Muslim, Jewish communities share worship space 

Muslim, Jewish communities share worship space
Thursday, September 17, 2009

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On Friday afternoons, the people coming to pray at this building take off their shoes, unfurl rugs to kneel on and pray in Arabic. The ones who come Friday evenings put on yarmulkes, light candles and pray in Hebrew.
The building is a synagogue on a tree-lined street in Northern Virginia, but for the past few weeks - during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan - it has also been doubling daily as a mosque. Synagogue members suggested their building after hearing the Muslim congregation was planning to rent a place for overflow crowds.
"People look to the Jewish-Muslim relationship as conflict," said All Dulles Area Muslim Society Imam Mohamed Magid, adding it's usually disputes between the two groups in the Middle East that make news. "Here is a story that shatters the stereotype."
Mr. Magid, who grew up in Sudan, said he did not meet someone who was Jewish until after he had moved to the United States in his 20s, and he never imagined having such a close relationship with a rabbi. But he said the relationship with the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation has affected him and his members. Beyond being tolerant, the synagogue and its members have been welcoming.
He said one member of the mosque told him, "Next time I see a Jewish person I will not look at them the same."
Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk, who leads the Reform congregation of about 500 families, said the relationship works both ways.
"You really only get to know someone when you invite them into your home ... you learn to recognize their faces. You learn the names of their children," Mr. Nosanchuk said.
The prayer gatherings are held in the building's social hall, which is used by the synagogue for a range of activities from educational programs to dance classes and receptions.
Both the synagogue and the mosque have a history of sharing space with other religious groups. People coming to Friday night services at the synagogue sometimes park in an adjoining church's parking lot; on Sundays, sometimes churchgoers park behind the synagogue.
And the mosque has rented space from others since it was founded in 1983. Members have prayed in a recreation center, a high school, an office building and, for a long time, a church. As the mosque has grown, however, it has needed more space. In 2002 the community opened its own building in Sterling, Va. It holds 900 people for prayers, but the community has satellite locations to accommodate more people: a hotel, a banquet hall and even a second synagogue, Beth Chaverim Reform Congregation, in Ashburn, Va.
The community began renting space at the two synagogues in 2008. They began holding daily prayers at the Ashburn synagogue and prayers on Friday afternoons, the week's main prayer service, at the Northern Virginia Hebrew Congregation.
This is the first year, however, they have rented space at the synagogue for the daily prayers for Ramadan, which began at the end of August. More than 100 people come to the daily services, which are held from 9 p.m. to 10:45 p.m. except for Friday, when the services are in the afternoon. The society pays the synagogue $300 a day.
The partnership isn't entirely new. The two communities have held occasional events together going back a decade, including dialogues and community service. Still, some members of both communities were unsure of how things would work at first.
"When they rented the place, I was surprised. But then after that, when I came here and saw how nicely everything is set up and how well done it is ... I am very happy with it," said mosque member Ambreen Ahmed.
AP videographer Tracy Brown contributed to this report.

"Opium Brides" on the Rise in Afghanistan as Government Moves to Eradicate Opium Production 

Poor Farmers in Afghanistan's Poppy-Growing Provinces are Forced to Sell Their Daughters to Pay Loans


NEW YORK, March 30 /PRNewswire/ -- As Afghanistan steps up its efforts to eradicate poppy crops, many poor farmers who rely on profits from the plants have had to sell their daughters to settle their debts from local traffickers who provide loans in exchange for opium. Many farmers have spent much of their lives raising opium in the stony hillsides of eastern Afghanistan and on the dusty southern plains since it is the only reliable cash crop.


In the April 7 issue of Newsweek (on newsstands Monday, March 31), Afghanistan Correspondent Sami Yousafzai and South Asia Bureau Chief Ron Moreau report that the practice began with the dowry a bridegroom's family traditionally pays to the bride's father in tribal Pashtun society. These days the amount ranges from $3,000 or so in poorer places like Laghman and Nangarhar to $8,000 or more in Helmand, Afghanistan's No. 1 opium-growing province. For a desperate farmer, that bride price can be salvation – but at a cruel cost. Among the Pashtun, debt marriage puts a lasting stain on the honor of the bride and her family. It brings shame on the country, too.


President Hamid Karzai recently told the nation: "I call on the people [not to] give their daughters for money; they shouldn't give them to old men, and they shouldn't give them in forced marriages."


No one knows how many debt weddings take place in Afghanistan, where 93 percent of the world's heroin and other opiates originate. But Afghans say the number of loan brides keeps rising as poppy-eradication efforts push more farmers into default. "This will be our darkest year since 2000," says Baz Mohammad, 65, a former opium farmer in Nangarhar. "Even more daughters will be sold this year." The old man lives with the anguish of selling his own 13- year-old daughter in 2000, after Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar banned poppy growing. "Lenders never show any mercy," the old man says. Local farmers say more than one debtor has been bound hand and foot, then locked into a small windowless room with a smoldering fire, slowly choking to death.


While law enforcers predict yet another record opium harvest in Afghanistan this spring, most farmers are struggling to survive. An estimated 500,000 Afghan families support themselves by raising poppies, according to the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime. Last year those growers received an estimated $1 billion for their crops -- about $2,000 per household. With at least six members in the average family, opium growers' per capita income is roughly $300. The real profits go to the traffickers, their Taliban allies and the crooked officials who help them operate. The country's well-oiled narcotics machine generates in excess of $4 billion a year from exports of processed opium and heroin -- more than half of Afghanistan's $7.5 billion GDP, according to the UNODC.


Efforts to promote other crops in these regions have failed. Wheat or corn brings $250 an acre at best, while poppy growers can expect 10 times that much. Besides, poppies are more dependable: hardier than either wheat or corn and more tolerant of drought and extreme heat and cold. And in a country with practically no government-funded credit for small farmers, opium growers can easily get advances on their crops. The borrower merely agrees to repay the cash with so many kilos of opium, at a price stipulated by the lender -- often 40 percent or more below market value. Islam forbids charging interest on a loan, but moneylenders in poppy country elude the ban by packaging the deal as a crop-futures transaction -- and never mind that the rate of return is tantamount to usury.


Mohammad Zahir Khan, a Nangarhar sharecropper in his late 40s, borrowed $850 against last spring's harvest, promising 10 kilos of opium to the lender -- about $1,250 on the local market. The cash bought food and other necessities for his family and allowed him to get seed, fertilizer and help tending his three sharecropped acres. In the spring he collected 45 kilos of raw opium paste, half of which went immediately to the landowner. But before Khan could repay the loan, his wife fell seriously ill with a kidney ailment. She needed better medical care than Nangarhar could offer, so he rushed her across the Pakistani border to a private hospital in Peshawar. It cost almost every cent they had, and Khan knew his opium debt would only grow. Worse, the provincial governor, a former warlord named Gul Agha Sherzai, chose that moment to declare his own war on drugs, jailing hundreds of local farmers who were caught planting opium. Nangarhar had 45,000 acres in poppies a year ago; today drug experts say the province is totally clean.


Late last year Khan reluctantly gave his 16-year-old daughter, Gul Ghoti, in marriage to the lender's 15-year-old son. Besides forgiving Khan's debt, the creditor gave him a $1,500 cash dowry. Khan calls him an honorable man. "Until the end of my life I will feel shame because of what I did to my daughter," Khan says. "I still can't look her in the eye." But at least she was old enough to marry, he adds. He claims one local farmer recently had to promise the hand of his 2-month-old daughter to free his family from an opium debt.


Angiza Afridi has spent much of the past year interviewing more than 100 families about opium weddings in two of Nangarhar's 22 districts. The schoolteacher and local TV reporter already had firsthand knowledge of the tragedy. Five years ago one of her younger aunts, then 16, was forced to marry a 55-year-old man to pay off an older uncle's opium debt, and three years ago an 8-year-old cousin was also given in marriage to make good on a drug loan. "This practice of marrying daughters to cover debts is becoming a bad habit," says Afridi.


In the two districts she studied, approximately half the new brides had been given in marriage to repay opium debts. The new brides included children as young as 5 years old; until they're old enough to consummate their marriages, they mostly work as household servants for their in-laws.


"These poor girls have no future," she says. The worst of it may be the suicides. Afridi learned of one 15-year-old opium bride who poisoned herself on her wedding day late last year and an 11-year-old who took a fatal dose of opium around the same time. Her new in-laws were refusing to let her visit her parents.


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'Occupied' businesses flourishing 

BangkokPost: 14 July 2007

Buenos Aires _ An enterprise in the hands of the workers sounds like a Marxist dream. In Argentina, it has been fulfilled in some 200 factories and businesses. Since being occupied during Argentina's 2001 economic collapse, many of these same firms have lived up to the capitalist ideal: becoming productive and profitable, even investing and creating new jobs.

For seven years, the firms have been managed by the workers from the depths of the crisis that led to the Argentine collapse through today's economic boom.

During the years of recession leading into the late 2001 collapse and the government's 2002 default on international debt, thousands of Argentine firms failed. At times, the economy shrank dramatically, and the ranks of the unemployed and underemployed swelled to more than 40% at times.

In a bid to keep their jobs, workers occupied the premises of bankrupt companies and continued production under their own leadership. The process attracted worldwide interest, but most economists dismissed the worker-occupied enterprises as a crisis phenomenon.

Since then, though, the Argentine economy began to stabilise in late 2002 and has grown steadily around 9% a year from 2003-06.

One of the best-known businesses where the workers took over is the Hotel Bauen in central Buenos Aires. The porter holds the taxi door open and a red carpet leads into the lobby, where guests are met by receptionist Jose Alvarez. "I love this job because I always have contact with people," says Mr Alvarez, 50. He has worked at the hotel since 1980, but was thrown out of work when it closed in 2001. "From one day to the next," he remembers, taking off his reading glasses and wrinkling his brow. "We had no idea of the financial situation of the hotel."

However, employees soon got organised. In March 2003, they forced their way into the building, and they have not left it since. In the once dilapidated and boarded up lobby, there is now a modern bar, where waiters wearing white shirts and friendly smiles attend to patrons. The workers' cooperative has not yet managed to obtain formal ownership of the building. "We demand that it is expropriated from the old owner," said cooperative founder Ricardo Perez.

Many occupied businesses follow similar storylines: bankruptcy, unemployment and occupation, followed by tough times under self- management before achieving financial stability. The businesses themselves were not always at the root of the bankruptcies. In several cases, owners overstretched themselves speculating in financial markets or failed in other big projects.

It is estimated that there are currently some 250 occupied businesses in Argentina, and more are springing up all the time. "In the past three months, four new factories have joined the movement," said Alejandro Coronel, vice president of the national union of occupied firms. Those already in place have added to their workforces by hiring new people, in some cases even doubling payrolls. Everyone gets the same salary, even for different jobs within the same firm.

Before it first closed its doors, for example, the Hotel Bauen had 70 employees who often worked overtime to keep the place running and in good maintenance. Today, there are 160 employees, and none works more than 40 hours a week.

From the outside, worker-managed businesses behave like traditional companies. In internal relations, however, there are not always simple, clear systems of participation in the decision-making process. Decisions ranging from investments to wages _ both hikes and cuts _ are taken at the grass-roots level. Experience has shown that the most successful businesses take participation seriously. DPA