Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Why are Muslim women living ‘in fear’ in this Canadian city?

 


Dunia Nur was out buying paint when it happened. The community organiser in Edmonton, Alberta was speaking Somali to her aunt on the phone when a man at the shop aggressively told her to “speak English”. When she tried to get out of the situation, he blocked her path.

“He was offended at the fact that I was speaking my language,” Nur, a Somali Canadian and the president and co-founder of the African Canadian Civil Engagement Council, told Al Jazeera. “I tried to move and then he blocked me.”

While the recent incident did not escalate further, Nur said it left her feeling unsafe, especially as it took place shortly after a Muslim family was run down by a driver in London, Ontario in a deadly attack that police said was spurred by anti-Muslim hate.

It also came amid a string of verbal and physical attacks against predominantly Black Muslim women in and around Edmonton since late last year – a reality that Nur said has left many members of the community feeling afraid to leave their homes.

In late June, two sisters, Muslim women who wear hijabs, were attacked by a knife-wielding man who hurled racial slurs at them on a path just outside the city. In other instances, Muslim women have been knocked to the ground while out on a walk or threatened while waiting for public transit.


The city says Edmonton police have received reports of five incidents involving Black women wearing hijabs since December 8, 2020, and the police force’s hate crime unit arrested and laid charges against a suspect in each case.

But Muslim community advocates say incidents often go unreported. “We had a town hall meeting where many women came out and actually stated that they have previously been attacked with knives, they have been told to go back to their homes, they have experienced a lot of gender-based violence and hate-motivated crimes – it just went unreported,” Nur said.

“Muslim Black women are being attacked and they are being attacked because of anti-Black racism and they’re being attacked because of Islamophobi[c] rhetoric and they are being attacked because they are women… I feel like right now we’re at a point that we’re not sure what’s going to happen to us when we go outside.”


The capital of the western Canadian province of Alberta, Edmonton was home to just more than 972,000 residents in 2019, according to a municipal household survey.

In an email to Al Jazeera, Mayor Don Iveson’s office said some Edmontonians “have not gotten the message that racist and bigoted behavior is not welcomed in our city”.

“There are systemic and long-term contributing factors to that, there are also issues of specific prejudice in the hearts and minds of [Edmontonians] who ought to know better – and there are far too many of those people that have been given license, in a variety of different ways, to spew their hatred in this community. And I, like most Edmontonians, want it to stop. Now,” the statement said.

Iveson said Edmonton city council supports calls to strengthen hate laws in Canada and has provided financial assistance to bolster initiatives to address hate and violence, including a task force to provide advice on how to make the community feel safe.

“The City, the Edmonton Police Service, and the Edmonton Police Commission have responded with a work plan outlining 70 different actions that are responding to the issues identified. A more comprehensive strategy will be coming forward in early 2022,” the statement said.

The city council also passed a motion earlier this month directing Edmonton to further engage with Black, Indigenous and other communities of colour to address harassment and violence.

The motion also orders the mayor to write to the federal government “requesting a review and potentially update the current definition of hate crime” for any racial, gender or cultural gaps or biases, the city said.

But despite these measures, activist Wati Rahmat told Al Jazeera that “Muslim women are in fear” in Edmonton.

“I have had friends who have conversations about whether they should be changing the way they wear the hijab, or take off the hijab, or go out with a friend, or not go out,” said Rahmat, who founded Sisters Dialogue, a Muslim women-led initiative, in response to the attacks. The group is currently working on a safe-walk service to offer accompaniment to Muslim women who do not feel safe going out by themselves.

The demands for more support in Edmonton come amid growing, Canada-wide calls for the federal government to implement an action plan to stem Islamophobia, as advocates say systemic racism and far-right bigotry increase the risks of violence.

For many, the June attack in London, Ontario – as well as a deadly 2017 shooting at a Quebec City mosque and a fatal stabbing last year outside a mosque in Toronto’s west end – show just how deadly the problem can be.

Members of the Muslim community and supporters gather for a vigil after a deadly attack in London, Ontario, killed four members of a Muslim family in June [File: Ian Willms/Getty Images via AFP]
“I don’t think it’s right for women to have to fear going out,” Rahmat said.

Some Muslim advocacy groups, including the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), have also called for street harassment laws to be bolstered, as most of the recent attacks on Muslim women in Alberta have taken place in public.

Fatema Abdalla, NCCM’s communications coordinator, said at least 15 attacks on Muslim women were reported in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary over the past six months.

“These women were either on their daily walks or they were at a park or an LRT [light-rail transit] station or some form of a transit station,” Abdalla told Al Jazeera, adding that NCCM receives calls nearly every week about verbal abuse targeting Muslim community members across the country.

“It’s instances like these that we need to prevent from happening so that they no longer lead to such devastating attacks as the one that we have seen in London, Ontario,” she said.


In the meantime, Muslim community leaders are taking steps to try to stem the violence on their own. Noor al-Henedy is director of communications at Edmonton’s Al Rashid Mosque, which organised self-defence courses for Muslim women this year.

While the community felt it was necessary to provide women with concrete tools to get out of a bad situation – and the courses drew overwhelming interest – al-Henedy said they also reflect an upsetting reality.

“It’s very sad and disappointing to be honest with you and I think it makes some people a little bit angry that we do have to do this, that we have to resort to these measures,” al-Henedy told Al Jazeera in an interview in March.

“We worry about the future generation; we worry about our daughters,” she added. “When a 15-year-old comes and tells you that she’s too afraid to cross the street, walking from school to home, that’s extremely concerning. It’s heartbreaking.”


Nur at the African Canadian Civil Engagement Council said the organisation is also working on offering psychological support, as well as information for Muslim women to know what to do if they are attacked, including how and to whom to report an incident of violence.

She called for international organisations such as the United Nations to push Canada to take action to urgently respond to the situation in Edmonton.

“We need international attention and solidarity because we can’t do this on our own and our public officials are failing us. We need international help and intervention,” Nur said. “We’re not okay. We really are not okay.”

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Friday, 16 July 2021

Pakistan: The ordeal of 'abandoned wives' left behind by UK families

 


Sana Hafeez, 28, from Pakistan-administered Kashmir, had hardly started the 10th grade when her family arranged her engagement to her British-born cousin Muhammad Bilal Choudhary.

Although Hafeez had wanted to become a civil servant after completing her education, she was excited by the prospect of going to the United Kingdom. She thought it would help ease her family's financial troubles and provide her with an opportunity to get an education and a good job.

"But to my surprise, my fiancée and his family asked me not to pursue my studies beyond grade 12," she told DW. "I was heartbroken, but the prospect of going to the UK and supporting my family financially was still a solace."

The pair remained engaged for five years and married in August 2018. Her husband left for the UK a week after the marriage, and both he and her in-laws had promised to take her there as well, said Hafeez.

Hafeez is one of many women from her region who have been married off to British Pakistani men in the hope they can help their families financially. But lawyers and womens' rights activists say that many of these marriages often go awry.

Several residents of Hafeez's district of Mirpur have family members in Britain. Many people left in the 1950s and 60s, when the construction of a large dam affected thousands in the district.

Over the years, through marriages, asylum, work permits and family connections, many made their way to the former colonial power.

"For a year we remained engaged and talked over the phone," Hafeez recalled. But her fiance's attitude started to change in 2019. "When I insisted on coming to the UK, he started hurling slurs and insults and finally filed for divorce in May of this year," she said, fighting back tears.

"It was a bombshell for me and the family. He wasted eight years of my life," she said. Additionally, her family had to borrow money to pay for the marriage — money which they thought could be repaid once she was settled in the UK.

"I could have become a civil servant or gotten a higher education. Who will compensate for all my losses?" she asked.

Hafeez's case is not unusual, said Ghazala Haider Lodhi, a women's rights advocate.

"Since the 1990s, I have heard and seen thousands of cases of such women," Lodhi told DW.

"Because of the conservative nature of our society they cannot share their ordeals."

Lawyer Ifzal Ahmed Khan has witnessed many similar cases. Khan told DW that a British Pakistani man, originally from the town of Bhimber in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, married his cousin Sadaf more than seven years ago. He stayed with her for a few years and abandoned her after the birth of a baby boy.

The man later divorced his cousin, he said, adding that the man is now threatening to take the child.

Sardar Abrar Azad, an activist in Mirpur, says his friend's sister was also abandoned after being married to a British Pakistani. According to Azad, poverty is what drives families to marry off their daughters to British Pakistanis. He added that people are often so desperate to send their daughters to the UK that they don't pay much attention to the character of the husband-to-be.

Many of the men turn out to be utter frauds, Azad said. "Instead of taking the girls back, they stay here for months while the girls' families bear their accommodation expenses."

While poverty is one reason young women are married off, some parents seek husbands for their daughters in order to strengthen existing family ties, he said.

Most of the girls, advocate Lodhi said, are from impoverished families, who hope that their daughters will call one of their brothers to the UK or will themselves work there and send money back. What seems like a dream can soon turn into a nightmare, she said.

'Parents should seek consent'
"I think parents need to seek the consent of their sons and daughters who are born and brought up in the UK under completely different socio-economic conditions," Sardar Attique Ahmed Khan, former prime minister of the disputed territory, told DW.

He believes that a lack of consent leads to the breakup of such marriages. "The man and woman should be given a chance to communicate with one another and understand each other before they decide to marry," he said.

In Mirpur, the British Pakistani men marrying local women have an increasingly bad reputation. Lodhi claims that almost half of them are already married. In one case, a British Pakistani man married more than six times. "Most of these men are over 40 and even 60 in some cases," Lodhi said.

"They know most of their victims are poor and cannot do anything against them," said Khan. "So they marry here, and spend a few months or years impregnating women. In some cases, they take the kids with them and in others they leave both the wife and kids here, and ruin their lives."

"What else could it be described as except debauchery and lust?" he said.

Attique Khan believes that society has to take steps to stop such marriages. "Efforts could be made at the government level, but civil society has to create awareness to stop this trend," he said.

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Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Secret Marriages

 


Some brothers and sisters have asked me to comment on a practice that is increasingly reported of travelling Muslim scholars and teachers of Islam in the West, and those who travel to the West as teachers and preachers. This is the practice of contracting secret marriages in the places these scholars visit or pass through.

The first thing to be said is that people generally do not make a secret of actions and relations except when they have some sense that these actions and relations, if known, would be disapproved of. Those who take the responsibility of public teaching of Islam must know that they are seen as representatives of the religion and looked up to as role models. Not only the words they preach but also their actions and lifestyle influence the decisions and actions of others; before God they are liable for that influence and for its consequences in the lives of others. Preachers, teachers, and other public figures in the community, have a responsibility to ensure that their conduct adheres to the ideal of those who fear even to displease God, let alone wilfully disobey His commands or those of His Messenger, upon him be peace.

Every Muslim knows that good deeds repel evil ones. God has said so in His Book: “Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds”. (Surah Hud 114) The effort of preparing for prayers and doing the prayers through the day helps to sustain God-wariness, to prevent failures and shortcomings from becoming established habits with consequences hard to undo. We strive after good thoughts, words and deeds in order to disable and annul temptation, so that we acquire, so far as God wills, something to negate/counter the harms and wrongs that we accumulate to our account over a lifetime.

But how many of us are mindful that the converse is also true: that evil deeds can negate, undo or outweigh good ones? The following is reported by `Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf:

Ma`mar and Sufyan al-Thawri narrated to us from Abu Ishaq, who narrated from his wife saying that she called among a company of women on `A’ishah. A woman said to her: O umm al-mu’minin, I had a slave-girl, whom I sold to Zayd ibn Arqam for 800 with deferred payment of the price. Then I bought her from him for 600 and I paid those 600 on the spot and I wrote him 800 as debt. `A’ishah said: By God!How evil is what you bought! How evil is what you bought! Tell Zayd ibn Arqam that he has invalidated his jihad with the Messenger of God, peace be upon him, except if he repents. (Abd al-Razzaq, al-Musannaf, 8/185)

Note here the strength and presence of mind of `A’ishah. In her indignation against this legal trick to do what God’s law fiercely condemns and pronounces as illegal (namely, loans on interest), she does not exaggerate or lose her balance of judgment. She does not hesitate to say of Zayd that, by taking part in this transaction, he has annulled his effort of jihad. But she also remembers to say, ‘except if he repents’. Some wrongs (like riba) are indeed so heavy in their nature and their personal and social consequences that that they may annul one’s good deeds. Yet, until death is known to be imminent, the door of repentance is not closed to any sinner, and God has said that He loves to forgive.

Secret marriage is one of several kinds of violation by men of the rights and dignity of women. I have been informed that it is increasingly common for Muslim preachers in Europe and America and for those visiting the West to marry women in secret and for a short period, after which they, presumably, end the marriage, before going on to contract another marriage of the same sort somewhere else. This is a violation of the laws and good purposes of marriage, and a vicious exploitation of women whose circumstances oblige them to enter into such contracts. The wrong is analogous to riba, which is a violation of the laws and good purposes of lending money, and severely injurious to those whose circumstances force them to borrow in this illegal way.

Marriage in Islam is presented as a good deed, a noble thing to do, when it is done in the manner and for the purposes described as ma`ruf – i.e., according to the known, established norms of kindness and public, legal form. It is explicit in Surat al-Nisa’ that even when a Muslim contracts a marriage with a slave, he must inform her family and get their consent, and he must pay her the mahr. What is explicitly forbidden is taking lovers in secret, debauchery, and fornication, i.e., sexual relations without responsibility for the other person and for the consequences of the act. Secret, temporary marriages are (just like the legal tricks to enable riba) a legal cover for what is illegal and known to be so.

Marriage is both a personal and social fact for the contracting parties. It is not merely one and not the other. It is an integral part of what makes marriage a good deed that it should be done with the intention of building a legal, social, physical space in which children are to be welcomed and raised. It is an integral part of what makes marriage a good deed that it connects families not hitherto connected, or it extends and consolidates existing connections. In this way, marriage widens the network of family relations, so that there is multiplicity of siblings and cousins, uncles and aunts and nephews and nieces, among whom responsibility for each other’s well-being (physical, economic and spiritual) is shared, usually unevenly, as means and talents and situations are diverse. The social relationships facilitate and diversify, and thereby strengthen and support, the burdens of personal relationship of the husband and wife. It goes without saying that when a man contracts a marriage he commits himself, in principle, to provide for his wife for her lifetime – it is not lawful for a Sunni Muslim to contract a marriage knowing in advance that this commitment is temporary. Let us suppose that a Sunni Muslim owns an oil-well and he is able to pay out, all at once, as much money as any woman could expect to have in a whole lifetime: for this Sunni Muslim it is still unlawful to contract a marriage knowing that it is temporary, however much he pays out, and unlawful also, obviously, for the woman. Of this man it may be that his great wealth makes him the greater sinner, since he could use it not to indulge himself but to assist others to get married.

What distinguishes a marriage as such, what ennobles it above any form of improper association of man and woman, is that it is proclaimed to be a responsible union: marriage proclaims the couple’s right to privacy and intimacy with each other, and the purposes of that right. The neighbourhood and community must know the legal status of the couple’s being together, so that they can celebrate their relation and support it. Secret marriages, in addition to violating the rights of women, also violate the right of the community to be spared the innuendoes and slanders that are so corruptive of social order, harmony and trust. Such marriages do the same long-term damage to what is nowadays called ‘personal and social capital’, as American-style fast foods (and other ‘instant’ conveniences, not least social media ‘friendships’), do to long-term physical and mental health, and to the long-term sustainability of how food is produced and distributed.

The Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘Proclaim the marriage’ (Sunan al-Nasa’i, 3369; Musnad Ahmad, 15697; Sunan Sa`id ibn Mansur, 635). This a clear injunction that marriages must be proclaimed, made public, not held in secret. That is the practice of the Prophet himself, of all his Companions, and of the prominent scholars of the early generations. None of them ever indulged in secret marriages and they never, explicitly or tacitly, approved any such marriages. We read in al-Mughni, k. al-Nikah that among those who expressed explicit disapproval of secret marriages are: `Umar ibn al-Khattab, `Urwah ibn al-Zubayr, `Ubaydullah ibn `Abdillah ibn `Utbah, `Amir al-Sha`bi. Abu Bakr `Abd al-`Aziz says: ‘Such a marriage is void’. There too we find that the majority of the jurists say that the proclamation of marriage is recommended, i.e., they do not make it a legal condition for the validity of a marriage, assuming that it has been legally witnessed. Some say that proclamation is mandatory. This is the opinion of al-Zuhri: ‘If someone marries secretly, brings two witnesses but commands them to keep it secret, it would be obligatory to separate the husband and wife’. Similarly, it is reported that Imam Malik’s opinion is that non-proclamation of marriage invalidates the marriage (al-Mughni, k. al-nikah).

Even those scholars who do not make proclamation a legal condition for the validity of a marriage do not express approval for keeping it secret. Ibn Taymiyyah, as forceful and forthright as ever, likens secret marriages to prostitution (Majmu` al-fatawa, 32/102).

In sum:

Sunni fiqh condemns secret and temporary marriages (secret or public) because they are so injurious to the rights and dignity of women, and because they diminish the good that comes from marriage, namely family life and family relations with all that they provide of testing and training for mind, heart and temperament, and for all the consolations of sharing feelings and experiences across generations. Contracting secret/temporary marriages reduces marriage to sexual relations in an ugly sort of rental arrangement, that is profoundly demeaning, especially to women. Accordingly, I strongly advise women to be careful before they consent to marry anyone. I strongly advise them to inform, consult with and find support from, family, friends and community before they make any commitments so that the matter is known, and so that their rights are observed and respected. It is better (for women and men) to endure the hardships of being single than to enter into contracts that insult the laws and norms, and seek to subvert the purposes, of marriage as commanded by God and His Messenger, upon him be peace.

As for those who present themselves in public as teachers and preachers of Islam and yet have entered into such contracts, what can I say? It is obligatory for them that they refresh their intentions in due fear of God and that they remember that the door to repentance, to reform, and to making amends, is not closed.

God’s Messenger has affirmed in many places that God loves to forgive His creatures if they turn to Him. He makes the way to forgiveness easy for whoever repents sincerely. No believer’s sins, however great or numerous, can be greater than His mercy.

Sh. Akram Nadwi

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