SHAFAQNA-- People in some Arab countries appear to be divided when it comes to trusting the credibility of their national news agencies, according to the results of a recently conducted survey of media habits in the region.
Preliminary results of the survey, released on Wednesday during a session of the Qatar Media Industries Forum in Doha, showed that a majority of adults in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the United Arab Emirates believed their news media to be "credible".
However, in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, only a quarter of those surveyed trusted the credibility of their media outlets, according to results of the survey of nearly 10,000 adults conducted by Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q).
"This is a particularly interesting phenomenon in Lebanon, as this is thought to be a country with 'free press'", Everette Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, said in a statement.
Over a four-month period, researchers from Harris Interactive surveyed 9,693 adults in eight Arab countries - Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia, Bahrain, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the UAE - in an effort to show how people use media, particularly news media, following the "Arab Spring" that began in 2011.
Kerry Hill, a research director at Harris Interactive, described the survey as “the largest study in the region for public release on media use”.
Freedom of expression
The research highlighted a seeming paradox: A majority in most of the countries surveyed said they thought people should have the freedom to express their opinions on the internet, even when these views are unpopular. An especially high number in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates agreed.
Yet at the same time, about half of respondents also said they support tighter regulation of the internet in their countries, with a somewhat higher percentage saying so in Qatar, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.
Humphrey Taylor, the chairman of the Harris Poll, said it is “very common to find this kind of apparent contradiction” - noting that in the United States during the Cold War, large majorities said they supported the principle of freedom of speech, yet objected to allowing speech supporting Communism.
The Gulf gap
The survey data highlighted a big gap between the wealthy Gulf countries and less affluent Arab nations to the west. Overwhelming majorities in the Gulf have internet access, including about 9 in 10 people in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. But just 46 percent are connected in Jordan and 22 percent in Egypt. (Yemen has the lowest internet penetration rates in the region: a scant 2 percent, according to a 2011 Gallup poll.)
Egypt and the small island state of Bahrain are close to polar opposites in terms of media habits. Hill described Egypt as “very media-poor, with the exception of TV” - whereas Bahrainis are voracious consumers of all types of media, with large numbers saying they use social media sites and read books, magazines, and newspapers.
When asked about the top news sources they consume, about a quarter of those across the region named Al Jazeera, followed by Saudi Arabia-based Al Arabiya at 16 percent and social networking website Facebook at 10 percent.
Google was found to be the most popular news source among Bahrainis, Facebook among Tunisians, LBC among Lebanese, Al Hayat among Egyptians, and Al Arabiya in Saudi Arabia. Al Jazeera topped the list in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry attempted on Monday to corral Israeli and Palestinian leaders into a new and ambitious peace process, an Arab ministerial committee met in the same day in Qatar to discuss ways to revive the Palestinian-Israeli stalled talks.
“I am intensely focused on this issue and the region because it is vital really to American interests and regional interests to try and advance the peace process and because this festering absence of peace is used by groups everywhere to recruit and encourage extremism,” Kerry said on Monday.
Speaking to reporters travelling with his delegation, Kerry said he believed it “would be irresponsible... not to explore thoroughly the possibilities for moving forward” as he seeks to overcome decades of mistrust between Israel and the Palestinians.
A day after meeting one-on-one with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry spent the morning of Israel’s Holocaust memorial day at Yad Vashem, laying down a red, white and blue wreath at the nation’s official monument for the 6 million Jews murdered during World War II. He met privately Monday with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Israeli President Shimon Peres before a dinner with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
Kerry said he believed peace was possible.
“I wouldn’t be back here for my multiple-whatever-umpteenth trip here as a senator and secretary, and for my third trip to the region as a secretary already,” he told staff at the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem. “I believe that if we can get on a track where people are working in good faith to address the bottom-line concerns, it is possible to be able to make progress and make peace.”
Kerry is trying to end a 4½-year stalemate between the Israelis and Palestinians during which they’ve hardly negotiated peace at all. Making his third trip to the region in a period of two weeks, he has yet to outline any new plan but U.S. officials say he is exploring several ideas to try to corral both sides back into direct talks.
Arabs discuss peace process
Meanwhile, an Arab ministerial committee met on Monday in Qatar to discuss ways to revive the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process and plans to send a mission to Washington, the Arab League chief said.
“This meeting was to discuss the mission of the Arab delegation that will visit Washington on April 29,” the organization’s secretary general, Nabil al-Arabi, told reporters.
The talks of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee were attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, and chaired by Qatari Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani.
Arabi said before the meeting that the delegation would go to the U.N. Security Council in New York. It is not clear if the delegation will still visit the U.N. headquarters.
The proposal to send a delegation to New York was agreed at an Arab summit held in Doha last month.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The Syrian government has censured a decision by the Arab League (AL) to hand Syria’s seat to opposition forces on the eve of the organization’s annual summit in the Qatari capital.
"The league has handed Syria's stolen seat to bandits and thugs," Syrian government daily al-Thawra said in a report published on Monday.
"They have forgotten that it is the people who grant the powers and not the emirs of obscurantism and sand," it added.
A Syrian state television also said, "Qatar wants to bypass the rules of the Arab League by giving the seat of a founding member of the league to a coalition that obeys only the money and fuel of the [Persian] Gulf and submits to American dictates."
On March 6, the Arab League called on Syria's opposition National Coalition "to form an executive body to take up Syria's seat" at the upcoming summit, which is due to be held in Doha on Tuesday.
In November 2011, the Arab League suspended Syria, which is a founding member of the organization.
Iraq and Algeria are the only countries that have expressed reservations for the summit, while Lebanon has opposed the decision.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of Syrian army and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.
The Syrian government says that the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants are foreign nationals.
Damascus says the West and its regional allies including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey are supporting the militants.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- The U.S. is seeking to bring Arab countries into efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations that broke down more than four years ago, a senior Palestinian official said Monday.
Also Monday, the Israeli government said it would resume regular transfers of millions of dollars in tax revenues it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority, a step bound to ease the self-rule government's protracted cash crisis.
The decision came just days after President Barack Obama met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a visit to the region. Obama has said stabilizing the Palestinian Authority, which has buckled under mounting debt, is key to U.S. peace efforts.
However, there are wide gaps on the terms of renewing talks. The Palestinians say Israel must freeze settlement building on lands it captured in 1967 before any negotiations can resume. Israel says the issue of settlements can be addressed during negotiations.
Obama has sided with the Israeli view, and it is not clear how the U.S. can bring the Palestinians back to the table without a settlement freeze.
Arab countries are now being asked to help, said Yasser Abed-Rabbo, a top official in the Palestine Liberation Organization.
"U.S. efforts will increase in coming weeks and will include other Arab parties, such as Jordan and Egypt," Abed-Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio, adding that an Arab League delegation is to visit Washington as part of these efforts.
However, he said there would be no flexibility on Palestinian demands for a settlement freeze.
"For us, the important thing is the substance, such as the full settlement freeze and the recognition of the 1967 borders," he said.
The Palestinians want a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem — territories Israel captured in 1967 — but are ready to negotiate border changes, provided the 1967 frontier is the baseline.
Palestinian officials say they cannot return to talks without such a clear framework, arguing that open-ended negotiations will simply provide diplomatic cover to Israel to keep expanding settlements.
"We fear they (the Israelis) would waste time by getting us into a bargaining process over details and steps here and there, and in this way would waste two to three years and then get us to wait for a new U.S. administration," Abed-Rabbo said.
Netanyahu has said he is willing to resume talks immediately. However, he has said he will not relinquish control over east Jerusalem and has refused to recognize the 1967 lines as a starting point for talks.
For 10 months during his previous term, Netanyahu curbed settlement building as part of a U.S. push to bring the Palestinians back to the table, but negotiations never got off the ground.
Successive Israeli governments have built dozens of settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, now home to more than half a million Israelis. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, dismantling almost two dozen settlements there, but sharply restricts access to the territory.
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Sunday that the Palestinians would wait two to three months to see if a new U.S. push to restart talks will yield results.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he has instructed Finance Minister Yair Lapid to resume the monthly transfer of taxes and customs duties Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority.
The decision was announced on the eve of the Jewish holiday of Passover, and Israeli officials were not available to further comment.
Israel froze the transfers of about $100 million a month after a successful Palestinian bid in November to win U.N. recognition of a state of Palestine in the lands Israel captured in 1967. Israel has released some money since then, but not on schedule.
The office of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said it expects Israel will now transfer the money regularly.
The transfers are a key component of the Palestinian Authority's budget. In recent months, the self-rule government, which administers about 38 percent of the West Bank, has struggled to pay salaries of tens of thousands of civil servants, the backbone of the local economy, and repay its debt to the private sector.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has helped Arab countries and Turkey increase military aid to Syrian rebels in the past few months, The News York Times reported on Monday.
The report – citing air traffic data, interviews with unnamed officials as well as statements of rebel commanders – said the airlift now includes more than 160 military cargo flights by Jordanian, Saudi and Qatari military-style cargo planes landing at Esenboga Airport near Ankara, as well as at other Jordanian and Turkish airports.
CIA agents assisted Arab countries in shopping for arms, said The New York Times, adding there was a “large procurement” from Croatia.
It also said that U.S. intelligence officers checked up on rebel groups and chiefs to determine who should receive the military aid and that Turkey oversaw much of the program.
"A conservative estimate of the payload of these flights would be 3,500 tons of military equipment," Hugh Griffiths, of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told the paper.
"The intensity and frequency of these flights," were "suggestive of a well-planned and coordinated clandestine military logistics operation,” he added.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has killed more than 70,000 people since the March 2011 uprising, according to the United Nations.-www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –The general secretariat of the Arab League called on the UN and the UN Higher Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently intervene to secure the release of detained Palestinian hunger strikers.
The secretariat, in two messages to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the High Commissioner Navi Pillay, asked for international action demanding the release of Samer Al-Issawi and his colleagues, who have been on hunger strike for more than 200 days.
Nabil Al-Arabi, the League’s Secretary General, described the international silence vis-à-vis such an issue as “unacceptable”.
He said that such a position only encourages Israel to go ahead in its violation of the international human rights principles.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – The competition and speculations over who would be the next Vatican’s chief have been floating around since Monday, when Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world and its over one billion Catholics by announcing his retirement.
The 85-year-old German pontiff said he took the decision with full freedom, due to his “advanced age” and failing strength of “mind and body.” He would officially be stepping down as head of the Catholic Church on Feb. 28.
The pontiff resigned amid a sense of crisis within the Vatican. The institution’s most recent scandals involve several documents leaked by the pope’s butler, Paolo Gabriele, alleging corruption, internal disputes within the Vatican and other gossip.
Benedict XVI, Pope since 2005, has become the first to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, and the first to have done so willingly since Celestine V in 1294.
Having no one to present his “resignation” to, Benedict’s resolution to retire instigated a debate within the Church itself.
Legally, the Pope can retire if he so chooses; the Code of Canon Law, the law that rules the Catholic Church, states: “If it should happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that he makes the resignation freely and that it be duly manifested, but not that it be accepted by anyone.”
However, the Successor of St. Peter is expected to remain in office until his death. Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II has consistently said that he will serve “as long as the Lord desires,” and he remained in position despite his deteriorating health, until he deceased in 2005.
Despite the papal resignation being an uncommon event, it was nevertheless well prepared.
Back in 2010, Benedict said a pope who became incapable to do his job properly “has the right, and in some circumstances even the duty, to resign.”
Even though Pope Benedict will not vote in the conclave, in which all cardinals under the age of 80 will take part, his influence is expected to be felt, since a large number of the voting cardinals were picked by the resigning pontiff himself.
But the Vatican thinks otherwise. “The pope will surely say absolutely nothing about the process of the election,” Reverend Federico Lombardi the Vatican’s spokesman stated. “He will not interfere in any way.”
The cardinals’ conclave to choose the next pope is expected to convene in mid-March, with a new pope elected in time to preside the Easter Mass.
Amongst the 117 cardinals eligible to enter the secretive conclave to elect Benedict's successor, Lebanese Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, head of the Maronite Church, an Eastern Catholic Syriac Church that had affirmed its communion with Rome since 1180 A.D.
Vatican’s role in the Arab world
The Vatican’s influence in the Arab region has been increasingly highlighted in recent years.
According to Father R., a high-ranked Maronite Priest in Lebanon who prefers not be named, the main difference between John Paul II and the outgoing Pope, is that “Benedict, who has sent a lesson of humility to the world after his retirement, has approached the Arab Christians from a regional perspective, contrary to his predecessor who mainly accentuated his efforts on Lebanon and the solidarity between religions in the cedar land.”
In an interview with Al Arabiya, Father R. explained that Benedict XVI has put a real action plan for the region’s Christians during his last visit to Lebanon in September 2012. “The Pope had desired to visit not only Lebanon, but also Syria and Iraq; however, for security reasons he had limited his trip to Beirut.”
“In our region, Christians are mainly divided into Catholics and Orthodox. The influence of the Vatican is certainly more present on the Catholics,” said the Lebanese priest.
“Catholicism is in serious decline in Europe where the churches are slowly being emptied, but it is growing vigorously in Africa, Latin America and Asia, so the role of the Vatican has to expand all over the world,” he added.
“The Christians of the Levant have faith in the Vatican’s impact to carry their cause onto the international scene,” Father R. said, “because the Vatican is the only state in the world that has no political and economical aspirations, as it carries its political influence nobly and with no bad intentions.”
Father R. concluded that “the network of the Vatican is amongst the biggest in the world; their ambassadors who are spread all over the globe are well-informed and they pass on the information in its more authentic form with no political censorship whatsoever.”
From his side, Daoud al-Sayegh, the political adviser of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri for religious affairs, commented on the Pope’s latest decision in an interview with Al Arabiya.
“We can’t really say resignation,” commented Sayegh on Benedict’s latest decision.
“Since there is no one to present the leave to, it is rather an announcement from the Pope that he wishes to halt his duties,” Sayegh explained.
“A Pope’s retirement is an ongoing debate within the Church. Should the successor of St. Peter accomplish his duties as delegated by God just like the previous Pope John Paul II did despite his grave illness?
“I think that Benedict didn’t want to repeat the same experience as the former pope, and now it’s clear that the main reason of his announcement to quit is due to health reason”, added Sayegh.
“The pope recently had an open-heart operation where doctors have replaced his heart battery, and now he realized his health is deteriorating.”
Sayegh also stated that Pope Benedict was highly concerned by the Arab region.
“Pope Benedict organized and presided the Middle East Synod held in Rome in 2010.
“The Synod provided a unique opportunity for Middle East Christians to share their hopes and concerns with the Vatican, and therefore the world.”
According to Sayegh, the Pope was “very much preoccupied by the huge threats that Christians in the Arab region, whether in Iraq or Occupied Palestine or other countries, are facing.”
The Vatican is the sole state that deals with international relations with no interests, said Sayegh. “They preach for equality, non-violence, democracy, freedom, and human rights.”
The Vatican and Syria
Last week, Lebanese Patriarch al-Rai’s visit to Damascus where he presided a mass in a country where the popular uprising has left tens of thousands killed since March 2011, had instigated lots of criticism, and many called his move a huge faux-pas.
“The Vatican takes a severe stand against dictatorships and oppressing leaders,” declared Daoud al-Sayegh. “These positions were clear throughout history, and we all remember the famous speech of Jean Paul II in the U.N. criticizing dictatorships.”
“It is not true that the Vatican believes that dictators’ regimes protect the Christians, or the minorities in the Arab world, and in this particular matter there is a big divergence between the Pope and the Vatican and some of the Christian leaders in the Levant.”
As for the identity of the new Pope, Sayegh said: “We can’t really talk about elections; it is mostly a consensus within the conclave of cardinals.”
“In addition to geographical influences, meaning where the catholic population is widely spread and growing, the cardinals mainly judge the qualifications of the new Pope.”
Sayegh stated that the “Pope plays a major role in international relations. We all remember the three American presidents, Bush senior and junior and Bill Clinton, who kneeled down next to John Paul II’s tomb.
“The Pope appoints, for example, the Cardinal of New York, and the Cardinal of Paris, who have major impact within their societies, not political of course like in our region, but a religious one.
“So the future pope has a great responsibility ahead, hence, the cardinals will have to take their time to choose the most qualified to fill in Benedict’s place,” ended Sayegh.
Could the next Pope be Arab? By law, any cardinal in the conclave is a voting member and eligible to be the next Pope. So, technically, yes.
Nevertheless, very few analyses have favored this possibility, except for the 300 fans that joined a newly created Facebook page that promotes Lebanese Patriarch Rai for popery.
Meanwhile, the world we will be waiting for the white smoke signals from the Papal conclave, the sign that a new Pope has been chosen.-www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Al Arabiya
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) --Has Imam Hussein discriminated between Arabs and Non-Arabs in a hadith and has he scorned Ajams?
The hadith you mentioned was from Abu Abdillah (pb), which refers to Imam Sadiq (not Imam Hussein) in which he says: "We are from the Quraysh and our Shias are Arabs and our enemies are Ajams." If we are considering the literal meaning of the hadith (in which the words Arab, Quraysh and Ajam have their regular meanings), one must say that both the chain and the content of the hadith are not acceptable; the chain is not accepted because some of the narrators in it are unreliable, and so is the content because it contradicts Quranic verses, many other ahadith and the intellect that all consider Taqwa and faith to be the sole criterion of superiority and reject racial discrimination. Add to the above that the prophet and his household have said: "If a hadith that is narrated from us clearly contradicts Quranic verses or indisputable Sunnah, than do not accept it."
Of course this is if the literal meaning of the words Arab and Ajam were intended, but in Arabic, the words Arab and Ajam do not always refer to certain ethnic groups, but rather point out a set of features and qualities.
These features may be exclusively found in certain ethnic groups, for example the meaning of Arab could be noble-born and full-blooded and Ajam could mean having no basis and root. In this case, if the hadith is considered authentic in terms of its chain of narrators, then the content will be acceptable. At the same time, there are many ahadith in which tribes from other ethnic groups have been greatly hailed and praised because of their faith, good deeds or perseverance and stability.
Page 164 of Sheikh Abbas Qomi's Arabic book, Safinatul Bihar, is related to the word Ajam; he has collected special ahadith related to the word Ajam in this section of the book. There was no hadith narrated from Imam Hussein in this section, but there was a hadith narrated from Aba Abdillah, which refers to Imam Sadiq. The hadith is as follows: "Dhureis Bin Malik says that I heard Imam Sadiq saying that we are from Quraysh, our Shias are Arabs and our enemies are Ajams."
In order to examine such ahadith we must consider the following points:
First: The first thing that must be checked in regard to ahadith is their chain and that all of the narrators are known and reliable. There is a man named Salamah Bin Khattab among the narrators of this hadith that the scholars of the science of rijal consider to be unreliable. In addition to this, there is a vast time gap between the narrators and it seems that some of the narrators are not mentioned, and this adds to the weakness of this hadith.
Second: The second thing is to examine the ahadith in terms of the content's compatibility with the Quran and other indisputable ahadith.
The apparent meaning of this hadith contradicts Quranic verses, many ahadith and the intellect, all of which consider taqwa and faith to be the sole criterion of superiority and reject racial discrimination. Also the prophet and his household have said: "If a hadith that is narrated from us clearly contradicts Quranic verses or indisputable Sunnah, then do not accept it."  Therefore, even if the narration was authentic, the apparent meaning of this hadith would still be unacceptable.
Third: This is if the apparent meaning of the words Arab and Ajam were intended, however, in Arabic the words Arab and Ajam do not always refer to certain ethnic groups, but rather point out a set of features and qualities.
These features are exclusively found in certain ethnic groups, for example the meaning of Arab could be noble-born and full-blooded and Ajam could mean having no basis and root. In this case, if the hadith is considered authentic in terms of its chain of narrators, then the content will be acceptable.
In other words, in order to understand the meaning of words, we must consider the circumstances of that time and how words were used with different meanings, because in any language, the meanings of words undergo change with the passing of time. In this hadith, the words Arab and Ajam which mean Arabic speaking people and non-Arabic speaking people, are also used with other meanings. For example "A'rab" means "speaking straight forward and frankly", "Al Arab" is also used with the meaning of "joy", "A'jam" refers to a person who does not speak frankly, even though he might speak Arabic and "Ajmaa' " means quadruped and any being that does not understand speech. Also, it is mentioned in a hadith in regard to the meaning of Ajam that it refers to the sheep, cow, pigeon, etc.
In this light, it is necessary to understand the precise meaning the Imam intended from among the many meanings of the words Arab and Ajam. In order to do so, we must examine other ahadith that consist of these words or ahadith that have similar meanings.
It is understood from the ahadith narrated in this connection that in this hadith Arab means stable, well-rooted, noble-born, clear and frank, and Ajam means with no root or basis, unstable or unwise. These meanings are compatible and, in a way, derived from the original meanings of these words.
The reason why the secondary meanings are compatible with the original meanings is because at that time the comparison between Arabs and Non-Arabs was brought up frequently to determine the original roots of individuals. The original Arabs would have a greater status and position compared to the other Arabs. Therefore, the Imam intended to fix the false viewpoint that believed Arabs were greater and well-rooted in comparison to Non-Arabs by stating that what truly matters is one's belief in the right religion and school of thought (and not their ethnicity). And through this phrase "We and our Shias are Arabs (and well-rooted)" he has opposed this wrong ideology.
In this light, the word Quraysh, which is one of the well-rooted tribes among Arabs, means to be greatly stable and well-rooted and consequently the meaning of the hadith is as follows: We are the most well-rooted of people and our Shias are well-rooted and stable and our enemies are unstable.
Fourth: Moreover, there are many ahadith in which tribes from other ethnicities have been greatly hailed and praised because of their faith, good deeds or their perseverance and stability. We have mentioned a number of these ahadith below:
A: Imam Baqir stated that a group of Imam Mahdi's followers are from among the children of Ajams.
B: It is narrated from Imam Ali that he said: "He (Imam Mahdi) will return when Ajams have built a station in the Mosque of Kufah and teach the people the Quran in the very form it was revealed."
C: It is narrated that Imam Ali spoke of the Persians to the Arabs on another occasion saying: You fought against them for the sake of the Quran's revelation, but the end of the world will not come before they fight you for the sake of its interpretation and meaning. (Meaning that you will neglect its interpretation but they will abide by it.)
 The main source of this hadith is the book of Ma’ani al-Akhbar, pg. 404.
 Khu’i, Abul-Qasem, Mu’jam al-Rijal, vol. 4, pg. 9.
 (In which Arab, Ajam and Quraysh refer to certain races and tribes.)
 Hujurat, 14 " یا أَیُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْناکُمْ مِنْ ذَکَرٍ وَ أُنْثى وَ جَعَلْناکُمْ شُعُوباً وَ قَبائِلَ لِتَعارَفُوا إِنَّ أَکْرَمَکُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقاکُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَلیمٌ خَبیرٌ. "
 قال سیدنا رسول الله (ص) أیها الناس إن ربکم واحد و إن أباکم واحد لا فضل لعربی على عجمی و لا لعجمی على عربی و لا لأحمر على أسود و لا لأسود على أحمر إلا بالتقوى قال الله تعالى إِنَّ أَکْرَمَکُمْ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ أَتْقاکُم
 (Kafi, vol. 1, p 69) " قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ (ص) إِنَّ عَلَى کُلِّ حَقٍّ حَقِیقَةً وَ عَلَى کُلِّ صَوَابٍ نُوراً فَمَا وَافَقَ کِتَابَ اللَّهِ فَخُذُوهُ وَ مَا خَالَفَ کِتَابَ اللَّهِ فَدَعُوهُ "
 Adopted from the book of Lisan al-Arab, vol. 1, pg. 589.
 Ibid, vol. 12, pg. 386.
 Majma’ al-Bahrain, vol. 6, pg. 112.
 Ma’ani al-Akhbar, pg. 404.
 Safinat al-Bihar, vol. 2, pg. 164.
 Qurb al-Isnad, pg. 52; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 64, pg. 174.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) -- A couple of years ago, I was with my parents in a mosque near Chicago. They introduced me to an old family friend - a lady who'd known me since I was a kid but hadn't seen me for years. She embraced my mother and shook hands with my father, but when she turned to me she stood about a foot away from me, didn't offer to shake my hand and instead sort of awkwardly waved.
My father asked her why she had been so distant and she said it was because of my beard. She assumed that my facial hair was symbolic of a deep Islamic religiousness and was afraid that if she offered her hand to shake, I wouldn't take it. My father, who knows exactly how non-religious I am, still LOVES to tell this story.
In the Arab and Muslim world, facial hair means far more than just style and grooming. It's a sociological signifier, a shorthand that often tells you who you're dealing with and what they're all about before they can even speak. There are a couple of different styles in play, and as a journalist you learn to develop a sort of internal chart.
In Egypt, Muslim Brotherhood members generally tend to go with the full but well-groomed beard and moustache. However Salafists - the ultraconservative fundamentalist Muslims - like to let their beards grow long and wild, often leaving their upper lip clean-shaven as a nod to how the Prophet Mohammed wore his own beard 1,400 years ago.
Some within the Salafist camp take things an extra step and dye their beards with henna, producing a range of colours from maroon to bright pumpkin orange.
In a post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt, beards have made a big comeback. For years, beards were frowned upon as symbolic of the Islamist movements that Mubarak considered a threat to his reign. Government employees, ranging from police officers to EgyptAir pilots, were forbidden from growing a beard.
But now, civil servants across the country are are calling for the ban to be lifted. Suddenly wearing a beard in Egypt has become an issue of civil rights and freedom of expression.
The beard has even become a political reference point as well. The last few months have seen mounting protests against President Mohammed Morsi - a long-time Muslim Brotherhood official. One of the common protest chants translates as, "Shave off Morsi's beard/and you'll find Mubarak underneath!"
It's not just a Muslim thing either. Most Coptic Christian priests and monks wear long beards as well.
In fact when the new Coptic Pope Tawadros ll was chosen this year, it spawned a beard-related internet joke. Tawadros' beard looks EXACTLY like the beard of Emad Abdel-Ghafour - former head of the largest Salafist party.
The beard is also a symbol of manhood and honour. I'll never forget an example of this from a session of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. It was back in March 2003. The US and British-led "coalition of the willing" was about to invade Iraq and tensions were running high. At one point an Iraqi and Kuwaiti diplomat got into a public shouting match and the Iraqi yelled, "A curse on your moustache!" This remains my favourite insult of all time.
But facial hair is more than just a sociological identifier - it can also be a survival tactic.
I spent two years reporting for the Los Angeles Times in Iraq after Saddam Hussein's overthrow, and my visual appearance was a key element in my ability to move around safely. As an Egyptian-American, I couldn't convincingly mimic the Iraqi accent, but I COULD pass a casual visual inspection. I put hours of thought into how Iraqi men my age dressed, the kinds of shoes they wore and how they wore their facial hair.
Iraqis are a big moustache people - back to that whole manhood thing - and so for a couple of months, I abandoned my usual beard and attempted to grow an Iraqi-style moustache. It was a disaster - I could never get it to achieve that classic Saddam-level of bushiness.
The experiment ended when I visited the US and my younger brother took one look and told me that I resembled a fat Freddy Mercury.
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) –UN-Arab League special envoy to Syria Lakhdar Brahimi says there is no end to the Syrian crisis and that the country is facing "unprecedented levels of horror."
Brahimi made the remarks in New York on Tuesday during a briefing to the United Nations Security Council on Syria, which has been facing a foreign-backed insurgency for nearly two years.
"I'm sorry if I sound like an old broken record. The country [Syria] is breaking up before everyone's eyes… The tragedy does not have an end,” Brahimi said.
Brahimi told the Security Council he was very concerned about an increasing danger of "contamination" which the countries around Syria are facing.
"There might be implications if the crisis continues spiraling. The refugee flow is becoming a matter of controversy in these countries," he added.
"None of the neighbors is immune to the fallout consequences of the conflict. The region is facing the risk of contamination," Brahimi noted.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of security personnel, have been killed in the violence.
The Syrian government says the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants fighting the Syrian government are foreign nationals.
And several international human rights organizations have accused the foreign-sponsored militants of committing war crimes.
On January 14, an international aid agency said the conflict in Syria is causing a "staggering humanitarian crisis" in the Middle East.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) said in a 23-page report that more than 600,000 Syrians have fled the country because of violence, including gang rape.
The New York-based organization described the level of rape and sexual violence taking place in the conflict zones in Syria as "horrific."-www.shfaqna.com/English