Saturday 30 October 2010

“…their heads like the swaying humps of camels…”

Sheikh Muhammad Muhammad Sâlim `Abd al-Wadûd

Abû Hurayrah relates that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “There are two categories among the inhabitants of Hell whom I have not encountered. The first are people who carry whips like the tails of cows and beat the people with them. The second are women, clothed yet naked, drawn to licentiousness and enticing others to it, their heads like the swaying humps of camels – they will neither enter Paradise nor even smell its fragrance, though its fragrance can be found to a great distance.” [Sahîh Muslim (2127)]
The meaning of the hadîth:

The Prophet (peace be upon him) describes in this hadîth two groups of people that will be among the inhabitants of Hell. We benefit from this, since it serves as a warning for us not to be like those people.

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) says – “There are two categories of the inhabitants of Hell whom I have not encountered.” – he means that he has never encountered these two groups of people in the world, though he has knowledge by way of revelation from Allah that those people will be among the denizens of Hell.

With respect to the people who carry whips like the tails of cows and beat the people, al-Nawawî in his famous commentary on Sahih Muslim, says the description matches the youths employed in his day as police officers by the chief of police.

Its legal implications:

This hadîth is clear evidence for the prohibition of wearing skimpy or revealing clothing that does not properly what Islamic law requires to be concealed.

It is also cited by some scholars as evidence that a woman cannot wear her hair in a bun tied on top of her head. This matter, however, needs to be considered in greater depth.

The best way to understand textual evidence – especially when it comes to the legal implications of the sacred texts – is to examine the texts with the full implications of their meanings and their context to ensure that we have a clear and thorough concept of what the text is talking about. This comes after understanding each term and each phrase of the text on its own.

One of the best examples to illustrate the necessity of this approach is the hadîth where the Prophet (peace be upon him) describes the second of the categories of the inhabitants of Hell, saying: “women, clothed yet naked, drawn to licentiousness and enticing others to it, their heads like the swaying humps of camels…” [Sahîh Muslim (2127)]

In order to understand this hadîth correctly, we must have a full understand of what the Prophet (peace be upon him) is describing. If we neglect or fail to appreciate the implications of some of the words and meanings given in the text, then we will consequently fail to understand any aspect of the text properly.

When we consider this text in full, we discern that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is not discussing the heads of women as a topic on its own, nor is he discussing their clothing on its own, nor is he discussing their behavior in isolation.

From this, we must recognize that the Prophet (peace be upon him) is describing a type of woman – a type that is wanton and uninhibited in every possible way. Such a woman dresses improperly; she does not cover what Islamic Law requires her to cover. She is drawn to men and she actively invites their attentions. She employs the limbs of her body in provocative ways and displays her charms in the way that she moves.

It is significant that the hadîth describes the humps of camels as “flopping” or “leaning”. This is quite different from the customary styles that women usually use when they bind their hair atop their heads, where the bun or pile is strait on top of the head and not swaying from side to side.

We must also note that the hadîth does not refer to the hair itself but refers in more general terms to the head. This means that the hadîth is not just talking about the swaying of the woman’s hair, but rather to the way the woman holds and tosses her head in a provocative manner.

On the basis of this realization, we come to the conclusion – and Allah knows best – that the text is not actually prohibiting any particular hairstyle on its own. It is permissible for a woman to bind her hair in any way she wishes – even to pile her hair up and secure it atop her head – as long as she strictly adheres to the well-known dictates of Islamic Law in her dress and her conduct.

A woman must cover everything that Islamic Law requires her to cover when she goes out in public, including all of her hair. She must also be modest in her behavior and conduct. She should lower her gaze from men and not invite their attentions. This is what matters. If she carried herself in this manner, then she can any hairstyle she likes, as long as that hairstyle is not masculine. This is because the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Allah curses men who imitate women and women who imitate men.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî (5885)]

And Allah knows best.


Friday 29 October 2010

Knowledge Test on Religion

By: Dr. Habib Siddiqui

In the New York Times, Nicholas Kristof asked 13 questions to test knowledge of his readers on religion ("Test Your Savvy on Religion," October 9, 2010). The questions are:

1. Which holy book stipulates that a girl who does not bleed on her wedding night should be stoned to death?
a. Koran
b. Old Testament
c. (Hindu) Upanishads

2. Which holy text declares: "Let there be no compulsion in religion"?
a. Koran
b. Gospel of Matthew
c. Letter of Paul to the Romans

3. The terrorists who pioneered the suicide vest in modern times, and the use of women in terror attacks, were affiliated with which major religion?
a. Islam
b. Christianity
c. Hinduism

4. "Every child is touched by the devil as soon as he is born and this contact makes him cry. Excepted are Mary and her Son." This verse is from:
a. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
b. The Book of Revelation
c. An Islamic hadith, or religious tale

5. Which holy text is sympathetic to slavery?
a. Old Testament
b. New Testament
c. Koran

6. In the New Testament, Jesus' views of homosexuality are:
a. strongly condemnatory
b. forgiving
c. never mentioned

7. Which holy text urges responding to evil with kindness, saying: "repel the evil deed with one which is better."
a. Gospel of Luke
b. Book of Isaiah
c. Koran

8. Which religious figure preaches tolerance by suggesting that God looks after all peoples and leads them all to their promised lands?
a. Muhammad
b. Amos
c. Jesus

9. Which of these religious leaders was a polygamist?
a. Jacob
b. King David
c. Muhammad

10. What characterizes Muhammad's behavior toward the Jews of his time?
a. He killed them.
b. He married one.
c. He praised them as a chosen people.

11. Which holy scripture urges that the "little ones" of the enemy be dashed against the stones?
a. Book of Psalms
b. Koran
c. Leviticus

12. Which holy scripture suggests beating wives who misbehave?
a. Koran
b. Letters of Paul to the Corinthians
c. Book of Judges

13. Which religious leader is quoted as commanding women to be silent during services?
a. The first Dalai Lama
b. St. Paul
c. Muhammad

His answers are:
1. b. Deuteronomy 22:21.
2. a. Koran, 2:256. But other sections of the Koran do describe coercion.
3. c. Most early suicide bombings were by Tamil Hindus (some secular) in Sri Lanka and India.
4. c. Hadith. Islam teaches that Jesus was a prophet to be revered.
5. All of the above.
6. c. Other parts of the New and Old Testaments object to homosexuality, but there's no indication of Jesus' views.
7. c. Koran, 41:34. Jesus says much the same thing in different words.
8. b. Amos 9:7
9. all of them
10. all of these. Muhammad's Jewish wife was seized in battle, which undermines the spirit of the gesture. By some accounts he had a second Jewish wife as well.
11. a. Psalm 137
12. a. Koran 4:34
13. b. St. Paul, both in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2, but many scholars believe that neither section was actually written by Paul.

While I am appreciative of Kristof's attempt to clear many such commonly held misconceptions, especially about Islam, he made some errors with his answers. Here are my corrections:

1. Muslims pronounce their Holy Scripture as the Qur'an, which should have been used by the author for better accuracy.

2. Contrary to his opinion about Q. 2 there is not a single verse in the Qur'an that prescribes coercion in matters of religion. Allah (God of the Qur'an) leaves the choice to either accept or reject Islam to human beings, although He warns those that reject Islam as the final revelation with dire consequences in the Hereafter.

3. Kristof's remarks on Q. 5 vis-a-vis Islam are not accurate. While the Qur'an, like both the so-called Old and New Testament, does not explicitly abolish slavery, it is unique in providing the basis for emancipation from and elimination of slavery. See, for instance, the Surah al-Balad (ch. 90), verses 12-18, in which Allah says, "Ah, what will convey unto thee what the Ascent (rising to higher status in Islam, a sure recipe for entering Paradise) is: It is to free a slave, and to feed in the day of hunger an orphan near of kin or some poor wretch in misery, and to be of those who believe and exhort one another to perseverance and exhort one another to the deeds of kindness and compassion." And there are many such verses (see, e.g., 4:92, 5:89, 58:3.) and prophetic hadith (sayings) that required believing Muslims to freeing slave as a remission of their sins. The verse 24:33 says, "And if any of your slaves ask for a deed in writing (for emancipation) give them such a deed if you know any good in them; yea, give them something yourselves out of the means which Allah has given to you."

What is more revealing is that the Qur'an unequivocally makes it clear that no man, irrespective of his status (including a prophet), can enslave any other human being: "It is not (possible) for any human being unto whom Allah had given him the Scripture and wisdom and 'Nabuwah' (Prophethood) that he should afterwards have said unto mankind: Be slaves of me instead of Allah ..." [3:79] It is not difficult to understand why the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad (S), not only freed his slaves from his wife's side (Khadija) but also encouraged his companions to win their freedom. Muhammad (S) bought freedom of 63 former slaves, A'isha (RA) 67, Abbas (RA) 70, Abdullah ibn Umar (RA) 1000 and Abdur Rahman ibn Awf 30,000. It was these freed slaves of Islam that became the flag-bearers of Islam. Bilal, the Abyssinian, became the first Mu'addhin (caller to prayer) in Islam, a position next only to the Imam during the salat, one of the most important pillars of Islam. To break the aristocratic arrogance of the pagan time the Prophet's own cousin sister, born to Quraysh aristocracy, was married to his freed slave, Zaid ibn Haritha (RA). In his deathbed, Muhammad (S) appointed Usama (RA), the son of Zaid (RA), to become the leader of the expedition against the Byzantine Empire that had gathered a large army to attack Muslim territories to the north in Syria. Muslim history is replete with examples of freed slaves that became the rulers and marrying into kings' daughters and sisters.

The interested reader may like to read my articles "Anatomy of Racism" and "Islam and the question of slavery" that were posted elsewhere in 2005 and 2006, respectively.

As to Kristof's answer to Q. 10, many scholars have dwelt upon the subject of Muhammad's (S) treatment of Jews. It is a highly controversial subject. Suffice it to say that the prophet Muhammad (S) was more merciful to the Jews of Madinah than the prophet Moses (AS) was to his own community when they rebelled against him and committed blasphemous activities. The interested reader may like to read Dr. Rafiq Zakaria's book - Muhammad and the Quran, Penguin Books (1992).

Kristof's answer to Q. 12 also shows his misreading of the Qur'anic verse. No, the Qur'an does not endorse beating wife for insubordination. If the wife shows disloyalty and ill-conduct towards her husband, the recommended steps in sequence are - (1) verbal advice or admonition, (2) separating bed so as to suspend sexual relation, (3) have sexual intercourse (so as to win her over), and if that too fails to reconcile, then (4) a family council that is comprised of two arbiters, one from each family with the intention of setting things aright (4:34-35). [See, e.g., Al-Qur'an: a Contemporary Translation by Ahmed Ali, Princeton University Press, 1993] [Note also: The Arabic root word "daraba" being taken from the prosaic example "the stud-camel covered the she-camel." (Raghib, Al-Mufridat fi Gharib Al-Qur'an)] These verses were revealed in relation to the wife of a Muslim who complained to the Prophet (S) that her husband had beaten her, and she wanted retaliation. If beating of wives were allowed in the Qur'an then it could not have prohibited it by saying, "If a wife fears cruelty or desertion on her husband's part, there is no blame on them if they arrange an amicable settlement between themselves; and such settlement is best; even though men's souls are swayed by greed. But if ye do good and practise self-restraint, God is well-acquainted with all that ye do." (Qur'an, 4:128) See also the verse: "Do not retain them (i.e., your wives) to harm them..." (Qur'an, 2:231)

I am, however, aware of the fact that because of a misinterpretation with the Arabic word Adribu in the Qur'an (derived from the word 'Daraba' which has multiple meanings, depending on the context) some translators have mistakenly assumed that the third option means scourge, or light beating.

This discussion once again demonstrates that relying on a mistranslation in English or other languages rather than the classical Arabic of the Qur'an, in which the Islamic scripture was revealed, can distort the actual meanings intended for the verse. This problem is also quite acute with many old scriptures that are open to so many interpretations. Little knowledge on religion can actually be dangerous!


Wednesday 27 October 2010

Rejection of violent jihad by Dutch terrorist not unique

Imprisoned Dutch terrorism suspect Jason Walters' decision to renounce violence is not unique. A number of radical leaders in Islamic countries have done the same. Once in jail, they repented and called on their followers to renounce radical Islam.

Jason Walters, who is 25, is the first extremist Muslim convict in the Netherlands to renounce his radical ideology. From his cell in Vught prison he wrote a letter explaining his change of heart which was published by Dutch daily de Volkskrant on Saturday. Jason, allegedly a member of the so-called Hofstad Group, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for throwing a hand grenade at a police team which was trying to arrest him in 2004. Four policemen were injured.

Mea culpa
Sceptics say Jason Walters only wrote his letter hoping for a reduced sentence. It was published only days before his appeal hearing before the Amsterdam court. Judges will decide on Wednesday whether the Hofstad Group was a terrorist organisation.

According to RNW's Mohamed Amezian, Jason's renunciation of violence should be taken at face value. He says it is in line with a trend among radical Muslims.

RNW's Mohamed Amezian says that Jason's repentance is nothing new. Many radical Muslims realise in prison that violence is not a means to further their ideals, he said, explaining that "violent jihad's following has dwindled. Its leaders are voices crying in the wilderness. And they have become more pragmatic. There is less and less support for violent attacks, so why continue preaching that message?"

Mohamed Amezian has conducted research into de-radicalisation. He thinks Jason Walters may have known about similar cases in the recent past, seeing there is an international network of Islamic activists.

"I think Jason was aware of these development among jihadists. They maintain a close-knit network using internet and other modern means of communication. It's not surprising, now that he has had the opportunity to reflect in prison, that he should reverse his previous decision to become an active jihadist."

Possibly the governors of Vught prison where Mr Walters is held played a part in this, following the example of Saudi Arabia, Lybia and Egypt where authorities actively promote de-radicalisation of imprisoned jihadists. Vught prison is declining to comment.

Abandoning violent jihad: some recent cases

• Moroccan-French Muslim Robert Richard Antoine Pierre, also known as Lhaj, publicly renounced radical Islam in Morocco a couple of years ago. He declared that Muhammad was not a prophet, but the founder of a state and a civilisation. During his period in detention, Mr Pierre became an apostate, turning away from Islam.

• Another major Islamic jihad leader in Morocco, Mohamed al Fizazi wrote a letter of renunciation from his prison cell in 2009, addressing Muslims in Europe. Mr Fizazi's earlier ideas could be described as extreme. During Ramadan in 2000 he spoke in a mosque in Hamburg, Germany, inciting his audience to embark on violent Jihad. Among the people listening were some of the September 11, 2001 Twin Towers attackers. The same Mr Fizazi wrote last year, "We followed the wrong path then and we overshot the mark."

• Algerian detainee Hassan Hattab called on his followers in January 2009 to renounce violence and to open a dialogue with the authorities. Mr Hattab was one of the founders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahreb (Morocco, Algeria, Lybia, Mauritania and Tunisia). In 2007 he turned himself in.


Tuesday 26 October 2010

Girl suspended for dacking boy

A six-year-old Muslim girl has reportedly been suspended from a Darwin school bus after she pulled a boy's pants down after he repeatedly teased her about her hijab.

Iran Ghavami was given a five-day ban from Buslink after she sought revenge on the seven-year-old boy, who had been allegedly bullying her and telling her to take off the headscarf, the Northern Territory News reported.

Iran's parents, only one of whom is Muslim, told the newspaper they would have preferred a warning.

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The ban means Iran will have to stay home from school, because her parents are unable to make the 60km round trip each day.

Muslims Australia president Ikebal Adam Patel expressed dismay at the harsh treatment of the girl.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Patel said Iran felt the best and non-violent form of resistance was to expose to the culprit what she would have felt if she gave in to his bullying demands.

"If the boy felt humiliated in front of his peers and friends by being made `naked' by his pants being pulled down, then this is exactly how the young Muslim hijab wearing student would have felt if, in fact, she did take her hijab off due to his persistent bullying," he said.

While not condoning the actions of Iran, Mr Patel said such behaviour towards female members of the Australian Muslim community, and especially school students, was becoming prevalent.

"In frustration, sometimes people take things in their own hands," he said.

"Muslims Australia urges all parents and individuals to utilise the channels in place to handle these types of behaviour through the appropriate law enforcement agencies and other avenues available in all Australian schools."

It is not clear whether the boy's underpants were also pulled down, or if it was just his pants.

News websites have been inundated with a range of opinions on the issue.

While most Australians supported Iran's actions and congratulated her for standing up against a bully, others claim she would not have been subjected to the bullying if she had not been wearing the hijab.

Some said Islamic headwear should not be worn to school.


Hadith of the Day: Beware of Suspicion

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Beware of not look for the faults of others. Do not spy, and do not be jealous of one another, and do not sever your relations or hate one another."Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 8, Hadith 90"

Monday 25 October 2010

Tony Blair's sister-in-law converts to Islam

Tony Blair's sister-in-law, Lauren Booth, has become the latest in a long line of Western Islamic converts. From Chris Eubank to Jermaine Jackson to Alexander Litvinenko, she joins an eclectic list, yet she is markedly different from most of its names, for one key reason – she is female.

Ms Booth, who works for the Iranian state news channel Press TV, said she decided to become a Muslim after being overwhelmed during a visit to a shrine in the city of Qom, Iran.

"I felt this shot of spiritual morphine: just absolute bliss and joy," she said. When she returned to Britain six weeks ago, she decided to convert. "Now I don't eat pork, and read the Koran every day," she said.

She is now on page 60. Though women in the public eye are generally not shy of a religious conversion (Demi Moore, Kabbalah; Tina Turner, Buddhism), Islam is rarely their go-to faith. For Catherine Heseltine, CEO of MPACUK which was set up to address a perceived under-representation of Muslims in British politics, and herself a convert, this is not hugely surprising.

She said: "Islam requires women to cover their hair and hide the shape of the body. If you think of the areas where women typically achieve a high profile – singing, acting, modelling – these things tend not to be compatible with these requirements.

"Converting to Islam is a different proposition for women than from men. They are instantly asked: 'Why do you want to be oppressed?' There have been problems in the Muslim community with sexism, but these are attributable to culture, rather than religion itself and the two have become very mixed-up in the public's perception."

But the shortage of Islamic women converts in the public eye in fact conceals a trend in the public at large that is in the very opposite. Sheikh Imam Ibrahim Mogra from Leicester said: "I receive many more inquiries from women. It is quite surprising, given the negative publicity in terms of the mistreatment of women. But women say it was all the negative things that first stimulated their interest."

Though the group she joins as woman convert is small, it is a vocal one. Ms Booth's colleague at Press TV, former war correspondent Yvonne Ridley, converted to Islam in 2003 after being captured by the Taliban in Afghanistan.

There is of course one challenging liturgical requirement. Ms Booth said: "I haven't had a drink in 45 days," she said. "And I was someone who craved a glass of wine or two.


Woman charged with hate crime against two Muslim women

Two Seattle Muslim women said they were simply trying to fill up at a gas station in Tukwila on Saturday when another woman started yelling slurs, kicked one woman and slammed a car door on her leg, and then pushed the other.

"I'm terrified, I'm crying," said Imaan, one of the two Muslim women, recounting the incident during a news conference Thursday. "Never in my life have I experienced this kind of hatred and physical assault."

Imaan, 23, and her aunt, Maryan, 34, both American citizens of Somali descent, asked to be identified by their first names only, for fear of reprisal.

They said they were trying to get gas shortly before 6 p.m. at an ARCO AM/PM gas station and minimart on Tukwila International Boulevard. The pump didn't appear to be working.

A woman who was watching started calling them "suicide bomber," asking if they were going to bomb this country, and telling them to "go back to your country," Imaan said.

King County prosecutors identified the woman as 37-year-old Jennifer Leigh Jennings, also known as Jennifer Leigh Adams, of Burien, and on Thursday charged her with two felony counts of malicious harassment under the state's hate-crime law.

Imaan said she went inside to talk to the clerk about the gas pump, and when she came back out, she saw Jennings slam a car door on her aunt's leg, pull off her aunt's headscarf and kick her.

Imaan told Jennings to leave them alone and Jennings pushed her so hard that she fell, she said.

Imaan said she was frantic, yelling for help from about a dozen or so bystanders who didn't do anything, she said.

A videotape of the incident was recorded by AM/PM, according to Tukwila police.

Imaan got through to Tukwila officers, who arrested Jennings at the gas station and booked her into King County Jail. Jennings was released on bail Monday.

On the way to the holding facility, Jennings, in the presence of police, used a racial slur to refer to the two Muslim women, according to charging papers. As she was being booked, Jennings remarked to one officer about another officer who had a dark complexion: "You're only doing this because he's the same race and religion as those two ladies," charging papers say.

Jennings could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Maryan, who came to the U.S. 16 years ago as a refugee and has lived in Seattle for 13 years, said she had never experienced anything similar here before.

Imaan, who was born and raised in San Jose and moved to Seattle three months ago for college studies, said that several weeks ago a woman in a parking lot of a Burien grocery yelled a derogatory remark at her and told her to "go back to your country."

The two spoke at a news conference organized by the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of CAIR-WA, said there's been an increase in anti-Muslim incidents nationally, tied to an increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Locally, about three anti-Muslim-related incidents in this state were reported to CAIR-WA last year, he said. This year, he's heard of two others: an August attack on a Queen Anne convenience-store clerk who turned out to be Sikh, not Muslim, and the stabbing of a woman in West Seattle, though that couldn't be definitively tied to a bias motive, Bukhari said.

"Our fear is there are many more happening and not being reported," he said.


Sunday 24 October 2010

Abuse Of Temporary Marriages Flourishes In Iraq

The practice of temporary marriage has long been common in Shiite Muslim communities, especially in Iran. The idea is that rather than having an affair, a man who wants to be sexually involved with a woman should marry her — for a few months, or even, hours — so the relationship will be legitimate.

In Iraq, the practice was banned under Saddam Hussein but then flourished after the American invasion. Now, though, some men are using the system to take advantage of poor women, and many of Iraq's Shiites say the very religious institutions that sanction such marriages are to blame.

One mother of three, who is so ashamed about what happened to her she doesn't want to give her name, says her husband abandoned her when she found out he preferred men. She had no way to support the family.

A religious figure in her neighborhood promised to help. He brought her to his home, locked the door and had sex with her. He offered her $15.

For the man at least, it was a brief moment of muta'a, the Arabic word for pleasure — and the Arabic word for temporary marriage.

The woman says the man who had sex with her worked with leading Shiite religious clerics in the Iraqi city of Najaf. It's one of the most revered places in Shiite Islam.

Tales Of The Temporary Marriage

Another woman, Kawthar Kadhim, says she approached a religious scholar who works with one of the clerics and asked for help. Her husband had left her after the Gulf War, she says. Her father had tuberculosis and was coughing up blood. And her mother was paralyzed.

The scholar told her to lift the veil from her face, she says. And then he basically proposed.

"He said, 'Would she accept to marry me, muta'a marriage?' I said, 'No'," Kadhim says through an interpreter. "And when he found out that I was refusing to marry him, he said, 'OK, let her go home and then I will send for her if I get some money.' And he never did that. He never sent for me."

Other women in Najaf told us that religious offices help poor women only if they're pretty, which makes them good candidates for muta'a marriage.

One said her brothers won't allow her to go near such places, for fear she'll be tricked into a temporary arrangement.

Nagham Kadhim runs a women's rights group in Najaf. She says muta'a marriage is a sensitive subject in the holy city. But she says abuse of the practice is common. "The muta'a marriage happens when there is an economic factor, like when the woman is poor and [does] not have money," she says through an interpreter. "And the religious institution would offer her those job opportunities, through working for a kindergarten, looking after children. And then she would receive like 100,000 dinars."

That's about a $100 a month. Once the women get the job, Kadhim says the institution will host seminars about temporary marriage to convince them the practice is acceptable.

The 'Right Way' To Do A Muta'a Marriage

Aqil al Shammari is a religious scholar who works with a handful of leading figures in Iraq's Shiite community. He explains that muta'a marriage goes all the way back to the Prophet Muhammad, who once told his traveling companions they could purchase a wife with a handful of dates if they were away from their regular wives.

Shammari says he has temporarily married at least five women, while traveling. Each time, he says, he paid them. He made sure they used birth control. He kept his agreement to be married for only a month. And he didn't do anything to sully their reputations afterward.

This, he says, is the right way to do muta'a marriage.

But the line between the right way and the wrong way may be very fine.

Shammari insists that the abuse of muta'a marriage is still rare in Iraq. He says he wouldn't mind his daughter or sister entering into a temporary marriage, if the man is pious and religiously committed.

But then he gets a sly look on his face. Of course, he says, such a man is hard to find.


Saturday 23 October 2010

A Convert To Islam Finds Discrimination On Both Sides Of The Veil

A woman wearing hijab enters the 7 train. She glances around and smiles, searching for a friendly face. Heads turn and eyes stare back. A strange silence envelopes the subway car. The woman walks towards an empty seat and sits down, selects a new song on her IPod, sips from her coffee and closes her blue eyes. She pretends she doesn't notice the stares, the tension and the energy in the air. She asks God to surround her with healing energy, love and light. She asks to be able to stand up and speak up for herself when necessary and to respond appropriately from the right place. She asks for patience, guidance and wisdom. She asks for it to all be made easy for her.

That woman used to be me.

It ain't easy being green, especially in this time of heightened Islamophobia. Ignorance begets fear, and fear introduces the concept of the "Other." The anti Islam rhetoric consumes our newspapers and news channels. It fills the heads, homes and hearts of citizens, immigrants and children all over the United States, and it invades the daily lives of many Muslims with harassment and discrimination. It has filled me with a need to speak out through writing.
Let me introduce myself: My name is Kim Joseph, and I am a convert to Islam. I attended church camp, I sold Girl Scout cookies door to door, I went to homecoming and prom and I sang in the school choir. You may now know me as your friendly hijabbi-wearing barista who works at Starbucks. I cannot imagine being without America or Islam, without one or the other I would be incomplete. I simply cannot be the Other.

My past experience wearing a hijab in New York City was full of harassment and discrimination. I've had raw eggs thrown at me. I've been called a traitor and a fucking terrorist bitch. I have been verbally abused publicly on the streets, subway, restaurants and at work. No one assisted me at any time when I was mistreated. Not one single person said anything on the train when a man yelled and screamed at me for being me. For being Muslim. I asked that man if he got some sick sort of pleasure from harassing women on the train. He said he was harassing my religion, not me.

My faith in God flows through and from my very essence. I cannot be separated from it.

Many people told me they didn't like me or my country of origin. I would respond, "Well, you don't like America then because I am from Ohio." That is spelled O-H-I-O, and it is west of Pennsylvania. It's the buckeye state, y'all. Where am I really from? Where are my parents from? If you must know I am German, Croatian, Slovak and Welsh. I am a "typical" American, a zesty and tangy Heinz 57, if you please.

Six years and seven Ramadan's ago, I began my walk with God by way of the religion of Islam. I am finally reaching a place of fluidity and individuality within that path. I have stripped myself of all the societal pressures from the Muslim community to conform, and I am now finding my Islam, my Surrender. I have learned that it is much more important to me to perform my acts of worship from an internal place. Wearing a hijab made me extremely aware of what kind of Muslim I was "supposed" to be, thus making my practice very external. Much of my worship was done from a place of obligation and not from a place of sincerity. Because I had been looking inward in hope of discovering what was truly sincere and from me, about three months ago, while shopping at IKEA, I took off my hijab. I could no longer deny myself the right to be me.

Since that day I have experienced a profound difference in the way people treat me. I am safe. I am white. I am no longer the Other. I am now "passing." Historically within the US, "passing" refers to when a person is not of heterosexual orientation or is of more that one racial heritage. A person might choose to identify with the heritage or sexual orientation that does not give birth to prejudice and discrimination, thus passing from one heritage or sexual orientation to the next. Although I have chosen only to be my truest self, the result is that my choice to unveil has liberated me from prejudice. I now exchange smiles and conversations with neighbors and strangers, but I know now who my real friends are.

Speaking of real friends, some of my Muslim friends avoid me like the Plague. They must think unveiling is contagious. When I'm running around the city it's very common to see Muslims. We're everywhere. I may greet them with the traditional greeting of "Assalam alaykum," but most times the greeting is not returned because I do not wear a hijab. They assume I am not Muslim. They look me up and down or avoid my eyes at all costs. Surely wishing someone, anyone, the peace and blessings of God is a beautiful thing. I now understand that if I am going to find community, I must search for and create that community. My exploration for community has propelled me into the most active career path of my life. For the first time I will be doing work that utilizes my creative talent in writing. I will be teaching a creative writing workshop called "Muslim Like Me" beginning in December at ICCNY. I have joined "Khadijah's Caravan", a community-based organization that connects people, places and communities through spiritually-based activism. I have connected with a progressive Muslim meet-up group. I am also entering the interfaith dialogue in the city.

So, when a woman with chin-length blonde highlighted hair enters the 7 train, know that she is much more than what appears on the surface. She has a past, present and future self. She is constantly growing, learning and trying to become tall and wide in her understanding and compassion of herself and others. She never wanted to be treated differently because of her racial heritage, and she despises this unnecessary human limitation. She wishes the concept of the "Other" wasn't a reality for so many people. She hates that she lives in a world where gender equality will never be a reality. She deeply desires that hypocrisy, racism, sexism, ageism, discrimination, prejudice and superiority didn't run through the veins of society. She has promised to begin with herself.

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Friday 22 October 2010

In quiet revolution, Turkey eases headscarf ban

Freshman Busra Gungor won't have to wear a wig to cover her Islamic headscarf, as many pious relatives and friends did to avoid getting kicked off campus.

In a landmark decision, Turkey's Higher Education Board earlier this month ordered Istanbul University, one of the country's biggest, to stop teachers from expelling from classrooms female students who do not comply with a ban on the headscarf.

It was the latest twist in a long political and legal tussle in Turkey between those who see the garment as a symbol of their Muslim faith and those who view it as a challenge to the country's secular constitution.

"I was ready to wear the wig, just like my cousin did," said Gungor, a 18-year-old student wearing a pastel-colored headscarf. "This is about my freedom. I don't see why my headscarf should be seen as a threat to anybody."

The debate is not unique to Turkey -- France and Kosovo, for example, ban headscarves in public schools, and parts of Germany bar teachers from wearing them.

But it goes to the heart of national identity in this country of 75 million Muslims whose modern state was founded as a radical secular republic after World War One.

Disputes over the headscarf and other public symbols of Islam are part of a wider debate over how to reconcile modernity and tradition as Turkey tries to achieve its decades-old ambition to join the European Union.

Together with the courts, Turkey's army -- which has a long history of intervening in politics and has ousted four elected governments -- has long seen itself as a bulwark against any roll back toward Islamization. Easing Turkey's secular laws would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

But reforms aimed at bringing Turkey closer to the EU have clipped the generals' power. In a sign of how influence and attitudes are shifting, the latest change on headscarves happened with more of a whimper than a bang.

"This is the same fight Turkey has had for 80 years over the secular-pious issue," writer Mehmet Ali Birand commented in an article entitled "Let them dress the way they want."

"The world has changed. Turkey has changed. Let's close those old books and look into the future," Birand said.


A bid by the ruling AK party to lift the headscarf ban three years ago sparked a major political crisis and almost led to the party being closed by the Constitutional Court for anti-secular activities.

But the rise of a new class of observant Muslims to form the backbone of the AKP, which has its roots in political Islam and has held power since 2002, is challenging old notions.

Opponents of the headscarf ban -- in place since a 1982 military coup -- say it is a violation of individual freedoms and incompatible with a modern democracy. Supporters say the prohibition is necessary precisely to defend Turkey's democratic values.

"Turkey needs to find a new relationship between state and religion," Ergun Ozbudun, an constitutional expert, said at a recent lunch with EU ambassadors and journalists.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who comfortably won a referendum last month on government-sponsored constitutional reforms, has declared plans for a brand new basic law.

Seen as clear favorite in 2011 elections, the AKP is widely expected to try again to remove the headscarf ban. Among reforms approved in last month's referendum were an overhaul of the Constitutional Court, traditionally dominated by secularist judges.


Until the decision by the Higher Education Board, girls from religiously conservative families say they had to wear hats or wigs to conceal their headscarves in order to attend classes. Others decided to stay at home.

As the tide turns, some secularists fear growing social conservatism and "neighborhood pressure" will force them to change their lifestyle and adopt the headscarf.

"I don't think we will feel pressure to cover here in Istanbul, but I believe there could be a risk in most universities in Anatolian cities," said 18-year-old Begum Yildiz, a female student smoking a cigarette outside the university's entrance.

Another student who did not give her name was less sanguine: "I don't want the ban to be lifted. I know many girls whose families force them to wear the headscarf and they take it off at college. University has been a place for them to feel free."

Pinar Gedik, a student of Arabic who wears a pink headscarf, said the ban was still being enforced in some faculties.

"I can attend classes with my headscarf now, but it's still banned in many departments. The pressure is still there."

Although symbols of Islam are now more common in the public sphere, sensibilities are still raw. The talk of the town these days is whether generals and secularist politicians will attend a October 29 reception at the presidential palace on National Day.

President Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears a headscarf as does Erdogan's, traditionally hosts two separate receptions for guests with covered and uncovered wives. This year he plans to hold one ball.

Muharrem Ince, a senior MP from the secularist Republican People's Party, has said his party will boycott the ceremony.

"The president is changing the tradition of double receptions. This is because the AKP want to impose the headscarf not only at universities but from top to bottom," he said.


Rape 'impossible' in marriage, says Muslim cleric

A senior Muslim cleric who runs the country's largest network of sharia courts has sparked controversy by claiming that there is no such thing as rape within marriage.

Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, president of the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain, said that men who rape their wives should not be prosecuted because "sex is part of marriage". And he claimed that many married women who alleged rape were lying.

His comments have angered senior police officers, who say that such statements undermine the work they do to encourage women to report rape, a notoriously under-reported crime.

Sheikh Sayeed made the comments in an interview with the blog The Samosa, before reiterating them later when contacted by The Independent.

He told the website: "Clearly there cannot be any rape within the marriage. Maybe aggression, maybe indecent activity... Because when they got married, the understanding was that sexual intercourse was part of the marriage, so there cannot be anything against sex in marriage. Of course, if it happened without her desire, that is no good, that is not desirable."

Later he told this newspaper: "In Islamic sharia, rape is adultery by force. So long as the woman is his wife, it cannot be termed as rape. It is reprehensible, but we do not call it rape."

British law was changed in 1991, making rape within marriage illegal.

Dave Whatton, Chief Constable of Cheshire and spokesman on rape for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: "We know that the majority of rapes do not take place through strangers attacking women late at night but between acquaintances and within marriages and partnerships.

"It is a fundamental principle that sharia law should not replace the laws of the UK. Putting out views that rape can be dealt with in another way fundamentally undermines everything we are trying to do."

The cleric's comments come just days after Germaine Greer suggested that rape victims should name and shame their attackers online instead of reporting it to the police.

Mr Whatton added: "The comments of Sheikh Sayeed and Germaine Greer suggest there are other ways of dealing with rape. If that happens, victims of rape do not get the medical and counselling support they need to overcome this traumatic experience – and we are not in a position to effectively prosecute offenders."

In the interview on the website, Sheikh Sayeed suggests that women who claim to have been raped by their husbands should not immediately go to the police, saying: "Not in the beginning, unless we establish that it really happened. Because in most of the cases, wives... have been advised by their solicitors that one of the four reasons for which a wife can get a divorce is rape, so they are encouraged to say things like this."

Sheikh Sayeed said the Islamic Sharia Council had only dealt with two or three cases of rape since the arbitration tribunal was founded in 1982. Asked about how men who are found to have forced themselves upon their wives were punished, he explained: "He may be disciplined, and he may be made to ask forgiveness. That should be enough."

Inayat Bunglawala, chairman of Muslims4UK, said: "Sheikh Sayeed's comments are woefully misguided and entirely inappropriate. Rape – whether within marriage or outside it – is an abominable act and is clearly against the law."


Thursday 21 October 2010

Kashmir: picture post

A Kashmiri woman yells after what she says was unruly force used by Indian police to break the doors and window panes in her locality during an anti-India protest in Srinagar. — Photo by Reuters

Wednesday 20 October 2010

Dutch MP's anti-Islam comments 'provoked abuse'

Muslim witnesses have testified that a Dutch MP's anti-Islamic comments had led to attacks and intimidation, and they pleaded with judges to convict him and give him a symbolic fine of €1.

Geert Wilders is facing charges of inciting hatred and discrimination against Muslims for statements that include comparing Islam with Nazism and calling for a ban of the Koran and a tax on Muslim scarves, which he calls "head rags". His trial has been seen as testing the limits of free speech.

Prosecutors last week acknowledged they have failed to prove the case against him and called for his acquittal. The judges' verdict is expected on 5 November.

"Arson. Attempted arson. Vandalism. Disturbances. Incivility to people attending mosques. Obscenities. Intimidating behaviour – they have all become everyday occurrences" as a result of Mr Wilders' public remarks, said Mohammed Enait, speaking for an alliance of Dutch mosques that had asked to testify as victims in the case.

Mr Wilders denies inciting hatred of Muslims, claiming he criticises Islam as an ideology that rejects Western values. He argues it is not a crime to state what many Dutch voters believe.

Mr Enait said Dutch Muslims have suffered tangible damage as a result of Mr Wilders' repeated negative remarks about Islam. He said there are countless incidences of "children being cursed at while they walk. Stories from women ... who are spit upon, mocked because they wear headscarves".

Mr Enait, from Rotterdam, said the mosque he attended as a child had been burned down. Dozens of mosques in the Netherlands were burned in 2004 in apparent retaliatory attacks after the killing of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by an Islamic radical who is now serving a life sentence.


Tuesday 19 October 2010

Time's Afghan Cover Girl Gets A New Nose

The young Afghan woman who appeared on the cover of Time after having her nose and ears cut off by the Taliban

The woman, Ayesha — who was married at 12 and suffered years of abuse before attempting to run away and, in turn, being left for dead — ended up, luckily, at a nearby hospital and then a secret shelter, where she was discovered by Diane Sawyer. Later came the cover of Time; and as a result of this publicity, in August Ayesha traveled to California for extensive reconstructive surgery, and fitted with a temporary prosthetic nose. This week, the young woman — still only 18 — was honored with an "Enduring Heart Award," presented by the Grossman Burn Foundation.

This is wonderful news, uplifting. But what if Ayesha hadn't gotten a relative to take her to the hospital? What if Diane Sawyer hadn't seen her? This is the reality for many, many other young women and we can't forget it. Ayesha's resiliency shows that it's never to late. But rather than letting this be the end of the story, it should be yet another necessary wake-up call. Which is not to say we can't rejoice in Ayesha's happiness and beauty; I defy anyone to stay dry-eyed at the transformation.


Friday 15 October 2010

Hijab revival: fashion, religion or strategy?

Moroccan schoolteacher Rhimou Bachtioui has been engaged three times. Each time, she called off the marriage because her fiancés wrongly believed she was "subservient, docile and very conservative".

Like a growing number of young women across the Maghreb, she wears a veil.

"The hijab is merely a matter of dress that concerns no one other than the woman who wears it. Although the veil indicates that a woman is religious and adheres to the values of Islam, this is no reason to overlook her personality," she tells Magharebia.

Thami Bahmad, a sociologist, says that the hijab ceased to be a matter of religion during the 1990's. "Some conservative parents used to make their daughters wear the veil, but things have begun to change," he says.

"Well-educated young girls are now deciding for themselves whether or not they will wear the hijab. It remains a personal liberty that does not reflect women's personalities. It's not just a conviction, but also a matter of image," Bahmad adds.

Indeed, the only study on the subject found that young women who wear the hijab have only "patchy and distorted knowledge of the Qur'anic verses and hadiths that concern the veil".

According to the 2007 study by the Association of Moroccan Women (ADFM), the hijab was seen as a symbol of religion and militancy in the 1980s but from 2000 onwards it became a secular matter and eventually just one style of dress among many. The ADFM also noted that most women choose their clothes, apart from headscarves, according to popular fashion.

As with Morocco, the appearance of the hijab in Algeria was linked to the beginnings of the Islamist movement. Decades after the dissolution of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), which advocated wearing of the veil, the style remains.

Yet while some complain that the haiek (Algerian traditional dress) has given way to the Islamic headscarf, the veil is increasingly popular with young Algerians to the point that they consider it a new style trend.

"Algerian women have always been accustomed to wearing a head covering, be it the Algerian haiek mrama or the colourful Kabylie scarf, but then there is an imported type of headscarf that does not have its roots in Algeria," said senior citizen Youssef Ferradji.

At an Islamic clothing shop in one of the busiest streets of Algiers, women are delighted by pink scarves with sequins and rhinestones designed to attract Algerian fashionistas.

There is now a "typical Algerian hijab" which has no basis in religion.

"Most of our girls wear headscarves with tight pants. It is as if they're caught between the duty of repentance before God and the desire to please," notes Mrs. Boudia. She chooses to complement her headscarf with a long black tunic.

The hijab revival in Algeria has prompted a nickname: the "Kinder Surprise" veil.

"Like the famous chocolate egg, the Algerian hijab hides surprises. It's also called 'El M'hadjeb', the name of the Algerian dish," jokes Merki Mohammed.

"It is very difficult being a woman in Algeria. One can understand that they want to protect themselves from violence and attention that a different kind of look might attract in public," he adds.

Meriem, his fiancée, tells Magharebia that the hijab represents "the hypocrisy of Algerian society".

"Many of my girlfriends decided to wear the scarf in the hopes of getting married," she explains with a smile.

Tunisia faces a similar phenomenon. Nearly 20 years after former President Habib Bourguiba issued a decree banning headscarves or hijabs in public institutions, veils are visible everywhere, from universities and government offices, to the beaches and hotels, to stores and coffee shops on public streets.

Many link the veil's return to the growing phenomenon of spinsterhood.

"Wearing the veil by some girls to hunt down husbands has become a rampant phenomenon on Tunisia," Saeeda Sweileh told Magharebia. "My chances to attract a would-be husband have become greater since I started wearing the veil," the 31-one year old unmarried woman says.

"Most of the girls who access the marriage chat websites on the internet wear the veil and practice all religious duties in order to attract the other party," Saeeda adds. "Other girls take the veil as a tool to hide their past and to win the trust of men. In this way, they become less monitored by their families."

Eman al-Zaidi says that she wears a scarf out of conviction, rather than out of a desire to get a husband. But she is well aware that other girls have different reasons for putting on the hijab. "Unfortunately, we can't deny it. This bad mentality that exploits religion for worldly ends does exist."

The phenomenon of wearing the veil to win a husband has indeed increased in recent years, Monia Bou Abd tells Magharebia. "I reject this exploitation of religion and veil for personal ends," adds Monia, who does not wear a veil. She believes that "good conduct and respectable clothing" are enough, without having to wear the veil to prove virtue.

"The most important thing is for the girl to behave without false pretences that would fall off with the first clash with her life partner," Monia adds.

Nadia al-Uamari agrees that "some girls in Tunisia spare no effort in order to reach their ends". She explains that those who are looking for work often wear short clothes.

"However, when it comes for looking for a husband, they dress differently," she says.

For her part, Farida Aiari says, "This phenomenon does exist in Tunisia, but I don't recommend these twisted ways for looking for husbands." She performs all of her religious duties, she adds, without having to wear the veil.

Men, meanwhile, are becoming aware of the practice.

"These tricks no longer deceive young people in Tunisia. They understand well that good manners and exemplary behaviour can't be proven just by the veil or long clothes, given that the matrimonial relation is much deeper," Wahab al-Jamani tells Magharebia.

"We shouldn't get involved with a life partner merely based on appearances that are in most cases deceiving," he adds.

Anis Slim, agrees, saying that he did not care whether his future wife is veiled or unveiled.

"What's important is good manners, good conduct and education and being a good mother."

With so many different opinions on the cause of the headscarf's renewed popularity in the Maghreb region, Magharebia asked an imam for his opinion about using the hijab to attract a husband.

"If men or women resort to appearances for the purpose of deception and trickery, and if these appearances are contrary to what is truly inside them, then this is hypocrisy itself," the imam said.

He cited a hadith: "God doesn't look at your images or bodies; rather, He looks at your hearts."


Thursday 14 October 2010

Carlos the Jackal was my friend

Few undercover reporters have been prepared to sacrifice as much as the Spaniard who goes by the pseudonym of Antonio Salas. Circumcision was just one hurdle in passing himself off as a radical Islamist and infiltrating the shadowy, interconnected world of international terrorism. "It was more painful than I expected. It is pretty delicate for the first few days," Salas now admits, walking daintily around a room at his Madrid publisher's offices. An invite to a hammam bathhouse during his five years undercover had, he said, persuaded him the operation was necessary.

Salas's identity undercover was Mohammed Abdullah, a Spanish- Venezuelan with Palestinian grand-parents. He was convincing enough to be invited on terrorist training courses and to become personal webmaster to the most infamous of international terrorists, Carlos the Jackal. That meant regular telephone conversations with a man thought to be responsible for more than 80 deaths.

The Jackal would call from La Santé prison in Paris, where he is still serving a life sentence for murder. "He was very worried about my security," says Salas. "It is a strange sensation when a self-confessed assassin like Carlos the Jackal does that, and offers their friendship."

Salas decided to go undercover with his hidden cameras after the bombings that killed 191 people on Madrid commuter trains on 11 March 2004. He had been as stunned as other Spaniards by the blasts, despite the country's experience of Basque terrorist group Eta. "I wanted to know what goes through the mind of a person who is capable of killing for an ideology."

Salas's previous undercover investigations – as a skinhead supporter of Real Madrid football club, and in the world of prostitute-trafficking – had taken him to the heart of some of the most violent groups in Spain. "My aim was to understand terrorism in the same way that I came to understand skinheads or prostitute-traffickers."

He learned Arabic and invented an elaborate cover story involving a dead wife: 25-year-old Dalal Mujahad from Jenin, tragically killed by an Israeli bullet while pregnant with their child. The real Dalal, whose name he found in a newspaper archive, had died in 2004, when a bullet entered her house in a shoot-out. In case anyone decided to investigate, he added a Romeo and Juliet touch: the marriage had been kept secret because his (false) mother's family, from the nearby village of Burkin, backed Al-Fatah, while Dalal's family were part of Hamas. Her death, he would claim, had pushed him towards radical terror.

"I took photos of myself in Burkin and in Jenin. Then I asked Fatima, a girl I met when investigating prostitute-trafficking, to let me take photos with her as if she was my wife. We mocked up an apartment in Barcelona to look as though it was in Palestine and took photos." Salas also wrote out the Qur'an by hand, and considers his conversion to Islam to be genuine. He treasures the small booklet in which he wrote Islam's most sacred text: "It helped convince people," he says. "Not many people carry their own, hand-copied version."

The final part of his cover was to become a pro-jihad journalist, contributing to radical publications. He travelled around the Arab world, from Egypt to Jordan and the Lebanon, writing articles that would help to seal his militant credentials. "I even wrote a couple of books," he says. It did not take long to gain a reputation. "I remember the first time I dropped off some newsletters at a mosque in Tenerife, the police arrived with flashing lights and sirens and they soon had me pinned against a wall."

Salas picked the Venezuela of President Hugo Chávez as his base. "I had been told Venezuela was a mecca of international terrorism," he says. "The Farc group from Colombia was there, as were people from Eta." Numerous other small revolutionary groups had also set up under Chávez's benevolent gaze. There, in what the New Yorker journalist Jon Lee Anderson calls "the parallel reality that is the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela today", Salas established himself as yet another niche radical – flying the flag for Palestine and running a local branch of Hezbollah. More importantly, he got close to the family of Ilich Ramírez Sánchez – Carlos the Jackal.

"I only really knew about Carlos because of the films about him," admits Salas, who is in his mid-30s and too young to recall the The Jackal's bloody kidnaps and assassinations in the 70s and 80s. "But here was an icon of international terrorism. He was Venezuelan, and a convert to Islam who had fought for Palestine. It was perfect for my profile." He sought out The Jackal's two younger brothers, Vladimir and Lenin – names given to them by their Leninist lawyer father. "Vladimir is the more active defender of his brother," he says. "Lenin is a lot more discreet. Later I met his mother, his nephews and got in with the family."

He first spoke with The Jackal by chance, when Carlos rang from prison while Salas was with the family. "We started out talking in Arabic and then in Spanish. I called him Ilich or 'Comandante Salim', which is his Arabic name. He speaks six or seven languages and is very intelligent. We would talk for up to an hour. He would not let me ask questions – they made him angry. So I just let him talk. He even confessed some of his killings, and I have that taped."

Salas began to work on a website that, among other things, campaigned to have The Jackal repatriated to Venezuela. "To prove the website was close to Ilich, I was given access to a trunk that had been closed for 30 or 40 years – with his school reports and family photos. I spent a lot of time in Vladimir's house, classifying the material." Salas would post texts to La Santé; The Jackal sent them back with neat, handwritten corrections. He also sent prison photographs to put on the site.

By tracking the Arabic news channel al-Jazeera, Venezuelan TV and the internet for mentions of The Jackal, Salas discovered that Chávez himself was one of his biggest fans. "For him, Carlos is not a terrorist but a revolutionary – a model internationalist, like Che Guevara. Just as Che went to fight for other peoples, so Ilich went to fight for the Palestinians. Whenever Chávez mentioned The Jackal, I would record it and send it to him, which he loved."

Not that Salas agrees with Chávez's view of The Jackal. "He is considered responsible for 82 killings; I don't call that being a revolutionary. I call him a terrorist." – though he would probably not, he admits, use the term to his face. "It helps that he is in jail."

Salas updated The Jackal's website from cybercafes, using a different one every time. "I imagine Mossad, the CIA and MI6 being driven mad by the fact that The Jackal's page was updated from Portugal one day, Syria another, and from other countries."

Salas was even invited to visit La Santé, but he passed up the offer. As an independent journalist who pays his own way and has no back-up, he must use his real identity when going through frontiers or security controls. "I have never worked for any intelligence service, political party, or even for any one media outlet," says Salas, who produces his own undercover films and publishes books on his investigations. "I only work for my readers. They are the ones who end up paying for my investigations. I work alone, using my own money and passport. Journalistically, it would have been great to meet Ilich, but I couldn't do it."

In Venezuela's fringe community of political extremists, he bumped into people from Eta, the Túpac Amaru (a group of armed Venezuelan radicals who support Chávez), and other groups. Repeated requests for hands-on training eventually saw him invited to a camp in Venezuela, where he learned to handle pistols, rifles and machine guns, including a Kalashnikov AK-103, an Uzi sub-machine gun, the American M4 carbine and a Belgian-designed FN FAL. He also practised with a sniper's telescopic sight and received explosives training. "I learned all that a jihadist might need to take his message of terror to a city in Europe or the United States," Salas says. "There was nothing glamorous about it. It was just a question of learning to kill better."

His instructors included a Venezuelan army colonel, though Salas insists the camp was not run by the Chávez regime. "It just so happened that my instructors, as well as being supporters of revolutionary causes, were Venezuelan army officers."

His strangest discovery was the willingness of different extremist groups to blindly embrace the varied causes of others, even when they had nothing to do with one another. So it was that, as a supposed Palestinian Islamist, he found himself appearing in a video for the Túpac Amaru. Salas stood manfully beside leader Alberto Carías clutching a Heckler & Koch MP5-A3 sub-machine gun, as the latter urged armed revolutionary groups across South America to join forces.

Salas came close to blowing his cover only once, when he met US journalist Jon Lee Anderson, who was in Venezuela promoting his Che Guevara biography. It was a nerve-racking encounter. "When he said he had been to Burkin and started naming people there, I feared my cover was gone."

Anderson remembers the meeting: "Burkin is an amazing place in the hills above Jenin. It is said to have the finest olive oil in the world. I remember thinking there was something odd [about Abdullah]; he was cautious around me and flustered, but Caracas is full of wackos. It didn't occur to me to think he was a plant."

Far from being made world-weary or cynical by his exposure to such violent worlds, Salas remains almost naively optimistic about the results of his investigations – which have spawned Spanish best-sellers, popular documentaries, even a feature film. After his previous two books, he says, he received letters from people who had given up being skinheads or frequenting prostitutes. "I hope for the same thing with this," he says. "In Spain and Latin America there are a lot of adolescents – many of whom I saw arrive at the mosque for the first time as children – who will feel the draw of violence in a few years' time."

So what conclusions does Salas draw from rubbing shoulders with international terror? His answer is coloured by the fact that half a dozen people he met during his investigation have since died – often violently. "I don't justify violence, but I can understand it. I never found any glamour or sophistication in that world, nor anyone especially intelligent – except for The Jackal. Terrorists really have only two ends – they either die or go to jail. You have to
a bit stupid to do that."


Tuesday 12 October 2010

Child marriage reignites debate in Saudi Arabia

RIYADH // The marriage of a government official to a 12-year-old girl has inflamed a long simmering battle over marriage to minors, pitting Saudi human rights activists and at least one prominent Muslim sheikh against government officials who have been accused of failing to curb the widespread practice. The fact that the unidentified groom, who lives in the city of Najran, was a mazoun, or marriage official, whose job it is to preside over the signing of marriage contracts, only added to the outrage over the marriage among many Saudis.

After more than two years of media coverage of the negative consequences of marriage and sex for minor girls, and despite calls by some Saudi officials and even some clerics to end the practice, the government has yet to set a minimum age for marriage. Activists say officials fear a backlash from religious conservatives.

Some tribal elders also see nothing wrong in giving young girls in marriage. Many families marry their daughters to older men for financial benefits, getting payments from grooms in advance and if a marriage is broken.

But many traditionalists in this conservative country believe early marriage protects their daughters from premarital relationships, pointing to active support from senior clerics such as Sheikh Abdul Aziz al Sheikh, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti.

“If a girl exceeds 10 or 12 then she is eligible for marriage, and whoever thinks she is too young, then he or she is wrong and has done her an injustice,’’ Sheikh Abdul Aziz told an audience in Riyadh University last year.

Many argue that Islamic law in fact permits such marriages, citing the Prophet Mohammed’s marriage to Aysha when she was nine.

The man who married the 12-year-old girl told Al Watan newspaper on Friday that he was goaded into consummating the union by his mother and that it took “several attempts over two weeks” to accomplish, even as the girl expressed bewilderment about “why her parents gave her away to me”.

The man said he had had sex with the girl after two months of marriage, although her father asked that a physical relationship not begin until a year after marriage.

Debate over the issue has raged in the pages of newspapers and community websites. “Any man who desires or performs sex with a little girl, and that is what a 12-year-old female child is sick in the head,” wrote one woman, who identified herself as Shana Badawi, in the English-language Arab News.

Another reader by the name of Mohammed Rehman countered: “Are you Muslim or what? What age did your mother Aisha, may Allah be please with her, marry? … next time think of the Islamic legislation before the western view!”

Saudi human-rights advocates have pleaded with members of the consultative Shura Council for a strong recommendation in favour of a minimum marriage age. But members of the council, whose members are appointed by King Abdullah, say the country’s conservative nature makes that very difficult.

“There are a lot of people who are very religious and they think you cannot say that 13 or 14 is not an eligible age for marriage,” Talal al Bakri, chairman of the family, youth and social affairs committee, said yesterday in an interview.

The activists say Saudi Arabia is required to legislate a minimum marriage age in keeping with its obligations as a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets the age of maturity at 18.

At least one senior cleric has also dismissed the argument that since marriage to minors was acceptable for Prophet Mohammed in the 7th century, it also is acceptable for
Muslims in the 21st century. The Prophet’s marriage to Aysha “cannot be equated with child marriages today because the conditions and circumstances are not the same”, Sheikh Abdullah al Manie said in a January interview with Okaz newspaper.

“It is a grave error to burden a child with responsibilities beyond her years,” added Sheikh Abdullah, who sits on the Council of Senior Ulema. “Marriage should be put off until the wife is of a mentally and physically mature age and can care for both herself and her family.”

The government-backed Human Rights Commission has come out against marrying of minors, but has not explicitly called for minimum-age legislation.

Instead, the commission president, Bandar Bin Mohammed al Aiban, said it is organising a workshop on the subject to give experts an opportunity to give their views on the matter. Physicians, psychologists, social workers and Sharia scholars will participate. No date has been set yet.

Mr al Aiban said he is aware that many Saudis are outraged that no concrete steps have been taken to stop such marriages. “We’re feeling that [impatience],” he said. “And that is something that will support the consensus that we are trying to build.”

“It’s a big social problem now,” said Mohammed al Zulfa, a former Shura Council member. “I’m glad people are still talking about it … I hope the minister of justice will look at it seriously and stop it.”


Sunday 10 October 2010

Rev. Franklin Graham says churches and synagogues are forbidden in most Muslim countries

On ABC's This Week on Oct. 3, 2010, host Christiane Amanpour held a town hall debate on whether Americans should fear Islam.

Naturally, the issue of the so-called Ground Zero mosque came up.

Amanpour asked the Rev. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, about his comments following 9-11 that Islam is a "very evil and very wicked" religion.

"I understand what the Muslims want to do in America," said Graham, president of both the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and the international Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse. "They want to build as many mosques and cultural centers as they possibly can so they can convert as many Americans as they can to Islam. I understand that...I understand what they're doing. And I just don't have the freedom to do this in most Muslim countries. We can't have a church. We're not able to build synagogues. It's forbidden."

Imam Osama Bahloul, leader of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tenn., and a panelist on the show, said Graham was incorrect.

"For someone to say we are not allowed to build a church in a Muslim country, this is absolutely not right. You can Google this," Bahloul said.

We spoke to several experts on religion and government in Muslim countries. And the consensus was clear: there are, in fact, Christian churches and/or synagogues in almost every Muslim country.

"Reverend Graham is wrong," said Yvonne Haddad, Professor of History of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations at Georgetown University. "Churches are flourishing in Jordan and Syria. In Egypt, the Christians find restrictions on church construction which has recently been partially lifted."

Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic relations, agreed that Graham was incorrect. "There are lots of Christian churches and synagogues in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Jordan, Indonesia, Qatar, Kuwait ... If you go to any number of so-called Muslim countries you will see thriving Christian and Jewish populations."

One member of the Iranian parliament is Jewish, Hooper noted.

"The only one where you don't see it, where you can't have a Christian church or synagogue is Saudi Arabia," Hooper said. "It's only an issue in Saudi Arabia."

The cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia are considered the two holiest cities in Islam, explained Akbar S. Ahmed, chair of Islamic Studies at American University. And so, he said, no churches or synagogues are allowed there.

"That is like the Vatican in terms of Catholicism," Ahmed said.

But where he grew up in Pakistan, for example, Ahmed said, there is a huge Christian church. While there are now very few Christians left there, the building is deserted but remains untouched. After 1948, he said, most Jewish people living in Muslim countries migrated to Israel. But there are still many churches in Muslim countries, as well as synagogues. One of the top advisers to the king of Morocco is Jewish, he said.

There may be periods of turmoil, or some narrow-minded leaders who have attacked churches over the years, Ahmed said, but there is nothing formalized in Islamic law that forbids the building of churches or synagogues.

"Today, because of the general atmosphere in the air, there are many untruths being spread about Islam," Ahmed said.

While the facts about whether most Muslim countries allow churches or synagogues is pretty cut-and-dried, there is another facet to this claim. Graham was speaking in the context of Muslims building mosques in order to convert people to Islam in the United States. And so we think it's fair to also look at whether it's possible to build a church or synagogue in most Muslim countries with the aim of converting people. And on that point, Graham is on firmer ground.

According to a 2007 Council on Foreign Relations "backgrounder" on religious conversion and sharia law, authored by Lionel Beehner, "Conversion by Muslims to other faiths is forbidden under most interpretations of sharia and converts are considered apostates...Some Muslim clerics equate this apostasy to treason, a crime punishable by death."

According to the report, while a vast majority of Muslim countries no longer prescribe death for apostates (instead opting for some lesser form of punishment), "some states, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, still do hand out death sentences."

Shireen Hunter, visiting professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, said that Graham "cannot be more wrong," about there being a prohibition against churches or synagogues in most Muslim countries.

But, she said, "conversion is a totally different thing."

There is a great deal of debate in the Muslim community about Islamic law regarding conversions. Some argue Islam teaches there is no compulsion to faith. And while enforcement of religious laws against conversion is more aggressively applied by some Muslim countries than others, "this is an issue that is there."

In many countries in the Middle East, religion dictates your legal status as well, explained Nathan Brown, an expert on Islamic law at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. While legal enforcement of bans against conversions from Islam are rare in most Muslim countries, "conversions are practically difficult," he said.

We think a Catholic church recently built in Qatar is a good example of how this is handled.

According to a March 2007 Al Jazeera story about the construction of a Catholic church: "Although the country's native inhabitants are entirely Muslim -- and are prohibited by law from converting to another faith -- the new Catholic church will cater to the large number of Christian migrants who have come to the Arabia Gulf state in search of work."

Archbishop Paul Hinder, the Catholic Church's Bishop of Arabia, explained in the story that he oversees churches in Qatar, UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Yemen and even in Saudi Arabia, "the birthplace of Islam, where Christianity is practiced behind closed doors." On the Christian communities in Saudi Arabia, Hinder clarified: "It's not an open church. Privately the Christians may gather in their houses in a very discreet manner."

We think Graham erred when he said that in most Muslim countries, "We can't have a church. We're not able to build synagogues. It's forbidden." That's demonstrably false. The construction of churches is not forbidden in most Muslim countries, only Saudi Arabia. And so, on balance, we rate Graham's comment False.


Saturday 9 October 2010

Settler drives into Palestinian boys (Shocking Video)

Islamic head scarves take fashion cues

Atik has taken the Muslim head scarf, often known as hijab, and turned it into a canvas for her fashion sensibilities, with ideas inspired by designs from Forever 21 and H&M as well as haute couture runways and the pages of Vogue and Elle. Showing her latest design at a mosque was her way of gauging sentiment on scarves that go beyond the limited fashion realm they have thus far inhabited, such as floral and geometric prints or lace and beaded embellishments.

"I knew that I wanted to do a zipper scarf, because I knew that zippers were in style," Atik said, her head covered this day with a sea-foam hijab, echoing the color of her light green eyes.

The hijab has long been a palette of sorts for changing styles and designs, and shops across the Middle East are replete with colors and shapes that can vary from region to region. Some women in the Persian Gulf region wear their hair up in a bouffant with the scarf wrapped around it like a crown. Syrians are known for cotton pull-on scarves, the hijab equivalent of a T-shirt. And in Egypt veiled brides visit hijab stylists who create intricate designs and bouquets of color atop the bride's head.

But Atik's experiments with the hijab, which is meant as a symbol of modesty, are created with an eye toward being more adventuresome and risky.

To some, the trend heralds the emergence of Westernized Muslim women, who embrace both their religion and a bit of rebellion.

But to others in the Muslim community, what Atik is doing flies in the face of the head scarf's purpose. When the scarf is as on-trend as a couture gown, some wonder whether it has lost its sense of the demure.

Eiman Sidky, who teaches religious classes at King Fahd mosque in Culver City, is among those who say attempts to beautify the scarf have gone too far. In countries like Egypt, where Sidky spends part of the year, religious scholars complain that women walk down the street adorned as if they were peacocks.

"In the end they do so much with hijab, I don't think this is the hijab the way God wants it; the turquoise with the yellow with the green," she said.

The conflict is part of a larger debate among Muslims on which practices are too conservative and which too liberal.

And at a time when Muslims hear stories about women filing lawsuits after not getting hired or being barred from wearing head scarves at work — most recently at two Abercrombie & Fitch stores and Disneyland — the message is reinforced that the hijab is still regarded with suspicion.

For women like Atik, an Orange Coast College student who works part time at Urban Outfitters, fashion-forward hijabs are an attempt not only to fill a void, but to make the scarves less foreign and more friendly to non-Muslims.

The Islamic religious parameters for hijab — that the entire body must be covered except for the face and hands — are broad enough to include those who wear black, flowing abayas to those who pair a head scarf with skinny jeans.

Younger, Westernized Muslim women are seeking out trendy styles, with one Orange County student selling designs inspired by Vogue and Elle. But some critics wonder whether the stylish creations defeat the purpose of modesty.

On one of the holiest nights of Ramadan, Marwa Atik chose a crowded Southern California mosque to debut her latest creation.

It was just after midnight when the 20-year-old walked into the Islamic Center of Irvine, dressed in a long, flowing burgundy robe, her head wrapped in a charcoal-colored chiffon hijab, trimmed with decorative gold zippers.

After the group prayers, sermon and Koran recitation, a woman approached Atik, gesturing at the scarf. "OK, I want one," she said excitedly. "How can I get it?"

"We've gotten maybe just a few people saying, 'Oh, this is defeating the purpose,'" said Tasneem Sabri, Atik's older sister and business partner. "It really comes down to interpretation."

The criticism means little to Atik, a petite young woman who favors skinny jeans, embellished cardigans and knee-high boots.

Atik sees the fashion industry's treatment of the hijab as staid and lackluster. She wants to make the scarves edgier, with fringes, pleats, peacock feathers, animal prints.

"We want to treat the hijab like it's a piece of clothing, because that's what it is, it's not just an accessory," said Nora Diab, a friend of Atik who began the venture with her but bowed out to focus on college. "We can still dress according to what's 'in' while dressing modest."

Scarves from Atik's recent collections are sold under the label Vela, Latin for veil. In addition to the exaggerated zippers, there are Victorian pleats, military buttons and even a black and white scarf with gold clasps named simply Michael (as in Michael Jackson). A recent design features a plain scarf with a large sewn-on bow, called "Blair," after the "Gossip Girl" character. There is also a growing bridal scarf collection.

The scarves have a certain unfinished look to them, with frayed edges and visible stitching. Atik sews many of them herself, though she recently hired a seamstress to help fill orders placed through the Vela website. The scarves, which are not available in stores, range in price from $15 for basic designs to $60 for high-fashion styles, pricier than many on the market.

When not in class or at work, Atik spends most of her time researching trends, designing new scarves or filling orders. She makes frequent trips to Los Angeles for fabric.

Atik said she is inspired by risk-takers such as Alexander McQueen, the late avant-garde designer with an eye for shock value.

"I feel he says it's really OK to be different," Atik said while taking a coffee break in Los Angeles' Fashion District.

Atik, whose parents are from Syria, began wearing the head scarf in eighth grade. She was the editor of her high school yearbook but found herself spending more time browsing fashion websites than looking at photos of student clubs and activities. After school she would spend hours at Wal-Mart reading fashion magazines. In the summer of 2009 when she and Diab decided to design hijabs, she took sewing classes, the youngest among a group of elderly women making patterned quilts.

Before a photo shoot for her website this year, Atik did last-minute hemming and sewing at her makeshift work space in the kitchen of her Huntington Beach home. The kitchen table was covered with half-completed designs. Bags of satin and chiffon fabric sat on chairs and lacy and beaded scarves spilled out onto the fruit bowls.

Atik fingered a beige and pink chiffon scarf.

"I think we're going to try a couple on you," she told her friend Marwa Biltagi, who had arrived wearing a loosely wrapped black and gold scarf. "Because either way you can work it."

In the backyard, Biltagi and others posed beside palm trees, heads cocked to the side, backs arched. Someone commented that it looked very French Vogue.

"One, two, move, yeah exactly like that.... OK, I'm going to be taking like a lot so just keep switching it up.... Yeah, I like how you had your hand up on the wall," Atik said as she clicked the camera. "I feel like we need music."

Her mother watched from the kitchen.

"There are people who say that it's not a hijab. As long as it covers the hair, I noticed these young people, they like these things," Safa Atik said. "Why I encouraged her is because ... she's making something that looks nice."

Alaa Ellaboudy, who runs the blog Hijabulous ("A hijabi's guide to staying fabulous"), is familiar with the scolding that non-traditional scarves can prompt. The Rancho Cucamonga resident wears her scarf tied behind her neck and has a penchant for dramatic eye makeup and bright clothes.

"Everyone has their opinion, 'Oh no that's haram [forbidden], you can't do that,'" Ellaboudy said. "But for me, it's always about finding that balance and still looking good."

On her blog, she defines "hijabulous" as being "exceptionally stylish yet conforming to the Islamic dress code."

When the over-sized September issue of Vogue arrived, Atik flipped through the pages for inspiration.

A few weeks later, stocking up on fabrics and an ostrich feather in the Fashion District, she went from store to store with the same request: "Do you have a leopard-print chiffon?"

At her third store she saw a leopard print but thought the look and feel of the silk fabric were not quite right.

"I wouldn't want this on my head. If only it was chiffon, I'd be all over it."