Islamic prayer call echoes in Minnesota city for the first time

Agencies
April 25,2020

From loudspeakers on the roof of a Minnesota mosque, the Islamic call to prayer echoed for the first time ever throughout a Minneapolis neighbourhood late on Thursday as the Muslim community there prepared to begin the holy month of Ramadan.

It echoed again on Friday morning and will continue five times a day during the holy month. 

The simple, short call - known as the adhan - marked an historical moment for Minneapolis and major cities across the United States, community members said. While the adhan is commonly broadcast throughout the Middle East, North Africa and other places, for many Muslims in the US, it is only heard inside mosques or community centres.

"There's definitely a lot of excitement," said Imam Abdisalam Adam, who is on the board of the Dar al-Hijrah mosque, from where the adhan will be broadcast.
"Some people see it as historic," Adam told Al Jazeera. "To the point ... that they're not doing it, able to see it in their lifetime." 

Recited by different representatives from mosques around the city, the call to prayer is expected to reach thousands in the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood in Minneapolis, according to Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of Minnesota's Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

While Hussein says the community had discussed broadcasting the call for years, it became even more pressing this year when the coronavirus pandemic forced mosques to shut their doors and residents to stay inside. The coronavirus has infected more than 870,000 people nationwide and killed at least 50,000.
"We wanted to touch those individuals who frequent this mosque and this community," Hussein said. "If we cannot be physically together, at least this echo, this voice, this call to prayer can be an extension of us being together at this difficult time. To give some people some solace."
Ramadan - Minnesota.

The Dar al-Hijrah mosque in the Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood of Minneapolis, Minnesota [Courtesy of Abdisalem Adam] 
Ramadan is traditionally a time when Muslims worldwide regularly attend mosques for daily prayers and break their fasts together. But this year, most have been told to pray at home and forgo community iftars in favour of staying safe from the COVID-19 crisis.

Adam, the imam, said while the Muslim community is experience loss this Ramadan, they hope the call to prayer broadcast will create a "semblance of normalcy".

"With the loss of Friday prayers and the regular congregational prayers, we are hoping that this will give a sense of solace and connection to the spiritual needs of community members," he added. 

An avenue to greater investment?

The Cedar-Riverside neighbourhood is a densely populated area of Minneapolis that has historically been an entry point for many immigrants and today is home to large Somali and Oromo communities.

Ramla Bile, a Somali American who lives in a neighbourhood adjacent to Cedar-Riverside, has been active in the community for years. She welcomed the broadcast of the call to prayer, saying it will help people "feel the spirit of Ramadan in a way that is meaningful".

But she also hopes the city of Minneapolis, which provided the noise permit for the broadcast, will make bigger strides to invest in the community in even more tangible ways.

"There's been a lot of need and a lot hurt in the community in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. And then there's the ongoing conversation you've been having," she said, pointing to deep-seated Islamophobia, systemic racism and the need for infrastructure projects like sprinkler systems in high-rise buildings. 

"We need to see greater investments to support the most vulnerable members of our community," Bile said referring to the neighbourhood's elders, undocumented individuals, low-income families and others.

"Right now, we're waiting for a bailout for our micro-businesses who comprise our Somali malls, or a rent freeze for neighbourhood residents," she added.

For CAIR's Hussein and Imam Adam, they hope this Ramadan's call to prayer helps encourage other communities around the US to take similar steps.

"This will hopefully inspire others … to think about what could happen in future Ramadans and beyond," Hussein said.

Adam added that while the virus has devastated communities and upended daily life, it has also shown that "we're in this together".

"It just shows the significance of the global village and how interconnected and interdependent we are as a world community," he said. "I think that there will be a lot of change in our way of life for the better. I hope so."

 

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China asks United States to close its Consulate in Chengdu

Agencies
July 24,2020

Chengdu, Jul 24: China on Friday asked the US to close down its Consulate in Chengdu in retaliation to Washington's decision to shut the Chinese Consulate in Houston.

A statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said China has informed the US Embassy of its decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the US Consulate General in Chengdu.

This was in response to "unilateral" decision by the US to shut the Houston Consulate. China's decision is legitimate and necessary response to the unreasonable actions of the US, it said.

The US on Wednesday ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, a move it said was aimed "to protect American intellectual property and private information."

Reacting strongly to the US move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin termed it as an "unprecedented escalation and warned retaliatory measures.

China on Thursday said that "malicious slander" is behind an order by the US government to close its consulate in Houston, Texas, and maintained that its officials have never operated outside ordinary diplomatic norms.

Wang said the order to close the consulate violates international law and basic norms governing international relations, and seriously undermines China-US relations.

This is breaking down the bridge of friendship between the Chinese and American people, Wang said.

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World records 1 million new coronavirus cases in just 100 hours

News Network
July 18,2020

Global coronavirus infections passed 14 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally, marking the first time there has been a surge of 1 million cases in under 100 hours.

The first case was reported in China in early January and it took three months to reach 1 million cases. It has taken just four days to climb to 14 million cases from 13 millionrecorded on July 13.

The United States, with more than 3.6 million confirmed cases, is still seeing huge daily jumps in its first wave of Covid-19 infections. The United States reported a daily global record of more than 77,000 new infections on Thursday, while Sweden has reported 77,281 total cases since the pandemic began.

Despite the surging cases, a cultural divide is growing in the country over wearing masks to slow the spread of the virus, a precaution routinely taken in many other nations.

U.S. President Donald Trump and his followers have resisted a full-throated endorsement of masks and have been calling for a return to normal economic activity and reopening schools despite the surging cases.

COVID-19 Pandemic Tracker: 15 countries with the highest number of coronavirus cases, deaths

Other hard-hit countries have “flattened the curve” and are easing lockdowns put in place to slow the spread of the novel virus while others, such as the cities of Barcelona and Melbourne, are implementing a second round of local shutdowns.

The number of cases globally is around triple that of severe influenza illnesses recorded annually, according to the World Health Organization.

The pandemic has now killed more than 590,000 people in almost seven months, edging towards the upper range of yearly influenza deaths reported worldwide. The first death was reported on Jan. 10 in Wuhan, China before infections and fatalities then surged in Europe and later in the United States.

The Reuters tally, which is based on government reports, shows the disease is accelerating the fastest in the Americas, which account for more than half the world’s infections and half its deaths.
In Brazil, more than 2 million people have tested positive including President Jair Bolsonaro, and more than 76,000 people have died.

India, the only other country with more than 1 millioncases, has been grappling with an average of almost 30,000 new infections each day for the last week.

Those countries were the main drivers behind the World Health Organization on Friday reporting a record one-day increase in global coronavirus cases of 237,743.

In countries with limited testing capacity, case numbers reflect only a proportion of total infections. Experts say official data likely under-represents both infections and deaths.

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North Korea Locks Down City Over 1st Suspected Case Of COVID-19: Reports

News Network
July 26,2020

Seoul, Jul 26: North Korean authorities have imposed a lockdown on the border city of Kaesong after discovering what they called the country's first suspected case of the novel coronavirus, state media reported Sunday.

Leader Kim Jong Un convened an emergency politburo meeting on Saturday to implement a "maximum emergency system and issue a top-class alert" to contain the virus, official news agency KCNA said.

If confirmed, it would be the first officially recognised COVID-19 case in the North where medical infrastructure is seen as woefully inadequate for dealing with any epidemic.

KCNA said a defector who had left for the South three years ago returned on July 19 after "illegally crossing" the heavily fortified border dividing the countries.

But there have been no reports in the South of anyone leaving through what is one of the world's most secure borders, replete with minefields and guard posts.

Pyongyang has previously insisted not a single case of the coronavirus had been seen in the North despite the illness having swept the globe, and the country's borders remain closed.

The patient was found in Kaesong City, which borders the South, and "was put under strict quarantine", as would anybody who had come in close contact, state media said.

It was a "dangerous situation... that may lead to a deadly and destructive disaster", the media outlet added.

Kim was quoted as saying "the vicious virus could be said to have entered the country", and officials on Friday took the "preemptive measure of totally blocking Kaesong City".

The nuclear-armed North closed its borders in late January as the virus spread in neighbouring China and imposed tough restrictions that put thousands of its people into isolation, but analysts say the North is unlikely to have avoided the contagion.

South Korea is currently recording around 40 to 60 cases a day.

Earlier this month Kim warned against any "hasty" relaxation of anti-coronavirus measures, indicating the country will keep its borders closed for the foreseeable future.

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