Invisible Aid

Muslims pay 15 times more “religious tax” than the rest of the world gives in humanitarian aid.

Ramadan: The joy of giving is never as great as during these 40 days, when Muslims give 2.5 per cent of their income to the poor and needy. Photo: Zakat Foundation of America. Ramadan 2013 in Syria

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, has just started. A time of fasting for devout Muslims, this is also the time of year when most Muslims pay their annual zakat. Zakat is a form of compulsory almsgiving, a kind of “religious tax.” The amount due is 2.5 per cent of a Muslim’s wealth at the start of Ramadan, subject to a minimum threshold. The Koran contains clear rules about who is eligible to receive zakat: in general, these are people who are poor or otherwise needy. The meaning of the word zakat is associated with the concept of purification. Sharing one’s wealth with the poor brings about a kind of religious purification.

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Introducing State Briefings

Through a series of short briefs on developments at state level since the start of the civil war in 2013, the team behind Monitoring South Sudan hopes to provide a more comprehensive overview of the nature of the conflict and the impact of violence. As always, through the commentary field we encourage our readers to… Read more »

State Briefing: Upper Nile State

Capital: Malakal Approximate population: 964,353  Internally Displaced People (IDP) sheltering in Upper Nile: 194,200 Upper Nile State is situated in the north-east, bordering Ethiopia and Sudan. It is considered a marginalised state, heavily affected by decades of civil war and with poor infrastructure and accessibility (especially in the rainy season). Although imbuing areas around Renk… Read more »

This Week in South Sudan – Week 27

Monday 30 June UN envoy in South Sudan, Hilde Frafjord Johnson, said that the collective leadership in South Sudan must take responsibility for the conflict. Riek Machar defended the call for federalism. South Sudan government officially admitted that international help is needed to avoid collapse. Church leaders and women groups in Unity State announced support for… Read more »

Putin Keeps Retreating from War but Cannot Accept Peace

Barricades in Slavyansk. Photo: Aleksandr Sirota, Wikipedia

The big picture of the Ukrainian conflict has changed significantly during the last week as this troubled state confirmed its hard-made European choice. The hundreds of rebels fighting in the trenches around Slavyansk and the hundreds of thousands of civilians, who are trying to make sense out of the violent disorder in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, are probably unaware of this change and may not know that the non-existent ceasefire is extended to Monday evening. Nevertheless, the signing of the association agreement with the EU was a major breakthrough in the efforts to pull Ukraine from the quagmire of state failure and give it a meaningful future (Polit.ru, June 28). President Petro Poroshenko had an emotional moment in Brussels making a promise to join the EU when Ukraine is ready, but he keeps a cool head trying to sustain pressure on the separatists and win hearts and minds in Eastern Ukraine (Moskovsky Komsomolets, June 28).Read More

The Arctic cosmodrome setback

Strictly speaking, the Plesetsk cosmodrome is not in the Arctic – it sits on the 63rd parallel, while the Arctic circle goes at 66° 33′ 44″ N. However, it has a prominent place in Russian Arctic  policy, so the failure to launch the new Angara space rocket on June 27 is a major setback for this policy. Russian… Read more »

The Limits of post-22 July Media Debates

In times of crisis, citizens and victims typically look to the government for leadership, protection, direction, and order – what is often characterized as a ‘master narrative’. Faced with terror and tragedy journalists seek to comfort and reassure the public, and willingly and instinctively move from their professional, neutral critical role towards a pastoral role. Read More

Has Much Time Gone By?

One of the most famous anecdotes about the passing of time is from the early 1970s, when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai was asked what he thought about the French Revolution, to which he replied: ‘It is too early to say’. The fact that the interpreter has later pointed out that Zhou probably thought the question was about the student revolt of just a few years earlier (which in China was talked about as ‘the Revolution in France’) should not blind us to the underlying quandary with which the story presents us: When is it possible, from a historical, sociological, or philosophical point of view, to say anything authoritative about an event in history?Read More

A Tale of New Cities: The Future of Urban Planning in the Developing World

Photo Credit: Jason Miklian & Kristian Hoelscher, PRIO

The global shift from rural to urban living will be the most important demographic transformation of the 21st century. All great shifts create the opportunity for great fortunes, especially for those with audacious visions who are positioned to capitalize on them. Indian industrialist Ajit Gulabchand runs Hindustan Construction Company (HCC), which is responsible for some of the country’s most iconic infrastructure projects. In what might be the single biggest bet in the history of Indian real estate, Gulabchand has staked HCC’s future – and his own family fortune – on a cluster of five planned cities perched along artificial fjords about four hours east of Mumbai. He calls it Lavasa.Read More

This Week in South Sudan – Week 26

Monday 23 June Kuol Manyan Juuk, South Sudan’s defence minister denied that he wants to resign. Salva Kiir attended the African Union Summit in Equatorial Guinea. The IGAD announced that the Addis Ababa peace talks are adjourned due to disagreements over inclusivity. Warrap authorities denied involvement in cattle raid in Unity State. 7.3 million people… Read more »