Interpal bank account threatened with closure

Interpal, a British charity providing development and relief for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza strip, has been served notification from the Islamic Bank of Britain that the charity’s account will soon be closed.

This comes as a result of Lloyds TSB, the Islamic Bank’s clearing bank serving notice to “cease all dealings with Interpal”, according to a statement released by the charity.

The notice comes into effect as of eighth December, during the Muslim festival of Eid-ul-Adha, a time when Muslims are encouraged to give charity.

The charity said: “All transactions into or out of Interpal accounts will be blocked and IBB will be at further risk of all its customer payments being suspended.”
It added: “This is not only an attack on Interpal, a leading British charity, but on all other Muslim charities, all charities working in politically-sensitive regions, all customers of IBB and the Palestinian people, 80% of whom are completely dependent on international aid for survival.”

The decision to close Interpal accounts comes at a time when the United Nations agency assisting Palestinian refugees was forced to suspend food distribution, earlier this week, due to Israel’s continued border closures in Gaza preventing the delivery of vital supplies to Gaza’s 1.5 million residents.

“Fuel pipelines remained closed, leaving Gaza with continued disruptions to its power supplies and adding to the rapid decline of socio-economic conditions” according to the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

In September this year a World Bank report warned that the continued restrictions placed on the Palestinians by Israel was severely limiting the Palestinian economy and making Palestinians even more dependent on foreign aid.

When approached the Islamic Bank of Britain said that it would “not comment on individual accounts” and Lloyds TSB offered a similar response stating “we do not comment on our relationship with corporate customers”.

Muslim groups responded with anger. The Muslim public affairs committee (MPACUK) said “Lloyds TSB have shown how much they value their Muslim customers by demanding that IBB terminate Interpal’s banking facilities” and encouraged people to write and phone Lloyds TSB demanding that they “rescind this outrageous, unfair and arbitrary decision”.

The Muslim Council of Britain, a national representative umbrella organisation, said they had written to Lloyds TSB saying the decision was “causing the MCB and the Muslim community tremendous concern and anxiety” and added that they “deplore the pressure that has been placed on IBB to close down the Interpal account”.

The MCB also sent out a warning to Lloyds TSB referring to the “significant number of Muslim account holders” the bank possesses and the fact that Lloyds TSB has been “reaching out for business for its shariah compliant current account” adding “If banking services to Interpal are not reinstated, then this will inevitably influence the actions of its existing and future customer base”. However MCB refrained from stating exactly what action they would take in the event of Interpal’s account being closed.

Interpal has faced numerous accusations since it was established in 1994.
In 2003 the US government designated Interpal a terrorist entity, accusing the charity of funding the Palestinian group HAMAS. However the UK charity commission found no links to terrorism stating “The American authorities were unable to provide evidence to support their allegations”.

In 2007 NATWEST closed the charities account citing pressure from the law suit bought by 14 families of Israeli suicide bomb victims.

The claim was bought against the Royal Bank of Scotland, NATWEST’s parent group, under the US Anti-Terrorism Act.

The Bosnian Warrior Sheikh

Bosnian warriorAs I walk through the hand crafted wooden doors of the sixteenth century Naqshabandia Tajkia (spiritual centre) mosque that sits on one of the many hills surrounding Sarajevo, I am greeted by sounds of ambient, mellow chanting emanating from inside the Mosque. As I approach the sounds define themselves as voices singing in unison.Water trickles from the beautiful white and grey marble fountain which is topped with a bright white sphere that turns with the water flow. The fountain is placed in the middle of a neatly kept garden surrounded with numerous flowers. Large roses lean over the path to the mosque, like welcoming hands beckoning guests ever inwards. A small cemetery of old graves surmounted by traditional white turban tops, lies adjacent to the mosque. Cutting through an elevated prayer space, a massive wooden door takes us to the central area of the mosque, surfaced with wood, covered in traditional Bosnian rugs placed any which way in a riot of colour. The wooden praying platform is like a balcony allowing you to look out onto the small garden and cemetery.Inside the central prayer area, a group of men wearing green waistcoats and red fez hats sit, now silently waiting after the chanting. It is almost time for prayer. A man walks in as the muezzin (prayer caller) gives the call to prayer. Wearing a green turban and a long green coat, reaching just above his ankles, he glides into the mosque. Smiling softly with a look that permeates authority. Men around him react quickly; placing their right hands on their hearts, a salute to the general of an army. His green eyes acknowledge everyone in the congregation.

After the prayer the man gets up and says loudly “Assalamualaikum!” turns and leaves just as he had entered, with long subtle silent steps. The congregation again place hand to heart. Who is this man?

Leaving the mosque we are told by a man wearing a red fez hat and green waistcoat that the Sheikh invites us to return for a gathering later in the evening.

Inside the sheikh sits amongst his students imparting knowledge and wisdom, exhorting them to be honest people and good. There is something different yet intangible about the relationship between Sheikh and congregation. Sessions of dhikr (singing praises of God) are tightly regimented; the circle formed by the murids (students) is disciplined into perfection. Late entrants must wait until granted permission to participate in the rhythmic undulations. “La il-la-ha il-allah” swaying left to right. – There is no God but Allah. Lights dimmed. Everyone deep in his own on themselves.

The undulating dhikr movements over, a few announcements for future sessions, lessons and meetings are read out to the students. I catch a glimpse of the Sheikh in a room attached to the mosque. He beckons to me to approach. Sheikh Halil Hulusi Nakeshibendi el Bosnevi sits sedately austere surrounded by his students. Accompanied by numerous servings of tea our conversation commences.

Sheikh Hulusi was the general of the Muslim Brigade, commanding over 5,000 men.

“How could I expect my students and people to go to war whilst I stayed behind?”
“I have responsibilities as a sheikh. One of those is to fight in the defense of our community and country and people. This was incumbent on me”. He speaks softly yet authoritatively.Students move around punctiliously never turning their backs on the sheikh, walking backwards through doors as they leave, never sitting themselves higher than the sheikh, always hanging on his every single word, eyes fixated on either his mouth or on the decorated carpet, unflinching, intent.Sheikh Halusi was based in Zanista outside Sarajevo during the war. He relates how gatherings of dhikr preceded each operation. Spiritual guidance was an integral part of his leadership as he lead his men into battle throughout the war.

During the war Serb forces destroyed mosques across Bosnia, wiping away history and those numerous architectural gems and ancient Turkish architecture, that made so much of the character of the country. Sheikh Hulusi was involved in the construction of the only mosque during the war built in a mountain primarily servicing fighters.

Since the end of the war Sheikh Hulusi went back to his spiritual duties, teaching his students and leading dhikr gatherings. Tajkie are established in 17 different locations across Bosnia and two in America, all under the Sheikh’s guidance, he is keen to tell me, naming all the tajkie along with the names of the students in charge of each one. This is a growing movement that has been established since the 16th century in Bosnia when the Turks first came to the region.

The Naqshabandia Mosque in Sarajevo was destroyed during Tito’s communist reign to be used as a storage depot. Sheikh Hulusi and his followers restored the mosque, succeeding even to restore the sixteenth century minbar (pulpit).

Breaking a taboo of Sufi gatherings across the world I bring up issues of politics. I ask the sheikh about the current state of Bosnia and his opinions of the status quo after the war. My question does not seem to trouble him . “Bosnia is far from perfect,” he says thoughtfully sipping from a glass of dark red tea, “but look at the goals of the Serbs” he says darkly. “We saved Bosnia as a state. The term ‘Bosniak’ became a recognised form of self-identification. “Subsequent to the Dayton agreement, people that had fought against Bosnia are now in the government, working against Bosnia” These words are echoed by many others, including politicians such as the current president of Bosnia, Haris Silajdžić.

Sheikh Hulusi says “The best future plan for Bosnia is to join the European Union, it’s the only way to stop future genocides”.

Students discuss all manner of issues with the Sheikh, spiritual, political, aesthetic. I suggest to Sheikh Hulusi that he is a different kind of Sufi Sheikh compared to other sheikhs. He disagrees and says that he is a true Sheikh. Other Sheikhs also stood up against oppression and occupation: Shamil Daghestani of the Caucasus and Omar Mukhtar of Libya: Both were spiritual leaders that led a resistance movement for freedom against tyranny: the Russian Tzar and Mussolini respectively.

The sheikh was awarded the Golden Lilly, the highest military honor for his efforts during the defense of Bosnia. The General, the Sheikh, and the Luminary. His students find everything in one man. He salutes us as we leave his hand on his heart with a warm smile. It was an invitation to return. For Sheikh Hulusi the real struggle was about to begin. Spiritual heights to reach, political advice to give, a nation to pull together from the debris of the past. Water trickles from the beautiful white and grey marble fountain which is topped with a bright white sphere that turns with the water flow

Srebrenica, lest we forget

Srebrenica, lest we forgetIn 1995 Srebrenica was a haven of calm and security: a UN declared safe zone. Bosnian Muslims could relax a bit in the relative security of the Dutch Peacekeeping force sent there to protect them, while war raged all around. Then Serb forces barged their way into the town.

Thirteen years later we stood together under the hammering hot sun of midsummer on a meadow near the town of Srebrenica. Tens of thousands of us gathered to commemorate those 8,000 massacred thirteen years ago.

Seeing themselves out numbered by Serb forces the Dutch force, UN to a man every one, hands-up and handed over helpless civilians to the Serbs. Now indicted but as free today as he was on that fateful day, war criminal General Ratko Mladic ordered the men and boys to be separated out. 8,372 men and boys were executed over the next few days. Some tried to escape through the forest. Mladec ordered Serb soldiers to hunt them down and kill them all.

The remains of 308 victims of the genocide were buried, as we stood there in respect under the glaring sun. One might say from mass graves where they had been dug up since the end of the war to a cemetary of individual graves. This time with the due respect and the personal grief of families that had waited so long to grieve. Thirteen years has been a long time to wait.

The mass graves were discovered in the dense forest and beautiful high, green hills which surround Srebrenica. To honour the dead there is now a memorial and landscaped cemetery where the massacre took place. Aptly perhaps it is adjacent to the former UN base and old factory were many of the victims were held.

Families wander around the old factory, looking at the dark rooms where victims were once held. A makeshift noose improvised from an old cable hangs from the ceiling of one room, a striking symbol of what took place here. An execution. With bullets, though, the Serbs proved themselves more efficient.

Srebrenica, lest we forgetMarks on the walls, pictures and graffiti all testify to the events that took place 13 years ago in this old factory. The atmosphere of darkness is palpable. Bright beams of light manage to penetrate through cracks and filthy windows. But the darkness was as if indelible, morbid forever. Bosnians wander around as if in the trance of a dilemma: Frightened to witness the unspeakable yet curious to share somehow in the experience of the victims. A virtual scrum to sign the guest book at the entrance, many hands at once on the same page leaving messages of hope and condolence.

In spite of the fine words of treaties and peace agreements, Bosnians see it as important to remember the reality of what took place. Tens of thousands stood there subdued and solemn in the shade of this factory from hell waiting for the ceremonies to commence. Water came in container vehicles to quench the waiting crowds. More water for ablutions. Yet more for the rows of mobile toilets providing some ease for those that had endured so much hardship to be present.

It is hard to forget the war in Bosnia. Cities, towns and villages are filled with graveyards full with those that died in the war. Buildings still bare the scars of the war, their walls riddled with bullet holes, their occupants too poor to pay for reconstruction or repair. The hill tops of Sarajevo are full of graveyards. White gravestones reflect the sunlight and catch the eye of the visitor, a reminder of what took place in this beautiful and historic city. Each crescent and star on a white gravestone signifies yet another Muslim grave: An entire people standing there on the hillside facing Makkah. I saw the dates on the gravestones:1992-1995 most of them. The war did not discriminate between old and young – wars rarely do.

Some 5,000 bodies are yet to be found and identified. Families still wait for the remains of their loved ones, dragged away to their death: all under the “protection” of the UN.

People came from all over Bosnia to attend the Friday 13th commemoration. Hundreds of coaches have traveled over rough tracks and winding roads, as the occupants of vehicles closed their windows gasping for breath in the red dust filled air. As we ourselves found it was a choice between the heat of the summer day or getting covered in dust. Police stand at intervals indicating the road to Srebrenica: every half mile or so. To protect the pilgrims, no doubt, for this is now Serb majority territory.

Many have come from abroad like Aida Siddique, a Bosnian currently living with her family in Aberdeen. This was her first time in Srebrenica. “It is painful to come here” The sorrow shows on her face. “Now that I am a mother I feel the pain of the mothers here”.

Amir Kobilic was in Srebrenica when the Serbs took the town. He escaped through the forest fleeing for five days until he reached Tuzla 65 miles away. Amir now lives in Sweden only now returning for the memorial.

“This great crime calls for justice, there must be no pause for the pursuit for justice, this great crime calls out for a response. Come! See! Feel! Weep and act!”. Thus spoke the American representative speaking at the memorial.

Srebrenica was the largest massacre to occur in Europe since the Second World War. Mustafa Ceric, Mufti of Bosnia, called on the European Union to declare the 11th of July a European day of mourning.

Relatives of the dead stand by the graves waiting, waiting for 13 years to lay their sons, fathers, brothers and husbands to rest. Boys of 15 marched off with the elderly from so many families. Entire communities destroyed.

I got tired walking amongst the thousands of people attending the memorial. The surrounding hills were full of families waiting just a little longer to bury their dead. Walking from grave to grave writing names, speaking to relatives, it was painful yet oddly surreal. Never have I witnessed such public sorrow and pain yet borne with dignity. I didn’t know any of the victims, but today I felt the sorrow standing with the families, praying for their loved ones, our loved ones, Europeans all. Men and women alike shed tears unable to hold back emotions. We in the West rarely remember or even know the names of the dead who are not ‘like us’. These are human beings that were murdered for being Muslim, Europeans all.

Srebrenica, lest we forget

Speaking to people in Bosnia they are nice and hospitable. Mention Srebrenica and you see them physically shiver. The woman hotel owner in Travnik, literally quaked at the very sound of Srebrenica when I told her where I was going. Wounds are deep.

“We will never forget Srebrenica” Swore Ekrem Halilovic remembering the war. Ekrem served in the army and police. Bosnia was subjected to Genocide, rape camps and bloody sieges. Bosnians will never forget those lost family members, or those mothers, sisters, daughters and wives that were raped. “We will never forget.”

The International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, has ruled that the Srebrenica massacre was genocide. This Genocide took place in Europe, in full view of the international community. For many there is still no closure, no justice with the main perpetrators of the massacre still at large, Ratko Mladic and Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic as free as they were in 1995.

(In no particular order) . . .

Mehmedovic Sadik Sead, 21 years old, no 259
Alkanovic Osman Aljo, 43 years old, no 123
Becirovic Sabrija Murat, 26 years old, no125
Halilovic Omer Mehmed, 72 years old, no 119
Masic Sluejman Fahr, 20 years old, no 66
Kurtic Becir Rifet, 39 years old, no 65
Muminovic Hesan Nasim, 63 years old, no 67
Becrovic Salejman Samir, 20 years old, no 64
Avoc Kadrija Mesad, 21 years old, no 58
Bosnak Alja Amr, 18 years old, no 31
Sujkic Ramiz Amho, 21 years old
Hasic Nedzib Edin, 16 years old, no 61
Srebrenica, Yes, remember that name! Never Again! Lest we forget.