Thursday 29 July 2010

Colne woman spat at mosque worshippers

WORSHIPPERS leaving a mosque in Colne were subjected to a tirade of racist abuse by a drunken woman who spat on them in the street, a court heard.

Brothers Quaram and Asim Majid were leaving the venue in Chapel Street on Wednesday when they were confronted by Emma Woods, Burnley magistrates were told.

Woods, 24, of Laithe Street, Colne, hurled abuse at the pair and repeatedly spat at them, as their 14-year-old nephew looked on, said prosecutor Bill Maude.

The brothers tried to walk away towards Albert Road and Colne Lane but Woods pursued them across the Pendle town, in scenes which were described in court as 'disgraceful'.

Woods admitted two offences of racially aggravated assault and breaching a suspended prison sentence order, also imposed for assault.

Magistrates jailed her for 146 days.

Mr Maude said the defendant continued to pursue the pair, as one of the brothers attempts to guide their 14-year-old nephew to safety.

Woods shouted: "No-one wants you here. Get out of our country. This is our town."

Mr Maude said it did not matter whether saliva had made contact with either of the brothers, as the attack still constituted an assault on them.

"It was a fairly disgusting display and something that was not only done to the two aggrieved parties but in the presence of their 14-year-old nephew," he added.

Nick Cassidy, defending, said his client, the mother of a two-year-old boy, had 'significant problems' and had been in care since the age of 10.

Before the offences in question, she had been in Colne town centre shopping with her mother.

But she had returned home and began drinking vodka, he added.

Mr Cassidy said: "She has no clear recollection of what happened but she is disgusted with herself and extremely remorseful for her actions."


Wednesday 28 July 2010

Robert Fisk: They're all grovelling and you can guess the reason

It is the season of grovelling.

Only a week after CNN's Octavia Nasr and the British ambassador to Beirut, Frances Guy, dared to suggest that Sayyed Hassan Fadlallah of Lebanon was a nice old chap rather than the super-terrorist the Americans have always claimed him to be, the grovelling began. First Ms Nasr, already fired by the grovelling CNN for her effrontery in calling Fadlallah a "giant", grovelled herself. Rather than tell the world what a cowardly outfit she had been working for, she announced that hers was "a simplistic comment and I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work. That's not the case at all".

What is this garbage? Nasr never gave the impression that she supported "Fadlallah's life's work". She merely expressed her regret that the old boy was dead, adding – inaccurately – that he had been part of Hizbollah. I don't know what her pompous (and, of course, equally grovelling) "senior vice president" said to her when she was given her marching orders. But like victims of the Spanish Inquisition, Nasr actually ended up apologising for sins she had never even been accused of. Then within hours, British ambassador Guy began her own self-flagellation, expressing her regrets that she may have offended anyone (and we all know what that means) by her "personal attempt to offer some reflections of a figure who, while controversial, was also highly influential in Lebanon's history and who offered spiritual guidance to many Muslims in need".

I loved the "controversial" bit – the usual "fuck you" word for anyone you want to praise without incurring the wrath of, well, you know who. The Foreign Office itself took down poor Ms Guy's blogapop on old Fadlallah, thus proving – as Arab journalists leapt to point out this week – that while Britain proclaims the virtues of democracy and the free press to the grovelling newspaper owners and grotty emirs of the Middle East, it is the first to grovel when anything might offend you know who.

For that was the collective sin of Misses Nasr and Guy. What they said might have made Israel's supporters angry. And that will never do. The reality is that CNN should have told Israel's lobbyists to get lost, and the Foreign Office – which was indeed upbraided by the Israeli foreign ministry – should have asked the Israeli government when it is going to stop thieving Arab land. But as my old mate Rami Khoury put it in the Jordanian press this week, "We in the Middle East are used to this sort of racist intellectual terrorism. American and British citizens who occasionally dare to speak accurately about the Middle East and its people are still learning about the full price of the truth when Israeli interests are in the room."

Which brings us, of course, to the Grovel of the Week, the unctuous, weak-willed, cringing figure of Barack "Change" Obama as he strode the White House lawn with Netanyahu himself. For here was the champion of the underdog, the "understanding" president who could fix the Middle East – finding it "harder that he thought", according to his spokesman – proving that mid-term elections are more important than all the injustice in the Middle East. It is more than a year now since Netanyahu responded in cabinet to Obama's first criticisms with the remark: "This guy doesn't get it, does he?" (The quote comes from an excellent Israeli source of mine.) Ever since, Netanyahu has been McChrystalling Obama on a near-weekly basis, and Obama has been alternatively hissing and purring, banning Netanyahu from photo calls, but then – as those elections draw nearer – rolling over and talking about how the brave Netanyahu, whose government has just destroyed some more Arab homes in East Jerusalem, is taking "risks for peace".

Needless to say, the only good guys in this story are the courageous Jewish Americans who oppose the thieves in Netanyahu's government and the racism of his foreign minister, the Ahmadinejad-like Avigdor Lieberman. And which Western newspaper was bold enough to point out that the house destruction in Jerusalem "effectively end(ed) an unofficial freeze of such internationally condemned demolitions"? The New York Times? The Washington Post? No, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, of course. And anyone who thinks Haaretz is alone in condemning the illegal actions of the Israelis should read the excellent Jewish magazine Tikun in the US, which goes for Israel's Likud lobbyists – for they are Likudists – like a tiger. Their latest target was Neal Sher, the Likudist who used to be in the US Justice Department and who is trying to persuade La Clintone to ban Judge Goldstone from America (where he holds a university professorship) for accusing Israel of war crimes in Gaza. And whose government was it that also condemned Goldstone's report? Well, Obama's of course.

Looking back, the Obama grovelling started in that famous Cairo reach-out-to-the-Muslim-world speech, when he referred to the Palestinian "relocation" of 1948 (as if the Palestinian Arabs got up one morning on the birth of Israel and decided that they all wanted to go on holiday to Lebanon). But the moment the world should have got wise was when Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. A man of greater dignity would have acknowledged the honour of such an award, but explained that his own unworthiness prevented him from accepting. But he did accept. He wanted the Nobel Prize. It was more important to accept it even though he did not deserve it. And now? Well, we've all been watching the little groveller this week. Middle East peace? Further colonisation of Arab land? Crisis in southern Lebanon? The continued siege of Gaza? Forget it. Think of mid-term elections. Remember the fate of Nasr and Guy. And grovel.

Monday 26 July 2010

Muslim schoolgirls show that faith and fashion are not incompatible

In a first floor classroom in the Hackney campus of the London School of Fashion a small group of young schoolgirls are wrapping clothes on to tailor's dummies.

They are using conventional clothes in unconventional ways – turning ties into belts and baggy T-shirts into neckwear. The idea is to challenge traditional notions of normality in fashion.

The approach is a common one for aspiring designers but it feels especially appropriate for the 20 assembled schoolgirls, all of whom are British and Muslim and all of whom are in traditional Islamic dress.

The girls are taking part in an initiative called Faith and Fashion that is using the widespread fixation of Muslim women's dress as a starting point for a discussion on how to create fashion that reflects a British Muslim sensibility. Sophia Tillie, the 28-year-old white, British woman who runs the scheme, converted to Islam while at university. She is now engaged in trying to examine how the concept of modesty – so essential to Islamic thinking – can be interpreted differently depending on the context of time and place.

"The Saudi tradition of wearing the niqab is very literalist," she explains, "and it is part of a puritanical movement that is reductionist in its doctrine. But reading more widely I was struck by the flexibility of Islamic thinking and that was what this initiative seeks to encourage."

The scheme is backed by the Three Faiths Forum, an interfaith organisation that works at grassroots to support harmony and confront prejudice between different religious communities.

For Tillie the media obsession with the burqa obscures the richly diverse ways that Muslims throughout the centuries have chosen to dress. "Banning the burqa will send it underground and oppress further the women who are still perceiving it as the only way to dress to be a fully observant Muslim. The reason I set up Faith and Fashion was to create a safe space where we could look at why some Muslim women have chosen to interpret some verses of the Koran to support the burqa and by opening up that space that allows opportunities for other choices and other interpretations."

Among the girls who are busy wrapping a pale blue pair of trousers around the neck of the mannequin is 15-year-old Tasnem. "I've always been really interested in fashion," she says. "I like stuff that is funky, if I was wearing a hijab I would like to wear a massive bow with it."

The girls are all competition winners having beaten more than 100 other girls by producing portfolios which featured drawings of clothes they had designed which expressed their British and Muslim identities. The girls all attend Islamic schools in different parts of London and some of their portfolios included poetic explanations of their decision to wear the hijab. "Allah doesn't look for our outer but our inner beauty," reads one verse. "Men walking down the street, 'Oh she's a cutie'/Women wear the hijab for protection/Not for affection/We have education/And we want an occupation."

For the young women involved there is no contradiction between being interested in fashion and being observant Muslims. Says Nadaya: "I was on the bus and someone asked me why I was wearing a hijab – it frustrates me because they don't know anything about me and yet they are judging me."

Another of the young women, Musafa, 15, was dressed in a full veil that obscured everything except her eyes. She was also wearing an electric green jacket. "I like to dress nicely and I like to express myself through clothing," she says. "People think that I must be forced to wear this but I came to the decision on my own and because all my five sisters and my mother wear it."

During the three days that they are at the London College of Fashion they will develop design and IT skills and well as being given advice by design experts. It is the sort of training that they would usually never have the chance to receive in their Islamic schools.

"The great thing about this course is that the girls are learning that dressing modestly does not have to be boring," says Hassaanah, a teacher in an Islamic school in Tooting Bec.

"We do study aspects of identity at our school but the aspect of understanding other religions and their history of modesty has been new."

By the end of the afternoon the three tailor's dummies stood in their new outfits. "This was my chance to really be creative," said Tasnem proudly. "It was so great to be able to meet other Muslim girls who were also into fashion."


Sunday 25 July 2010

Let women judges do their job

We do need to look at justice with a gender perspective. It is always women who suffer, both from injustice and society’s blindness towards it.

IT SEEMS to be the unchanging lot of women in Malaysia. First we are elevated, and then we are brought down to earth with a thud.

When the first women syariah judges were appointed this month, Muslim women were elated. At last, not only are women recognised for their ability to sit on the syariah bench but also perhaps now we can expect better justice for women in the syariah courts.

The first uneasy twinge came, for me, when one of the new judges said that she wanted to show that just because she was female it didn’t mean she would be biased towards women.

While, yes, justice is supposed to be blind, this statement made it sound that she is determined to prove her credentials by bending over backwards not to favour women at all. Given that women have hardly found justice in the courts all this time, this is disappointing.

Then came the whammy. It seemed that only after appointing them, a syariah court panel, consisting only of men, was being set up to decide what the women judges could rule on.

How about that? Give someone a job and then decide what she can do. Was this just incompetency or an attempt at ensuring that they are kept “in their place”?

It is a fact that women have been getting short shrift in the syariah courts, whether in getting due compensation in divorce cases for themselves or their children, in inheritance cases and many others.

Even when courts have ruled in their favour, for instance in ruling that men have to pay maintenance for their children from their ex-wives, rarely have these been implemented.

As a result, many women and their children are left in dire poverty. Is that justice?

We do need to look at justice with a gender perspective. Otherwise “justice” will always be seen from a male perspective because it is generally men who make the laws. Or in the case of religious rulings, it is men who interpret them.

It would be nice to expect men to simply be gentlemanly and ensure that the mother of their children and their progeny are well cared for after divorce. But this rarely happens. Thus someone needs to stand up for women. Invariably this should be a woman who truly has justice in mind.

Not that this always involves only divorced women. The recent study on the impact of polygamy on families by SIS Forum Malaysia shows that generally polygamy does not lead to happy families.

First wives and their children generally suffer most, both in terms of attention from their husband and father as well as in terms of standard of living — after their husbands had taken on another wife, 44% of first wives were forced to go out and work just to ensure the survival of their family.

Considering that men are only supposed to take on another wife if they can afford to support both, this evidence, culled from interviewing over 1,200 families, shows they are coming up short.

Not that second wives and families are faring better either. All families complained about the amount of time their shared husband and father had to spend with them.

Equal time and attention is simply not humanly possible. As a result, there was dissatisfaction all round when birthdays, anniversaries, school events are missed.

Men may think of polygamy as their “right” but it is a stressful one, if nothing else.

It is always women who suffer, both from injustice and society’s blindness towards it. Heaven knows what we need to do to make society take violence against women seriously enough.

We can rightly point to many countries to show how our women are so much better off than theirs. But the reality is, unless women are protected from violence and can seek justice in the courts, such “equality” that we enjoy can only be superficial.

So let those women judges get on with their jobs. After all, their counterparts in the civil courts have been doing so for a long time.


Friday 23 July 2010

Peace-Seeking Muslims Should Refudiate Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin has called on "peace-seeking Muslims" to "refudiate" plans by the The Cordoba Initiative, a Muslim organization, to build a mosque and community center near the site of Ground Zero. After someone alerted her to the fact that "refudiate" isn't actually a word, she deleted the original tweet and sent out two more: "Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real," and, "Peace-seeking Muslims, pls understand, Ground Zero mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Pls reject it in interest of healing."

Let's put aside the issue of "refudiation" for a moment; the larger issue here is the intent of the Cordoba Initiative, which is trying to build the mosque. I know the people who run the initiative; they are, for lack of a better term, "peace-seeking Muslims." I spoke at a program co-sponsored by Cordoba last year, and I came to understand that the organization is interested mainly in battling extremism within Islam, and in building bridges to non-Muslim faiths. It seems to me that its mission makes Cordoba an appropriate fit for Ground Zero. One of the ways to prevent future Ground Zeroes is to encourage moderation within Islam, and to treat Muslim moderates differently than we treat Muslim extremists. The campaign against this mosque treats all Muslims as perpetrators. This is a terrible mistake, for moral and strategic reasons. I'm afraid that Sarah Palin, if she were ever to become President, would help create what Muslim extremists have so far unsuccesssfully sought to provoke: an all-out clash of civilizations.


Thursday 22 July 2010

Israel dumps waste on Palestinian

Israeli settlements have been dumping untreated waste directly into a sewage canal that runs through the occupied West Bank, affecting Palestinian villages along its banks.

The hazard posed is compounded by the dumping of toxic chemical waste on agricultural land, with villagers reporting a rash of skin diseases and respiratory problems.

The Israeli government has banned plans by the Palestinian Authority to build pipes and pumps to treat and divert wastewater away from the affected villages.


Wednesday 21 July 2010

Dad and son slammed for foul-mouthed racist tirade

A racist dad and his son called an Asian cab driver a terrorist in a foul-mouthed drunken tirade before walking off without paying the fare.

Thomas John Walsh, 59, and his son Andrew Thomas Walsh, 28, both of Altrincham Road, Wilmslow, also asked cabbie Kamel Choudary if he was a member of Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Then when asked to pay the £20 fare Thomas refused and Andrew Walsh called the driver a ‘P*** b******’ before they both walked off.

The judge ordered Thomas Walsh to go on an ‘Against Human Dignity’ programme to learn not to be a racist after the attack on Mr Choudary, who now has panic attacks and fears going to work.

Sentencing the pair at Chester Crown Court, Judge Nicholas Woodward told the defendants: "He will have to carry that with him for the rest of his life.

"You both should be thoroughly ashamed of what you did that night."

Mr Choudary, who works for Kingsway Taxis in Burnage, had picked up the pair in Didsbury after a night out in December last year, Chester Crown Court heard on Tuesday (July 13).

Prosecuting, Martin McRobb, said: "Mr Choudary picked them up from the Royal Oak pub in Didsbury at midnight. Then a conversation began between the defendants about the September 11 attacks.

"Thomas was in the front passenger seat and became angry and abusive launching a foul-mouthed tirade at Mr Choudary and started making comments about Muslims and Pakistanis and said it was clear there was a link between all Muslims and terrorism.

"Mr Choudary tried to disengage them and said he was Bangladeshi but it didn’t work. Then when they stopped at Altrincham Road they refused to pay the fare and Andrew called him a P*** b****** and they both walked off."

Immediately afterwards Mr Choudary called the police and they went to the address in Wilmslow where he had dropped them off.

Mr McRobb said the driver was left shaken by the incident and still has panic attacks and now fears picking up passengers.

Simon Parry, defending Thomas Walsh, an air conditioning engineer of 26 years, said he was a ‘decent person’ who has held down a good job and is well thought of in the community.

He said: "It is clearly a distasteful incident and it has had an affect on Mr Choudary. But this event was affected by drink and does not reflect Mr Walsh’s true character."

Myles Wilson, defending Andrew Walsh, said: "He had had a drink and foolishly decided to side with his father. These are not his views and it is totally out of character for him."

Judge Woodward told the defendants: "You both committed a shameful offence of racially aggravated public disorder and Thomas you also added injury to insult by making off without payment.

"It is clear a lot of alcohol was drunk and on the journey back Mr Choudary, who was going about his usual business, was subjected to racist comments from you and the night ended for him with you refusing to pay.

"Then Andrew, you added your tuppence worth and left Mr Choudary feeling extremely upset."

Thomas who pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to racially or religiously aggravated intentional harassment, alarm or distress by using words and making off without payment was sentenced to a 12 month community order with the requirement that he undertakes an Against Human Dignity programme and an alcohol activity programme.

Andrew, who pleaded guilty to the same harassment offence, was given a 12-month conditional discharge.

They were both ordered to pay £800 court costs and the pair also offered to pay the £20 fare to Mr Choudary.

Against Human Dignity’,is a probation programme specifically for racially motivated offenders. It addresses issues relevant to offenders’ understanding of racism and prejudice.


Tuesday 20 July 2010

Don't be afraid of Islam, says Al-Sudais

JEDDAH: The imam of the Grand Mosque in Makkah told the world not to be afraid of Islam and Muslims, adding that Islam represents a message of peace, goodness and tolerance.

Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al-Sudais made the announcement while delivering his Friday sermon at the Tauheedul Islam Mosque in Blackburn, Lancashire, UK.

The new Tauheedul Islam Mosque is the largest in Lancashire and cost 3.5 million pounds ($5.37 million). Qatar's royal family provided an initial donation of 1.5 million pounds for the basic construction of the mosque, with the remainder generated from the Blackburn community. The community had outgrown the much smaller mosque, which was established at the same site in the 1960s.

In his sermon, Al-Sudais said: "Islam came to protect the interests of humanity, prevent evils and build bridges with all communities. It offers a great message of mercy and tolerance."

The Makkah imam urged Muslims living in Western countries to abide by the laws of the countries where they reside. "You should be a positive and constructive factor in the community you live and should not involve yourselves in activities that would undermine its security and stability," the Saudi Press Agency quoted Al-Sudais as saying.

Al-Sudais asked Muslims to learn from the life and teachings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), who used to visit his Jewish neighbor. "When the Prophet died his armor was kept with a Jew as a security," he said, urging Muslims to establish good relations with non-Muslims. "This is the best way to attract them to Islam."

Al-Sudais said Muslims living in the West should serve as ambassadors of their religion. "You should uphold the great Islamic values while dealing with Muslims as well as non-Muslims and should not engage in any corrupt or unjust practices."

Al-Sudais hoped that the new mosque, which has taken six years to complete, would serve as a source of goodness, light and guidance for the entire mankind.

Lord Adam Patel, president of the mosque, emphasized the importance of the mosque. "In 21st century Britain, the role of the masjid is as important as it was at the time of our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)," he said.

Patel said the mosque would work to advance the Islamic faith through the provision of a wide range of spiritual, educational and social services.

"Our vision is to become a center of excellence for Islamic learning and practice providing a beacon for both Muslims and other faith communities who wish to gain a deeper knowledge and understanding of Islam," he said.

He thanked Al-Sudais for coming to Blackburn all the way from Makkah to open the mosque.

The Makkah imam later visited an Islamic school for girls adjacent to the mosque. "Women have a great place in Islam," he said, urging Muslim men to take care to their women. "I am quite happy to meet Muslim girls living in this part of the world who uphold their religion and Islamic values with pride and wear the hijab. It does not prevent them from taking part in different fields of life."

He commended the school authorities for their efforts to provide proper Islamic education to their children.

Student Saeeda Patel, who welcomed Al-Sudais, described him as a model for millions of Muslims around the world being the imam of the Grand Mosque, which houses the Holy Kaaba to which Muslims all over the world turn when praying. "Our school, which was established 25 years ago, is one of the leading Islamic schools in the UK," she said. There are 430 students now. It is the only government-funded Islamic girls high school in the northwest of England.


Monday 19 July 2010

Catherine Heseltine Elected MPACUK's CEO

The Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK) is proud to announce that our new Chief Executive Officer is Catherine Heseltine. Since joining MPACUK in 2003, Catherine has made a consistently outstanding contribution to the work of the organisation. Her various roles have included working as the head of our campaigns team, appearing on television documentaries including Channel 4's 'Women Only Jihad', as a media spokesperson and mentoring new members.

Catherine is an English born revert to Islam and her election victory sets an historic precedent. In true pioneering spirit, MPACUK is the first British Muslim organisation to elect a woman as their CEO. We believe Catherine’s leadership will enhance MPACUK’s work in defending the civil rights of Muslims.

Catherine was born in 1978 and grew up in Islington, North London. She attended Westminster School and went on to do a BA in Education at Goldsmiths College, University of London. She became Muslim in 1999 while at University. She has worked for 10 years as a nursery teacher in London schools but is now taking on the role of CEO of MPACUK full-time. Her interests outside of her campaigning and community work include sports (tennis, sailing and skiing).

When asked about her historic achievement in being elected to lead a major national British Muslim organisation, she replied "I hope that this historic step will be a landmark in the development of a new wave of Muslim women leaders and will spark a revolution in the way Muslim women are enabled to contribute their talents in the service of both the Muslim community and wider society."

About MPACUK: The Muslim Public Affairs Committee is a civil rights group that campaigns on issues affecting Muslims in the UK and abroad. MPACUK runs Britain’s biggest Muslim website and has made numerous media appearances.

Read more:

'Leave your job or we will cut your head off your body...'

With violence on the rise, Afghan women are terrified at the prospect of a deal between President Karzai and the Taliban

Women in Taliban-held areas of Afghanistan say they are once again being threatened, attacked and forced out of jobs and education as fears rise that their rights will be sacrificed as part of any deal with insurgents to end the war in Afghanistan.

Women have reported attacks and received letters warning of violence if they continue to work or even contact radio stations to request songs.

One female teacher at a girls' school in a southern Afghan province received a letter saying: "We warn you to leave your job as a teacher as soon as possible otherwise we will cut off the heads of your children and will set fire to your daughter."

Another woman, Jamila, was threatened in August 2009, in a letter bearing the Taliban's insignia when she was working for a local electoral commission. It said: "You work in the election office together with the enemies of religion and infidels. You should leave your job otherwise we will cut your head off your body."

Jamila ignored the letter, but days later her father was murdered. She left her job and moved house.

Activists are fearful that their rights will be sold out in a deal between the Taliban or other insurgent groups and the US-backed Afghan government. They believe that if the Taliban is given a share in power, women will again be reduced to a condition close to slavery, as when the Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan in 1996-2001. Then, women could not leave their house without a close male relative and had to cover their faces and bodies with an all-enveloping burka or chadori.

Women, who had made up 70 per cent of teachers and 50 per cent of civil servants, were banned from working except in healthcare. Even as medical workers, there were severe restrictions and many women died either in childbirth or from disease because of lack of medical attention. The UN estimated that only 3 per cent of girls received primary education under Taliban rule.

With the war reaching a stalemate over the last year, Afghan and foreign leaders have prepared the ground for talks with insurgents by claiming they are more moderate and pragmatic than the Taliban government overthrown in 2001. The head of the International Security Assistance Forces' reintegration unit, Lt-General Graeme Lamb, said: "Who are these Taliban? They are local people. The vast majority are guns for hire; not fighting for some ideological reason."

The idea that the present day Taliban is less hostile to women than the old is contradicted by the experiences of women in Taliban-held districts. A report by Human Rights Watch – based on interviews with 90 women in districts largely held by insurgents in four different provinces – shows that women are being deprived of all rights.

The report, entitled The 'Ten Dollar Talib' and Women's Rights: Afghan Women and the Risks of Reintegration and Reconciliation, is released this week. It says the belief that new Taliban has emerged influenced by money rather than ideology is wrong.

It criticises the idea of the "Ten Dollar Talib" who fights for money, as an attempt by US and Nato forces to make power-sharing with them more palatable to western audiences who had previously been told they were an enemy to be defeated. Hostility to women is shared by other insurgent leaders as well as the Taliban. The strongest rebel force in the provinces south of Kabul is the Hezb-i-Islami, which Western and Afghan leaders have spoken of as a group that might be tempted to join the government.

The movement's leader is Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose first political act was reportedly to throw acid in the faces of unveiled female students at Kabul University in the early 1970s.

The HRW report is the first time that repression of women in Taliban- controlled areas in Afghanistan has been systematically studied. All the women interviewed – who are referred to by pseudonyms for safety reasons – said they had lost freedoms. In some cases, women have been killed.

On 13 April this year a female aid worker, Hossai, 22, was shot as she left the office of an American development organisation and died the next day. She had been threatened by the Taliban the previous week. Many of the threats are contained in letters delivered to the door at night – known as "night letters" – or left at the local mosque. Soon after Hossai was killed, Nadia – who worked for an international NGO – got a letter telling her to stop working for infidels and "in the same way that yesterday we have killed Hossai, whose name was on our list, your name and other women's names are on our list". Sometimes the same letter is sent to a number of women. In late 2009, in Kapisa province east of Kabul, women were warned not to ring up radio stations and request songs. They were told if they did they would be beheaded or acid thrown in their faces.

Many women have been forced to give up their jobs and stay at home, even though half the population earns less than $2 a day and there is a chronic lack of employment.

Girls' schools, which sprang up again after 2001, are once more being ordered to close. In Kunduz province in the north, the shadow Taliban governor sent out orders that no girls were to be educated past puberty. One threatening letter delivered to a school read: "You were already informed by us to close the school and not mislead the pure and innocent girls under this non-Muslim government."

In Kunduz these threats were reinforced by arson, rocket and bomb attacks. There have also been outbreaks of unexplained sickness at several schools, which could be the result of mass poisoning. One Taliban spiritual leader explained the targeting of girls' schools: "We are opposed to un-Islamic education for women. We close those schools that teach adultery, nudity and un-Islamic behaviour."

Women active in politics have been targeted and a number of the most prominent assassinated. The failure to catch the killers discourages other women from playing an active role. The Afghan government has also been ambivalent in its attitude to the issue.

The report says that women should be involved and able to protect their interests in any negotiations about reintegration or reconciliation with the Taliban. One female member of parliament doubts this is possible because "the Taliban would rather see a woman die in the streets than go to a restaurant to get food if men were there. These are the kind of people we're talking about".

Letter of the law

"You are working with the government. We Taliban warn you to stop working for the government otherwise we will take your life away. We will kill you in such a harsh way that no woman has so far been killed in that manner. This will be a good lesson for those women like you who are working. The money you receive is haram [forbidden under Islam] and coming from the infidels. The choice is now with you."


Sunday 18 July 2010


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Anyone who God has given
authority over people, and does not look after them in an honest manner,
will never experience even the scent of Paradise."

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 9, Hadith 264

Saturday 17 July 2010

Being a woman in Pakistan

It is not easy being a woman anywhere in the world but it is a tad more difficult being a woman in Pakistan. Last week, we saw two gang rape victims in headlines again for all the wrong reasons.

Mukhtaran Mai was reportedly threatened by a sitting MNA from treasury benches, Mr Jamshed Dasti, to settle the ‘dispute’ outside the court and let go of the criminals who have been sentenced earlier. For starters, it was not a mere dispute. It was a heinous crime, perpetrated against a helpless woman. The criminals were awarded punishment after a long probe yet the parliamentarian justifies defending them by saying that the court awarding the punishment were pressurised by anti-Islamic lobbies. Forget taking any serious action, the sad reality is that although the MNA is in contempt of court, neither the government, nor the opposition parties issued condemnation against his threats to a victim who has been battling it out for eight long years against all odds.

Kainat Soomro, a minor who was gang raped three years ago, is still fighting her case in the court of law. Her older brother, who was fighting the legal battle with her and was abducted three month ago, was found dead a few days back. The murder clearly was a message from the culprits to Kainat Soomro and her family that they too will face a similar fate if they do not take back the case.

Crimes against women are not exclusive to Pakistan, what makes them more painful and inhumane is lack of judicial recourse for the victims. There are no systems and procedures in place where women can access justice without spending a lifetime and fortune in courts, facing a multitude of threats and social ostracisation.

Aqsa Parvez was a high school student in Toronto who was murdered by her father and brother for not wearing a headscarf in 2007. Similar crimes go unpunished in Pakistan but not in a country where rule of law exists for all its citizens, including underage girls. The prosecution was taken up by the state and Aqsa’s father Muhammad Parvez and her brother Waqas Parvez, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, were sentenced to life imprisonment, with no eligibility for parole until 2028.

Those who have seen Harry Potter films would be familiar with the character of Padma Patil, a witch at Hogwarts. The character was played by an actress of Pakistani origin Afshan Azad. A few weeks back, Afshan was beaten and throttled by her father and brother because she was heard talking on the phone with her Hindu boyfriend. Although they used violence against her, Afshan still loves her family and is pleading for violence charges to be dropped against her father and brother because she does not want them to go to jail. However the prosecution services in England takes these matters very seriously and intend to proceed with the case even if the victim retracts the statement.

Our penal code is inherited from the days of the Raj, if they can modernise the legal system and ensure that no pressure on the victims can retract criminal charges, so can we. If our laws had been friendlier to the victims, Kainat’s brother may still be alive. If we had sent better people to the assemblies and not people who openly flout the law and threaten rape victims, we may have been able to come up with better legislation. If we had better legislation, we may have made an example out of some criminals like Canadian courts did with Aqsa Parvez’s father and brother. If only.

Thursday 15 July 2010

Breastfeed Your Baby in a Hijab: Public Breastfeeding in the Middle East

Many Muslim women cover up with a hijab. If you are breastfeeding a baby, this Muslim American blogger recommends buying a special coverup. Here in the Middle East, modesty among religious Christians, Moslems, and Jews is often associated with inhibitions about nursing in public. But that isn’t necessarily true.

In my years counseling nursing mothers, I’ve found that modest dress and nursing in public are separate issues. Women covered from head to toe can be seen nursing their babies on a park bench, while some mothers in halter tops wouldn’t dream of nursing in public. In countries like the US, where babies are primarily bottle-fed, breastfeeding mothers are frequently asked to leave public places or cover up while billboards with exposed breasts are everywhere.

Breastfeeding is an important part of greening the planet. Manufacture, transport and disposal of formula, containers, and bottles create pollution and use extra water resources. Breastfeeding, and supporting breastfeeding mothers, is one of the greenest things you can do. But in many parts of the world, discomfort about public breastfeeding remains a significant barrier to higher breastfeeding rates.

If a mother needs to find a private place to feed her baby every time she goes out of the house, she’s likely to wean early. One mom told me that when her oldest nursed every three hours, she was able to do errands in between feedings. Her second child nursed more often, so she weaned him to formula to avoid nursing in public.

There is a wide range of attitudes about public breastfeeding in Middle Eastern countries. In traditional societies, breastfeeding is generally the norm. Islamic law requires feeding until age two, and some interpret Jewish law to require it as well. In Jordan, women stay inside with their babies for close to a year.

There may be other reasons that public breastfeeding is rarely seen. In many traditional cultures, women are segregated to begin with so the issue of public breastfeeding does’t come up. In some cultures it’s acceptable to nurse in front of male relatives but not strangers. In stricter Islamic regimes, like Iran and Saudi Arabia, women are never seen breastfeeding in public, whereas in Jordan it is fairly common.

There are many products designed to help a mother nurse discreetly including aprons, cover-ups, and clothing with special openings. But if the mother wears a loose shirt that can be pulled up, or a sleeveless t-shirt under a button-down shirt or jacket, the baby will cover any exposed parts of the mother’s breast and torso. Not all babies like to nurse with something over their head. Of course mothers can nurse privately if they choose, but they shouldn’t be required to. Offended bystanders are free to move or look away, instead of disturbing the mother and baby. Since a mother’s first priority is to protect her child, she is not in a position to defend herself if attacked or criticized while feeding.

Get involved – Support Group for Muslim Breastfeeding Women on Facebook


Wednesday 14 July 2010

Funny Pic: Muslim Super-Heroes

“Iron Mike,” a Generous Heart

By Umm Zakiyyah

“Is it time for prayer?” This simple, sincere inquiry of Mike Tyson, the former boxing heavyweight champion, are the words that came to mind last week when I saw a photo of “Iron Mike” dressed in Ihram. Others may think of the strong-built former boxer as intimidating, cruel, or any other unpalatable adjective they’ve borrowed from the media or formed in their minds based on the small glimpses of him the television has given over the years.
But I have a different perspective…

Growing up, I was never a boxing fan. As a matter of fact, the sport scared me, and still does. But like so many other American Muslims, I was thoroughly proud of Muhammad Ali, who stormed the world with his “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” slogan. Of course, Muhammad Ali was before my time, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t on the edge of my seat when my father told stories of his triumphs, particularly his insistence on being called Muhammad Ali instead of Cassius Clay, and his refusal to fight in the Vietnam War, his famous words being that the Vietnamese “never called me nigger.”

The stories were made all the more notable knowing that my father knew Muhammad Ali personally. Having the opportunity to learn about the off-camera personalities of the likes of Muhammad Ali ingrained in my mind the human side of celebrities. From young, I understood the difference between the media-manufactured image of a person and the “real” person. This wasn’t due only to my father having worked with certain celebrities: My family itself lived that reality.

I imagine that my father, who was born “Clark Moore,” always knew the human side of fame. I remember him telling me and my siblings the sad story of how his first cousin Davey Moore lost his life in 1963 shortly after a fight against Sugar Ramos. The loss was so tragic and shocking that it even got the attention of the famous singer Bob Dylan who wrote the song “Who Killed Davey Moore?”

But for me, the story was deeper than Bob Dylan and the controversy of who was at fault. In fact, at that time my father shared the story, I had no idea who Bob Dylan was, or in fact, who Davey Moore had been to boxing fans. All I could think was, How sad, how terribly sad… My heart ached for my father, whose own father had helped train Davey Moore, and I wondered how their family had handled the loss, and if the tragedy could have been prevented somehow…

When Mike Tyson hit the news in 1991 due to an incident at an Indianapolis hotel that occurred between him and the beauty contestant Desiree Washington, I had no idea his conviction of sexual assault the following year would make him cross paths with my family. At the time, my father, who was a prominent community activist and a middle school biology teacher in Indianapolis, was doing da’wah work at the prison where Tyson would be held.

I remember my father expressing that perhaps Allah had a plan for Tyson through placing him where my father could teach him about Islam. I heard these words as I was serving my parents a tray of food, the television screen flickering images of a hand-cuffed, convicted Mike Tyson on his way to prison. At the time, I thought little of my father’s words. But they did make me think.
When my father began seeing Mike Tyson at the prison, he shared with our family some advice he had given Tyson after he accepted Islam: Know that although you’re in prison, it is the world outside these iron bars that is the real prison. It is sometimes easier to practice Islam in the confinement of a jail than in a world filled with so many distractions and temptations that threaten to shackle us in the very world that we are seeking refuge from through Islam.

These words stuck with me because they were so profoundly true. I thought of Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz) and how he became who he was only because his soul was given freedom in the confines of a prison. I reflected too on how the world, in reality, is a prison for all believers. As the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, said, “This world is a prison for the believer and Paradise for the disbeliever” (Muslim).

Although the world around me rushed to condemn Mike Tyson for his alleged crime, my heart held back because I really didn’t know what happened that day in 1991, and I still don’t. Honestly, the details of what really happened have never troubled me; the whole scenario just reinforced for me the importance of society following the guidelines that the Creator has prescribed for us.
But Mike Tyson’s tarnished image did not end with the controversy surrounding what happened between him and the beauty contestant. His image suffered severely thereafter due to events wholly disconnected from his 1992 conviction. Still, my heart held back from judging him harshly.

Whenever people would make derogatory jokes about him and his sins, I thought of the advice my father gave us once…
“Never think you’re above any sin, no matter how heinous that sin may be. Because the only thing that separates you from that sin is the mercy of Allah. In fact, it is when you feel the safest from a sin that you are most likely to fall into it, because you haven’t given yourself any protection against it.”

So when there’d be bursts of laughter around me about something or the other Mike Tyson had said or done, I’d grow quiet and reflective. I thought of Malcolm X and Davey Moore and Muhammad Ali. Who really knew these men? Who really knew their struggles? I certainly didn’t.
I wondered how people would view me had a television camera or microphone been in front of me whenever I made some of my most regretful mistakes…

During my late teen years, I was often home when Mike Tyson called my father from prison. Whenever my father wasn’t home, my siblings and I would take a message. I remember answering the phone once when I was home on break from college, and Mike Tyson was on the other end. I’d had a particularly trying year and was spending the time home engaged in self-reflection. I’m not sure if my heavy heart showed in my voice while I was taking the routine message, but for whatever reason, this time, Tyson asked if I was doing okay. I told him I was, and he proceeded to give me some advice about be patient through the struggles of life. I don’t remember his exact words, but I remember that they lifted my spirits. It also touched me that he had taken the time to share his own experiences with me in hopes of making me feel better. When I hung up, I reflected on my struggles as compared to his, and I realized that things weren’t so bad. If he could see the bright side of things from the confines of a prison, what about me in the comfort of my home surrounded by my family?

That chance phone call was only the first of my many glimpses into the generous side of Tyson…

I last saw Mike Tyson when my family was invited to visit his home several years ago. I remember seeing him deeply engaged in a conversation with my father and his friends, and I saw that, in addition to generosity, Allah had blessed him with a sharp analytical mind, maashaaAllaah.

I remember, too, that in the middle of one of these deep discussions about world issues and Islam, he turned to my father and said, “Is it time for prayer?”
My father, immediately reminded that it indeed was, stopped talking and stood to prepare for Salaah, saying, “Yes, it is.”

I, along with my mother and sisters, lined up behind my father, Mike Tyson, and a few other brothers; and we stood shoulder-to-shoulder asking Allah to guide us on the Straight Path…
This is the last image I have of Mike Tyson—bowing in prayer.
When I saw Mike Tyson in the news last week and learned that he was performing ‘Umrah and visiting the Prophet’s masjid, I was moved and felt extremely happy for him. I recalled his uplifting words to me when I was feeling down so many years ago. I recalled his generosity thereafter. And I recalled the question he’d asked last time I saw him.

Is it time for prayer?
As I saw the media images of him in Ihram, my eyes filled with tears, as I remembered the kindness and struggles of my brother in Islam. And I raised my hands in supplication, asking Allah to forgive him, have mercy on him, and keep him firm.
And I thought, Yes, it is time for prayer.
For us all.
May Allah put love and mercy in our hearts toward one another, and may we find contentment and joy in Prayer. And may He take our souls in a state that is pleasing to Him.


Tuesday 13 July 2010

Why Cyprus is more Islam-friendly than Turkey

There was an interesting headline in daily Taraf a few days ago, “The Greeks have set the headscarf free.” The story was about a juvenile female Muslim student living in the Republic of Cyprus. She wanted to attend her primary school classes while wearing a headscarf, a demand that sparked a public controversy. But as Taraf wrote with reference to Alithia, a Greek Cypriot daily, the Minister of Education, Andreas Dimitriu, intervened on behalf of the young girl’s right to practice her faith. “Religious freedom is non-negotiable,” the minister reportedly said, “and so is the parents’ right to raise their children according to their beliefs.”

“Well done, Mr. Dimitriu,” I said to myself. “And down with this absurd secularism in Turkey, which makes it much less Islam-friendly than the Greek-ruled Republic of Cyprus.”

Independent yet unfree

Let me be a bit clearer about my intentions. Although I am a Muslim, I am actually not the greatest fan of the headscarf. I think the Quran’s verses on female modesty are open to interpretation, and it is possible to understand them in a way which will not necessitate the covering of a woman’s hair — let alone that of a teenage girl. But I respect the views of my co-religionists who think that the veil is a religious necessity, and stand for their right to wear it anywhere they want. Similarly, if some crazy regime banned the Jewish kippah, I would support the right to wear that as well. For me, too, religious freedom is non-negotiable.

Secondly, although I detest this particular form of secularism that is established in Turkey — laiklik, a worse version of the French laïcité — I am actually in favor of a secular state. But I want a secular state which is neutral to religion, not hostile and oppressive to it. It should try not to sterilize the public square from religion, but rather open it to all religions and philosophies. The United States is probably the best example.

However, the anti-religious form of secularism is the only one that the Turkish state establishment knows. Hence “protecting secularism” here means banning the power and symbols of religion — and particularly Islam — as much as possible. That is why the headscarf is banned in the public square, including universities. And that’s why every year thousands of veiled Turkish students head to European or American universities, where they find freedom.

The irony here — that Turkey is less Islam-friendly than many non-Muslim countries — was best exposed on a popular Turkish TV show a few years ago. The host, a secularist, was asking his guest, a young veiled Turkish lady who attends a Canadian university, if she loved Atatürk, the father of all secularists. In response, she gave a shocking “no.” When the host, annoyed, said, “but it was Atatürk who saved us from being a British colony,” the answer he received was even more shocking: “But I would be free in Turkey if it had become a British colony.”

Turkey is in fact lucky to have become an independent republic rather than a colony after World War I, but it is also true that this independence did not bring much freedom to society. The republic, founded in 1923, turned into a “single party regime” in less than two years. The result was an authoritarian system that wanted to impose its own ideology on the people, not listen to their aspirations. It built a secularism inspired by the illiberal French Enlightenment (not the liberal Scottish one), and a modernism based on the late 19th century myth that “religion is an obstacle to progress.”

Kılıçdaroğlu’s blunder

Unfortunately, this Turkish experience gave secularism a bad name in the whole Muslim world. Hence, despite all the wishful thinking by Westerners, Turkey never became a “model” or “example” for other Muslim nations. Which Muslim believer would want to adopt a political system which forces women to uncover themselves, bans courses on the Quran and even messes up the call to prayer?

So, if Turkey can ever really inspire other Muslims — and bring relief to its own — it has to abandon its tyrannical form of secularism and start to learn what religious freedom means.

Regrettably, though, despite all the change in the world, the rigidity of Turkey’s ultra-secularists, and their standard bearer, the People’s Republican Party, the CHP, remains untouched. And, again regrettably, their new leader, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, keeps on proving that he does not have the spine to introduce any real change to his archaic party. Last week, he unexpectedly spoke to daily Radikal about his plans to “free the headscarf in the university,” only to back off a day later, when he apparently got a lot of heat from the CHP nomenklatura. He is a manager, it seems, not a leader.

Yet I am sure that this insane ban on the headscarf won’t last forever, and even Turkey’s ultra-secularists will have to soften over time. And until then, thank God, we have at least free countries such as the Greek-ruled Cyprus Republic, where veiled Turks can find respect.


NHS urged to offer circumcisions to avoid botched operations

Senior doctors have called for male circumcision to be offered by the NHS amid fears that unregulated operations are leading to serious injuries among Muslim boys.

A number of public health specialists have urged the health service to overturn its ban on such operations after an investigation into circumcisions performed at an Islamic school in Oxford found that 13 out of 32 boys who had the procedure – at an average age of six – ended up with medical problems.

Three endured what a new research paper describes as "incomplete circumcision" at the hands of an overseas-qualified doctor who only had six months of basic surgical training. They also ended up with urethral scarring or a haematoma – a build up of blood that results from internal bleeding – or both. Six had to be treated in hospital for complications related to their circumcision, and two had to undergo the procedure for a second time. Ten of the 13 needed to take a course of antibiotics.

Writing in the UK Faculty of Public Health's Journal of Public Health, the study's co-authors, Dr Karthikeyan Paranthaman and two fellow public health doctors in Oxford, concluded: "This incident highlights the harm associated with circumcision in young children by unregulated operators due to lack of compliance with best surgical and infection control guidance. There is an urgent need for commissioning circumcision services for religious reasons in the NHS."

In 2006 the three specialists undertook an inquiry for the Thames Valley Health Protection Unit into unregulated circumcisions after an Oxford GP alerted them to a young patient. The procedures were carried out in the library of a faith school, they discovered. They listed a series of concerns about the way the operations were carried out.

They wrote: "All the children in this incident underwent the procedure under local anaesthesia, which is considered suitable only for newborns and infants. The use of physical force to hold the distressed child down [by one of their parents and an 'assistant nurse'] during the procedure, the absence of resuscitation training and equipment, [and] lack of follow-up care indicated the unacceptable standards of care.

"The appropriateness of the facility for conducting surgical procedures, inadequate decontamination of equipment and unsafe disposal of clinical waste were other significant issues of concern," they wrote. The General Medical Council banned the doctor involved from performing more circumcisions after it learned of the harm done to the boys.

The Oxford case was not an isolated incident, however. Tower Hamlets Primary Care Trust in east London began offering the operation to families who sought it for religious and cultural reasons in 2005 after some children were harmed in non-NHS procedures. "It was set up due to community need, and also to counter occasional children presenting at local accident and emergency departments with infections and other problems associated with unregulated operations," said trust spokesman Tim Carter.

The boys of parents who are registered with a GP in the borough can have the operation when they are aged between six weeks and five months. Parents are charged £120-£150. More than 900 boys have been circumcised by the Trust since the service began five years ago.

Most Jewish boys are also circumcised, without anaesthetic, usually when they are eight days old. Procedures are conducted by a "mohel" who, according to the Board of Deputies of British Jews, "is required to be a committed Jew and is very often a qualified doctor as well".

The mohel's duties "demand the highest standards of ethics, religious practice and surgical skills, including strict hygiene", the board says. It describes circumcision, or brit milah in Hebrew, as "the primary symbol of Jewishness for men". It reports no problems arising from the operations.

The Department of Health said it was not going to change its policy, despite the evidence of some boys suffering medical damage as a result of unregulated circumcisions. "On the NHS, circumcision should be carried out only for medical reasons," a spokeswoman said. "However, PCTs are responsible for commissioning services to meet the health needs of local communities. In some areas, particularly where they feel children are at risk from unsafe procedures, PCTs do work with local providers and communities to ensure that a safe and affordable service is available."


Wednesday 7 July 2010

Status of a Muslim women

The status of a Muslim women is ranked Highly by Allah SWT. Shaykh Abdullah Adhami said: ''The word Shams(sun) is feminine & Qamar (moon) is masculine.

The sun burns itself to give light & life to everything around, & the moon is muneer, meaning it reflects the light; it radiates the brilliance of the sun. So when we shine as men, the implication is that we are reflecting the glorious light of our women.''

Monday 5 July 2010

Sex and Muslim women: new Asian mag pushes limits

SINGAPORE — Flip through the pages of Aquila Asia magazine and it soon becomes apparent that the publication is different from other glossy women's magazines sold across the region.
Side by side with ads for expensive handbags and luxury cars are fashion spreads featuring professional models in Muslim headscarves -- and articles on topics like virginity and hymen reconstruction.

To be "modest and fabulous" is the motto of the bi-monthly magazine, whose name means "intelligence" in Arabic, said its vivacious founder and publisher Liana Rosnita, a Singaporean Muslim married to a Swiss man.
Aimed at "cosmopolitan Muslim women" in Southeast Asia, the magazine has corporate offices in Singapore and editorial operations in Jakarta, capital of the world's largest Muslim nation Indonesia.

"We don't work for the traditional school of thought," Jakarta-based Liana said in an interview with AFP.
"If people think that Muslims today are backward or traditional or don't have a sex life, or we're not interested in having a great career, then they are very wrong, because that's really not the case."

Describing Aquila Asia as something of a hybrid between US magazine Cosmopolitan and high-society publication Tatler, Liana said other Muslim magazines in Asia focus more on religion rather than its readers' lifestyles.
"For example in Indonesia, we have four different magazines catering for the Muslim market. But all four are very religiously-skewed. You don't see any models," said Brad Harris, Aquila Asia's branding director.

"They're still very old-school, they're very institutional," he added.
Aquila Asia's frank coverage of controversial topics like hymen reconstruction and the state of virginity among Muslim women helps empower readers around the region, said writer Laila Achmad.

"I do believe that our magazine empowers Muslim women through our articles, because many Muslim women all over the world experience common issues," said Laila, who is herself a Muslim like most of the magazine staff,
"Here in Aquila Asia, we bring up those issues through our articles, so in a way we are voicing out those Muslim women's concerns," added the petite Laila, who, unlike publisher Liana, wears a headscarf.

The magazine was launched in March and claims a circulation of some 30,000 in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore -- where it made its first appearance this month.
It is in talks to expand into conservative Brunei, one of the world's last absolute monarchies.
Besides the magazine, Aquila Asia also has a website carrying the latest news stories and photographs on Muslims worldwide, together with video clips made by the global Muslim community and ads from luxury brands.

The website also conducts online polls on subjects ranging from the serious -- such as whether its readers would buy products not produced ethically -- to the cheeky -- such as whether they are fans of sexy underwear.
The magazine also has a page on popular social networking site Facebook with more than 1,700 fans so far from all over the world, and operates an account on micro-blogging site Twitter.

The latest May/June issue of Aquila Asia features a commentary on polygamy in the Muslim faith as well as an article on an online shop selling halal sexual wellness products such as moisturiser gels and aphrodisiac capsules.
Halal is a concept within the Islamic faith which designates what is permissible to eat or do.

But even as Aquila Asia pushes boundaries in its coverage, it takes care to conform to basic Muslim values, said creative director Sandy Tjahja.
"We have to appeal to (the readers') standards, but then we need to be careful with the level of their tolerance as well," he said.
Models wear clothes that are fashionable yet respect Muslim values, and sensitive issues are covered in a fair, just and tasteful manner, said Liana.
"We don't make a judgment call saying that this is what you should do, or this is what you shouldn't do... we tell things as how they are," said Liana.
"Our readers actually make their own decisions," she added.
Fresh Singaporean university graduate Junaini Johari, 23, said the magazine offered a refreshing take on issues affecting Muslim women.

"This is definitely very, very modern." Juanini said.
"It's taking a right step forward, because if those things are being talked about in other Muslim magazines, the tone is very different. The tone will be very male-oriented."

However, Junaini said the magazine should be more detailed when covering sensitive topics.
"Its not in-depth enough... the stuff that they talk about here is not something that I do not know."

But Liana emphasised that Aquila Asia is, at its core, a women's magazine.
"Women of other faiths in the world... strive to improve themselves in many aspects of their lives. Aquila Asia addresses these same things, so whether we're Muslim or not, its actually secondary."

Saturday 3 July 2010

How the UAE condones sexual violence

In the United Arab Emirates, a country that prides itself on modernity and its willingness to advance women's rights, the criminal court in Abu Dhabi has sentenced an 18-year-old Emirati woman to a year in prison for illicit sex after she reported that six men had gang-raped her.

Sadly, her treatment, though outrageous, is not unusual in the UAE. It comes as no surprise that more than half of Emirati women questioned in a survey in January by the YouGov Siraj consulting organisation said they would not report sexual assault or rape to police.

The woman, whose name authorities have not made public, said in court that she had agreed to go for a drive with a 19-year-old male friend. News media reported that she said the friend called five other men to meet them, and when they arrived, they raped her.

During the first hearing on 17 May in Abu Dhabi's criminal court, the six men were charged with rape, four in absentia as the authorities had not found them. The forensics unit at the Abu Dhabi judicial department noted that evidence of assault was visible on the woman's body. Despite the physical evidence and the charges against all six men, the criminal court also charged the woman with illicit sex, or sex outside marriage, which is punishable by imprisonment and flogging in the UAE. The prosecutor argued that the fact that she went for a drive with a man was sufficient proof that she consented to having sex.

A week later, during the second hearing, the woman retracted her statement, reportedly to avoid lashes and a jail sentence for extramarital sex. She said that she was beaten by her brother after he found out that she had been speaking to men, and that as a result, she decided to report that she had been raped.

On 13 June, the Abu Dhabi criminal court sentenced both the woman and her 19-year-old friend to one year in prison for engaging in consensual sex. The court acquitted all the men of rape, finding four of them guilty of less serious charges of "moral crime".

The UAE has made commendable strides in promoting women's education, entrepreneurship and political participation. When it comes to seeking justice for sexual violence, however, women in the UAE still face formidable – and often insurmountable – barriers.

Rape is a serious crime in the UAE, but the very act of reporting a rape automatically puts a woman in danger of being charged with illicit sex. The law places an almost impossible burden of proof on rape victims to show that sex was nonconsensual.

In a similar case reported earlier this year, a British woman told Dubai police that a hotel worker raped her while she was on vacation in Dubai with her fiancé to celebrate their engagement. The Dubai criminal court charged the woman and her fiancé with having sex outside marriage. The same court charged the hotel worker with rape.

When the couple provided documents to prove that they were planning to get married, the extramarital sex charges against them were dropped. But the court also freed the hotel worker, and the public prosecutor appears to have concluded that the woman had fabricated the story.

On top of risking prosecution, a rape survivor in the UAE is also likely to face ostracism by society, and even her family. For many Emiratis, a family's honour depends on a woman's good reputation, and society is quick to judge sexual assault victims as "immoral".

By making it almost impossible for a victim to prove rape, and then treating the brave few who choose to report rape as criminals, the UAE discriminates against women and violates their fundamental right to due process of the law. This treatment causes women to live in fear and makes the trauma of rape worse.

The UAE, first and foremost, urgently needs to reform its penal code and rules of evidence. Reporting a rape should never be grounds for charging a victim with illicit sex. And the UAE should ensure that consensual sex in private between adults is not a criminal offence.

The UAE should also improve law enforcement and judicial practices, and offer health and other services to sexual violence victims. Police, investigators, public prosecutors and judges should receive proper training to handle these cases, and policewomen with specialised training should be available to assist and support women who report rape. Instead of being thrown behind bars, rape victims should receive medical treatment, psychological counselling and other support services.

Finally, the UAE should do more to promote women's full equality in society, including combating stereotyped views concerning women's morality and sexuality. The UAE's law on illicit sex is not unusual in the region, but the government's public commitment to gender equality is. If the UAE is serious about promoting women's rights, it needs to ensure an effective response to sexual violence.


Thursday 1 July 2010

‘What kind of America’? Hate-filled rally to stop mosque

If they build it, they will bomb.

Angry Sheepshead Bay residents came out in a show of force on Sunday to protest a planned mosque and Muslim community center in their neighborhood.

“If they build a mosque there, I’m going to bomb the mosque,” said one outraged resident who lives across the street from the proposed house of worship between East 28th and East 29th streets on Voorhies Avenue. The resident, who refused to give his name, identified himself as a former Israeli soldier who had lived on Voorhies Avenue for eight years.

“I will give them a lot of trouble,” he added. “They’re not going to stay here alive.”

Such comments were certainly the most violent, though intolerance was common at the rally, which was organized by the group Bay People. Political correctness was shoved aside as members of the group put out its agenda: We don’t want a mosque here.

There was plenty of lip service paid to concerns about added traffic and noise, with rally organizers saying that they were not “anti-Arab or anti-Muslim,” but the stench of hate filled the air, sometimes with subtle language.

“We cannot tolerate foreign interests coming into our backyard telling us what we are going to do,” said speaker Bob Giovinazzi. “It’s hot today, but things are going to get a lot hotter for people in this illegal structure.”

One of the organizers claimed that the mosque protest was simply about “this specific location and a specific organization [and its] impact on our quality of life.” The organizer, who only gave his surname, Kleinman, added, “We are not against our Muslim neighbors. This is a residential community and we want to preserve it regardless of race and religion.”

But other organizers claimed that the mosque’s builders, the Muslim American Society has ties to Hamas and Hezbollah. Though few actual links were revealed at the rally, that didn’t stop the venom.

“New York is not Islamabad,” and Diana, a nurse who refused to give her full name. “Do not forget 9-11!”

Voorhies Avenue resident Victor Benari further whipped up the audience by adding, “Each Muslim terrorist is tied to a mosque.”

He also took pot shots at Ahmed Allowey, the longtime Sheepshead Bay resident who is bringing the mosque to Voorhies Avenue, along with local politicians who have remained mum on this divisive issue.

None were present to defend themselves, although Benari’s diatribe infuriated local resident Guseyn Ibragimov.

“What right do you have to deny people a place of worship?” asked Ibragimov, whose father is a Muslim. His mother is half-Jewish, half-Christian. “No one protests a church or a synagogue being built in a Muslim neighborhood.”

Rally attendees booed Ibragimov down, ordering him to get off their street.

“This isn’t right, they’re just showing their hate,” Ibragimov said as he stormed off. “They call themselves Americans, but what kind of America is this?”