiths will meet to break the Ramadan fast at the Woodfarm Educational Trust in East Renfrewshire.

Dianna Wolfson, a prominent member of Glasgow's Jewish community and a former convener of the Interfaith Council, which promotes dialogue between religions, will be attending. She warned that boycotts could derail the relations between communities.

She said: "There are people on both sides who would like to see peaceful settlements. This boycotting is not helpful. More needs to be done to explore how we can have peace with each other, rather than emphasising the warring aspect and divisive aspect of it."

She added: "If people of different faiths were getting to know each other, they would be more likely to listen and hear the other side of the argument ... to emphasis what is good on both sides, and come together."

Wolfson said she would not consider boycotting goods from a country "that didn't like Israel. It's just not my thinking and I find it hurtful."

'Pak will lead Muslim world soon'

LAHORE - A religious scholar Syed Sarfraz Ahmad Shah has said that the days are not far away when the country will lead the Muslim world and the people of Pakistan will get rid of all the miseries.

He said this at a sitting held at Aiwan-e-Iqbal on Saturday to discuss the prevailing situation in the country.

Syed Sarfraz said that the people had lost moral values and there was no rule of law in the country, however, he added that Allah Almighty would change these dark days into good ones soon. He said that the people who love Pakistan should not let their hopes down regarding the future of the country.

However, at a question answer session, he has to face some ‘practical based' arguments of the people who believe in what they called the rationality.

A man asked from Syed that would the bad days be changed with the miracles. 

Syed Sarfraz was of the view that instead of all the hurdles, Pakistan was created but after its creation the country had to bear many difficulties yet it was safe. He said that none of its enemies could bring serious harm to it.

Violence of Muslim youths is a problem, says Merkel

Chancellor Angela Merkel has weighed in on Germany's fierce immigration debate, acknowledging in an interview released yesterday that fervently religious Muslim youths tended to be more violent than others.

"This is a big problem and we can talk about it openly, without arousing suspicions of xenophobia," Merkel said in the interview Bild am Sonntag newspaper, which is to be published today.

Her comments came after central banker Thilo Sarrazin sparked outrage and debate with claims in his new book that Muslim immigrants are lowering German intelligence and harming society more than they contributed.

Merkel said that it is important not to associate violence with a particular religion.

"This is misleading. Violence amongst young people is often a sign that they see no perspective for themselves. All that helps is education, education, education," the chancellor stressed.

"Our state is making many offers, but the main responsibility lies with the parents, and cannot be taken on by schools or the state," Merkel added.

Sarrazin, a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) received partial backing from party leader Sigmar Gabriel, who said there was an element of truth in his book, entitled Germany Abolishes Itself.

"I think we are experiencing much of what he is describing in (the book). There is no question," Gabriel said.

However he did not share Sarrazin's thesis that Muslim integration problems resulted from genetic predispositions.

The SPD has initiated procedures to evict Sarrazin from the party, while the central bank has asked President Christian Wulff to approve his dismissal from the bank's board.

Merkel said that it is crucial to maintain law and order in violent city districts with high migrant populations.

The chancellor said that one solution would be to hire more civil servants with a foreign background.
"It would surely help if we had more migrants in the police, youth welfare offices and other authorities," Merkel told Bild.

Blair condemned over new book

Former British premier Tony Blair's written assault on Islam and the Muslim community earns the fiery critique of a high-profile British journalist.

In A Journey, Blair's explosive memoir which has recently hit the shelves, he as taken up arms against, what he calls, "political Islam" as well as "political" Muslims. He has characterized Arabs as people who would invariably regard "Jews" as enemies.

In a response to the work, published on Press TV's website on Sunday, prolific journalist, broadcaster and human rights campaigner, Lauren Booth wrote, "Personally I've never understood this fear of 'political Islam.' It seems to me that religious people should always be educated on world events rather than kept in ignorance."

Booth attended the Quds Day rallies in Tehran on Friday. She called the occasion Blair's "worst nightmare," saying the rallies were propelled by the Muslim nation's high awareness of "the history of this region, the wrongs perpetrated by Israel against Palestine and the political machinations of the US and the UK governments to isolate them."

Booth, who is also the former prime minister's sister-in-law, wrote, "Well here again Tony, you've been fed and have consumed in its entirety, a massive lie. The lie that says when Muslims express an opinion in groups, in public, it is always spurred on by hatred of 'us' infidels."

"Today when the streets of London reverberate with cries of 'Allahuakbar! [God is the Greatest]' and 'Down Down Israel.' Christians and Jews will join the thunderous cries of 'Down Down Israel,' marching shoulder to shoulder with the 'political' Muslims you say you fear so much," she said.

"It's kind of like the way you express solidarity with America only without illegal chemical weapons and a million civilian deaths."

"It's worth its weight in WMDs (weapons of mass destruction)," Booth wrote about the book.

Under Blair, Britain joined the United States to invade Iraq, while attempting to convince the international community that the violence-ravaged country was in possession of the arms. Later findings, however, proved that not only Iraq did not have WMDs, but also that the officials who rallied support for the invasion had been informed about the nonexistence of such weapons.

Earlier in the year and almost seven years into the operations, Blair defended his legacy before an official inquiry Friday in the face of criticism that he misled the nation with his war justification.

Booth also addressed Blair's advocacy for Israel and his insistence on the Muslims' alleged animosity towards the Jews. "The 'conflict' between Palestine and Israel is according to you all about religion and has nothing at all to do with the ethnic cleansing of the Arab population, nor the degradation of those who remain beneath the boots of their Israeli occupiers," she wrote.

"You say that Arabs have and always will see 'Jews' as enemies.

"For God's sake Tony do your history...Did your pals in Tel Aviv forget to tell you how many thousands of Jews lived in Historic Palestine in harmony with their Arab neighbors before 1948?," Booth said, referring to the year when Israel claimed existence on the back of the military occupation of vast expanses of Arab territories.

"Do you really not know that even today tens of thousand of Jews reside contentedly in Iran?"

She declined the presence of racial discrimination or religious antagonism among the Tel Aviv-blockaded Gazans, sanctioned Iranians or the people to suffer human losses during US and Israeli offensives.

"Every single Muslim in these suffering families has the same message; 'We don't hate anyone for their race or their religion. We cannot hate Jews they are in our holy book it is against the teachings of the Koran.' But Tony let me ask you this. Why should any people, Muslim or otherwise, be expected to put up with this kind of constant threats from you and your bosses in Tel Aviv and Washington?"